Mark Blumenthal

Cheating Caught

In 1971 a Washington pair started doing very well. One of the two, Henry Itkin, was an early partner of Steve Robinson and was supposedly pretty good. The other, Kenny Rhodes, was not as strong a player. Their results were consistently fantastic. People were sure they were cheating. Steve and Peggy Parker played with them in some teams. Peggy started keeping a record of their results with their bidding.  As she was a friend of theirs Peggy was able to kibitz them and record some amazing sequences.

When this was happening friend of mine, Greg Roberts, talked me into driving with him to Cincinnati to play with him for the last few days. I heard Itkin and Rhodes were going to be there for the last two days. I went to the chief tournament director, John Hamilton, and told him a pair was going to show up who have a 450 (on a 325 average) on Saturday. He had people watching them, but they couldn’t see anything. Sure enough, they won the event.  As Henry and Kenny didn’t know anybody else there, they asked Greg and me to play with them in the Swiss team. I accepted thinking I might see something in their results.  We didn’t win or come in second, but the only mistake they had committed I could see was they had played two hearts in a five-two fit which went down instead of playing one no trump which made. Even that shouldn’t be classified as an error. They were playing forcing no trump and looking at the two hands it was difficult to judge which was the better contract.
The next weekend was a Washington sectional.  During the tournament Steve Robinson figured out what they were doing. I could explain it, but that doesn’t seem wise.  I’ll just mention that usually Kenny signaled because Henry was much better and quicker at receiving.  Kenny could ask about specific holdings in certain suits.  We told the chief director, Jerry Machlin, what they were doing. From what I remember once they knew the system some of the directors could tell what Kenny’s hand had.
 Jerry had a committee meet on Sunday night to decide what the penalty should be. Given we knew their system and had many hand records, Henry and Kenny confessed. We decided on a lifetime ban with a review after five years. Henry did appeal and play afterward when he could, but he was not that good anymore and eventually dropped out of bridge. I don’t think Kenny even tried to return. .


LindaMay 7th, 2009 at 3:07 pm

I can never understand why people cheat in a situation like you describe. Perhaps if your living depends on it you might be driven to it. But what is the point of cheating when you are just playing to enjoy yourself. It seems to defeat the whole purpose of the challenge of the game. Well I suppose there might be a challenge in trying to invent a foolproof method like devising the perfect crime.

Judy Kay-WolffMay 7th, 2009 at 6:48 pm


You missed the “kicker” which you probably did not know about. Under interrogation, one (or both) stated they were doing an undercover story on cheating for The Bridge World Magazine. I recall Edgar laughing as he related the story — as it was news to him!

Mark BlumenthalMay 8th, 2009 at 2:08 am

Linda – Supposedly Henry did it because he felt he was a better bridge player than those doing well, yet he wasn’t winning. By showing he could win he raised his sense of self esteem. I think Kenny didn’t give a damn how he won.

Mark BlumenthalMay 8th, 2009 at 2:37 am

Judy – I was very involved and am still in contact with Steve Parker. I was a member of the committee and don’t remember their claiming that. When we showed our evidence I don’t remember their offering any defense. Somehow that myth must have originated well after the fact.

Judy Kay-WolffMay 20th, 2009 at 7:06 pm

Mark — “Myth or no myth” — I remember hearing it from Edgar in Norman’s company.

Walt WalvickNovember 16th, 2009 at 8:23 pm

I remember the night well, particularly how many of the “insiders” were focused more on the drama that was unfolding than on playing bridge — which helps to explain how Mark and I rolled up a 240 or so and won the event going away.

Small consolation, however, for the black mark on bridge, the self-inflicted damage suffered by Henry and Kenny, and the disappointment of their friends, myself included. BTW, Kenny has played occasionally since his reinstatement.

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