This article was first published in IMP vol. 10 nr. 7, Oct./Nov. 1999.

From Evert V. to Boris S.
25 years of cheating in bridge
-
The Reese-Shapiro finger signals
 
-
by Onno Eskes  

"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
.
WBF: guilty!
Armed with this information, the triumvirate informs Ralph Swimer and Geoffrey Butler on Saterday morning. Swimer is the British n.p.c., and Butler is the chairman of the British Bridge League as well as chairman of the Appeals Committee at this world championship. During the evening session, Swimer and Butler observe the play of Reese and Shapiro from up close, and can but confirm the American suspicions. On each board where Swimer can see the hands of Reese and Shapiro, the number of fingers and hearts held are in agreement. (albeit with the exception when a void is held: its code has never been found). Butler observes ten deals with practically identical results.
The Appeals Committee hears the case on Sunday morning and it is convinced that there has been foul play. The matter is turned over to the WBF executive. It hears the witnesses and decides unanimously (ten to nil) that Reese and Shapiro are guilty of cheating. Immediately following the hearing, this announcement is made:

"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 present.
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).

 .
Story of an Accusation
Reese focusses particularly on the sessions before the Foster inquiry, and approaches the issues rather selectively. The more serious the evidence for the prosecution, the less attention he gives it. There is barely any mention of Hayden's observations, her notes and their agreement with the alleged code. Reese's counsel, Caplan, again and again tries to trip up the witnesses over all kinds of insignificant details. For example, in his opinion it is totally improbable that the code was not cracked for many hours; a series of numbers such as 3,3,4,2,4 should immediately bring to mind the number of cards held in a suit, should it not? At first, Mrs. Hayden was thinking that the number of aces held was being signalled. Did she think there were seven or eight aces in the deck? The really damaging points from the witness' evidence, however, is neither refuted nor disproved. A witness like Butler is an easy prey for the defence. This evidence of this absentminded elderly gentleman, who did not shy away from a drink or two either, naturally contains various inaccuracies.Only his notes concerning the finger signals (the least damaging, 'only' 70 % correlation) are alluded to and attacked by the defence - as if they were the only ones. Much ado about nothing, in other words.
 .
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's confession
The inquiry takes it easy-going course until Swimer makes his statement. He has a bombshell to drop onto the English tribunal. He relates how he gave Shapiro a shoulder to cry on in Buenos Aires.....and that Shapiro has confessed everything! Pressured by Reese, who much preferred to play with Flint [using their brainchild, The Little Major system - ed.], he was forced into going along with the illegal signalling."That evil man made me do it," were his exact words, according to Swimer. Obviously, Reese's lawyer tries to dismiss it as a fabrication, but then Swimer states that at the the time, he wrote a report of this confession, and that he had mailed it to himself. In the event of anything happening to him, to be opended only after his death. He still has the letter in his possession and makes it available as evidence. Swimer further states that he never mentioned  the cofession to the WBF at the time because Shapiro had hinted at suicide. Caplan makes a deal. The letter is not submitted in evidence, but he shall not quarrel with Swimer's story. It looks like Reese and Shapiro's death warrant.
There is a full-blown attack against Swimer. It is brought out how Swimer, prior to the world championships, had formed a partnership with Shapiro, but had not been selected for the national team, in part because of Shapiro's constant criticism of him.
 
Technical evidence
 The defence now tries a different angle. It postulates that any kind of foul play will always come to light in the auction and play. "It is written in the hands," the experts on cheating declare, like the famous French director De Heredia. Next, the hands are discussed, for days, even weeks on end. Nothing is as subjective as the analysis of a bridge hand. Ironically, some hands are presented as evidence by both the defence and the prosecution. A few examples:

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 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:
 

- 
  A 7 4 
  J 9 
  K J 10 
  K 10 7 6 3
K 5 3 
10 6 5 2 
A 9 8 4 
5 2
 
- 
WEST---        --  
Reese 
- 
1 
Pass 
 
- 
EAST ---  
Shapiro 
Pass 
1
 
 An unthinkable final contract for a pair that knows about each other's heart length.

Truscott rebutts with:
 

- 
 E/NS Q 10 
K 10 7 
9 8 7 4 
K J 7 4
  J 6 5 
  6 5 
  J 3 2 
  10 9 8 6 5
A 9 8 7 2 
9 2 
K Q 10 5 
A 3
e K 4 3 
A Q J 8 4 3 
A 6 
Q 2
 
- 
WEST-----  
Reese 
- 
Pass 
2 
Pass 
 
- 
NORTH 
Forquet 
- 
2 
Pass 
Pass
- 
EAST ---  
Shapiro 
1 
2 
Pass 
Pass
- 
SOUTH 
Garozzo 
Dbl 
Pass 
2NT
 
Shapiro's psych is remarkable. Safe, because he knows that Reese only holds a doubleton heart and will not support enthusiastically, says Truscott. Reese, of course, counters by saying that he would have psyched 2 himself had he known that Shapiro only had two hearts.
Neither party is convincing with its circumstantial technical evidence, the analysis of the deals played. The defence claims that Reese and Shapiro were playing well below their normal standard during the tournament. That is improbable for a world class pair that was cheating as well.
 
Reese and Shapiro innocent?
 The Foster Inquiry and the BBL find Reese and Shapiro not guilty as charged. The WBF is asked to review its judgement. In 1967, the WBF declares - again unanimously - that it still considers Reese and Shapiro guilty of cheating during the 1965 world championships.
Indeed, it's possible that Reese and Shapiro are not guilty. What does that say about the various people  who give evidence for the prosecution? It must have been a gigantic conspiracy, including fabricated observations, notes and meetings. An American conspiracy with Becker, Hayden and Truscott in charge. Gerber, too, went along and perjured himself. And how about the Englishmen Butler and Swimer? Were they in cahoots right from the start or were they ignorant, only to jump at the chance to vent their spleen at the pair? Swimer, for one, went to extreme lengths in fabricating evidence. He invented Shapiro's confession, wrote it up, and mailed it. Just in case there would ever be a court case in England. What a wonderful piece of anticipation. The president of the American Contract Bridge League, MacNab, and legendary American player Waldemar von Zedtwitz were members of the conspiracy; they, too, declared to have seen the signals over an extended period. All these people have put their reputations in jeopardy, just to put one over on these arrogant Englishmen.
The other possibility is that all these people were simply telling the truth.

Epilogue
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.


  To IMP Bridge Index