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All comments by Fred Gitelman
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BBO has been working hard on an HTML5 client for the past 6 months or so. No promises but…

1) I am hopeful that the mobile version (Android and iOS) will be available within the next few weeks. We believe the new mobile client will be better than our existing mobile clients (which incidentally are Flash-based) in just about all respects.

2) Harder to predict when the browser version will be available, but I think there is a reasonable chance that this will happen by the end of 2017.

I am not really in a position right now to discuss the specifics of things like the technologies we are using, which features will be available in the first HTML5 releases, etc.

So apologies in advance if I am unable or unwilling to answer questions just yet. You will learn more soon enough.
July 27
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Mark and David Caplan were my best friends in high school. They introduced me to bridge when I was 16 and we spent a big % of our of our waking hours in the early 1980s playing in club games and local tournaments. Mark (along with me, Geoff Hampson, Bronia Jenkins, Mike Roberts, and Eric Sutherland) was a member of Canada's team that came 2nd in the 1991 World Junior Championships.

Shortly thereafter both Mark and David more or less stopped playing seriously which makes their win yesterday all the more impressive. Not trying to give the Caplan brothers all the credit of course - Mark told me that their young Swedish teammates were fantastic.

They are great guys. Hope they keep winning!
July 25
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What Barry said is true. We did spend quite a bit of time during the past couple of months putting together a good set of system notes. During the week before the tournament we spent a few hours each day doing bidding practice on BBO (as well as actually trying to learn the notes). That pretty much sums up all of the preparation we did.

In retrospect we went too far and neither of us had the time to know the system as well as we should have. We got lucky that some things did not come up, that we survived most of our system-forgets, and that our teammates always covered us when we had a bad set.

I have to admit that I was really nervous going into the event. This had nothing to do with our partnership - it was because I have played very little serious bridge during the past few years. Between that, playing on a 4-man team, and jet lag concerns, I was not confident that I could effectively compete at this level. I can only imagine that Eric, who recently turned 70 and has hardly played at all in the past 20 years, must have felt.

Barry is correct that our “common heritage” definitely helped in that we know how each other tend to think about various aspects of bidding and defensive carding situations. We were therefore usually on the same wavelength when things came up that we had not discussed.

The 3-3 heart fit Barry refers to was an exception, but only because I foolishly choose to play Eric to have forgotten the system. Turns out he made a great bid in an auction that we had not discussed.

Having supportive partners (Eric and I are both good in this regard) and teammates (thanks Curtis and Huub - you guys were great!) certainly makes it easier to bounce back from a bad result. Not wasting energy and keeping one's emotions in check by avoiding arguments (ie ego battles) over who is to blame for a disaster certainly makes it easier for me to perform well. I assume the same is true to just about everyone.

It was a fantastic event. Mr. Yeh is a true friend of bridge as well as a very kind and likable person.
July 9
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Thanks everyone. As someone who has been a TBW addict for 35 years or so, this is a real honor for me, but it doesn't mean as much as some of you seem to think. Here is the story…

I have been writing a monthly column in TBW (with a lot of help from Jeff Rubens) for the past 10+ years about suit combinations. This column has been called the “Bridge Base Online Combination of the Month”. My name did not appear as the author of this column.

Recently Jeff and I decided to put together a book based largely on the material from past columns. As my name will appear as an author of this book, Jeff thought it made sense to start including my name in future TBW columns as well.

Since regular columnists of the TBW are typically listed as “Contributing Editors” on the front page of each issue, Jeff asked me if I wanted my name to start being included in this list. I gratefully accepted.

Pretty cool since I remember looking at such names with reverence when I was a teenager :)

For now at least I do not expect much will change as far as either I or TBW are concerned as a result of my new title.
April 3
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Richard said:

“It probably takes years for any player to start to develop any kind of good new complex system on their own. That doesn't mean that players aren't going to want to try to do so earlier.”

Yes surely some will, but…

- If you think “earlier” means “within a few months of learning to play”, I suspect there are very very few such people. As far as I can recall I have never met one.

- Many of these people will be content to create new conventions that happen to be legal. Some of those who want to create entirely new systems will be content to make up a legal strong club system (for example).

- I suspect a decent percentage of these people will continue to play bridge regardless.

Richard said:

“More important, I'm quite sure that if you tell the average high school or college student “This is the way its always been done. You'll do as you're told…” you're not going to get a very good reaction.”

No, less important, because very few will even think to ask the question you are answering and it is not as if those teaching such players will go out of their way to discuss such things (which they may well have never even thought about).

If such a conversation ever would happen, I would think that most teachers would use considerably more tactful language than that which you suggest.

Richard said:

“Melanie Manfield has frequently posted how collectable card games like “Magic the Gathering” do a phenomenal job attracting demographic groups which bridge bridge fails utterly. The game is defined by constant innovation as folks try to design ever more vicious decks. And yeah, a lot of people fail in their attempts. But they have fun in doing so…”

I don't know much about “Magic the Gathering”. Is the card play aspect of the game as challenging and fascinating as that of bridge?

Taking tricks, not designing bidding systems, is what gets many/most new players hooked on bridge. Those who are naturally drawn toward bidding can keep themselves busy for a very long time learning the “standard” meanings of bids, all the conventions that they can eat, many legal “non-standard” systems, bidding judgment, and bidding tactics.

Richard said:

“FWIW, I suspect that its too late for bridge here in the US. The membership base is so old that you're never going to be able to convince a sizable number of people under the age of 50 to mix with the existing players.”

Unfortunately I think you may be right, but if there is any chance for a successful plan, it should be based on reality (and not on something irrelevant like lifting bidding restrictions which, coincidentally I am sure, happens to be something you would to like to see happen for reasons that have nothing to do with attracting new players to bridge).

Michel said:

“Is this a way of justifying that bridge should be restricted to what Edgar Kaplan would approve?”

If you actually read my post you would have seen that I was not even remotely trying to address the question of “what should be legal?”. The ONLY thing I said on that subject was:

I do think that there are some clear benefits to “anything goes”.
Dec. 31, 2016
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Those who think that allowing “anything goes” will result in an massive influx of new young bridge player are living in a fantasy land (IMO).

The first problem we have is getting young players in the front door in the first place. System regulation is completely irrelevant as far as that is concerned.

The second problem is keeping them. System regulations might eventually become relevant for some of these people, but…

1) “Eventually” is typically a long time - it takes years for almost all players to learn enough about bridge to even think about starting to develop complex systems of their own. By that time most bridge players are hooked - they will keep playing even if they don't like some of the rules.

2)“Some” is not very many. My experience strongly suggests that only a small percentage of young players give up bridge due to system regulations. For almost all young players the game has more than enough challenge even with the restrictions that currently exist.

3) This goes both ways. Surely there would exist some young new players (and IMO many not-so-young new players) who would give up the game because a hypothetical complete lack of system regulations made the game “too complicated” for them to develop a serious interest. This already happens even with the restrictions that currently exist.

I do think that there are some clear benefits to “anything goes”, but the contention that this will save the world is pure rubbish in my view.

To those who continue to spout this fantasy, Paul's remarks pertaining to a “a handful of yesterday's heroes” are most appropriate: “You can’t blame them for pushing self-interest at the expense of the game – it is human nature”.
Dec. 31, 2016
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The decisions regarding the teammates/accomplices of FN and FS sounds really bad to me for several reasons:

1) It is completely unjust that these people should benefit in any way from playing on teams with convicted cheats. I believe that they should also have all of the seeding points, masterpoints, and titles they won (when playing on teams with FN and FS) forfeited.

2) It is ridiculous that FN and FS caused so much damage over so many years to all of the participants in all the events that they played in EXCEPT for those that happened to be their teammates/accomplices.

3) Severely punishing the teammates/accomplices of convicted cheats might well be an effective deterrent. Instead these decisions effectively say “if you team with cheats you don't risk anything more than a slap on the wrist”.

About my use of the term “teammates/accomplices”… I would guess that only some of the teammates of FN and FS either knew or strongly suspected that these pairs were cheating. These people should be seen as accomplices and punished severely.

Probably some of their other teammates had little or no idea what was going on. Perhaps these people should be seen as innocent victims (just like the rest of us).

I am not suggesting that it is possible/practical to know who were the accomplices and who were the innocent victims, but it doesn't matter IMO - these people do not deserve the benefit of the doubt (nor the benefits of unearned seeding points, masterpoints, and titles).

I hope that I am missing something and that someone on the Appeals and Charges Committee will make a public statement concerning the rationale behind these decisions.
Dec. 6, 2016
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Don - assuming that vugraph data continues to be recorded by human operators (an assumption that may well not be true before too long), spectators would be aware of the delay because it would no longer be possible to interact with the operator in real time.

That would not be the end of the world of course, but I personally think that it adds a lot of color to the show when the operator is willing and able to answer questions from the commentators (or even spectators) about what is going on at the table. It is also a good thing that, with live vugraph, the commentators and spectators are able to point out possible data entry errors made by the operator (which can then be corrected if an error did in fact occur).

And 5 minutes is not enough. At a minimum you would want to wait until all tables playing a given board are finished before displaying that board on vugraph. That would result in some logistic problems given the way that some tournaments are currently run and how vugraph shows are traditionally produced.

There is even a case for waiting until the current segment is finished at all tables before starting a delayed broadcast (otherwise cheating pairs could become aware of the score of the match). Someone else made a good point that web sites that display running scores and board-by-board results should also impose a delay.

Please note that I am not claiming I am at the point where I believe vugraph should be delayed - this post is just meant to illustrate some of the implications and issues involved in delaying vugraph.
Oct. 14, 2016
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Allan - presumably you noticed that many top players were surprised when the allegations against BZ came out, but that those against FN, FS, and PS were hardly a shock in the expert community.

I believe the difference was that BZ were much better than the other pairs at knowing what they could reasonably hope to get away with in terms of taking bridge actions based in part on illegally obtained information.

BZ managed to make their actions appear to be based on bridge skill and logic whereas the others did not. Also, perhaps BZ sometimes engaged in deflecting attention by intentionally “screwing up” the occasional hand in which they knew that they could have got away with cheating (I have no reason to believe that was actually the case, but it seems like a smart tactic to me).

As a result, as far as I can tell at least, few if any top USA players thought BZ were collusive cheats whereas many thought that FN, FS, and PS were up to no good.

So I believe your approach would have worked in the case of BZ. Of course this does not suggest that your idea has no value, but I think it is important to be clear that some will manage to stay below your committee's radar screen.

To me a more serious flaw in what you suggest is that, even against less than brilliant cheats, you won't be able to catch them until after they have already done significant damage.
Oct. 13, 2016
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Oleg - if “blatant” means “makes it obvious on virtually every hand that the person plays” then it shouldn't take long at all.

Most bridge players are smarter than that. The better the cheater is at picking credible spots to cheat, the longer it takes. Other factors can also come into play (an unusual backlog of active cases, how often the suspect plays, etc.).

I am not in a position to really guess at an answer in terms of days, weeks, or months. Most of the work I do for BBO involves actual programming. Occasionally I am asked to look at the hands of suspects in difficult cases and offer a bridge opinion, but I am not involved in the day-to-day workings of other aspects of the process.

I am also not involved in issuing warnings, but as I understand it a warning is typically a carefully worded e-mail that suggests we are concerned and that we will be watching.
Oct. 13, 2016
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Corey - there are various techniques we use to detect cheating. They differ to some extent between all-human and 1-human-3-robot tournaments. I don't want to go into a lot of detail about the methods we use, but there are 2 basic phases:

1) Identifying potential cheats
2) Close investigation of the bridge actions of those who are identified as potential cheats

Our primary tools for phase 1) are statistics and reports from players and TDs.

Phase 2) consists of various expert players who have a lot of experience in this area taking a close look at the bidding and play of suspects over the course of many boards. Sometimes I get involved in this myself.

BBO will not take extreme action (barring from BBO, reporting to ACBL, etc.) unless we are certain that cheating is taking place. If we remain suspicious but are less than certain, we will continue to watch the player(s) in question and in some cases we will issue a warning.

There are many behaviors and bridge actions that people see that look suspicious, but turn out to be completely innocent. For example, sometimes an “impossible bid” that happens to work out well was made by a new player who makes a lot of poor bidding decisions the vast majority of which work out badly.

In the example you give (a player is very slow to play the first board of a robot tournament), of course it is possible that (for example) the player in question had to take a phone call just after the tournament started. We can't know when our players get phone calls of course, but by looking at statistics and examining plenty of hands, we believe we will usually get to the truth of the matter.
Oct. 12, 2016
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IMO Richard's question gets to the heart of the matter.

Nat - I don't see the point in making a real effort to keep high-level tournaments cheatproof if one of the side effects is that most high-level players don't want to play in them anymore.

At the end of the day the tournament exists for the players. If most of them answer Richard's question “yes to cheating, no to tablets” I would strongly disagree with them, but IMO the basic goal should be to give the players the type of events that they want (and of course do whatever you can in a likely futile attempt to keep such events clean).

For the purposes of this post at least I am taking the techies' word for it that cheating via electronic transmission is both easy and, from practical standpoint at least, cannot be stopped or detected. I am also assuming that playing with tablets can be a real solution to this problem.

If those assumptions are wrong then so is Richard's question.
Oct. 12, 2016
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Do you see any real possibility that either ACBL or WBF will be moving in the direction of (1) in the foreseeable future?

My impression is that a lot of top-level players would not be happy if that were to happen even though doing so would obviously offer massive benefits in terms of increased security (and data collection and…).

Perhaps whether or not to do this is something that the players should be deciding.
Oct. 11, 2016
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I know virtually nothing about this, Richard, but I would like to learn more before giving up.

I have noticed that my car seems to be able to detect the presence of Bluetooth devices. I have no idea how it does that, if such technology could easily be used in (say) hotel rooms (I assume yes), or if it is possible for Bluetooth devices to evade such detection and still function.

Probably Google could help me learn such things, but I would prefer to talk to an expert who understands the bridge-related aspects of all of this. It sounds like you qualify.

I am sure you agree that finding a practical solution, if one exists, would be ideal. Let's try to find one. If you can convince me that there is no such solution then I expect to change my tune re delayed vugraph.

If you want to have such a discussion publicly, that is fine with me, but e-mail (fred@bridgebase.com) might be appropriate for various reasons.
Oct. 11, 2016
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Richard - to me it is not a distraction to learn that software I am partly responsible for and many bridge players enjoy has been hacked in an “undetectable” manner (or maybe it is detectable depending on what sentence of Nic's you choose to believe - it would be good if he clarified).

If such a thing really can't be detected/prevented then your suggested course of action (delaying vugraph) has a lot more going for it.

Otherwise efforts should be made to detect/prevent this threat. If we are successful then not only will we get to keep the benefits of live vugraph, but we will also stop partners and teammates from using similar technologies to cheat without the aid of vugraph.

Furthermore you say: “This issue at hand is not whether or not Nic has seen such a device”

That may not be the issue at hand, but it is still an issue. Nic claims to have seen such a device. If that is possibly untrue (your suggestion, not mine) then I would be considerably less inclined to believe other claims he makes or to want to work with him on possibly finding a solution.
Oct. 11, 2016
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I don't understand much of this, Nicolas.

For now I will take your word for it that you really saw such a demo several months ago, it actually works, and it is not detectable.

Why then am I only hearing about this now? Also, for someone who seems to believe in discussing such things privately, I am surprised you would choose a public forum to deliver such a message.

I can think of only two reasons for the development of such a device:

1) The people who created it plan to use it to actually cheat (or maybe sell it to the highest-bidding cheaters).

I very much doubt that is the case - why would such people tell you about their device? If they did have a good reason (that I cannot imagine) for telling you, I sincerely hope you reported their names and plans to the relevant authorities and that you will publicly name names if the relevant authorities fail to act.

2) The people who created it wanted to prove a point.

If so then it would have been very much in the best interests of bridge to let BBO know about the point in question and all the relevant details “some number of months ago” when you first found out about the device.

You go on to say…

“There is little upside in discussing the technical details until there are prevention or detection tools available.”

Well you said (in the previous sentence) that it was “not detectable”. Assuming now that it really is detectable (or at least preventable) there is, in fact, an important upside in discussing the technical details (in private would be fine if you prefer). Otherwise how do you expect those who would try to prevent/detect it to at least try to come up with effective counter-measures?

And if it really turns out to be a practical impossibility to detect/prevent such a thing, it would arguably be best for BBO to change its policies regarding live broadcasts (and get started on the necessary software changes) as soon as possible.

Sitting on this news for some number of months is not helpful IMO. Would you ever have mentioned it if I had not commented in this thread?
Oct. 11, 2016
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Fair enough, Adam, though I am not sure how one could get away with this even in a semi-secure playing environment.

I am thinking of a setup similar to what is used by the USBF (each table is in its own hotel room with its own washroom and the players not being allowed to leave this area, no cell phones in the playing area, but so far, at least as far as I know, no metal detectors or attempts to detect/block electronic transmissions). One could not get away with accessing vugraph data via a cellphone under these conditions.

No doubt there exist considerably more elaborate ways of accomplishing what you suggest. Probably there is no upside in publicly speculating on exactly how one might go about doing that. I will say, however, that I would not be able to do this on my own and I was the one who wrote the BBO client software.

In other words, despite having a significant advantage over other potential would-be cheats, I believe I would still need a collaborator (to help me build the necessary hardware and software).
Oct. 11, 2016
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Interesting article, thanks for posting.

You say: “in bridge it is discovery of the unknown hands via the Internet which would be the biggest gain”

I think by “Internet” you are suggesting “vugraph” here (sorry if I am wrong), but there is also the possibility of partners and teammates communicating directly with each other via electronic means.

I don't know how to compare the relative bigness of these two threats, but at BBO we often hear about the possible danger of players using vugraph to cheat and how delaying vugraph broadcasts would solve this problem.

BBO's position is that this would not solve the general problem because, as long as electronic communication is possible, players do not need vugraph to cheat - instead they can illegally exchange information among themselves.

The bottom line is that, unless the playing site is secure, players can use electronic devices to cheat regardless of whether or not vugraph is live. And, if the playing site is secure, there is no cheating-related reason to delay vugraph broadcasts.

There are various other pros and cons to live versus delayed vugraph and different people have different views on this. Suffice it to say that some people (including me) believe that live vugraph has sufficient value that we should not be delaying it in an effectively pointless attempt to prevent cheating by electronic means.

I am not in any way suggesting that there is no value in delayed vugraph - perhaps we should be offering delayed broadcasts in addition to live ones.

Until bridge playing sites are secure, we are asking for trouble. Hopefully there exist less intrusive and more effective ways of achieving this than those that chess officials have been trying. That being said, I personally give the chess officials considerable credit for taking this problem seriously.

FWIW I do believe in the value of relying heavily on statistics to identify potential cheats, but obviously it would be better to stop such people in their tracks before they have a chance to destroy any more of our major events.
Oct. 10, 2016
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John - It would not be difficult at all from a technical point of view. We have been known to remove stars from IDs that were caught cheating or otherwise behaving very badly on BBO.

But until now “on BBO” has been a necessary condition for star-removal. For us to remove a star (or ban an ID or whatever) for cheating (or other bad behavior possibly not related to bridge?) outside the realm of BBO, we would need clear standards for when to do this (as you suggest).

My immediate reaction is that being convicted of cheating by *any* NBO would not be an appropriate standard. The alternative of only acting based on convictions from a specific group of “trusted” NBOs would be worse IMO.

If the WBF were to take responsibility for maintaining a single list of those convicted of cheating and certifying that the evidence against such people was solid, I could see using such a list as a standard for star-removal. I believe that the WBF should be doing something along these lines, but I am not holding my breath waiting for it to happen.

Then there are matters like possibly removing stars from those who earned them by playing on teams with convicted cheats, possibly reinstating stars for convicted cheats who have served their sentences or had their convictions overturned on appeal to some body (which body(s) would count?), deciding how serious an offense has to be before we remove a star…

The truth of the matter is that we never really considered these issues before seeing this thread. Uday and I have since had some discussion on how best to handle this, but so far we have not come to any conclusions.

No doubt we will think about and discuss these matters some more, but it is far from clear to me that there is are answers to these problems that are both just and practical. Arguably our members might be better off if we were to put this aside (at least until the WBF gets its act together) and instead spend our time and energy working on improving our software and service.
Oct. 3, 2016
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“The field is overall incredibly weak”

IMO that is incredibly rude. If you really feel like you need to make a statement to that effect, you could have easily opted for a more tactful and respectful approach like “I personally don't find these games to be especially challenging”.

I know few, if any, truly strong players who feel the need to make themselves look big by publicly making many thousands of average players look small.

How would you like it if players significantly better than you publicly referred to your game as “incredibly weak”?

Edit: Removed a paragraph that in retrospect was inappropriate especially in a post that was complaining about rudeness. Sorry about that and thanks Jay for seeing my point and deleting your post.
Oct. 3, 2016
Fred Gitelman edited this comment Oct. 3, 2016
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