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Where Do We Go From Here?
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It’s been 13 weeks since Boye lost that fateful Spingold match and started his campaign to clean up bridge. Since then we have found significant evidence against four pairs, official investigations are ongoing at various levels, and the ACBL and EBL have started to show a commitment to dealing with cheating effectively. It has been a monumental undertaking, and the results are staggering. There is no question that the process has been jump-started, as we had hoped.

The question we have to ask ourselves now is: Where do we go from here? How do we continue to build on the work that has been done to find other cheaters and prevent future cheating? How should we deal with the cheating pairs that have already been identified and what do we do with the results they achieved? What should the future of catching cheaters look like, since it’s clear that expecting unofficial volunteers to continue to contribute hundreds of hours as they have the past months is unsustainable?

Obviously I don’t have all the answers, but we need to ask these questions now and come up with reasonable solutions. I have some ideas, many of which I have come to in consultation with other experts.

 

The circumstances when Boye started his campaign called for extraordinary action. Years of inaction by bridge organizations, despite formal complaints and pervasive “whispers,” made it clear that they had neither the infrastructure nor the mandate to deal with cheating allegations. We are all tacitly culpable for letting this situation fester as long as it did. After the Fisher-Schwartz case showed us what was possible using this approach — and how quickly progress could be made — a new goal emerged: a cheat-free Bermuda Bowl.

Now the Bermuda Bowl is over. The circumstances have changed, and it’s time to change our approach with them. The news from the ACBL and EBL about new efforts to curb cheating is very encouraging. Kudos also to the many NBOs that have moved swiftly. There is a will to confront cheating that was absent before, and the institutions of power are moving in the right direction. It’s time to let the official channels do their job and build an infrastructure for discouraging, preventing, identifying, and prosecuting cheating.

Publicly accusing people of cheating on the Internet was never something anyone wanted to condone; it was certainly never anyone’s intention that this become the standard protocol going forward. Cheating allegations are serious business. Until a couple months ago, it was considered taboo to even hint that someone might be cheating. We’ve become so desensitized in recent weeks, though, that passing comments are being made on our site insinuating that pairs and individuals are cheating, and they’re not even getting flagged. We need to be able to discuss cheating openly, but we cannot continue in this atmosphere where accusations are being thrown around casually and without consequence.

I believe that we need a global solution to cheating, similar to what was proposed by John Carruthers. It is inefficient to have to try cases in multiple jurisdictions, and having to prepare for and attend multiple hearings is unfair to both the accused and the accusers. We need the process to be swift and decisive, and that will be impossible if we have to hold hearing after hearing. There's a big difference between a regional or national pair and an international pair, and trying an international pair requires significantly more resources and has much wider effects. The IBF appears to be doing a thorough job with the F-S case, but we can't expect every NBO to have the commitment and resources to run an investigation of this caliber. It's not fair to the NBOs or the international bridge community to put this onus on the NBOs.

The WBF’s most recent statement makes it clear that it does not want this responsibility. That’s fine with me. I propose that the ACBL and EBL establish a joint agency to govern cheating in bridge, funded by all eight zones. I would suggest that this agency have jurisdiction over major bridge championships (world championships, zonal championships, and other major events like NABC+ events, the Cavendish, Yeh Brothers, etc.) and any infraction involving players who have represented their country in world championships, and that accepting this body’s jurisdiction be a requirement for participation in international competition.

 

One thing we need to consider carefully is the type and quality of proof needed to raise cheating allegations and ultimately convict people. We have been spoiled by the video evidence in these recent cases. Future cheaters are unlikely to be caught with videos; they will employ harder-to-detect methods and codes. If overwhelming physical evidence is the standard, we might never catch cheaters again. Statistical analysis coupled with expert opinion is the way we need to find and prosecute cheaters going forward. Experts know when something is amiss at the table — often due to unusual tempo — and even away from the table we can identify issues by looking at the records of the hands a pair has played on VuGraph. If a world-class player or pair is consistently winning by taking bridge actions that defy logic (as determined by their peers), we don’t need to know what the specific code is.

This suggests two important changes we need to make. The first is the standard of proof required. “Beyond reasonable doubt” is unnecessarily limiting and requires us to break codes. “Clear and convincing” evidence found by a simple majority of an expert panel is the standard I would like to see adopted. The second is the absolute need to begin accurately recording the bidding and play of all hands contested in major championships. Relying on VuGraph operators to record this data is prone to errors, and only gives us a record of the tables that were broadcast.  We need to use statistics to catch and prosecute cheaters, and we need accurate and complete data to develop meaningful statistics.

 

In the coming months, as official investigations into the accused pairs take place, we will need to rewrite the ACBL’s CDR so that it’s equipped to handle the situation we’re facing: multiple pairs accused of long-term collusive cheating, and dozens of titles won by them.  In particular, we are going to have to make some decisions about how to sentence pairs who are found guilty of cheating and what to do with their tainted results. Let’s deal with these two subjects separately.

Punishing Cheaters

There are many who feel this is easy: you cheat at bridge, you should never be allowed to play again. I’m sympathetic to this viewpoint, and I think for collusive cheating without a confession a lifetime ban is the appropriate punishment. But there are sufficient differences between cases that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t strike me as appropriate. As I have stated previously, a pair that admits to their transgressions should be treated more leniently than one who denies them. If they come clean before an investigation has started, we should be even more lenient. I don’t want to give anyone a free pass — cheating is the ultimate crime in bridge, and it has to be punished severely. But it is in our best interest to have pairs confess, so we need to incentivize it. Confessions save us an incredible amount of time, energy, and resources, and they give us 100% outcomes. Look at the differences between the P-S case and the other three. Look at the Reese-Schapiro case 50 years later. The obvious way to encourage pairs to confess is to make that option more appealing by offering a reduced sentence. Remember, I’m endorsing life bans for cheaters who don’t confess, so being “lenient” can still mean a significant punishment.

On this topic, one of the reasons confessions are so valuable is that they negate the possibility of a lawsuit — the accused will sue someone (the bridge organizations, their accusers, whomever) on some grounds like defamation or preventing them from earning their living. I think this is backwards. They cheat us, and they can then sue us? Shouldn’t we be suing them? Think about all the money sponsors have paid to form teams to compete in events that weren’t played on a level playing field because of these cheaters. Think about bonus money pros have lost by not winning those events. Think about the heartache of losing suffered by honest players at the hands of their dishonest counterparts. To say nothing of the sponsors who hired these people, paid them enormous amounts of money, and now have to give back their titles in humiliating fashion. Sounds like a pretty strong case to me. If anyone should be worried about a lawsuit, it should be the cheaters.

Dealing with Results and Teammates

Now, the issue of what to do with cheaters’ results. Clearly we wipe out the results of the cheating pair in events we know they cheated in. The issues are how far back we go and what to do about their teammates. My suggestion is founded on three basic principles:

  1. We should assume a pair convicted of cheating began cheating at the beginning of their partnership — or at the point when they began achieving good results. This is based on my belief that no pair would ever start cheating once they had made their name, and also on the concept that convicted cheaters should not receive the benefit of the doubt.

  2. Any titles won with a cheating pair on the team, or based on a qualification earned with a cheating pair on the team, should be forfeited, along with any trophies, masterpoints, seeding points, and prize money.

  3. Titles should not remain vacant. While the options for filling the titles won by cheaters are all imperfect, leaving so many titles vacant is unpalatable.

So my proposal, which owes a lot to suggestions of others, especially Marty Fleisher and Eric Rodwell, looks like this:

  1. When a pair is convicted of cheating, all titles they earned as a partnership — from the beginning of time — are immediately stripped, including masterpoints and seeding points.

  2. The titles and masterpoints/seeding points are also stripped from their teammates. Again, going back to the beginning of the partnership and including qualifications earned with the cheating pair on the team.

  3. We do our best to rewrite the record books without this pair:

     a. In pairs, Swiss, and BAM events, the cheating pair/team is removed and everyone below them moves up one place.
     b. In a knockout, the teams beaten by the cheating team are given credit for beating the cheaters, but losing the next match. So the losers in the final would get the title, the losers in the semis would be credited with a second-place finish, etc.

Do we need to take further action — such as suspensions — against the teammates of cheaters? The situation we allowed to exist over the last few years — persistent rumors but no official action against the alleged cheaters — put players in an impossible position. In my ideal world, no one would play with a pair they “knew” cheated. But how is everyone supposed to know when there is no formal verdict? You shouldn’t have to personally investigate potential teammates before agreeing to play with them. We can’t allow this culture of ignoring to happen ever again. Rumors need to be submitted to and processed by official channels, and if an initial panel finds there are sufficient and credible allegations against a pair, it needs to immediately commence an investigation, which would suspend the pair pending the outcome of that investigation. We can’t continue to put players in the position where they have the option of teaming with “known” cheaters.

That addresses the future problem; now for the present. Is stripping titles and masterpoints from teammates of cheaters enough? In some cases I don’t think it is, but I don’t see a better solution. A lot of people turned a blind eye to what was happening and allowed themselves to profit from it, and they share some culpability. But there are varying levels of guilt. Some teammates sought out cheating pairs, some chose to deny or ignore rumors, and some were totally ignorant. I would like to suspend the willful ones, slap the wrists of those who had inklings but ignored them, and exonerate those who had no suspicions. But trying to prove who knew what when is an exercise in futility and an invitation for even more drama. It pains me to say it, but I think we just have to let this go.

                 

I am so excited by the prospect of a clean era of bridge, and I am encouraged by the direction in which I see the ACBL and other bridge organizations moving. It will take time — both to set up the necessary infrastructure to detect and deter cheating and to weed out the other cheaters in our midst. We need to make some tough decisions about how we are going to deal with the aftermath of this scandal and how we are going to police cheating going forward. Our job now is to help shape that discussion and to support the official channels and let the administrators do their jobs. To the bridge officials: it’s your turn. We’re here for whatever help you need; please don’t hesitate to ask for our assistance or opinions. And we’re watching closely. You’re in the driver’s seat now, but if you fall asleep again we’re ready to grab the wheel.

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