Since Boye brought the Fisher-Schwartz scandal to the world’s attention, I have been going over VuGraph matches looking for more incriminating hands. They aren’t hard to find. A few days ago I received a phone call from Peter Bertheau informing me that Per Ola Cullin had broken the code about opening leads, and it was time to shift my focus to verifying his findings by analyzing video of their matches. Per Ola discovered that F-S were using the tray and board to indicate preferences on opening lead. Leaving the board on the tray indicates no real preference of lead (or preference for the opening bidder’s suit if his partner is on lead). Specific suit leads are requested by taking the board off the tray and putting it in a certain place on the table.
Spades: The board is pushed toward the opening leader.
Hearts: The board is placed on one side of the table.
Diamonds: The board is placed in the middle of the table.
Clubs: The board is kept on the side of the non opening leader.
Now that I had something concrete to work with, it was time to put it to the test. I decided to analyze a 15-board segment from the 2014 European Championships. I chose one F-S played against Helgemo-Helness of Monaco, since I thought that would be entertaining. There were dubious actions on all but three of the boards.
I found evidence to support my previous discoveries of ways they are conveying information, mostly during the auction.
At 8.54 Fisher quickly takes the board off the tray and puts it in the middle of the table to ask for a diamond lead. Poor Schwartz has ♦A842 and feels he can’t really lead a diamond on the first board against Monaco when he has a completely normal club lead. So he thinks for 1.5 minutes and at 10.29 eventually makes the normal lead of a club.
Helgemo makes 7 and at the end of the hand at 11.59 Fisher looks very surprised. After looking stunned and annoyed at 12.12 he leans under the table to talk to Schwartz for about 7 seconds complaining about something he did, or as we know, didn’t do. At 12.30 Fisher again says something to Schwartz and waves his hand as if to say "Why?"
Shortly after passing the tray at 12.55, Schwartz takes a loud drink of water at 13.07; you can clearly hear the water bottle. This occurs while Fisher is thinking over what to do over 1NT.
Fisher ends up declaring and the board finishes without incident.
Schwartz is on lead at 19.10 but Fisher is 5323 with 5 spades so he doesn’t touch the tray or board indicating no preference. Therefore Schwartz leads from his 6-card club suit, only hesitating a few seconds to see if Fisher gives a signal.
Fisher has 4 points and does not do anything to show it before the auction. The auction proceeds (1♣) X (2♣) P; (3♣) X (P) 3♦, Helgemo passes at 23.14 and now Ron starts thinking. After 10 seconds Fisher clears his throat and goes for the water and spends the next 8 seconds mildly coughing to show he has a weak hand; at exactly the point of the last cough, 23.34, Schwartz quickly passes!
With Fisher as declarer at 23.45 Helgemo is asking Fisher questions and he now makes some very obvious coughs including the exact same one as the last one which Schwartz acted on and passed. He coughs for 5 seconds here, which is to distract from the earlier coughing.
At 32.14 Fisher goes to lead and then stops and puts the card back. He was about to lead too quickly and Schwartz may not have had time to signal. Then 8 seconds later when the board is left on the tray indicating no preference, Fisher then leads the obvious ♠Q.
Helness opens 1♣ and Fisher passes quickly. Then while Helgemo is thinking at 36.50 Fisher whips his score sheet from behind the bidding box and puts it on the table and starts writing. This always comes before a cough and is an attempt to try and distract from the cough.
After 10 seconds Helgemo bids, and as Fisher passes the tray through at 37.04 Fisher coughs twice indicating a weak hand. After the tray comes back at 37.27 (with a very weak push by Schwartz) Fisher takes it towards him and starts asking Helgemo questions. At 37.42, 14 seconds after the tray comes through, Fisher finds the pass on his 2623 two count! The pause is to show no fit for partner. The tray gets pushed through at 38.54 and Schwartz takes all of three seconds to pass when he has a pretty decent hand! Pass may be logical but not as quickly as Schwartz did. Helness bids and this time Fisher passes very quickly. The normal lead on this auction is a spade, so Schwartz leaves the board on the tray indicating no preference.
At 42.04 Fisher quickly pulls the board towards him indicating he wants a club lead. Oops! He nearly forgot to signal there! After Schwartz thinks for 15 secs Fisher moves board back to center of the table. At 42.41 Schwartz leads the ♣10.
At 45.06 Schwartz coughs lightly and picks up his water bottle from the floor to his right for a drink. Weak hand partner!
The tray comes through at 45.17 and Schwartz, with his terrible 4-count starts thinking! He takes 12 seconds to make his pass. The auction continues and this time when the tray comes through at 45.43 it takes Schwartz 2 secs to pass. This quick pass is a signal that he has three trumps although he is very weak. When the tray comes through at 46.10 it takes Fisher less than two seconds to bid 3♥ on a hand very similar to what Schwartz held on board 6.
Fisher on lead has a very easy ♥K lead and immediately leads it without waiting for a signal at 47.36. This avoids a signal and the possibility of getting caught.
At 49.57 the tray gets pushed to Fisher who responds 1NT and Helgemo overcalls 2♠. Now at 50.12 you can see Fisher again goes for the score sheet which he might believe will hide the obvious cough he is about to make and does so twice at 50.14 and 50.15 and follows it with another clearing the throat type of noise at 50.18. At 51.37 Fisher goes to take the board and pull it towards him to ask for a club; however, Schwartz has ♥AK and immediately leads without waiting for the signal.
Of course the defense is easy but especially so as Schwartz already knows Fisher likes clubs. Schwartz leads ♥K and takes little time to find a club switch.
Nothing seemed to happen and a quick 4♠ was bid by F-S.
H-H bid quickly to 4♠ and Fisher shows no preference by leaving tray on the table with the board on it at 1.09.35. Schwartz leads the ♦10 after about 10 seconds.
Fisher only has 5 points here but their range for really weak hands is 0-4. Also as 5-point hands go, opposite a takeout double of 1♦, this is not too bad with both majors and working honors. (1♦) X (3♦) P (P) to Schwartz, who thinks from 1.16.16 to 1.16.54 and then makes a second double. Fisher then thinks from 1.16.58 until 1.17.4 and bids 3♥, ending the auction.
In the play Helgemo leads a club at 1.18.00 and Fisher goes to play by pointing at a card at 1.18.18 and then stops and taps the board with his first two fingers of his right hand. This is an "I need help partner!" signal, usually in the trump suit. Fisher often tugs at his shirt when he is dummy to alert his partner when he sees his opponents' cards and trumps are bad. Twelve seconds later Schwartz gets up and leaves the room. Fisher does not play a card until 1.20.40, over 2 minutes later, about 5 seconds before Schwartz comes back to the sit down. Fisher was waiting for Schwartz to come back and give him a signal about the trump suit. I am sure that this hand would not take a world-class player that long to play at trick 1. The play after Schwartz was back took less than 2 minutes.
Here Schwartz passes and Fisher takes about 20 seconds and opens a strange 2♥ showing majors and Helgemo overcalls 3♥ natural. Then the tray gets pushed through at 1.23.32 and Fisher coughs to show minimum at 1.23.33. Schwartz then makes a conservative 3♠ call and passes out 4♥ quickly after Fisher coughs quietly at 1.24.28. Then at 1.24.37 Fisher pushes the tray towards Schwartz who then of course finds the spade lead.
Another boring hand bidding-wise, but Fisher leaves the board on the tray showing no preference at 1.38.06.
At the end of the hand note that Fisher was very upset with Schwartz. Probably about the lead chosen. (If he cared so much, he should have signalled what to lead!)
A boring auction to 3NT by F-S.
Link to video is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj66nTvvgVk
Plus... it's free!