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The History of History (Part 1)
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I offer these views only as I think these considerations are important to a question raised by Boye Brogeland in a recent post: “Where Do We Go From Here?”

Where are we now? The bridge landscape has been significantly changed by events initiated by Boye. Boye saw a problem. He decided something needed to be done about it. To address the problem he needed to raise the awareness of others. Boye did the research and analysis. He put together his case and brought it to the bridge world. In doing so, Boye placed his honor, his career, and possibly his family’s financial health in jeopardy.

Have you ever considered the outcome for him had Boye failed to make his case or was not believed?

Boye would not be viewed today as the wonderful “sheriff” who cleaned things up. He might easily be viewed as the pariah who offended moral sensibility for posting pictures of players on bridgecheaters.com.

And that outcome was a possibility for Brogeland even if he was right. The one lesson I have learned in life is that other than personal satisfaction, being right is often meaningless. I am sure Boye is familiar with fellow Norwegian Henry Ibsen’s play “An Enemy of the People”. Yes, that is “fiction”, but a classic as it is so true to life. If the reader wants a real-life example, two words: Billy Mitchell.

In 1946, the US Congress posthumously awarded Billy Mitchell the Gold Medal. This was not an award to honor the dead. It is so those living can console themselves and not feel like stupid a-holes for not listening. Pearl Harbor proved Mitchell was right all along. All Mitchell cared about was protecting his country. The Army court-martialed him for the crime of not going through channels. Those same channels that would not listen. This was Catch-22.

Boye’s case is rare in that he fought City Hall and won. That outcome is never assured to anyone who fights bureaucracy and entrenched interests armed only with truth.

Thus far, Boye’s campaign has been a victory for the game and a victory for the rest of us who have been freed from those who had distorted our competitions. Let's not screw this up.  History shows victories are often squandered. Hannibal Barca was neither the first nor the last brilliant commander to discover that one can win the battles, yet lose the war.

At The Beginning of the Scandals

If one goes back to the original posts and comments regarding Boye’s initial allegations, there were many who at first who were not convinced. For the record - and you can check the posts - I was not one of them. This is not an indictment of those who were not initially convinced. In fact, I believe skepticism is a very good thing. One should always question what is being hypothesized. This is required by scientific method. Though there is a world of difference between being skeptical and refusing to listen.

In my view, the most important subsequent event was various motivated players “breaking the codes” of the players involved. It was this development that absolutely convinced the unsure and skeptical crowd. Now, everyone - well everyone not wearing a bath robe in a mental health ward or a black robe in a court room - knew what was happening.

When one assails authority for inaction, often the only action that organization will perform is to retaliate against the person trying to galvanize the bureaucracy. This is what happened to Billy Mitchell.

Boye escaped retaliation from the R.A.s because now, the posse backing him up was far too large for backlash to be politically possible. It is my belief that had the codes not been broken, and a situation of non-agreement existed - separate yes, no, maybe crowds - Boye might not have escaped unscathed.

Because that is what usually happens.

Newton’s Third Law

We need to be very careful about how we proceed from here. In one aspect, convention was shattered because a player was able to make public accusations of cheating and lead a revolt against “business as usual”.

If we let the emotion and excitement of this Boye-inspired victory go to our heads, we risk letting the pendulum swing in the opposite direction. History has shown that it is quite easy to go from an overthrow of the government, to ramping up the guillotine for any ordinary citizen. If one can drag the Tsar and his family out and machine-gun them, then anyone can be sent to the gulag.

We need balance. We need not just a bridge world free of cheats, we need a bridge world free of spurious or unprovable accusations as well. If the reaction to Boye’s actions leads us to the latter, all his good work, and all that has been accomplished thus far will have been rendered fruitless for our future.

Standards, Burdens & Procedures

We in the bridge world need to figure out the appropriate standards and procedures. In addition, we need to make some decisions about what constitutes satisfactory burden of proof.  I shall later demonstrate that we only imagine we have done so.

It is quite easy and fashionable to condemn the Sports Court, or the WBF for conferring subservience or German judges. These judicial rulings are hardly even in the top list of horrible rulings. Moreover, in my view, this scarecrow of "courts" is just the human tendency - exemplified by most bridge players - of looking to assign the blame elsewhere.

We expect the judicial system to completely understand bridge cheating issues when we have never codified nor applied these metrics in previous cases. We expect the judicial system to honor lifelong bans of players this time, despite the fact that hardly ever happened in previous cases.

Sion & Cokin got a 5-year suspension and were reinstated. Sion was only barred for a second offense.

Five players (Moses Ma, Rajan Batta, Fadi Farah, Philips Santosa, and Bhaskaram Jayant Ishwa) were merely suspended by the ACBL for passing signals at the 1984 NABC.

The Katz & Cohen affair was basically a cluster-f%$# given the ACBL handling of the affair. Katz & Cohen were reinstated provided they not play together.

Tony Haworth got a ten-year suspension from the Welsh Bridge Union for cold-decking.

The Manappo brothers were suspended by the WBF in the late ‘70s. From Truscott’s NYT column: “Subsequent reports in the Australian press alleged that the accused players, M. F. and F. E. Manoppo, brothers, exhibited the classic symptoms of a cheating partnership: ultra-slow bidding and defense combined with weird mannerisms, contrasted with brisk dummy play without mannerisms; killing opening leads; pinpoint accuracy in the bidding in the face of disruptive efforts by their opponents, and a previous history of allegations against them.”

F. E. Manoppo was back playing bridge at the 1984 Olympiad in Seattle.

John Blubaugh got 18 months for the nerve damage that caused him to consistently deal the same specific card to his partner. Ken Gee was determined to frequently look at opponents hands in the boards yet to be played. That would seem to be about as conclusive a case for cheating as possible. Gee got 18 months.

Lanzarotti & Buratti both served suspensions and are back, if not together. They were expelled from the same ACBL that sentenced the American Blubaugh and the Canadian Gee to a mere year and a half each.  Hmm.  Gee's name ends in a vowel, too.

Yet bridge players are “shocked, positively shocked” that courts might consider precedent and consistency a bit more significant than we do. It really sucks when the townspeople are all geared up for a hanging and some authority steps in and orders jail time similar to the other offenders.

Meeting the Enemy - by Pogo

Our history in not dealing with cheating accusations in a positive, consistent manner is precisely what created the situations that we blame on the courts.  The big problem is cheating is not an easy charge to make stick.

“It is almost impossible to prove that players are cheating, yet certainty would be needed for such a harsh punishment because it would be the equivalent of taking a person’s livelihood away.”

Not my words, but Alan Sontag’s. He wrote those words in 1977 and here we are, 40+ years later without much of an idea of what constitutes proof.  We think we know.  Do we?

Q.E.D. (Or is it?)

My opinion is that Fettuccini & Zucchini were cheating. (Names changed to protect the guilty.) My opinion is that when two doctors have been found to not know there are syrups available, they are (cough, cough) cheating.

Notice that in the former case, no one was ever able to “break the code” and in the later case, Eddie Wold did. Technically, the doctor case is far more certain. Yet bridge players view both cases with the same personal standard of certainty.

And therein lies the problem. It has been the same problem since before Sontag commented upon the difficulty of proof. Walter Bingham’s article in Sports Illustrated about the Katz-Cohen affair, demonstrates there had been plenty of rumors about that pair far before their purported withdrawal during the team trials in 1977.  (BTW, SI Magazine because bridge really is a sport.)

My shorthand version of the events in 1977, is the team with Katz & Cohen was in the process of defeating our USA 1975 team when the match was suddenly ordered suspended. A victory by the team with K&C meant that, since there were already whispers aplenty for years about Katz & Cohen, the ACBL would now be sending in a suspect American pair to the Bermuda Bowl right after the infamous foot-tapping incident.

Lew Mathe was not about to let that happen. Perhaps Mathe knew almost as much about bridge as he thought he did. Mathe also thought K&C were cheats and perhaps he was right. But Mathe was a firebrand and knowledge of due process and public relations was apparently not his forte.

What often happened in cheating allegations was attempts to sweep dirt under the rug. The suspension of play was not the result of any extra direct evidence against the pair. Nor was it the result of a sudden clear and convincing case based on previous data. Play was suspended because of the inevitability of the USA looking hypocritical about bridge cheats on the world stage. We expected someone to “do something” about our allegations against those from other countries, while simultaneously ignoring our own dirty laundry in our events - until it was going to look very silly for us.  The initial arrangement regarding the withdrawal of the team with Katz & Cohen was obviously a political agreement. But Mathe and the ACBL could not keep their big mouths shut and blabbed all about it to the New York Times. The paper ran a front page story on the scandal. (Because, as hard as it is to believe now, once upon a time the public cared and followed bridge.)  It was these further actions by ACBL officials that motivated K&C to shift gears and initiate the legal wrangling which followed.

My opinion is that K&C were probably dirty. The pair also initially did “the right thing” - even if pressured into it.  And their withdrawal protected their country’s reputation on the world stage. Then a bunch of egomaniacs looking for a pound of flesh and the spotlight to elevate their stature, essentially violated the gentleman’s agreement previously worked out. I don’t blame K&C for changing gears. If one has eschewed the fight and accepted the punishment quietly, it is plain wrong to let the other guy to now kick and spit on you.

One can pretty much disregard any sanitized, self-serving version of events you read about in the past ACBL Bulletins. There were certainly issues in the past with effective procedures and proofs.

Handling Complaints

Reese & Shapiro were under suspicion many years before it blew up in Buenos Aires in 1965.  In fact, in the 1955 Bermuda Bowl against England, Edgar Kaplan was assigned to watch Reese and Shapiro.  Though he found nothing at the time.  The reason it exploded as a scandal in 1965 was because Dorothy Hayden “broke the code”. Finger positions could be correlated with heart lengths. Explaining, perhaps, this hand:

West
Q54
AJ73
K75
AKQ
North
AK97
Q985
A4
963
East
J10832
4
J63
10852
South
6
K1062
Q10982
J74
W
N
E
S
P
1
X
1
2
2NT
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 West
NS: 0 EW: 0

Forguet & Garozzo were N/S.  Shapiro was East and Reese, who found both a 2NT bid and then a pass of 3 with AJ73 in partner's first suit, sat West.

Prior to this, Maurice Harrison-Gray’s team once withdrew from a match against Reese & Shapiro’s team and asked for an inquiry. Harrison-Gray was reprimanded.

Around 1974, Johnny Crawford made non-disguised references to Katz & Cohen as cheaters in a speech to the ACBL Board of Governors. Because Crawford did it in an open forum, he was reprimanded and suspended for ninety days, though nothing happened to Mathe for blabbing to the NYT. So much for consistency.  And it sure was difficult in general to raise allegations.

In 1973, Sontag leveled an accusation of cheating against Antonio Abate and Leandro Burgay for events at a money tournament in Monte Carlo. Alan wrote that the head TD really did not want to hear such charges. Sontag persisted and got his hearing. Other players also testified against this pair. The powers that be did not get a kangaroo from a local zoo for the court, but they did get an Italian official to adjudicate. He spent a lot of time winking at Burgay. Things went further South for Sontag when Burgay accused Sontag and Peter Weichsel of cheating. (It just ain’t Billy Mitchell, is it?) Fortunately, what quashed those counterattacks from going any further was: “. . .Garozzo and Belladonna could not stomach Burgay’s charge either. They stated publicly that Peter and I were ‘players of the highest reputation and ethical standards.’ ” - Alan Sontag.

This is the same Burgay who would later also accuse Forquet of cheating. The FIB claimed that Burgay had tried to blackmail them with the tape to include Burgay on the International Team for which he had already failed to qualify. As far as voice identification, Bianchi admitted the voice was his. But he also maintained the conversation was incomplete and out of context as it was merely theoretical. The WBF wanted FIB to run an investigation. That never happened. The whole affair appears quite strange. I shall return to this bit of history later in another post with my typically different perspective. For now, what is relevant is the lack of response or methods to deal with the allegation. I will also note the BIF originally leveled a six-year suspension against Burgay for the crime of accusing a player of cheating. This was later reduced and/or commuted - not sure which and I am not going to spend time trying to ascertain the final outcome of the original sentence. Perhaps we could call such backlash:  The Billy Mitchell Effect.

A Conundrum

In years gone by, R.A.s did not welcome complaints. Cheating allegations were often hushed up or glossed over. I could have added other names to the previous list of players who have been caught up in what might have been a cheating scandal, but the matter was resolved quietly and without harsh punishment.  Often things are complicated.  Sometimes it seems obvious.  Or is it?

Sontag relates a story of an opponent who was making obvious facial gestures at the table. That player’s partner suddenly found an inspired bid and an enraged Cayne raised some Cain, summoning the TD. It turned out that (a) this player actually had a documented facial tic, and (b) he was a last-minute substitute and had never played with this other player before.

Sontag wrote that JEC was understandably embarrassed. But if one thinks about it, what was the alternative, given Cayne’s understandably limited perspective of events? Had Cayne not said anything, he would have forever thought of these two players as cheaters. All subsequent events involving these opponents would have been viewed through a lens of disgruntled suspicion. And the myopic mistake of believing that one knows.

Unfortunately, very few events are either (a) as obvious and (b) easily resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. The near-impossibility of ever resolving most any other single incident at the bridge table, coupled with the authorities' distaste for dealing with these matters, created the distorted world that allowed at least a quartet of pairs to completely ruin the results of major competitions for years.

Is it better now to be able to publicly accuse specific players? Will our game benefit by letting the pendulum swing?

Standard of Proof

If we now possess video evidence, hand records, and a data bank of results to analyze, is Sontag’s statement of “impossible to prove” no longer valid?

In my view, not really.

First, change creates change. History shows that arms races simply result when one side advances. Once upon a time, a person could go down to public docks on the Gulf of Mexico and watch shrimp boats unload bales of marijuana. Once upon a time, a mule could pack up a few kilos of cocaine in a suitcase and enter the USA via commercial airline. Authorities became aware and addressed these situations. What happened was the methods of smuggling changed and the activity continued. If the Coast Guard was looking for shrimp boats, the drug runners switched to go-fast boats. These sat low in the water and were difficult to detect by ship’s radar. The go-fasts could also outrun a cutter. So the government then started employing Air Force planes with lookdown radar capability to spot the go-fasts and helicopters with snipers to catch up and shoot the motors. Drug smugglers started building submarines and semi-submersibles. Those can be tracked by sonar and infrared. Now cocaine comes in from Mexico, often in tunnels under the border.

When someone breaks a simple cipher, the next time the code will be more complex. The cheaters can create mutating keys and there will not be enough consistent patterns and sufficient data to break the code.  

There still might be “suspicious” results suggesting that cheating has occurred. We will be left with effect, not the code producing cause.  At what point, absent an ability to demonstrate to the satisfaction of expert bridge players, is this data conclusive enough to take action? Exactly how is that methodology formulated and executed?

It appears to me that:

  • We have failed to realize Boye & LC’s methods achieve a high degree of certainty against top-level players, but are limited to useless against those of lesser skill - most of the bridge universe.
  • It is easy to construct cases that look like Boye’s, but are not.

These are the tasks facing us. It is easy to blame the WBF - as easy as blaming your partner - for “those damn sports courts”. The reality is, in the United States and most other countries, a court will always have ultimate authority. A person’s livelihood is at stake and no court, certainly not in the USA, will let an organization deny a person the ability to make a living without something representing due process.

Frankly, forget about “due”, I fail to see much of a “process” part in the historical record. Neither did Boye, which is why he chose his route.

Falsification

Karl Popper held that what separated “real” sciences like physics, biology, and math, from other disciplines that termed pseudosciences - such as psychiatry and political “science” - was falsification. A Newtonian observation such as F=MA can be tested. If it is possible to construct observations that deny this formula, we reject the statement.

By contrast, a Freudian hypothesis suffers from confirmation bias. In Freudian view, a person is that way because of unresolved childhood trauma. If the patient states that he had a wonderful childhood, the counterclaim is that he is not the judge because he has repressed that memory, a memory that can only be uncovered by therapy. The patient is that way because of the trauma and the trauma must be there because of the personality. If the patient changes as the result of therapy, we can conclude that we have exorcised the demons from the subconsciousness. If the patient does not change, the source of the trauma has not yet been identified. This is confirmation bias and circular reasoning in the argument construction.

Popper held that what cannot be falsified can never be said to be demonstrated. This is why Bridge Winners rejected my article that F&N were victims of an invisible snow bunny who used his magical powers to warp space at the card table, thereby causing their leads to be either vertical or horizontal. This was all very scientific since Einstein demonstrates space can be curved even though we do not actually perceive it that way. And of course one cannot see the snow bunny. He is using his magical powers - obviously - to stay invisible.

Most conspiracy theories are not proofs, but rather selective viewing of evidence through a lens of confirmation bias. If most of these theories turn out of be "true", it is merely by accident.  The granddaddy of conspiracy theories is the JFK assassination. Many, if not most, political assassinations are conspiracies. Lincoln and Sadat were obviously conspiracies. Though perhaps a sports court judge might believe that it is not unreasonable to conclude that it is possible an entire group of parading soldiers might have independently decided to open fire on the review stand at the same moment in time.

A favorite tactic of defense attorneys is to claim that something was possible. Since the prosecution cannot disprove this theory of the crime, the state cannot prove their case. Therefore, reasonable doubt exists and you must acquit. This is just one massive circular confirmation bias argument, but people will frequently buy into it.  Conspiracy theories follow a similar format claiming to be a proof.  A hypothesis could explain an observation.  Since the hypothesis cannot be disproved, we must accept the possibility.

Now JFK could have been a conspiracy. The one thing I am certain of is that many of these “theories” - all constructed in essentially the same manner - must be wrong by necessity. The murderous cabal could not possibly be Castro working with Cuban exiles, the CIA, the mafia, LBJ, George HW Bush, J Edgar Hoover, Earl Warren, the KGB, the US Secret Service, the John Birch Society, international drug lords, the government of South Vietnam, and Aristotle Onassis.

Heck, the FBI barely works together with the Secret Service. Now they are in league with the CIA? The John Birchers got together with the KGB? Yet all of these groups have been argued by one theorist or another as the masterminds. I certainly don’t want to debate JFK - there have been millions upon millions of words already written on the subject. All I shall say is that these conjectures have all added up to ZERO convictions. Oh, and I am somewhat amused that in the history of homicide, this was the only case where none of the thousands of suspect lists in the murder of a philandering husband ever mentioned the wife or mistresses.

Consider our own confirmation bias in viewing bridge data.

A Curious Lead

You open 1NT. Partner transfers to clubs, then forces game by bidding 3 to show shortness. You bid 3NT. The opening leader holds:

West
93
K109542
86
763
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
3NT
P
P
P

Your opponent finds a diamond(!) lead. Dummy has king doubleton and it hits partner with AQJ10x. Jackpot.

If you have doubts about LHO's character, you will likely seek out trustworthy second opinions. You show this hand to Brogeland. He leads the heart. You bring this hand to Hamman, he leads a heart. You give this hand to your mother and she leads a fourth best heart. Apparently, your suspicions have been confirmed.

This was the lead against Steve Weinstein & Bobby Levin on Wednesday in Orlando and there never were suspicions. Boye & Hamman both led a heart at their tables. But for the diamond lead to have been nefarious, Steve would have to conclude that Mike Becker was sending cheating signals. This is impossible in Steve’s view and he is certainly not alone in his assessment of Becker..

If one thinks about the situation, Steve & Bobby are just performing a variation of confirmation bias. Start with a premise - Mike is completely trustworthy - then draw a conclusion on the events that confirms the initial premise. “Great lead, Mr Strul!”  I believe that was "the truth", but notice that events do not confirm our initial premise.  

At your table against Fishyman, we drew a conclusion that also validated our initial assumptions. (“You stink, Fishyman!”) At the end of the day, we can be right about Fishyman and Steve can be right about Becker. Or both of us can be wrong about our opponent or either can be right and the other wrong.

These actions are all separate events by different people. A hand can be played in a card-for-card, identical manner at three different tables. Declarer A made an astute inferential view about the layout of the defender's cards. Declarer B looked in someone’s hand and had more certain information. Declarer C was a chimpanzee. Selected specifically because he was the monkey who typed Shakespeare; which, BTW, also proved nothing.

Boye’s Case Construction

I mentioned before that I bought into Boye’s case from the beginning. This was not because I personally know Boye to be a straight arrow. He is. But Boye can be wrong. I know because I have given him plenty of hands where he took an action different from mine. (Just checking to see if the reader can recognize confirmation bias.)

Brogeland’s case was focused along these lines: (Italicized quotes are his words)

First: “My approach to discover cheating by world class players is to look at non-obvious actions and the success rate of these.”

( note the “world class” designation. This methodology will not be as useful at analyzing others. Fortunately, there are some 20,000 WC players on BBO alone.)

Second: “So when players and pairs choose non-logical actions, which in addition have a great success rate . . .we should raise an eyebrow.

(Note that eyebrow raising is not forming a lynch mob.)

Boye then proceeded to show instances of non-standard actions limited to one particular area - opening leads - where F&S had amazing success. This is a huge advantage against highly competitive teams. I doubt Team Nickell could even beat Team Moi if Deep Finesse was feeding us the opening lead. This would be against my record of whatever to naught, otherwise.

A significant issue for me was that Boye was both F&S’s teammate and opponent at various times. I had been fortunate to witnesses Boye review hundreds and hundreds of bridge hands. Whenever someone does something Boye would not do, he is always curious. Boye always wants to know why someone else took a particular action. He wants to know if he missed something and he wants to know how other players think about hands. Boye is always infinitely curious.

Boye wrote about his conversations with F&S about these actions. He related about how their explanations would either be unpersuasive or their agreements and understandings would curiously change the next time a better explanation served their actions on a different layout. The explanations always seemed self-serving and unconvincing.

For me, the most important element of Boye’s hypothesis (“They are cheats”) is that conclusion could have been quickly refuted by F&S. All they needed to do was just produce the evidence of failure in non-obvious lead decisions. Thus, Boye’s hypothesis and case construction was falsifiable, making his case structurally sound. Even if one is prone to quickly forgetting bad decisions, partner has a memory like an elephant for your mistakes. Or opponents would remember your weird lead that gave away a contract.

No such expected data was ever submitted. The silence spoke volumes. Boye’s hypothesis is verifiable as it is falsifiable. The accused had an a chance to explain themselves or provide contra-indicating data. But that never happened.

The Blue Team

I have some observations on this matter that I will handle separately as most of my thoughts on these matters are simply tangent to the important issue of bridge procedures going forward. But we can see some very significant differences from Boye’s case structure. One fundamental issue is that most of the accused are unable to answer questions about their table decisions.

It is hard to refute a theory and answer charges when someone has been dead for decades. Walter Avarelli died over thirty years ago. Belladonna, D’Alelio, and Chiaradia died over two decades ago, Pabis-Ticci died 15 years ago. The team captain, Perroux, died before the 1970s did.

Garozzo and Forquet are in their nineties. (Unless I missed Forquet’s obit.) So sure, let's ask Benito now about an opening bid choice he made forty years ago. I am sure he remembers exactly what he was thinking at the time.

Supposedly, G & B actually were signaling hand strength because a vulnerable Garozzo opened 1 and not 1NT playing a 13-15 1NT opening. (Does this already seem a bit like confirmation bias?) Anyway, he was holding:

♠AK85 ♥QJ ♦K543 ♣J32

Partner was weak, so “obviously” this confirms there was a wire for opening 1, avoiding the “obvious” 1NT bid. So, what was he thinking?

Oh wait, this was not the G&B hand from the 1970s. This was bd#7 from a few weeks ago.  (The 7/4/18 Common Game). And the player who opened 1 and not 1NT was me, not Garozzo. So yeah, slight error but you need to understand how easily Garozzo and I can be confused. Behind screens we are virtually indistinguishable.

Now, if this hand was posted years from now and others were speculating on what happened, the most common defense of my viewpoint would be to note that KnR evaluation on this hand is 12.4 so that “must” have been what Yates was thinking. Close, but wrong. It would be the first time I ever applied KnR at the table, for starters.

Fortunately this hand was very recent, so I actually remember events. I do not recall much of hands I played forty years ago. What was happening at the time was my partner - who apparently also confuses me with Garozzo - was taking very aggressive views over 1NT. This hand is questionable and I wanted to slow him down. Ron alerted my diamond bid, saying that it was unbalanced with 4+ diamonds. (Because that is systemic in his version of Precision). My actual plan to explain my shape later was to place the heart jack in with the diamonds so as to not build a case file of willful variations to burden partner in his future explanations.

I was never treating this hand as 12 points. If partner invited, I was accepting. Especially if he had to play it because watching partner now sweat an overbid is the best revenge.

With the actual posted Garozzo hand: 4-3 in the majors and 15 HCP, red at IMPs, my thoughts were instantly that Benito simply planned 1-1; 1-1NT-2. If you ever played that (totally sucky) 13-15 NT range, the 15s are too swingy.  I might have opened 1 as well.  I certainly would have considered it.

Even if Garozzo remembers this hand, he faces the same challenge that I would face if accused. It is simply impossible to “prove” what one was actually thinking. I can tell you what I was thinking. But I cannot actually “prove” any of the above, can I? It remains that on this hand, 1NT was likely to be floated for -200. 1 got an overcall on a hand with Axxxx of hearts that might have passed over 1NT.

Therefore, I cannot falsify a claim of cheating by me on this hand! Of course if you see some of our other results that day, we’d have to be really bad cheaters. So perhaps the other examples will make my case.

However, I can falsify a claim that Garozzo & Belladonna cheated on their hand without ANY FURTHER EXAMPLES.

Can you? If you cannot, perhaps you should not be accusing other players. . .

Ergo. . . (hint, hint)

If you believe G&B were cheating on this hand, then you must necessarily conclude that D.Yates knows far more about bridge than B.Garozzo. (See why people confuse us?)

Figure it out yet? Turn the page.

Answer

If a player with any bridge sense held and acted upon the unauthorized knowledge that his partner was broke, he would never downgrade a 15-count hand to 1, he would upgrade to 1.

There is absolutely no guarantee that 1 will be a winner. Should the auction start with a 1 showing 2+ diamonds and then it goes pass pass, opponents will often see the red and try to punish that pair. 1 opposite a weak responder is often as problematic as 1NT opposite a weak hand.

However, in my life, I have never been penalized with a penalty double at the one-level after a 1 opening. If partner is broke, THEY ALWAYS BID. Now you are off the hook because you pass all flat hands. Always. Ta da! Only someone with less bridge sense than I chooses 1.  Plus, everyone upgrades.

Since Garozzo did chose 1, we can perform confirmation bias of the premise that G&B were cheating and conclude I am smarter.  (Q.E.D.)

Proper Procedures in Place Or Not?

ACBL members can now file player memos online. So, are things really getting better? We are going to build a database of sorts. Is there sufficient method?

I see plenty of madness. For starters, the problem is that the methodology proposed by Boye, expounded upon by Larry Cohen in his very good post on this site and being at least partially implemented thus far, is NOT TRANSFERABLE to lesser players. The future will be much worse if people assume that it does.

Players < Larry Cohen is quite a substantial group. If we take at face value, evaluations of F&S levels of skill by some high level players, F got an A rating for bridge smarts and skills. S, well lets just say many of his peers gave him an assessment starting with ‘S’. But that rating was in context of the level at which he competed. S is still well on the high side of the 95th percentile.

Even on the lesser “expert” level to WC, there is going to be lots of variance. Too much variance in my view to draw useful conclusions. There are plenty of players who could cheat and we would never know because they so often take many “non-standard” actions. There is a reason experts are not as good as Versace or Hamman. All a pile of player memos issued for variance is likely to do is prove that very point.

As an example, at least 15% of the players I compete against fail to protect their hands well at the table. A player of my stature - OK, height - could easily take advantage on some of the boards. For me, I would need to get a pair of reading eye contact bifocals because I cannot see well enough at the distance of the opponents with just a piece of the card showing. I normally park my glasses atop my noggin and have no problem with cards on the bridge table. Not so easy these days at some seats at the poker table.

Seeing the opponents’ cards at the club would be a huge advantage. Especially since trying to draw conclusions about their play of the cards is so often random. Here is a recent hand.  (Bd 1 9/25 Common Game)

West
8652
1062
986
AJ4
North
7
AKJ983
A43
KQ6
East
KQJ4
Q7
KQ75
1095
South
A1093
54
J102
8732
W
N
E
S
1
X
1
P
3
P
P
P
D
3 North
NS: 0 EW: 0

I was declaring 3 on the lead of the spade king.

I won the lead in dummy and played a heart to the jack. This lost to the queen. Spade return, ruffed. High trump, both following. Low diamond to LHO’s queen and spade jack, ruffed. Trump and then club king. RHO produced the club ace and returned a club. Hey, an extra chance. Club queen and club but RHO held the Jack, no unblock necessary.

We won our section, were 2nd overall by < 10 MP to a pair who made 10 tricks and 11.5 more MP on this deal. I have no idea how that play went, but I suspect the spade king had to be the usual lead.  Hard to imagine ten tricks if the player at that table took the heart finesse.  Both players at the OT have more MP than I and no, I would not for a moment think differences in declarer play were based on a wire or a glimpse.

Had I had a glimpse of either player’s hand I could have led a club with my only entry at trick two and cash the heart ace-king. Making with a chance for defensive error and ten tricks. “Oh, I didn’t want to lose to a stiff honor. I thought that even if I lost to Qxx with RHO, that everything else had to be with LHO and he would eventually get stuck leading diamonds at some point.”

Even if that can be shown not to be best, I have plenty of other hands to offer that I did not have specific knowledge of, did not pursue the best line, and did not achieve a good result. Plus I am in a position to point out that everyone else was making nine or ten tricks here. My eight tricks was a <7% board.

So this whole ACBL player memo thing, building a base for statistical analysis, what is that going to prove if the player is not of sufficient skill to expect a high level of consistency?

These memos will be good for conduct issues and obvious stuff. The methodology for what works at Boye’s level against Larry Cohen quality opposition has nothing to do with the rest of us. Brogeland and Cohen are smart enough to take a finesse when the squeeze is 30%. I am likely to play for the squeeze because there is at least an extra +50% chance that my weak opposition gets the discarding wrong.  My play choices in the events I play often has nothing to do with considerations in high-level bridge games.  Sometimes my play choices have nothing to do with reality and I don't know what I was thinking.  Everyone's play choices are first driven by skill level.

The data will not say what you want it to say.

J'accuse...!

Another issue, yet to be resolved is determining the proprieties of raising a cheating issue. In the United States, etiquette has changed over the years.

At one point, if one were to call a player a card cheat in the saloon, this was a nice way of telling fellow cowboys to get out of the line of fire. A hundred years later, we avoided naming specific names without concrete evidence. Now that convention has been broken.  By necessity, of course.  But is it necessary to continue like that going forward?

This thought about proprieties crossed my mind in Dallas when Al Roth was making his HOF acceptance speech. For those of you who might think that Al created retirement accounts, Al Roth was a tremendous bridge player who made important contributions to our game. But bridge skill and personal ethics is annoyingly not an indicator of much else.

This can be demonstrated by the pairs ultimately caught after Boye launched his version of J’accuse...! Lets be honest with ourselves. Were you not both very saddened to see four of those names and secretly happy that four others were cheats? Either way, once again it is proven that bridge skill and human merits have no correlation.

Roth might have been thinking he was speaking at the Duma. He rambled about never winning a world title. (“Charlie, I could have been a champion. I coulda been someone”.) Those “cheating Italians” became Roth’s mantra. I started wondering if it was polite not to name names, or just wrong to malign an entire nation.

When I mock some of our own national tendencies or viewpoints, my fellow countryman often get hot under the collar. Ask yourself how you would feel if players like Sion and Cokin were habitually referred to by citizens of other countries as “Cheating Americans”.

I never did come to decide on the polite way of calling someone a cheat. I think about my teacher’s maxim: “There is no nice way to hit someone”. In the end, I think the main issue is not hit innocent bystanders in the process, or to hit someone by mistake.

If Bridge Winners becomes the church door upon which to nail a bridge thesis, that can be a very good thing if done properly. In the end, I do not believe in sacred cows. I believe in cheeseburgers. But that does not mean there are not any standards for treating the herd. And we do not grind up everything into patties just for sport.

My companion at the HOF dinner, and the reason I attended, wanted to go for the history. She knew Roth only by reputation. She left quizzically asking, “That was Al Roth?” The History of History shows that History is never what we think it was. Our heroes were never the perfect angels we want them to be. Our villains are seldom pure devils. Humans were made from the earth of this realm. There is plenty of both valuable elements and plain old dirt in our composition.

We are always making and re-making History. And the History of History is that we inevitably mold history into what we want or need it to be. We do this because humans hate uncertainty so much that we are willing to lie to ourselves and want to believe that we do know.  That we do understand.  Do we?

This game that we love is also a game of uncertainty. If you want to claim someone is or was a cheat, that statement necessarily needs to be to demonstrated to the reasonable exclusion of other possibilities.

Cheating accusations lead to gunfights. And it is far easier to be a sheriff on the silver screen than in real life.

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