Linda Lee — My personal bridge blog

Cheating and sharp practices

Quite a while ago Ray and I played in a number of tournaments in Florida. This seemed to be the home of many “minor” pros. These pros were good players but not really stars and when they played against us we were pretty evenly matched. They also had to contend with their client at the other table. Sometimes to get an edge they would use what I can only call “sharp practices”. This is in a way a kind of cheating.

One of their favorites was to come to the table very late to make us nervous. Our tactics to deal with that was to wait till they arrived and then have one of us say that we had to go to the bathroom. We played quickly and this tactic evened things out.

We also became aware of local players who decided to play pro and then later were caught cheating. Playing pro put enough pressure on them that they went from ethical players to cheaters. In fact in the days where pros were not really allowed, one of the arguments for keeping bridge “amateur” was to prevent sharp practices and cheating. It would ruin the game.

And now as we find that quite a few pro players are likely cheating I wonder if it really hasn’t had a terrible effect on the game.

I love watching great players find incredible plays and somehow make just the right bid on a challenging hand. Now I wonder if they did this as a result of skill or if they are cheaters.

So many things have already been done to prevent cheating. Forbidding electronic equipment, screens, writing notes to opponents to explain bids, having monitors walk you to the bathroom and so on. But in the end no matter what the organizers do if you want to cheat badly enough than you can find a way.

Is the big money pro-client system the problem? There was cheating before and there is cheating in club games and probably even in home games. But maybe the big money provides more of an incentive.

The only answer I can think of is to be ready to have some experts on hand who look for pairs who are getting results that are too good, too precise, too many good guesses. Be alert for cheating and expect it in even the best bridge players.

This just seems too sad to me. For me bridge is “the beautiful game.” It is so sad to see it sullied.



Dave Memphis MOJO SmithSeptember 28th, 2015 at 5:17 pm

Agree with your “too sad” comment.

I’ve been reading on Bridge Winners recently about all the top international players who have been caught — not sharp practices, but out-and-out cheating. I guess I’m naive, but I’m shocked.

slarSeptember 28th, 2015 at 6:48 pm

Technology will largely root out this abject cheating. In less than a decade, physical cards and bidding boxes will be obsolete. Everyone will have a tablet-like device. That will significantly impair visual signals. It will also be easier to identify players who continually make anti-percentage plays. At a minimum, cheaters will have to be much more judicious because their actions really will stand out.

As for “sharp practices”, it is up to the directors to root this out through adherence to zero tolerance. Talk to the directors. Let them know what is going on. They can only do their jobs when they know. The newly professional guy who tanked on me before passing with a balanced four-count? The director now knows to keep an eye on him. I’m not going to tolerate that garbage and neither should you.

lindaSeptember 28th, 2015 at 9:33 pm

I can think of a lot of ways to cheat even using technology. The simplest way is to have specific agreements and signals that are not disclosed. I am not going to suggest one here but if you think about it for a little while you probably can come up with some easy ways to cheat on defense and while bidding.

It will be hard to completely conceal hesitations without making the game take forever.

Determined players will find ways to foil the system!

slarSeptember 29th, 2015 at 2:09 am

Well that is up to the directors. At higher levels of bridge, the penalties for incomplete explanations should be more consistently applied. Illegal signaling of any sort will be harder to get away with as more and more matches are stored online. It is pretty easy to tell when players go against the grain frequently and rarely get blown up.

Judy Kay-WolffSeptember 29th, 2015 at 5:58 pm

Hi Linda,

Let me again reiterate: The Wolves’ (and the entire bridge world) extend unparalleled appreciation to you and Ray for providing a polite, civilized, friendly and respectful venue to allow your readers to both express, expound upon and answer, question or refute views on so very many controversial issues.

The world of bridge has been turned upside down with the exposure of cheating (minor or major, intentional or unintentional). I am from the old school where CHEATING IS CHEATING .. whichever way you spell or pronounce it. It matters not in which venue it rears its ugly head. It must be curbed at any cost or our once majestic game will die a gradual death .. as is already evidenced.

I am in a unique position (besides the age factor) as I have witnessed the insidiousness of cheating in many ways since I came upon the ‘serious’ scene when I met and married Norman Kay. He and his teammates were one of the earlier groups of victims so there is no need to dredge up the unfair tale as it is already documented. There is no doubt the authorities on both sides of the ocean knew exactly what was transpiring but didn’t want to upset the applecart, incurring bad publicity and possible lawsuits. Had our game’s unique beauty and honor been placed ahead of these self-centered concerns, perhaps we would not be in the embarrassing headlines of Newsweek, CNBC, The New Times and more to come.

Against my profound pleas to Bobby to not get involved on other sites, trying to penetrate thick skulls and unknowledgeable critics, he tried to explain where we were coming from and where we are today. What most of the newbies do not know is that Bobby Wolff has served bridge PRO BONO for over six decades and has held every high ranking position imaginable and originated several vital regulatory groups (National Recorder and Ethical Oversight Committee, etc.) besides serving as President of both the World Bridge Federation and American Contract Bridge League. His winning eleven world titles is totally irrelevant to his contributions to bridge. His ONLY CONCERN (and FEAR) is that at its present pace and leadership, we will be fading into oblivion.

No one can refute that Bobby’s primary objective is and has always been to further its beauty and elegance and preserve it from being damaged by unclean hands and ever-present political motivation.


JRGOctober 1st, 2015 at 1:32 am

It seems many of us that love this game are making the same comment in our blogs or comments to others — “It’s sad”. My own happens to be:

lindaOctober 1st, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Thank you all for your useful comments. I did go to your blog John and I looked at the link to the Newsweek article. I found the article fascinating!

It seems a shame that bridge only gets publicity when there is a scandal.

What shocks me most is not that some top players are cheating but that it seems like quite a few of them are.

Howard Bigot-JohnsonOctober 3rd, 2015 at 2:53 pm

HBJ : One of the problems is that many players do not regard their " unethical " actions as cheating. They are completely obvious to the fact that their partners can read their mannerisms and nuances like a book.
Add to that other players simply believe that cheating is justified as everyone else is up to it in one form or another, and what you have as a consequence is an endemic level of cheating which can't be easily removed.
Sadly the game lends itself to cheating , because hesitations for instance can be explained away as " indecision " , when in fact cunning , sophisticated and subtle use of time delays can carry a multitude of coded messages.
So yes the odd few get caught out but these small inroads into cleaning up the game might only focus the cheaters' minds onto developing more obscure almost undetectable measures of
passing over unauthorised information.
Such is the bizarre world of bridge.

Paul E.October 4th, 2015 at 1:52 am

I think you are correct that cheating occurs in club games as well as by professionals. Since we can rule out money as the reason the former cheat, it must be ego and/or deviant behavior. It would be interesting to know more about the cheaters’ lives outside of bridge. I would not be surprised if many bridge cheaters are despicable away from the bridge table.

lindaOctober 4th, 2015 at 5:10 pm

I am quite aware of cheating at low levels. A local player was barred for cheating – a lot of it was done at club games and lower level touraments.

I was on a committee where a local player changed the scores in a club duplicate game.

A local player was caught when he inserted premade hands at sectional tournaments

I am aware of players cheating on BBO

Ray and I overhead an “expert” talking to a client at lunch about how they were going to cheat at a regional

And so on.

The truth is that cheating occurs in all sports and at all levels. How about Lance Armstrong and all the other dopers.

No matter how good you are there is always a temptation to take a “shortcut”. Even when there is little or no money people will still cheat.

And the cheaters I know are often quite nice people .. they just succumbed to temptation.

Judy Kay-WolffNovember 1st, 2015 at 5:08 am

And .. from the dates of the postings above, it looks like all of these remarks were made just before the exposure of four famous twosomes who are now making universal bridge headlines!! BETTER LATE THAN NEVER!!

RGNovember 24th, 2015 at 5:56 am

Ironically it’s a game from which one can’t derive any pleasure if one cheats, at the same time it’s a game at which it’s easiest to cheat. All boils down to money large amounts or small( at the club level). At times I do wonder if the entry fees being paid by us is making us suckers.

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