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Or, Zero (kinda) Tolerance in the Rubber Bridge World---

Bloody Hell!! We live in a world of cheats! I just read Under the Table and not only have we learned (if we believe an inundation of evidence) that there was collusive cheating almost everywhere one looked in the old days and especially in the fabled (‘infamous’) Squadra Azzurra (Aka the Italian Blue Team), but there was also That Old Black Magic…...and pretty much everyone indulged in that!

For the professionals who in more recent history have been cheated out of World, European and National titles, my condolences. Not just for the titles, of course, but also for the MONEY. And you all know you’re never gonna get that back…...and not the titles, neither.

That’s the tournament world. Much more genteel than Rubber Bridge. Tournament Bridge is full of wishy-washy WBF, EBL and NBO bureaucrats running from this accusation and covering up another to avoid tarnishing the game and covering some portion of their posteriors.

Justice at a Rubber Bridge Club is quite another thing altogether. It is above all autocratic and, sometimes, final. It is also summary; there are no appeals to a higher court because there is no higher court.

We talk now, many of us if I’m not much mistaken, about what we’re going to do when we attend sanctioned tournaments and come across cheats. Not cheats who have been judged by Bridge tribunals, accepted their guilt, served their sentences, and now are resuming play. I personally will play against those players and really hope they have learned their lessons. Collusive cheating at Bridge is only a capital crime in Bridge. We must understand realities and we must respect penance.

What I believe many, including myself, do not condone, is cheats who don’t accept their guilt, don’t serve their sentences, and resort to outside measures (courts unqualified to judge these matters) to resume play… if nothing much had happened. Against those players many of us will not play. One or two professionals and one or two sponsors, at their own initiative and at their own cost, have shown us the way. I plan to do the same and have written both theWBF and the EBL to say as much. And, for the rest of my two cents, I can’t understand people who want to play with such individuals and/or want to pay them. Seriously, do you wish to be thought of/mentioned in the same breath?

Hard to believe I to set out to write a comedy…...but best laid plans and all that.

Anyway, back to: Justice at Rubber Bridge.

I have two stories to relate. The first was told to me by my oftentimes partner David Gold. His father Michael, after an adventurous early life as a commercial pilot and teacher, moved his family to Berkshire, outside London. In the late 70’s/early 80’s Michael played quite a bit of Rubber Bridge. One night at the ‘Wood’ (the St. John’s Wood Bridge Club, located in a tony/leafy/upscale part of north central London), Michael engaged in a contretemps with a regular patron of the club. Both sides were heard, cheating wasn’t the issue, but things got out of hand. Michael was banned for life. Immediately. No court of appeal. Just get out. Michael disappeared.

A decade and a half passed. One night, at the club at Number 3 Green Street, midnight came and the game Michael was in broke up. He said to Liza Shaw, one of the other players, that he fancied a bit more play but didn’t know of any clubs still open. Liza opined that there was usually a game at the Wood until 2 or 3. Michael demurred, ‘I’ve been banned for life.’ Liza said, ‘Come with me. I know David Edwin (the club manager who’d thrown Michael out so long ago). Maybe we can sort this out.’ So, they jumped in a Black Cab and 10 minutes later wandered into the Wood. There was David Edwin. Liza asked, ‘Is there still a game?’ and Edwin pointed to a table in the corner and told them they were welcome to cut in.

At this point Michael thought he should clear the air. ‘Umm, he said, ‘I’m not sure you remember but you banned me.’

From David Edwin, slow dawning recognition. ‘My God, man! I just asked you to go home and cool off. That was 14 years ago!’

A small miscommunication. Ironically, Michael would go on to buy the Wood, and David would cut his teeth managing the club (and his dad) and playing there.

I am more personally involved in the second vignette. I was in a game at TGRs 4 or 5 years ago when it was still on Upper Berkeley Street. At the next table Waseem Naqvi got into a squabble with another player. Tempers flared. Insults were exchanged. Artur Malinowski poked his head in. The vitriol continued to fly. He told Waseem to shut up. Waseem didn’t. Then he got warned. But that didn’t stop him, either.

Perhaps Waseem didn’t believe anything would happen because he and Artur like to tipple together (as I do with both of them). But eventually Artur had had enough. So, he banned him. Immediately. For a week. Nothing could have been clearer. Waseem disappeared.

The following day Artur and I were tête à tête at lunch. Which ran on, so at 2:45 he called the club to see how they were doing. He got Terry Harvey and I could hear both sides of the conversation. Terry said there was a two pound game, two five pound games, and a 15 pound game. Artur asked who was in the biggest game. Terry mentioned three regulars. Then there was a pause. Then he said, “And Waseem”. From Artur, incredulity. “I banned him yesterday! For a week. You were there!” From Terry, unperturbed. “Yeah, I know. But we needed a fourth.” From Artur, a grunt and “What-ever”. He put down his cell phone, smiled ruefully, reached for his champagne glass and said, “You can’t run a Rubber Bridge Club without assholes.”

Not that he was really referring to anyone in particular.

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