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Italy's victory in the recent World Championship in Buenos Aires, its seventh world title in a row, was overshadowed by the sorry news on the final day of the tournament that Great Britain's leading pair, Terence Reese and Boris Schapiro, had been accused of cheating. Although both Reese and Schapiro have emphatically denied the charges, British Captain Ralph Swimer, on hearing the evidence, conceded his team's matches against Argentina and the U.S.
My part in the drama in Buenos Aires began on Friday afternoon, May 21, when B. Jay Becker, a member of my team, told me that he had strong reason to believe that the leading British pair, Terence Reese and Boris Schapiro, were cheating. Becker had become suspicious of the British pair early in the week and had spoken about the matter to his partner, Dorothy Hayden, and to Alan Truscott of The New York Times.
Britain had just started the day's play against Italy, and fortunately Reese and Schapiro were in the pit, a playing area surrounded by a temporary grandstand. It was the only spot where the players could be seen in action. The other three tables of play were closed to the public.
After I had watched a few deals I was convinced that Reese and Schapiro were "playing piano," using a scale of four notes. On every deal they would put one, two, three or four fingers firmly behind their cards, in full view of each other.
As captain of the U.S. team, I clearly had to report these facts to Robin MacNab and Waldemar von Zedtwitz, president and president emeritus of the American Contract Bridge League. Both men watched Reese and Schapiro play and observed the finger signals in action.
On a series of five deals I noted on the back of a scorecard the number of fingers shown by each player. Later I found that Mrs. Hayden had kept a similar record, which covered almost all the deals in the session of play. Subsequently this record proved to be of great significance, although at the time we had no idea what these figures could mean.
During the second afternoon session Reese and Schapiro did not play together, but that night they did, not in the pit but in one of the closed rooms. Von Zedtwitz had the right to enter the closed rooms, and again he watched the signals in operation.
At 9 a.m. the following morning I had a call from Truscott, who told me that the code had been broken, and half an hour later he was in my room with a full explanation. At 4 a.m. he had gone to an all-night restaurant with Becker and Mrs. Hayden, and together they had compared the finger movements as noted by Mrs. Hayden with the official records of the deals being played at the time.
The key to the code was the heart suit. Whenever a player held one heart, one finger was showing. When he held two hearts, two fingers were showing, and similarly with three and four hearts. Two fingers spread meant five hearts, three fingers spread indicated six, and so on.