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Implementing a Better System to Detect Cheating


Following milestone articles by Mike Passell (“The Whole Story”) and Roy Welland (“Boye’s Call for Action”), we now have Larry Cohen’s breakthrough article “Catching Cheaters”. It’s an important contribution because it is constructive and forward-looking, and so are most of the comments. The question now is obvious: what’s next?

Based on these discussions and more than two decades of experience in designing and implementing strategies on the global arena, I hereby propose a simple and practical Medium-Term Strategy (MTS) to deal with cheating at all levels. While the focus of the discussions on Cohen’s article is very much on the top players (Sabine Auken: “… for top players, the situation has become unbearable”), the MTS proposed here is focusing on all players for two reasons. First, I think systematic cheating among top players is actually very rare indeed and, therefore, efforts should be focusing on the population at large. In fact, I think the number of top-level cases during the past few decades can be counted on your fingers. Second, there’s no need to make class distinctions, especially because the game will sooner or later become “fully electronic” (Doug Couchman), thereby enabling an easy electronic surveillance of outliers.

Many players making comments on the articles mention the need to employ sophisticated statistical testing methods. Some experts even logically suggest to use the Bayesian approach. Decades ago – writing my PhD in mathematical statistics (its foundation is the theory of probability) – extremely powerful statistical tools already existed to analyze deviations from the norm. Sometimes we called them the study of outliers. We were never interested in a single outlier, but in the trend that created them; in the variables that generated them and the randomness thereof. Such statistical tools are used today on systematic basis by corporations to analyze client satisfaction, product defects, etc. There is no reason why ACBL should not be armed with such a weapon in its arsenal.

Such a tool does not answer the question of “how” cheating was done, only that something took place, but “it is “enough to know that message is being exchanged, the “how” is secondary” (Geoff Hampson). And BTW, this study of outliers is never a single event study: always a study of trends because as David Burn puts it: “… cheating cannot be detected on “match-to-match” basis. As such, the tool would generate time series that can easily be analyzed. I call this statistical test “the MO test”. It is, of course, purely accidental that these are my initials. MO stands for “modus operandi”.

But the MO test would be more than just a data tool; there’s a psychological aspect of it that is equally powerful. Let’s say we have such a gizmo and it is robust and automatic. I’m cheating and on lead with Qx QJ109 xxx xxxx after 1NT-3NT. Partner has secretly signaled to me that he has good spades (actually KJ1098 + side ace in this case). Would I really dare to play the Q, knowing the system would register this outlier result? This is an extremely important argument raised by Larry Cohen: the power of deterrence.

Many players making comments on the articles are concerned about due process. And rightly so; see for instance comments from Wayne Burrows, Peter Hasperhoven, Alan Frank and a good story from Richard Margolis. There’s no judicial error worse than finding an innocent man guilty; it’s much more serious than finding a guilty man innocent. Therefore, we need to have our solid internal system of due process. Such a system is proposed in the MTS and is based on my painful experience as Chair of the internal Disciplinary Boards of my corporations for 15 years, and on the balanced and cool professional wisdom of John R. Mayne and Nick Krnjevic.

Regarding due process – and while I do not question the purity of Brogeland’s heart and soul – the process in the Schwartz-Fisher case has been seriously flawed. In fact, it amounts to a public character execution. Nevertheless, at the same time, the integrity of the whistleblowers process cannot be jeopardized. It may well be that Boye Brogeland ran into a brick wall in trying to raise the issue through formal channels; we do not yet know the facts. What is clear, however, is that we need a well-oiled machine to deal with such issues.

The proposed MTS is not perfect but in the words of Peg Kaplan: “It’s an imperfect world. Any method … will have its flaws. Yet, a flawed method is superior to none”.

The Blueprint

The step-by-step implementation of the proposedMTSis as follows:

  1. A Task Force (TF) to implement theMTSis established. Led byACBLofficials, at least two top players are on theTF. This is a paid job of short duration.

  2. Its first task is to seek financial support from sponsors. Without such a support, there will be no implementation. Due credit shall be awarded to such sponsors for decades to come.

  3. A respected professional from the academic world of Applied Mathematics, or related fields, is hired to design the MO test. He/she does not need to know the game.

  4. AdditionalICTinfrastructure to store data from the MO test is established. We need more storage space, new search functions and – above all – to combine two individual players into one variable. In fact, the wholeICTarchitecture needs to be re-designed.

  5. We need to modify the current system of board recording by adding the opening lead to the data. I have no idea if this is easily doable. Clearly, team games should always havepre-dealt games with hand records.

  6. ACBLwill establish a pool of 100 top players. When and if (the hope is, of course, that these measures will be so well-implemented that systematic cheating will disappear) a case comes up, 12 of them are selected to serve on the jury. The jury’s verdict is “not guilty” or “guilty” with penalty ranging from suspension for lifetime to banning the pair to play together. Or, amounting to something similar, revoking membership (GavinWolpert). And, above all, in the words of GeoffHampson: “the caliber of players [on the jury] must be high”.

  7. ACBLestablishes an Appeal Board of five top players, selected from a pool of 20. The work actually done is paid. The Appeal Board has the final word in this process.

  8. The waiver (a la Larry Cohen) is introduced. It does not fully prevent a player to sueACBL, but because our internal judicial process is clearly a properly designed due process, chances of an adverse ruling by the outside courts will be very slim indeed. Points made by various players in this regard have been constructive indeed; see for instance valuable comments made by John Mayne and NickKrnjevic.

  9. Delay mechanism for all matches onBBO(and other similar sites) is introduced, like many such asMagnusE.Magnussonhave advocated.

  10. Electronic sweeping at all major finals is introduced as a matter of routine (as suggested by many, such as Diego Brenner).

This strategy may seem to be taking us “too far” for some or “too short” for others. This can be discussed but the fact is, in the words of Brad Moss: “if we do nothing, the game as we know it is over”. Consequently, it is appropriate to conclude with the question from a true Viking,BoyeBrogeland: “Do we lack courage to fight for the game we love?”

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