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Bridge and "cheating"

In a separate articleBW has requested we hold off on speculation about the recent probation ruling. In THIS article I argue that cheating in bridge is more problematic than the black/white view elsewhere espoused. I use my Chicago experiences as a springboard for discussion.

In short, poker is based partly on the premise that opponents can read each other's tells even though those players actively tried to hide those tells. Bridge, on the other hand, assumes that long-time partners miraculously aren't wired into each others habits/tendencies, and ACTIVE ETHICS are such a success that partners can and do conceal from each other any "tells." Common sense tells me that this premise is flawed. Unfortunately, I can offer no prescription for this problem.

I have no experience in top-level team bridge and limited experience in top-level pairs bridge. I was struck by Michael Kamil's statement: "It's a pretty sad state of affairs when I can honestly say I can't see myself ever being able to win a big event again because I don't cheat."

I attended the Chicago Board of Governors meeting. Cheating was discussed and my impression (other attendees: please chime in with your recollection) was a firm consensus that cheating is an existing and serious problem in top-level bridge. Steve Weinstein's recent BW post seems to confirm that impression.

My point, generally, is that bridge requires an active ethics that may be, in practice, unrealistic. I'll briefly discuss two Chicago experiences that aren't even cheating. But as a starter, I say that I've had to tell two different regular partners not to stare at me when I fail to alert a bid. In other words, I practice active ethics, and even so I'm given UI that could help me, and I'm certain that I "know" certain pieces of information from partner's behavior that I may not be consciously aware of.

1) Semi-psyche in the Wernher

In Day 2 of the Wernher, a #3 seed opened 1 with♠AQJ, 762, 842,♣AQJT. No alert or announcement. Auction goes 1-1-1NT and I'm on lead with ♠872, A5, KQT763, ♣53 (fyi:Hand #1). I lead a club and we play great defense to set the hand 2 tricks for a bad board because we can make diamond partials or set 1NT 3 tricks if I lead a diamond.

Now, I get that players bid that way for a variety of reasons. I haven't the vaguest idea of whether this was a psyche in their partnership. Let's stipulate purely for purposes of discussion that the pair makes these types of bids regularly: LHO knows not to raise aggressively with diamonds in certain situations. How would their opponents ever be protected? It turns out I asked a national ACBL TD whose opinions I highly regard and he said that there is no such mechanism. Perhaps there shouldn't be, but it puts alot of pressure on ACTIVE ETHICS that perhaps isn't justified.

2) Smartphones in a national flighted event

In day 2 of a flighted national event last week, an opponent started using his smartphone DURING the bidding of a hand in the second round. I called "DIRECTOR" but none was available so we finished the round. As a side note, the player became outraged at my director call, became abusive, and we had to chase the pair down to get a bridgemate approval of the score. I spoke to the director after the round (mainly about the ZT issue). I was informally told that NOTHING would be done about either the ZT or phone issue.

I recall the incident - years ago - where two national champions met in the bathroom DURING the play of a hand. Even if innocuous, if the culture of bridge allows such "brightline" behavior during the play of hand, there is no hope IMO for creating a level playing field that protects against ACTUAL misconduct.

Perhaps nothing should be done about either of these two incidents. But I assert that if low-level non-cheating issues are allowed to slide (and perhaps they should be; enforcement would require a substantial increase in # of directors which means higher costs), it strikes me as impossible to create a level playing field for serious top-level bridge.

My conclusion is that bridge is a game where not only clear acts of cheating are hard to detect and prosecute, but lesser acts of simply being wired to partner's actions require an active ethics that are, in practice, unachievable and so a level playing field may just be illusory. I welcome arguments to the contrary.

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