Cam French

Collateral Damage VIII


                       Give It Away Now

                                            02 Give It Away

                                                                     (click to hear the music)


When cheaters infest our game, we all suffer a loss. A loss of face, of faith and a scar etched upon our collective psyche that should serve to remind. And it is not just the cheaters that offend but their partners, team mates or sponsors who collaterally tarnished – are invariably cast into a less than favourable light.

Cheating in bridge is not like cheating in baseball. In baseball you try to feign the fact that you caught the ball, when it hit the turf or that you tagged the runner when really you missed. Of course in baseball they don’t call it cheating; it’s part of parcel of the game. It’s “anything for an edge” also known to us aficionados as “Billy-Ball.”

Bridge is different, although hardly unique. In bridge ethics and etiquette are woven into the fabric of the game. It is against the laws of the game to be rude to your partner or opponents. Private agreements when withheld from the opponents are unlawful. And the worst crime is of course is “unlawful communication” which is a lawyer’s euphemism for cheating.

In golf, a player is expected to call a penalty on himself, if for example he touched the ball with his wedge prior to blasting out of a sand trap. Golf enforces ethical acts as it is not only expected, but demanded. A player who signs a wrong scorecard, even one to his detriment (73 vs. 72) is disqualified from the event. Bridge players are expected to be held to a like standard, but some don’t see it that way.

Somehow in bridge we have never grappled successfully with cheating. We have our rules, committees and lawyers, but it is the bastard child which keeps knocking at the door long after we thought we were rid of him. With one hand out – he will never go away. How do we rid ourselves of this reoccurring nightmare?

Sadly, I doubt cheating will ever go away. Deterrence won’t work, since cheaters, like shoplifters never imagine that they will get caught. And should they, well the penalties (just ask Kenny Gee) are minimal, more face-saving than punitive. My sense is we need to start over and assess the state of the union.

For one, we need to change the culture of the game. How do we do that? I think we launch from ground zero and re-examine how we cope with it. For starters, if we treat it as a petty offense, well it is bound to be seen as such by cheaters and the bridge community at large.

In The Bulletin of August, 1979 ACBL President Leo Spivak writing about Sion and Cokin said:

 “Prearranged Improper Communication. The gravest possible offence against propriety is for a partnership to exchange information through prearranged methods of communication other than those sanctioned by these Laws….… gets an important message to the members of the American Contract Bridge League, namely, that we shall vigorously pursue any breaches of the proprieties or instances of cheating that are brought to our attention.”

If President Spivak was correct, and he is – then the “gravest possible offence” cannot be dealt with anything but the harshest possible sanctions. Slaps on the wrists just don’t cut it, though Kenny Gee, his partner and team mates and hordes of others might beg to differ.

Professionalism has entrenched itself – it is not running away. And as Edgar predicted it would be “an inducement to the unscrupulous.” Most of us not at the pinnacle do not derive our livelihood from the game; it is a fabulous hobby, a recreational treat. Our professional players need to lead the way by shunning and outing cheats. We call our bridge experts professionals not mercenaries because with professionalism comes an onus, a responsibility to comport oneself with the highest standards of their vocation. Here is an idea – if you are not 100 % convinced of your partner or teammates’ legitimacy, play with someone else.

And should you (as a player) discover or suspect that your teammates or partner is cheating, do the Spike Lee – The Right Thing and help the authorities gather evidence to exonerate or convict. You owe that to the game, yourself, and the rest of us. Then you voluntarily renounce all Masterpoints, titles, victories you have accrued with said partners or team mates. You distance yourself from a leper. Is it ethical to retain unlawfully won titles? Of course not, but were Kenny’s partners and team mates stripped of their ill-gotten gains for the same period he was? (I don’t pretend to know, but I doubt it while hoping so.)  

This may sound revolutionary but it isn’t. Is it not incumbent upon all players to play the game in a lawful and ethical fashion? Of course – so why on earth would world class champions like Peter Weichsel and Alan Sontag cling to an unlawfully won title? The answer is – because they can. Our rules were circumvented, our ethics breached and in this case (Norfolk 1979) there is absolutely zero doubt that this title was accrued by the unlawful actions (ok, cheating) of their team mates Steve Sion and Alan Cokin. (For readers not acquainted with this story please see

When Collateral Damage was published, it fostered a wide range of dialogue within the expert community. One Nickell team member asked Mike Cappelletti “how much are you paying that guy Cam French?” The answer is – not enough, in fact nothing at all.  Mike I am sending you a big bill. Please pony up. One Bridge World executive member mused to me somewhat cryptically “people are talking.” I think Martha says it well with “and that’s a good thing.”

The victims in this case, (Cappelletti/Feldman/Hann/Hoffner/Jabbour/Sacks) were both horrified and pleased. They were aghast to discover that the League had lied, abused their fiduciary trust and thwarted their attempts to claim that which was justly theirs. They were happy to see their story in print and welcomed the fact that the bridge community might learn of their case.

Some closely affiliated with Sontag were naturally perturbed and responded with venom and malice. He is by all accounts (unlike his then partner) a charismatic, fun loving, popular individual. Some tried to have me booted from the ACBL, the CBF and BBO employing the age old tactics of harassment and intimidation. No one criticized (in print anyway) the accuracy or fairness of the reporting; It was the messenger that dared to call a spade a spade. What does that say?

One sentiment conveyed to me through a third party was “who in the hell does he think he is to impeach the reputations of superstars like Sontag and Weichsel?” To that I answer simply – if Eddie Kantar or Michael Rosenberg or Phillip Alder had written CD – would the outrage be the same? OK – don’t laugh, we all know the answer. And sometimes when an outsider gains access to the inner sanctum, their perspective does not correlate to those so cloistered. And by writing a story, that invariably will cast characters in a spectrum of light; some will shine, others will pale. That is a judgment the readers must make for themselves. There was never any intention to impeach anyone’s reputation. Some might call that a collateral effect.

Peter Weichsel and Alan Sontag were approached (by players with loftier standing than me) to ask if they would care to renounce the title accrued through their cheating teammates before I said so in print. I wanted them to have the opportunity to comment. Weichsel feigned indifference – and said ”‘go to the ACBL.” Sontag’s answer is not suitable for reprint. That sent a message, and it is crystal clear.

Of course it would be nice if some of our elite players came out and endorsed the fact that team mates of convicted cheaters should renounce all gains accrued through unlawful means. Maybe they don’t feel that way – how about voicing an opinion? Can I name names – sure?

 Bobby Wolff, Barry Rigal, Andrew Robson, and Phillip Alder (I pick those because they are at the pinnacle of bridge journalism, as well as enjoying a world class rank as players) who might stand up and say something. At least Bobby has made is feelings clear calling the past “too painful” and having the cajones to explain why. See for details.)  And perhaps it is not really fair to single out those players; after all there is a rather extensive bridge community most of whom seem to prefer public silence.

I learned that Zeke Jabbour is held in esteem by experts everywhere. He is considered the ultimate professional (ranking 18th at last peek on the all-time ACBL Masterpoint holders) and he did not merit such respect on simply his handsome face and charming personality. It is his ethical decorum, his reputation for fairness and congeniality and his ability to draw the best out of his (often client) partners. Even though he knew he was swindled at Norfolk, he has always maintained that said episode was not about his team but about the game and how (can?) we learn from it. Personally – I would like him to stand up like the newsman in Network and scream “I am mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” That is not his agenda, nor his style. Maybe some of his friends might step to the podium.

Expert players should be leading the way. Some do, advocating ethics and backing up their words with actions. One episode comes to mind here in Toronto where a young aspiring player suspected his partner of bringing his own pre-dealt hands. I guess he saw one too many transfer the threat and squeeze the opponent type of hands.  But it led to the cheater’s conviction, aided by the authorities who were able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that yes indeed, our perpetrator was bringing his own home-cookin’ to the table (always first to arrive so he could “shuffle” in a team game) and insert his hand into the set. Sadly, too many covet their ill-gotten gains thumbing their noses at the heart of the game – fair play.

I hope the partners and team mates of Kenny were stripped of the same awards he was. Better yet, renounce them voluntarily as they were unlawfully won. Maybe we could all learn from this.

Anyone want to step up and renounce their unlawfully won awards? To Alan Sontag, Peter Weichsel, and Alan Cokin I ask – do you really want an unlawfully won title associated with all your other fabulous accomplishments?

If so – why? Why validate and profit from the efforts of cheaters? Is that really what you wish to say? Please Joe, say it ain’t so.

That is for you to decide. Maybe it is time to do the Spike Lee and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Give it away now.

Mieux vaut tard que jamais.




David TurnerMarch 15th, 2010 at 10:51 pm

I’m still not quite convinced that the second place finishers deserve the ill-begotten title, but I certainly agree that those who “won” with convicted cheaters should renounce such titles.

So why don’t they? Guess 1 is that they feel such an act might imply that they somehow knew or surmised then that the rumours or accusations were true – and they played anyway. Or, guess 2, it doesn’t really matter to them, and isn’t worth the trouble – which is equally likely to be true. It was one of many championships, long ago. This is particularly the case when it appears that there aren’t very many people who care, and even less who might benefit. Not to mention dredging up an uncomfortable moment from the past. Remember, you have to think that the cheaters’ teammates felt betrayed as well – at least I would.

BOBBY WOLFFMarch 15th, 2010 at 11:18 pm

Hi Cam,

When a person is right, he is right, and you are that person.

However, I have principally served as the policeman on the beat and/or the detective on the prowl in the too many cheating cases I have investigated. Of course, Sion and Cokin cheated in Norfolk (1979), both admitting it there and many other venues. I did my duty in that case, although I was far away from the one gathering the specific evidence at that evil time.

Yes, that whole team should have been stripped of their ill-won title. As you know, my strong preference is not to move others up (because IMO in cheating cases it is hard to forecast who would have won if there was no cheating — even the 2d place finisher) since cheating is so hard to adjudicate because of the diverse damage it does to the movement and all that is in it.

All that I can do is what my training has taught me, find and interpret the facts and let others apply the penalties after the court of justice has determined the result. I must say though — that after what has happened recently (and you, Cam have already mentioned it), the punishment stage is so wimpy that if I was presently still working and trying to detect and prove cheating, once I did so and had recent results in the penalty stage, I would probably throw up my hands, vowing never to investigate anything again.

The ACBL has and continues to act like scared rabbits, fearful of anything that might happen, and by so doing basically encourage new cheaters, not to mention old ones who feel that wrongdoing turns out to be worth it, particularly for a professional who needs to consistently win in order to keep his clientele.

Cam, keep up your one-man attempt to have what you consider justice done, but please do not mention me as a possible culprit in your up-to-now failure. As you know, some twenty years ago I arranged for the WBF to pass that if a player or a partnership is ever judged to be cheating, then all titles that he or they have won are vacated forever, as well as all other members of that team. This law is still in existence so I, in clear conscience, should not see my name associated with the inaction you are now (and for some time) have been pointing out.

Your friend,


Cam FrenchMarch 16th, 2010 at 2:09 am

Hi Bobby, David,

I did not mention (this time) about who deserved the title, we all know what I think, but that is not at issue. Apparently Zeke and company would be satisfied to have the title stripped from the cheaters, with no announcement as to advancing. Please note, said rule (about no advancement) was NOT in effect (in 1979) back then, but hey, who cares about little details?

Bobby, I apologize for collaterally linking you to my “up-to-now failure”.

I have failed in some respects, for example to garner sufficient outrage from within the bridge community. I wish it were otherwise.

Though I hardly consider the effort a “failure” insofar as a long lost case finally got some air time. And with that, came some dialogue about what is right, what is wrong and even who can say so. Not me, according to some.

I guess I (and you) feel the present format is flawed. Puny penalties, haphazard enforcement, dubious actions by League officals, all adding up to a distressed state of the union.

How much longer will we have to endure the same?

I wish it were otherwise and the members would stand up and scream. As if.

So be it.


JUDY KAY-WOLFFMarch 16th, 2010 at 2:14 am


The ACBL considers the reference to “cheating” as walking on treacherous ground. In fact, it tickles whatever fancy is left within me on the subject when they cautiouslessly refer to it as “The ‘C’ Word.” I laugh when I reflect upon the many times (in my own horrendous appeal experience) that I used the actual word and a finger was lifted to the person-in-authority’s pursed lips as a warning that the word was a NO, NO. It is time they faced reality and bore down on proven offenders. Temporary suspension or a slap on the wrist is totally meaningless.

Perhaps if just ONE unequivocally proven cheat was PERMANENTLY BARRED, it would set a rather frightening public standard for others to consider. It has gone on for over half a century that I can remember — so (in the absence of a long-lasting deterrent) why should it stop now??? If there is proof-positive, I don’t believe in leniency or second chances — regardless of the repercussions.

I lived through it with my late husband Norman Kay in the Sixties on the international scene as well. Perhaps if someone had the guts to have taken the bull by the horns (bridge scandal or no bridge scandal), the despicable practice would have come to an abrupt halt and we would not be facing it today. The problem is (and always has been) the lack of leadership at the top for fear of legal ramifications.

bob mcpheeMarch 16th, 2010 at 1:24 pm

The league screwed up way back then, they continue to screw up now. Too many get out of jail free cards. If the players refuse to voice the words, “this is not what we want” front office people will do as they please, for ” the good of the league”.

I can be softened enough to permit a caught cheater being given a second change, but not a third, fourth etc. From the third one on you are just having your nose rubbed in it, and they have a smile on while it happens. I mean you really have to be a moron to allow it to continue from the same people. It seems like those millions in bonus bucks paid out and the company failing, I mean just how stupid are we?

JUDY KAY-WOLFFMarch 25th, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Hi Bob:

I am afraid I am a bit behind the timeline as I hadn’t seen your March 16th remark until today.

I had my own dragons to slay but I agree with your analysis almost 100% (as I feel cheaters shouldn’t get second shots). Other than that, we are of one mind. There are people still walking around, clocking boards, roaming the back streets, “helping each other,” etc. who end up winning all kinds of events. Back in the Fifties and still sixty years later, the ACBL and comparable smaller bridge organizations (districts, units, clubs) fear repercussions (and even lawsuits) if they dare to meddle into questionable behavior, alerts non-alerts, huddles, hitches, unjustified balancing (all ethical situations) — and I could go on and on. Yes, the organization is making good money and so are the directors (qualified, unqualified — whatever) but they are allowing (IMHO) the game to fall by the wayside — giving in to mass professionalism’s influences and cowtowing to whatever works best for them. The dignity and honor of the game is no longer its focal point.

Over the years I have come to know many fine, sincere and reputable people who work for the League. I truly believe one of the top guys is CEO, Jay Baum, who has a mind of his own and appreciates the importance of bridge majesty. However, he is accountable to his higher ups, namely the BOD (representing 25 districts). I have often alluded to the fact that it is amazing how much good he accomplishes despite the fact he is operating in an incarcerated state — with twenty-five sets of handcuffs. And, I remember reading recently (but I don’t recall at the moment where) that the Monthly ACBL Bulletin will not print (in the Letters to the Editor Column) anything negative about the league. Hard to believe the Editor would be any part of it, but he is just a paid employee and must adhere to certain standards. Thanks to Ray and Linda Lee for sites like these where one can speak their mind.

“… just how stupid are we?” you ask. I think you know the answer.

JagatOctober 19th, 2015 at 5:17 am

i have been through seevarl relationships and what i learned best is that if you distrust your partner there is a reason for it and you shouldn’t be wasting your time in the relationship any longer. perhaps it’s time to move on. good luck.

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