Reviews will be posted here as they appear.
Is bridge a game of science or psychology? The question is raised in Cathy Chua's fascinating new book from Australia, "Fair Play of Foul? - Cheating Scandals in Bridge."
Chua writes, "Those who believe that bridge is essentially a partnership game also believe that it is an exact game. They believe it is about being precise, about avoiding mistakes. Those who believe that bridge is a 'four-handed' game believe that it is an inexact game. They tend to paint with a broad brush, they tend towards bold strokes and big positions. They play a colourful, exciting style, which, it must be admitted, many envy from the shelter of a staid approach."
By a 'four-handed game' Chua means a game in which each player at the table is involved in making an individual effort to win points rather than restraining his imagination for the sake of partnership discipline. One of the problems of an imaginative style is that when you successfully make a bid or lead that appears abnormal, your opponents might accuse you of cheating.
Chua gives today's deal as an illustration of how good logic and imagination might help a player find a successful, but peculiar, opening lead. It comes from a rubber bridge game in New York, where famous financier Jack Dreyfus sat West. Dreyfus overcalled three diamonds, a preemptive bid, in an effort to take bidding space away from his opponents and also confuse them about the strength of his hand. In doing so, he risked confusing his partner as well, but, as the saying goes, "there are two opponents and only one partner."
Upon hearing North bid clubs on the way to the six-spade slam, Dreyfus decided a desperate measure was called for and he led the queen of clubs. He was sure the king would be in dummy and he hoped to fool declarer about the location of the ace. From declarer's point of view, the ace of clubs was on his right over the king. So declarer played low from dummy, hoping that East held the singleton ace of clubs. In that case, declarer later would be able to finesse West's remaining jack-doubleton. But the queen held the first trick, and then Dreyfus produced the ace of clubs! Declarer - a good sport - congratulated Dreyfus on a stroke of genius.
Unfortunately, the helpful cautions provided by the book are damaged when the reader gathers the impression that the author believes the accusers may have been evil-minded, misguided or paranoid. In allowing such conclusions to be drawn, she commits the very error her research so ably exposes: basing a decision on only selected evidence. For example, while competently classifying as inappropriate the forming of one's view from a small number of well-known deals that are open to alternative interpretations, she does not offer a broader analysis of all relevant deals. (Of course, it would be a herculean task to cover that ground satisfactorily for even one controversial case, and the output would probably not fit in a normal-size book.) A search for truth is not an adversarial procedure that can be "won" by knocking down the arguments brought forth by the proponents of a particular viewpoint.
We offer this parable: East and West play a 16-board segment against North and South. During this session, West, an imaginative player, makes two unusual opening leads and both times hits East's undescribed strength to achieve a sensational result. North and South are upset by this. North vents his spleen by displaying the deals and leads in postmortems, but the righteous South shows the evidence only to private (bridge) detectives. (It is widely recognized that one's being paranoid does not exclude the possibility that others are cheating. To that truism should be added that being paranoid does not preclude acting with sense and delicacy.) Investigation proves that, over the course of the entire tournament, West made 20 opening leads that could be considered in the range from peculiar to bizarre. A few "matched" partner's hand; most did not. As to results, 12 had insignificant impact on the outcome, five led to catastrophe, three (including the two that happened to fall in one session) worked brilliantly. Indeed, this is a typical result of such an inquiry. Moral: The smaller the sample, the greater the chance it is atypical.
Sad to say, occasionally, the global statistics support the observed non-random sample. It will surprise no one to learn that when a pair's results prove over the long run to be "good and peculiar" (pun intended), there is sometimes corresponding evidence of uncommon physical behavior or unusual manipulation of equipment. Thus, in the larger theatre of cheating inquiries, cases must be distinguished. Calls and plays may take a prominent role or may be only a small, even negligible, part of the story. When the "scandal" consists only of anecdotes, whispered accusations, and the bandying about of a few sensational deals, there is some value in "counter-rumoring" with alternative analyses: lie people who see injustice in unwarranted slights to reputations face roughly the same degree of difficulty in bringing their cases as do those who believe the authorities are inadequately policing the territory. In contrast, when there have been formal charges, including the presentation of mountains of physical and observational evidence (and perhaps confessions), it is misleading to suggest that the existence of innocuous interpretations of suspicious actions is a critical factor in determining the underlying truth. It is highly unfortunate that circumstances have caused authors to consider both types of case between the same covers. You will have to decide for yourself exactly what combination of crooks, sore losers, administrators and unlucky coincidences is responsible for these groupings. Or perhaps you will conclude that fair play and foul is just a facet of the human condition. Available at The Bookshelf [CFPOFI]
It was this very unorthodoxy which was used to bring forth evidence against Schapiro in partnerhips with Terence Reese and also the Italians themselves when, in separate incidents, players were accused of cheating in the international arena.
Cathy Chua...has relased a significant book on this subject. Fair Play or Foul? analysies the thinking processes which brought the North American accusations to world attention and which, in the case of Reese and Schapiro, led to disgrace and banishment.
Chua's well researched book critically questions these proceses and examines the recorded evidence in the light of modern practices. Although she brings in no verdict on the matters, she convincingly supports the view that unorthodox bidding and play is a patently inadequate source of evidence supporting any notion that pairs were passing or receiving illicit information.
The book contains many hands which have been cited as evidence that players were in possession of such information. In so many cases, the unorthodox choice of play was treated as evidence of something fishy....
Fair Play or Foul? is an intriguing book and promises a fascinating examination of the issues. Who knows, those who read this book may get an extra bonus of learing a little more about how bridge is played.
Australian player and writer Cathy Chua begins by recounting the tale of Willard Karn, who departed the bridge world under a cloud after two highly successful years, 1931-32. After a great deal of research and detective work she demonstrates that Karn's real problem was that he played too well.
Many accused of cheating simply bid and play outside the accepted norm. With telling example hands Chua places the case of the Manoppos, Reese-Schapiro and the Italians in a fresh light.
This is a compelling book, which demonstrates how those accused were ahead of their time and played and individual, creative game rather than 'a partnership game'. Don't miss this inspiring book.
Chua does not only tell the stories of supposed cheating, she expounds her philosophy of why these things happen. Bridge is a difficult game (don't we all know it?) she says, and often what looks like cheating in bridge is merely an example of excellent play or good interpretation or clever bidding. She gives hands from far and near, from many of the world's top players, to show that many leading players can reveal an uncanny knowledge of where certain cards lie, without a hint of cheating.
Do read this book. It is highly entertaining.
A great Australian bridge book, at $14.95.
Is bridge a science or an art? To put it another way, should bridge be viewed as a four-handed game instead of a partnership game, where an 'obstructive' style rather than 'constructive' bidding and defence is the key to success?
Chua studies these questions in relation to some of the great cheating scandals in bridge history and the American dominance of bridge culture. This is a highly intelligent, thoughtful and provocative book, and questions the motives, analyses and conclusions of the accusers - Culbertson, Truscott, Hamman and Klinger among them. Written as three essays it is a 'must read' for all students of the game and one of the most original works in the last decade of bridge literature. Superb value too, at just $14.95.
(To appear in the next issue of Australian Bridge. Printed in advance courtesy of editor Stephen Lester.)
My first thought on reading Cathy Chua's Fair Play or Foul? was "what a damned good read." My second (somewhat cynical) thought was: "I would rather own the foreign translation rights than the rights to the American market." Written in the elegant prose that we have come to expect from Cathy, Fair Play or Foul? is a graceful and scholarly analysis of famous cheating scandals from the bridge world. Cathy does not claim that those accused were demonstrably innocent, but she does present the facts to show that the case for their innocence is as strong as the case for their guilt.
The cheating which is the subject of the present work is of the explicitly organised and sophisticated form where partners collude to exchange information illegally through physical signals of some kind. It goes without saying that this is a rare form of cheating and yet the rumours fly. Whilst these accusations remain mere rumour, there are no serious consequences... What happens, though, when rumour is elevated in status to official accusation: when the question is raised "How can they do this? It is not expert practice"? In all accusations of cheating this would appear to be a common thread, the idea being that those cheating are doing so because what they do is different. This is so whether the doubts remain mere rumour or become official. Nor are bridge players acting as anything other than human in this way. Wherever creativity and individuality play a part this has always been the case. That which is not understood is feared. Those who break new ground are frequently misunderstood and only subsequently rehabilitated when the world catches up with them. (p33)
Calling on her scholarship in the disciplines of chess and bridge - her credentials for which are considerable, having represented her country in both - she affords insight into the internal structure of both games in a way that is clear and rewarding to expert and non-expert. From her demonstration of the way bridge philosophy has evolved differently in the United States and the rest of the world she guides the reader to an appreciation of the likelihood, or indeed the inevitability of a cultural clash between the two approaches.
Cathy makes no secret of her alignment with the more cavalier approach to bridge that is the stamp of the European approach to the game. She is at her most luminously enthusiastic when boosting that philosophy, but in the light of her explanation of that way of thinking many seemingly suspect actions (in the eyes of the mainly American accusers) become more reasonable.
But this, while exciting and interesting, is not the important thing I learnt from Fair Play or Foul? There is an opportunity to learn something important from this book. For it is not simply a commentary on accused cheats and their spymasters. It is also a commentary on people; their attitudes to each other, their attitude to games, the dynamics of their relationships, and even the potential they have to push out their boundaries.
Don't miss it. Seamus Browne.
After presenting one of the deals in the book, featuring the Manoppo brothers from Indonesia who Le Dentu considered were cheating, Borin continues:
'Could Le Dentu have got it wrong? In Fair Play or Foul? Cathy Chua, who has represented Australia in both chess and bridge, presents a compelling case to suggest that the Manoppos and a number of others, similarly accused, have been treated less than fairly....
Chua observes some striking similarities between the philosophies of the champions of both games. However whereas in chess the highly creative player is as well regarded as the technically brilliant, in bridge it can be different. This is particularly the case in the USA where those who successfully deviate from the orthodox run the risk of bringing suspicion on themselves. Hence it is no surprise to find that most accusations of cheating stem from that country. Other cultures promote a more imaginative approach. This book will appeal to all levels of player, particularly those who seek to release themselves from the straight-jacket of standardisation and have a lot more fun.'