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John Carruthers: “The Cars”

The ACBL has done a wise thing, in my opinion: it has cancelled all face-to-face bridge tournaments for the rest of 2020. The Columbus Spring and Montréal Summer NABCs had already been cancelled, so the latest excision includes the Tampa Fall NABC and all Regional and Sectional tournaments. This means the League has put the health and safety of its constituents and staff ahead of financial gain or utility. Joe Jones, the Executive Director of the ACBL, announced the decision of the Board of Directors on June 18.

Bridge tournaments must be one of the most-dangerous places to be during a pandemic: large numbers of mostly elderly people in close proximity handling playing cards that have been, or will be, handled by scores of other players. That’s a recipe for disaster if ever there was one, even worse than a concert, sporting event or convention.

The ACBL will continue to offer small bridge tournaments online at BBO and is planning some rather-larger online events, to be announced as they are organised.

The Alt tournaments received a self-inflicted blow to their credibility last month when they organised a so-called Alt Major of 32 top teams for competition. Unfortunately, one of the teams included Andrea Buratti, of Buratti/Lanzarotti infamy. For those who are not aware of it, ‘The Cars’, as they were known (wordplay on the Italian automobile manufacturers Bugatti and Lancia), were convicted of relaying information to each other about cards in the opponents’ hands (after looking at them as dummy), in the 2005 European Open Championships in Tenerife. Some expressed the opinion that the evidence against them was flimsy and that their conviction was based more on their reputation than the hard facts. Be that as it may, the inclusion of Buratti’s team came close to the announcement of an elite players’ commission to monitor and police ethical behaviour at the Alt events. Buratti’s team nevertheless withdrew from the Alt Major after one day’s play, leaving a cloud over the whole affair. No reason was given for the withdrawal, whether voluntary or otherwise. We have to ask: what on earth were the organisers thinking when they accepted Buratti’s team into the event? Did they think his presence would enhance the quality and reputation of the Alt events?

There had been rumours of nefarious behaviour in the Alt events, due in part to the ‘professional’ nature of the events (nearly all the teams are sponsored, with the players receiving remuneration for playing and bonuses for doing well). I had watched a lot of them online and had seen exactly one deal that I thought might have been suspicious, but then I’d seen multiple deals played by the same pair that indicated that they had not the slightest knowledge of partner’s hand. However, I have not seen all the deals played by any single pair and I might be considered a naïf in any case.

There is no doubt that collusion is harder to prove in online events, though, paradoxically, may be easier to detect. Nicolas Hammond is certain that he can do it, using advanced statistical metrics, but that’s a topic for a future editorial.

John Carruthers

IBPA Bulletin No. 666 July 10, 2020

The opinions expressed here are solely those of the Editor, and do not necessarily represent those of the IBPA Executive or its members.

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