Dirty Hands – A cheating scandal in the world of professional bridge.

Dirty Hands - the New Yorker

By David Owen

for The New Yorker

In 2010, Lotan Fisher and Ron Schwartz—Israeli bridge players in their early twenties—were members of the team that won the World Junior Teams Championship. The following year, their team won the European Youth Bridge Team Championships and they were invited to compete in a number of tournaments that included most of the world’s top players. During the next few years, they finished at or near the top in a remarkable number of those tournaments.

Bridge is a card game for four people. Like doubles tennis, it’s played two on two—although at a bridge table the partners sit opposite each other. (The seats are designated by compass points: North-South versus East-West.) There are many millions of players worldwide, and major tournaments attract thousands of entrants, but the arrival of new talent is a cause for celebration, because older players often worry that the game is aging into extinction. Successful young players stand out for another reason, too: bridge, unlike chess, has never been dominated by prodigies. “The game is hugely experience-based,” Gavin Wolpert, a top professional and a co-founder of an influential Web site, Bridgewinners.com, told me recently. He’s thirty-three years old—an age that, in the bridge world, counts as something like late adolescence. “The longer you play, the better you get at making good decisions, because you’ve seen it before. When you’re young, you don’t walk in and suddenly start winning every event.”

Yet Fisher and Schwartz were more than holding their own against some of the best partnerships in the world. They often made the kinds of plays that are fun to read about later, in bridge publications, because the intuition and reasoning can seem almost Sherlockian. The best players are able to deduce the presence of particular cards in opponents’ hands long before those cards have been exposed in play, based on what’s happened so far, and they think like oddsmakers. One of the longest chapters in the American Contract Bridge League’s “Encyclopedia of Bridge” lists precise probabilities for alternative approaches to playing hundreds of specific combinations of cards. No one would try to memorize all the percentages, but every skilled player acquires an increasingly comprehensive sense of what’s likely to work and what isn’t.

Last summer, at an international event in Chicago, Boye Brogeland, a Norwegian player, became convinced that Fisher and Schwartz had made prescient bids and plays that they couldn’t have found with skillful sleuthing alone. “Bridge is such a logical game,” he told me. “When you do a lot of strange things in a very short period of time, and those strange things are successful—it just doesn’t happen.” He spent hours studying records of hands that he and his partner had played against Fisher and Schwartz, and concluded that they had been cheating. “I just didn’t know how they were doing it,” he said. (Fisher and Schwartz have denied all the allegations.)

Brogeland is in his early forties. He has blond hair, much of which often seems to be sticking straight up, and a more athletic build than most of the world’s best bridge players. (At major tournaments, the relatively few players who look as though they’ve spent much time outside tend to be the smokers.) Brogeland had been a teammate of Fisher and Schwartz during the two previous tournament cycles, on a six-player team sponsored by a retired American businessman. (Tournament teams typically consist of three pairs.) On several occasions during that period, he told me, he had questioned them about their results on certain hands, which he felt they had played with uncanny precision. “I asked them, ‘What was your logic on this hand?’ ” he recalled later. “They always had a quick answer, but their responses still kept me on my toes.” Now that he had competed against them, he was convinced that they were secretly exchanging information about their cards. He shared his suspicions with several other players. “Boye was steaming,” Wolpert said. “But I told him to do this the right way. Don’t go around saying they’re cheating—you need to get the evidence.”

All the major bridge organizations have protocols for dealing with allegations of unethical behavior, but the organizations have often been ineffective in the past, and Brogeland feared they’d do nothing. Instead, he posted a comment in a thread on Bridgewinners.com in which he said that he and three of his teammates from the previous two years had decided to give up everything they had won together—something that he said all players should do if they believe their team includes “a cheating pair.” This wasn’t a veiled accusation, since Fisher and Schwartz were the only teammates he didn’t name. Jeff Meckstroth—an American bridge superstar for almost four decades—told me, “Boye had balls as big as church bells to be doing what he was doing.” And Brogeland wasn’t finished. Within a few weeks, what began as a single accusation had grown into a major scandal, involving the highest levels of international play.

Bridge evolved from whist, a similar but simpler game, which dates to at least the early seventeen-hundreds. In both, a card is played from each of the four hands in succession, and the resulting four-card “trick” is won either by the highest card in the suit that was led or by the highest card in the “trump” suit—a designated supersuit, which defeats all others. This sounds straightforward until you try it. One of the reasons bridge continues to fascinate players all over the world is that, in order to become even sort of good at it, you have to be willing to be bad at it for a long time.

In whist, the trump suit is determined by exposing the last card in the deck; in bridge, the trump suit is decided by an auction, which the four players conduct before revealing any of their cards. The auction also establishes how many tricks the auction’s winner will have to take in order to earn a positive score—a target known as the contract. (Some auctions result in a “no-trump” contract, meaning that the hand will be played without a supersuit.) The game’s modern version, called contract bridge, is usually attributed to Harold S. Vanderbilt, who, during an ocean cruise in 1925, devised several transformative improvements to the scoring system of the previous version, auction bridge. His ideas caught on with extraordinary speed, and within a few years auction bridge had all but disappeared.

In tournaments and at bridge clubs, identical hands are played at all tables, and each pair’s or team’s score is based on how well it does relative to others playing the same cards—a form of the game known as duplicate, one of whose purposes is to reduce the role of luck. At each table, the player whose bid initiates the final contract is called the declarer. His opponents are called the defenders, and the play begins when the defender sitting to the left of the declarer turns one of his cards face up on the table—a potentially momentous play, called the opening lead. The declarer’s partner now lays all his own cards on the table, also face up (and, optionally, excuses himself to go outside for a cigarette); his hand, called the dummy, is played not by him but by the declarer, in addition to his own.

There are many legitimate ways in which players exchange information about their hands, during both bidding and play. Some bidding sequences, known as bidding conventions, have artificial meanings. One of the most widely used is Blackwood (named for the man who invented it), in which a bid of “four no-trump” asks the bidder’s partner to reveal how many aces he holds: a response of “five clubs” means no aces (or all four), “five diamonds” means one ace, “five hearts” means two aces, “five spades” means three. Over the decades, Blackwood has spawned many variations, some of them quite complicated. My regular bridge partners and I occasionally allow beginning players to use a simple version, which we call Friedman Blackwood, after our late friend John Friedman, who was always forgetting the responses. (You answer by holding up fingers.)

For the defenders, the play of the hand is governed by conventions known as carding agreements. The oldest, which dates to the early days of whist, is to lead the fourth-highest card when playing from a long suit. If you know that that’s what your partner’s doing, you can apply the so-called Rule of Eleven: subtract the rank of the led card from eleven, and the result is the number of higher cards in that suit which are contained in the other three hands. Since you can see two of those hands (your own and the dummy), you now know the exact distribution of all the higher cards. One reason this isn’t cheating is that the declarer can read and exploit the signal, too, since he can also see two of the four hands. In bridge, all agreements must be transparent; secret understandings between partners are not allowed. Tournament players reveal their agreements on a printed form, which their opponents can examine, and if an opponent is confused by something, during either the bidding or the play, he can ask for an explanation at his next turn.

Expert poker players often take advantage of a skill they call table feel: an ability to read the facial expressions and other unconscious “tells” exhibited by their opponents. Bridge players rely on table feel, too, but in bridge not all tells can be exploited legally by all players. If one of my opponents hesitates during the bidding or the play, I’m allowed to draw conclusions from the hesitation—but if my partner hesitates I’m not. What’s more, if I seem to have taken advantage of information that I wasn’t authorized to know, my opponents can summon the tournament director and seek an adjusted result for the hand we just played. Principled players do their best to ignore their partner and play at a consistent tempo, in order to avoid exchanging unauthorized information—and, if they do end up noticing something they shouldn’t have noticed, they go out of their way not to exploit it. Unprincipled players consciously take advantage of such information. And, occasionally, they go a great deal further than that.

If you attend the spring North American Bridge Championships, which will be held in Reno in March, you won’t hear any mention of prize money, because there is none. The world’s best players earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, but the money is in salaries and other fees paid by wealthy team sponsors and “clients,” whose only goal is glory. Steve Weinstein, who is fifty-two and has been one of the highest-ranked players in the world for more than a decade, told me that, because rich bridge addicts outnumber great players, competition for the services of the top pros can be intense. Weinstein worked as an options trader on Wall Street before switching, after 9/11, to bridge and poker full time. The team that he plays for is financed by Frank T. (Nick) Nickell, the chairman of Kelso & Company, a private-equity firm in Manhattan. (Nickell himself plays on his team, and was inducted into the American Contract Bridge League’s Hall of Fame in 2008.)

The first American full-time professional bridge team, called the Dallas Aces, was formed in 1968 by Ira G. Corn, Jr., a Texas businessman. The pay wasn’t spectacular: a thousand dollars a month for married players, somewhat less for bachelors, plus travel and tournament expenses. Corn assembled his team because he was upset that, for more than a decade, the game had been dominated by a group of Italian players known as the Blue Team. The Dallas Aces won the World Teams Championship in 1970, and again the following year. Those victories were all the more impressive because the Aces were convinced that the Blue Team was cheating, although no members of the team were ever formally charged. Bob Hamman, who played on the Aces and now, in his late seventies, is universally considered to have been one of the best bridge players ever, told me, “The Blue Team had two outstanding players and one very good player, but the other three were essentially from central casting.” He conjectured that the Italians used a number of illicit signals, involving things like hand gestures and the positioning of their cigarettes. In 1975, two members of a later version of the Blue Team were caught signalling under the table with their feet; they’ve been known ever since as the Italian Foot Soldiers.

An American player told me that the Blue Team’s cheating might be considered an inevitable consequence of Italy’s unusual card-playing culture. In briscola, a popular trick-taking game, one of the objects is to surreptitiously pass information to your partner, without being observed by an opponent. (In one signalling system, tightening the lips over the teeth shows an ace, glancing upward shows a king, and shrugging one shoulder shows a jack.) But, over the years, plenty of non-Italians have been caught cheating, too. One notorious incident took place in Buenos Aires in 1965, at a major international tournament called the Bermuda Bowl, and involved Terence Reese, who is still widely regarded as perhaps the best English player in the history of the game. Dorothy Hayden—a great player herself, who was later married to Alan Truscott, the Times’ bridge columnist for forty-one years—determined, by watching them play, that Reese and his partner were showing each other how many hearts they held by positioning their fingers in particular ways when they fanned their cards.

In 1970, Henry Itkin and Kenny Rhodes, a relatively unknown American pair, suddenly began achieving results that better players believed were beyond their capabilities. Their code was cracked by Steve Robinson, a well-known tournament player, who realized that, when Rhodes sorted his hand after picking it up, he moved the cards in a way that telegraphed his entire holding to Itkin. Robinson told me that he had observed them during a tournament without being able to decipher what they were doing, but as he drove home afterward he reviewed a hand in his mind, and the system suddenly came to him. “If he took cards from the right and put them back in the right side of the hand, that represented one,” he said. “Right to the center was two, right to the left was three. Center to the right was four.” The signaller would give counts on three suits—first spades, then hearts, then diamonds—and then use similar movements to show strength. The code was so complex that the pair usually used it in just one direction (only Itkin could reliably read it). In 1979, two other American partners, Steve Sion and Alan Cokin, were caught signalling to each other with their scoring pencils, and were expelled from the American Contract Bridge League. “Steve Sion was one of the best declarers in the game,” Paul Linxwiler, the executive editor of Bridge Bulletin, the A.C.B.L.’s monthly magazine, told me. “But he hated the idea that a less talented player might beat him.” Sion and Cokin were reinstated after five years, and Cokin never got into trouble again. But Sion was thrown out permanently in 1997, after being caught doing the equivalent of stacking the deck with a tournament’s pre-dealt hands.

Cheating scandals lead, inevitably, to enhancements in security. Even in games at local bridge clubs nowadays, bids are made not by speaking them (and possibly imparting unauthorized information through inflection) but by silently displaying pre-printed bidding cards. Hands at big tournaments are dealt not by people but by machines, and each deal is recorded, making tampering virtually impossible. For top matches at important tournaments, each table is fitted with a single diagonal screen, which prevents partners from seeing each other during the bidding and makes changes in tempo harder to interpret. And, because of the Italian Foot Soldiers, in big matches dividers are placed under tables as well as on top of them.

In 2014, two German physicians, who had won a World Pairs Championship, were banned for ten years by the World Bridge Federation for using an auditory signalling system. (They’re now known as the Coughing Doctors.) Their method was so crude that they were relatively easy to catch, but, in general, as security measures have become more sophisticated, methods of evading them have become more sophisticated, too—like the arms race between e-mailers and spammers.

When Brogeland made his first announcement, his evidence against Fisher and Schwartz consisted solely of what he believed to be a collection of suspicious hands; he still didn’t know how they might be exchanging information. A few days later, he created a new Web site, called Bridgecheaters.com, and posted three YouTube videos from the 2014 European Team Championships, which Fisher and Schwartz’s team had won. Each video had been shot from a camera mounted near the table. It showed all four players, as well as the table paraphernalia of modern tournament bridge: four bidding boxes (containing each player’s pre-printed bidding cards); a felt-covered bidding tray (on which the players place bidding cards before sliding it back under the screen); and a plastic duplicate board (a flat, rectangular box in which four pre-dealt hands have been delivered to the table). Brogeland asked for help from other players, and the search for evidence immediately became a collaborative international project.

Not long after his Web site went up, Brogeland received a tip that Fisher and Schwartz had been in trouble before, when they were teen-agers. With aid from several players, he obtained documents showing that, beginning in 2003, the Israeli Bridge Federation had disciplined Fisher and Schwartz more than once for ethical violations in junior events. In 2005, Fisher was caught with a slip of paper containing information about a hand his table hadn’t played yet, and the I.B.F. suspended him for two years, forbade him to represent Israel in bridge for an additional eighteen months, and placed him on probation for five years beyond that. Schwartz was also suspended and placed on probation in 2005, for a different offense. Yet, even before their probations were over, they had reëmerged as a pair.

As Brogeland had requested, players around the world studied the videos of Fisher and Schwartz—at first, without success. “I thought it must be something electronic, because I couldn’t figure it out,” Jeff Meckstroth told me. But Per-Ola Cullin, a young Swedish player, noticed something strange. I spoke with him on the phone recently, after his children had gone to bed. He said, “I actually thought that Boye knew what they were doing, and was just trying to find out if others could see it as well. It turns out that he didn’t know, but when I watched the video I kind of saw it right away.” The tactic that Cullin identified involved the opening lead, one of the most difficult plays in bridge, because it usually has to be made with no knowledge of the other hands except what has been deduced from the auction. A bridge player who somehow found the ideal opening lead on every hand would be like a tennis pro who never missed a first serve.

One day last month, I asked Weinstein to show me the code that Cullin had broken. He and his wife live in a big house on the outskirts of Andes, New York, a tiny town not far from where he grew up, but I visited him at a smaller house, in a suburban neighborhood in New Jersey, which they recently began renting, mainly to shorten Weinstein’s many trips to and from the airport. The furnishings consisted of little more than a couch, a coffeemaker, and a big round table. I’d brought a bidding tray and a duplicate board to use as props. “When the bidding is over, you have to get these things out of the way,” Weinstein said, demonstrating. “The pair sitting North-South almost always handles that—and Fisher and Schwartz always wanted to sit North-South.” Usually, North moves the bidding tray to the floor or to a nearby chair, and puts the duplicate board in the center of the table, directly under the screen.

On deals in which Fisher and Schwartz ended up as declarer and dummy, they cleared away the tray and the board in the usual manner. But when they were defending—meaning that one of them would make the opening lead—they were wildly inconsistent. Sometimes Fisher would remove the tray, and sometimes Schwartz would, and sometimes they would leave it on the table. Furthermore, they placed the duplicate board in a number of different positions—each of which, it turns out, conveyed a particular meaning. “If Lotan wanted a spade lead, he put the board in the middle and pushed it all the way to the other side,” Weinstein said. If he wanted a heart, he put it to the right. Diamond, over here. Club, here. No preference, here.” Using that key, a leading professional stayed up all night studying the hands, then published a detailed synopsis of the crucial plays in a post on Bridgewinners. A British Web designer, who plays recreationally, used that analysis to assemble an explanatory highlight reel, and uploaded it to YouTube.

The team on which Fisher and Schwartz played last summer was sponsored by Jimmy Cayne, the former head of Bear Stearns. (Cayne was criticized in the press during the global financial crisis for seeming to care more about bridge than about Bear Stearns. He stepped down shortly before the firm’s collapse, and since then he’s had fewer distractions.) After studying the videotapes, Cayne announced that he would drop Fisher and Schwartz from his team unless they were vindicated, and that he would willingly forfeit everything he had won while they were employed by him.

As the scandal involving the Israelis was unfolding, Brogeland received an e-mail from Maaijke Mevius, a physicist in the Netherlands, whose specialty is astronomy. She said that the revelations about Fisher and Schwartz had got her wondering about other partnerships, and that she had studied other tournament videos available on YouTube. She was especially interested in Fulvio Fantoni and Claudio Nunes, who were then ranked No. 1 and No. 2 by the World Bridge Federation. Both players are Italian, but in 2010 they moved to Monaco after being hired to play on the Monegasque national team, which is led and financed by a wealthy Swiss businessman. Rumors about them had been circulating among bridge players for several years, and Mevius thought that her scientific training might enable her to spot something that others had missed. She told Brogeland that she had indeed seen something, although she wasn’t an accomplished enough player to be sure of its significance. What she had noticed was that, when either Fantoni or Nunes made an opening lead, he sometimes placed the card on the table horizontally, and sometimes vertically.

Brogeland followed up, with help from a number of other top players. Meckstroth told me that he had been convinced since 2014 that Fantoni and Nunes were cheating. He said that he had been trying for a year, without success, to persuade the A.C.B.L. to investigate them, and had spent many hours studying tapes himself, but without spotting the opening-lead pattern. With Mevius’s clue, though, the cheat became obvious: in eighty-two of eighty-five videotaped hands, Fantoni or Nunes led a card vertically when his remaining holding in the same suit contained an ace, a king, or a queen, and horizontally when it didn’t. Weinstein asked a bridge-playing math professor at the University of Chicago to calculate the probability of such a precise correlation’s occurring by chance. The professor, in an e-mail, said that the number was “so small it is not worth working out exactly,” but that it would be roughly “.0000 . . . where at least the first eighteen digits are zeros.” (Fantoni denied all allegations of cheating by him and Nunes.)

A few days after the accusations concerning Fantoni and Nunes, another leading pair, Josef Piekarek and Alex Smirnov, of Germany, confessed that they had been cheating. They said they were “aware of the ‘whispers’ ” about their “ethical conduct,” and that these whispers contained “some truth.” In fact, there was more than some truth, and their confession wasn’t entirely voluntary. Brogeland had compiled evidence—one of their signals involved placing their bidding cards in unusual positions on the bidding trays—and he and Weinstein had given them an opportunity to step forward before being outed. Their entire team withdrew from the World Bridge Championships, which were to begin a week later, in Chennai, India. I’ve watched, also on YouTube, a remarkable video in which Piekarek and Smirnov are playing Fisher and Schwartz in a tournament match, and Fisher appears to catch Smirnov trying to cheat. Smirnov places a bidding card on the bidding tray in an unusual position, and Fisher apparently obliterates the signal by shaking the tray as he slides it to the other side of the screen. Fisher smirks, then writes something on a piece of paper and shows it to Smirnov. Smirnov shrugs, glances at the video camera, and looks around the room.

The damage that Lance Armstrong did to the careers of other competitive cyclists, and to cycling itself, is incalculable, and it seems conceivable that the sport will never fully recover. The recent alleged cheating incidents in bridge are in some ways just as egregious. “The thing about Fantoni and Nunes that’s so upsetting,” Weinstein told me, “is that they fucked up the game since 2002, when they won the World Open Pairs, so for a decade and a half, almost, they have ruined the records of bridge.” Yet virtually every player I’ve talked to, Weinstein among them, views the recent incidents as highly positive events. Effectively pursuing bridge cheaters used to be difficult, partly because the governing bodies were fearful of being sued, and partly because cheating could be extremely difficult to prove. Older players often exhibited what now seems like a fatalistic attitude about dishonest opponents, even in cases they believed to be obvious. But YouTube changed that, and Bridgewinners has given top-level players a global discussion-and-support forum—two empowering developments for honest players. In January, the American Contract Bridge League gave Brogeland its annual sportsmanship award.

The charges against Fisher, Schwartz, Fantoni, and Nunes are still officially only allegations: no national bridge organization has ruled on any of the current cases, and the four players have hired lawyers and prepared defenses. (Fisher and Schwartz told Brogeland that they wouldn’t sue him if he retracted his accusations and paid them a million dollars; Brogeland has said that he would welcome a lawsuit.) A number of hearings have been scheduled, but even if no organization ultimately takes action, it’s unlikely that any of the players will compete again—certainly not as partners. “They’re done,” one pro told me.

In the future, catching cheaters will presumably be more difficult. Several players I spoke with said that Fisher and Schwartz might have evaded detection indefinitely if they had been less brazen, and that the reason so many incidents were exposed all at once is that, until very recently, tournament videotapes weren’t readily available, and dishonest players didn’t understand their power. Now that they do understand, cheaters will become craftier in their deceptions, and the main tool for catching them will almost certainly be statistical analysis of suspicious results. It’s also likely that major bridge organizations will adopt binding-arbitration requirements, thereby eliminating the intimidation presented by lawsuits. Team sponsors could take that idea a step further, by adding ethics clauses to all of their player contracts.

Several players have proposed technological fixes, such as a computerized tournament table, at which players wouldn’t use actual cards at all, and would bid and play roughly the way they do online. But tournament players I talked to said they would be reluctant to move the game so far from its analog origins. Brogeland told me that what he thinks the game really needs is a firmer cultural commitment to ethical play. “I think we should be more focussed on that,” he said. “If you’re always trying things to make cheating more difficult, it’s like biting your tail.” Bridge, in other words, should try to be more like golf, the only major sport in which players call penalties on themselves, and not at all like football, in which a running back would be considered almost negligent if he didn’t try to shove the ball a few inches farther forward after being tackled.

No matter what eventually happens, players today seem less resigned to unethical behavior by opponents than players of the past sometimes did—no doubt partly because, for the time being, they have the tools to fight it. Brogeland has set a powerful example, but the attitude he represents had been building for some time. Two years ago, after the World Bridge Federation banned the Coughing Doctors from competition, the overwhelming majority of responders to a poll on Bridgewinners said that, in proven cases of cheating, titles should be stripped from the cheaters’ teammates as well as from the cheaters themselves—a position that players and governing bodies in the past haven’t always embraced. And Weinstein told me that, at a tournament two or three years ago, Fisher approached him and said he understood that Weinstein had been telling people behind his back that he and Schwartz were cheating. “I said, ‘No, I’ll tell you to your face,’ ” Weinstein continued. “I said I could show him fourteen hands on which I know he had cheated. He said, ‘Well, we don’t cheat—but what would you do if you were in my position?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know, Lotan. I really can’t relate to that, because I would never be in your position.’ ” ♦

Books & Mags

BRIDGE BOOKS

Links last updated July 2018

Books for sale at the Termination Dust Sectional, Anchorage, AK, October 2004

“The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, And all the sweet serenity of books” ― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The fastest way to learn bridge, at all levels, is to read. Below is a list of bridge book shops around the world, for those times when you’re not able to peruse the book table at a local bridge tournament. (Photo: Book table at the 2004 Termination Dust Sectional, Anchorage AK)

(Last link update May 2018)


Who’s the Best Bridge Writer?

Discussion on Bridge Winners   offers a fantastic list of great bridge authors, their books, and what makes them great. Who would be your pick for the best Bridge Writer?


2017 Bridge Book of the year - Great Bridge LinksBest Bridge Books of 2017

Are you looking for books to fill your shelf or ebook reader with this January? We’ve collected some of the best bridge books for 2017 for you to take on your way to 2018. Read all about it here >>


Book Shops

BRIDGE PUBLICATIONS

Note: Many National Bridge Organizations have regular magazines available to members only. These magazines are not listed here.

the New Bridge Magazine

BRIDGE Magazine (U.K.), which ceased publication with the December 2017 issue, was the world’s oldest bridge magazine, having begun publication in 1926. In 2011, the magazine went from a printed to an online format. The magazine’s editor, Mark Horton, and its jack-of-all-trades, Ron Tacchi, have begun publishing “A NEW BRIDGE MAGAZINE” online. The new magazine is currently offered free of charge. To receive notification each time the new magazine is published, go to www.newbridgemag.com and register

The Bridge World

http://www.bridgeworld.com/

Also one of the oldest bridge publications, TBW was established in 1929 by Ely Culbertson and continues to be one of the authoritative magazines on the game. Find their store here, order back issues or subscribe. The Bridge World Editorial Staff: Jeff Rubens, Phillip Alder, Kit Woolsey, Michael Becker, David Berkowitz, Augie Boehm, Bart Bramley, Larry Cohen, Mark Feldman, Fred Gitelman, Eddie Kantar, Danny Kleinman, Ron Klinger, Eric Kokish, Beverly Kraft and Bobby Wolff.

IMP Bridge Magazine

http://www.imp-bridge.nl/

IMP Bridge Magazine is aimed at Dutch bridge players, so we should note that the entire magazine is in Dutch.

Australian Bridge Magazine

http://www.australianbridge.com/

Australian Bridge Magazine, published monthly, represents bridge players in Australia, though readers elsewhere will still get a lot out of their tournament coverage and columns. You can also subscribe to their Novice edition, aimed at newer players.

Better Bridge Magazine

http://www.betterbridge.com/Better-Bridge-Magazine-Annual-Subscription

Better Bridge Magazine is a bi-monthly fronted by seasoned bridge player and teacher Audrey Grant. A year-long subscription only runs you $29, so it’s more than worth it.

Mr Bridge

https://www.mrbridge.co.uk/

Mr Bridge is a UK monthly magazine and you can subscribe to it at £49 for 12 issues, £79 for 24 or £109 for 36. There’s also a bridge shop and searchable archive of past issues.

The Bridge Bulletin

http://www.acbl.org/join/the-bridge-bulletin/

The Bridge Bulletin is filled with useful tips, info and up-to-date news, though it’s only available to ACBL members.

English Bridge

http://www.ebu.co.uk/englishbridge

English Bridge is the official publication of the EBU, and also only available to EBU members. You can still view a list of past issues on the same page – only the newer issues seem restricted to members – so it’s still worth checking out even if you’re not a current member.

Bridge Canada

http://cbf.ca

Bridge Canada is published 6 times a year and available to members of the Canadian Bridge Federation only.


Newsletters

The IBPA Monthly Bulletin.

http://www.ibpa.com/html/the-bulletin.html

Edited by John Carruthers, the Bulletin is a “writers digest”, containing the creme de la creme of bridge hands and news around the world.  You can download a sample copy here (not currently available)

Barbara Seagram Bridge Newsletter

http://www.barbaraseagram.com/previous-barbara-seagram-bridge-newsletters.html

Another newsletter published by a seasoned and well-known bridge player, you can check out Barbara Seagram’s bridge newsletter over here. Subscribe to newer issues, or read through the archive – which goes back to 2012.

The Hong Kong Bridge Association

http://www.hkcba.org/newsletter.php

The official newsletter of the Hong Kong Bridge Association can be found here – again, you can sign up or browse through the archives instead.

The Bridge Laws Mailing List

http://lists.rtflb.org/mailman/listinfo/blml

Subscribe here (or view an archive of previous posts) to have the laws of bridge delivered straight to your inbox: This one doesn’t seem to be updated anymore, though it is still useful for anyone who needs to run over the rules.

No Fear Bridge

https://nofearbridge.co.uk/

No Fear Bridge is UK-based and seems mainly focused around teaching bridge: Still, they offer a newsletter you can subscribe to for free.

Bridge Hands eMagazine

https://www.bridgehands.com/Services/BridgeHands_eMagazine.htm

This link seems largely outdated and was last updated in 2013; according to the link, you can still subscribe to the Bridge Hands e-magazine, though your best bet is going over to the newsletter archive to check out past issues of this e-magazine.


Online Publications

The World Youth Bridge Magazine

http://youth.worldbridge.org/

This is a new website established and managed by the World Bridge Federation and geared towards youth, junior and kids bridge players. It has a great offering of news, photos, interviews, stories and video.

Great Bridge Links

http://greatbridgelinks.com/playing-cards-magazine/

You’re reading this page on Great Bridge Links! GBL has been online since 1995 and after its relaunch in 2015 has grown into a comprehensive magazine style bridge site with news, regular stories and articles by great writers, and over 3000 links to ‘all that’s bridge on the net’.

Gifts for Card Players

http://giftsforcardplayers.com/magazine/

This is another part of the Great Bridge Links franchise with a standalone magazine section featuring articles about cards, products for card lovers, and lots of articles about poker, slots machines, casino play, and online play.

Bridge Daily Bulletins Archive

This website contains thousands of bulletins from various tournaments. Owners Frank van Wezel and Hans van de Konijnenberg scan old bulletins and frequently post the bulletins of older tournaments as well as bulletins of all the recently played (major) tournaments. This is a fantastic resource. Bridge Daily Bulletins


NEWS

Audrey Grant’s Better Bridge Magazine is Now Digital!

Your favorite (or soon to be favorite) magazines can be read on your phone, tablet, or computer making it easy to read on the go. Our friends at Joomag have made it easy to order and keep all of your issues in one place! Here are some great reasons to go digital:

You’ll never lose another issue. All of your magazine will be stored in one easy to reach place on your device.
Zoom! You can increase the size of the page with a swipe of your fingers. You never have to change your address again. Do you move from place to place throughout the year? No need to call and change your address if you subscribe digitally. Easy Navigation. Travel to the article you wish to read by tapping the title in the Table of Contents.

Find out more

Six Ways to Make Money Online from Home

Ways to make money online - Great Bridge Links

Six Ways to Make Money Online from Home

If you’re a student, a budding bridge pro, or an at-home mom or dad, you might be looking for ways to make money at home. Some say the easiest way is playing online slots for real money. However below we’ve listed 6 other suggestions.

While these jobs may not be paying as much as conventional work engagements, it is possible to earn a decent living with proper effort and focus. The upside of such jobs from home is that people have the freedom to work on their own terms and can earn as much as they want by investing equivalent amounts of time. But keep in mind, the amount of income from this kind of work is directly proportional to the level of effort you are willing to put out on each assignment.

  1. Get paid to view advertisements

The job description is just as the title suggests, you can sit at home, watch television while browsing through advertisements that pay you to view them. There are many trustworthy websites which pay their registered users to view advertisements in their collection. You can use any device like your desktop, tablet or mobile for viewing purpose. The websites apply various techniques for sending the advertisements that need to be viewed to you. Some sites send an SMS with the link to your device, while some others display the links on your screen after registering as their affiliate. This job has the potential of earning up to a dollar per viewing of an advertisement.

  1. Website testing      

Another popular and engaging online assignment is testing new or upcoming websites and providing feedback to the owner or creator about its various performance aspects. This job provides a pretty decent rate per assignment, you can earn up to ten dollars from one of these. The website testing process is fairly simple, and it takes about half an hour in general to complete the testing, barring any special cases. As there are 300 to 500 new websites being created every minute on the Internet, there is no shortage of work on this front. You only need to get registered at sites that offer such jobs; the allocation of assignments is fairly steady, based on the number of testers available on the site.

  1. Writing blogs

If you are confident of your writing skills and love to write about new subjects, blogging is a job you can easily do from home. Your desktop or smartphone can easily serve as the writing medium, and you can look for websites that offer blogging assignments on a variety of subjects. You can also specialize in particular areas like travelling, cooking, fashion, wildlife, nature, etc. and look for websites offering blogging assignments related to your choice. Good blog writers can earn a decent amount by leveraging their follower base and using their blogging website for promotional purposes.

Great Bridge Links is always looking for good articles on the topic of bridge travel, tournaments, bridge people, and other non-technical topics. We pay $40 usd for these articles, up to 500 words. Click here to enquire.

  1. Filling online survey forms

Filling online survey forms for various companies is a proven and effective way to earn money. There are many online companies who want people to conduct surveys of their services or products and provide feedback on them. This helps them to grow their online business and you are paid for every completed survey job. The payment depends on the number and quality of the survey work. There are sites that offer some registration bonus also along with survey jobs for you. Earning depends on the number of surveys filled in a certain period and increase proportionately to the amount of work done.

  1. Proofreading

In case you have an innate flair for finding out grammatical or syntax errors in texts, proofreading online can get you some decent cash in return. The job is to check blocks of text for correctness in its use of words, spelling mistakes, grammatical and syntax errors. There are many sites online working as a platform for connecting clients with proofreaders, enrolling in one of these can provide a steady stream of proofreading assignments for you. With experience and increased client base of people appreciating your talent, the number of assignments can increase considerably, and you can even earn a decent livelihood from these kinds of remote jobs.

  1. Online data entry jobs

Your typing skills and speed will be tested if you choose this assignment for earning online. There are many organizations which are on the lookout for data entry operators with good typing speed. The sites offering such assignments usually take a typing speed test before accepting you as a data entry operator for their clients. Data entry assignments can pay up to twenty dollars upon completion within stipulated deadlines. As with most online jobs, reputed platforms with good credentials offer better and steadier number of such assignments.

As you can see, there are many opportunities for earning a good amount of money online while enjoying the more relaxed atmosphere of home. You are your own boss; the amount of time, effort, and focus on the assignments depend totally on you. Prudence needs to be applied while choosing online platforms (not currently available) that offer such jobs and working with your own skill sets has more likelihood of raking in more income, while investing a lesser amount of time.

 

A Look at Cheating

Cheating at Bridge - what to do

Putting the Spotlight on Cheating

by Alex J Coyne. © 2016 Great Bridge Links

Did you just see someone cheat at bridge? Or worse, did someone just accuse you of cheating? As you can expect, this is a very sensitive topic and newcomers to the game will appreciate an introduction to cheating at bridge. What’s it all about?

Bridge made international news when the Israeli players Loran Fisher and Ron Schwartz were accused of cheating by their fellow teammates in August 2015 and that news rocked the bridge world. One year later they were officially expelled from the American Contract Bridge League, surrendering the Spingold Trophy, Reisinger Trophy and North American Swiss. Over the history of bridge there have been many others – some cheating has been subtle and other times not so much. Players Alan Cokin and Steven Sion were caught out in the late ’70’s using illegal signals with their pencils during the game and were expelled from the American Contract Bridge League.

In  2000 John Bubaugh was accused of handing his partner choice cards when acting as the dealer. He was quickly hit with a suspension by the American Contract Bridge League. In 2014, two German physicians, who had won a World Pairs Championship, were banned for ten years by the World Bridge Federation for using an auditory signalling system. (They’re now known as the Coughing Doctors – see article on The Guardian here)

In 1965, the bridge world was rocked by an accusation of cheating at the world championships in Buenos Aires. The pair involved were Britain’s Terence Reese and Boris Schapiro, two of the world’s best players (and authors) who were allegedly holding their cards in unusual ways during bidding to communicate how many hearts were in their hand. While there was direct evidence of this, it was insufficient to find them guilty beyond a doubt. Years later, it was revealed that Reese had admitted to someone that they were indeed using hand signals but only as part of research for a book they were writing on – you guessed it – cheating at bridge. This confession was published after their deaths.

These are only a few of the more famous stories. Cheating, and the invention of complicated cheating systems, is not meant to be part of the game of bridge, but many have risked their careers indulging in the challenge.

But not all cheating is on purpose.

By the Rules

So, just what constitutes a cheat? Not all cheats are outright, and not all rule violations are on purpose! To protect you from cheating inadvertently, here are a few of the applicable laws according to the 2007 Edition Laws of Duplicate Bridge and what they mean to the game:

– LAW 6: THE SHUFFLE & DEAL

(D) A re-shuffle is required should any player, accidentally or purposefully, spot the cards of another player. It remains within the rules if this is reported immediately, and the cards are shuffled and dealt again.

Note: This would not apply to ‘duplicate’ bridge where all the hands are pre-dealt. In this case, players at the table should call a director.

– LAW 16: AUTHORIZED & UNAUTHORIZED INFORMATION

(B): Extraneous Information from Partner

Rule 1(a) makes it clear that absolutely no signals should be given to another player to indicate the meaning of a bid or play. This is considered downright cheating, and seems to be one of the most common kinds. Signals can be varied – from the way a player touches their hair or holds their cards, to asking his or her partner a specific question to tip them off about their hand, but all deliberate signals are prohibited. Even an undue hesitation in the bidding could pass information to your partner and whether or not you meant to ‘cheat’ you could be called on it.

– LAW 73: COMMUNICATION

(B): Inappropriate Communication from Partner

Here, rule number 2 prohibits exchanging any kind of pre-arranged information about the game between partners. Funnily enough, most new players go though a stage where they think it might be cool to have special bids that hold secret meanings known only to them and their partner. This is not allowed – all bids and their meanings must be available to everyone at the table. Convention cards and alerts and even pre-alerts are ways organizers ensure everyone at the table knows what’s going on during the bidding.

– LAW 90: PROCEDURAL PENALTIES

(B): Offenses Subject to Procedural Penalty

Law 90 covers any other plays that might get in the way of the game – again, some outright cheating and some bordering on a grey area. More specifically during duplicate tournament play (where everyone plays the same hands), (B)2. prohibits unnecessarily slow play – thus, someone trying to extend a game by playing on a go-slow. Number (B)3. prohibits giving out information about the result, bidding or play of the game to other players. (B)4. stops players from comparing their scores before the game has ended. And, of course, number (B)5. says: Don’t touch or handle another player’s cards!

Are there ways to prevent cheating?

In the world of tournament bridge, there have been many innovations in an attempt to curtail cheating. One is the invention of the Bidding Box, invented in Sweden in 1962 and first used in a World Championship in 1970. Today Bidding boxes are used in all duplicate play and at many home games as well. Rather than saying a bid out loud, players pull a bid card from the box. This invention puts an end to all the ‘accidental’ information conveyed to partner by the tone of a player’s voice, or the forcefulness of the bid. However, I’ve seen some pretty forceful DOUBLE cards slapped to the table – so bidding boxes alone were not enough.

Other innovations include Table Screens and Table Trays, video surveillance, and more. Watch for a future blog post that will address these items in more detail.

Could you spot a cheat?

You know the rules and you’re absolutely convinced your opponents couldn’t possible have bid or made that hand without some kind of unlawful knowledge. What do you do?

There are proper avenues for reporting your suspicions.

What you should not do is accuse anyone of cheating – either to their faces or behind their backs.

Proving someone is a cheater is very difficult. Boye Brogeland, the person who exposed Loran Fisher and Ron Schwartz studied many videos and set up a website (http://bridgecheaters.com/) to examine the evidence. However, this is not recommended for most of us and indeed Brogeland is currently being legally challenged on  various fronts.

If you have concerns about cheating at your table or at your bridge club, start by talking privately with the director in charge. They will advise you of your next steps.

At ACBL (American Contract Bridge League) tournaments or unit events, there is a Recorder on hand. Recorders are specially trained people who will receive and record your complaint. If there is no Recorder around, there will be a Recorder Box. Fill out the slip and drop it into the box. Recorders do not take action, other than to pass your complaint or report on to the appropriate authorities. If those authorities have received similar complaints, action will be taken. Read more about Recorders on the ACBL Website

And stating the obvious, if you have concerns about cheating at a home game or party bridge, let it go!

 

About the author: Alex J Coyne is a freelance journalist, author and language practitioner. Sometimes, he’s got an ace up his sleeve and a Joker in his hat. He can be found at his blog. alexcoyneofficial.wordpress.com

Playing with the ‘bots

Just Play Bridge - ACBL

Bridge and Online Casinos

Playing Bridge is most commonly done in physical locations, but thanks to modern day innovation, you can play this classic for real money online.

by Annie Beeson for Great Bridge Links. Bridge, since its inception, has remained one of the most popular card games on the planet. Most often played in duplicate/tournament form or  among friends in the privacy of home, playing bridge online is a foreign idea to many lovers of the game. But this is changing, and money bridge is now an option to play at casinos online.

Card Games at the Casino In General

Bridge is a partnership game, and you might wonder how an online casino can maintain fairness. Bridge partners should not be able to see each other’s hands and the only communication should be through the bidding and play of the cards. Any other communications between partners – say by telephone, chat, text or perhaps they’re playing in the same room – would totally defeat the purpose of the game. Online casino operators have seen it all, which is why most online casino games, like Blackjack, Baccarat, and Casino Hold’em, involve a single player playing against the casino rather than other players. This ensures that cross communication is impossible. There are some multiplayer games, such as Poker in Poker Rooms, where individual players are playing against each other and while it’s tough to prevent table talk online t. And since Poker is not a team game, only one player would benefit anyway. These methods are now also being used with online bridge to ensure there is no cheating.

How Online Bridge Works

In some online bridge casinos your partner will be a robot, and the opposing team will consist of a real person and their computer software partner. While the game is still four players, only two of them are real people. The positions of the humans and robots are randomly generated and since the partners are robots, players are not able to engage in any form of unauthorized communication.

In this kind of online bridge, the robots used are very good, but what makes the game really fair is that all the robots have the same skill level.

At BridgeBase.com’s Money Bridge, the robots are built using the bridge-playing program Ginsberg’s Intelligent Bridge Player (GIB). It’s an excellent program and would give even master bridge players a run for their money in some cases, but certainly not all. The decision-making, bidding, and general complexity makes bridge a game that does not always have a set mathematical formula that determines the best odds of a bid or even play, especially when you are dealing with an fallible partner. Nobody’s perfect, including robots!

In other bridge casinos, for example BridgeBig.com, you are able to play with a human partner in what is known as Individual Competition. However, because being able to choose said partner would almost guarantee cheating at some level by some players, the casino will randomly place human players together at tables when they choose to play. This ensures that your partner is a stranger, or at least is more than likely a stranger, unless you and your friend are lucky enough to be randomly placed on the same table and on the same team, though if cheating is detected, both of you could be banned. In these same casinos, a robot is often used to fill in for spots at the table if there are not enough players looking for a game. This ensures that you can play bridge whenever the mood strikes and don’t have to wait around for all four seats to be filled. These robots, too, are most commonly based on GIB.

Should I Play Bridge Online?

If you are a good bridge player, just like if you are a good poker player, you can win a lot of money playing online. It is important to be sure that the online casino that offers it has a good reputation, is highly ranked on third-party review sites, and has the proper licensing, jurisdiction, and certifications. If that is established, we see no reason why playing bridge online would be any different than playing any other casino game online. You don’t have to wait around for a local tournament or your friends to come over. In just a few clicks, you can be instantly in a game, and many of these casinos even offer deposit-matching bonuses that give new players free money to play with.

The world of online bridge also includes hundreds of games that don’t involve money. In these games you can play with your friends or favourite partners and teams. You can take classes, practice for tournaments, or even play against robots for the mental exercise. Watch for an upcoming blog on playing bridge online.