Who You Gonna Call?
(hey I agree EW&F would be preferable……)
so I toss you a bonus……
Bob Hamman: Shining Star
I recently spent over an hour on the phone with Bob Hamman. He does not like email, except to arrange appointments, which he did with me.
Maybe it is just me he prefers not to email his insider knowledge. In any case he was frank, funny and as expected the consummate professional. He did not slag Bobby Wolff or anyone else. He rises above, making him the consummate professional. I will condense our conversation into a few interesting anecdotes.
He said he had heard “rumblings” over the years about Cokin/Sion, long before they were caught. He also said he had no proof of firsthand knowledge, even though he had played against them, just heard it through the grapevine. And it was not “old hat” when C/S were caught.
He held out genuine respect for Sion as a player, calling him “intelligent and gifted” which of course he was. We did not broach the flip side of the coin, that being Cokin. But the inference was clear that Cokin did not share the lofty rank of Sion. As I said in CD, that partnership, analagous to Hamman/French was incongruent in the talent levels of the players. That is unusual at the upper echelons; I mean why is Bob Hamman going to play with me when he might have Soloway, Wolff, Kantar, or Zia? Of course he won’t.
So why did Sion – the gifted one (Stevie Wonder) play down and engage Cokin, who was a couple of big steps down the food chain? The answer is – money. I think that was a “tell” as poker players might appreciate. But no one was looking for it back then, because we just didn’t think it was plausible.
Hamman told me that his instincts, based on hands told him one of two things, and this was in reference to Katz/Cohen. Either it was a very weak play or bid, or there was something fishy. In other words, a legitimate expert would never have done said play or bid because it screamed incompetence.
You see he could not draw the same inferences from my bids or plays, because I don’t share the lofty rank of top flight expert, and probably never will. But it is unlikely I will be drilling his star-studded team as Katz/Cohen were in Houston before the match was truncated. I suugest all readers might want to purchase Danny Kleinman’s Bridge Scandal in Houston. Kleinman goes over each hand, compares the notes of the voyeurs (who suspected cheating), looks at their system in depth and grades each player’s performance. At the end of the day, he sees precious little evidence of K/C cheating, but rather a very poor performance of Hamman’s team, and a few lucky and apparently reasonable results by Katz/Cohen. In the aftermath of the accusations, lawsuits and allegations little was proven, less was confessed. All we know for sure was, the antenae was quivering and the proof is not in this pudding.
Bob Hamman, on the back cover of Danny’s book had this to say:
“I read your book Danny, and you’re simply wrong. There is no way a bad player-Katz-and a mediocre player-Cohen-could win legitimately in a long match against me and my team mates. Where there are bear tracks, there is a bear. Do you have to wait Danny, until the bears walks up to you and bites off your nose?”
Hamman of course was far from alone. Ira Rubin concurs Danny’s book does not play well for the prosecution but he adds this juicy tidbit.
“Before I first played against them, Paul Soloway warned me they were wired, and he was right.”
Danny was a forensic observer. He went through the hands with a fine tooth comb, and let the reader be the judge. Unfortunately Katz and Cohen refused to comment, elaborate or explain why they agreed to withdraw, effectively forfeiting the match. I think we all expect the innoncent to fight with vigor. Maybe the costs to their wallet or professional practises was too much to bear. Let’s just say they sued, and did not acquit themselves with distinction in the annals of the apparently wrongfully convicted.
Hamman saw plays and bids that said to him – no player who is at this level (say playing for the final of a championship event) would ever do that. If they were talented, it would never happen. So why did it happen? The antenna quivers. (Again, this was in reference to Katz/Cohen, following the Huston incident.)
He looks at the evidence and discerns that weak plays are not typically made at this level. So when one jumps out and screams – what could it mean? It means the finalist is not that talented and/or they have a wire.
He trolled back through history and mentioned several players who cheated, most of whom escaped “justice’ because the system was not equipped to cope. Is it today? Perhaps, but I suppose that depends on who you ask. Don’t ask me. I cite the case – Kenny Gee.
Hamman also felt that today’s game (at the top) was inherently clean. He mentioned more than once Bobby’s opinion of not revising the standings of older events even if based upon cheating was a sentiment he shared. When the field is contaminated, how do you determine a winner? I say, by whoever navigated this minefield the best. In other words, the one who finished best lawfully. I confess, I can’t imagine how an event can be held without a winner. Of course bridge is alone as a sport on an icefloe with this one, isolated and destined to sink.
As Cokin noted (about him commenting on his role as disclosed in Collateral Damage) “what is the upside?” And he was right too. When you are in up to your eyeballs, how do you get out? You can’t apparently. That certainly is the sentiment shared by Dr. Sternberg and his hires. The cone of silence, omerta. That may not serve the greater good, but in this case it may well serve self-interest. Sadly, for a game that is based upon ethics, some cling to their unlawfully won trophies. Let them. They deserve them.
So, take it from Bob Hamman. There was a lot of crookedness. Cheating was rampant within the elite. (Though Hamman did NOT agree with that “rampant” description.) Just ask Bobby. The Italians were sanctioned and to this day, with Burgay tapes and Bianci’s confessions, Truscot’s evidence leave the Blue Team unconvicted, though hardly untarnished. Will Garozzo step up and confess the sins of his countrymen? Sure, right after I win the lottery.
Today (at least at the top) the game is clean. Or so they say. I tend to believe them. They all know each other, French or Schmo does not suddenly appear in the Spingold quarterfinals on his debut. It takes talent to get there.
From Hamman’s conversation and perspective – what can we learn? How can we move on and make our game as integral as it should be?
I think the onus has to be on the expert player. He or she sees things the rest of us don’t. Their skill, “the antennae quivers” as Sontag so eloquently put it; allows experts to see things on a unique plane. As well they should. Like the recorder system, there might be a vehicle to report suspicious players. If you accuse and can’t prove it – well you will be thrown out faster than an Ozzie Smith toss to first base. Maybe we need our own “Internal Affairs” investigative unit. This would enable players to report possible transgressions, without facing the recoil if mistaken. (No, this was not Hamman’s idea.)
I guess one thing I learned from him is he expects his opponents to do the right thing most of the time. So when they don’t, he sees them as incompetent or (less likely) “juiced”. Of course he plays against the best so often; he doesn’t have to face the random skill level of the likes of me. I hope, should I face him in the upcoming Spingold he will see my exotic plays for what they are worth – a weaker player swinging for the bleachers.
I think he is disgusted (as are we all) by those who defile our game. How to remedy the cheated? Well that is a tough road to hoe. No one knows. All we know is the present (and former) rules just don’t work. Danny Kleinman doesn’t know who to call to report suspicious players – and of course he is far from alone because “who you gonna call”?
Our game is based upon the principles of ethics and fairness. When that is violated, we should feel anger, disgust and despoiled. If cheaters retain their ill-gotten gains, well, that just doesn’t work for most of us.
Hammon (or Hambone as he is apparently referred to by his friends), and no – I am not part of the fraternity did not weigh in with specifics on the Norfolk incident. He did tell me three years ago that it was a great story, and it should be explored but if I expected a revision of history, when then I was mistaken. And of course, he was right.
I think I can safely say he and all (Ok most) of us want an integral game. And that means playing fairly, and doing the right thing. Not so tough when you think about it.
And I am just about done with blogging. Just came back to say goodbye. I grow weary of the toll. Not saying never again but am saying….Na Na Na hey hey godbye.