Cam French

Watchin’ the Detectives

Elvis Costello – Watching the Detectives 



First, if you have not read  Hooked on a Feeling (by me) and/or Shades of Gray (Ray Lee) do so. They are one page down below. They deal with the Howard Piltch Spingold hand.

I never heard what, if anything became of this incident. It’s a SECRET – and we the public are not privy to the inner chamber. The detectives have that well under wraps. If only the League was as good at sharing information as they are at hiding it. It’s like they are Homeland Security and are not accountable to anyone.

That is one of the many problems of “justice” within the bridge community. The cone of silence, for all you Get Smart fans.

Did Howard have a wire? I see precious little evidence to support that. Apart from innuendo and granted, a compelling but hardly damning example of one whole hand from a long team match (and career) – there is a wisp of smoke but  where is the fire? I recall some violation(s) by Howard, but the details were not publicly released so I (and the public)  don’t know the depth of these committee meetings because they never tell us. This is from District 24 Newsletter, edited by Alvin Levy, Volume 01.2.

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.}

What the hell does that mean? Please enlighten all of us. If reduced to 30 days (as it was) then it doesn’t sound like he stole the crown jewels of the empire. What exactly did he do?

From Jonathan Steinberg’s 12/95 District 2 report we see:

Special Committees investigating allegations against District 25 board member Howard Piltch and the removal of Bob Rosen as ACBL National Recorder released their findings. No charges were laid against Mr. Piltch. The removal of Bob Rosen was upheld. No details, so we are left to speculate.

What the hell was that about? Sure, a few connected insiders know the whole prior history, but we the membership are stuck in the dark. According to Ray :

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.

Well, did they? Or didn’t they? if so, what were the findings? if not, why not? A lack of evidence perhaps? I have no idea but I do think that we the bridge playing public, and certainly Howard deserve to know the outcome.

What happened?

Or does a team, chagrined by a wild result, even thought ultimately winning by 100 imps, insinuate cheating and then walk way into the night? If Howard was guilty, let’s string him up. And if he is not, let’s say so. Looks to me like a very little smoke, no fire. Surely someone for the prosecution can find a pattern of dubious results, assuming that exists. if not, let’s not smear a name without cause and more to the point without evidence. Cheaters have a pattern. One hand is not a pattern. To the prosecutors I say make the case. We all deserve nothing less.




Hooked on a Feeling

December 16th, 2010  ~  Cam French  ~  15 Comments 

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

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