Paul Cronin

Ya gotta hand it to them!

Played in a game recently where LHO, who used the bidding box cross-handed, had two different ways of bidding. One was reaching across his body with his left hand to the bidding box on his right. The other was squaring his cards, emphatically putting them face down on the table, and then reaching across as above to make his bid. His partner meanwhile had at least three distinctly different ways of holding his cards – with both hands, fingers intertwined – with one hand and the other hand resting on his arm – and with one hand alone. What would you do in a situation like that? Call the director? Can players actually be required to make their bids in a physically consistent manner? Can players be required to hold their cards in a consistent manner? Wadda ya think? 


Judy Kay-WolffApril 20th, 2016 at 11:30 pm

Hi Paul,

When I began reading the above blog, I thought it was the prelude to a joke, but obviously, you are kidding on the level. I assume you were playing at a club game (and one that was issuing meaningless master points even for under average performances). As a newbie over six decades ago, I counted the days until the next game .. and of course, the fractions of master points awarded .. even for just 'scratching.' As time went by, I realized how important they were to some people and, as you suggest above, what some players WILL DO to gain an advantage.

At the tournament level, either speaking to the director/s or filing a recorder slip might soothe your annoyance for petty or even grand theft, but I personally couldn't tolerate it over an extended period of time and if my observations were certainties with intent to help partner, I would voice my discontent loud and clear. What's fair is fair!!

It is harder to handle at the club level as (with a small number of exceptions in huge areas with lots of senior citizens with much idle time), because attendance is falling off and some are on the verge of closing. I sympathize with the no-win position of the owners/directors who do not want to lose customers and yet want to run a 'clean' game. I have observed lots of 'newbies' whom you can see are having a ball but don't have any clue about basic protocol because they have never been taught the amenities. A perfect example is the failure to pause after a 'skip bid.' In most cases it is not deliberate because it is not a subject that has ever been approached.

Perhaps if the parent organizations (including the higher ups) would publicize the 'no-nos' of illegally trying to 'help' partner and explain the rationale behind it, 'unknowing' offenders would become aware of their violations — and the 'deliberate offenders' would know "big brother" is watching.

In the case you cite above, there is no doubt it is 'with intent.'

Whether unintentional petty violations or big time collaborations as has been publicized universally in recent months — it is still desecrating the honor and beauty of the game. Exchanging private information between partnerships doesn't cut it with me.


paul croninApril 21st, 2016 at 8:40 pm

Hi Judy,
Many thanks for your thoughtful comments – right on the nose as always!
It would really help if those running club games would take just 15 seconds at the start of each game to make a “Thought For Today”announcement – as in (i) don’t touch the bidding box until you are ready to bid (ii) mentally count to 10 when it’s your turn to bid after a skip bid warning (iii) if you take a long time to pass, expect your partner to pass (iv)call the director if ANY irregularity occurs at your table (v)…………. Clubs offer courses, and charge for them, on so many topics, but don’t take the time to give free daily reminders to their players about etiquette and good bridge manners. As with many problems, education is the answer, and the basis of education (call me old-fashioned) is repetition.

Judy Kay-WolffApril 22nd, 2016 at 12:21 am

Hi Paul:

You are not alone in your declaration of being old-fashioned. I am sure I have quite a few years on you, but I remember my first exposure to untoward behavior at the table occurred as a newlywed (to Norman Kay) and I kibitzed hundreds of hands both locally, nationally and internationally beginning in 1963. And sadly, it still existed (perhaps to a somewhat lesser degree) after I married and kibitzed Bobby going back at least a dozen years. I was so naïve I could not believe some of the earlier incidents I observed but now nothing shocks me. At least today, because of unintimidated souls like Boye Brogeland, Kit Woolsey, et al., cheating at the ultimate levels have been brought to the attention of the public. No doubt had more attention been paid to these issues back in the sixties and thereafter, the finalists (especially in international competition) would read quite differently than what appears in the record books of today.

Unquestionably, there is a huge difference between deliberate, stealthy, cleverly conceived cheating with body parts (be it fingers, hands or feet) and is hardly comparable to the inexcusable lack of education (or the heeding of it) in today’s minor league competition. In our case, most owners tread lightly and many participants have no clue they are doing anything unethical or in bad taste and the clubs don’t want to antagonize them. Until the ‘powers that be” (namely the ACBL) take a stronger public position on these no-nos, things figure to remain status quo.

I certainly agree with your proposed “Thought for Today” announcement, but I fear staffs of the clubs do not want to intimidate or insult their clients and it is understandable. Thus, it becomes the responsibility of knowledgeable players to tactfully handle the situation by politely calling the director in the hope of lessening or stopping clear violations. One thing is for sure — CLOSING ONE’S EYES WILL NOT MAKE THEM DISAPPEAR.

Howard Bigot-JohnsonApril 22nd, 2016 at 9:28 am

HBJ These most extreme and variable body movements either reflect incredibly fidgety players or a pair of cheats who are quite prepared to use outrageous gestures to communicate either positive or negative aspects about their hands.
Everyone who cares about the ethics of this game clearly recognise that tempo not only applies to the time taken to make bids , but also the manner in which bids are made.
Same time lapses and body movements are essential because otherwise one player will quickly register and interpret any variations.
The culprits who you speak of should be told to make all bids in tempo or otherwise risk a fine for disobedience.
However , my first thought would be to watch and observe their actions , alongside their hands , to establish patterns , which translate into coded messages. Cheats needs to be rooted out once irrefutable evidence has been established.

paul croninApril 22nd, 2016 at 3:15 pm

Hello HBJ,

Your comments are spot on! Any suggestions as to how “to watch and observe their actions” at the club level? Kibitzing a table would be out of the ordinary, and any given pair only gets to play against them for two or three boards. The problem is even more acute in team matches, where there are no hand records.

Judy Kay-WolffApril 25th, 2016 at 4:53 am

Hi Guys,

The sad side of this whole issue is that bridge no-nos have been going on for fifty-plus years. All the hoi-polloi knew what was happening .. but fears of law suits and the shame it would bring to the game served as a deterrent to addressing the matter at its inception. I heard all the talk about the higher echelon in the sixties while accompanying Norman to Nationals and International events and sad to admit some Zone 2 pairs were among the offenders here on this side of the Atlantic as well. Serving in official capacities for both the ACBL and WBF, Bobby was responsible for putting a stop to many incidents of (shall we say) blatant indiscretions.

I can understand (but not forgive) the motivation at the top level with fame and recognition as the booty. Thankfully, with several knowledgeable experts and technicians, recently much has been exposed and hopefully punishment shall help put an end to this epic trend that has brought shame to our wonderful game.

At the lower, more social level, of club bridge, there is no denying that many cannot go into court with clean hands. I am far from naïve .. but I truly believe that some of the transgressions are from ignorance of protocol. However, there is no reason to accept that as an excuse with some of their naïve, innocent victims falling by the wayside! I am for going all out (in a professional, appropriate and respectable manner) to educate the offenders — deliberate or otherwise.

It is great that Paul was so candid about his views and brought the matter before the public. There is a huge difference between actual cheating and poor ethics, but in either event the unsuspecting victims get the dirty end of the stick.

Neither CHEATING nor POOR ETHICS are acceptable and all who truly love the game should make a concerted effort to join the self-appointed bridge police and make note of (and report) any unusually strange actions at the table.

paul croninApril 26th, 2016 at 4:30 pm

Hi Judy,
There are also many areas in the bidding that can lead to unethical situations. An example would be pairs that have an absolute agreement that, white on red, they will not let their opponents play in less than 2NT. As a result, their TO double in the PO seat does not show any significant values, and their partner's response at the three level could be a four card suit and no significant values. This can be a very difficult situation for their opponents to read, and most opponents would assume they are competing with values worth competing with at the three level. Further complicating the situation is an exception to their agreement allowing the one in the PO seat to pass under 2NT if holding a stack in the opposition trump suit. This gives UI to the partner, who now knows partner holds a trump stack.
Another area is bids that do not need to be alerted, like constructive major suit raises, which allow pairs to split their major suit raises into two parts without their opponents knowing what is going on. So 1H –> 2H might show 8-9 points, while 1H –> 1NT –>2? –>2H might show 6-7 points. Or the direct raise could show 4 card support, while the indirect raise could show 3 card support.
The above may be considered good bridge by some, but in my opinion any situation where one side has information that the other side does not have is……unethical.

JRGApril 26th, 2016 at 5:45 pm

Hi Paul,

Your latter example is a tough one. I’ve been playing a 2/1 system with a number of partners and the understanding you mention is played by many players.

While I’ve always felt that both calls (the immediate raise to 2M and the delayed “preference”) should be alerted, it is actually wrong to do so as the bids are not, as you pointed out alertable.

In the UK, if I understand correctly, a pair can be penalized for alerting a call that is not alertable (because, unless they ask, opponents will assume the call is alertable and may be damaged). By the same token, unless contemplating entering the auction, players are advised to wait until the auction is over before asking for explanations — asking may convey UI.

So, what is one to do? I definitely agree that opponents have a right to the same information that you have when you make a call (and keep having to read opponents’ CC is a pain, besides which they often have almost unreadable, sketchily filled-out CCs)…

Judy Kay-WolffApril 26th, 2016 at 5:59 pm

Hi Paul:

I totally agree with your last statement .. but the action is with malice aforethought. It is deliberately done with the intention of withholding information from one’s opponents. I become paranoid when these “private” habits are not made public. For instance, Bobby is not a fan of two level transfers; thus, when the auction goes 1NT P 2H (or 2S), the opener offers up the explanation: “Natural/non forcing” — rather than merely ‘natural’ as I believe the majority play it is as a transfer. The onus should not fall upon the opponents to ask if it is forcing or not. I think ethics such as the above has a lot to do with having a bit of larceny in one’s soul by not parting with crucial information to which the opponents are entitled.

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