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When Shit Hits The Fan August 28, 2010

Posted by justinlall in Blog.
Tags: ,

At the recent New Orleans national, playing in the round of 64 of the Spingold (the premier event of the national) my teammate’s opponent held:


His right hand opponent opened 3. What would you bid? What would your top 10 bids be? Are you affected by it being about the 20th board of a 64 board match, and you being down somewhere between 40 and 45 (and also being the lower seeded team)?

This person chose an incredible 6! He bought as dummy:


With diamonds being 3-2, 6 is cold by pitching your hearts on the clubs. 6 clubs in the ten card fit has no play, because you must lose 2 hearts.

My teammates did not call the director, but after the set everyone they spoke to (including me) told them to do so. My contention at the time was that there should be an adjustment, because this bid is impossible without UI (unauthorized information). The player who bid this was a well known player who is a bridge professional with many masterpoints, not just some random person.

The question is, can a bid in and of itself be evidence of UI? If it can be, we go possibly go down a slippery slope of adjusting a result when someone makes a lucky bid and it works. If not, then nothing happens when someone acts upon UI.

In many cases UI is not 100 %, for instance the 2 sides might dispute if there was a break in tempo. In these cases the directors use the hand as evidence. It seems to me like if there is a 99+ % chance of UI being used to make a bid, that should be grounds for an adjustment.

The directors ruled that no adjustment could be made, and when speaking with people who are on the Appeals Committee they seemed to agree that no adjustment could be made based on one bid. All advised simply to record the facts with the national recorder, and move on.

In general I would say that every player I spoke to who was playing in the Spingold (which was many of the top 100 players in the world) viewed this as outrageous. None believed that this bid was even within the realm of possibility. In all of the years that all of them have played bridge, so probably a combined experience of millions of hands and most of those at the top levels, none of them had seen a jump overcall of slam into a 4 card suit on a persons first bid of the auction. Additionally, nobody had ever even heard of such a bid (later the partner of the 6 overcaller claimed that he or his partner HAD heard or seen a bid like this before).

Again, if all of these experts consulted viewed this bid as impossible without UI, is that evidence of UI? How strong does the evidence have to be? Maybe this player is simply more creative than everyone else.

Personally, I thought if the laws were such that an adjustment could not be made, then the laws should be changed.

I posted on the Bridge Base Forums about this incident here. That is when the madness started.

This thread ended up being almost 500 posts long before being closed. After that, a new thread was started that ended up being almost 150 posts long.

Meanwhile a thread was started on RGB and also on bridgewinners.

For the bridge world this was a big deal. I did not post the name of the person involved, but other people figured it out and his partner came to post in his defense. Part of the problem was that this person has had a history of conduct and ethics problems, including Bobby Wolff writing in his book about an incident where he feels the person cheated. Searching RGB, there were a lot of threads back then about an incident involving the person.

Unfortunately this led some to believe this person was being persecuted solely for that reason. Some blamed me as the catalyst for this person being openly accused of cheating, but I never accused the person of cheating nor did I mention his name. This led to me getting a call quite early in the morning at the nationals from the person stating that he would take a lie detector test. Gee, thanks, I care.

There were some interesting points about this hand:

If you had UI that 6 makes and 6 does not, would you just overcall 6? Isn’t that really suspicious? This is a reasonable question. However if you double, most people would bid 4 in response to that with 4-4 in the minors. If you bid 4N, most people would bid 5. In general it’s better to bid your cheaper one. Even if half the people would bid diamonds, you might not want to risk partner bidding clubs in which case you can never bid 6D later. If you somehow rigged the hand, maybe you should rig it so that partner has 4 diamonds and 3 clubs and would bid diamonds over a double? No, the problem now is the other table might get to 6 also on a normal auction. The best way to win a sure swing is for 6 to be impossible to bid at the other table, and that requires bidding it yourself at this table.

Maybe this player did many crazy things before this, and only one worked, and you’re crucifying him for it. This is what the 6 overcaller’s partner thinks, but I do not view that as the case. For instance, he jumped to slam on a hand in the first set with 5053 and very strong pointed suits and no club stopper after drury. This is a bid that MANY people (including my teammates) would make. You cannot compare this calculated jump to a jump to a 4 card suit at the 6 level when your partner has not bid. They are simply not even close to the same.

Again, I would go back to the metric that if no other expert would think of, let alone actually make this bid, then it is a very strange bid indeed. To actually catch the double dummy perfect layout where 6 is unbiddable otherwise, and 6 is down, and 7 doesn’t make, that is an amazing coincidence. Comparing that to a normal jump to slam that many people would do is simply not right.

It really is important to focus on how unique and unheard of this 6 bid is. It is not reasonable to me to say he made a reasonable slam jump in his longest suit with a known fit before and it didn’t work, so how can we say this one is based on UI just because it worked.

He was down a lot and swinging, this was just a swing action. This has also been said and presented. Down 40 with 45 boards left is not that much at all. That is a ton of boards and not that many imps. And even if you’re swinging, would you really bid 6? Really? This just seems like a weak argument, especially when the player did NOTHING remotely similar to this level of swinging after or before this board, until the last 16 boards when he truly was down a lot and needed to swing hard.

The end result of this was that nothing happened. There was no conduct hearing on this player for this one bid. There was no adjustment. Some people thought I should face a conduct hearing (despite not mentioning the player’s name, and not accusing him of cheating), but that also did not happen (yet?). There was no lie detector test. There was no changing of the laws. But that is the story, and I still think the laws should address this.

Some have rationalized the 6 bid as a reasonable and findable bid that some would make, or a reasonable shot to swing. However, they know the results and they have their own biases. Why not deal with it like the usual way we deal with UI cases, poll the persons peers and give them the state of the match and see if any do bid 6, or even consider it, or is at all possible without UI.

For those who do not believe me when I say that every single person in the top 100 players that I asked said this bid is impossible without UI, or that I am biased, I’ll end with a Fred Gitelman quote from BBO:

“I have personally witnessed several “top experts” express “6 not possible without UI” when they were told about this hand. I have not witnessed any “top experts” express a contrary view.”


1. Benoit Lessard - August 28, 2010

This remind me of the CSI syndrom. When jury expect TV like condemning proof or “the closer” full confessions.

Its near impossible to get evidence of cheating and its rarely pays off to “investigate” or to interrogate, so should we never accuse somebody or give up the fight against cheating ?

For me the solution is rather simple, like all domain where there is more “Circumstantial evidence” than direc t evidence you must judge with experts testimonials with always giving benefits of the doubt and without making it a caracter study.

Its only common sense to allow expertise to judge on situations where they will never be simple and condamning proofs.

2. JRM - August 28, 2010

Background: Despite being out of the field for the last seven years, I’m likely to be the world’s foremost expert in online bridge cheating. I suspect I have done more cheating investigations (at least 400, though I didn’t count; 170 accounts or so removed by about 120 separate cheaters) than anyone, ever. I expect that several people have more expertise than I on live, high-level cheating.

One of the maxims here is that one hand isn’t proof; you need a large history of hands. Here, you likely *have* a large history of hands. You also have an expert player; experts are usually more skilled at hiding cheating.

I *do* think it is *possible* that this wasn’t cheating. (And let’s not confuse the issue with the UI label: There’s UI of the hesitation sort, and cheating. We’re talking about suspicion of rank unilateral cheating here.)

Nonetheless, of the single-hand evidence of cheating, this is one of the five most compelling specimens I have ever seen, and I’ve seen thousands of cheated-on hands.

Were I a recorder, I’d want to see records of every recorded hand this dude had played in as long as possible, and I’d want to get an explanation. Anecdotes about fliers of this sort can be researched. If the sample size of this type of bid is made up entirely of successful operations, that’s damning evidence.

The quality of cheating investigators, BTW, does not correlate perfectly with expertise, once you’ve reached some solid standard. [Very famous player] was the lead person for a now-defunct competing site’s anti-cheating operation; they pledged public outing of cheats, and they must not have caught anyone. There are also people who are paranoid about cheating.

There’s a right way to do this. This hand deserves substantial investigation. You catch this hand, and you have all kinds of sensible ways to swing. 6D isn’t one of them.

That’s just my opinion, of course. I could be wrong. (And I don’t know who bid 6D; I base my analysis entirely on the writeup provided.)


3. JRM - August 28, 2010

Two more side notes:

1. I think you were wrong regarding an adjustment; no adjustment could be warranted, in my view. There are only two possible outcomes: Result stands, or ejection and forfeit. If this isn’t forfeit-worthy, I don’t know what is.

2. Fred Gitelman’s experience in top-level play and running BBO make him a highly credible analyst. Plus, he’s a highly credible dude.


4. justinlall - August 28, 2010

Thanks for your input John, I respect your judgement and experience.

5. Larry - August 29, 2010

This hand rates a Recorder memo and nothing else!

Without knowing how the ‘Expert Poll’ was conducted and by whom (you I assume) I rate it like the political polls, not of much value. That fact that ‘many’ conclude UI from the bidding shows the lack of critical thinking and knowledge about how such incidents are to be handled per ACBL Guidelines(see first line above).

Time to move on Justin.

6. Benoit Lessard - August 29, 2010

There are 2 things that we have to take into account. Large samples of hands arent always available + we surely cannot afford to make lenghty investigation for all levels. Also its a punisher approach that tend to punish culprits first rather than defend victims.

Lets just say that YOU make a crazy play/bid that 85%-100% (pick a number) of experts think its impossible to do without UI or cheating, what do you think is going to be easier to do, accept that the score be corrected or to be accused of cheating without direct evidences. I understand that with the current laws no adjustement can be done, but for me its clear that its unpractical to “Result stands, or ejection and forfeit.”

7. JRM - August 29, 2010


I feel quite strongly that if we start reversing scores because something odd happened that is suspected to be cheating (not a hesitation situation), we’re going down a terrible path.

Two stories:

Opener has AK9 AK5 94 AQT74, opens 2N. The auction proceeds:


Dummy hits with QJ93 J42 83 J982. 3N is down at the other table.

Later, same player on lead against 2H-P-6H, with 984 32 KT4 T9876 leads the DK; dummy has AJ94 of diamonds and declarer is pushed off of playing for honor-ten of diamonds onside, instead later leading a diamond to jack, setting up the ten for the setting trick.

Are we going to start reversing that? Are we going to invite reversals of this type generally? You’re going to be in appeals committees until dawn.

If someone does something clever/insane/whatever and it works, good for them. One hand isn’t proof, and if you’re going to treat them like individual events and create a standard where everyone who doesn’t bid by the Official System gets their good scores taken away, I, for one, am going home.

Yes, this means you’ve got to do more work when you have a spectacular hand such as this one. But maybe that work results in a lack of clear and convincing evidence that nefariousness was afoot (as by no likely mechanism to cheat and a pattern of similar, unsuccessful actions; in live games it is much more important to determine a mechanism.) Maybe that work effectively clears the bidder. Or maybe it goes the other way. But it’s worthwhile in either case to make an effort to get to the truth.

If you start adjusting scores in lieu of investigating, the harm to bridge generally would be massive. That would be an invitation to cheat – the penalty is an adjustment. And an invitation to complain every time you get a bad board against bad bidding or play.

If I do something that a bunch of experts think is impossible without cheating, I’d expect the experts to be very, very familiar with my playing style. I’d expect them not to pass judgment without knowing the successes and failures of whatever similar adventures I committed. I wouldn’t expect to be judged with certainty without that information.

And if a bunch of people thought I was actively cheating, I’d want the damn investigation to be done right.

Benoit Lessard - August 29, 2010

Experts know what a flyer, a long shot, an offbeat decision and a swing bid are. Let them judge what is an impossible bids & play.

Do you really think the 2 hands you gave more than 10% of experts will think you need UI or cheat to make these bids or leads ? I sure no expert will put the example you gave in the same bag as Jlall hand.

With that auction the K of D is probably the proper lead and with AKx and a doubleton 4M cannot be such an ugly contract.

Sure appeal take time and energy, but its nowhere near the time an energy to investigate & condemn a cheater.

8. More Shit « Justin Lall - August 29, 2010

[…] 29, 2010 Posted by justinlall in Blog. Tags: New Orleans Incident trackback Glen responded to my post about the 6D overcall on his blog: […]

9. Danny - August 29, 2010

The reason political polls are relatively useless is they generally deal with close issues. If you polled 100 experts, and a small minority mentioned 6 Diamonds as a possible call, that would be one thing. On this hand, zero experts would mention diamonds at ANY level, let alone a double jump to slam.

Larry - August 30, 2010

Interesting, but the way the question is asked and amount of information provided all affect the outcome IMO. I do not believe that ZERO experts would consider bidding 6D under these circumstances.

10. Brad Mampe - August 30, 2010


Based on your prior experience, do you think it’s important that the hand details – even anonymously, as Justin provided in all forums – be withheld from judgment from the public until investigations with the relevant bridge organizations are complete?

Please disregard the question if your experience hasn’t involved any crossover with face-to-face bridge organizations.

JRM - August 30, 2010

This is an issue with both face-to-face and live bridge.

The arguments against doing so are that it can interfere with an orderly investigation, as you note. It was my understanding from Justin’s post that the investigation, such as it was, had been completed when the hand was posted.

I do think that if you have any trust at all in the investigating agency, and the investigation is not complete, that it’s a good idea to wait.


11. Benoit Lessard - August 30, 2010

In most criminal case the “crime” cannot be repaired. So i have no problem with a punisher approach. But if the victims can be defended we have to be more smart.

Lets just say that after smoking some strong weed a player make some crazy anti percentage bid/play that work. Its basically the same bid/play as what a cheater would do.

What make more sense to do ?

The punisher approach would be to sandbag and investigate the players hands record and play ..If the guy is a cheater than after many more victims we can do something but all the victims cannot be compensated. If the guy is a smoker than we are going to laugh at some hands records.

In both case however the victims will of course insinuate cheating and rumours and opinion will spread like wildfire.

If we need a guilty verdict for the victims to be compensated, than its normal for the victims and for “punisher” to push the case too hard. (talking about cases in general, not this one)

The lets think about victim first approach.
Director gets called and see the highly suspicious play/bids. Bring the hand at the director table and they agree its suspicious. They ask the accused the logic or reasoning behind play/bid. If the response insnt convincing they ask for appeal committee. If committee agree then its correction of score under laws of “protecting against highly suspicious play/bid”

The smoker/cheater might accept the decision more smoothly than being directly accused of cheating (without direct evidence very important not to forget) and be more careful the next time.

If i were a “victim” of a smoker play. I would be happy if a committee is formed and their goal is to protect my score rather than detect any sort of cheating.

Im sure many players would you find this as an acceptable compromise, and more importantly one that is practical of a domain without direct evidence.

12. JKD - August 31, 2010

I created dozens of packaged reports of suspected cheating for JRM in one of his former roles. Hands were stored online and easily available. It was uncanny how the perpetrators could take what might be considered a 1-to-10% call or play (maybe 1 or as many as 10 out of 100 might find the same call or play) and it would never be wrong, never backfire. Thankfully, these folks were gone from the scene eventually in most cases, presumably unceremoniously dismissed.

All they perhaps had to do was create a few off-the-track calls or plays that didn’t work, but they just never seemed to find that willpower. Perhaps a sign of their psyche. And I hope I am not giving prospective cheaters any ideas!

The less frequent actions like 6D suffer from lack of frequency, and no matter how outrageous, there is no objective way to prove that a single such action is IMPOSSIBLE WITHOUT UI. Perhaps if 1000 of the player’s peers skill-wise, creative-wise, and mental-aberration-wise were given the full conditions and carefully polled, and 0 found the call or play, that would be evidence. But that is too tough to do. So however distasteful and suspicious the action, citing a handful or two or three of “top experts” that agree to such a characterization is still unconclusive for court.

Of course, the court of public opinion is another matter, and even the pre-investigative word of mouth in my dealings with JRM was useful in uncovering those worthy of formal investigation.

It is unfortunate that there are liabilities to this, as well as indignation by some with strong views. Were it practical, I might suggest that the ACBLs have a “special recorder” to whom one could funnel suspicious actions, like JRM received in a former role, with NO alerting the suspect. At some point, roll the video cameras, as has been done before. And you have your evidence that cannot be refuted by bridge explanation or logic.

I wish this was practical as well as possible, as a way to deal with suspicious actions. Maybe the recent **** hitting the fan will further that wish.

13. Bobby Wolff - June 14, 2011

The above comments represent a forum that I never knew existed. To say that I am both impressed and delighted is to understate it. Starting in 1985 with the creation of the Recorder system I had to blaze my own trail, and now it seems the process is made of “sterner stuff”.

Because of the ultimate total deterioration of my hearing, I am not of great use anymore, but that is not to say that my every emotion is not pulling for someone, obviously most of this group, to ride into town, possessing silver bullets, an Indian close friend and a white horse.

Good, I should say, wishing all of you the best of luck. Please do not lose focus, be ambushed, or get away from the important to bridge task at hand.

It wouldn’t be me unless I made at least one enemy during this intended pep talk. Larry, your two posts above leave me colder than a witches bosom. I wonder what your take on OJ Simpson might have been 16 years ago when the two murders occurred. If Justin’s hand doesn’t reek, not from stealthy partnership cheating, but rather from a set up board rigged in, there is not a cow in Texas, and since Texas was my original home state, I saw at least a few of them in my day. Add that to this suspect person’s resume and basic psychological makeup and not even Dirk Nowitzki or LeBron James (not presently de rigor) could have made a stronger dunk.

Larry, no doubt you believe in total justice, not one originating with Judge Roy Bean, but unless you loosen up, understand what some of the rhetoric refers to with the difficulty in proving bridge cheating, and head toward the target of freeing bridge from achieving what all of us on this page demand, our game is doomed and damned by your proposed shackles, never to be processed through to the perfection our police force and other legal activities need to give it.

Wise up, Larry, keep up your vigilance and industry Justin, and the rest of you guys (and gals) head toward nirvana by keeping a common sense application in order to merely keep our great game alive.

Bobby Wolff

14. Larry - August 13, 2011


I think you missed a lot of history about this incident and have made unfortunate assumptions. As a past ACBL Recorder I expected a different approach from you.

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