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Thomas Bessis: Let’s all calm down

Today Thomas Bessis has posted on BridgeWinners.com a long article entitled “Let’s all calm down”.

I don’t express myself very often here, and I intend to do it only once. So it will be a long post, and I will try to respond to everything I lately read on BW that concerns me.

Before the pandemic started, bridge pros’ use of BBO was mostly limited to practice their bidding system and follow live tournaments. Sometimes, very seldom, to play in a team match with friends. But playing seriously on BBO was considered an oxymoron. How could it not ? BBO was by definition the place where bridge pros could play without being seen, therefore do whatever experiment they feel. Like a kindergarden. And whenever they would do something fancy that goes wrong, a psyche, or a crazy play/bid, they would simply hide behind the « it’s just BBO, who cares » excuse .It therefore took every single one of us bridge pros, a certain time to adapt to the new conditions of earning a living. We’ve got to learn to focus behind a screen, playing at home, with all the possible distractions that it implies, at times that imposed us to sometimes skip lunches or dinners.Don’t misunderstand my point here : I am not complaining about our condition at all. In fact I am incredibly grateful to be able to earn a living pretty well during this period.I’ll be honest : I never would have thought, when the pandemic started, that there would be that many sponsors hiring pros to play online. It just didn’t make sense at the time : bridge competitions on BBO could not in any case be seen as anything close to real bridge events in terms of liability, credibility, and therefore prestige. Also, from the clients’ point of view, the social aspect with the pros they hire is almost inexistant, and they can never be really sure how seriously their pros take the whole playing on BBO thing. Or how honest their opponents and even their pros would play.Despite those factors, a lot of sponsors showed interest in hiring pros to participate in those online events, and thus allow the professional bridge community to keep making a living in this period. This is obviously a wonderful thing for the pros, but It is also obviously in their best interest to keep it this way, and therefore give more importance to all this online bridge than it actually has.Of course you won’t see a lot of bridge pros write that publicly. It goes against my and my friends’ interest to do so.

So why am I writing this ?

Because I fear that my community is tearing apart right now, and that it needs a strong wake-up call. A lot of damage has already be done. What has happened in those last months will have irreversible consequences when we all see each other again, whenever face to face bridge resumes. Some partnerships but most sadly friendships have been broken, some reputations have been seriously damaged, threats, lawsuits, blackmail, all this surrounded by big conflicts of interest…

Where will it stop ??

For God’s sake, it’s just bridge on BBO ! Let’s take a deep breath and calm down !

These online tournaments have now become a big deal in our community only because face to face bridge seems far away, and because it is in any competitor’s DNA to always find new goals and try to achieve them. Nothing more. We all perfectly know that when real bridge starts again, this whole BBO period will just be remembered as a sad and boring parenthesis of our lives, also bridgewise.The situation here is by no way comparable to 2015, where the bridge world had to get rid of people who were using the most condamnable form of cheating in bridge, at the highest level, and in the most prestigious events in the world.The stakes are not the same here, not at all. Some people failed to adapt to a new environment, nothing more. So everyone should take a deep breath.

As I wrote earlier, it took time to all of us to get used to these new conditions of work.Some pros have had a harder time than others to take BBO seriously and play in the best possible environment to be focused. Some were playing with their system notes wild open in background of their screens. Some were calling their partners to check on the meaning of a bid. Some called their partners to know their hand. Some self kibbitzed.

It became too much around mid June, cheating had exploded. Sjoert Brink called me to ask me whether I was willing to form an anticheating commitee, and I obviously said yes. We picked 7 or 8 other bridge pros that we felt we could trust, and who would like to be part of the fight against cheating, and soon CAT was founded.There were at the time around 6 to 8 pros who were cheating quite obviously in the ALT and OCBL tournaments, and therefore ruining every single one of them. CAT worked a lot at this moment to get rid of these players in these online tournaments and define their policy to be. They decided to 1) define themselves as an advising entity for the organizations, 2) not go public with their findings, 3) limit their exchanges with the disinvited players to a dead minimum, eg reply politely to their emails, but without saying anything about the reasons of the disinvitation. As for the first 6-8 obvious cases, noone on the commitee had real doubts whether the guiltiness of the suspected players, all the members wanted things to be done, so nobody objected to this 3rd point. But it quickly became an issue in the new cases. And as you know, there have been about 20 to 25 of those.

You might wonder how these cases were handled, and why the composition of the CAT has changed that much over time. Why do you think all these people, (putting Jacek Kalita and myself apart) Sjoert Brink, Jeff Meckstroth, Marion Michielsen, Simon de Wijs, Brian Platnick, Sabine Auken (I may have forgotten a couple) left CAT. Did they suddenly start liking cheaters ? No. Not at all. As time went by, they became uncomfortable with the way CAT was handling things. They felt the whole process was becoming less and less fair for the accused parties. They felt their ideas were not represented anymore by the CAT. So they left.However strongly you believe a player is guilty of wrongdoings, there are certain things that cannot be done. It cannot be right to dig into hands that occurred before the lockdown. It cannot be right to dig into private games that CAT shouldn’t care about. As far as I know, before 2020, anybody was allowed to play on BBO by their own rules. What if a pro has once decided to play in a teammatch with friends with a « you can know your partner’s hand » rule ? Is that reprehensible ? Absolutely not. However, CAT seemed to think it was, as they decided to disinvite a few players (including Cedric Lorenzini) after finding wrongdoings in these cases.However strongly you think you are right, it cannot be a good way to just ignore the accused party’ emails and never let them know about the reasons why they suddenly are forbidden to play. Without even trying to hear what they have to say. What if they have an explanation you just didn’t think about ? What if you are just wrong ?It cannot be right either to tell them orally things such as « as long as you don’t confess, you will not be allowed back ». And eventually hide behind the true but a bit too easy « We just have an advising role, we don’t decide anything » argument, when asked about further explanations. While OCBL and ALT hide themselves behind the « we follow CAT’s advice » argument. It’s wrong, it’s very wrong.What kind of juridiction is this ? More importantly : why would CAT decide on its own the nature and length of the sanction ? Why would they be entitled to decide on their own for how long this or that professional cannot work ? Where are we here ??

Boye, your intentions have always been pure and we all admire you for that : as many of us, you love bridge so much that you cannot stand the fact that some people sometimes try not to play by the rules. And you believe, I do too, that it is right to fight for that. But to what cost ?You now lie, threaten, and blackmail people (who used to be your friends) to get to your goals. You are destroying the bridge community. You are tearing it apart. What you do will leave marks forever. You have become the very thing you swore to fight against initially. Injustice.

As about my partner Cedric Lorenzini, I’ll bring some light to his situation.You may not have liked Cedric’s statement a couple of weeks ago. Some wrote that it wasn’t a true confession, some wrote he didn’t admit all his wrongdoings. Most of you didn’t realize how complicated it can be to write such an important statement, when you know that the ones who will be reading it already think you’re guilty, and furthermore in a language that is not your native one.Anyway, a lot of people expressed their opinion about it.

I know who my partner is, I know the hands we’ve played and the daily conversations we’ve had afterwards, and I know I was not playing with nor talking to somebody who had played with the knowledge of all four hands. It’s your right not to believe him or me, but it is so. Cedric made numerous bridge mistakes in those OCBL and ALT tournaments that would have looked like cheating had they turned out well, because Cedric is not really a down the line player. So anticheating hands. He has over 140 anticheating hands among the 1600+ hands he played in ALT and OCBL tournaments in this period. He even made a file of them (he has free time, now) that he already sent to a few persons. Just realize this : he is in a position where he has to send a file of all his bad boards to get credibility back. It’s quite sick.

Back to september.Cedric made a mistake in the early days of the lockdown, CAT found about it around end of August and let him know that he would be disinvited from the main tournaments. Cedric acknowledged the decision and accepted it. Since Naren Gupta started playing with Zia in the summer, our team (Zia-Naren, Bauke-Simon, Cedric and me) has had a lot of successes in the ALT competitions, all of those being clean successes. Cedric didn’t want people to get the wrong idea about the legitimacy of those victories, so he thought of writing a statement. In the meantime, he kept on insisting to get a proper answer from CAT, emailing them, calling their members on phone, trying to understand what he should do to sort out his situation. Without much success. They finally advised him to write a statement, saying that things should change after it. Let’s say right away that the verb « blackmail » is far more accurate than « advise » to describe CAT’s methods : Cedric has been told things such as « if you don’t write a statement, we will never let you back ». So although he was first reluctant to the idea, and didn’t like to be put in this situation, Cedric decided nevertheless to go for it, as he realized it was probably his best shot to try to clean his image (and Gupta’s team’s one on the way). He just wanted to find the best possible way to apologize to the bridge community and move on. He never decided to sue CAT, although he knew very well he could not lose in a legal court.His confession though hasn’t been particularly well accepted on Bridge Winners, mostly because he suggested the idea of not being put in the same basket than the other cheats who cheated on every single hand in the online tournaments. Was it that wrong to suggest that idea?

I know at least what CAT, but mostly Boye Brogeland did wrong. I know Cedric’s case better than any other case for obvious reasons, and as a former member of the CAT, I know pretty well the mechanisms that Boye uses in his « negociations » with what he believes are cheats. He first ignores their emails for some time, making them feel weak and optionless to defend themselves. He then threatens them over the phone, telling them that they have to confess publicly if they ever want to play online bridge again. He then blackmails them, as he did with Cedric a few days ago : « if you have any intention to fight back, I’ll personnally do everything I can to make sure you’ll be the last person to be able to play the 2021 online league. ».

This is the man that you’re all applauding right now. This is what he does. This is the truth. This is how things work, now that « the Sheriff » has all the power. Lovely.On another note, see also his last post today on the « A bit too soon to be back part 2 » thread. He writes (speaking about the fact that Duboin dropped his charges against me not even a week after filing them) : « maybe ask him (me) why he thinks this happened ». What are you trying to imply here Boye ? Aren’t you tired of writing double meaning things all the time ? Especially when you have no clue like here. I have no idea why Duboin dropped his charges against me. He may have suddenly remembered how close we were before all this started. Maybe he realized that the fact that I wrote him a couple of aggressive texts was less of a big deal than how far you Boye are ready to go. I have no idea why he dropped charges against me. And I don’t care. But why do you care Boye? What are you trying to imply ? It’s really bad that you use your name and notoriety to suggest ridiculous things. Oh sorry, you didn’t suggest them, you used double meaning bullshit. How smart.

You gained notoriety here on Bridgewinners in the summer of 2015, from a fight you led against the cheaters. Tell me Boye, you who are so honest and right about everything… which bridge player came to you after every national you had won between 2013 and 2015 telling you : « I can’t congratulate you because you play with cheats (Fisher-Schwartz, if that wasn’t clear enough)» ? Who had started in 2010 a file of hands on your future teammates that you later used on your website ?Oh right, that was me ! Still, it took you a few years and a defeat AGAINST them to open your eyes… So even if you now happily surf on this wave of gratefulness from the bridge world, let’s try not to forget how things truly went.You can accuse me of a lot things but not to like nor defend cheaters. You may not remember also, because it’s been a long time we haven’t played face to face bridge, but I make A LOT of noise in a bridge room (and outside) when I think I got cheated.

So this is the person who is about to be in charge of next year’s new online league. If the bridge community wants to be ruled by this man and these methods, I don’t know what else to say.I don’t want that. I really don’t. This whole thing has already gone way too far.

Cheating is the cancer of bridge, we all agree on that.But everything you’re doing Boye will eventually have far worst consequences than what any of these cheats have done.It’s high time you realize it and stop.

P.S. : If you don’t see me in next year’s league, you’ll have an idea why.

 

Thomas Bessis

26 november 2020

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