|From Evert V. to Boris S. 25 years of cheating in bridge - The Reese-Shapiro finger signals|
"We close with the happy announcement that messrs. Jansma and Paulissen have just won the Interpolis bridge tournament" - thus concluded Mart Smeets [Dutch TV sports announcer - ed.] his broadcast, smiling but certainly with some sarcasm as well.
It was one of the two rare occasions that Studio Sport paid any
attention to bridge. The previous occasion, of course, was after the Dutch 1993
Bermuda Bowl win. A very poor harvest for modern competitive bridge.
The glory days of bridge af far as media coverage is concerned are long since past. In the thirties, the charismatic Ely Culbertson manager to get half of the world interested in bridge. His legendary matches against American competition and top European teams were world news, reaching the front page daily for weeks on end. The second world war marked the end of the bridge frenzy. Afterwards, newspapers, radio and television hardly paid any attention to the cardgame. Only once since the thirties was bridge news front page news. That was in 1965, during the world championships at Buenos Aires...
Four countries are playing: Italy, with the Blue Team, host country
Argentina, the United States, and Great Britain. Italy, of course, is the
favourite by far; the only serious opposition is expected to come from Great
Britain, fielding the famous pair of Terence Reese and Boris Shapiro. On
Saturday, the first day of play, Great Britain is pitted against Italy and
incurs a 63-imp deficit on the first 48 of 144 boards.On Sunday, the Brits have
a big win against the weak Argentinians, and they next play the U.S. on Monday.
Reese and Shapiro's opponents are B. Jay Becker and Dorothy Hayden. Becker is
one of the strongest players at that time, having twop world titles and numerous
national titles to his name. Halfway through the evening session, Becker notices
that Reese holds his cards in a peculiar way, with two fingers spread in
V-formation. An insignificant observation that would soon be forgotten were it
not that Becker notices that Shapiro, too, holds his cards in this
unnatural manner. Becker starts to pay closer attention and discovers - first to
his surprise, and then to his bewilderment - that Reese and Shapiro vary the
numbers of fingers holding the cards from one deal to the next! Becker finishes
the session and informs his partner. Becker and Hayden decide not to bring
Becker's observations into the open until after Hayden has seen it with her own
eyes. She gets an opportunity on Thursday, when the U.S.-Great Britain match is
resumed. Right from the start, Hayden sees that her partner was right. The
number of fingers changes from one hand to the next. Illegal signals is the
first thing that springs to mind. After the session, Becker and Hayden decide to
call in the assistence of a third person, Hayden's good friend Alan Truscott, a
Brit who had recently moved to the U.S. They inform him on Thursday night. He
does not really believe that the British would cheat in such a childishly simple
fashion, but he promises to keep an eye open during their next match. The
American captain, John Gerber, is put into the picture as well.
On Friday afternoon Britain is playing against Italy and Truscott, Gerber and Hayden observe Reese and Shapiro in play. Hayden takes notes. Afterwards, Becker, Hayden and Truscott, using the notes and hand records try to decipher what is being signalled. It becomes a matter of burning the midnight oil, but finally Hayden gets an idea; she proposes to compare all one-finger deals, all two-finger deals, etcetera. Bull's eye! There is a clear correlation between the number of hearts held and the number of fingers. Singleton heart: one finger; doubleton hearts: two fingers; tripleton hearts: three fingers; four-card hearts: four fingers; five-card hearts: two fingers; six-card hearts: three fingers. The code has been broken.
|Buenos Aires 1965. Great Britain versus
Italy. Terence Reese holds up his cards for the benefit of the
kibitzers. Facing him is Boris Shapiro. Ralph Swimer is occupying the
"captain's chair" on Reese's right. The opponents are Giorgio
Belladonna (facing camera) and Walter Avarelli.
From Story of an Accusation
"Certain irregularities having been reported, the Appeals Committee
fully investigated the matter and later convened a meeting of the Executive
Committee of the World Bridge Federation. The Captain of the British team was
As a result of this meeting the Captain of the British Squad decided to play only K.Konstam, M.Harrison-Gray, A.Rose and J.Flint in the remaining sessions and very sportingly conceded the matches with the United States and Argentina. A report of the proceedings will be sent to the British Bridge League."
BBL: not guilty!
It was the WBF's intention that the British Bridge League were to take disciplinary action against Reese and Shapiro. That backfired. The BBL decides to conduct its own inquiry first. An independent British tribunal, chaired by Sir John Foster, a prominent judge, delves into the case. Reese and Shapiro avail themselves of superior legal counsel. Many witnesses are heard and following a legal battle lasting for over one year, Foster c.s. report to the BBL approximately as follows:
"We are of the opinion that in this case the same standard for conviction must be applied as in criminal proceedings (i.e., beyond a reasonable doubt). The circumstantial evidence gives rise to doubt, however. There is no indication of cheating evident in the auction or the play. We find the direct evidence, however dtrong, not conclusive in view of the forementioned doubt. Consequently, we do not consider Messrs. Reese and Shapiro guilty of foul play during the tournament in question."
How about that! Where did we hear this before? Is this the kind of
jurisprudence that led to the Dutch Bridge League's Appeals Committee verdict in
the case of Bert W.? Signalling is allowed as long as you do not make improper
use of it. (See first article in this series, IMP vol. 10 nr. 6, Sept. 1999)
In 1966 Reese wrote a book about the affair, Story of an Accusation. It
was one of the first bridge books I read. An intriguing story; I was convinced
of his innocence. In 1992, at the Salsomaggiore Olympiad, I was sitting in the
vue-graph room when suddenly an old man sat down beside me. I immediately
recognized Reese and I cautiously started a conversation. To my fatuous question
whether he had ever regretted his erstwhile decision to bid competitive bridge
farewell, he responded, "Not at all. I love the game, but I don't like the
people." It was an unforgettable encounter.
Some years later I visited Michel Jialal who earned his living playing rubber bridge in London's most expensive bridge club. He played against Shapiro, well into his eighties by then. I took the opportunity of chatting with Shapiro at the end of the rubber. I cautiously broached the subject of Buenos Aires 1965. He became emotional and claimed the Americans tried to frame him, but above all, that Swimer grabbed that opportunity to ruin his life with both hands. Later on we will see why especially Swimer was the black sheep.
Again two years later I met Alan Truscott in the press room atr Hammamet. I mentioned to him my interest in Reese and Shapiro. "Did you read my book?" was the first thing he asked. When I said I hadn't, he asked for my address (and ten dollars) and a month later The Great Bridge Scandal by Alan Truscott arrived in the mail. After reading Reese's book I was to some extent prepared for the other side of the story presenting theories and vague evidence. Nothing of the sort happened. The book was overwhelming. One huge torrent of solid observations and witness statements blew Reese and Shapiro's case to smithereens. Their past laid bare reveals a heap of manure. It's almost too overwhelming. One of my heroes falls off his pedestal.
The Great Bridge Scandal
Truscott's strory starts with the witness statements of Becker and Hayden. Comparison of the hand records and Hayden's notes, taken while observing Reese and Shapiro for ten boards, show that there is agreement with the code (1 finger = 1 heart; 2 fingers = 2 or 5 hearts, etc.) in 19 of the 20 cases. Gerber has a list of nine observations, eight of which show agreement. Swimer watched 19 boards. There is agreement on all of them. Of Butler's 17 observarions, twelve are in agreement. Truscott analyzed the deals and presented eight suspicious ones to the Appeals Committee and the WBF executive. The auction and play strongly suggested foreknowledge of the number of hearts held by partner. Truscott also watched Reese in action when playing with Flint and he noticed no deviations in the numbers of fingers Reese used to hold his cards. The WBF executive reached its unanimous guilty verdict on the basis of the witness statements and the analysis.
|Picture taken at the 1978 World Bridge
Olympiad (private collection).
Left to right: Alan Truscott, author of The Great Bridge Scandal; IMP Internet Editor Lex De Groot (playing for Canada); Bob Slavenburg (former Dutch international, then playing for Morocco); Dorothy Hayden-Truscott (playing for the U.S.A., both at Buenos Aires and at New Orleans).
|Buenos Aires 1965. Great Britain versus
Italy. Terence Reese holds two fingers stretcherd, in V-formation. On
this deal he held two hearts. To his left sits WalterAvarelli.
From Story of an Accusation
Shapiro, holding: KQJ9 A1097 J10973
- , opens 1 (classical Acol, four-card major), and after
Reese responds 1NT, he rebids 2 rather than 2.
Reese holds 4 J6532 Q5 KQJ104
and bids 4. Suspect, claim Truscott c.s., you only rebid 2
if you know that partner has a heart fit.
On the contrary, Reese says, 2 is the only correct rebid because the heart fit might otherwise be lost. Furthermore, had Shapiro kwown that Reese held five hearts, he would obviously have opened with 1 to begin with, rather than with 1. And Reese would have responded with 2 right away, like the Americans at the other table, had he known of Shapiro's four-card heart support. Discussions that are getting us nowhere.
Reese presents this deal:
Truscott rebutts with:
For many years after Buenos Aires, Boris Shapiro did not play competitive bridge, devoting himself entirely to rubber bridge. Not until the eighties did he put in an occasional appearance at international tournaments. At 88, he won the world title for seniors at the 1998 Lille world championships, and the next year he was victorious in England's premier tournament, the Gold Cup. He is fixed entrant in London's prestigeous Macallan tournament.
In 1968, Reese and Shapiro wanted to play in the selection matches for the upcoming Olympiad, refusing to play against Swimer, however. They withdrew when the WBF informed the BBL that it would not accept their entry in case they survived the selection process. After this, Reese withdrew from competitive bridge for good. He concentrated exclusively on writng bridge books, becoming the most celebrated bridge author of all time. Terence Reese died in 1996.