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In Praise of Richard Willey

In a 2009 blog, Richard Willey made the following comment:

If people want to get serious about dealing with cheaters, the first thing to focus on is comprehensive record keeping. I’ve long argued that major events (The Bermuda Bowl, the Spingold, The Cavendish, etc. should be conducted using an electronic playing environment).

Put all the Norths in one room*, all the Souths in another, all the Easts in the third. Have them compete using BBO or something similar. You get three (enormous) improvements over the existing situation.

1. You automatically get comprehensive VuGraph coverage. The benefits for spectators would be enormous.

2. You get a comprehensive record of bid that is made and every card that is played. This allowed you to do real data mining / statistical analysis of opening leads, bids etc.

3. Cheating becomes a lot more difficult. In particular, you can easily run movements in which everyone is playing the same boards at the same point in time.

Unfortunately, no one seems interested in taking real, practical steps to deal with the issues that are coming into play. Instead, the prefer the prefer big flashy pronouncements which give the appearance of change while doing virtually nothing to address the root causes…


At the time, I was of the view that Mr Willey was a crank. I don't hold that view any more. Here is why.


I recently played in a teams tournament of reasonable quality, held without screens during the qualifying matches. I was told two quite disturbing things:

- One team was lobbying for "no alerts". The reason? They maintained that they knew some teams had a "method"... with a minimum, hold the alert card close, with a maximum, extend the card outwards.

- One player reported to me that, during the bidding and defence, an opposing pair would put their cards face-down in various positions in front of them.


And my partner and I observed a player use the same signal that Elinescu and Wladow used to show a very weak hand  (a quick horizontal waggle of the hand, palm-down, immediately upon seeing one's cards) during the mid-game defence, while his partner was stewing over a discard.


So when and how is all this going to end? Is Richard Willey right? Or do we just sit and get shafted by new and interesting signals crafted by those devoid of ethics?



* Mr Willey's proposal of separate rooms for each player was considered in a different era. After the 1958 Bermuda Bowl, Alvin Roth and Tobias Stone challenged any Blue Team pair to a high-stake match game, with each player in a different room. No takers.

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