Cam French

I Believe in Miracles


Hot Chocolate – I Believe in Miracles


Ray Lee wrote under the title Shades of Gray:


I’ve stolen the title for this blog from a forthcoming MPP book, which just happens to be a novel revolving around cheating at bridge, the difficulty of proving it, and the conundrum of what to do with the culprit(s) when it is finally proven.  I wanted to comment on an incident in the New Orleans Spingold, which has already been the subject of much discussion and controversy on various bridge forums.

First, the deal in question:

You are playing the round of 64 in the Spingold against a much higher seed.  You start the second quarter about 40 behind, and this board comes up early on:

♠ –  ♥ A x x  ♦ A Q x x   ♣ A K Q 7 x x

You are red against white, and RHO opens 3♠. Your call.

No, this isn’t a quiz; that was just to give you a moment or two to think about how you might proceed.  What happened at the table was the holder of this hand, Howard Piltch (a professional player but not a top-ranked expert), bid 6♦.  This was a dramatic winner when dummy hit with essentially king fourth of diamonds and out and both minors behaved well.

There’s a lot of to-ing and fro-ing on the forums, but let me try to distil it at least into what is undisputed in terms of further facts.

1) At no stage did Mr. Piltch claim that his bid had been a mechanical error or some other kind of accident.  His partner claims it was a ‘state of the match’ attempt to generate a swing.

2) The boards were dealt at the table, apparently with all four players present.  Mr. Piltch made only one board of the eight, which he remembers as being Board 8 (not the one in question).

3) The director was consulted at some stage by the opposing team, but did not change the table result.  The opposing team did not lodge an appeal (they won the match by more than 100 IMPs) but did express an intent to pursue the matter in a Conduct and Ethics hearing.

This, you will I’m sure recognize, leaves many questions unasked and a great deal of information ungathered, which makes the whole ‘Was he or wasn’t he?’ discussion somewhat academic.  So I’m not going to go into that at all.  However, there are some possibly new points that are perhaps worth making here.

First, since this was a dealt board, and had not yet been played at the other table, presumably the only direct cheating method available would be introducing a stacked deck.  Lest you feel this is unlikely, let me mention that there have been at least two well-proven cases of deck-substitution in the Toronto area alone.  One of the perpetrators, after being banned, later showed up playing on OkBridge – using two different user accounts and playing in partnership with himself, incognito, to improve his rating. Once a cheater…

Second, how much evidence is required to convict a player of cheating?  This is where bridge courts separate from real life.  Alan Truscott (in The Great Bridge Scandal) remarks that it’s very difficult to prove cheating from hand records, but that it is possible to prove the reverse.  Terence Reese, in his apologia Story of an Accusation, understandably argues that the hands tell the tale in either event.  Reese was of course famously acquitted after a judicial hearing presided over by a non-bridge-player, who applied the ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ standard to the case.  Allan Falk, an expert bridge player and also a prominent Michigan attorney, wrote a fascinating essay for the MPP edition of TGBS, in which he points out that nowhere except in criminal courts is this standard applied.  Elsewhere, in both sports tribunals and real life (and O.J. Simpson’s first two trials are a well-known example), the test is ‘preponderance of the evidence’.  So too it is (or should be) with bridge.

Third, and perhaps most interestingly, is the issue of whether Mr. Pitch’s past record should have any bearing upon people’s willingness to believe him guilty of some kind of wrongdoing in this instance.  The question of prior record is another where we needs must part company with criminal procedure.  The previous convictions of the accused are not revealed in court until a conviction has been recorded, and are taken into consideration only for the purposes of sentencing.  However, in bridge, one instance alone is rarely enough to convict.

Arthur Clarke once wrote that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  So when the disparity in ability between players is great enough, the lesser mortals will find it difficult to understand how the experts get to the right spot, and make brilliant leads and plays, apparently ‘seeing through the backs of the cards’.  Eventually the experts may even be suspected of cheating.  ‘Strange’ bids too can attract accusations, yet bidding is far from an exact science (look at any magazine bidding panel, and you’ll see 30-odd experts all arguing vehemently that five different bids are each the only correct action).  So much is ‘style’, or even table feel.  It is when actions deemed ‘unusual’ work out a high percentage of the time, or when a player finds the brilliant lead on just too many occasions, that antennae start to quiver – and when probably something is indeed going on. Any single occurrence may mean nothing – a lucky guess, an opponent flashing his hand, a flight of fancy that happened to work, or some such.  It is the multiple, as these incidents repeat themselves, which begins to make the case – and since we so often play against different opponents, it takes a while for anyone to notice.

Thus we have the ‘Recorder’ system, and the ability to look at a player’s track record of unexplained incidents, a record that taken as a whole may add up to an unappetizing picture.  As one forum poster put it, “If I were a judge in a bridge matter and the facts as presented came before me to make a ruling without revealing the identity of the 6♦ bidder, I would be highly doubtful that there could be any innocent explanation of the events that unfolded.  And, if I was told that the person who bid 6♦ on this hand was the person who is being discussed above, that would end all doubt for me.”

In the words of Ian Fleming, ‘Once is happenstance; twice is coincidence, and three times is enemy action.’


Cam French (wrote) August 16th, 2010 at 7:56 pm


A fascinating synopsis.

I recall a famous hand where Sidney Lazard (I think) made an identical call (6D) with a like disparity in the minors but could infer from the auction that partner probably had diamonds. See:

Cam French » Blog Archive » Eye in the Sky.htm.

I know Kehela and others recalled the hand, as it developed its own legendary status.

I have met Howard but I don’t know him personally. One thing wasn’t clear to me from your posting. You suggest previous incidents, and if that is the case, IMHO yes, they should be showcased for all to see. As Falk stated, “beyond a reasonable doubt” is a criminal threshold, the League and sanctioning organizations should have their own.

For example a C&E committee, unlike a jury need not be unanimous.

Does Howard or his partner have some prior conviction?

Is that relevant? (Yes) You raised it, I can only ASSume (at my own risk I guess) that you had a damn good reason for doing so.

The state of the match and as you said, even prior or subsequent actions should be looked at. If he was up by 40 against a “superior” team, we would look askance. Down by 40 to a superior opponent certainly adds fuel to his position.

I don’t think I for one will be drilling Meckwell by playing down the middle. They will do that and let me drill myself. Such is the nature of the beast.

The clear inference was that Howard had been convicted (or accused?) of some cheating in the past and thus this is evidence of more of the same. Is that the case?

I think in this case, the action is certainly swingy, when given the problem I thought I would double and convert (the likely heart bid from partner) to clubs, presumably at the five level. 6D is wild, but hardly evidence of cheating. Given the opening 3S bid partner is marked with some distributional shape. The question is could be 3-7-1-2 or the like? The answer is of course yes, and why would you convert with that?

He bid wildly, bought well. Coincidence or crime – you tell me. I feel the history here is of utmost importance. If we were talking bigger names (say Zia or Moss renowned for their off-beat bidding) no one would give it a second thought. Their record of standing tells us what we need to know.

I think we all want cheaters and their benefactors outed and sanctioned. Not sure the glove fits here.

Perhaps someone can find the Lazard hand. Perhaps we can hear from experts, or committee members. And I think we all deserve to know any past history, including one of like wildness under analogous circumstances.

Like Rixi, I rarely find myself down at the half to an allegedly “superior” team. On the rare occasion when that should occur, I confess to swinging, some said wildly. Is there any other way?

Great story.




For some strange reason my above comment posted on 8/16 (the twelfth in queue) after Ray’s original only five days earlier somehow quashed further discussion of Ray’s posting and the questions we all raised. What happened to the dialogue? MIA.

Here are two points of query.

Does Howard or his partner have some prior conviction?  Is that relevant? (Yes) You raised it, I can only ASSume (at my own risk I guess) that you had a damn good reason for doing so.

Third and perhaps most interestingly, is the issue of whether Mr. Pitch’s past record should have any bearing upon people’s willingness to believe him guilty of some kind of wrongdoing in this instance.  The question of prior record is another where we needs must part company with criminal procedure.  The previous convictions of the accused are not revealed in court until a conviction has been recorded, and are taken into consideration only for the purposes of sentencing. Have a couple more observations about this hand.

Like the forbidden fruit, no one wants to go there.

Will Howard have his attorney on speed dial should anyone hint at impropriety? Certainly Ray’s story raises more questions (and deservedly so) than it answers. If the opposing team brought it to the attention of the director (and they did), then certainly there is a whiff in air. I recall one incident in The Lone Wolff (thanks to a prompt from one in the know) that painted Howard in less than a flattering light when it came to ethics. That’s a little smoke. Where’s the fire? Is there any?

I don’t pretend to know but the other thing I find so interesting about this is the lack of comment from within the expert realm.

Is this the dog that did not bark in the night? Yes, and with good cause.

It is well-known (or presumed/assumed) within the elite that Howard tilts one way or the other? I suspect so, but I have no proof to validate that.

In the words of Ian Fleming, ‘Once is happenstance; twice is coincidence, and three times is enemy action.’

So is this happenstance, coincidence or enemy action? The reader can only wonder as so many allegations remain unaddressed, merely hinted at.

I also know from insider reports that Howard is engaging and controversial, and by that I mean he can be charming and can alienate a certain constituency with his abrasiveness. So he rubs some the wrong way. So what?  As someone who can be as soothing as sandpaper on an open wound, that doesn’t bother me. It would trouble me to know there were prior bad acts or other tangible evidence withheld that would allow the reader fuller information before making an informed call.

Where are the experts on this? Is this issue toxic waste? (Yes) Only Bud Hinkey (Howard’s partner) and Bobby Wolff weighed in apart from the usual suspects and staffers. What does that say? Does this have the wafting stench of a garbage truck or is it just a lucky shot – an inside the park home run? The truth is precious few (and I am not one of the chosen in this case) have the requisite intimacy with this incident to comment with first-hand knowledge. But certainly there are a lot of experts who have encountered Howard on many occasions and thus have insight to offer.

One thing I have discovered, like Woodward and Bernstein in All the President’s Men is that there are many more people who are willing to speak off the record and precious few willing to speak on the record. One of my best friends told me Sion confessed “it was the money – honey” and my friend was (sadly) unwilling to go on the record.

As Collateral Damage (or probably any controversial story) would never be written without insider knowledge- with the assistance of those who have a compelling reason to be off the record- I guess unidentified contributors are a necessary evil. I recall Ben Bradlee (in All the President’s Men) decrying – “when the hell is someone going to go on the record on this story?” He was justifiably angered at knowing the sordid truth, but lacking the public accreditation to proclaim as much.  

I submit the expert community knows a lot; certainly more than they are offering in the public domain – not just about this case, but about many others. As with the Blue team, certainly many (Sheinwold, Stone, ERM to name but a few) held strong suspicions. But no one stepped up to perform the necessary due diligence to prove it. Today due to legal/insurance reasons, sponsorships, alliances, friendships, discretion (it is the better part of valour) or just plain cowardice, few want to see their names in print tethered to a problematic story. And really – who can blame them? I don’t. Unlike diamonds and just like divorce (believe me, I know) – getting involved in such tarnished incidents is the gift that keeps on taking. As Cokin said to me through a third party – and he was right – “what is the upside?” There is none, so why speak out and risk the inevitable slagging into the sewer?

The only reason Kenny Gee, Ken Warren, or Wayne Timms (I cite fellow Canadians) or anyone was convicted of cheating was because someone stepped up to the plate. Sometimes that was a player, (typically expert), sometimes a director, and at least in one of the above cases, a partner. Who wants to face Doc Halliday in the 9th inning with a no hitter in progress? Not me. “No upside.”

Cheating (and I am not weighing in on this Howard case because I lack the requisite knowledge to give a sound opinion) must be outed. If our experts can’t lead the way, be that by vindicating people and incidents like this one, or adding to the archive of evidence – either way, experts need to show the way. As Sontag noted “the expert’s antennae quivers.” The rest of us are left guessing at how tainted the game really is.

Predictions – always precarious but I predict precious few weigh in on this to add insight into this case. A few might say I have the right idea, or a dog with a bone, or like peripheral comments. Precious and few will be those who talk the talk, name names, times, dates, and share their inner thoughts on the record. Wanna bet? That is a shame as I think Ray raised several interesting points which merit exploration.

I sincerely hope that those in the know will share their perspectives in a forthcoming fashion. But we all know cheating is the bastard child that just won’t go away. And we don’t want to talk about it, for all the obvious reasons. The trouble is until we face it, deal with it meaningfully and harshly, engage the experts and rank and file – then we allow a few to despoil our game. This game belongs to us and I for one hold those in contempt who corrupt the game we love.

I hope Howard, his partner; their opponents and the expert community come forth to shed light on their unique perspective of this hand. Not holding my breath – nor should anyone.

 But hey – I believe in miracles.



To the bridge community, if you wish to communicate on this forum, please do. If you prefer the privacy of off the record; email, phone or other, I can be reached at:


BruinsBestOctober 19th, 2010 at 6:43 am

I would not have thought of the bid. But seeing it , I can envision a hand where playing in diamonds will quite often, when partner has them, produce at least one more trick than clubs. The miracle holding, which Piltch’s partner apparently held is the most likely 4 decent diamonds to the king and out producing 5 trump tricks , 6 club tricks and the heart ace. Lucky, swingy, crazy, yes yes yes. But beating Meckwell in this case would have to be lucky, swingy and yes occasionally crazy.

At least on this hand , it was not hard to visualize what Piltch was looking for.

Cam FrenchOctober 20th, 2010 at 3:47 am

Hi BB,

Yes it would be preferable to know all the facts, like who sat East, who sat West. What was the exact deal?

What if any prior bad acts are suggested?

I agree it is a wild and imaginative call. May we all be on the lookout for like moments.

Fortunately like Rixi, I rarely find myself down at the half, so maybe I can’t play the role.

As if… 🙂


Linda LeeOctober 20th, 2010 at 2:27 pm

The problem is that when a wild imaginative call works and the person has previously been caught cheating than the bid is suspect.

It is like a convicted shoplifter walking out of a store carrying a fur coat that has not been paid for and when confronted saying I just forgot to pay. We don’t believe them and we don’t believe the cheater.

Once you have been caught cheating I think you need to work hard to make sure future bids are above reproach. Making wild bids that “might work” are not for you.

People will think you have cheated if they do work and for good reason.

Why are people who have been caught cheating playing in serious events anyway?

Ray LeeOctober 20th, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Linda’s last comment is the most important one, for me. It’s simply too easy to cheat at bridge. Every cheater I know of who was caught, sanctioned and then allowed to return, eventually was caught again. I say hang ’em high — just bar them for life. But the ACBL will never, I suspect, have the guts to do that, since the pro (if it is a pro, and it often seems to be) always threatens to sue them for taking away their means of earning a living.

Cam FrenchOctober 22nd, 2010 at 1:19 am

Why are people who have been caught cheating playing in serious events anyway?



You will have to ask the ACBL that question, and of course there will not be a satisfactory answer.

I trolled elsewhere (forgive me but I have strayed) and got a very different sense of the dynamic that has been shared here.

Linda and Ray suggeested this was not a first time:

It is like a convicted shoplifter walking out of a store carrying a fur coat that has not been paid for and when confronted saying I just forgot to pay. We don’t believe them and we don’t believe the cheater.

Once you have been caught cheating I think you need to work hard to make sure future bids are above reproach. Making wild bids that “might work” are not for you.


I guess this is what Linda and Ray were referring to:

Disciplinary Cases heard by Appeals & Charges Committee

1. In the matter of XX (ACBL number prior to resignation XXXXXXX) request for readmission: the request is denied; future request for readmission may be heard at or after the summer 2002 meeting of the ACBL Board of Directors.

2. In the matter of Howard Piltch’s (ACBL number N966671) appeal of the decision of District 25 Disciplinary and Appellate Committee’s decisions, the committee affirms the factual findings of the committees, but finds that the previous discipline is excessive under ACBL Code of Disciplinary Regulations (CDP) guidelines. Therefore, the discipline shall be reduced to a public reprimand and 30 days probation. Mr. Piltch is deemed to have already served 30 days probation in this matter. [Howard Piltch has been disciplines twice in a 24-month period and therefore has incurred an additional 2-year probation.]


Now note the brevity and lack of detail that explanation provides. For all we know, Howard goosed a little old lady or told someone to fornicate themselves. I don’t pretend to know the details but how can anyone when the facts (like the charges) are never delineated in any meaningful detail by the League? Tell us the truth.

Let me make it easy. What was he convicted of? If he had two convictions in 24 months – great. Tell us the dirty details. Was it cheating? Unlawful communication? Rudeness? Just the facts would be nice.

So was he or wasn’t he? Let’s see what others say…..

The below came from another forum….

I am personally acquainted with both Bud H and Howard Piltch, and I have some strong feelings about this incident. I have become aware of this controversy only in the last hour or so. Disclaimer: I consider Bud H to be a close personal friend.

I have had some cross words with Howard Piltch on more than one occasion. I consider him a friend, but not a close personal one.

I have known Bud for a number of years, and I can say this: I would instantly stake my life on Bud’s honesty when it comes to bridge. Not only would he never consider cheating. He would also never play with any player whose ethics were suspect in any way. I feel it necessary to say this only because one or two posts raise the question of complicity.

I have also said on this very forum (about two years ago) “I would never accuse Howard Piltch of cheating”. I stand by that statement today. Howard can be abrasive, and many people have problems with his table manners, but he is a very skilled bridge player, and has no need to cheat. {I don’t like that as alibis go but that is the cynic in me. CF}

Howard’s approach to bridge is somewhat free-wheeling. I find it entirely plausible that, faced with a 40 IMP deficit, he would look for an opportunity to create a swing. I don’t personally like the odds for the 6D bid, but then I’m not as {a} successful a player as he is. I can tell you that it’s not the sort of bid he would make on the first board of a match.

IMO, this discussion should focus on bridge judgement,

and not on bridge ethics. {Sadly, or otherwise, once convictions become part of the record, ethics are of import, like it or not. CF}



As usual I agree with your fine judgment. Nevertheless in my opinion this incident is a good example, how

suspicious some people are about cheating and what damage this does to the spirit of the game. Where do we end up if any “perpetrator” of an eccentric bid, which happens to be successful, gets accused of unethical behavior?

Rainer Herrmann


I just found my scorecard for the first and second quarter.

First two boards of the match at my table was a failing jump to 6D bid with a very short auction and 2 of a minor by us doubled down two tricks on a 6-0 break. 19 total imps away. On Board 10 of the first quarter, responder forced to a borderline spade slam which failed which was not bid at the other table – 13 more imps away.

So we did have some short, non-scientific auctions occur during the first quarter.

Bud H


1.) If you read the BBO thread you would know partner held xx xxx Kxxx xxxx. Though the 6D bidder had no knowledge about the DK, it would never occur to me to raise to 7D with this hand. Simon’s “Unlucky Expert” probably would.

2) The team lost the match by a large margin. You can draw your own conclusion from that.

3.) I understand that filing a hand to a person, does not in itself imply a formal accusation. Nevertheless given the circumstances, bidding 6D was entirely legal and ethical, is neither absurd nor illogical and according to a simulation the contract will make in close to 40% of random deals after a 3S preempt. Even if it would

make only in 10% of random deals I see no justification for anything. People are entitled to bid badly and get lucky. It happens all the time, at least to me. I consider it part of the game.

4.) What is the basis for the filing? What is improper about this action? What will happen if another filing of this type would occur in the near future to the same team, pair, person? As I said I do not like the thought police. I still believe it taints a person for no good reason.

Get rid off your paranoia or go and visit a therapist!

Rainer Herrmann


Well, there you have it. Sadly for some, prior bad acts are relevant. I wish the League or some bloggers would be more forthcoming about the nature of said “prior acts.”

Personally, it looks to me like a wild gambit, but totally justifiable under the conditions of contest. As my good friend Bob Mcphee noted, he needs help in diamonds to make anything. Partner probably has diamond length (given the auction) as yes, we could go for minus two sticks and two wheels. (1100)


IMO, this was a bold and imaginative stroke.

Also, IMO, if the same person has been convicted of serious offences (like pre-dealt hands) then all subsequent and past accomplishments are collateraly tarnished. As well they should be.

So, when do we learn the details of the sordid past?


roger pewickOctober 23rd, 2010 at 5:25 pm

When that hand came up in the forums my reaction to 6D was that I did not like it for being too presumptuous. But I defend anyone the right to bid in such a way that does not have UI as a possible crutch to lean upon- and do so without the opponents nor anybody else feeling the need to cast aspersions. Nor do I [nor anyone else for that matter] deserve an explanation of such a player’s judgment.

Now, such bidding has occurred against me dozens, no hundreds of times and I didn’t like it any of those occasions either. However, on most of those occasions there was UI [huddles, gesters, remarks] that might be construed to have made an influence. So, if explanations are to be demanded it should be restricted to those perpetrators.

Now, you have made the assertion that the only way for Piltch to have UI of the hand was for him to cold deck it. I can accept that, it is reasonable, and you are not merely highly intelligent but articulate. I last saw Piltch 10 years ago and the girth of his waist, arms, legs, and fingers was disproportionately large. And what I cannot imagine is for him to swap one board, or four hands from a board, after it had been made and without both opponents noticing.

And well, Piltch may be gruff in his disposition but his mind is very agile. Bridge is attended by a great number of fools and Piltch does not suffer fools lightly

Ray, your voice is highly regarded by many which imposes a duty to use it wisely. In this instance you have used it unwisely and I find it regrettable.

Maurice OrmonOctober 27th, 2010 at 8:07 pm

As I understand it, Mr Piltch lost the match by 100 imps. It seems to me that wild bidding is part and parcel of who he is! This is merely and example of one that worked!

I don’t think this hand proves anything. If he had 10 others in the match that worked too you might have a point.

Cam, you gave an example sometime ago of ERM making a crazy takeout double with 5 points and it worked. Was that proof he cheated?

Cam FrenchOctober 28th, 2010 at 12:22 am


Of course not.

Let’s not have a lynch mob mentality where every off-beat bid (especially when it succeeds) is the subject to suspicion. What would that do to Zia or Moss?

I recall Peter Weichsel with (this is not the hand)

with something like KXXXX xx xxx jxx facing Sonty’s one spade (and perforce a limited opener) bid, pass to him. What should he do? Clearly (and he might have sensed it from the table dynamic, as well as his hand and the auction so far) raised spades to some level.

No he bid a pychic 2H!

This was a great call catching his LHO (Glubok I think) with a great hand, red suits and created a very difficult problem for his opponents.

That is his job. No one suggested then or now that such a bid was anything less than imaginative.

Let’s hope our expert and promising players continue to make imaginative calls without some Big Brother imagining some horrible crime, justt because a long shot paid off in spades.


Michael HustonNovember 2nd, 2010 at 4:45 pm

1) The quantum standard of proof in the US (and, I believe, England) is “beyond a reasonable doubt” in criminal cases and “preponderance of the evidence” in civil matters. It is specifically spelled out as “preponderance” in the ACBL CDR.

2) The ACBL CDR makes clear that previous record may only be considered by a disciplinary body after a verdict on the facts has been determined. In this way the ACBL attempts to minimize any effect of prejudice on the weighing of the evidence. This is hardly an irrational position for the League to take.

3) Whatever one might think of Mr. Piltch personally (and I do not rate as one of his fans), and no matter what one might think of how suspicious his 6D bid was, in order for the speculations to continue there should be some evidence that he had the opportunity to cheat in deciding to make that 6D call. I am unaware of any such evidence. I have heard entirely unofficially that the decks were clean, the shuffles were witnessed by all the players at the table, Piltch dealt only one hand and it wasn’t the hand in question, there were no bathroom breaks before the hand came up, and there were no electronic devices available to Piltch.

Mr. Piltch may be suspicious until found guilty, but let’s not convict him without appropriate and sufficient evidence. Above all, let’s not convict him just because it’s so hard to catch cheaters.

Michael Huston

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