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The End Of The Beginning
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  Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end.                                         But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. -- Winston Churchill, November 1942

The twenty-first century has thus far been a dark period for high-level bridge.  The game's most prestigious events have been marred by cheating, and major bridge organizations have proven woefully inadequate at protecting honest contestants.  Recent efforts by Boye Brogeland and others have shown the bridge community that there is a path out of the darkness.  However, in the future we cannot rely on heroic individual efforts to protect our game.  We must use this opportunity to enact meaningful organizational reforms aimed at detection and expulsion of future cheaters.

Over the coming months, every major bridge organization will be working hard to establish procedures for keeping the game clean.  The Bridge Winners community has made several excellent suggestions, including:

  • recording late rounds of major events and making those recordings public
  • tracking and analyzing opening leads via Bridgemate
  • replacing bidding trays with electronic bid-announcers
  • streamlining the procedures for reporting suspicious occurrences

There is little doubt that enacting such reforms will deter cheating of the types we have faced in the past.  However, we as a community must be mindful of what I call the "Cheating Flexibility Axiom": Aspiring cheaters will choose their cheating methods based on the countermeasures which are currently in place.  Boye's recent success (and the success of Eddie Wold and Donna Compton) derived from the fact that the cheaters have thus far been unprepared for video and audio scrutiny.  We would be naive to believe that future cheaters will be caught so easily.

While the Cheating Flexibility Axiom may seem too obvious to be worth stating, major bridge organizations have generally ignored it in the past. For example, ever since the 1970s when the Sion-Cokin pencil antics were exposed through at-the-table observation, major bridge organizations have posted observers at the tables of suspected cheaters. Since that time, not a single case of high-level cheating has been exposed through at-the-table observation. The Cheating Flexibility Axiom would have predicted such a result. After the Sion-Cokin affair, aspiring cheaters were aware that their methods needed to be sophisticated enough to withstand at-the-table scrutiny, so their methods became slightly more complex and obscure.

 

The cheating scandals of 2015 are in one sense an enormous opportunity for the bridge community to strengthen its stance against cheaters.  For the first time in the history of the game, everyone is paying attention to this important topic.  Our community should use this opportunity to take a proactive stance against cheating. We must address not only the cheating methods which we have encountered in the past but also those which we anticipate encountering in the future.  The Cheating Flexibility Axiom tells us that a reactive policy of merely rendering today's cheating methods obsolete will necessarily fail to keep the game clean in the future.

Specifically, once we enact the reforms necessary to eliminate cheating by physical signals (e.g. placing a pencil, a board, or a card according to a predetermined code), we must prepare for future cheaters to use electronic signals, likely employing devices too small to show up on a standard airport scan. In order to counteract that threat, we must immediately form a committee consisting of our leading technological minds and task them with drafting comprehensive countermeasures.  The cost of implementation may be high, but the alternative is the eventual destruction of our wonderful game, so I am confident that high-level players (rather than the bridge organizations) will agree to bear much of the cost.  If we cannot accomplish these goals now with momentum on our side, we probably never will.

Some may be inclined to despair at the necessity of such dramatic measures.  The road ahead is difficult and likely expensive. However, we are much better off than we were a month ago.  For the first time, the entire bridge community understands the enormity of the challenges that we face.  If we seize this moment, history will likely remember this week as the end of the beginning of the process of cleaning up our game.  We can see what needs to be accomplished even if we don't yet know exactly how to make it happen.  For now, all we can do is proceed one step at a time, keeping our eyes on the beautiful game of pure logic which lies on the horizon.

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