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. .

Bridge Tip # 22

Look to balance when the opponents seem to have found a good fit. Be reluctant to do so when they do not seem to have one. When the opponents have bid one heart  which is raised to two hearts and passed around to you it is almost automatic to take some action unless you have less than three spades which may make balancing difficult. When the opponents have at least eight cards in a suit it is  likely you will have one also plus the they are going to be more inclined to take the push knowing they have some safety.  If your opponents are playing five card majors and the auction goes one heart  to your  right, pass by you, one spade  to your left, pass by you,   two diamonds to your right followed by two hearts  to your left which is  passed around to you the opponents probably have a five – two fit. If they don’t have a good fit the   the chances are likely you don’t have one  also. With a roughly equal balance of the high cards the opponents may  be reluctant to bid one more and may be inclined double you. Certainly in matchpoints if aggressive opponents  they know they don’t have a good fit they will be more apt to double than if they know they lack an eight card or more  fit.

Bridge Tip # 21

Most experts frequently play many doubles for takeout or cooperative even though they may not seem to be so logically. Assume the bidding goes one club   by RHO and you have

3, AQ8, AK10865, KJ7. You can’t double with a singleton spade and mediocre heart support so you should  bid one diamond. Assume TLHO now  bids one spade,  your partner passes and it goes two spades. Even though there is only one unbid suit you should double. This shows a very good hand and at least three hearts. Your partner is invited to bid hearts with good length or go back to diamonds with at least two. Of course, with length in spades and no liking for either red suit partner may pass and convert the double to penalties. You have good defense, but your defeating the contract figures to be close. This is about the worst hand you would have. Ideally you would have the  the heart king instead of the queen of hearts.


Peggy, Steve and the Giant Crab

Steve and  Peggy Parker once played in a local Washington  club game when they had a contest with two other pairs to see which could have the lowest score. They had fairly strict rules which banned bidding too high or doubling the opponents. Imagine their consternation when a pair of their  the opponents got to six hearts holding AQ10xxx opposite his partner’s void in trumps.   In addition Peggy had Kjxxx of hearts. She managed to ruff Steve’s winning ace with the king of trumps and was then  able to duck declarer’s hearts throughout.  When the hand was over,   the declarer taking  out a handkerchief and,wiping his brow , said, “Whew, I never thought I’d make that, partner.”
One morning Walvick  borrowed  Steve’s car. There were always a lot of people in Steve and Peggy’s apartment in the evening.  When Steve finally got home from work  Peggy had   everybody  face her in a line. She then asked veryone who had a car that was not wrecked by Walt to step forward. As they all  stepped forward. She looked at Steve and said,  “Not so fast, Steve.” .  Walvick had wrecked Steve’s car.
In the sixties Steve and Peggy had two lines on their phone and there was no caller ID. For some reason, noted bridge writer, Fred Karpin, only   he had their second number. When that line rang they would always answer, “Hello, Fred.” I don’t know if he ever figured out how they always   knew he was the caller without ever making a mistake.    

Bridge Tip # 20

You should not double when you know  your opponents are going to get a very bad break in their chosen trump suit unless you are sure they have no better spot. Obviously, this may be hard to judge even for a world class player. In the 1974 Bermuda Bowl, Pietro Forquet, member of the famed Italian Blue Team and and often  world champion, held A4,Q1097575, 86, J1063 and heard the bidding go one spade  to his right, one no trump (forcing) pass by his partner, two hearts  to his right, pass by him and four hearts to his right, passed around to him decided to double. His LHO then bid four spades which was   passed around to him. Given that his LHO had not shown a strong hand he doubled this also as he felt he had at least three tricks in his hand alone.  The full hand:




J 7 6
J 8 3 2
K Q J 2
A 8
West East
10 9 3  10 9 3 
Q 10 9 7 5
A 10 9 5 3 8 6      
Q 7 5 4 2  J 10 6 3 
K Q 8 5 2
A K 6 4
7 4
K 9
I was South and Bob Goldman was North. Obviously, Bob bid a forcing  one no trump planning to make a limit raise in spades. When I rebid hearts it was automatic for him to raise to four hearts. He had the prescesence  of mind to work out what was happening and to  run to four spades when we were doubled the first time  Knowing how hearts were breaking the hand was easy for me to play. At the other table Benito Garozzo went down two in four hearts. The defenders on our team  at the other table,  Eric Murray and Sammy Kehela, passed throughout.

Peggy and Bit of the Giant Crab

I was going through some of my old papers the other day and found a letter that Peggy had sent me some time in the eighties. Since she won what is now  called the Rockwell Mixed Pairs in 1969 and 1976, both with Steve Parker and the mixed teams in Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Spain with Steve, Bob Lipsitz, Steve Robinson and Jo Morse it seems I should include her here. She was born in 1940 and passed away in 2003. Including her maiden name she would be called Peggy Bennett Carino Harrison Ekel Parker Lipsitz Reich. Peggy once told me, ” at least in Washington (DC) we get married eventually.”
 I don’t know anything about her first husband.  I didn’t  know Dick Harrison either. He supposedly was a very good bridge player and  had left left her and died before they could divorce. I did know Tommy Ekel slightly. He was a  decent bridge player, and I think he was the last of her husbands who was not younger than she was. I have played with Steve Parker a lot. Bob Lipsitz was my regular partner on the Romex team and I played with Lou Reich a few times.
I first got to know her  when Walvick arranged for us to share a room with Steve  and Peggy during the 1967 nationals in Montreal. A  good thing about Peggy was that she always laughed at my jokes. The four of us would stay up late talking about hands. My biggest laugh seems to have been a ‘you had to be there’, but I’ll include it here. Walvick had been drinking. He said, ” Mark, you can’t keep telling people how bad I am.”
I replied, “Gee, Walt, I didn’t know it was a secret.”  With that Peggy, who had a very infectious and  loud laugh, as well as Steve burst out in peals of laughter. Walt couldn’t say anything even if he could have thought of an appropriate retort.      

Bridge Tip # 19

When overcalling you may be a little lighter if you cause the maximum disruption to your opponents’ auction. Say  you have AJ9753, 86, KJ7, 973. And your RHO opens one club, overcall one spade. Even if  ther opponents play negative doubles they will have to make at a decision at a higher level. It will be especially disrupting if your partner can raise to two spades or even three spades if you play preemptive jump raises of overcalls as I recommend. If your RHO opened opens one heart I would not overcall if I were vulnerable. Your bid does not really interfere the opponents’ auction, and you have a marginal suit. Again, if your RHO opens one club and you have 973, 86, AJ9753, KJ7. I would not overcall with one diamond. You are not disrupting the opponents’ exchange of information but only giving them knowledge of your hand which could be important if they win the auction. If your partner has a good hand. she may act or either of you may balalance if the bidding ends at a low level. My minimum for overcalling one diamond over club would be something like , K3, 742, AKJ106, 642. You are ensuring your partner leads what seems to be the correct suit if the opponents win the contract in no trump or even a suit

A Sure Thing?

In the mid or late sixties a friend of mine who regularly played at Al Roth’s club, the Mayfair, told me a story. At the time I assumed the hand it had played very recently. When I started this blog   wrote another friend, Danny Gerstman, that   I was going to put the hand in the blog I had started.

Danny replied that, ” ;this story,which I sincerely doubt was actually played by Roth, is so old that everyone has heard it.” I will agree that the story may be old, but I’m sure not that  everyone has heard it.  I don’t remember hearing it again  or ever seeing it in print so I will include it here and write it up here as I remember it being told to me.

Al had AKQ10xxx of hearts and a very   a very good hand. His partner also had a good hand. The Mayfair was a rubber bridge club meaning there were kibitzers and people not playing there. When the bidding started to get high word got around so  all those in the club who were not otherwise   occupied crowded around to watch.   Al and his  partner bid up to seven no trump. Al’s partner had a singleton heart. If the suit broke three-two as it figured to do two thirds of the time   or the jack were singleton, the slam was cold.     Al won the opening lead in dummy and led a heart When RHO followed with a   small heart he played the ten! When his LHO played small he was able to   claim. He did  reasoning was that once the contract was reached all his   kibitzers would have left since the hand was essentially over.   When  everybody remained watching  after the slam was reached.  hearts must have not broken as expected. The kibitzers were waiting  to see him go down.

Bridge Tip # 18

If  your partner has overcalled,  a new suit by you is not forcing. It  merely shows you would rather play in your suit as opposed to partner’s  or the opponents’. A  jump shift by you should be forcing and show a good.suit. A bid of no trump  over  your partner’s overcall implies no good  fit. With a fit you should cue bid first.  Of course, if there is heated  competition making these distinctions may not be  possible.  Given that you have the cue bid available to show strength  and probably at least a mild   fit in partner’s suit it seems logical to play a jump raise of that suit as preemptive. In rare cases you may cue bid without a fit if you have such a good hand you simply want to find the best spot for a game or even  slam.

Bernie Chazen – revised

I guess I should write something about Bernie Chazen. I knew him pretty well, but  I had not been in contact with him  for quite a while. In 1969 when I first was in Toronto, I  played on a team with Dick Fleischmann, Bob Lipsitz, Bernie and Don Faskow. Except for Faskow all of us were about the same age. It now seems amazing that all four of us were two or three years shy of thirty. Not only that, soon the baby boomers led by Alan Sontag and Peter Weichsel were about to come on the scene, and they were a few years younger than we were.

We won, but what I remember about that event is Dick, who was sitting out the first session, went to a Chinese restaurant I think was called Tsey Wu though I have no idea of the correct spelling. Upon discovering their egg rolls were very inexpensive, though small, he bought a huge bag of them and brought them back to the tournament. Seeing he had brought more than we could eat our team started giving them to our opponents and the directors. Maybe that’s why we won. Soon after this Bernie started to play with Paul Heitner and other New York experts. Gloria Rabinowitz and I won a team with them in Easton, Pa. and I won another sectional team with him as a teammate the in New Jersey same year.  As he came from Fort Lee, New Jersey which is just to the west of New York City, he was considered a New York City player.

Many of the players from New York City around our age had nicknames, and Bernie seemed fascinated by them. Of those I remember Heitner was called the Whale, Norm Kurlander was the Ant and John Solodar was known as the Hopper. Bernie decided I should have a nickname also. Since I had just grown a beard, he called me the Rabbi.

Around that time I told either Bernie or John I was thinking of moving to New York City. They put my name on their New York City intercity team. As New York City is pretty close to Philadelphia, I agreed to play on it when I could so the team included a sponsor, Bernie, the Ant, the Hopper and the Rabbi.

One of my friends just told me a story about Bernie I had never heard. Some time in the seventies he was either in the south or west of the U.S.A. and was asked how many masterpoints he had. He gave the number and added, “Those are east coast points” which implied those gained from that area were a lot harder to obtain hence they were more valuable.

I just remembered a story about Bernie. During the initial team of which  I wrote a furrier from Toronto,named Harry Creed, kept asking Bernie questions about hands. Harry was not very good and what he  asked generally was pretty stupid so Bernie charged him a fee per question.  Even though the charge per question was something  only something like twenty five cents it ventually caused Harry to eventually stop. It could be that  Harry  ran out of change!