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Protecting the game we love

Chris Willenken wrote the following thought provoking post in the Mike Passel thread. I find it important and interesting enough to warrant a thread of its own.

 

"I have played against Mike at NABCs and the occasional regional for about 20 years. I don't know Mike as well as some of the other posters in this thread, but all I can say is that based on my personal experiences with Mike I was quite shocked by the findings presented in the Bulletin. I do think I understand why the ACBL management pursued this case so vigorously, and in my opinion it has nothing to do with Mike.

It is well known among all top players that there are a small number of highly successful pairs whose good results are based entirely on cheating. These are pairs who virtually always make the most successful opening lead (leading aggressively when their partner has a supporting honor, but passively otherwise); virtually never get stolen from by aggressive opposition bidding (finding aggressive bids when their partner has values, but making conservative passes when partner is broke); and virtually always ‘guess correctly’ if they need to judge partner's distribution in the bidding or on defense. Why won't I name names here? Many years ago, ACBL sensibly instituted a policy prohibiting public accusations of cheating against specific players to avoid tarnishing the reputations of the innocent. The idea was for management to view such accusations privately, to investigate appropriately, and to prosecute when indicated.

Unfortunately, in recent years ACBL management has proven itself completely incompetent at prosecuting cheaters. In an era of microscopic electronic devices, ACBL management laughably believes that it can catch cheaters by reviewing video of pairs under suspicion. While recent events show that some pairs are indeed moronic enough to cheat in ways which are easily noticed on camera, the ACBL is tasked with catching all pairs who are cheating in its tournaments, not just the unsophisticated ones. Motivated cheaters may have electronic communication devices too small to be picked up by a normal scanner, sophisticated codes (perhaps involving manipulation of the bidding tray when behind screens) which change on every board, or the ability to hack into the ACBL computer systems and steal hand records for upcoming events.

The reality is that modern sophisticated cheating can only be proved by circumstantial evidence. If a pair leads a spade from ♠KJxx ♥xxxx ♦xx ♣xxx against 1N-3N five times when partner has the ace or queen, but leads a heart five other times when partner has no spade help, it is mathematically over 99.9% that the pair in question is cheating. (If we assume that the opening lead is a guess between the majors, the odds of guessing right on ten straight hands is one divided by two to the tenth power, which is 1/1024.) We don't need to know how the pair in question is cheating in order to convict. Every legitimate criminal justice system operates on the same principle– convictions for murder may rest on circumstantial evidence alone if that evidence is compelling. Yet the ACBL has never attempted to bring a cheating charge based on circumstantial evidence even when that evidence is completely overwhelming. Instead, it just runs its cameras and the cheaters laugh all the way to the bank.

What does all of this have to do with Mike's situation? Well, let me pose a hypothetical. If you were the ACBL employee tasked with catching cheaters and you were completely incompetent at your job, what better way to show your boss that you are ‘tough on ethical violations’ than to go after someone who has admitted to the facts of the case? You can argue that those facts constitute an ethical violation without having to prove anything at all. Win or lose, it looks like you are doing your job when you are in fact doing nothing.

So, I'd ask those of you who are outraged by what happened to Mike to channel that outrage into something positive and productive. Tell ACBL management that you want them to take aggressive proactive steps to clean up the game we all love so much. Tell them that when you enter an ACBL event, you want real protection against cheating opponents, not just the illusion of protection which is all that ACBL currently provides. And tell them that if this management team can't effectively combat sophisticated cheating techniques, you'll lobby your Board of Directors representative to replace them with a management team who can."[Reply to this discussion]

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