Join Bridge Winners
Let's Give Them Something to Talk About
(Page of 5)

Ode To Bonnie

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJ58TVYNFro

 

It is a new year. 

Fresh start. 

Even though Judy Kay Wolff said I am "a dog on a bone" (and she may be right), I have not said a word on this in over 2 years. My new year's resolution is to ask Peter Weischel, Alan Sontag and the ACBL for justice. Is that too much to ask? Perhaps.  

For the unenlightened, in 1979 at the fall NABC (Norfolk) team Sternberg (NPC)  (Sontag, Weischel, Sion, Cokin) won the BAM by less than a full board. The second place team (Hann, Hoffner, Zabbour, Sacks, Feldman, Cappelletti) filed an appeal on this board. Cokin and Sion cheated on this and every hand they ever played together and confessed as much to the ACBL as part of their sentence and later reinstatement.  

Ron Feldman asked me to add this: 

The causation of the cheating was a direct hand of our team playing against Sion/Cokin's team where Sion/Cokin made one of their opening leads based on illegally obtained signaling information that caused them to "Win" a Board they were destined to "Lose" on the obvious lead (e.g. Un-bid 6 card suit headed by 3 of the top 5 honors with an outside Ace doubleton defending 1NT vulnerable.

This is from a blog archive six years back. (more details on www.bridgeblogging.com)  

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

by Cam French on April 10th, 2008

Sex, Lies, no Videotape

Sorry (well not really) for the tantalizing headline. There was no sex, certainly no videotape but the lies climb out of their coffins like zombies in a horror flick. Herein the story gets even more incredible. Apparently there were no minutes kept of said Conducts and Ethics committee hearing pursuant to the events of Atlanta, GNTs 1979. I found that difficult not only to believe but to accept. One thing is for sure – there would be no dusting off of the minutes (if they indeed existed) for a prying journalist to view. So all we have is witnesses and inferences.

Imagine you are Richard Goldberg, head honcho of the ACBL in 1979 (note: his title was General Manager and Executive Secretary), which the ACBL has now changed to CEO, and here you face this nightmare in Atlanta from the Zonal playoffs of the Grand National teams. If the truth comes out, that the cheating of Sion and Cokin at Norfolk has been documented by high level players, and that the ACBL itself has short-circuited the process by suppressing damming information generated by Woolsey and friends, who knows where that path leads? Not satisfied to obstruct Hann’s pursuit of justice, Richard Goldberg in a letter to Hann’s team denied any knowledge that Sion and Cokin were cheating prior to Atlanta. Not only were Cokin and Sion cheating in Norfolk, but as Bobby Wolff notes in an email correspondence; Cokin Sion admitted to cheating in "basically every event they ever played in".

The sanctioning body for the tournament, the ACBL, participated in a cover-up of the situation, by lying about what they did and did not know.

Now finally the ACBL has been forced to face the facts that Cokin/Sion were cheating in the GNTs (June 79, Atlanta) and the Spring Nationals in Norfolk, and for who knows how long previously? (answer - every hand!) 

As for this committee, how do you prosecute the offenders? Lee Hazen was charged with that duty and I will wager that Mr. Hazen and Mr. Goldberg and a few other ACBL heavyweights discussed how to address this issue. What would Mr. Hazen ask the code-breakers?

1) When was this code broken? (3/79)

2) Where was this code broken? (Norfolk) 

3) Did you verify it prior to Atlanta? (no) 

4) Who knew and how and when did they know? (well, the code breakers Martel, Woolsey,  

If Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Hazen were capable, and their management of this tender issue suggests they stick- handled through this like Wayne Gretzky, then they had to ensure that Norfolk was a non-issue. Prior history, be it Norfolk, New York or Timbuktu was to be walked around like minefield. After all if the testimony disclosed that the code was broken at Norfolk, then Goldberg’s[5] claims to Gary Hann of

“The decision, of course, applied only during the matches observed in Atlanta. For the foregoing reasons, Mr. Hann, we cannot assume that improper information was exchanged in prior events". 

would be patently false. It was false of course. He had to know. He also knew that those questions could never be raised by Mr. Hazen as they opened up the gateway to litigation, liability and a legal nightmare. Or, if indeed they were asked (which seems to me to be a logical line of questioning) no minutes would be available to the Members as they were too incriminating. Would the defense ask those questions? Sure, right after the question every defense attorney inevitably asks his client: “When did you stop beating your wife?”

No one wanted to know (at least for the record) of any prior misconduct of Cokin and Sion. One full calendar year earlier, (1978) Sion and Cokin with team mates Levin, Reinhold and Seamon had been runners-up in the GNTs. In 1977, both were in the top 10 of McKenny Race. How long had this been going on? What if the word got out? How many people would come forth with claims of being cheated? The floodgates could open. Mr. Goldberg was far too clever to allow that to happen on his watch. No way. Atlanta was in play, everything prior, was out-of bounds and untouchable. And let’s be honest, given his predicament, the pending proceedings, the possible bankruptcy of the League, his actions served his employer. And maybe he was right. Hindsight is far easier than foresight.

Therein is the justification for burying Norfolk. The ACBL could never look back to events prior to Atlanta. How could they justify allowing this debacle to perpetuate? Where were the cheating police? Where were the protocols? Why, months after Norfolk was nothing being done? Can you imagine the feeling in Memphis whereby cheaters were winning tournaments, some people knew this and yet they remained free to compete? It was an unfathomable failing of leadership. They allowed the game to be corrupted. So the word could never get out. If someone needed a reason to batten down the hatches, this was it. This was a public relations disaster waiting to happen. Precluding that would be best served by political hardball including denial, denial, denial, avoidance and deceit.

For those too young to recall the League eventually expelled Steve Sion and Allan Cokin for “ prearranged unlawful communication". According to a former ACBL President (Spivak) this constitutes "The gravest possible offence against propriety is for a partnership to exchange information through prearranged methods of communication other than those sanctioned by these Laws". One might ask how could "the gravest possible offence against propriety" go unrecognized and perforce, unpunished?

In Norfolk and the GNTs Cokin and Sion were part of team Sternberg, a wealthy Florida sponsor and two international superstars – Peter Weichsel and Alan Sontag. All four were hired and in return received a generous stipend from the sponsor, Dr. Jim Sternberg. As Edgar predicted, money would be an “inducement to the unscrupulous”.

Eventually after a Conducts and Ethics Committee in Memphis, Cokin and Sion were convicted of prearranged unlawful communication and expelled. This activated the radar for team Hann (Jabbour, Sacks, Feldman, Hoffner, Cappelletti) who had lost the Norfolk BAM event to team Sternberg three months earlier at the Norfolk Spring NABCs. They suspected something was amiss. It turns out that they had indeed been cheated on Board 13 during the event, and eventually came to learn that Cokin and Sion had cheated throughout the event, affirmed when Woolsey, Martel and friends could and did call off every short suit being unlawfully communicated.

There is neither evidence nor insinuation that Sontag and Weischel knew of their team mates’ cheating. Sadly though, they did benefit from said cheating, as they earned or more accurately, scored a financial bonus (from the sponsor) and to this day retain as they retain that title (Norfolk BAM 1979) at least according to The Official Encyclopedia of Bridge, 6th edition. In an email to Sontag and Weichsel they were asked by me: “how can this title possible resonate with the same level of satisfaction as all your other fabulous achievements?” I asked several experts a similar question: “if you had won an event and later discovered to your horror that your team mates had cheated, would you relinquish that title?”

Without exception they said yes, and some offered that they would turn in cheaters, even partners or team mates. No one wanted anything to do with a title that was won unlawfully. All of which begs the obvious question – what is to be served by clinging to this title? Sontag and Weichsel knew (certainly after Atlanta) that their team mates cheated, that their code was broken at Norfolk and that they never would have won (at Norfolk) except for the unlawful and egregious acts of Cokin and Sion. They were invited on more than one occasion to comment, to clarify, to say whatever they wanted to say. They chose not to reply. Sometimes you say a lot by saying nothing.

An expert player volunteered to ask Sontag at the spring NABCs in Detroit (3/2008) if he would like to distance himself from his team mates and forfeit the Norfolk title. This much became clear. “Crystal” as Tom Cruise noted in A Few Good Men. NEVER would they voluntarily give it up. I had imagined they might want to do so. In hindsight that seems foolish or at least naïve. Somehow, I believed forfeiting this title would serve them by distancing themselves from their cheating team mates. They see it differently. It might have made it easier for the ACBL to strip the title from team Sternberg if two world renown players stood up and said "we did not earn this title, we want nothing to do with it" and thus acknowledged this blemish on the game. But that is not their agenda. Sontag and Weichsel prefer avoidance to confronting their (albeit unwitting) role in this episode. And that speaks volumes.

In September (1979) team captain Gary Hann fired off letters to ACBL President Leo Spivak. ACBL Board member Vincent Remey and ACBL Executive Secretary & General Manager Richard Goldberg asking for their case to be reviewed. Hann noted the board Sacks brought to the attention of director Mike Linah. This was the hand Sacks sought to tell Soloway about. Alan Truscott wrote in up in The New York Times on December 29, 1979.

All Vulnerable. Board 13.

Board a Match scoring. (Rotated for convenience, Sacks/Hoffner were E/W)

West
J4
1063
A10
AJ10962
North
A10863
5
Q962
754
East
Q9752
AKJ8
874
3
South
K
Q9742
KJ53
KQ8
W
N
E
S
P
1
P
1
P
1NT
P
P
P
D
1NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0

 

N/S played Flannery so 1♠ was alerted as “tending to show 5 spades”.Opening lead was……?

The auction tells a story, and if that is not sufficiently telling (and, it may not be) the opening lead says it all. BAM and matchpoint scoring are blood brothers. You don’t win these events by allowing the opposition to play 1NT unmolested. Certainly, when one has a powerful six card suit, and is able to make an easy lead directing overcall at a low level with minimal risk, one tends to do so. In the circumstances of this hand an overcall is arguable; particularly vulnerable opposite a passed hand partner. Sion who held these cards elected not to overcall. OK. David Sacks calls that “reasonable.” Let’s accept that for a moment but I doubt it is winning BAM tactics. What should Sion lead?

Well, you are never going to lead a heart, and a diamond looks unappealing. With five spades on your left, and probably two on your right, that doesn’t seem too attractive. How does your secret six bagger look? The jack (perhaps the 10) of clubs would jump out of most defender’s hands, like toast out of the toaster.

As Truscott observes wryly[6] “if West makes the normal lead of a club J-10….south will emerge with eight tricks.”

(Note if a club is led and Sacks emerges with 8 tricks his team wins the event. Here is the direct damage, reported at the time.)

The sad truth is the kibitzer would lead a club, the fill-in would lead a club, my mother would lead a club, Simon’s unlucky expert would lead a club, all the MSC panelists would scream “what’s the problem???” and lead a club.

What did Sion lead? He led the jack of spades! Why would he do that? The answer is through his private signaling system, he knew of his partner’s club shortness. No doubt such knowledge makes a club overcall less attractive. And it certainly makes a club lead far less enticing. This is the smoking gun. You don’t need to be Zia to create an illusion in the opponent’s mind when you have wire.

Sion and Cokin, to fuel their sponsor’s dreams and to satiate their own greed, needed an edge. They were competent players, (Sion a star, Cokin, a lesser light)  but Cokin a couple of big steps down the ladder from the likes of Sontag, Weichsel, Martel, Stansby, Woolsey, Robinson, Kaplan, Kay and the bridge elite of the day. From everything I have read and learned I submit Sion was a gifted player, well above Cokin’s talent level. His nickname was “Stevie Wonder”, as in I wonder how he did that? He enjoyed success apart from Cokin within the expert community.There is littledoubt that Sion bullied Cokin into cheating. Later Cokin found success as an expert bridge coach working with the likes of Steve Landen and Pratap Rajadhyaksha. Sion’s fate is best explained by this note from Bobby Wolf:

“Steve Sion signed his confession, which is now on file in Jeff Polisner’s office, and has since, due to other sociopathic behavior, been expelled from the league.”[7]

Bobby Wolff was assigned the duty as serving as the “parole officer” for Cokin and Sion and was directly responsible for Cokin’s written confession and appearance before the 1987 ACBL BOD wherein he detailed his cheating. In effect “all they do is admit cheating, inferring they were cheating in every event they played in”.[8}

I guess the one thing that puzzles me (and others who have contacted and liaised with me during the exploration of this story) is why bridge superstars Sontag and Weichsel cling to this tainted title? It is meaningless in comparison to their other fabulous accomplishments. It soils (collaterally) their otherwise pristine reputations. I confess, I don’t get it. They did not cheat. Their team mates did. Why cling to it as if it were a crown jewel? It is the poisoned fruit; a fact to which they prefer to blissfully ignore. I wish I understood why.

[5] Richard Goldberg in a letter to Gary Hann dated 11/7/79.

[6] July 11, 1979, New York Times.

[7] Bobby Wolff in an email letter to the author.

[8] Ibid.

 

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________  

 

The FACT that Sion and Cokin were cheating on this hand (and every hand) is not in dispute. 

If you don't believe me, ask Bobby Wolff or Kit Woolsey.

We all know the ACBL feels the need to cover their sordid past, has no interest in justice and has successfuly blocked, denied, lied and avoided the truth. I don't like that, but I accept it.

What I don't understand is how or why Sontag and Weischel cling to this stolen title when their accomplishments are so profound, this is a blemish. It behooves them to toss this one back. As I said in Collateral Damage..... 

What if Mr. Goldberg had sent this letter? 

“Messrs. Cokin and Sion were found by the properly constituted committee to have exchanged improper information during the Zonal Grand National competitions in June in Atlanta and the Men’s Board-A-Match event of March in Norfolk. As the code was broken in Norfolk, at the BAM event for which you seek redress, as I understand the situation, the ruling must embrace any prior act that can be sustained by the evidence presented to the committee. The committee determined, after this pair had been monitored at Norfolk and Atlanta, that during the play of numerous boards that indeed, unlawful communication had occurred in Norfolk and was validated in Atlanta. Therefore pursuant to your request it is incumbent upon us to “adjust” results based on a situation that is proven to have occurred and adversely impacted the standings of the top two teams in said event. I thank you for bringing this to our attention on a timely basis. I hope that committee decision which was to strip the title from Sternberg, award it to Hann, with a full explanation in an upcoming Bulletin and proper Masterpoint accreditation to follow will be adequate compensation for any emotional and/or other suffering you and your team mates might have enduring awaiting the resolution of this matter. ”

 

“In effect, that champion players know when they are being cheated….It is the business of top players to be extraordinarily sensitive to such things; their antennae come quivering to attention at the first false note, a sense of unease ripens into suspicion…It is all to the good that experts cannot cheat their peers without it becoming known.”

 

This morsel of ACBL perspective (from Executive Secretary & General Manager Richard Goldberg), dated 11/7/79 speaks for itself:

"Messrs. Cokin and Sion were found by the properly constituted committee to have exchanged improper information during the Zonal Grand National competitions in June in Atlanta. As I understand the situation, the ruling was made by the committee after this pair had been monitored during the play of numerous boards. The decision, of course, applied only during the matches observed in Atlanta. For the foregoing reasons, Mr. Hann, we cannot assume that improper information was exchanged in prior events. Therefore, it would be impractical to “adjust” results based on a situation that might – or might not – have occurred. I do hope you understand.”

Well, what does that really say? (more on this later) It is the standard denial, rife with cliché, omissions and ambiguity. It seems to suggest, that if the exchange of “improper information” was established in prior events, then it would be practical to “adjust” the scores based upon what did indeed occur. He tossed a coin into the air and the preceding memo won. Is this the one he flirted with sending?

“Messrs. Cokin and Sion were found by the properly constituted committee to have exchanged improper information during the Zonal Grand National competitions in June in Atlanta and the Men’s Board-A-Match event of the March NABC in Norfolk. As the code was broken in Norfolk, at the BAM event for which you seek redress, as I understand the situation, the ruling must embrace any prior or concomitant act that can be sustained by the evidence presented to the committee. The committee determined, after this pair had been monitored at Norfolk and Atlanta, that during the play of numerous boards that indeed, unlawful communication had occurred in Norfolk and was validated in Atlanta. Therefore pursuant to your request it is incumbent upon us to “adjust” results based on a situation that is proven to have occurred and adversely impacted the standings of the top two teams in said event. I thank you for bringing this to our attention on a timely basis. I hope that committee decision which was to strip the title from Sternberg, award it to Hann, with a full explanation in an upcoming Bulletin and proper Masterpoint accreditation to follow will be adequate compensation for any emotional and/or other suffering you and your team mates might have enduring awaiting the resolution of this matter. ”

Just for laughs – what do we say to Cappelletti, Hoffner, Hann, Jabbour, Feldman and Sacks? Sorry, you were cheated but hey – that was a long time ago and well, even though you asked for a committee on a timely basis – we just don’t want to go there, Let sleeping dogs lie. Let it go. Suck up the fact you were cheated and we can’t or won’t go back. Why reopen old wounds? The answer to that is easy too.

Whose wounds are we re-opening? Those of the cheaters Sion and Cokin? Those of their team mates Weichsel and Sontag? Their sponsor – Sternberg? Those of the ACBL? All wounds sustained by the aforementioned were self-inflicted. In our hearts, minds and laws, we recognize the rights of victims as superior to those of the perpetrators. The real “victims” here are the integrity of the game, Cappelletti, Feldman, Hann, Hoffner, Sacks, and Jabbour and others who were cheated over the years. For whatever reasons, they are happy to reopen their wounds, to see the injustice imposed upon them brought to light. So really, why not air it out? Dirty laundry, long interred skeletons, let’s hang them out and see what happens. Or will that be too “painful” for some who don’t like what they see in the rearview mirror? And of course, yes it is. To paraphrase, one man’s pain is another man’s pleasure.

I ask.......

i) Stripping team Sternberg of its victory at Norfolk BAM 1979.

What the hell is so hard about that? We have their signed confessions. We have witnesses. We have a timely appeal. We have all the evidence a prosecutor could ever amass. But, to the BOD it is not enough. What is enough? Please enlighten us.

Stripping team Sternberg is as Woolsey puts it is “political”. It is part of the historical archive that Sion and Cokin cheated throughout this event, including a specific hand against team Hann which was reported by the non-offending team and “noted” by the directors at the time. So although time and political agendas may well work against said resolution, such an action should be seen as inevitable and/or fair (what a concept!) by many. Bobby Wolff reported where the signed confessions are sitting – in Jeff Polisner’s office. We know what Woolsey and Martel, (see Appendices)  have to say and they have corroboration from Blumenthal, Lewis and Jacobus.

So we have signed confessions, corroborative evidence, a smoking gun covered with the defendants’ fingerprints, gun residue yet the sentiment is from high on above is, (let me get this right) retain your title. Let’s enable cheaters. Even should the non-offending party register a protest, and ask for a committee, well, that’s just too bad. If the ACBL fails to strip the title from Sternberg, they validate cheaters. You tell me, why should you retain the fruits of your crimes? If you rob a bank and they catch you, for some reason they confiscate your purloined bounty. That may seem harsh to a few, but it is seen as pragmatic by the majority. So I ask again, why do Sion/Cokin/Sternberg/Sontag/Weichsel retain their ill-gotten gains?

Is that really the intent of the laws – to validate cheaters? Please say it ain’t so. Of course it is not the intent of the laws, but it was the collateral effect of those empowered to enforce the laws. In their efforts to spare the League the nightmares of potential litigation, the sad part is Spivak, Goldberg and Remey gave inadequate consideration to the laws of the League that they were elected to uphold and enforce. When is a cheater not a cheater, well….when we say so? They allow them to retain the fruits of their crimes. No one wants to say that, at least – not in those words. But let’s call this spade a spade. As of this writing the cheaters and their non-cheating team mates retain their ill-gotten gains. (At least according to the ACBL and The Official Encyclopedia of Bridge 6th edition.) Interestingly I emailed my ACBL representative Jonathon Steinberg asking him if I had a title I wanted to renounce, how might I go about it? He had no idea and referred me to the BOD. What does that tell you?

Team Sternberg, (Sontag, Weichsel, Cokin, Sion) through the illegal actions of Cokin/Sion won the BAM at Norfolk 1979. Can we put an asterisk next to the title? Why don’t we just do the right thing? Let’s have a committee examine the historical archive and see what, if any adjustment should be made. You can’t strip them of the title if you don’t look at the proof. And you don’t want to look at the proof because it and other actions makes the League look duplicitous. Catch 22. Somewhere, Joseph Heller is smiling. Make an informed decision. But do not run away, denying due process to these members. If a properly constituted committee appointed by the ACBL determined that in Cokin and Sion cheated on Board 13 of the BAM and that a reversal of the scoring was appropriate then the ACBL should do the right thing and:

ii) Award said title to the second place team. 

Many within the League would suggest that such an idea is contentious. Why should we do that; especially when the rules (after amendment) advocate for “vacating” the title? Here is the answer in all its simplicity. Except for the cheating of Cokin/Sion at Norfolk, which was documented and confessed to, Cappelletti and his teammates won the event. How is that for a solution? We award the title to the winners. I guess that will raise eyebrows…..after all, who should have the title? Cheaters? Or is vacancy the answer? Yes it is. Vacancy validates the inability of the League to deal with this problem directly. I note that Wold and company "advanced" to first place (by the WBF) when a pair of the German winners were convicted of cheating.  

The “vacant title” argument is just that; bereft of logic, judgment and certainly accredited precedent. Name an event without a winner. Alas, Miss America does not count. Even where the winner is disqualified, somebody eventually is anointed champion. Everyone who enters a competitive event does so in the hope to win. If the title is vacated, no one can win. Second place, third place, fourth place, all equally denied an opportunity. Here we have equality in losing, even if you might have won. The argument for said logic is that in most bridge events, you play the field, not one on one, like boxing or baseball. So who did you cheat against, and how did your (selective?) cheating affect the results?

The answer is patently obvious.

Cheaters seek every advantage, they cheat on every hand. Certainly Cokin and Sion were “unlawfully communicating” on every hand when Woolsey and friends can pick off their transmissions with "100% accuracy" in back to back events. The bottom line is they cheat on every hand. Period. They are not so inclined as to say – oh – here are my old friends Peter and Alan. We won’t cheat against them. That is in a word; laughable. Every hand, every opportunity must be maximized. Cheaters have no favourites except themselves.

I admit it is far from a perfect resolution, but cheaters contaminated the entire event. I say congrats to the WBF for their leadership. 

 

 

My requests are simple.

 

1) The ACBL strip the Norfolk BAM title from team Sterberg. 

2) Dr. Sternberg, Peter Weischel and Alan Sontag step up and recuse themselves from this unlawfully won title.

3) That the ACBL acknowledge team Hann as the rightful winners.

 

It is a new year, too late? Yes for Mike Cappelletti and Alan Cokin (both who recently passed) and Cokin was the one member of his team who wanted to forfeit the tainted title. 

What do we say to Jabbour, Hann, Feldman, Sacks, Cappelletti, Hofner?

 How about congratulations? You won, and you deserve this title.

For the record Mike Cappelletti was a lawyer, but neither he nor any team mate ever sued. Zeke Jabbour told me - let the story be told and pray no one else will suffer a like fate.  

Maybe it is time to do the right thing.

I ask Peter Weischel and Alan Sontag to lead the way. 

http://cam.bridgeblogging.com/2009/10/13/show-me-the-way/

California Dreaming?

Perhaps.

For Mike Cappelletti, he deserves no less. 

 

 

C

 

 

28 Comments
Getting Comments... loading...
.

Bottom Home Top