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On Bridge Journalism
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Much this article contains discussions of  Blue Team deals and events. I am aware that some people find this tiresome. So, being forewarned, feel free to move on to other material.

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The article that follows was started with the aim of fulfilling my obligation, as an IBPA member, to submit an article for publication in that worthy journal.  However, my verbosity got the better of me, and IBPA Editor John Carruthers was correctly of the view that it is too long.

So, I present it here.

But first, let me say that, after some emails and discussions with John, I am happy that the IBPA has such an editor. John is a hard-liner when it comes to the integrity of top-level bridge, and his determination to see that right is done is very commendable.

 

I have another reason for publishing this article... I have a feeling there will be soon be some new news on the subject of bridge cheating, and this article will then have laid a little groundwork when it comes to reviewing that particular subject. Then again, maybe I'm wrong about the new news... we will soon know.

On Bridge Journalism

Journalism, bridge and otherwise, comes in more than one form. In newspapers and magazines, we see accounts of news, current affairs, arts, culture and so on. Likewise with bridge; magazines, books and daily columns inform us about interesting hands, tournament results, new conventions and techniques, etc.

Bridge journalism has its heroes; for my money, the champion is Edgar Kaplan (IBPA Personality of the Year, 1979), surely the strongest player to pursue that occupation. Kaplan's journalistic influence predates his purchase of The Bridge World in 1966; his "New Science" essay (TBW, Dec 1956 and reprinted in Dec 1997) radically-changed how bridge is played.

Jeff Rubens:

"New Science" marked the first time anyone had had the nerve to say, publicly and forcefully, that players whose table behavior was marked by huddles and variations in tone were not playing the game as it was supposed to be played. The article implied, correctly, that the effect of this "system" on opponents was comparable to having prearranged signals...

Prior to the publication of "New Science".... a good player was one who helped partner solve problems, but not, alas, only through choice of calls and plays. In contrast, the next wave of upcoming players adopted not only a more scientific bent than their predecessors but also an attitude that scorned transmitting or using extralegal information...

But as the years passed following "New Science," more and more players adopted higher behavioral standards...

 

Kaplan, upon taking control of The Bridge World, wrote match reviews that altered how bridge is reported.

Wikipedia:

Kaplan also developed a new style of reporting on bridge tournaments. Prior to Kaplan’s work, reports focused on the brilliancies of the players involved. If the players' mistakes were discussed at all, the report either declined to identify the perpetrator, or stressed how unusual it was for such a revered player to make any error, let alone an unwise play or call.

This policy of comrades, which expected name players to protect one another in their writings, did little to enhance bridge journalism. Kaplan’s reports changed that. While they never descended to the mean-spirited, they named names and described blunders – including Kaplan’s.

 

Kaplan was a significant influence on my early bridge education; I studied my father's Bridge Worlds from the early 1970s onwards and found Kaplan's editorials to be particularly absorbing. I will always be grateful to Kaplan for impressing upon me the importance of certain matters of law and procedure; no TBW reader of that era will ever confuse "consequent" and "subsequent".

See: http://blakjak.org/lws_lan0.htm for an interesting discussion on that subject.

However, there is another form of journalism: Investigative. And it is in the department of investigative bridge journalism, in my opinion, that Kaplan failed to maintain his high standards, at least as regards the 1958 Bermuda Bowl.

Now, Kaplan was coach of the 1958 USA Bermuda Bowl team and, a year later, the author of "The Complete Italian System of Winning Bridge". His analysis of the 1958 Bowl ran in The Bridge World from September 1958 to January 1959 (and can also be found in "Bridge Master: The Best of Edgar Kaplan"). So, it is safe to assume that Kaplan was more than conversant with Italian methods of the day.

One tool employed by Forquet and partner (Siniscalco, Chiaradia, Garozzo), from 1957-1967, was the Herbert Negative (first-step being an artificial negative) in response to a takeout double.

Here is an example from its first year of world championship use:

1957 Bermuda Bowl, board 129

Forquet
K1093
1064
5
J9763
Siniscalco
Q72
KQJ2
92
AQ52
W
N
E
S
1
X
P
1

 

 

The board of concern is this:

1958 Bermuda Bowl Final, board 32.

Siniscalco
QJ4
97653
A109
64
Forquet
987
AK10
53
AKJ87
W
N
E
S
P
1
X
P
1
P
2

 

From “Under the Table”:

Here we see an illustration of much of what is wrong with off-shape doubles. First, note that, on board 35 of the same tournament, Siniscalco doubled an opening bid of 1 on his right with: Q92 Q AJ10743 A98

Given that there is no guarantee of heart support, how should Siniscalco respond to Forquet’s double of 1, above? Siniscalco could not jump to 2; that could be a silly fit, so he chose 1. But wait, that’s a Herbert Negative, showing about 0-5, any shape! Bizarrely, Forquet clearly knew that it was a suit and values. How is that possible?

It is close to inconceivable that Kaplan did not see this for what it was.

 

There are other 1958 Final boards discussed in Kaplan's series in TBW where Kaplan's reluctance to speak out is clear; the dedicated researcher can examine boards 42 and 89 at his leisure.

There are other instances where, in my view, journalists should have spoken up.

 

1958 Bermuda Bowl Final, board 43.

Siniscalco
87
KQJ4
AJ85
Q63
Forquet
J6
10652
10762
K75
W
N
E
S
1
P

 

 

1961 Bermuda Bowl Final, board 5.

Garozzo
QJ1063
A932
A4
96
Forquet
9
7
QJ87652
J432
W
N
E
S
1
P

 

In each case, an earnest enquiry for illumination as to the thinking behind the pass had the potential to change bridge quite radically

But the most surreal incident ever that involved bridge journalists is surely the Gerber Letter affair, at the start of the 1963 Bermuda Bowl in St Vincent, Italy.

Alan Truscott:

[North American NPC] John Gerber... received a mysterious letter. On opening it, he discovered that the writer was proposing to explain in detail how the Italian team was cheating... What Gerber did was decidedly quixotic. Without reading further he handed the letter to the Italian captain [Perroux]. This must have been a great disappointment to the letter writer, who surely became persona non grata with the Italian players and officials.

 

Bridge d'Italia, May 1995:

Gerber... delivers the letter to Perroux... Perroux... immediately called a press conference with Italian and foreign journalists and representatives of all the present nations. At the lounge of the Billia (the hotel hosting the Championship) [Perroux] read out the full text of the letter.

 

There was never any enquiry as to the veracity of the letter; for some incredible reason it became a historical oddity rather than a major scandal. But, if it was read out to "foreign journalists", why did they never report on this matter?

More specifically, Eric Jannersten, Swedish expert and founder of the IBPA, was present. I contacted his son, Per, to enquire if he knew anything about the Gerber Letter. In fact, Per was at St Vincent and recalls his parents discussing it. Now, Eric Jannersten wrote an account of the 1963 Bermuda Bowl for the British Bridge World magazine; he covered each of the nine days of play. But there is not one word about the Gerber letter in Jannersten’s article.

Why? And by what means were all the journalists and "representatives of all the present nations" silenced?

Here is another newsworthy event that never made the contemporaneous press.

1972 Olympiad, Round 3, Germany vs Italy, board 29.

Avarelli
94
AQ109743
10743
Belladonna
AQ853
K8
952
AKQ
W
N
E
S
3
X
P
P
P

 

+800; 4H was going down.

Avarelli's pass is perhaps the most astounding call ever made at top-level bridge. Garozzo himself said, "That's not bridge!"

Now, some hands from this match to be found in the Official Handbook and the Daily Bulletins, but board 29, above, is not one of them. Why is this?

It is my opinion that the last thing certain parties could afford was scrutiny of what motivated Avarelli's choice. By 1972, Avarelli's skills had waned; he did not know how to take a simple finesse (Final, boards 67 and 85) and thought it was a good idea to raise his own pre-empt (Round 27, board 2).

The hand above, which appeared on Vu-graph, was hushed-up, and it may be that journalists were complicit in this. If that is the case, their conduct was truly shameful.

We find a similar process at work at the 1975 Bermuda Bowl, following the actions of Facchini and Zucchelli during Qualifying round one, Italy vs France.

Oswald Jacoby syndicated column, 31 Jan 1975:

The monitor that night was Bruce Keidan, a correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He was the first official to recognize any irregularity. He noticed Facchini tap his partner firmly on the toes during six of the 16 hands played. Three other officials noted similar movements on the following day.

Keidan reported this to Kaplan and Alfred Sheinwold, and Kaplan informed WBF President Rosenblum, so a cover-up was impossible. An enquiry was held.

The Encyclopedia of Bridge, 7th edition:

...but the committee was unable to find specific correlation between the foot movements observed and the bidding or play of the hands, a factor usually considered essential to conclusive proof of cheating.

Really? Let's take a closer look...

 

Now, Keidan saw foot-tapping on six boards. Keidan named one as board 3, which is not in the Daily Bulletins or Official Handbook.

One full deal and opening lead leaked out via an Oswald Jacoby column:

1975 Bermuda Bowl, Q1, France vs Italy, board 7.

West
10943
42
Q64
QJ97
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

 

Zucchelli, West, having received a foot-tap or two, led the S10. Dummy had a weak 1-6-5-1 and partner had AK, A in the majors.

Oswald Jacoby:

Zucchelli opened the 10 of spades, a most unusual lead in view of his club holding ... A club lead, on the other hand, permits South to take the first trick with his ace and dump the lone spade loser from dummy on his king of clubs...If North held one more spade, the different leads could have spelled the difference between making the contract and being set...

 

We see, above, that the committee maintained that it was "unable to find specific correlation between the foot movements observed and the bidding or play of the hands". However, it is my view that the opening lead, above, is suspect. In order to determine the accuracy of the committee's decision, we need to examine the other five boards. But we can't. They have been suppressed.

It is my opinion that journalists of the day should not have tolerated this.

The 1976 Burgay Tape is probably the most egregious WBF cover-up, and I think there is something worth discussing that been pretty-much unmentioned until recent times.

The facts are simple enough*.

The Encyclopedia of Bridge, 7th edition:

Leandro Burgay... presented a tape to the FIB [Italian Bridge Federation]. Burgay claimed the tape contained a telephone conversation between him and Benito Bianchi in which Bianchi had openly discussed illegal signaling methods. According to the tape, Bianchi explained how he and Pietro Forquet had used cigarettes to convey signals during the Bermuda Bowl in 1973 and 1974.

That entry follows with a lie:

The case came to the attention of the WBF, but nothing ever came of it because it was never proved that the tapes were authentic.

In fact, the tape was verified three times: by FIB’s expert, a Sr Bacicchi, by Burgay’s own expert and, as Ortiz-Patiño recounted, by his contacts at the CIA. I think there is quite a different reason that "nothing ever came of it."

 

The WBF spent years demanding a report with findings; FIB spent years making excuses and evading their obligation. Now, here is something interesting.

Special to The New York Times — Cheating Charge Held Unfounded

Monaco, May 20, 1976

... A 90-page report prepared by a committee of the Italian Bridge Federation states that charges made by Leandro Burgay... are not supported by the evidence…

The tape recording of a telephone conversation between Mr. Forquet [sic] and Benito Bianchi, the former world champion, was examined by an expert, who found that the tape had been carefully spliced at two crucial points. This splicing operation made it appear that some innocent remarks were incriminating to other players, particularly Mr. Belladonna and Mr. Forquet, the expert determined.

This 90-page report vanished and, along with the "spliced" tape, was never heard of again.

 

Things got worse. FIB held a hearing in Bari in February, 1977. A copy of the tape was played; Alan Truscott writes:

The hearing … relied heavily on an alleged statement by Bianchi on the tape, "I did not do those things with Pietro [Forquet]"

 

Not everyone approved of this "statement by Bianchi."

New York Times, 16 June, 1977:

Burgay said that he had handed [the tape] to a state court in Milan. He said he had done so to press criminal charges of fraud against whoever had tampered with the recording.

Specifically, the insurance executive denounced what he said was a spurious insertion into his original tape that would clear Forquet of the suspicion of having used the cigarette code for cheating

Once again, the report and the new version of the tape disappeared.

 

Law 73B.2 tells us:

The gravest possible offense is for a partnership to exchange information through prearranged methods of communication other than those sanctioned by these Laws.

That may be the case as regards intra-partnership communication, but there is a still graver offense: where an administrative bridge body engages in corruption. Is it the case that FIB twice fabricated evidence to produce a false exonerating report?

So far as I know, no journalist ever examined this matter.

 

Edgar Kaplan initially approved of the WBF’s position.

TBW Editorial, January 1978:

The first reactions from Italy are not encouraging: fulminations about dastardly American conspiracies (the W.B.F. action was not initiated by Americans, and it was unanimous) ...

The issue is not whether Blue Team members cheated, but whether a national organization may be permitted simply to ignore a serious accusation of cheating. When the F.I.B. chooses to concern itself only with whether Bianchi should have talked to Burgay and whether Burgay should have talked to others, they insult the whole bridge community and do a great disservice to Italian bridge. The W.B.F. has done a great service to the bridge community through its tough, risky, undiplomatic, courageous stance.

 

That "courageous stance" didn’t last long. We read in “The First 50 Years of the World Bridge Federation”, that WBF’s position went from this:

The WBF Management Committee... deplores the manner in which the investigations of alleged serious improprieties have been handled by FIB and further that the undertakings of the FIB President [to produce a report with findings] … have not been fulfilled. The Management Committee is of the unanimous view that it is imperative that FIB take immediate and drastic steps...

to this:

... we all felt thoroughly convinced that the WBF and FIB could go forward together in a spirit of reconciliation**. The WBF was now able to write to the new FIB President withdrawing the threat of suspension.

 

But the FIB and the WBF overlooked one thing: any attempt to answer the question:

Did or did not the tape have Bianchi detailing methods of cheating that he and Forquet used in Bermuda Bowls?

 

Why is it that journalists of the day did not make it clear that that was indefensible and unacceptable?

Where were the demands for the truth?

 

========================================================

* A more complete discussion is here:

https://bridgewinners.com/article/view/the-burgay-tape/

 

** See: https://bridgewinners.com/article/view/the-godfather-of-bridge/

Of course, the late 1970s was a long time ago and journalists of today are much more conscientious. Even so, I can think of a more recent event where investigative journalism had a role to play.

Donna Compton wrote an account of what it took to overturn Elinesu and Wladow’s "win" in the 2013 D'Orsi Senior Bowl. You can read it here:

http://www.pbb-webinars.com/behindthescenesgerman.html

 

There is one aspect of that report that I find perturbing.

Donna Compton:

I emailed the "then" WBF Legal Counsel and offered my support... and could help with showing the videos. He replied that...  he did not think he needed to show the videos to the Committee. My jaw dropped... you do not need to be an attorney to know that the best possible evidence of cheating (or anything else) is a video.

...I arrived early for the hearing and once again offered to help... to show the videos and was told again by "then" WBF Legal Counsel that he wasn’t planning on offering the videos as evidence.

... I was told (second hand) that it was a good thing that I was so persistent with the video because it was the determining factor in finding the Coughing Germans guilty. Who knows if this was true or not. But if true, then what was the "then" WBF Legal Counsel thinking? Was he told to suppress the video?

 

Again, are we seeing an attempt by administrators to engineer a cover-up? Is this not of grave concern? So far as I know, no journalist has ever bothered to enquire*.

 

Make no mistake, investigative journalism has its place. Real-world examples are many; Watergate, the Panama Papers and the recent exposure of organized cover-ups of large-scale financial fraud in Australia are instances where investigative journalism uncovered monstrous cans of worms.

Now, maybe without the efforts of Woodward and Bernstein, Nixon would have told his gang, "Look, we can’t do this stuff, it’s not legal or ethical. From now on, let’s do things by the book." Then again, maybe he wouldn’t have.

For that reason, I am very glad that investigative journalists did their job.

 

 ================================================

 

* Such a task should perhaps be left to those more fortunate than I; I have a very poor record of getting replies to my emails to administrators.

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