ACBL Bridge Beat #96: Cheating

Throughout history, card cheats have always been held in contempt. So it is with bridge.

The Laws of Contract Bridge are not designed to prevent cheating or to provide redress. The lawgivers have taken the view that it would be wrong to accord cheats a status by providing legal remedies against their activities. This also is the policy of the ACBL: Exclusion from membership is the penalty for premeditated cheating, but cases of momentary weakness often are dealt with by temporary suspension. “The penalty of cheating is exclusion from society,” wrote the great whist authority, Cavendish.

At rubber bridge, cheating is not a problem. Short of actually manipulating or marking the cards, it is too difficult for a lone player to cheat effectively. The fact that good bridge is so exact an art militates against cheating, for a player who makes bids or plays that are against the odds but prove consistently successful soon excites suspicion. Cheating in clubs is therefore rare.

Traditional forms of cardsharping are unrewarding in bridge because each deal is almost equally important. A sharper can hardly make a killing by waiting for a suitable opening as in such games as poker, and if he just happened to pick up good cards every time he dealt, his career would be short-lived.

The dealing of seconds, therefore, the classic technique of the cardsharping aristocracy, is not an effective means of winning. (An accomplished sharp, dealing from a marked pack, sees when a high card is about to go to an opponent, and deals that opponent the next card instead, keeping the high card for himself or his partner.) For the same reason, another time-honored device of sharps, ringing in a cold deck, will not yield a reward commensurate with the risk.

The fact that duplicate is a game for fixed partnerships as opposed to the cut-in style of rubber bridge makes dishonesty more practicable.

Cheating at duplicate is by no means easy to define. Although the Laws do not recognize cheats, the section on the proprieties defines two main types of improper conduct: breaches of ethics and breaches of etiquette. Breaches of ethics are commonly thought of as unfair practices that fall short of deliberate cheating, but it is possible for the difference to be one of degree only. For example, a pair who take note of inflections in bidding would be considered unethical, while a pair who set out to impart similar information by secret signals would be considered cheats.

The following are some examples of infringements peculiar to the tournament world. By their aggravated nature they can be classified as cheating. Methods used by cheats have involved cigarettes, cigars, pens, pencils, scorecards, finger positions, grip on cards and use of left or right hand. All these were eliminated by the use of bidding screens in high-level events. The screens restrict the cheater visually.

Players have been caught using stacked decks, sometimes by inserting decks that have been previously prepared. In other cases, players in Swiss teams have refrained from redealing boards with which they were familiar from a previous round. In still other cases, players have been observed shuffling the cards in such a way that the dealer or the dealer’s partner is dealt a specified card.

Many tournament procedures have been devised that are unobtrusive but effective safeguards against cheating. Thus, in the Laws of Duplicate, some of the examples cited as irregularities are anti-cheating safeguards. These are:
90 B.3. Any discussion of the bidding, play or result of a board, which may be overheard at another table.
90 B.4. Any comparison of scores with another contestant during a session.
90 B.5. Any touching or handling of cards belonging to another player.

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