Ted's Bridge World ---

Sometimes Cheaters Do Prosper

Canadian bridge professional Ken Gee (no, not the saxophonist) was observed — more than once — peeking at other players' cards on boards that he would subsequently play.  Cheating doesn't get any more flagrant (or useful) than that.  In fact, the evidence was so indisputable that when Gee was confronted on the matter, he readily confessed, citing a medical condition to explain his behavior.

According to the Contract Bridge Forum, Mr. Gee, who has been under suspension, is to be reinstated as of mid-2009.  Additionally, all masterpoints won and all titles received during a specified time period are forfeit.

What the ACBL does not share in their member publications are the particulars; it would prefer to sweep such matters under the rug.  Therefore, others such as I have to do their job for them.  It seems that the Conduct and Ethics Committee had imposed a light sentence, allowing for "time served" since Gee was kicked out of the 2007 Fall Nationals.  Subsequently, the Board of Directors slightly increased the term of the suspension.

It is reported that Gee's alleged medical condition relates to distress over the recent death of a couple of family members.  Sympathies certainly are in order for that.  I, however, had been previously unfamiliar with those particular symptoms of what I shall call "Bereavement Syndrome", or "BS" for short — that is, a condition which seemingly compels an afflicted person to place in his lap boards that he is about to play, then turn over cards that will be held by other players, apparently against the victim's will, and during periods of anxiety which manifest themselves only when it is presumed that no one else is watching.  Moreover, this condition can persist indefinitely if not treated properly.

Other unusual features of the illness seem to be that the patient's card-retention ability is unaffected, the stressful condition dissipates when it is time to play the boards in question, and access is permanently blocked to that area of the brain that normally would prompt a player to perform his lawful duty to inform a director that he has received unauthorized information about a board.  Unfortunately, in Gee's case, the infection seems also to have spread to that part of the brain that would cause a person subsequently to realize what was happening, and to stop playing in bridge tournaments until the condition was under control.

That is quite a disease!  And any way you see it, that's a lot of BS.

These things being said, I am no doctor, and I am not personally acquainted with Mr. Gee.  Perhaps he actually does have some esoteric medical excuse for his aberrations.  The resolution of this matter was highly inadequate nonetheless.  A bridge professional must be held to the highest standards of ethics and comportment, not be let off with a token slap on the hands.  Compare this case with a prior one, wherein a high-profile Italian pair was banned from ACBL tournaments for life for cheating in a non-ACBL event!

And who is to say how long this business has been going on — that is, in addition to the many months of illicit activity already documented?  And what about the masterpoints and titles awarded to Gee's partners and teammates?  If justice were to be served, those results would be expunged as well, and the other competitors in those events would be moved up in the rankings.  Everyone could express their sympathies to Gee's possibly unwitting clients, even as they were being admonished to choose their partners better.  In fact, voiding the winnings of a cheater's clients would be the best way to promote good behavior.  As it is, some clients — who care about little except their winnings — have no incentive to hold their paid partner to a high ethical standard.

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When a player revokes, it might be because one's hand was incorrectly sorted, or one is confused about the sequence of play, or one is under the weather in some way.  The laws, however, don't care what the reason was.  The requirement to follow suit is inviolate; if players are allowed to get away with revokes, then it no longer is a bridge game.  The appropriate penalty is applied impartially, irrespective of the actual cause.

The same approach must apply to cheating.  If someone has advance knowledge of a hand, then it no longer is a bridge contest.  If cheaters are not punished fully and publicly, then our beloved game could die.  Frankly, I cannot see how being sick ever could represent much of an excuse.  No one except a truly insane person is mentally incapacitated all of the time.  If someone is so distraught that he cannot play ethically, then he could simply stay at home.  Moreover, harsher penalties than Mr. Gee's have been levied for far lesser tournament-related crimes; yet there is no greater one.

This case is reminiscent of one in Las Vegas, in which a cheating paid player successfully pleaded a defense of temporary insanity!  It seems that there is an unwritten Law-99 in the current regulations: "Any professional player caught cheating will incur a token suspension, then will be welcomed back with open arms."  This law should be repealed immediately and forever, because a player who cheats for money is a criminal who has no business being allowed on the tournament scene.

The ACBL, however, has other ideas.  Unfortunately, as much as we all would like it to be otherwise, the League has gone the way of most other corporations.  Management's primary focus is on the size of the League's coffers; moreover, it is perceived that professionalism is critical to the success of organized bridge (Never mind that it thrived for generations without the pros!).  Although such notion is self-serving bullshit, that's the Memphis mindset.  Who cares that there is blatant favoritism toward the pros, and that they are permitted to rape and pillage average players at the table?  As long as the dollars keep pouring in, that is all that matters.  After all, how else might the company executives fund those expensive multi-week parties and foreign travels for themselves every year?

That assessment might sound cynical; yet I personally have been subjected to blatant cronyism on several occasions.  In a Sacramento Regional KO, two of five directors actually voted to rescind the published conditions of contest in order to force a playoff between my team and the top-seeded pro team.  On another occasion, as a member of an appeals committee at a Reno Nationals, I watched the "wheels of justice" brown-nose a wealthy client in flagrant contradiction to the Laws, because the egomaniac had threatened to sue if he didn't get his way.  The tournament scene is analogous to what is happening on a national governmental level — where non-account­ability has become the norm and lawmakers will not properly address key issues.

The integrity of duplicate bridge has been done yet another big disfavor.  Does it seem to you as if justice has been served?

Yes, I know — more than one cheater has forced his way back into tournament bridge via the courts on a "loss of income" complaint; and in the past, funds for legal defense have proved inadequate.  This doesn't mean, however, that life should be made easy for chronic cheaters.  It is ludicrous that our legal system supports such an inequitable scenario.  If the right to legitimate competition in tournaments is to be guaranteed by law, so should criminal behavior in the workplace be appropriately punishable by that law!  That is how it works (or is supposed to work) for the rest of corporate America.

I submit that, at the least, a much more appropriate — yet still humanitarian — sanction was available in the Gee case.  Since the man cited medical matters as his defense, let the same issue determine his fate as an active ACBL member!  Let him be reinstated only at such time as his primary physician would submit an affidavit stipulating that the patient has been cured.  How else might we be safe?

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Dear Reader:  Have I overreacted here?  Or am I myself under the influence of some mysterious, debilitating medical condition that compels me to prize ethics and fair play above all else?  Bah, humbug!

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For more discussion on this matter, go here:    Bridge Blogging with Cam French

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