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Vocabulary Lesson For An NLM--"Unethical"

I am too new to the game of bridge to have an informed idea about what constitutes cheating. Question: of the different types of cheating that might occur in a match are any types more egregious than any others? Since I began playing bridge regularly a few years ago, I have been a victim of BITs and UI and false claims. Maybe these are on the same level as coughing or prearranging a deal or whatever else is available to secure an edge, or maybe they are not. Or maybe, in bridge, all cheating is created equal. I don’t know and probably won’t for years.

I knew how to play poker before I learned how to play bridge. My knowledge of cheating with respect to poker consisted of Ed Norton getting caught with a “hanger” in the movie Rounders. My knowledge of cheating in bridge, while under-informed, is more personal.I remember the first time I questioned the “ethical” nature of a person or action at a bridge club.

“Don’t say that!” my partner said.

“Say what?” I asked confusedly.

“Unethical,” he whispered.

“It’s a word,” I argued, “with a definition--in the dictionary,” I explained.

“It’s a serious accusation,” I was warned.

I also remember being instructed not to use some of my poker skills at a bridge table. “Don’t look at where in their hand the opponents are pulling cards from,” my partner insisted. “And don’t look for a tell that is going to help you determine my hand,” he continued. So, I sat there trying to unobserve details I had already taken in so that I could play the game as it was meant to be played.

My experience at both local clubs and regional events leave the impression that BITs and UI are all too frequent. At first, I remember making excuses for the players. Maybe they don’t know enough about bridge to know they can’t do that. But, after a while, I realized that these same players play with pros, they interact with directors. Why, then, are they not being told their hesitations and tells are not appropriate? And fumbling for a singleton? Feigning a missing honor card?

I recall a story someone told me about Al Roth. Rumor has it Mr. Roth was playing with a client. They were defending 7NT and declarer needed to guess Axx opposite KJT. Declarer led the J, client fumbled, declarer finessed, Roth ducked Q. Client asked Mr. Roth why he didn’t win his Q to which Mr. Roth replied, “I thought you had it!”

In contrast, I can recall an incident when my partner, having lost one trick early in a major suit game, wasn’t claiming. I had never known him not to claim when the result was clear. The pro opponent said, “Okay, making five,” and everyone at the table folded up the cards. Later, when I saw the hand record, I couldn't believe it! The pro opponent had both remaining aces and was going to have to guess which one to keep and which one to discard! With the claim, my partner and I had just assumed the aces were split. It is almost certain that client would not have given count. While I don’t know how to characterize my pro opponent’s behavior as I have been forbidden to talk about ethics in a bridge context, what I do know is I do not want to accept or make another claim with that pro opponent at the table from now until eternity!

As far as top-level bridge, I can’t offer much insight. One observation on that topic: I find it curious that top pairs can get away with “we have not discussed it…”

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