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Cheating in Low Places by Mel Colchamiro

[This is an article about what the ACBL can do to make the game a little better, a little more honest--not about grousing--MC]

I may not be a World Champion and may not be a threat to win the Spingold, but I have been to the Rodeo more than a few times and I think I know a thing or two about cheating and cheaters. I'm a pretty fair player and a great  bridge teacher(ask around),--I have taught the game full time for 28 years, mostly in the NYC area. While the bridge world(including me) is abuzz about cheating in high places, my concern here is the rampant cheating in low places--mainly bridge clubs. I have observed and developed a very good sense of how lower and middle level players think.I play in club games with clients, sometimes  5 or 6 a week--because well, it's part of what I do.  "Have Game, Will Travel" to paraphrase the old TV western series. I also hear stories of Club games from the students in my classes (I have many) each week.


The Bridge Club crowd--arbitrarily I'm defining them as players with fewer than 1,000 master points-- makes up 82% of the ACBL membership and maybe more of the total sessions of bridge played--but the experts and expert wannabees on Bridge Winners( BTW ACBL players with more than 5,000 master points account for only 1.6% of the membership) don't seem to care what happens there--Club games are not very sexy, I suppose, and playing at the Clubs is not what World-Class experts do. very often.   The reality is that despite the efforts of some of us, Club (and lower- level tournament) players are not always educated with regard to their ethical responsibilities and many of them (inadvertently?) cheat almost every single time they play. One way they do it is through the use of Stop Cards.


About 5 or 6 years ago I explained my concerns to Tom Charmichael, the head of the ACBL's Competition Committee and urged the Committee to advise the ACBL to do away with Stop Cards--because they do a lot of harm and almost no good.  The Committee discussed the matter and, as I understand it,   agreed with my proposal  and voted unanimously to recommend to the ACBL B of D to eliminate Stop Cards. The matter then went before the ACBL B of D but apparently the idea was voted down or not voted on at all, and 6 years later we still have stop cards and the abuses continue.


Here is an anecdote that exemplifies the problem with stop cards. I was the opener. The bidding went:

Mel         Student

   1D         1S

   2D          2H

   3S            P


My partner(1,200 master points) passed 3S. When she saw that my hand(in context) was strong, she admonished me for not putting out the Stop Card. The stop card would have alerted her, she decried, that I had a good hand. No amount of explaining on my part could convince her she was not being fair to the other players, or to me. It ended with her yelling: "Just put out the stop card next time!" (I severed my relationship with this student)


Here's another example:


1S        1NT

2D        3S



4S was duly made, and when the hand was over, the beaming (very nice) declarer thanked the dummy: "Good thing you p[ut   out the stop card before your 3S bid. Without it I don't think I would have recognized the jump."


These are not isolated incidents. I could go on and on.


The fact that the stop cards are not supposed to "wake up" partner but are supposed to warn the bidder's left-hand opponent that you are about to make a skip bid and implicitly explains to them that in such situations "normal tempo" is a pause of at least a few seconds whether or not LHO is thinking about bidding,  goes WAY over the heads of club and some tournament players.  The  time interval between STOP card and bid, and Lefty's pass(when they have nothing) could be the dictionary definition of a split second. As usual, the stop card accomplishes nothing. Last year I tried to explain the how's and why's of these situations to the Long Island membership in an article in our local publication, but I'm pretty sure it didn't do much good.


So in the end, what do stop cards really accomplish? Mostly nothing except providing a vehicle for (typically) lower-level players to send and receive Unauthorized Information--"partner, I've put out the stop card. Notice this bid. I am strong." All you Competition Committee and ACBL B of D people should Get With The Program--Mel's program--pronto.


There's more than one way to clean up the game.



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