Is GIB cheating?

June 28, 2009 at 12:52 pm 12 comments

While I was eating lunch today I intended to read an old article about four vs five card majors. To my surprise the old magazine – a 1999 IPBM – opened up at, ahem, something I’d written and completely forgotten about. It seemed so relevant to a lively debate we had a couple of months ago here that I thought it was worth reprinting. It goes like this….

Whenever a North American wishes to charge the Italian Blue Team with cheating this hand looms:








c QJ752

As many will recall, It was East on lead both times to 4S. Kaplan led the pedestrian heart, dummy having 2-over-1ed in that suit. Pabis-Ticci began with the ace of clubs. Why?

According to John Swanson, the latest American to come out with his suspicions regarding the Blue Team, pabis-Ticci was asked later ‘why this lead?’ He answered that it was because ‘Arthur Robinson had led the CA to defeat a partscore in an earlier session and he thought it would be nice to ‘hoist him by his own petard’. There you have it. The logic by which an eight times world champion resolves difficult lead decision.’

Swanson doesn’t like the logic. To him it is sufficient to assume that something nefarious is going on. I like Pabis-Ticci’s answer. It shows stle. It is as good a way as any to solve a dilemma. And it has the nice psychological advantage – if it works – of being , as happened in practice, extremely irritating to the opposition. Not, in any case, that his answer need be true…Is Pabis-Ticci supposed to give bridge lessons to his opposition?

Here the point is that Tim Bourke, noted Australian analyst, decided to give the lead problem to GIB. And, guess what? It chose the ace of clubs. Does that mean GIB is cheating?! Later Tim gave the problem to GIB a couple more times and it led (1) a heart and (2) a diamond. Does this mean GIB is random? Or that it is a difficult lead problem?

Finally Tim did a simulation of 120 hands where East is on lead to the auction at Pabis-Ticci’s table. His conclusions were:

(1) Major suit leads were unsuccessful.
(2) The ace of clubs and the ace of diamonds each worked seven times.
(3) There were three hands where either would work.

By the way, after Swanson’s autobiography, aka an anti-Italian diatribe, came out, I wrote an article which I submitted to Bridge World pointing out not only the absurdity of the logic of some of Swanson’s claims, such as on this hand – really, the idea that the Italians should have to teach the Americans how to play is preposterous – but also pointing out that once or twice he actually has his facts wrong. For example he gives an auction to a slam and then claims that the Italian opening lead to it was the result of cheating (what else?) whereas in fact the auction, if you look at the official record of the championship, was a different auction. The editor refused to publish the article. Unfortunately I no longer have it or I’d pop it up here as well.


Entry filed under: defence, history.

Cayned by Cayne, the whole deal. What went wrong here?

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ben Thompson  |  June 29, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Did Swanson do an analysis of the Blue Team’s declarer play?

    The Blue Team routinely out-declared everybody. Pabis-Ticci was responsible for many of their most exquisitely beautiful hands.

    I bring it up because it’s hard to cheat at declarer play, unless you’re tall or have a flexible seat.

    Why would it be a suprise that the best declarers are also the best defenders? Why would you (speaking generally) assume that a guy who is a demonstrably better card-player than you cheated to find some lead, rather than the more likely explanation that he simply knows something you don’t? And perhaps isn’t inclined to explain himself to a competitive inferior that he may or may not like very much?

  • 2. khokan  |  June 29, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    I’m not surprised by the results of the recent GIB analysis – the CA lead seems such a long shot to be a winner to me. I don’t understand the arguments of those who think that partner ruffing something, particularly a club, is likely, when he figures to hold one or two trumps.

    I liked Andrew Webb’s comment in the earlier blog that likened leading the CA to scoring at the pub wearing your lucky underpants. As for Richard’s statement about being able to switch after leading an ace, there are plenty of layouts where it’s too late – see my response to the earlier, related, blog.

    I agree with David Morgan that the lead proves nothing about whether Pabis Ticci is a cheat, or not. I just think he got lucky.

  • 3. David Morgan  |  June 28, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Swanson’s book is still fascinating reading, including to see the blatant hypocrisy between his attitude towards the Italians on the one hand and Katz and Cohen, former teammates of his convicted of cheating, on the other.

    Notwithstanding his obvious bias, he does make some interesting points, including one he touches on but doesn’t explore in much detail: the cultural differences. He talks of the reaction of Italian fans to a tennis match involving Vilas and an Italian player, Panetta; he might have done well to look at Italian football (soccer) and volleyball; possibly other sports, as well as broader society. Italy has consistently rated as the worst Western European or central European country on corruption indexes maintained by Transparency International and other bodies. I’m unsure how that affects bridge directly but it certainly leads to a different attitude in society at large towards rules and compliance.

    On the hand at issue it’s worth noting that newer versions of GIB (from 2000 on) still consider the CA lead, and occasionally choose it (one time in ten when I checked tonight) but overwhelmingly choose the DA. Jack, which is newer than GIB (no updates since 2003 — hey, in checking the date I discovered that an update was made this January), and has consistently been the best computer program since 2000, rates the H9 a considerably better choice than the DA, which is better (by a much smaller margin) than the CA, which is a loooooong way better than a small spade.

    Does it matter what a computer program chooses? Well, the one aspect of the game where computer programs consistently do better than expert humans, and by some margin, is opening leads. There are many reasons for this, some technical (they lead trumps more often) but the major one appears emotional: they don’t have to worry about an aggrieved partner when they don’t lead partner’s suit so they lead another suit way more often than human experts do.


    • 4. Richard  |  June 29, 2009 at 8:24 am

      If the results of the simulation are to be believed, it seems that the computer programs are “progressing” in the wrong direction, towards leading like an American.

      One expert, I can’t remember who, gave as a tip that “if they don’t lead a singleton, they haven’t got one” or words to that effect. That is what he plays against in America, and I think it illustrates that in America, you would find the heart lead rated higher than anything else by the majority of players. But that doesn’t make it right.

      I don’t know the auction for the hand in question, but leading the heart seems rather dubious. Leading an ace gives you a couple of shots. Maybe you can find a singleton in partner’s hand, when your other ace will be the entry for the second ruff. Maybe you can cash quick minor-suit winners and come to a slow major-suit winner or two. Maybe you can switch to a heart after seeing the dummy – after all, if the heart was right at trick one, it’s almost certainly still right at trick two.

      • 5. Ben Thompson  |  June 29, 2009 at 9:16 am

        Don’t have the reference at hand, but Matt Granovetter wrote about playing as a young man with Garozzo. Granovetter had a fistful of small trumps, a good side suit and singleton. He led the good side suit to try to shorten declarer. Unsuccessful when leading his singleton would have shot the contract.

        Garozzo explained to then-young Granovetter why and when you would and wouldn’t lead singletons. He said something like “if God deals me a singleton, I lead it”. The longer version is that’s it’s not always right to lead your singleton, but you can’t really tell, so you’re better off just always leading your singleton.

        • 6. cathychua  |  June 29, 2009 at 11:18 am

          That’s a good story, Ben. Funny that when you held Pabis-Ticci’s hand you led the same thing as he did for the same result!

      • 7. David Morgan  |  June 29, 2009 at 7:24 pm

        FWIW, Jack’s simulation was of 1000 deals. On the majority of the deals game made irrespective of what was led. Alas, the program doesn’t allow users to review the sample of deals so I can’t tell you why the H singleton was most successful; my guess is that partner has one of the major-suit aces.


      • 8. Richard  |  June 30, 2009 at 4:17 am

        David wrote: “I can’t tell you why the H singleton was most successful; my guess is that partner has one of the major-suit aces.”
        That’s interesting, because it brought to mind anti-submarine warfare(!) In WWII, dropping depth charges on submarines from aircraft wasn’t very successful, because often the submarine saw the plane coming and dived, and then the depth charge would only be effective if it was set for the right depth. Then someone had the insight that if the depth charges were all set to explode 6feet deep, at least it would guarantee getting the submarines that were taken by surprise and were still at the surface. This was such an effective strategy that the Nazis started to wonder if the Allies had a new secret weapon.

        I can’t think of a winning scenario for the heart lead except for partner having a major suit ace. But at least in that case it always works. Maybe this is why leading the singleton comes out on top in the simulation.

        • 9. cathychua  |  June 30, 2009 at 12:18 pm

          But if that is the winning scenario you can always start with the CA and then shift…

          • 10. khokan  |  June 30, 2009 at 2:59 pm

            Not necessarily – see below (or similar layout).



    • 11. Richard  |  June 29, 2009 at 8:58 am

      Since I went browsing around, I came across Matt Granovetter’s Murder At The Bridge Table:
      “I list the very best holding you can lead from down to the very worst.
      a singleton (non-trump)
      x-x-x or longer
      weak trumps
      10-x or longer
      J-x or longer
      Q-x or longer
      K-x or longer
      A singleton trump
      the disastrous A-x or longer”

      • 12. cathychua  |  June 29, 2009 at 11:21 am

        Richard, As you point out in your previous comment, the Americans have particular set ways in defence. Historically it was certainly the worst part of their game by far. The Europeans saw the lead as an integrated part of the auction and the play and led accordingly, while the Americans led according to a bunch of rules, such as Granovetter’s.


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