Cam French

Collateral Damage VII

The Forbidden Fruit

To explore these issues is contentious. I recognize that. My feeling is that time has arrived. Some egos will be bruised. Bridge is a game replete with ego. In the course of this story and I dare say any sensitive one – every writer is forced to address controversial subjects. This story is laden with deceit, betrayal, and perfidy; those issues beget controversy.

E.g. Gary Hann: No one wanted to state the obvious, and I won’t either. It took a long time (nearly a year) for me to find Hann. The team mates had lost contact over the years, and didn’t know how to contact Hann and probably didn’t want to know and almost certainly did not want to facilitate me knowing. And why is that? Eventually I called Hann on the phone and he confirmed that he received my mailings, and that he was working on rejoining the bridge community. None of that explains why it was so hard for people to come forth with to share what had to be a very sad truth.

E.g. Bobby Wolff. Honestly, I had expected him to welcome more scrutiny (he did) and to endorse the possibility of a positive resolution (he did not) of this episode. Wolff suggested looking back was “too painful”. Too painful for whom? Those who might suffer from the embarrassment of scrutiny? Just who will be suffering this pain? A couple of cheaters and derelict ACBL officials? Well, let me reach for the crying towel so some feelings aren’t hurt. Mr. Wolff has an impeccable track record with bridge jurisprudence, which makes his remarks all the more puzzling. He did clarify his stand with….."I have got far more important things to do (unsuccessfully) than to try and right your particular wrong…." I am sure he does have far more important things to do, but he was never asked to “right” anything. Certainly it is not my “particular wrong”. He suggests accurately, that this incident is but one in a crowded field of cheating scandals. So what? That misses the point. I elected to spend my time and my energies on this one for personal reasons which I have shared. Why should Wolff disparage that? The answer is – it is not to painful but rather too embarrassing. Not so much to Wolff, but to the League, its agents, directors, executives, BOD members, and some experts too. This case serves as an inexcusable reminder of a shameful legacy that many do not want to be brought to light.

Why should this one be showcased? The simple answer is because someone (OK, me) dragged it out of the closet and thrust it upon centre stage. Is not one of the foundations of American justice that each case is judged upon its own merits? Here, the reader can be judge and jury. One thing for sure, if we don’t look back, we will never learn anything from these episodes. And that would be unfortunate. I hope at the end of the day, something positive (just being in print does not suffice) will come from this story. That remains to be seen. Remember, the cheating at Norfolk has never been judged, adjudicated or so much as acknowledged by the League. It is a war orphan, alive and kicking but bereft of a history, a forgotten lineage and shuttered away like the bastard child of a casual encounter.

If a bridge journalist were to come forward and offer eye-witness accounts, documented evidence, expert anecdotes, committee minutes, analysis, and even signed confessions that could be used to convict or acquit Reese/Shapiro, Cokin/Sion, Katz/Cohen, the Manoppo brothers, the Blue Team, Facchini/Zucchelli and or any other scandalous case; would not the bridge community be better served? I think so. I suspect 95% of the bridge community wants a clean game, as level legally and intrinsically as possible. Yet a few remain hostile, adamantly opposed to going back and revisiting our history. I guess it is “too painful”, but like it or not, it is part of the process of reconciliation. Of course some do not wish to anything to do with reconciliation, healing, retroactive adjudication or revisiting the errors of the past for any reason whatsoever. Some, especially the aggrieved, who do not await the euphemistic justice, want to see the whole story aired, warts, wounds and all. What satisfaction awaits the cheated? None. The ACBL wants this to be a minor storm, a few rain clouds, maybe a little lightning, the rumble of thunder, but soon to blow over, lose momentum and join the dusty archives best left undisturbed.

Should the police successfully close a long forgotten “cold case”; do they as law-enforcement officers celebrate that fact or do they whine about wasting time on fruitless causes? Of course they are pleased as they have identified the perpetrator and  provided the families with “closure”. Everyone wins except the perpetrator of the crime. Isn’t that the way it should be?

I hope Cappelletti, Feldman, Hann, Hoffner, Jabbour, and Sacks have their “closure” from this, but don’t count on it. Theirs is an open wound, which neither time nor platitudes will heal. What remedy rectifies a stolen National title? What remedy rectifies that the sponsoring organization enabled the same?

Remember, Sacks asks for a committee after seeing an unbelievable hand defended against him and is told “the hand will be recorded.” So for 29 years they were oblivious to the fact that cheating was detected, decoded and that said information was conveyed to the Tournament Director at Norfolk. They surely suspected (after Cokin and Sion were caught) but little did they know the extent of the crime perpetrated upon them. In fact, they didn’t believe me at first when I told them cheating was documented at Norfolk. I guess they assumed the League might protect its members against cheating. Instead, the League validated cheaters, and thwarted any effort to revisit this incident because it exposed their duplicity. Looking back? Come on. The League was never going to allow that to happen. 

Last but not least. Recently a couple of experts who (for soon to be obvious reasons wish to remain anonymous) suggested something far more contentious. Was it possible that no team mates knew, or at the very least, ought to have known of their (i.e. Cokin/Sion) cheating? Certainly insiders like team mates, close friends, sponsors, expert opponents or even journalists might have clued in. Perhaps they had no idea. Perhaps they heard a whisper or two around the water cooler or perhaps they turned a blind eye. My guess is the possibility of your friends and or team mates cheating just wouldn’t cross your mind until there was just a few extraordinary results too many. I suggest that unless you were playing with or against them, for a long match or set of matches you would never raise an eyebrow. They fooled a lot of people for a long time. That said, once you played with them or against them for a long match or set of matches, you might become wary to their implausible results.

Alan Sontag in his engaging book The Bridge Bum, recounts how he waived a penalty (and suggested an alternative) against Forquet who had bid out of turn (at stake were 5 Italian Lancia sport cars) on the first board of the match! Instead all “agreed” to Sontag’s suggestion of a re-deal. This in turn won him Sportsman of the Year from the International Bridge Press Association. Sontag said in his book – “I did not want to win on a technicality…taking advantage of a technicality would have proved nothing, especially to myself. My three team mates {Rubin/Granovetter/Weichsel} agreed.”

So Sontag didn’t want to win on a technicality. I applaud that. This in turn wins him IBPA sportsman of the year? Good for him. Congratulations. He is willing to forsake a legal sanction and insert his own (albeit reasonable) solution. Note that the Laws pursuant to a bid out of turn do not provide a re-deal as an option. So this home-cooked solution, as noble as it may have been, is not based upon the Laws, but rather the sentiments of fairness and sportsmanship. Would Edgar have been apopletic?

How does winning a title with team mates cheating at the other table reconcile with “I did not want to win on a technicality” to say nothing of his sense of fairness and sportsmanship?

It doesn’t.

Is cheating at the other table “a technicality”? Or is it worse? If he wants to win fair and square (and he does), then stand up and prove it. Toss the Norfolk title back. After reading the whole story, perhaps one’s perspectives change. I ask Dr. James Sternberg, Peter Weichsel, Alan Sontag and Alan Cokin to do the "Spike Lee" {the right thing} and forsake that tainted title. Actions speak louder than words. But let’s be honest – offering a re-deal after an opponent’s gaffe is magnanimous; retaining a title won with cheating team mates at the other table is …… pathetic.

Sontag continues: “The May 1973 Bridge World contained an article I agree with. It said, in effect, that champion players know when they are being cheated, but the problem is the proof: a few too many inspired opening leads, some competitive decisions just too consistently lucky, and the tongues would start to wag. Also, there is a tell-tale rattle in the tempo of cheating players. Since they are in possession of different information from that available to a normal pair, their problems are different – their flickers of hesitation come at odd times. It is the business of top players to be extraordinarily sensitive to such things; their antennae come quivering to attention at the first false note, a sense of unease ripens into suspicion…It is all to the good that experts cannot cheat their peers without it becoming known.”

I asked a number of experts “did Sontag/Weichsel come to know of their team mates’ cheating?”

The answers were frightening. They ranged from “No way”, to “not in the beginning”, to “of course they knew”, to – “do you think they are idiots? The ONLY question is when.” I found the last one rather pretentious and presumptuous, but it came in person; face to face at the Detroit NABCs from someone I know peripherally as we move in different bridge circles and countries for that matter. However, he is far closer to the inner sanctum than I will ever be. He has enjoyed Sontag and Weichsel as team mates in the days of yore and is quick to acknowledge their world-class talent.  Like any incendiary issue, there are polarized opinions.

This came, unsolicited from someone who might be in a better position to judge than most of us.

"I suspect that at the time when Peter and Alan started teaming with Sion and Cokin they had no idea that they were cheaters.  Stevie was clearly a visionary and years ahead of the field at card play and Alan was and still is a master bidding innovator.  Without cheating they would still have been a force to be reckoned with.  That said, clearly what they did was criminal. How far into the crime were they when Peter and Alan may have started to suspect is speculation.  I do know that it is likely that when they first had suspicions, they probably started to avoid knowing about their teammates actions because they had families and obligations and THEY were doing nothing wrong.  The longer they could turn a blind eye, the longer they could keep a stable profession. I know Jim Sternberg fairly well, and do not think that he believes them to have cheated at all!  One can’t know how outcomes would have been changed; perhaps a team eliminated in the round of 16 would have gone on to win the finals? …. I am sure that Peter and Alan take no pride in the success they had with Sion/Cokin, these two have outstanding pedigrees without need of that success".

There are many telling insights in that note. Sternberg doesn’t believe they cheated? How is that for denial? Or….  "I do know (emphasis added) that it is likely that when they first had suspicions, they probably started to avoid knowing about their teammates actions because they had families and obligations and THEY were doing nothing wrong.”

Well if they knew (as this person alleges), then yes, they were doing something horribly wrong by their acts of omission. If they knew, they should have orchestrated their outing, tipping off the authorities. And maybe it was just too painful to go down that road. Far easier to let the smoke blow over and forget about it. Ditch them after the GNTs (June) or Vegas (July) and let someone else take the heat. Of course, given the ACBL’s woeful record with regards to cheating, (not much enhanced over the years I might add) everyone and especially Sontag and Weichsel had very sound reasons not to get involved. It was certain to be a legal quagmire, with little room for upside. They should have done what Martel did; bypass the League until you are sure. Still, that requires planning, execution and resolve. Much easier to stand down, walk away and hope the collateral damage strikes elsewhere.

It seems to me the logical thing to do is the Martel plan. Not that tough if you are resolved to determining the truth.

1) Solicit the help of experts you can trust. Explain your predicament.

2) Engage expert vigilance (better yet, video tape) to try to ascertain how and if they might be unlawfully communicating. (Break the code.)

3) Make sure you have a plethora of rock-solid evidence. Once that is established and verified go to the authorities, someone (like a National TD) to take it to the next level.

4) Once you have done that, you deserve the game’s recognition and thanks. You have done your best to prevent future and recognize past blemishes upon the game. That is sportsmanship at its finest, elevating the game and inherently adding integrity to the sport.

One thing for sure, at some point in time Sontag and Weichsel should have clued into the fact that their team mates’ results were incongruent to their talent level. As a partnership Cokin and Sion they did not have the rank, stature or ability to attain such outstanding results. One might note for example that their playing record (and notably Cokin’s) when playing with different partners paled in comparison to playing together. Together they were a force to be reckoned with; apart they failed to sustain the same level of success.[7]

Of course there is prior evidence that was “suspicious”. Martel mentioned that he was convinced of their cheating long before Norfolk. Ron Andersen (deceased) apparently witnessed one too many of their outstanding defenses (when they were his team mates) and again, allegedly, found their results so bizarre, that he repudiated all invitations to play with them as team mates again. I know of a couple of experts who refused to play with them, as they were “suspicious”. But accusing a colleague of cheating is akin to signing your own death warrant (as the ACBL knows only too well) unless you have irrefutable and cast-iron proof. Suspicions do not suffice. And it took a dedicated effort led by Martel and Woolsey to prove it.

I don’t know Sontag or Weichsel. I know of them. From Fred Gitelman and others I have discovered that they are integral persons, who would never knowingly play with cheaters. I don’t doubt that for a second. I have no interest in impugning their reputations. They are superstar players, with a record of accomplishment that boggles the mind. I read and enjoyed Sontag’s The Bridge Bum. Never met them, never played against them, and I doubt after this too many invitations are forthcoming to join them for champagne, caviar and canapés in the sponsor’s suite.

The million dollar question no one wants to ask or answer is: Did Alan Sontag and Peter Weichsel have reason to believe that Steve Sion and Alan Cokin were cheating?

I think we all want to believe NO.

In Sontag’s own words from The Bridge Bum “in effect, that champion players know when they are being cheated …..It is the business of top players to be extraordinarily sensitive to such things; their antennae come quivering to attention at the first false note, a sense of unease ripens into suspicion…It is all to the good that experts cannot cheat their peers without it becoming known.”

If that is true, then at some point in this team’s tenure Sontag and Weichsel figured it out. The trouble is “the proof” and playing at the other table, your instincts aside, gathering evidence has to be assigned to a third party. The facts (and Sontag’s own words) suggest that at some point in time, they knew or at the very least ought to have known. They didn’t want to know, and to be fair – who would? Certainly at first they never imagined it was even possible. It is akin to discovering your spouse is having an affair. You don’t want to believe it and in your heart you imagine you can work it out. It’s a nightmare.

Do the Right Thing                                                                                             Spike Lee      


After Norfolk (3/1979), the word was mum. Martel, Woolsey, Jacobus, Blumenthal, and Lewis along with the TDs (Linah and Hamilton) shared a horrible secret. They knew the National BAM title had been hijacked by cheaters. One look at the 1977 McKenny Race (now the Barry Crane 500) saw both Cokin and Sion finish in the top ten. The cheating had been going on since the two initiated their partnership. Bobby Wolff confirmed this citing Cokin’s written confession. The key was, as Sontag accurately predicted, “the proof”. Too many prior scandals had been tarnished by debatable proof. What one side considered “iron-clad” – the other called “flimsy”.

But when Woolsey and company could predict shortness in Cokin’s hand by deciphering his signaling system, this was the irrefutable proof the ACBL needed. It doesn’t get better than “100%” accurate. When this could be verified through the monitor’s observations and hand records, all of a sudden the smoking gun was laden with fingerprints, gunpowder residue and still smoldering when caught in the perpetrator’s hand. This was seminal DNA, cast-iron, irrefutable proof.

What should Sontag and Weichsel do once their team mates were outed? Of course, this is easier given the gift of hindsight, but really – was it that tough? What did they do? Nothing. Once the word was out and the public knew – how do you deal with the potential damage to your reputation? As a professional your reputation is integral to your earning power. After all, these were your team mates and you don’t want to be collaterally tarnished with the cheating scandal sure to follow.

In these situations you do the “Spike Lee” – i.e. the right thing. You come out, and let the lawyer do the talking while he reads a prepared statement wherein you apologize to your family and friends for “unfortunate choices”, and tell all you are aghast at the “possibility of unlawful acts” by your team mates and “promise to cooperate with the authorities”. Then you throw back any masterpoints you accrued with cheaters and swear on the bible saying “we need to heal and move on.” You cut your losses. This applies to all teams who had Cokin and Sion as a partnership. As best as I can tell, no player has ever renounced any masterpoints, titles or championships won with Cokin and Sion at the other table. Maybe some might re-think that knowing what they know now. Nah- keep it. You didn’t earn it, but just maybe you deserve it.

Sontag and Weichsel could have had almost any expert partnership in the world as team mates. That said, why Cokin/Sion? Why not some their Precision buddies? How about Martel/Stansby, Swanson/Soloway, Becker/Rubin, Kantar/Eisenberg or Kaplan/Kay? Why not Hamman/Wolff, Murray/Kehela or Ross/Paulsen? Why not a top notch pair? Why these two, when they could have done so much better? Well, one can always blame the sponsor as he doles out the cash and ultimately decides who plays under his banner. What made Cokin/Sion so alluring? Come on. The answer is – Sternberg and his money, honey.

A few of the the questions are:

1) Were there suspicions about Cokin/Sion prior to Norfolk?

2) If so, who had them?

3) Are they willing to state as much for the record?

4) Should long standing team mates and/or others have known of their cheating?

And note that if the ACBL had done any sort of a decent investigation between learning (at Norfolk in March) and the GNT in Atlanta in June then this information would be part of the public archive instead of a skeleton forcibly dragged from the closet. Cheating is the pariah, the fetid, rancid, hush-hush secret that lurks in the background like an ugly peep-show. We all know it’s there; we just don’t like it in our backyard. That’s what is “too painful”. The ACBL abdicated any sense of responsibility after Norfolk, doing nothing, trembling with fear and oblivious to the need for action. And that was a betrayal to the membership.

Therein lies much of the problem. Woolsey found it difficult to believe Cokin and Sion were cheaters when Martel approached him with his suspicions. That is telling. We just don’t suspect our friends, colleagues and fellow players of cheating. After all, it is offensive to the game; its spirit of fair play, its laws and inherent ethical behaviour. That some would violate those is an affront to all.

1) Were there suspicions about Cokin/Sion prior to Norfolk?

Of course. And bear in mind “suspicions” is a weak word. What fostered “suspicions” was the level of accomplishment and some “hanky panky”, like double dummy leads once too often. Some call that jealousy, and it may be – until proven otherwise. Unless you had the nose of a bloodhound, (and few do) you would never cue to their unlawful acts because it would never cross your mind unless you had direct experience that aroused suspicion.

2) If so, who had them?

A few of the elite including Paul Soloway, Chip Martel and Ron Andersen.

3) Are others willing to state as much for the record?

No. Maybe, and it’s a big maybe, they might come forward. Not betting my son’s allowance on that. My guess, they would have come forward by now had they something of import to share.

4) Should long standing team mates have known of their cheating?

“In effect, that champion players know when they are being cheated….It is the business of top players to be extraordinarily sensitive to such things; their antennae come quivering to attention at the first false note, a sense of unease ripens into suspicion…It is all to the good that experts cannot cheat their peers without it becoming known.”

Yes. At the very least, at some point in time they should have clued in. When they brought back one great result after another, with Cokin acknowledged by all to be a couple of notches down the ladder from the bridge elite, what on earth did they think? Our partners made a few inspired leads against Bob Hamman or Mike Seamon or Eddie Wold and that is why we won? What is clear is that alarm bells should have gone off. Not just for Sontag/Weichsel, but the greater bridge expert community. Surely a few astute players might have come to the conclusion that Tampa Bay should not be whipping the Yankees. A logical place to start is team mates, especially former ones. So far, no ex-team mates have communicated to me that they had “suspicions” yet there were signs that were blissfully ignored.

When as a bridge player, you win an event whereby your partner or team mates cheated, would you really want to keep it? Not according to many of the experts I spoke to during the course of this story. At the very least, when the public discovered that Cokin/Sion had been cheating, (June of 1979) they should have ditched every title, every Masterpoint that they won with them as team mates. Isn’t that the ethical thing to do? For some reason, they prefer to let sleeping dogs lie. I find that lacking, feeble and without justification. It’s like, I drove the getaway car but I didn’t know they robbed the bank. Well, you drove the getaway car, while your team mates robbed the bank. You all divided the spoils.

That said one has to wonder, why do Sontag/Weichsel cling to this tainted title? They were asked directly, by me and others. Of course, I am just a little fly on the wall, a strategic pain in the derriere and hardly enjoy a lofty reputation within the elite game. So my profile is beneath the radar, or at least it was. I am easier to dismiss than a expert from within the inner sanctum.

If Bobby Wolff or Eddie Kantar or Michael Rosenberg had written this story, would the suits in Memphis react differently that the indifference I have enjoyed? You be the judge. You can shoot the messenger, but the song remains the same. Why the League considers this matter beyond reproach escapes me. Ask them. Al they have is signed confessions, irrefutable evidence and expert eyewitnesses. What they lack, as Woolsey aptly noted – is political will.

Did Sontag and Weichsel know of their team mates cheating? Unless they come out and say so, all we have is evidence and inference, which I might add – is not proof. I can say and will say at some point in time, they should have and likely did figure it out. “It is all to the good that experts cannot cheat their peers without it becoming known.” Those aren’t my words; that insight belongs to Alan Sontag. I still have that pompous question ringing in my ears “do you think they are idiots?”

No I don’t, I think they are brilliant bridge minds. I think Sontag’s own words affirm that cheating at the highest echelons is tough to do undetected. I think experts have a unique insight that a deviation from the norm does not go unnoticed. Sure, a speculative double here, an inspired lead there, but a few times too often makes the antennae quiver. I think they didn’t want to know, and there were complications with regards to renouncing all their victories. For example, would Sternberg demand his money back? Even today, the ACBL does not (apparently, according to my BOD member Jonathon Steinberg) have a vehicle or a reporting system to renounce or relinquish ill-gotten gains. In the lily-white halls of Memphis, that never happens. Cheating is a black hole from which there is no escape.

And I guess the mother of all questions herein is:

What is it about our game that makes it so difficult to see our friends or team mates as cheaters?

The answer is we don’t want to imagine that scenario. Alan Sontag and Peter Weichsel had good reason to have realized that their team mates’ extraordinary results were in conflict with their talent level. (Granted, exactly when is pure speculation.) Surely after Norfolk which if they had bothered to look at some of their bids, inspired leads, killing defenses, they would have realized what Martel, Woolsey, Blumenthal, Jacobus and Lewis had figured out. And once the code-breakers knew, the directors knew, some ACBL officials knew…. it had to be tough to keep that a secret. Bridge at the top is a close-knit community, and sometimes friends share perspectives.

I suggest that Sontag and Weichsel had plenty of earlier evidence at their disposal, but did not want to, care to or could bring themselves to imagine such a scenario. Tampa Bay does not belong in the World Series. I believe that in the beginning it never occurred to Sontag and Weichsel that Cokin and Sion were cheating. They just never thought about it, until they were neck-deep and the water was rising.

I Get by With a Little Help from my Friends                           Beatles

This is a sampling of some correspondence received. Some words and details have been altered to protect the identity of the writer.

From a top professional player:

The best result from your investigations would be introduction of rules demanding vacating of titles, especially without direct evidence that cheating occurred in any specific event.  Rather, if a pair is found guilty of (or admits) cheating, for all events he played in with the collusive partner, the title(s) for his teammates are vacated as the standard position.  I believe this would go further in deterring cheating than anything else we could do.  Professionals would shy away, as would sponsors, from any pair that has the least suspicion.  Those professionals caught cheating would presumably be exposed to lawsuits from sponsors for fraudulently accepting money, to the extent that getting blood from a rock is applicable.


From an international star:

I don’t think I have any useful perspectives to add, but an anecdote might interest you. At that very Norfolk NABC I kibitzed Sion/Cokin for a session, having played against them for several years in New England tournaments with success. They were amazing, particularly on close doubles and opening leads, if memory serves. After the session I meet ******* for a scotch. I tell him that if this is the way they always play I’ve just seen the best pair in the world in action. He raised an eyebrow. Within weeks, I believe, they were nailed. ******** does not let me live that one down. Good Luck.


From a repeat member of the top 10 in the Barry Crane 500:

I heard rumor, innuendo, and hints that they {Cokin/Sion} were wired. I had played against them without much success. I never saw any lead, flinch, hesitation or other indicator that suggested cheating, mind you – I wasn’t looking for it either. I did see imaginative opening leads and in retrospect, some razor-sharp doubles followed up with killing defense. I attributed that to their talent, after all Wonder was one hell of a card player. Never knew Cokin that well, and from our few times together, found him obnoxious and not really that talented. For example he would hesitate forever when as declarer he had to play anything that wasn’t a claim. More often than not, he took a pedestrian line and Sion would always belittle him and explain where he went wrong. It was unpleasant to witness. Mind you Wonder was abusive to everyone.


From a National Director:

I find the actions of the directors involved at Norfolk to be beyond belief. We serve as judges, by definition fair and objective. We are not agents of the league although they pay our salaries; nor are we obliged to any constituency. If the actions of Sacks’ reporting the irregular hand to Linah as you described are accurate, something is wrong. You are right to smell a rat.


From a person well acquainted with placing in the top 10 in the Barry Crane 500.

Ron Andersen’s ethics[6] were terrible, but he did state that he was sure Cokin/Sion were crooks long before it was proved.  He also said the same thing about ********, which was never proved.  I never had any respect for Andersen, and could not understand why he and Paul were so tight.


From a Spingold Winner:

My position is this: if a team wins an event, and it is subsequently proved a pair on the winning team was cheating in that event, the title should be stripped from the winning team. That seems so simple that it should be included in the laws of the organization (in this case, the ACBL).  Isn’t there any organization with such a rule? Somewhere in my mind I remember some team, from some other field, forfeiting their title for something similar.  I am sure the NCAA and the Olympic Committee can forfeit a title, so there has to be some precedent.

In general, I do not have an opinion if the second place team should be declared the winner, or if no winner should be listed for the event.  However, a board-a-match event is a lot different than a Spingold or a World Cup.  Ostensibly, in board-a-match, it seems clear the second place team should be declared the winner – but what if, for example, the cheating team never played the second place team?  Norfolk is a clear example that the second place team should be declared the winner, (emphasis added) but other cases, even at board-a-match, may not be so simple.

In any case, I think you are attempting to fight the aging process.  The aging process of the Board as an establishment; the aging process of the individual members of the Board; the aging process of the membership of the ACBL, the aging process of the players, the aging process that occurs naturally, as time goes by, against bringing up something unpleasant from the past.  I think it will take dynamite to win, not gradual erosion. Good luck.


From a hot-shot referred to me as someone who might put me in touch with Cokin. (He didn’t.)

He did tell me that there was little “upside” for Cokin to become engaged and he was right. Then I made this silly remark:

Funny how controversy brings out the best and worst in all of us.

Wish you well.

and he followed with

Mr. French,

I cooperated with you. You are a nosey jerk.


I apologized. We’re even.

Well, I’m not sure if he cooperated or not. He was right about nosey and might even be right about jerk. His wife’s given name might be the last 5 letters of a late Italian superstar Giorgio and she plays with Cokin. (My nosiness discovered that little tidbit.)


One thing is for sure, on this story I never would have made it to first base were I not "nosey". Nobody volunteered (with the exception of a couple of members of Team Hann) and therefore everyone else who weighed in was asked to do so. Almost all requested not to be referenced and why is that? The answer is bridge at the top is a tight, close-knit, gated community. Outsiders need to earn their way in. There are no short-cuts to joining the pro ranks except time, accomplishment and of course – money. I have not the time, nor the skill, and certainly lack the money to buy an entry into the upper echelon.

Bill Gates or Warren Buffet could solicit top talent and mingle within the fraternity but they would always be looked upon as sponsors, not part of the brotherhood. Clarence Goppert bought his way in, and faced hostility and anger from the rank and file but nothing but champagne and roses from those he engaged and sponsored.

That said, many experts expressed their private support. They were guarded with their comments, but unanimous in their belief that this story should be told. After all, if it happened to Cappelletti and company, it could happen to anyone. What safeguards are in place to ensure this never happens again? Please refer that question to the ACBL Board of Directors (BOD addresses below) as I have no clue. My guess…it could have happened to anyone. If Edgar Kaplan, Paul Soloway, Bobby Wolff, Chip Martel or Ira Corn had been the aggrieved party at Norfolk, would the League have buried this with the same expediency?

Stop laughing, that wasn’t meant to be funny, merely provocative.


When You Wish Upon a Star                                                                        Earth Wind and Fire

Would it be nice if the ACBL decided after 29 years of denial to come clean and acknowledge what happened and some sort of acknowledgement was made to Cappelletti and company?

Sure…………. Is it likely? Right after I win the lottery. It would help to have a little outrage within the bridge community. One thing this exploration has taught me – not many want to go one the record. This game is their livelihood. The League, sure it has had and always will have problems but for the most part – it was run by dedicated people with good intentions. Sometimes good people get clobbered by good intentions. I guess what makes my skin crawl is the unfairness of it all. After all, how does one justify allowing cheaters to retain the fruits of their crimes and in the same breath proclaim the integrity of the game is sound?

Of course the money played an intrisic role in this incident. Professional bridge has been a boon to a talented few (and a less-talented many) but with it, comes the inherent baggage. The sad part is, money motivates many of us to look the other way and to do things we would never otherwise consider. How deep the money factor impacted this incident is a matter of perspective. One thing for sure, money begat a series of unfortunate events, which would not have happened if removed from the equation. Hamman/Wolff, Martel/Stansby, Rosenberg/Zia have never been tainted by the dark side of professionalism. Somehow, they rise above and add integrity to our game. Were that so easy for the rest of us.

A lot of experts have expressed their opinions about various aspects of this case. A few common threads run through their collective thoughts.

1) That it is a fascinating story that deserves to be told.

2) That the ACBL will never address this because it re-opens old wounds.

3) That if the aim is a scoring adjustment that is unlikely to happen.

(That is not the aim, just a potential fringe benefit.)

4) That it would be “honourable”, “ethical” and “sportsman-like” if Sternberg and company voluntarily renounced the title(s) won unlawfully.

5) That Cokin, Sontag, Weichsel and captain Sternberg might have disavowed any connection with any masterpoints they unlawfully won as a team. (Sion is considered to be beyond reach.)

6) That former team mates of Cokin/Sion should disavow any Masterpoints and/or awards they unlawfully won as a team.

7) That only public opinion can cause the ACBL to give this a re-assessment.

And from a couple of battle-scarred veterans came the inspiration for this idea.

That some players of stature – not involved in this case, should step up and say – we respectfully request that the ACBL Board of Directors put this item on a NABC Board meeting agenda and refer it to a committee for examination. Is that too much to ask? Like Fox Mulder, we know you’re out there.

So to my BOD member Jonathan Steinberg, who assured me that there was “no point” in looking back – I ask you now that you have seen the whole story, do you feel the same way?

I just ask the BOD one simple question. Why is it that cheaters retain a title unlawfully obtained through the "greatest possible offence against propriety"? If it was such an offence, why have you done nothing to strip confessed cheaters from their ill-gotten gains?

I ask you, the reader to consider that question. As it sits today, and will continue in perpetuity unless you act, email your ACBL Board of Directors at Tell them what you think.


or below.

If any member feels that their League breached their fiduciary trust to its members in this case, then maybe you can spend 2 minutes and write your BOD member. For your convenience their District is on the left.

George Retek

Jonathan Steinberg

Joan Levy Gerard

Craig Robinson

Sharon Fairchild

Nadine Wood

Bruce Reeve

Georgia Heth

9   Shirley Seals

10  Bill Cook

11  A. Beth Reid

12  William Arlinghaus

13  Harriette Buckman

14  Sue Himel

15  Phyllis Harlan

16  Dan Morse

17  Jerry Fleming

18  Richard Anderson

19  Donald Mamula

20  Jeffrey Taylor

21  Roger Smith

22  Gayle Andrews

23  Rand Pinsky

24  Alvin Levy

25  Richard DeMartino


That is the story. For now I am sticking to it. If you wish to enlighten all of us please post on the blog. If you prefer to chastise or applaud me in person I may be reached at: or

My phone number is available upon request, and is not in the phone book.

There are many people to thank and the strange part is, so few wish to be acknowledged. If you re-read CD I – you will see the acknowledgements there. I am not thanking my wife or child who harassed me and urged me to spend less time on the computer and more with them. Perhaps now, that becomes a more viable option. I hope I will have the good sense to take advantage of the lull in the storm. Hope you enjoyed. I had the thrill of liaising with some of our game’s greatest players. One of the joys of our game is amateurs and professionals mingle. I tell my non-bridge playing friends the beauty of the game is “Tiger has to get past me, in order to play Phil or Vijay”.

I want to thank the expert players who added to this story though corrections, insight, anecdotes, and personal perspectives. I hope my accounting does your contributions credit.

This came from Collateral Damage I. If you remember nothing else – this is really what it was all about.

“The crux of this cheating scandal is that the first place team (Sternberg) actually cheated the second place team (Hann) directly, and the cause and effect was that because the scoring was Board-A-Match, meaning “win-loss”, the winning team benefited by “winning” a bridge hand through cheating, because the second place team (Hann) would have been victorious. In other words, the effect of the cheating was direct and clear-cut. Interestingly, the non-offending team asked for a committee on a timely basis and for reasons which shall become clear – were denied the same. A further point of interest is the cover-up and denial of the League to prevent at all costs an accounting of what really transpired.”

And the margin of victory? Would you believe 0.9 of a board? (Fractions were abundant due to carryovers.)

Is that enough to make Oliver Stone look like a conspiracy theorist? Smile, the story is over.

Cam French                                                                                                                            Toronto, Ontario                                                                                                                       August 2008.

[1] Kit Woolsey in an email letter to the author.

[2] In a phone conversation with the author.

[3] Gary Hann in a letter to Richard Goldberg dated 9/28/1979.

[4] Executive Secretary & General Manager Richard Goldberg in a letter to Gary Hann written on 11/7/79.

[5] Never sent, never found, just the author’s imaginative flight of fancy.

[6] More than one person indicated to me that Ron Andersen was not the poster child for bridge ethics so it was interesting/ironic/prophetic (take your pick) that he was calling out Sion/Cokin long before they were nabbed.

[7] Thanks to John Armstrong and Irving Litvac of Toronto who provided access to all the ACBL Bulletins between 1975 and 1985.


Ray LeeAugust 18th, 2008 at 1:51 pm

Cam, I’ve got to admire your sheer stubborn persistence. I don’t know what’s right or wrong here, but I do know that I believe that the ACBL in particular has always been too soft on cheating. Simply put, it’s too easy to cheat at bridge, and the only effective counter is to make the penalty so severe that there is a serious disincentive, even (or especially) for those who make their money playing the game. Cheaters should quite simply be barred for life. Period. End of story. And let them sue if they want.

For a more erudite and informed commentary on some of these issues, see Bobby Wolff’s posting today in his own blog, which is intended as a response to some of Cam’s points.

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