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Watching Videos of F-N from Opatija
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Editor's note: The following article is not in violation of the BWpolicy prohibiting cheating allegations because it discusses pairs that have already been suspended from prominent bridge organizations for collusive cheating.

As most Bridge Winners readers know, there were a number of cheating accusations and investigations after Boye Brogeland made his accusations against Fisher-Schwartz in August, 2015. In the following month or so, there was extensive unofficial "crowdsourcing" activity, with many members ofBW watching the available videos of F-S from the 2014 European Bridge Championship (and at least one available video from ACBL). This was actually an interesting time on BW because so many people were contributing. There were a number of signals found, but the easiest to charge the players with was the movement of boards off the tray to indicate preferences for opening lead. This led to a guilty verdict and they are no longer playing in the international bridge world. If this argument had not been sufficient, there were other activities that could have been added to the charges. However, it takes time to make careful analysis, and since almost all time by investigators against cheating is volunteer, it makes sense not to make a complete analysis of all improprieties. Also, in presenting the reports to panels, it seems safer to emphasize the actions for which it is absolutely clear that improper activity is going on, rather than possibly bring up another aspect for which the number of occurrences is not as large, making it hard to do a powerful statistical analysis.

For Fantoni-Nunes, the situation was somewhat different. While there were people watching the videos in private, there was no public accusation or crowdsourcing until Kit Woolsey released his article.Thisdiscussed the orientation of opening leads (later work by others also looked at later leads in the hand). I will not go into the details, which many people know, but the accusations in that article were sufficiently strong that it should have sufficed for removing F-N from all international bridge play.(In this article I will useFFto refer toFulvioFantoni,CNto refer to ClaudioNunes, andF-Nto refer to the partnership.) Indeed, very strong cases were given and really there was no doubt. However, we had the ridiculous CAS ruling. I do not want to discuss that here except to say that given this ruling and the refusal of the WBF to divorce itself from the CAS as a court of appeal, I personally cannot blame bridge organizations from not pursuing serious investigations of some cases.

I do not want to debate the opening lead signals in this article (I am happy to do so elsewhere), but I would prefer to start the conversation about OTHER possiblesignals given by F-N.These have not been subjected to the crowdsourcing analysis of the type we saw for F-S in 2015. The accusations about F-N were about the orientations of the cards during leading but this was not intended to mean that this was the ONLY kind of signaling being done. We still have public access to the 2014 Opatija videos on YouTube and I would like to start crowdsourcing some of the other aspects. Honestly, even if you do not care whether they are allowed to play or not, it is just interesting as a puzzle to try to determine how they are communicating.

I have consulted and discussed statistical issues for which I have particular expertise. I am not using this expertise much in this study, and for that reason I feel no more qualified than most BW readers to participate in this video-watching exercise. I did spend some time a month or two ago watching the videos over and over again, and I do not have time to keep doing this. I would like to report what I have seen and invite others to spend more time doing this. For those who want to do something to clean up the game, here's your chance.

Before going any farther, I would like to say that while I served as a statistical consultant/expert for the European Bridge League (EBL) in their investigations, I am not a member of EBL and was not part of the committee that pursued the investigation. I am writing here as an individual using only publicly available videos.

The (potential) signaling I want to focus on are placements of pen and scorecard by FF and CN. I will try to explain why, even though I have "cracked" only a small part of the code at most, the actions strongly suggest to me that they are signaling. All of my evidence will be based on these openly available videos, and, of course, anyone is free to disagree with my conclusions and comment as such. The videos are:

FF sitting North and CN sitting South

England

Netherlands

Bulgaria

Romania

Denmark

Israel

Ireland

Norway

Sweden

Iceland

Poland

France

FF sitting East and CN sitting West

Russia

Germany

These all can be found easily on YouTube by searching "EBTC 2014 Monaco" although one might miss the France match because the title is typed "EBTS" rather than "EBTC".

I have about 50 pages of detailed notes about when certain actions occur at the table. I would be willing to share them with people who are interested in investigating this more, but it would be great if some people did independent cataloging of the actions of the videos. I would like to summarize what I have seen (and, in turn, what I have been unable to determine).

The descriptions for FF and CN are somewhat different but they both involve a relatively innocuous looking activity: picking up the scorecard, writing in it, and then putting the scorecard down. There had been suggestions that they seem to do it a lot. Indeed, I personally could not figure out what they were writing since at times they seemed to write more than the contract and result at the table. It seems surprising to me that a player at a top-level competition would write anything more than that during the play since hand records and vugraph records were available after a session to be reminded of a hand. But this in itself is not a major reason to accuse somebody. However, this fact is what makes it very suspicious:

In almost all cases, the players write in their scorecard the result of one hand after they have seen their cards for their next hand. This allows the card and pen to convey information about the new hand.

Of course, the players are playing behind screens but I will discuss this in the more specific descriptions. It is useful to know when reading this, that the vugraph operator sits at the SE corner of the table and the screen goes from the SE to the NW corner.

CONJECTURED SIGNALING BY FF

There is something that others have noted before. When FF sits North he puts a chair off the table at the NW corner. It is certainly not that unusual to have a place for one's scorecard off the table, so this by itself is not necessarily suspicious. The chair is not visible in any of the videos, so there is no way to see the signal and to decode it. However, here are the reasons to suspect a signaling being given:

On almost every hand, after FF has looked at his cards for that hand, he picks up the scorecard and writes in it before placing it back on the corner table. This certainly gives him the ability to signal something about his hand.I have made records of the times that CN during the bidding has looked at that corner to see the card/pen. (In fairness, while I have noted when CN has looked that way, I would be unable to prove decisively that he is looking at the corner chair.) There have been verifications that CN would have been able to see the chair. (I would be happy for this to be re-tested by others!)

A particularly unusual thing happens in the Iceland match. For whatever reason, there is a chair or low table (I cannot tell which) at the NW corner that goes all the way up to the players' card table. Because the chair/table is low, I believe that a card put there would not be visible to CN. While that corner would be by far the easiest place for FF to place his card, he chooses to place it farther away (either on a different chair or perhaps a different place on the same low table). This way the placement of the card/pen is visible to CN. One can see, e.g., 15:55 of the Icelandmatch to see this (as well as what appears to be CN looking at the card).

In the two sets (Russia and Germany) where FF sits East (and hence his positioning with respect to the screen is different), FF does not use a side chair to place his card (a side chair would not be visible to CN in this case). As I mention below, CN does use a side chair for these matches, and these matches only. There would be room for him to put a chair. He keeps the scorecard on the table and appears to make some signals of the type CN makes when CN is South (see below). Curiously, against Russia he keeps it on his left while against Germany to the right.

CONJECTURED SIGNALING BY CN

I will start by discussing the majority of the hands in which CN sits South. He keeps his scorecard to his right. On almost every hand, he will be seen writing in the scorecard after he seen his cards for the new hand. There are many different placements for the card and pen. While I have recorded all the placements, I have not cracked the code (other than the little bit I mention below).

When I was first watching the videos, I assumed that the card and pen could only be seen after the screen was opened. Therefore, this seemed to be only a signal that could help with the defense after the opening lead (and therefore be useless if F-N declared). I did notice that signals were less likely to be given when F-N were almost sure to declare, and when CN was dummy, he would often write in the scorecard after putting dummy down but would not do this when defending. I have not broken this code nor do I know its exact components. (For example, if the pen is placed, I assume that horizontal, diagonal, vertical are different but does it matter which way the tip of the pen is facing?) Although I have not cracked these codes, I think I may have discovered something else.

On further observation I noticed that there seemed to be another signal being given. When one looks at the videos for a long time, one sees that the screens being used in the European championships are not perfect. When the screen door is down, it does not hang completely vertical; instead, it points a little bit into the SW side of the screen. This led me to conjecture that there is an open crack in the screen that allows North to see a little corner of the South side near the SE corner. (This conjecture seems to be supported by the video, but I would appreciate validation from other people on this point.) While this opening is not large, it is large enough to allow several "states" of the pen/card to be observed: pen only, both pen and card, no pen. The size of the crack could depend on the particular screen/table that the players are sitting at. The screen always opens on the SW side, and this is the side on which a crack exists.

While I am far from understanding a complete code, here are further conjectures:

If the pen is showing in the crack but the card is not, then there is a void or perhaps a singleton with other nice distributional features (long suit). In the case of the singleton, the placement of the pen may change during the auction but for the void it stays roughly the same.

This is more speculative:

If CN opens a two-bid, then the pen is visible with the card if the bid shows a six-card suit (there was one seven-card suit which was slightly different). With a five-card suit, the pen is not seen in the crack.

There is not enough data to test this with high level of statistical confidence, especially since I used the data to formulate the conjectures. There were only seven opening two-bids by CN during the twelve matches he sat South, so there is only so much confidence one can have. (There were also two-bids by FF during this time, and I would conjecture that he was sending similar information on the placements on the side chair, but this is really just speculation.)

Hands on which CN had a void:

Bulgaria 23 1:06:24

England 27 1:42:23

Sweden 23 1:03:42

Sweden 26 1:20:31

Romania 6 45:25

Romania 10 1:07:39

Denmark 18 27:54

Denmark 20 45:46

Denmark 23 1:07:08

There are two matches, Russia and Germany, whereCN sits West. Even though there is plenty of room on the table for his scorecard, and also there is plenty of room to his right (at the SW corner which would be blocked by the screen), he chooses to use a chair at the NW corner that looks to be visible to East (FF). The actions he takes there are similar to FF'sactions when FF sits North and there is less writing on the card. Like FF when sitting North, he chooses not to put a signal that can be seen after the screen is open. Since his pen/card placements are off the table, they cannot be decoded.

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