Ray Lee

On press

With The Lone Wolff in final prepress stages, and finished books only about 3 weeks away, here’s another brief excerpt from Bobby Wolff’s autobiography. It comes from a chapter appropriately entitled, The Agony of De-feet.


In bridge, dealing with cheats can be a tricky exercise. For one thing, the laws of the game were not designed or set up to handle cheaters. There is nothing in the rule book about what to do if you catch someone cheating. Leads out of turn, revokes and so forth are right there in the rules, but cheating is considered such aberrant behavior that it is not formally dealt with in the laws. It’s as though the rule givers didn’t want to consider cheating a possibility.

In fact, according to the Official Encyclopedia of Bridge, 5th edition: ‘The laws of Contract Bridge are not designed to prevent cheating or to provide redress. The lawgivers have taken the view that it would be wrong to accord cheats a status by providing legal remedies against their activities. This also is the policy of the ACBL: exclusion from membership is the penalty for premeditated cheating, but cases of momentary weakness often are dealt with by temporary suspension.’

So what happens if a player is caught fixing hands or a pair is detected giving hand signals?  Students of bridge history will remember the notorious scandal involving the Italian players in the 1975 Bermuda Bowl who were caught tapping toes under the table. That famous case is an apt reference, as it turns out, because it demonstrates with sickening clarity what can happen when politics is mixed in with the adjudication of cheating issues.

In case you are unfamiliar with the 1975 brouhaha, although the Italians were caught red-handed (or better yet – red-footed), they were merely given a slap on the wrist – not even tossed out of the tournament. Off the top of my head, I could rattle off half a dozen similar cases where justice was thwarted because of politics. What politics were at work in Bermuda all those years ago, you ask? Consider the following.

The cheaters, Facchini and Zuchelli, were caught touching toes under the table during the bidding and before the opening lead was made. They were not practicing for the Ballet Russe. The facts were made available to authorities at the tournament, but while the investigation was in progress, one of the ACBL’s sorriest politicians, Lew Mathe, blew the lid off what was, at that point, a low-profile inquiry. His actions were strictly political and egomaniacal in nature. When the charges became public, the authorities responsible for the tournament made the disgusting politically-motivated decision to go easy on the accused. They felt that the government of Bermuda, which had contributed heavily to the tournament, would not be happy with a cheating scandal on their turf — an appalling, inexcusable and self-serving reason for sweeping it under the carpet. This position was totally unacceptable to those honorable participants who were forced to continue playing under utterly abominable circumstances, but that was the decision of the WBF. Protection of the guilty, one more time. So — what else is new?

I vividly recall listening in disgust as the two cheaters tried to assuage the press by attempting to justify some of their unusual actions in the play, which obviously had been based on their illegal signals to each other. For example, with no help from the bidding, one of them led low from 10xxx in hearts against a notrump contract when he had five spades headed by the K-Q. It just so turned out that partner had a singleton spade but five hearts to the K-Q. Rational observers could not believe these skunks were getting away with this.

In order for you to understand my own outrage, I would like to share my personal firsthand account of the whole affair. The Facchini-Zuchelli Incident happened over thirty years ago, and its beginnings can be traced back earlier by another six months. It is a piece of history known to very few and it is important that you follow the timeline as you watch everything fall into place…

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