ACBL Bridge Beat #69: Buenos Aires Affair
In 1965, the international bridge world was rocked by a widely publicized charge that Terence Reese and Boris Schapiro, representing Great Britain in the Bermuda Bowl at Buenos Aires, Argentina, had transmitted information about the heart suit by finger signals.
The original observations were made by B. Jay Becker and Dorothy Hayden, members of the North American team, and Alan Truscott, bridge editor for The New York Times. They testified that the British pair were observed to be holding their cards in a varying manner, with a different number of fingers, either closed or spread, showing at the backs of their hands.
After comparing findings, it was suggested that Reese and Schapiro were signaling the number of hearts they held (two fingers for two or five hearts, depending on whether the fingers were closed or spread, three fingers for three or six hearts, and so forth). The evidence was presented to John Gerber (npc, North American team), who in turn brought it to the attention of Ralph Swimer (npc, British team) and Geoffrey Butler, chairman of the British Bridge League and member of the World Bridge Federation Executive Committee and chairman of its Appeals Committee.
After an independent investigation, Butler called a meeting of the Appeals Committee to present his observations, to study the evidence further and to inform Reese and Schapiro of the charges against them. Both denied the allegations. The matter was then brought to the attention of the WBF Executive Committee. On the last day of the World Championship, by a vote of 10-0 (Carl’Alberto Perroux abstaining, one absentee), the Executive Committee found Reese and Schapiro guilty of using illegal signals, and the evidence was turned over to the British Bridge League for final disposition. Swimer conceded the Great Britain-Argentine match, which Great Britain had won 380-184, and the Great Britain-North American match, in which Great Britain was leading 288-242 with 20 boards to play.
After receiving the WBF report, the British Bridge League set up an independent inquiry to study the charges, headed by Sir John Foster, Queens Counsel, and General Lord Bourne, who was assisted on the technical aspects of the case by Alan Hiron and Tony Priday. In the Foster Report, released after 10 months’ consideration, Sir John Foster said that in reaching its verdict the Inquiry was looking for the same standard of proof from the accusers as it would for a criminal charge. On this basis, the direct evidence as to the exchange of finger signals, strong though it was, could not be accepted because of the reasonable doubt the Inquiry had on two grounds. These were direct evidence from Mr. Kehela, and that an examination of all the hands that might have had a bearing on the allegations gave clear evidence that neither the bidding nor the play of the hands revealed any foreknowledge of the heart suit. Accordingly, it found the accused not guilty of cheating in the tournament.
After learning of this verdict, WBF President Charles Solomon stated, “It is doubtful that the WBF can accept the decision of the London hearing.” His position was that the WBF had rendered the verdict in Buenos Aires and had submitted its report to the British Bridge League to determine punitive action.
At its annual meeting in 1967, the WBF Executive Committee reaffirmed its earlier guilty verdict and passed a resolution that the chairman of the Credentials Committee refer applications of any player found guilty of irregular practices in WBF-sponsored tournaments to the Executive Council. The implication was that applications by Reese and Schapiro would not be accepted, and the implication became fact in 1968 when the Executive Council so answered a query from the British Bridge League concerning possible entry of Reese and Schapiro in the 1968 World Team Olympiad. As a result, the British Bridge League elected not to participate in the Olympiad.
In 1968, the Executive Council restored Reese and Schapiro to good standing on the ground that the three-year ban that had been in effect since 1965 constituted adequate punishment.
The repercussions of the episode during the years of controversy spanned the American and European continents. An article by Rixi Markus defending Reese that appeared in The Bridge World resulted in a libel suit by Swimer, and the reluctance of Reese and Swimer to play against each other created problems in the 1968 British Team Trials.
The evidence for both sides was presented in books by two of the controversy’s leading figures: Reese’s Story of an Accusation and Truscott’s The Great Bridge Scandal.