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It's Not Europe Vs. America

I’m annoyed by some of the comments I’m reading that seem to be making this cheating situation about Europe vs. the USA. “The only reason all the cheating pairs identified so far are from Europe is because the only video we have is from the European Championships,” their argument goes. “Until the ACBL releases its videos, we have a one-sided view of things that is unfairly biased against Europe.” That’s just nonsense.

I’m all for increased video monitoring and disclosure; I want all major events video recorded and those videos to be publicly available. I applaud the ACBL’s recent statement that it plans to do exactly this starting in 2016. I’ve spent a lot of time in the last month talking with ACBL CEO Robert Hartman, BoD President Suzi Subeck, and countless ACBL staffers and BoD members. I am extremely impressed by all the work they are putting into this and their collective commitment to cleaning up the game.

The argument that this is a Europe vs. USA thing is ridiculous. First, the ACBL is not just the USA. Everyone who plays in an ACBL national event has to be a member of the ACBL. So any investigation of ACBL members would include people from around the world.

The EBL’s footage from the 2014 European Championships was instrumental to identifying cheating pairs and diagnosing the illegal methods they were using. The presence of this footage certainly makes it easier to mount a case against a pair playing in this event to one who was not. But we haven’t been studying every pair in that event. Hopefully that will become the norm going forward. I welcome scrutiny of my results, as should every other clean bridge player — if you don’t cheat, there won’t be anything to find. We used this video to further examine pairs about whom there were already heavy suspicions. That all of these pairs happened to be European was a coincidence — the EBL’s decision to video the championships was an attempt to improve the viewing experience, not anything to do with investigating cheating (way to go Traian Chira!). It’s not like there are rumors about an American pair, and we haven’t been able to corroborate them because there isn’t enough video evidence. We (the top Americans) are pretty competitive; we have no instinct to cover up for a countryman. If I thought another American pair was cheating, I would be the first to go after them.  

The videos from the 2014 European Championships are not the only video footage available. The ACBL has made some footage from the 2015 Spingold and Vanderbilt available. It’s not the greatest quality, but that’s not the reason it’s not particularly useful in nabbing American pairs. Unfortunately, since the video is of the late rounds of these events, most of the participants being filmed are Europeans!

The ACBL has other video it has not made public. I would prefer to see this video released, but I understand the reason it has not been. This is selective video, taken mostly of people suspected of cheating. Who do you think is on those tapes? A bunch of pairs that no one’s whispering about, or the pairs that we’ve already busted?

I want to address the concept of how far back you should strip championships for convicted cheaters. I’ve seen people suggest that maybe F-N didn’t cheat until they joined Monaco, so their championships won with in their days representing Italy should be untouched. That is ridiculous. You don’t start to cheat once you make it to the top of the hill; you cheat on your way up. Can you imagine Fantoni saying to Nunes, “Hey, we’re number 1 and 2 in the world, and we just got this lucrative deal that’s going to set us up for life. Let’s start cheating.” Give me a break. If anything, you would cheat at the beginning of your career and then stop once you made your name. Once you make it onto a top team, a pair could actively try to lose and still make a living playing bridge the rest of their lives. You think they would risk that to start cheating now? Don’t be ridiculous. If an established pair is convicted of cheating, it is reasonable to assume they started cheating on their way up; you should strip all of their titles as a partnership.

America has had its share of cheaters in the past. So has Europe. So has the rest of the world. Right now, the cheating is mostly coming from Europe, not because I'm anti-European, but because these are where these cheaters happen to be. Geography doesn't make cheaters, cheaters do it all by themselves no matter where they are from.

Am I sure no Americans are cheating? Of course not. But is anyone whispering about me and Bobby or Jeff and Eric? More public video can only help, and again I applaud the ACBL for taking that step. But if you think the only reason we’ve found multiple cheating pairs from Europe and none from the US is the quality and/or amount of video footage available, you’re kidding yourself.

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