Cam French

Hooked on a Feeling

Grand Funk Railroad – Hooked on a Feeling



Remember the Pilch hand Ray wrote up?

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.’


Here is a little food for thought. There was a lot of verbiage about whether this was merely imaginative or “swinging” (or whether Howard had a wire) on the hand. Here is a comment from one connected insider. This person has served on Conducts and Ethics Committees and other executive functions for the ACBL for some 40+ years. He knows of what he speaks.

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


BTW, when someone with the staure and standing like Michael Huston stands up and speaks out, perhaps we should all pay attention. I thank Michael for doing so.

As I understand it, and Ray reported it, the opponenets apparently wanted the hand “recorded” with the director.

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.

The clear inference is one of impropriety. So, did they report it and what if anything did the director do? Can anyone shed light upon this? Ray? I hope with such an interesting hand, wonderful (because it worked) bid, (or was it otherwise? as clearly some have reservations and perhaps deservedly so) and unaddressed allegations we can close this file on a positive note.

I know one thing, if I face a like scenario, I would try such a gambit. Especially on the off-chance I was down at the half to a superior squad.

The saddest part about this case – our lack of knowledge, information. No one even posted the whole hand, or named the opponents or reported with accuracy prior allegations/convictions about Howard. So here we are in the dark, and the information of import is slammed shut tighter than a clam with lockjaw. Informed and enlightened, we can all make superior judgements. Let’s have some enlightenment here.

 The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance. 

~ Socrates


DavidDecember 16th, 2010 at 7:58 am

Say you started a Spingold match and thought that you had perhaps , optimistically, a one in seven chance of winning the match.

You then proceed to go down by 40 imps after one quarter. What do you think your odds are now? Perhaps one in twenty at best.

I look at Mr. Piltch’s hand and I can envision that this is a swing hand. Our opponents at the other table probably have better methods. But looking at my hand , I see that if it is right to play in diamonds (the whole 4-4 versus 6-2 or 6-3 thing for pitches) it may be difficult for the other table to find diamonds.

In those circumstances I think a 6 diamond bid is not beyond the pale of impropriety. Odds against: for sure. Swingy: even more so.

In the position Piltch was in, I would only hope that I could imagine that bid.

John Howard GibsonDecember 16th, 2010 at 11:23 am

John Howard Gibson

What I find strange is did no one ask him about the rationale behind the 6D bid. Was no explanation provided by Piltch to the table and/or TD as to why 6C was not the chosen and more obvious bid ? How can 6D create anymore of a swing than 6 clubs ?

The only plausible reason I can think of to justify the bid is that if partner has 4 diamonds to the king ( BIG IF ) then the 4-4 fit does enable the club suit to be successfully used to pitch losers from dummy.

Rainer HerrmannDecember 16th, 2010 at 11:31 am

Computer simulation has clearly shown that a 6D will not work in a majority of deals, but on a fair percentage of them.

6D is likely to create a swing.

Thus it may or may not be a bad bid, but, given the information at the point when the bid was made, it is certainly not an absurd bid.

Where is the “preponderance of evidence”, unless you call “evidence” that this bid would not come to mind to the vast majority of Bridge experts and that a well known expert got upset, when the bid worked against him?

I do not see it.

By the way I am very much against claiming somebody to be a cheater based on “preponderance of evidence”.

A “conviction” may do as much or even more damage to the integrity of a person than a criminal conviction might do.

And I want people to continue making unorthodox bids, without having to fear in the back of their mind, to get a bad name should their unorthodox bid work!

Gary M. MugfordDecember 16th, 2010 at 6:47 pm

I’ve been out of the ACBL for a long time, but there used to be a ruling called Concommitant Unusual Action. If both partners took unusual steps in either the bidding or play, the event would be recorded, and the mere fact of concommitant unusual action might result in a score adjustment. In reading about this incident, I haven’t yet seen any comment on the actions of Pilch’s partner, who passed a 6D bid with king fourth. I don’t know about you, but when MY partner bids a slam missing the trump king, I give serious consideration about bidding the slam. Especially when way behind in a match.

Gary M. MugfordDecember 16th, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Opps, meant to say, I would give serious consideration about bidding the GRAND slam. Afterall, I would expect partner to hold seven or eight diamonds along with solidish round suits.

Cam FrenchDecember 17th, 2010 at 1:20 am


Do you recall an incident whereby you or someone at your table was asked to justify or explain your bidding?

Maybe in a committee where one party was claiming damages or mis-information but really – why should you or me or Howard have to justify any call?

I remember the great psych by Harold Ogust versus Reese, where he totally misreprented the hand, and bought the contract, doubled and making with the opponents cold for as slam! Surely no one asked him for his reasoning.

Howard was well down against a superior squad and took a shot. According to his partner Bud, he took several other “shots” in the slam zone which were not so flamboyant nor as successful.

I think those who wanted a C&E committee as well as those who allege crimes with no more than innuendo should justify their reasoning.

Hell, I love to chastise cheaters and their accomplices. But the glove here does not fit, as no supporting evidence has been provided.

Michael Huston said it all.

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.



John Howard GibsonDecember 17th, 2010 at 9:41 am

John Howard Gibson

Yes, I agree it’s not right to ask players why they chose a particular bid. Equally, players obliged to give answers if they want to keep their bidding tactics/strategies a secret. However, in incidents where there is even the merest hint, or suspicion, of a possible cheat, an investigating committe IS ENTITLED to ask. If Howard then said ” I took a flyer ” then that is OK, but any further “flyers” that miraculously found partner with perfect support would beggar further questions and investigations. If as you say most of his flyers proved unsuccessful, then there is no problem whatsoever and the presumption of innocence still remains in his favour.

In law circumstantial evidence is never enough to convict someone of an alleged crime, unless the sheer weight of it becomes so overwhelming.

John Howard GibsonDecember 17th, 2010 at 9:42 am

Correction ” Equally players are not obliged…….”

David TurnerDecember 17th, 2010 at 3:55 pm

I’d suggest, for those so inclined (and maybe it’ll be me over the holidays), a meander through back issues of the Bridge World, looking for Sidney Lazard’s “transcendental” Canape leap to slam with a similar handtype (I’m not sure he was down in his match). The original characterization was from Moyse, quoted by someone else I believe, so I’m thinking a mid-70s issue – I’ll post it if I can find it (there was some other amusing commentary alongside as well). I’ve stored that one up for 30 years or so since then, but never had a chance to use it, but I’m delighted Howard got to do so. I think the bid’s chances of success, both in terms of reaching a making contract and creating a big swing is pretty high, myself.

I don’t think it’s automatic to raise partner’s direct, “behind by 50 IMPs” 6D call with Kxxx – it certainly will help, but if partner has a long suit, it’s rare that he has no loser outside – he could sometimes double and then bid 6D with that. Though maybe the grand would make with that anyway!

As to no one asking Howard why he did it, I’ve never met the top-level opponent who, having been hosed by a wild shot, asking about it …. giving the perpetrator the opportunity to say “because I have flair – you may wish to take notes” .

I suspect Howard’s typical table demeanour may have influenced his opponents’ outrage as well.

P.S. On the subject of Lazard, opposite a Bramley 3D bid ‘recently’, Lazard jumped to 7D with AKJx of diamonds and out. Opponents bid 7H and Bramley led a diamond. Lazard thoughtfully won a “congratulatory Ace” at trick one, for one down (they make the grand on any other lead). My hero! And, he said he bid 7D because of a similar hand where the tactic worked in a Bermuda Bowl in … 1954, I think!!! Awesome 😉

Cam FrenchDecember 17th, 2010 at 11:58 pm


I wrote up the Lazard hand you referred to.

See Eye in the Sky

and I am sure we all agree, this was apples and the Piltch hand is oranges.


Richard WilleyDecember 23rd, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Here’s what I still find remarkable about this entire incident:

For all the sound and fury that this incident generated, there’s still no effort to implement any kind of real security at these events.

I don’t think that we can ever know with certainty why Piltch bid 6D with the hand in question.

He might have gotten lucky with an inspired “State of the match” play.

He might have stacked the deck.

So what? Life is full of uncertainty…

If folks are really concerned with these types of issues, it would seem more productive to focus on what is in our control.

For example, why are boards being hand dealt in a major event like the Spingold?

I’d love to see some information explaining why every local congress in Europe seems able to use dealing machines, but the ACBL isn’t capable of adopting similar systems for its most prestigious events…

Ed ShapiroDecember 23rd, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Here’s a similar hand, with south, an expert, holding at IMP scoring, both vul :

AK86, KJ84, 953, AQ (suits in rank order):

Auction went:

west north east south

1D P 1S P

2D P 3D P

3S P 3N 4H!

P P Dbl. (end)

Result: + 990

What would you think? And do you think the identity of the south player and the opponents would matter? FWIW, this was played online.

Just some simple questions in context of the prosecution of Piltch (a casual friend of mine for many years) here.


EllisDecember 23rd, 2010 at 11:41 pm

I was once taught a theory by world class player, if you are down big at the half play everything second best. Play your second best line, play your second best contract not take unreasonable actions just actions that are slightly inferior, in the hopes that these actions will generate enough of a swing- given the opps at the other table are taking first best lines -to win the match. 6D strikes me as an inferior action.

Bobby WolffDecember 26th, 2010 at 3:45 pm

To Ed Shapiro,

4 Hearts is an entirely reasonable bid since with partner marked with specifically 2 spades and probably average holding only about 1 1/4 diamonds, all you need to find from partner is 5 hearts to the queen and 5 clubs to the jack to make game a very respectable contract (if partner has 2 diamonds though it is much worse and without the queen of hearts or certainly 5 of them there would be much trouble).

My hasty conclusion is that while 4 hearts is a very reasonable bid (almost as reasonable as Sidney Lazard’s 6 diamond inferential bid at the 11th hour) it is still very dangerous, since my 17 HCP’s do not bode well for partner having the key red queen, although it is possible that partner has 6 small hearts, again justifying my action.

However, to compare this action with the controversial 6 diamond bid (not the one by Sidney), is just not valid.

However, your point is well taken, but it is leaves us with the realization that bridge detectives involved in all various possible cheating cases to be reasonably sophisticated about bridge or else be prepared to accept the consequences of being libelously aggressive.

Ed ShapiroDecember 26th, 2010 at 5:01 pm

To Bobby Wolff,

Thanks for taking the time to comment. And you have hit the nail on the head regarding the need for legitimately sophisticated analysis before making judgments about a player’s honesty.

I watched this hand played on BBO several years ago, but was watching only the west player, when this remarkable bid was made. My thoughts were that I wished I could have found it, and I saved the hand for teaching purposes. Both east and west were quite complimentary to the bidder.

Of course nobody at the table, nor anyone who knew him, would question south’s take on the hand. But what if it were I who had analyzed the position as he or you here have done, catching partner with xx, Q10xxx, –, xxxxxx? I’d bet the public would react differently than east and west, Bob Hamman and Paul Soloway, respectively. South was the late, truly great, Richard Freeman, for whom this type of coup merely reflected the brilliance he brought to the game for so many decades.

[…] Hooked on a Feeling […] 2nd, 2014 at 11:43 am

This is a really good tip especially to those fresh to the blogosphere.
Simple but very accurate information… Thanks for sharing this one.
A must read post!

Best basketball shoes 2014April 5th, 2014 at 9:36 am

Hi there mates, how is everything, and what you want to say concerning this post, in my view its genuinely awesome in favor of me.

ChongSeptember 17th, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Finally i quit my day job, now i earn decent money on-line
you should try too, just search in google
– blackhand roulette system

Leave a comment

Your comment