“Cheating” Spouses

In online bridge, do spouses who log in from the same domicile cheat or not? Distressingly, new research that has triggered a storm of discussion on bridgewinners.com suggests that some do.

Since practically all bridge shifted online, a majority of the 30 top-rated established pairs on BBO are mixed pairs – a married man with his wife who share the same last name and residence. Before the COVID pandemic halted face-to-face bridge, only one of the top 30 pairs was a married couple. The research pointed to a suspicious “significant overperformance” by many married couples, for example, going from an average of 56% to 61%, or improving from 57.5% to 66.7% from in-person to online.

The Recorder (official disciplinarian) of the Australian Bridge Union added the disturbing fact that all nine pairs he investigated for suspected illegal collusion online just happened to be married couples.

The research focused only on established pairs who had consistently scored at least 54% in face-to-face bridge. I guess they figured if you’re below that line, you’re too dumb to cheat anyway. And to be included in the study, you had to have played at least 25 times online, so that 25 online games could be compared to the pair’s last 25 in-person games.

Naturally, anyone who plays with a spouse like me immediately thinks: “Gee, I wonder where we fall? Is that true for us as well?” My partner Christine and I aren’t married and don’t share the same last name, but in our bridge community, everyone knows we live together and we are a couple as well as an established bridge pair. She was as curious as I was and she’s the mathematician, so she worked it out.

Fortunately, as far as we’re concerned, the evidence is not conclusive. First of all, we have nowhere near the required 25 games online to make it into the sample. We don’t play that much online, one of the reasons being is that we don’t like to arouse the natural suspicion of cheating if and when we do well, as we have heard unconfirmed rumors about other couples. We have barely played a dozen times online, less than half the sample needed to make it statistically valid.

But when we compared those 12 online games to the last 12 in-person games, we did improve slightly online. Then again, if we shifted the time period for 12 recent in-person games just slightly by a few days, we actually went down online. And if we shifted the test period for in-person games again by a few days, we wouldn’t even make it into the sample because our average was only 52%, below the 54% line where you’re considered too stupid to be able to cheat.

Our pattern for in-person and online play is basically consistent in that we’re inconsistent. Most of the time we do well, occupying one of the top three spots in the final standings of our club games, but then we always seem to have the odd clunker where we score in the low 40s, both in person and online.

During a recent BBO Casual session, we ran into a deal on which we could easily have been accused of cheating, but we weren’t – as in: we weren’t cheating, and we weren’t accused of it, either. It’s an interesting hand worthy of a Bridge Burglar blog entry in which we were the only pair to bid and make a Game in 4 Hearts (with an overtrick) even though they had more high-card points – 21 to 19.

Our East opponent who got shut out despite her 16-point hand will be my column’s anti-hero, Flustered Flo, while I’ll be her nemesis, Smug Sam, with the 1-point North hand that raised to Game and became dummy. Flo is playing with her regular West partner, Loyal Larry, while for this occasion Sam has pressed his wife, Timid Tina, into service because Shy Shem had to cancel at the last moment. Tina mostly plays social bridge with her friends; she doesn’t like to play with Sam because he takes it too seriously,

South Dealer; neither side vulnerable

6 5
J 9 8 7 2
10 5
9 7 6 5
West East
J 4 3 2 K 9 8 7
5 4 K
7 4 3 2 K J 9 8
K J 3 A Q 4 2
A Q 10
A Q 10 6 3
A Q 6
10 8

The Bidding:

South West North East
(Timid Tina) (Loyal Larry) (Smug Sam) (Flustered Flo)
1 Pass 4 All Pass

Opening lead: 3 of Diamonds

What do you do when you have a great 16-point hand but you don’t even get a chance to bid because your opponents shut you out?

If you’re Flustered Flo, you might try, without much success, to accuse them of cheating (just like Donald Trump did in the election that he lost).

Sitting East on the diagrammed hand played recently in an online BBO Casual game, Flo had a nice 16-point hand, but by the time the bid came around to her in the auction, her opponents, Smug Sam in the North seat and his wife Timid Tina as South, had already reached 4 Hearts.

Flo didn’t think she could stick her neck out and bid 4 Spades with just a four-card suit, and she didn’t want to double and make her partner Loyal Larry bid since he probably had less than 8 points because he hadn’t overcalled. And if he would leave the double in, she had no idea whether she could beat a 4 Hearts contract.

That was the trouble with those pre-emptive raises – you just don’t know what you can do against them and everything is a shot in the dark. So she just passed and hoped she and Larry would be able to beat the contract somehow.

Larry had no idea what to lead, so he led a Diamond. He wanted to lead one of his four-card suits, but not the Spades because he didn’t want to give Declarer a free finesse on his Jack. Not that the lead would have made much difference because in three out of the four suits he would be finessing his partner anyway, and the lead of a Club, the fourth suit, wasn’t obvious from a K-J-x- holding.

Flo put up her King in third seat and Tina took the trick with her Ace. With only three trumps out against her, Tina went for the drop of the King and was rewarded when it fell under her Ace. Then she crossed to dummy’s Jack to get the last trump out and took the successful finesse on the King of Spades. Next she cashed in the Aces of Spades and Diamonds, gave up two Club tricks and cross-ruffed the rest.

Tina and Sam had made their contract with an overtrick for a score of 450, which was tops on the board. No one else had bid Game.

“Wait just a minute,” said Flo during the subsequent Zoom meeting to discuss the hands sponsored by the club. “How did you dare raise to 4 Hearts with only one point in your hand, Sam? I noticed you’re not playing with Shy Shem or Robbing Roy today, but with your wife Tina. I don’t know what’s going on, but you’re both home, in the same location. You could be talking to each other unbeknownst to us. Did she tell you that she had an 18-point hand and that it was safe to go to 4 Hearts?”

“Whoa, Flo,” said Sam. “Be careful before you accuse anyone of cheating, least of all my sainted wife Tina, who agreed to play and fill in only because at the last minute Shy Shem got an appointment for a COVID test; he had come into contact with someone who might have been exposed.”

“I’m fine with Tina,” said Flo. “She’s a very honorable woman. I know her from church, but I’m not sure I can trust you. And I did read that article that married partners are more likely to cheat because they have more opportunities.”

“I read the same article and they tracked established husband-and-wife partners who’ve played 25 times online and in-person,” said Sam. “You know Tina and I never play together.

“And as for my bidding,” added Sam, smug as always, “whenever my partner opens with a major and I have five cards in that suit with a weak hand, I immediately raise to Game in 4. It can’t be a bad bid. It shuts you guys out and makes it very difficult for you to come in. If my partner goes down by one or two tricks and gives you guys 100 points or so, that’ll probably be a good result because surely you had something better. And if my partner gets lucky and makes it, it was a great bid. So I can’t lose.”

“I guess I’m glad to hear you’re not a cheating spouse,” said Flo.

“So is Tina,” said Sam.

Speak Your Mind