the 10-day world championship bridge match with Italy last January, Tobias
Stone of the American team lost his temper, none too stable in any event,
protested, and set in motion a chain of circumstances that led to his being
censured by the American Contract Bridge League and banned from international
play for a year. Last week he sued the league to have the censure—in itself
unprecedented—removed by court action.
About all that
has been known of what happened in Italy is that the American team was
decisively beaten. Long dominant in world bridge, the U.S. team was first
crushed by the Italians two years ago, when they appeared in New York with an
entirely new bidding system, passing in odd situations and suddenly stopping
with bidding in full swing. The suave and diplomatic Italians, personally
popular and praised by Bridge Master Charles Goren as "fine sportsmen and
magnificent players," were also noted to be doing a lot of staring at each
other—long, soulful looks that bothered some players and spectators.
In Italy this
year, play started in the Casino at Como, with the players in the open room in
a soundproof booth, the bidding and the hands shown on a large board outside
for the benefit of spectators. (The same hands were played in the closed room,
with the Italian team holding the cards the Americans had held in the open
room, as in ordinary duplicate bridge, and scoring was by international match
points, roughly one for every 100 bridge points.)
After five days
the match was moved to Campione, where spectators crowded around the table in
the open room. The Americans were told not to show their hands to the audience.
Through an oversight, the Italians were not warned, and on the first hand, as
is customary in playing before a gallery, held their cards over their heads so
the spectators could see them and follow the bidding.
next is in dispute. The New York Times at the time reported that Stone
protested. "Protested nothing!" said a bridge official. "Toby
screamed!" In another hassle, Stone said to the Italian player Guglielmo
Siniscalco, "Stop staring at your partner!"
accusing me of cheating?" asked Signor Siniscalco.
said Stone. "It makes me uncomfortable."
The Italian team,
winners of the 164-hands match by 211 to 174 points, charged Stone with
discourtesy to an opponent. Back in the U.S. the Bridge League barred Stone for
a year for discourtesy, but cleared him of a second complaint that he had
accused the Italians of cheating. Bridge experts say the barring is
unnecessary—the Italians wouldn't play against a team of which Stone was a
They also say
that the conflict dramatizes the different ethical climate of European and
American bridge. Betting is heavy during European tournaments and all but
unknown, or for small stakes, in American matches. There is no way to codify
unethical practices in bridge. It is unethical, for instance, to hesitate on
playing a singleton, just as it is to deliberate too long on certain no-trump
bids or to go through elaborate facial grimaces, indicating profound
uncertainty, whose net result in certain bidding and playing situations can
only be to acquaint one's partner of the nature of the cards held. But if any
protest is entered, the dispute boils down to something as nebulous as a
fleeting expression. Hence bridge officials in the United Stated hold that the
primary aim is to maintain an ethical climate, rather than legislate against
concrete acts. They want to avoid the money-saturated, gambling-tense
environment of much European tournament play, where, in recent years, both the
Italian and the French teams have fired top bridge stars for cheating. American
bridge experts also tried to soothe international friction diplomatically.
Charles Goren went over the boards (each dealt hand is called a board and each
board is recorded) "with a fine tooth comb," could not find a shred of
evidence of cheating by the Italian players, called the very idea
"preposterous." As for the staring Stone complained about, Goren said:
"Heck, Americans are the greatest starers in the world."