When I first learned to play bridge, in my last year of high school, I read some books by the late Terence Reese. He was, and is, acknowledged as one of the finest bridge writers. In a way, he was my bridge idol. A scant few months later during the 1965 World Bridge Championships in Buenos Aires, the bridge world was rocked by the accusation of cheating levelled against Reese and his partner, Boris Shapiro. It was reported in newspapers and magazines around the world and in subsequent years Reese wrote a book about it (“Story of an Accusation“) as did Alan Truscott (“The Great Bridge Scandal“) — not surprisingly, both books support opposing views of Reese and Shapiro’s guilt.
The whole matter was not well handled at the time (one of the U.S. players, perhaps wanting to be in the limelight, shot his mouth off early and the investigation could not be concluded in as satisfactory manner as desired). The British team withdrew and forfeited their matches against Argentina and the USA, matches Reese and Shapiro had played in. There were two hearings that came to different conclusions: The World Bridge Federation banned them from competition; in England a judicial tribunal found them not guilty.
There have always been issues with people cheating at games, including Bridge and its predecessors (see Julian Laderman’s book, Bumblepuppy Days and Bobby Wolff’s book, The Lone Wolff). There have been episodes of players being caught and “convicted” of cheating, or more euphemistically, “unethical behaviour”. The consequences have been players banned from competing. However, some of the suspect players have been litigious, especially in the U.S. This has scared the bridge authorities, both on the national scene and at the World Bridge Federation level, who have not been as aggressive as one might like in dealing with these situations.
Lest you think these shenanigans are confined to top-level bridge where more is at stake (professionals being paid tens of thousands of dollars per event), the local bridge clubs are not immune. I know of players being barred for cheating / unethical conduct at clubs in Canada and, while living in Costa Rica, I was Chairman of the national Conduct and Ethics Committee.
This brings me to the real subject:
This is not Bridge’s Finest Hour
The Bermuda Bowl, the world bridge championships, has just got under way in Chennai, India (I watched a few hands on Bridge Base Online this morning).
Over the past few weeks, there have been accusations of cheating levelled against at least three top-ranked pairs, including the pair ranked first and second in the world (Fulvio Fantoni and Claudio Nunes). Several world class players have admitted that rumours had swirled among top players for years about these pairs.
The three pairs’ teams were all withdrawn from participating in the Bermuda Bowl and investigations are taking place. A fourth pair had their credentials revoked by the WBF, meaning they were “uninvited” from playing in the Bermuda Bowl (but interestingly, the team they were on was allowed to participate, minus this pair). The pairs under suspicion are:
Cezary Balicki and Adam Zmudzinsk (Poland) — credentials revoked
Alexander Smirnov and Josef Piekarek (Germany) — admitted to violating ethical principles
Fulvio Fantoni and Claudio Nunes (“Monaco”, but they are Italians) — accused
Lotan Fisher and Ron Schwartz (Israel) — accused
It is saddening.
P.S. If you want to read a very good version of what went on, here’s a link to a story in Newsweek