Cam French

The Kobayashi Maru

I sent this off to John Carruthers, editor of The Kibitzer (a local bridge publication) and thought other readers might like to see it. He kindly granted permission for me to re-publish it.

Most of the bridge we read about is the expert game where double squeezes, endplays and skilled play is the norm. In the bridge world duffers are prolific. Just about every competitive event is a pyramid in structure with precious few at the top and hordes of players of varying ability filling the lower tiers. On-line bridge is rife with players who call themselves expert who in reality, are not even close to that level. This hand comes from an on-line game (I sat South) where all the players designated themselves as experts. The evidence may not support such a claim. You be the judge.

For starters you are presented with a horrific scenario. Yes Virginia, sometimes they get the mine and you get the shaft. The opponents are vulnerable, you are not, IMP scoring and the auction proceeds:


You hold : T95  85  T942  T973 

North    East    South    West


1D        Pass       2C       Dble

P            ?    

Partner made a takeout double asking you to bid one of the majors. From your point of view, the opponents almost surely have game, and anything you bid will be doubled and harshly punished. Real experts are not afraid to double opponents at a low level and "into game" when they step out. So for now, you decide on pass. No one is saying this is right, but two clubs doubled is not game, and surely any bid you make will be doubled and going down more than the value of their game.

Sadly, the opponents know this too and the auction (to your horror) gets worse, not better:

North    East       South    West


1D        Pass       2C         Dble

P           P         Rdble      P

P           ?

Certainly this is a horrific choice. Now they are in game, and overtricks (which seem likely from your hand) are looming. Do you run or sit it out?

This is the Kobayashi Maru. No way to win. Every choice meets with disaster. The true intent of the Kobayashi Maru is to see how one copes with adversity. It was allegedly “a test of character” or so the seasoned Admiral James T. Kirk tells a confused young Vulcan in The Wrath of Khan. There is no solution as there is no chance win. So, recognizing this for what it is you have a choice. You go for the number, or the opponents score a huge plus. If only you could get partner to go for the digit, instead of you. That would be fitting. Sad part is, partner’s bid was dreadful. Expert or not, you be the judge. The whole hand:





AK72                                           T95

T964                                            85

KJ6                                             T942

62                                               T973





East was a great sport under the circumstances. He did not quit in mid-hand (damn I hate that cowardice, imagine trying that at a tournament) instead he quietly finished the hand out, said thank you to his partner and the opponents then left the table. No fireworks, no accusations, no venom. He passed the test.

On the hand in question, East chose to pass and the contract was made with 3 overtricks (worth 400 a piece) so you do the math. The moral of the story? Like Mulder, trust no one. And of course, how we cope with adversity is part of who we are. My mom said, “if you never go for a number, you are not bidding enough”. She was right. On this hand, West was bad. Ok, appalling. Certainly not a call many expert players would make. Get over it. Migrate to a new game, make a mental note to only play against this person if at all, and move on. Deal with it with dignity, not anger.  Remember, on-line bridge is like computer dating. You may be paired, but you are unlikely to connect.



kibbitzerMarch 17th, 2008 at 10:34 pm

East’s pass was a bloody horror, worse than West’s double. It says “Partner, I trust the opponents but not you.” He should rely on partner to have enough shape to show a profit and bid a confident (yes, I know it’s online) two spades. After that it’s the opponents’ problem. The pass says he expects to beat two clubs.

BOBBY WOLFFAugust 15th, 2008 at 9:59 pm


My response is intended to shed more light on Cam French’s quest, as he has sometimes called it — “To right a wrong” and, while doing it, if possible, to eliminate
the deceit, betrayal and perfidy which accompanies it.

He has referred to my contribution to the subject as (among several things) welcoming more scrutiny to my views, but calling it just “too painful” for me to lift tall buildings to get it done. Let me explain: There is absolutely no doubt in my mind, nor should there be in anyone’s mind, that Steve Sion and Alan Cokin as a partnership, cheated in Norfolk during the 1979 Fall Nationals and especially during the Board-a-Match Teams which they won, playing on a team with Jim Sternberg, Alan Sontag and Peter Weichsel. What else is new? Since the pair had been cheating for years before that and whatever their finish, whether it be in Nationals, Regionals, or Sectionals,(maybe even in club games), it totally distorted the final results.

Next, a few years after that and while a member of the WBF Executive Council, I proposed a law which, at the time, was unanimously passed and resulted in the following: Once a partnership is found guilty of the most heinous crime which bridge can produce (illicitly exchanging surreptitious signals) with intent to defraud their opponents and the event (thus — bridge in general), said finish would not only be denied in that specific event, but it would apply retroactively to all events in which they participated as a partnership and the disqualification would apply not only to them — but to every other individual on those teams as well. Furthermore, any and all additional attendant advantages therein would be forever thrown out!

My simple motive for proposing and having this motion passed was to dissuade all honest players from partnering or teaming up with possible cheats for fear of this humiliating reprisal. Before I leave the subject, let it be noted that I further proposed (as part of the motion) that after said titles were vacated — no other team or pair would move up into finishing position in the standings which the cheating “team” or “pair” were justifiably forced to abdicate. As far as I know, this caveat is still part of WBF rules, even though, at least up until now, it has not been called to use.

I vividly recall with mixed emotion two parallel incidents which followed the posting of the finishers in high-profile Pairs Games. One occurred in 1970 in Stockholm and the other in 1974 in Monte Carlo. It was quite a humorous sight – as the fourth place pairs were receiving facetious congratulations from their sympathetic comrades who were, as they say — in-the-know! Funny, but true.

For those who may be curious as to what I meant by “too painful” — it is so highly subjective (not to mention impossible) to judge exactly what would have happened if
the “cheaters” had not been playing. In a KO tournament, what about all the victims the rogue team beat on their way to the finals; and in Pairs, B-A-M or Swiss Teams — how about the skewed nature of results when the cheating caused a difference even to the extent (believe-it-or-not) that sometimes a cheating pair will lose a board because of their cheating rather than win it by not cheating?

In essence, what I was trying to accomplish was to deputize the whole high-level world bridge community to rise up and unify to swat down these diabolical attempts to destroy the honor of our game.

Alas, it has fallen far short of my lofty expectations. To understand why – one merely needs to refer to The Lone Wolff and arrive at his or her own conclusions. Sadly, the sanctity of bridge has changed profusely. One of the reasons for it is
Professionalism. The intrigue and lure of bridge has been transformed from “the romance derived from the sheer beauty of the great game we play” to a more practical concern –“I need to win to maintain my livelihood”.

Could that be a reason why the other members of the ill-fated Norfolk team didn’t abdicate their victory since, by so doing, they each would have to strike one National Championship from their resume. Painful? Yes!!! And — in retrospect — I think I have understated it.

Let me discuss the ACBL role in this issue. The current ACBL, in my opinion, is made up of a dynamic CEO, Jay Baum, and some veterans along with many employees who do not even know how to play the game. It is fitting to cite a perfect example of lethargy involving our administration: There was a time, perhaps 15 to 20 years ago, where the “hallowed” trophies like the Reisinger, Vanderbilt, Morehead (GNTs) and Spingold were not even engraved with the current winners (besides being eight years behind).

Perhaps Shakespeare was ahead of his time and in a context apart, but I am reminded that our ACBL Board of Directors should be made of sterner stuff wherein this above sacrilege could never happen. Can anyone possibly believe that such an apathetic group of leaders, without tradition or genuine love for the game, can possibly treat bridge with the passion which Cameron French, Zeke Jabbour and, of course, some other notable exceptions do?

Before I conclude, I think it might be appropriate to mention the following historical episode. After winning my first two World Championships in 1970 and 1971, the Blue Team came out of retirement to contest and win the next four: One World Team Olympiad and three Bermuda Bowls in 1972-1975.

In all four of those championships my team competed representing both the USA and on one occasion the WBF as a defending Bermuda Bowl Champion (1973). All four of the teams that I played on were composed, except for my partner Bob Hamman, of different teammates. On all four occasions my team finished second to the Blue Team (losing by close margins twice, a medium margin once, and being blown out once).

It may be interesting to those who are familiar with the gambling world that in 1973, in Guaruja, Brazil, after our team edged out the Blue Team during the Round Robin for the No. 1 Seed in the finals, that the British bookmakers put our final match up on the board – with the Italians being favored by 21 to 1. In other words, if one wanted to bet on the Italians, they would have had to risk $2,100 to win $100. I mention this only to educate the public as to what the legal betting establishments around the world were privy to – yet the great unwashed American bridge community (and many others) were in denial!

In each of the four tournaments, according to the Burgay tapes (released in 1976 and authenticated by the United States CIA), every Blue Team member was wired to the teeth (for more particulars please read The Lone Wolff and be sure to get the upcoming World Bridge History, authored by Jaime Ortiz-Patino to be released this October at the World Championship in Beijing). As an aftermath of the Burgay Tapes, Jimmy barred every member of the Italian Blue Team from ever appearing in another World Championship, although he relented for two particular Blue Team members in 1979 and again in 1983. I must confess I fell from grace as well as I succumbed in 2004, as Permanent Chairman of the WBF Credentials Committee, in Estoril, by allowing the two surviving members of the Blue Team to participate in the Senior Teams – representing Italy.

Having said the above, I strongly believe that my teams, as well as some
of the great USA teams of the late 1950’s and 1960’s, should have not been moved up and declared winners of events which they had failed to win — for whatever the reason!!!

Perhaps now others will understand what I meant when I referred to looking back as “too painful”.

Bobby Wolff

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