extract from Fair Play or Foul?

by Cathy Chua

Technical evidence of cheating?

Let's look at an example featuring Reese and Schapiro. When Alan Truscott, in his book of the Buenos Aires affair, asks the question 'Can hands prove guilt or innocence?' he continues 'The brief answer is that it is possible but unlikely.' [The Great Bridge Scandal p. 188] Nonetheless of course he discusses many deals during the course of the book, some from the championship and others from further afield.

He introduces this example with the suggestion that in the past Reese and Schapiro had used signals to show partner that a long strong suit was held which should be led. Continuing with the comment that 'One of the most remarkable leads in the history of the game was made on the following deal from the 1964 Olympiad' he presents this hand:

Take Reese's seat.

It's your lead, sitting West, to four spades. Declarer has shown at least five spades. Dummy has a strong 2NT opening.

S Q 9 4
H 10 9 6 5 4 3
D Q 8
C A Q


NORTH
S A K 5
H A K Q
D A 6 5
C 9 6 5 3
WEST
S Q 9 4
H 10 9 6 5 4 3
D Q 8
C A Q
EAST
S 7 2
H J 8 7
D 9 4
C K J 10 8 7 2
SOUTH
S J 10 8 6 3
H 2
D K J 10 7 3 2
C 4
Reese, holding the West cards, was on opening lead to 4S and knew from the auction that dummy was balanced and strong - around twenty high card points. Otherwise he knew only that South held at least five spades. Armed with this information Reese led the queen of clubs.

Truscott comments 'This is not a lead that would be likely to occur to anyone. But if one assumes that East had in some way indicated length and strength in clubs, the lead becomes entirely understandable.' [p. 240] Curiously, he makes no comment regarding why a player with the West hand, knowing his partner's length and strength in clubs, would lead the queen deliberately blocking the suit, rather than the ace.

Yet consider this lead problem further and make the likely assumption that dummy holds the king of clubs. If that is so, then the only likely chance the queen has to score a trick is right now at trick one. Lead it and sometimes it will be partner who holds the jack. On these occasions it is feasible, if not likely, that the queen will hold the first trick. The holding is very similar to a more familiar example. Imagine being on lead to the same auction with this hand:

S Q 9 4
H 10 9 6 5 4
D Q 8
C A Q J

The queen of clubs lead is normal expert practice and was made by every expert to whom the problem was presented. It is a common ploy. Sometimes declarer has reason to duck one or even two rounds if you continue with the jack. Certainly if there is a moment on the hand where you are likely to convince declarer that the ace sits over the king it is at trick one. Reese's actual hand could not be given to these players as a problem since it is too well known, but if they were given it and did not lead the CQ, it is difficult to see what conclusion should be made of such negative evidence.

And this, of course, is one of the major problems inherent in cheating investigations in bridge. So much of the evidence is of that negative type. The player is expected to conform to the image of the common expert practitioner and yet, even if there is such a thing as this creature, why should anybody, let alone Reese, have to conform to it?

Since Reese was considered an exceptionally outstanding player in that period, there is no particular reason why he should not find an opening lead that even dozens of experts would not find. A wooden player focussed on his partnership would simply not consider this lead because it breaks all the rules of leading. A flexible player focussed on what the opponents are doing - the whole picture of the specific hand in play - has the appropriate faculties to be able to find the idea of the queen of clubs.

That this lead of Reese's could be construed as a function of cheating is particularly ironic in light of the circumstances of the reappearance of this thematic underlead. On 13 February, 1985, in the New York Times, Alan Truscott reported the same opening lead, low from CAQ, made during a rubber bridge game in New York. This was the hand:

NORTH
S 10
H A 6 5
D A K 5
C K 9 8 7 4 3
WEST
S 6 4
H 7 5 2
D Q J 10 8 4 2
C A Q
EAST
S 9 7 3 2
H J 10 9 4
D 9 7 3
C 10 2
SOUTH
S A K Q J 8 5
H K Q 8
D 6
C J 6 5

West, on lead to 6S after South opened 1S and North, over West's 3D preempt, responded 4C, began with the CQ. Here also North was odds-on to hold the CK.

The Reese underlead of the CQ and the suspicious reaction to it epitomise the dichotomy between the two groups. The partnership game player is used to bolstering rules, the four- handed game player to breaking them. Thus as a matter of philosophical difference, the latter is disposed towards finding a lead away from an ace, from a doubleton, from AQ bare even, whilst the former is anything but equipped for this.