Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Notes on a Scandal

This is my first report about the German Coughing Scandal - replaced by a longer piece for the SBU news available here.

I was very surprised when someone told me that they'd seen a story about Bridge in a newspaper. Of course, it was the cheating scandal, where the German Senior Pair of Michael Elinescu and Entscho Wladow have had their gold medals from last year's world championship removed, for coughing to each other to give special signals. They have also been banned from World Bridge Federation (WBF) events for life as a pair, and for ten years individually.

The German team. Wladow then Elinescu are on the far left.

I've been looking into this. It was an impressive investigation by the WBF, and I am satisfied the German pair are guilty.

Here's a summary of their coughing code. There's two opportunities to cough. Firstly, you can cough once you've got your cards and before the auction starts to show a void or singleton, using this code:

1 cough Club shortage
2 coughs Diamond shortage
3 coughs Heart shortage
4 coughs Spade shortage

Secondly, just before your partner makes the opening lead you can cough to indicate which suit you want lead, with the same code as before.

Apparently, there's long been a suspicion of this German pair. They are known to be not especially ethical, and have in the past for example just said they "can't remember" to defend themselves in tricky situations. They were investigated in 2008 and 2009 with no conclusion. The USA team wanted them monitored for this final, but the WBF refused. So one of the USA team, Eddie Wold, took it upon himself to discreetly note down on his scorecard when the coughs occurred, so he could later match this up with the hands they had. After showing this evidence to the WBF, they agreed to install video cameras (which happens often anyway, so isn't too suspicious) for the next two segments of the final. Based on this, they've been convicted, in a hearing which just happened in the USA.

Here's all the relevant links I've found, if you want to find out more:

  • Summary from The Telegraph Newspaper here.
  • Initial Request from USA for this pair to be investigated, including Spreadsheet matching coughs to hands here.
  • Full technical report of the WBF hearing here.
  • Video feed of the final here.
  • Rebuttal from German Bridge Union here.
  • Article from a few years ago subtly implying the pair is up to something here.

The initial request from the USA also has several further allegations, suggesting a more complicated cheating code involving how they pick up their cards. The rebuttal from the Germans is interesting, and points out that sometimes the coughs don't match the alleged code. I watched a bit of the video myself. It makes for very dull viewing, and as you can't actually see the cards you can't work out if the coughs are matching or not. I did notice one bit though where Elinescu is on lead and Wladow doesn't cough at all.

One things for sure - there'll be plenty of gags next time someone accidentally coughs at the bridge club!

Read my full report here.


  1. I'm sure that there will be an appeal. Hopefully this will give the WBF the opportunity to make the process appear fairer and hold it at a time when the defendants can appear and remove Americans from the disciplinary committee.

    Whatever the verdict it is important for justice to be seen to be done.

    At the moment it is also unclear what will happen to the Bali result. The gold medal certainly has not been given to the USA II team at this point.

  2. Agreed that the WBF could have done better in not having the hearing in America, with some Americans on the disciplinary committee. I don't think they're going to be biased, but better to remove any suspicion and have it on neutral ground.

    As you say it's only the German pair that are involved, at the moment the team result stands. Personally, I would say that if members of your team are found guilty of cheating the whole team should forfeit its position, as the team as a whole has benefitted from cheating.

  3. If the charge stands then it is inconceivable that you would not move everyone up. However this has not always been done and the ACBL themselves has just disqualified winners when cheating has been proved without elevating the second-placed team.

    Also the Tour de France has removed Armstrong's titles but has not elevated the second-placed riders, but probably because most of them were probably cheating too.