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John Carruthers: “What Now”?

Whether we consider cheating at bridge to be a disease or a crime, there are two aspects that need to be considered: prevention and cure (if it’s a disease) or; prevention and penalties (if it’s a crime). Effectively, it does not matter whether it’s a disease or a crime or both, we need to have penalties sufficient both to punish the perpetrators and to serve as a deterrent.

1. Develop a Criminal Code
Collusisve Cheating
As Larry Robbins has suggested, cheating can be subdivided into two main categories, collusive and  individual. The proliferation of online events has seen
the emergence of a sub-category of collusive cheating which we can call “partner kibitzing”. This occurs when two players in the same household look at each other’s hands or, if in different households, transmit the data of each other’s hands electronically to each other, most often via telephone. It could be argued that this is no different from developing a set of signals to tell your partner across the table from you what you have in your hand. Partner kibitzing is just more precise, not to mention easier to execute.
(i.) At-the-table signals
(ii.) Partner-kibitzing
(iii.) There is another category which has come to light with the advent of Swiss Teams and mostly with professional players. That is score cheating. For example, if three teams are close to the lead and two are playing each other in the last match of an event, the winner of the match gets a blitz, regardless of the actual match score, ensuring a win in the event. Another type might occur in an earlier match near but not at the end of the event, with both teams in ontention: the teams agree on a draw, keeping both in contention. Professional players cynically referred to this practice as “professional courtesy”. This had become so prevalent in Regional Swiss Teams that the ACBL decreed that if two teams played each other in the wrong direction (which used to be declared a draw), both would receive 0 VP. Thus, if they misreported a score as a tie, severe penalties would ensue

Individual Cheating
There has apparently been a proliferation of individual cheating concurrent with the explosion of online bridge events. Individual cheating can consist of, but is not limited to, the following subcategories:
(i.) Table kibitzing/self kibitzing. The perpetrator logs on twice, once to play and once to kibitz, sometimes anonymously.
(ii.) Scoping unplayed boards. This most often occurs in pairs games when a players wanders around, looking at boards he has not yet played.
One world-famous lightning-quick player was so well-known for this practice that the tournament directors tracked the results of his odd-numbered boards (typically, the first board played in a two-board round) against the results of his even-numbered boards. They discovered that his even-numbered board
scores were 10% higher than his oddnumbered board scores. As he finished his two boards a few minutes ahead of most players, he’d get up from the table and wander, looking at other tables playing their even-numbered boards. Some players are so stupid that they’ve been caught doing this by writing the
scores for unplayed boards in their provate scorecard.
(iii.) Transmitting data to teammates with the relayed boards in Swiss matches. One ingenious method might be to expose one of your cards, telling your teammate(s) that they have a difficult-to-bid slam. All that’s required is for teammates to notice that their opponent has one card turned the wrong way. Or the
information might indicate the location of a key queen.
(iv.) Intentionally fouling a poor-result board to ensure that it is thrown out of competition. This has definitely happened in ACBL events (perhaps even by a former World Champion) and was alleged to have occurred in the 1996 Olympiad Teams in Rhodes (see Bobby Wolff’s book The Lone Wolff for the details).

There are undoubtedly other methods of cheating that have escaped my attention. We can add them to the list. Currently, there is a tendency for bridge organisations to ignore reality with an ostrich-like approach to cheating, or worse, to try to sweep it inder the rug. For example, the WBF has repeatedly stated that it is up to the players to catch the cheats. Imagine if the IOC and WADA said the same. Wouldn’t it be better for the Laws Commission, for example, or the WBF in consultation with its constituents, to presribe penalties for each of the seven items (and any others they can think of) listed above? We need a Criminal Code to do this.

2. Prevention
Before 2015, it’s fair to say that bridge organisations did little to halt cheating or punish perpetrators. The ACBL had a few high-profile cases over the years (KatzCohen, Sion-Cokin and a handful of others). But many more players were quietly told to end their partnerships with no other repercussions. Europe had
its own cases (Reese-Schapiro), as did Asia (ManoppoManoppo). Players and pairs had been told not to come to World Championships by, initially, Jaime Ortiz-Patiño (all four of those above-named pairs) and, latterly, by the WBF Credentials Committee (notably BalickiZmudzinski). The EBL also has a similar body. Subsequently to Boye Brogeland’s revelations in 2015, the ACBL formed its Anti-Cheating Commission, the EBL formed a similar group and the WBF formed its High-Level Players Commission. Although these groups work diligently to investigate cases of suspected malfeasance, according to those authorities, it’s up to their sponsoring organisations to take action. The Commissions themselves have no authority to prosecute or convict, merely to recommend action to their sponsors. There has also been formed a special Credentials Advisory Team to assist and advise the organisers of online championships such as the Alt and OCBL events. See Boye Brogeland’s explanation of this group’s mandate on page six. Another step in the right direction was taken by ACBL National Recorder Robb Gordon when he suggested that the ACBL make all NABC events invitational. Thus, like World and European Championships, a player or pair can remain uninvited or, indeed, be disinvited. BBO can (and has done) help catch self-kibitzers by paying attention to login i.d.’s, computer locations, telephone numbers and Internet Service Providers. Statistics can help determine if a pair under suspicion is good, ‘lucky’ or cheating. BBO was critical in catching Michal Nowosadzki and Sylvia Shi, and statistics and the evidence of the deals themselves reinforced their
guilt and elicited their admissions of guilt. There are more players and pairs to be outed soon. However, more needs to be done. If bridge organisations are truly interested in saving our game from these predators, as they all proclaim, hiring Nicolas Hammond (Detecting Cheating in Bridge) and forging a
closer relationship with BBO would be good steps in that direction. Additionally, when bridge organisations are trying to determine what they ought to do with these offenders and the penalties they ought to assess them, the authorities would do well to take heed of what the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit has been telling us for more than four decades, to wit, “The best indicator offuture behavior is past behavior.”

3. Help the CAT
Do you want to help? The members of the Credentials Advisory Team are working tirelessly in compiling data and investigating charges and complaints. With other players in their sights, there are not enough members of the team to investigate all those players thoroughly. So, if you are interested in being an examiner/spotter for the committee, you can contact the CAT directly at: [email protected]

John Carruthers


Source: International Bridge Press Association (IBPA) Bulletin August 10, 2020

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