Barnet Shenkin

Scandal at Buenos Aires 1965 (part 2) by Barnet Shenkin prev/next

So, Becker chose to ask two people Alan Truscott, the journalist for the New York Times and John Gerber, the captain of the US team to observe Reese and Schapiro in action. When the observers thought signals were being transmitted, they then asked the British captain, Ralph Swimer and Geoffrey Butler who was Chairman of the British Bridge League to observe. It was directly as a result of this matter that my father Louis was later appointed as Chairman of the British Bridge League after Butler had stepped down. At first, Alan Truscott did not believe the accusations, but after observing the pair in action formed a new opinion that they were exchanging signals and then tried to break the code. He worked with Dorothy Hayden, the partner of Becker and together they decided that the finger signals being transmitted corresponded to the number of hearts being held in the hand of Reese and Schapiro.

It seems that three of the observers Truscott, Swimer, and Gerber, the US captain were absolutely convinced that the pair were cheating, while Butler who denied technical expertise did note fingers, corresponding to the apparent code on most of the hands.

The World Bridge Federation called a meeting and summoned Reese and Schapiro.the result was a statement made to the players involved. The World Bridge Federation basically found the pair guilty. Swimer, the British captain suspended them from play and forfeited the match to Argentina and will forfeit the match to the United States.

However the official WBF statement released to the press was as follows. ”Certain irregularities have been reported, the Appeals Committee fully investigated the matter and later convened a meeting of the Executive Committee of the World Bridge Federation. The captain of the British team was present.”. As a result of this meeting the Captain of the British squad decided to play only K Konstam, M. Harrison-Gray, A. Rose and J. Flint in the remaining sessions and very sportingly conceded he matches with the United States and Argentina. A report of the matter will be sent to the British Bridge League. “. There was no reference to finger signals.

Italy won the World Championship again- the Blue Team were invincible. The 1965 World Championship was over but the Reese– Schapiro affair was not, it was just beginning.

The British Bridge League decided not accept the verdict of guilty. Their leading players had been accused. In the meantime Geoffrey Butler could no longer assume his role of Chairman.

My father Louis took over as acting Chairman, he was officially appointed later on and the committee decided to appoint Sir John Foster, a Queen’s Counsel and a Member of Parliament to look into the matter. The matter took a remarkable fifteen months to resolve.

Most bridge players in UK approved of the idea to set up the tribunal. It seemed in accordance with British justice. Sir John was aided by  General Lord Bourne. Of the two only Sir John played bridge. However in any trial you would not think the Judge needs to be an expert on the topic to be able to give a fair verdict.

The enquiry had an advantage over the original WBF one in that there was no time pressure for a quick verdict. The disadvantages were time had passed, memories were not so fresh and direct witnesses were not so numerous.

The enquiry was held in private. In order to prove guilt the prosecution were required to do so without a reasonable doubt. That is the standard of Justice in England. In Scotland a judge can find a verdict of “Not Proven” as an alternative to guilty or not guilty. Sir John made clear that that was not an option.

To be continued...