Bobby Wolff


Undoubtedly I have spent more time investigating possible bridge scams or downright cheating than anyone else in the annals of the game. I served as the National Recorder for both the ACBL for ten-plus years and in a similar capacity while attending almost every WBF Championship since 1970 (actually 34 out of the 37) either as a player or administrator – many times in dual capacities.  During those many years, I adhered to a protocol which allowed me to interview, film, discuss and check records and evidence on the subject, as well as to enlist aid from both experienced caring people and other individuals and groups who were even better acquainted with the situations and persons involved.  Substantially more than half the time the path taken led to nothing other than a dead end — with the facts uncovering no significant wrongdoing. Case closed!

It was imperative for you to familiarize yourself with my background before approaching the focal point of this blog.  To me, overt cheating in bridge in the variety of ways it has surfaced results in an unspeakable horror to anyone who cares about the game. To me personally, the denigration of bridge by cheating and defending its pure beauty has brought about an uphill struggle trying to restore sanity to our hobby. It even makes me question whether it is worth continuing to play and promote the game.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. Another devilish and distasteful practice has arisen every so often which in my eyes is almost as insidious as cheating. What is that you may ask?

It appears in the form of accusations, especially by important people in administration or high-level players, without enough (or sometimes any)documented evidence.  Slander of possibly innocent players is totally unacceptable and even more than the natural law, when it applies to well-known high-level players involved in the game we all love, it can become devastating, not to mention criminally unfair.

Although I am not in the ‘in’ group doing the investigating anymore, it seems that recently (at the 2007 San Francisco Fall Nationals) a team was accused by hearsay of cheating up a storm on the way to winning a major event.  Since then I have learned from what I consider reliable sources that “there was not a shred of proof against them” (no cameras, no video tapes, no tangible evidence, no charges filed —no nothing!) The slurs against the accused had apparently absolutely no basis in fact.  And though the talk was widespread, no official statement was issued to squelch the rumors which weeks later are still prevalent. If so, we need our chief administrators to rise up against such accusations, get to the bottom of why and on what basis these fingers were pointed, and punish the rumor mongers if, in fact, that is what happened. If the accused are guilty – produce evidence of cheating. If there is no documentation of wrongdoing – cease and desist and set the record straight. Simple as that.

The time has come to stop our so-called powers on high from knowingly allowing badmouthing to spread. Closing ones eyes and ears and assuming passive, conservative, blasé positions are what allow unfounded rumors to fly.  The reputations of innocent parties can be permanently damaged by word-of-mouth gossip and if no evidence is produced and no charges filed, it is totally irresponsible to allow such rumors to continue without punishing the real guilty parties.


In an article from my local newspaper, dated December 16th, a well-known sports writer for Newsday, Shaun Powell,  has said, "… Baseball is big business.  Big business generates big money.  Big money attracts greed, corruption and cheating…" 

It might be stretching it some to now call professional bridge a big-time business, so let us compromise and say it is a medium-size business, but on the upswing.  To the various increasing numbers of bridge professionals this has to be good news, but let us examine it a bit further.  Up to now bridge could not compare with baseball and it still cannot, but some of the same statements may and will apply.  We will need soon (and today comes to mind) to establish an administrative division in bridge which is prepared to handle any and all serious problems which might occur. Our present setup is inept.

By our sloth, and totally unrelated to sponsorship money, the ACBL over the years welcomed two celebrated cheats, to grace our hallowed Hall of Fame, a testimony to the weakness of those making powerful and far-reaching decisions. Are we going to be naive enough to believe that, under the present system which exists, we will be able to control all of which may happen, particularly in lieu of the Internet quickly becoming an integral part of our playing and viewing the game?  As all of us may realize that the Internet, while being a wonderful marketing tool for creating interest among new players as well as being a vehicle for conducting tournaments, is fraught with security problems with no real solutions to them on the horizon.  We desperately need to set up a way of handling our immediate future or else prepare for a complicated never-ending chaotic situation to challenge the future of any kind of bridge.

Since all indications tell us that, because so many of our top bridge players and potential administrators are already involved in the expansion, we will need to think deeply and possibly scour the country to find the right people to lead us out of our self-imposed predicament.

Can’t we all envision, many years from now, a bunch of apes sitting around their rock formations on earth playing the game, wondering how bridge came into being and naming a premature double of an obvious slam, "A flesh colored person double"!


Hi Linda,

Thank you for your response to my blog about fair play.

While you make several thought provoking good points about your version of destructive defensive conventions, you miss the overall theme.  The necessary strictures which stand out are that, if playing destructive methods against opponents, the disclosure should require a higher degree of accuracy and the execution should be beyond suspicion.  If playing 10-12 HCP mini-NT, the hand must contain at least 10 HCP’s or, if two suited weak bids are played, both suits must have at least 5 cards in them and have at least the minimum high cards described on the convention card.

Why, you may ask, should these specific strictures apply regarding destructive conventions and not be necessary on other "normal" conventional treatments?  Very simply, because without these strictures, those conventions lend themselves to hanky panky (involving private understandings) which are (because of our scoring system involving non-vulnerable penalties plus the direction which our standard defenses have developed) virtually impossible to overcome and unlikely to be proven to be a special private understanding.

When the above is added to confusing description (such as non-forcing rather than just shutout or "very weak") it likens itself to defending oneself against suicide bombers. 

Please do not confuse what I am saying with the person who accused you of cheating for playing 12-14 no trump or the difficulty of coming into the auction when the opponents are using Bergen raises.  Both of the above treatments have easy defenses to them as well as familiarity among a majority of tournament players.

There is one long-time bridge caveat which, at least to me, will always represent what is necessary.  A partnership, in order to be considered eligible to compete alongside all others in the pursuit of winning results, MUST comply with living up to the spirit of bridge competition.  That spirit should include not throwing heretofore unknown questionable obstacles in front of any pair, much less an inexperienced one, leaving them to confront problems never presented to them before. 

Early on and in the tradition of 75 years of contract bridge experience, normal preempts have existed, most of the time (but not always) showing a weak hand with a long suit, so that difficulty (confused with destruction) has long since been overcome.  Psychic bidding is still very much a part of our great bridge tradition and should continue to be, but every partnership (both great or wannabe-great) must realize that carrying along with the freedom of psyching a bid goes with the risk that partner may be fooled into doing something normal which may turn out terrible.  It is only when devious partnerships try and prevent that risk from happening which should warn (but unfortunately sometimes does not) our bridge administration to try and prevent that from occurring by considering and then instituting necessary solutions.

In all competitive sports, including bridge, the administrative wing is charged with making sure fairness is present by doing whatever is necessary to so insure.  Since bridge is cerebral rather than physical  this necessity requires different types of adjustments, but without it, sadly, our game would not be worth playing. 



With the release on December 13th of the Mitchell Report dealing with Steroid and Human Growth Hormone use in baseball, my thoughts immediately turned to bridge.      

What I have named “Poison Gas Labs” in bridge, at least to me, are akin to using illegal drugs in baseball or for that matter, in all sports.  The major sports are now able to spend lots of money policing their particular sport while bridge, being very short of funds,  is not able to do much, having trouble even investigating questionable tactics.

These stealthy techniques usually involve partnerships putting their heads together and planning the most deceptive tactics available in order to confuse and, therefore, result in the opponents being misled and doing the wrong thing and getting the worst of it.   Let me cite a few examples:   

1.  Playing upside down signals even including upside down suit preference signals for the sole purpose of hoping the opponents misunderstand and, if given an opportunity, make the wrong choice.

2.  Describing shutout bids (weak and preemptive) but merely described as non-forcing rather than what they really are.   

3.  Utilizing as many random two suited hand conventions as possible (when the opponents invariably hold the lion’s share of the high cards) described as 5-11 HCP’s, but in reality 0-8 HCP’s and possibly alleged two-suited overcalls, such as Jxxx, Qxxx. when non-vulnerable.   

4.  Playing mini-NT openings described as 10-12 but in reality, hardly ever more that 8 or 9 — especially when partner has already passed and those 8 or 9 turn out to be: Jxx, xx, KQJxx, Jxx.  The partners always have their instructions and the underlying ground rules are laid out at the start: Never, Never double the opponents unless you have a set in your own hand and Never play your partner for anything but a rank minimum.

In clearer terms, they are all what have been come to be named destructive conventions, designed specifically to be disruptive to the opponents and never intended as part of a constructive way to get to the right contract yourself.  Obviously these treatments need to be accurately explained, rather than the deceptive way in which they are usually described.