Cam French

Collateral Damage V

Just Say No


This episode happened almost 30 years ago. Can we put it to rest where everyone wins? That may prove difficult, but then again, maybe not. Let’s put it this way; if the ACBL were to seek a resolution, it would be easy. So far, there is precious little evidence to suggest the League seeks anything beyond avoidance.

Mike Cappelletti, Ron Feldman, Gary Hann, Michael Hoffner, Zeke Jabbour, and David Sacks might just be happy with what Gary Hann suggested back in 1979.

“A letter from the ACBL declaring us the winners of the Men’s Teams {BAM/Norfolk/1979} and the proper adjustment of Masterpoint awards will suffice”….

After all is said and done, maybe Bob Hamman was right. A little healing needs to come out of this. Those meagre demands hardly seem excessive, in fact – rather paltry. In the spirit of the game as noted in the prologue, there was surprisingly little bitterness coming from Cappelletti, Feldman, Hann, Hoffner, Jabbour and Sacks. The ACBL should consider itself fortuitous at such a possible settlement. No huge legal fees, no anti-trust or class action suits, no litigation, no apologies demanded, no heads have to role, just an acknowledgement of an historical wrong set right. Who loses? A couple of cheaters?

Maybe it’s time to seize this chance to put things right. And in case anyone is wondering, I don’t claim to speak for Cappelletti and company.

Do the Nancy Reagan

“I would prefer to lose with honor that to win by cheating.” (Sophocles)

You might think all bridge players would concur. Of course most do – but “all” do not. This case is bullet-proof evidence that such is not the case.

The sad truth is as simple and plain as Woolsey pointed out a long time ago. "There is no doubt they were cheating at Norfolk." What is missing is a lack of political will. The school-yard bully does not want to confess, come clean and look weak. The lawyers say so. And they are oh so right. Whatever happened to doing the right thing? Is that concept so foreign, or litigious, or somehow alien to bridge justice, that a successful resolution is beyond reach? I don’t think so. Cappelletti is a lawyer. He could have spent his time and money a long time ago, fighting for this or that. Heaven knows he would have a better case than Sion and Cokin and others who have given the League ample cause to be anxious about lawsuits. Cappelletti and team have done nothing with regards to suing. Mind you, they did not know prior to this story’s revelations that the League was complicit all along. My guess is that as a starting point they are happy to see their story in print. Everything else that may spawn from there is advantageous. That said they have waited 29 long years. Is there a statute of limitations on justice?

Go back in time. For a moment, try to imagine this episode from David Sacks’ point of view.

Your team clicks on all cylinders in what might have been the first National championship for any of you. You are not the betting favourite.

You lose the event by less than one (1) board.

You were cheated on a hand. It turns out that the winning team had a pair who cheated throughout the event, and specifically against you.

You looked at their bidding, play, lead and defense on this board against you. It reeked. You did not want to sound bitter, so you tried to gauge the accuracy of your feelings and show the hand to a mentor, a man you feel privileged to know, who takes the time to impart his guidance to anyone who asks. He comes over and says to you – “I would like to congratulate the real winners”.

What does that tell you?

You try to show him the hand (where you suspect but do not know you were swindled) but he interrupts you and tells you before hearing any of the details beyond the names of Cokin/Sion to seek out the director and get it on the record.

Paul Soloway says this. Not some random upstart.

This comes from an expert who by example, decorum, giving back, accomplishment and just as importantly; a player who enjoyed the heart-felt respect of his fellow experts. I will dare to say Soloway was the consummate expert, not just in rank but in stature.  If Paul Soloway tells you to go to the director, you better do as you are told.

Sacks follows Soloway’s advice and goes to see the director.

Soloway sensed that Cokin and Sion were attaining results beyond their talent level. Did he have proof? Did he share his suspicions? Did he seek to decode their system? I suspect no, to all of the preceding. But he was vigilant, and he was attuned to the fact that something was amiss. He put himself on red-alert to harvest any and all evidence that might corroborate his suspicions. And he was right. Soloway understood (and this is why he refused to look at the hand) that this hand could go to committee. He would rather be a committee member, than a superfluous witness. He was attentive to potential opportunities to accrue evidence.  Here it was coming out of nowhere from a reliable and unsolicited source.

We all get it now. The skeletons are out of the closet. The lies exposed. The alibis explained.

How about we start anew?

What is missing is the aversion of the League to address this; to admit that  mistakes in judgment were made. Maybe that (admitting) opens the door to litigation…I am not a lawyer so I am guessing. America is a very litigious society. In Canada for example, your lawyer compels you to pay a generous retainer to ensure your case is not frivolous. This discourages the ambulance chasers.

That said, Cappelletti is a lawyer and nearly thirty years have passed and the non-offending team never filed suit. Maybe they should if the League can’t motivate itself to do something. I don’t pretend to know.

I say to the ACBL, do nothing. Live down to our expectations. It appears you have done just that so far.

In reality what you have done is much worse. You denied cheating existed when you had proof, you refused to gather evidence of the same, you dismissed appeals from the victims without cause and you buried the evidence because it exposed you for what you were – culpable.

To the ACBL I say:

Don’t explain that you are doing nothing, because then you are doing something.

Don’t strip the title from Sternberg and company.

Don’t you dare acknowledge that a miscarriage of justice occurred!

Do the Nancy Reagan. Just say no. No, we will not look back.

No, we don’t care that our officers lied, even when it served the short term interests of the League, at the expense of its members and permitted a violation upon the sanctity of the game.

No, we are not interested in healing and acknowledging the patently obvious.

We prefer you would just go away. Good riddance. Get lost. You don’t deserve protection from cheaters because; well….we might get sued. The integrity of the game is collaterally tarnished and we just don’t care. Why should we?

By the way, please renew your membership promptly.

And if the League is so terrified of cheaters suing, how alarmed will they be should the victims of cheaters decide to sue? How will they fight them?

Just say no.

Some might claim that if the League had a little backbone, the very least they could do was strip the title from the cheaters and hold the title “vacant”. Then someone could call Henry Francis and ask him to edit the next edition of The Official Encyclopedia of Bridge. Will that happen? Ask the BOD, but don’t bet the family farm.

Maybe it is best that they keep their ill-gotten gains? What the heck – why not? Will the ACBL take it away?

Let it stand as is. Let Norfolk serve as an albatross around the neck of the ACBL and team Sternberg; a symbol synonymous with cheating, betrayal and duplicity. That might appease some, but it does not do justice to those who were swindled. Don’t they deserve a little more than stonewalling? I think so. That said, change is unlikely to be forthcoming without public persuasion.

The ACBL can relax, the hordes of cheated victims will not be pouring out of the wood work. Ralph Nader is not preparing a class action suit. Sure 29 years ago had the floodgates opened, anything might have happened. But now? Ancient history. And if I am not mistaken one of the foundations of American jurisprudence is that each case is determined on its own merits. This case, entombed in amber –  is yet to be judged.

I hope this title brings a warm fuzzy feeling to ACBL past and present BOD members, their lawyers, consultants, officers and least we forget Sternberg, Cokin, Sion, Sontag, and Weichsel that comes from the thrill of victory. If so – let them enjoy it. If not, let them be remembered by it. Either way, they deserve it. Please take it. You want it – it’s all yours.

I don’t want to remember Sontag and Weichsel for Norfolk, but sadly, that may be their legacy. With all their other fabulous accomplishments, why wouldn’t they ditch this one like a hot potato? This is a small fry, which may in the end-game have a big bite. Sontag and Weichsel should have tossed this (and all other events where they were team mates with Cokin and Sion) back after realizing that their team mates were cheaters. What is so hard about that?


1) Nothing.

2) Ego.

Sternberg, Sontag and Weichsel were asked to relinquish this title. They declined, as is their right. Their legacy of accomplishment is stellar. With that record – who would want this ball and chain tethered to their lofty reputation? It boggles the mind. Please tell us why you cling to this purloined title? My guess, you just want this to fade away. You let us down. Why?

At some time, you should have just said "no".

When that was, only you can answer.

I confess I don’t get it. What I  do get is that winning through cheating is an affront to the game.

You want it.

You can’t stand to part with it.

It resonates with you.

So be it.

Keep it.

Mount it on your wall.

May it be everything you ever dreamt.

Sweet dreams.


Next up, did they know? Should they have known?

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