Judy Kay-Wolff

AN ‘AMUSING’ TREATMENT

No matter your age, sex, gender or interests, surprises are always on the horizon!

I thought I had heard just about everything on the subject of (shall we say?) gaining advantage at the table.  Wrong again!!  In my eager ‘novicy’ days, I did nothing but kibitz Norman and Edgar at the top level in New York tournaments and the Nationals.  Unrealistically, though I proudly professed to be somewhat of a ‘bridge player,’ I did not have a clue what I was watching (or playing), and it was not until many years later did I recognize that I and my cronies were in a totally different stratosphere.  It was a rude awakening (and quite demoralizing), but it served a great purpose!  I learned that many things are not what meets the eye.  It pointed me to the whys and wherefores and all the negative nuances that glorify the game.   Back in the sixties and seventies, Edgar was the most prominent bridge personality who knew the rules and laws backward and forward and was involved in never-ending ethical issues — a beloved guru in countless ways.  It was a shocking revelation to me what was going on from beginners’ status to world class experts!  Norman was too busy with his ML daily routine and bridge was merely a hobby to him — leaving the administration to others.  Then along came Bobby who had devoted over sixty years to the game and his diversification in so many directions is unbelievable.  Thus, I couldn’t wait to discuss my revelation with Bobby and (as Edgar would have said) .. "Indeed" .. I  got more than I bargained for.

I questioned him about some of the scandals that terrorized our game and how they were handled in the old days .. before I told him the story that knocked me for a loop.  I must confess I did view it as pretty funny as I couldn’t believe the perpetrators could actually get away with it.  Most of the famous world bridge horror tales are old news.  No sense beating .. for the most part ..  dead horses.  We’ll let them rest in peace.   The variety of bridge tools and techniques created for passing unauthorized information is also ‘old hat.’    At the risk of boring you, lest we forget some of the more easily detected sins .. using pencil directions to depart ‘extra’ information, kicking under the table before the famous Foot Soldiers were put out of commission by the implementation of foot boards, placing a card face up on a board already played (with a terrible result) before sending it on to the other table in a team game so it would not count, coughing at the appropriate times, holding your hand at different levels depending on your strength for bidding purposes and/or telling your partner what to lead, etc.  Had enough?  To add insult to injury, many violators were celebrated players.   But, now to my tale …

I was distressed to hear the following (and certainly am not suggesting or encouraging you to adapt the same modus operandi)!  In the olden days, tempos and soft and loud voice tones were in vogue for sleazy players or those who knew no better.   Nowadays, bidding boxes are practically universal which, for the most part, do away with intonations and inflections of telltale voices.  The bidding box burden falls upon North whose responsibility is to key in the contract, the declarer’s direction and the result, with all players inserting their ACBL number.  More work for the players and less for the directors — but very innovative.  I was amused to hear of a ‘new’ (at least to me) method of relaying information via the Bridgemates (actually the bidding cards themselves).  It can be done as an opener, responder, and overcaller … whatever! 

As one type of example … opener initiates a bid (other than pass) at the inception of the auction. It is placed in a normal horizontal position; partner responds and there are three types of rebids (or perhaps even more I have not learned about) by opener.    The position of the opener’s response to partner varies.   If again it is placed horizontally — it is a ‘normal hand;’  if placed vertically (or what you would consider perpendicular) it shows a very sound hand and better than average opening; and the worst hand you can communicate to your partner is by placing it on a slant as a minimum opener (or raise).  Obviously, it can occur at any point in the auction as long as you have your system down pat.   I find it disheartening in this day and age (though really laughable) but people have witnessed it.  (Incidentally, it reminds me of my early days of social bridge.  We opened 1C with a four card suit or longer — but ‘a’ club with a three bagger.  Everybody did the same thing, so it was standard operating procedure.  Until it was pointed out to us how unethical it was, we ‘kneweth’ not what we were doing.  We were innocent culprits — unaware of our wrongdoings and responsibilities).  I can’t resist Bobby’s story about his mother’s ladies game.   When Blackwood was used to learn the number of aces partner held, she responded by holding up her fingers in response.  It does save time!

Back to 2013.  Where have I been???  Perhaps I am just naive (though hard to fathom with all my experience) but I welcome one upsmanship if you can better the above operation.  Pretty cute?  Of course it wouldn’t survive a minute in high level bridge but in the lower strata, it might go undetected for a bit.  As to Bobby’s incredible tale which goes back decades, I have asked him to present it in his own words because it’s an incident known to a miniscule audience — so watch for it. 

Winning isn’t everything – or is it???


16 Comments

Bobby WolffSeptember 5th, 2013 at 7:32 pm

As a preface to this little known event I am about to share, let me begin by stating that a normal bridge deck (of course, containing exactly 52 cards) is not 100% symmetrical. The usual number contains 34 cards which are (always all 13 diamonds) and 21 others, but leaving 18 which are not (aces, nines, sevens, sixes, fives and threes). Take a moment and inspect a normal deck you have on hand and you will immediately see to what I am alluding.

With the above in mind, players with nefarious intentions easily can (and have worked) out methods to place those non-symmetrical cards in one direction or the other to signal a code. It usually references accenting distribution, but also, depending on the necessary defense showing suit preference or whatever very good players work out ahead of time. It is tantamount to information illegally transmitted by the position placement of that particular card.

The sad part of this practice is, while difficult and mind occupying to do, I have always heard (at least my dad used to mention it often) some people (in this case, bridge players) would rather make a dishonest ten bucks than an honest $100.

Because of this evil, Jose Damiani, long term super dedicated President of the WBF, decided to change and actually go to the expense of manufacturing special WBF playing decks which sought and accomplished making all fifty two cards symmetrical. If you have a WBF deck at home, compare it with the widely used American version. This fact is little known, except to a few insiders of the WBF, but the above illicit use of playing cards goes back many years in bridge to the 1930s where high stake rubber bridge games were somewhat commonplace around the USA (and I suspect Europe) and any advantage obtained by a bridge partnership was well worth its weight in gold.

During the 20th century there were so many scams and bridge scandals, some known (but most not) which were almost always hushed up for fear of bringing a negative image to the game itself (not to mention the potential threat of money robbing law suits). In a wide variety of other sports, the following have surfaced: illegal performance enhancing drugs, bribery, rogue referees, horrific recruiting practices, and even life threatening type atmospheres which have infiltrated the sports arenas. There exist many naive, well-intended adults who truly want to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny rather than to accept reality — so, please Heaven, for those administrators who are in a position to rise to the occasion, do something to stop these sordid practices.

I’ve done my part for both the ACBL and the WBF by creating the position of Recorder in the Spring of 1985, but since I have become deaf and therefore virtually useless on a Committee, I am still looking for my successor, especially since Bob Rosen of Florida (who was nothing short of terrific when he replaced me in the mid-1990’s,) was dismissed because of the ensuing situation. Despite his combination of hard work, devotion, smarts, desire, and most importantly, love of the game, he was ‘summarily fired’ by the then-ACBL President for merely reporting to the ACBL BOD that one of their very own was found guilty of a significant bridge crime, by the then-august Ethical Oversight Committee (EOC). Bob further suggested that they should follow it up by determining the discipline, but, of course, that BOD found a way to wheedle out of the scandal and cover it up with no penalty enforced. To make matters worse, that same Board then politically turned the EOC into an impotent group which merged into nothingness, both politically corrupt and markedly inept, which, to my mind, is something less than productive and certainly not in the interests of either bridge itself or the ACBL.

Howard Bigot-JohnsonSeptember 5th, 2013 at 7:36 pm

HBJ : Such an informative yet disturbing blog. Sadly the game of bridge will always be under attack from cheats…..some forms are innocent in that they were not intended, but a canny partner can always read the subtle nuances of partner’s body language, facial expressions and timings. Those with highly tuned hearing can only be caught out if deliberate traps are set. But then there are the ” smart ” systems which have yet to be detected.
Always the stumbling block is proof …hard evidence….recording hands with videos to establish a pattern.
The passion for the game often leads to a passion for winning….( or not failing )….and here temptation enters into the arena. No sport remains free from cheating but it is bridge which offers the greatest opportunities for players to deviate from the straight and narrow.
So in the immortal words of Bill Shankly in answering the question ” Has winning at football become a matter of life and death “…… CHRIST NO IT’S FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN THAT !

Judy Kay-WolffSeptember 5th, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Hi HBJ:

I think Bobby’s oratory above goes hand in hand with the cleverly provided exaggerations you continue to blog about — but sadly much of the wrongdoing remains with little done about it. Why? Much of it has something to do with the fact that people do not want to ‘get involved.’ I cannot speak for now as I am happily out of touch with present ACBL conditions, but I know from past experience little was done and a status quo aura was taken as the path of least resistance. People in charge want to keep their staff happy .. but to me the primary concern should be for the good of the game and making an effort to improve what is now in place. Structure in these areas leave much to be desired .. but the leanings are toward laissez faire. It appears to be a reality.

SamSeptember 6th, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Yes, it is mind boggling. I just checked my decks of cards and see what Bobby is talking about. The bad guys leave no stone unturned. But, about this latest one you reported, it is “indeed” amusing.

Judy Kay-WolffSeptember 6th, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Hello Sam:

You think you have seen everything, but soon learn you were wrong. The beat continues — but nothing in comparison to what Bobby has witnessed for an eternity and my exposure for fifty some years. It is not a figment of one’s imagination, believe me!

RichSeptember 8th, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Dear Bobby and Judy,

It would be naive to think that there was not cheating going on at high levels where the stakes were enormous. these were professionals that depended on it for their living. How can they earn a living when faced with such great players cheating against them? You focus on the Italians but, my understanding is that players from most of the countries indeed the best were cheating such as Reese, the Austrians, French Jais.Trezel and others. Maybe all of them. i dont know of course but maybe Reese felt that he had to cheat or he may as well stay home. no one could beat the Italians otherwise including you. as great a player as you are. they were a cheating machine.

Would you have the Wimbledon finalist of today calling their own lines? not an excuse for cheating but, a reality that should have been addressed with screens in 1930 not 1975. tks for comment. i read your book and enjoyed it immensely. its wonderful to have honest people to speak with. pls do not publish my email adr. i wish i could afford a few lessons from you. alas unfortunately not the case

PaulSeptember 8th, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Hi Bobby and Judy

A humorous anecdote along this line. Years ago, 2 friends of mine said they could read minds. They put 10 cards on the table like this:

x x
x
x x
x
x x

One left the room and the other asked me to pick a card. When the other returned, the first player touched every card, asking “is it this one?”
The second player always guessed the correct card. So I asked them to do it without speaking, and it still worked.
The answer is that one of the card was a Ten. The cards in the diagram are set up like a ten. The first player would touch the area of the Ten (like left middle) to indicate the correct card.
If you wanted them to shuffle and pick out ten cards,While it is statistically possible that none of the 10 cards drawn would be a Ten, you could make up an excuse to reshuffle to get a 10
And no, I did not bet with them.

Gary MugfordSeptember 11th, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Judy (and Bobby),

A little late to the party. Half of my cataract surgery done, one more eye to go. Now, onto to the subject of the blog:

Is there any sporting activity where the cheats aren’t always a half-step ahead (or more)? I think back to the Buenos Aires incident and the fact that Alan Truscott, a certified cryptography whiz, still took a considerable time to figure out the code in that case. And that was with the help of several eagle eyes looking for clues too.

Name the sport and there’s a ‘treatment’ that, at one time or another, gave the side in the know an advantage. And I’m not talking about watering the bases against base-stealing teams in Major League Baseball or manicuring the foul line areas to help/hurt good bunters. I’m talking about good ‘ol slippery elm slobbering spitballs … after they had been outlawed.

Were all competitors gentleman and ladies to the core, the world would be a LOT different. Even the good guys occasionally slip out of frustration. But the two relevent facts are: [1] You can’t ignore the cheats because it ruins the game. [2] When you catch a cheat, crush him/her/them.

Having said that, I still smile at memories of LOL’s who led singletons with their ‘other’ hand and who nattered away at table talk, spewing unauthorized information all the while. For them, it was how they learned. And nobody said anything to them for the next 20 or more years, leaving the behaviour ingrained. None of the LOL’s in question were any good at the game, a rare club game win here and there eliciting giggles of laughter and immense happiness in their lives. And frankly, if I couldn’t beat them even with their little treatments, then I shouldn’t win. And, if not me, who cares?

I did care, and still do, when cheaters prosper who are good enough to play the game without, the dishonest ten-spot guys. Because, with enough effort outside the lines, sometimes they just succeed as much, if not more, than they players playing by the rules, trying their darnedest to be gentleman and ladies.

Thanks for being the Watchmen. It’s appreciated.

Judy Kay-WolffSeptember 12th, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Hi Paul:

I was reporting to Bobby your tale about the Xs and he told me another one that I want to share with you.

It is like the old program “Can You Top This??” Three friends were in a room and one said .. I’ll bet if I send my buddy away for a moment and we select a certain object here (rug, fixture, sofa, ashtray, bookcase, picture frame, TV, computer, clock, fountain pen, floor lamp (naming a dozen more items) — when he returns and I suggest several of the above, he will guess which one we had agreed upon. The ‘guesser’ left the room and when he returned, several of the objects were named. He never missed!!

Bobby told me how simple it was — and probably an age old ruse to which I was not privy. The one in charge and the ‘guesser’ were of course in cahoots. They would agree beforehand that when a certain item (that had four legs .. in this case .. the ladder) was mentioned, the targeted item would be the second one that followed. A game a moron could play!!!

Never bet against people who are so sure of themselves!

Judy Kay-WolffSeptember 12th, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Hello Gary:

You are never too late to come to my party. I will extend to you a late note that will always gain you access to this site!

Seriously, you thank us for being the Watchmen. We, in turn, are grateful to you for caring as well. Your alluding to other sports is so appropriate — and sometimes laughable. It even goes so far as refereeing and the blatant mistakes they are subject to making. Life is not perfect and neither are people — but “the best foot forward” principle should be part of gamesmanship.

I agree about not ignoring “the cheats,” but easier said than done. Whether done out of craftiness or unintentionally, it matters not. It must be stopped or the game will waste away into nothingness. I do feel at the club level (at least where we play), it is much improved because of a concerted effort by the owners (especially one in particular) who in a sweet and humorous manner gets the point across. These unethical practices will not go away by themselves. They need help and leadership,

Hope your cataract surgery is over soon. I am experiencing the same problem, but am told that I “am not ripe yet.” Tell my eyes that. They are not in agreement.

Cheers

Judy

Judy Kay-WolffSeptember 12th, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Rich:

I had written to you privately, but never heard back.

Judy

Gary MugfordSeptember 12th, 2013 at 11:00 pm

Judy,

I’m in ‘variable time,’ that time between one eye surgery and the other. Then it’s another month after that before I can get a final set of goggles for reading and for regular activity. But come late November I expect to have eliminated this rapid detoriation in sight that started back in early February. I’m documenting the whole 10-month saga in an ebook. I’ll send you a copy. Working title: “It’s (NOT) A Piece of Cake: The Story of My Cataract Surgery.”

Geez I sound whiny right now, don’t I? But the fact is, the final line in the book is already written and it’s ultra-positive about the restored gift of sight.

Back to Bridge. Well, back to one of my computer Bridge games. Cheers back to you.

Judy Kay-WolffSeptember 13th, 2013 at 1:40 am

Hi Gary:

We are very much in the same boat. I just had both of my lenses (newspaper and computer) changed via a new prescription and neither are better than the ones I was wearing. No fun growing old.

Judy

RichSeptember 21st, 2013 at 4:28 am

Judy

sorry i guess i typed in the wrong email address. would you mind resending your response.

thanks, rich

RichSeptember 21st, 2013 at 4:56 am

Judy

at the club level with nothing at stake the losers are the cheaters themselves. really what difference does it make? if they refuse to replay a hand, i will concede them the tricks they demand. why bother to even call the director if there is one. it resolves into a form of ostracism in the end which is how the rules were designed.

at higher levels where money is at stake or prestige which is an equivalent, it must be policed just as you must in tennis matches or any other activity. the temptation is too great. which is not an excuse to cheat but its a reality. I do not know why it took them so long to employ screens.

for example complex conventions can become a form of cheating because its too difficult to learn the defenses. so that needs to be policed. somehow. at the club level however most of the people dont even understand their own conventions. so it works against them just as more overt cheating would.

I dont know if this was a factor but, post war Europe was devastated. no Ira Corns to write pay checks. or other wealthy clients. I wonder if you think that was a factor in the culture there?

I think Bobbys book was courageous and necessary and I certainly enjoyed it. he does a service to such a wonderful game. However I dont understand all the ruckus. just put up screens. we had then in a local tournament once and it was rather nice once one adjusted to them. question now is how to police internet tournaments… and i dont know if there are ways to defeat screens either..? maybe you could comment on that.

correct me if i am wrong. i know you are better placed than I to understand this problem. my comments were suggestive. actually i dont know what is going on because i dont play at your levels . however i do not see how you can possibly eliminate cheating at local levels. the rules were not designed for it. at higher levels if it cannot be eliminated it will ruin the game of course.

i really do not know how you could have played against teams that were cheating. I couldnt concentrate thinking about it. the very idea would drive you crazy i should think.

rich

Judy Kay-WolffSeptember 21st, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Hi Rich:

I think you would benefit more if Bobby answered your queries? He’s been an eye witness to every type of cheating in bridge both here and abroad — from club games to world championships — for sixty years. No one is better qualified to respond to your questions and opinion.

As for me, I could never close my eyes to it. I would rather see it go up in flames than allow any type of subterfuge. That’s a rather profound statement but I mean it from the heart.

Judy

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