Barnet Shenkin

Scandal in Buenos aires 3 by Barnet Shenkin prev/next

The fund for the defense, was assisted by Tim Holland,one of the owners of Crockfords a famous London card club.   The defense was represented by Leonard Caplan, a Queens Counsel  with an excellent track record.

Simon Goldblatt was the lawyer in charge of proving the case. Over the long course of the tribunal,five witnesses appeared for the prosecution.  The current Chairman of the BBL,Geoffrey Butler and the Captain of the British team Ralph Swimer were joined over time by Becker , Hayden ,and Alan Truscott who all flew in from USA. Their testimony was based on direct observation.

For the defense, two British  players testified .Jeremy Flint was a very close friend and bridge partner of Terence Reese, and Kenneth Konstam also a highly successful player.The chief tournament director of France, Irene Bajos de Heredia  was joined by Harold Franklin, the chief tournament director of the English Bridge Union. I knew Harold Franklin well . He was a close friend of my father  and later on invited me to USA to play a match in 1976 for the Redcoats v the Patriots in Philadelphia for the Bicentennial celebrations.

Jaime Ortiz Patino a Swiss player who later became President of the World Bridge Federation aided the defense along with a  statistician ,Eric Figgis . Surprisingly, the deputy captain of the USA team Sammy Kehela  sided with the defense. Originally he thought after his own observation, that they were exchanging signals but he later changed his mind. Kehela , later became a leading Canadian international player and along with Eric Murray, were the most famous bridge partnership in Canada’s history. Kehela, by his own admission since the start of his playing days had put Terence Reese on a pedestal, and viewed him as perhaps the world’s best ever bridge player .

 The witnesses for the prosecution all confirmed that their observation confirmed the pattern that the number of hearts in Reese and Schapiro’s  hand coincided with the code of the fingers displayed on the back of the playing cards.

A bombshell was dropped by Ralph Swimer , who ,when examined ,stated that Schapiro had confessed to him during a walk after the hearing in Buenos Aires. He quoted that Schapiro had said to him “ That evil man made me do it” because they would not play “the little major “ system.When cross examined the defense suggested this story as well as being untrue had just been made up on the spur of the moment to aid his testimony.  Remarkably, he produced an unopened letter written to himself from Buenos Aires concerning Schapiro’s confession. He had written it he said while events were clear in his mind and in case something happened to him before returning to London. The defense kept the letter out of testimony by accepting the fact that the story had not been just recently fabricated .This letter was in fact opened and read at a later libel case .It may be hard for the reader to appreciate the importance of the meaning of these events to the people concerned and how it would changes lives of the participants for ever. It was like the Watergate of the Bridge World.It is not clear why Ralph Swimer did not produce this unopened letter earlier . One theory is that , were it true ,Schapiro threatened suicide and he did not want that responsibility on his hands.

On August 9th 1966,the Council of the British Bridge League met to consider the Foster Report . From “Story of an Accusation “ Terence Reese” 1966 ,”We (Reese and Schapiro) took chairs at the end of the table facing Louis Shenkin, (my father) ,the Scottish  delegate who had taken over the chair for this enquiry.He said he would read over the following statement he would be giving to the press”

The joint report by Sir John Foster  and Lord Bourne into certain allegations of cheating at the World Championships in 1965 made against Messrs Reese and Schapiro was received by the council today.After full discussion the arguments and recommendations by Sir John Foster and Lord Bourne,the finding in the report that Messrs Reese and Schapiro were not guilty of cheating was accepted .A copy of the report was sent to the WBF.
The council wishes to express its sincere thanks to Sir John Foster and Lord Bourne for having conducted the inquiry as a public duty ,and without fee,and to the assesors and all witnesses who voluntarily attended to give evidence at the enquiry.”

Reese then asked “As you know, during the past year, we have suffered  a great deal of damaging publicity,surely we are entitled to know the contents of the report?There may be some aspect of it that could be of some value to us. He then writes, Shenkin answered”We have considered that aspect of the matter ,but we have decided not to publish the report”   Then, Shenkin read the statement to the reporters.

 The contents of the report were kept confidential in the UK for a long time although it did manage to cross the Atlantic and was published in Jan 1967 in the ACBL bulletin.

The reader may ask himself, how the report in the face of strong evidence could acquit. Firstly, the feeling in London was that the enquiry in Buenos Aires was hurried, and the evidence inadequate. Secondly , the main reason was that in examination of the hands ,it was felt there was no conclusive evidence, that any advantages were being gained and taken. When a pair exchanges illegal information, it is customary to find clear examples of these signals being  used. While the prosecution argued that there were many such instances, the defense refuted these arguments with expert witnesses.
Sir John decided not to accept the testimony of the confession ,from the British Captain Ralph Swimer.The defense had said their relationship was one of acrimony and Schapiro would never have chosen to confess to him. Alan Truscott disputes this point in his book. Another two reasons were given. One was that Swimer kept this confession a secret and never told anybody at the time.The third is the weak reason given for apparently agreeing to signal – not playing the"Little Major". Nobody accepts that. The defense contend it obviously would never have been the case, and the prosecution look at this as a smokescreen put up by Schapiro to cover up further transgressions.

Contained within the Foster report was the following statement, “the effect of a finding of cheating is just as serious  for  those accused as a finding of guilt of a crime. The standard of proof required in a criminal court to return a verdict should be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt..We think that the same standard should be applied here and that the indirect or technical evidence raises such a doubt”.
The report concludes “We therefore think that the direct evidence as to the exchange of finger signals,strong s it is,cannot be accepted by us because of the reasonable doubt which we feel on these two grounds”
The official verdict was not guilty in the UK but many had their doubts ,my late father amongst them.Here ,he wrestles with the text of the press announcement. (A)

TheWBF never accepted the conclusion of the Foster report and the British Bridge League. My father had to write them, to see if and when, they would accept Reese and Schapiro as representatives of a  British team. (B)They would not, so the British Bridge League were at odds with the WBF.In 1968 ,in protest Britain refused to send a team to the Olympiad in Deauville. In 1970 the WBF decided finally to allow Reese back to play in World Bridge Federation events but not together. Reese played in Stockholm in the World Pairs with another partner.

 Inside Britain the trials for the team was in disarray, with Reese now playing with Flint  refusing to play against his accuser, Swimer. The BBL allowed a special situation, so  they would not have to play across the table with each other, but only their teammates. This was not satisfactory to Reese and Flint, and they along with two other pairs withdrew in protest from the British trials. I remember the flurry of calls to my father at our home in Glasgow.
In addition there was a libel action taken by Ralph Swimer against one of Rees and Schapiro’s chief supporters, Rixie Markus. We will look at that later.

Very promptly Reese’s book appeared on the scene.  “Story of an accusation was published in 1966. A well written book it gives his side of the story with logical explanations.  Terence Reese was a brilliant writer so innocent or guilty you would expect no less. Later, there  appeared Alan Truscott’s book, The Great Bridge Scandal. This was a large hard backed book.  The book not only dealt with Buenos Aires but other instances in bridge and in life where aspersions were cast by various people against the characters of both Reese and Schapiro. This book was banned in Great Britain. I remember the mischievous look on my father’s face as he sent to the post office to get his copy mailed from USA. A banned book ,amazing,the only book I ever heard of banned was “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and it was sneaked about the school corridors.

In fact neither Reese nor Schapiro represented Great Britain as a player in International team competition again. However in 1976 Reese was chosen as non playing captain of the British team for the Olympiad in Monte Carlo.His credentials were was approved by the WBF. A very young  Michael Rosenberg (21) and myself (25) led those trials until the very last board before losing out and missing our spot on the team. We were the reserve pair. I went to watch and have a holiday.The British team shot off with a big lead but then started to change their partnerships .  Flint scheduled to play with Rose sometimes played with Sheehan and Rose sometimes played with Sheehan. The upshot was that the team finished third . We will never know if they would have won without that or how they would have done if we had made the team. Of course it was Reese’s ultimate decision to allow the partner swapping.  

  To be continued     --                     the Great Bridge Scandal  Alan Truscott is available from me at $21-95 plus Post and packing . A signed copy (by Sir John Foster and Lord Bourne) of the original 11 page Foster Report can be added for   $ 10.  email
To be continued
In part 4 we will look at the libel case and   a brand new revelation. Also copies of some letters of that time and a sample of a contentious han