I have been approached by several authors wanting to write the story of the German Coughing Doctors. I am the one person involved in all aspects of the scandal from start to finish. For a period of time, I was unable to tell the story until now because there were people involved in the behind the scenes of the scandal that are WBF staff and officials which were key to outing the Germans. One of these people have now passed and the others have given me permission to write about their involvement. It is now one year after the Dallas Hearing which found the Germans to be cheating and two and a half years after the Championships. It is time to tell the story to honor these gentlemen that were instrumental in breaking the WBF's silence when it comes to cheaters. It was not easy. It took a village. But we got it done!
The year. 2013. The event. D'orsi Senior Bowl, first presented in 2009, was named for Ernesto D'Orsi who was Past President of the WBF, Member of the Committee of Honour and Member of the WBF Executive Council. I first meant Ernesto in 2009 when his country was hosting the World Champions and I was the NPC of the Nickell Team in the Bermuda Bowl. Our team won that year, so it was a particularly fun World Championship. One of my duties as NPC is to make sure my players have everything they need to perform their best at the bridge table. This may be arranging a piano, a bullet proof car, blue label, a certain type of nut or chocolate...the list goes on. Ernesto made arrangements for everything I requested...event the bullet proof car! From that tournament on, he and I became close ~ sort of in a grandfatherly way. I always felt like I had a friend at the World Championships no matter what team I NPC. Ernesto left this world in 2015 and it was a sad day for everyone who knew him. I give you this background because the German Cheating Scandal was very political and if it were not for my friendship with Ernesto and the Tournament Manager Maurizio Di Sacco, I seriously do not think that the German Doctors would have been brought to justice.
As Tournament Manager, Maurizio is the person who makes the World Championship happen. As NPC, I had many occasions to see Maurizio in action at the NPC Meetings, Appeal Hearings, organizing the set up and take down, and putting out the fires throughout the two week tournament. Anyone who knows Maurizio will tell you that he is an honest and trustworthy individual who loves the game of bridge and he will do whatever it takes to clean up the game.
As NPC, a lot of my work is done before the Championships begin. There are 22 teams in the D’orsi Bowl including two USA teams. There is a 7 day round robin (three matches a day) in which 8 team qualify for the knockout stage. It is my job to collect information on our opponents including their convention cards, types of personalities, etc. Once I have analyzed and summarized the opponents’ conventions, I pull together defenses to any conventions we might not be used to competing against. And let me tell you, even in the seniors events there are some crazy agreements out there! Since we play all 21 teams in the round robin, I create a guestimate of the number of imps we “should” get from each team. I also highlight teams in red that are “dangerous” which means that their talents don’t match their results. Of course, the German team was highlighted in red, underlined in yellow and circled in purple! You see, there has been whispers for almost 30 years about his pair but no one wanted to take them on. Well, it was unlucky for them that it was my team they meant in the finals!
During the tournament, I make sure my players are in the best mental and physical state to play their best. While they are playing, I scout our opponents to watch for various things such as who plays when and in which direction. During the round robin, the seeding is blind. But most players have their habits which come out under stress, particularly at the world championship level. I make notes on the teams that I believe will be in the KO stage so I will know how to best line up my pairs. The German doctors always played North/South ~ and now we know why!
When not watching live, I usually go into the viewgraph room which has all three event results viewing on big screens while one Bermuda Bowl match is shown and discussed by the commentators. This is a very cool way of tracking your opponents because every board comes across the screen for all 66 teams. Every once in a while, I would hear a commentator say, “Wow, look at those German Doctors, they found the only lead to set the contract and no other pair found it” or “that was some 6♦ those German Doctors bid, the only pair to find that slam.” Since it was looking like my team may meet the German team in the Knockout phase, I started paying attention to these comments. Then I actually read it in writing in the Saturday, September 28th Daily Bulletin on page 6 in a write-up for the quarterfinals against Indonesia.
"The German doctors are renowned for their eccentric bidding so it was no surprise to see South take a speculative view of his hand (at the other 23 tables only China’s Shi and Ju reached 5♣). North’s delightful holdings in the minors meant declarer had eight easy tricks for three down; –500 and 4 IMPs to Germany."
My team was now in the semi-finals facing off with Poland while Germany was playing France. Even though France was the defending champions (having beat my team in the Netherlands by 1 imp in 2011), I knew Germany was determined to win this event which meant we were going to meet them in the finals. Based on all that I had heard and read throughout the round robin and the first two rounds of the knockout stage, I knew I wanted a monitor on the German Doctors. It was the only way to stop them!
At the captains meeting following the semi-finals, I approached Tournament Manager Disacco and told him I was not accusing anyone of anything but I wanted a monitor on the German Doctors. He informed me that he could not grant that request without proof. I mentioned the commentators and the bulletin statement but that was not enough. Disacco did make the first key statement of the downfall of the Doctors when he said, “The WBF watched this pair during 2008 and 2009 and we did not see anything.” That statement haunted me throughout our team dinner as everyone was discussing our strategy for beating Germany. It then occurred to me that the WBF did not “see” anything. At that moment, I interrupted and said, “Look guys, the WBF did not “see” anything so they must be doing whatever they are doing by making noise. So listen.”
The finals is a two-day, 3 sets a day made up of 16 boards each. Knowing that the Doctors would not play Set One (from my scouting reports), the team lined up accordingly and played a solid set finishing down 58-43 after the first 16 boards. Enter the German Doctors for the final two sets of the day. At the end of the 3rd segment, however, was the 2nd big statement of taking down the Doctors. Eddie Wold came running out of the closed room waiving his convention card. He said that he listened carefully and noticed that both doctors had coughs but they only coughed at the beginning of the auction and at the beginning of the play. He marked his convention card each time they coughed beside each board number. He didn’t know what any of it meant, but he was sure they were sending signals with their coughs. As NPC, I took Eddie’s convention card to the Director-In-Charge who told me that it wasn’t enough proof for the WBF to do anything. Bring him more information.
Deflated from the DIC’s response to Eddie’s coughing convention card, my team was down 102 to 76 and headed to dinner. Well, for those who know me, I wasn’t letting this denial stand in the way of fighting for my team. In fact, by the time my team finally received our medals, my nick name had become “Bulldog.” All through the dinner, my team members were convinced they were coughing to send messages and many ways of countering their coughs were offered up. Including, offering each of the players cough drops before the set. Coughing when they coughed. Just out and out telling them what we suspect they were doing. We left dinner with no conclusive battle plan against the coughing doctors.
After dinner, I took Wold’s convention card to Tournament Manager Disacco and explained the events of earlier in the evening. He said, “Let me talk to the counsel” which I now realize was code for let me talk to Ernesto D’Orsi. The bottom line is that the WBF is very political and very money driven. It costs a lot of money to put on each World Championship (~ $500,000) and they must be careful to not alienate those who support the Championships. Perhaps this is why there were whispers about this pair for over 30 years…but the time had come to end their reign of terror on the game of bridge.
While DiSacco went the political route, I took Wold’s convention card back to my computer and created an excel spread sheet with the 32 hands from Sets 2 & 3 with hand shapes and opening leads. I then entered Eddie’s cough marks in the third column. Sometimes one mark, two marks, three mark and four marks. Working through the night (I was one determined NPC), in the early hours of Day 2 of the finals, it was obvious that they were coughing (shortness or lead) once for clubs, twice for diamonds, three times for hearts and four times for spades. In other words, they were cheating on every hand because when they didn’t cough, they held a balanced hand. When you think about having just this little bit of knowledge of your partner’s hand, you can make those esoteric bids that the bulletin editors talked about.
I ran (literally ran) over to the playing area with this new found evidence against the doctors and ran (figuratively ran) into DiSacco and starting telling him that I had worked out their code. He stopped me and said, “We have arranged for a monitor and video to be present when the Doctors play today.” He went on to say, “Don’t tell me your code. We want our Monitor to confirm your findings.” And finally, “Don’t tell anyone about the video and monitor. Not even your team. We want to have absolute proof.” Well, this was tricky, because I knew my team members were thinking of ways they could counter the doctors while play was going on. As my team members arrived, I told them I had figured out the code and that we should not take matters into our own hands. I asked them to let the WBF do their job and for them to go do their jobs!
The Doctors did not play set four and we won back four imps. I would tell my team members were extremely distracted by what was going on with the Doctors. Who wouldn’t be? There is high stress at the world level without cheaters coughing their way to a championship. The Monitor Manolo Emimenti, DiSacco’s “right-hand man” and an amazing mathematician, was in position. Cameras were rolling. I often get asked, why didn’t the Doctors notice the monitor and cameras? Well, Emimenti was acting as the BBO operator and there were cameras on all of the top matches all week long…so to the Doctors, all was well…until they started coughing!
At the end of Set 5 (16 boards), DiSacco came over to me and said the third key sentence of the takedown, “Emimenti figured out the coughing code.” Music to my ears. I said, “Let’s stop the match. They can’t possibly be allowed to win the event.” I was told that this was not possible for two reasons: 1) There was no time to hold a committee between Sets 5 and 6; 2) The WBF wanted more hands to solidify the proof and finally, 3) It must go through the process. Well, I loved the first sentence, “Emimenti figured out the coughing code.” But I could have done without the rest.
I was now allowed to tell my team members that the WBF had convincing evidence that the Coughing Doctors were cheating but that they must continue to play. To say the least, my players were distracted and unable to play their “A” game the last set. Team USA lost to Germany 172-161 including an unbelievable jump to slam by the Doctors which was cold. As I watched the final set on my computer, I was sitting with the German NPC (strange I know) and I started mumbling to myself when they bid this slam something to the effect of “they have to be doing something to bid like that!” His response was that they always have crazy bidding and sometimes it is good and sometimes it is bad. Well, let’s just say way more good than bad!
The closing ceremonies began a couple of hours after the final board of the Championships. I was again told that there was no time for a committee and the medals must be awarded as the results direct. Time will straighten out the medal allocation. Needless to say I was furious about the entire situation. For those who have never been to a World Championships, the thrill of winning is unbelievable but they best thing about winning is standing on the center podium (in front of all of your competitors) with the American flag handing behind you while you sing the National Anthem. This was Carolyn Lynch’s first (and only) World Champion Gold (Silver) Medal. The moment would pass and she would never have another opportunity to experience this feeling.
On the way to the Closing Ceremony, I walked by President Emeritus Jose Damiani who stopped to say, “I can’t believe your team lost to the Germans. How could they play so badly? Now we have to do something.” There really was not anything I could say which would be constructive at that time. In retrospect, I think perhaps if Team USA 2 had won the match, the German Doctors would still be playing! But we will never really know.
At the Ceremony, DiSacco approached me and said, “Your team will be awarded the Gold medal but not tonight. The process must be respected.” Shortly after this exchange, the teams were placed in rows by medal. The Bronze Medalist (Poland) sat in the first two rows, then the Gold Medalist (Germany) and finally the Silver Medalist (USA 2). The seating was such that I was sitting directly behind the Doctors. The ring leader, Michael Elinescu turned around, looked at me and then coughed twice. His partner, Entscho Wladow coughed twice back in echo. I got the feeling they knew I knew and thought they had gotten away with it! Little did they know…I was not finished with them.
The three teams walked onto the stage the German National Anthem was playing in the background as D’Orsi hung the medals around each participants’ neck. When I leaned over to receive my medal, he said to me, “We will fix this.”
As I flew home the next day, I watched the videos from Sets 5 and 6 over and over trying to see other ways they were cheating besides the coughing. It was clear that Wladow was signaling strength by the way he held his cards after sorting. The camera angle was not good enough to see whether Elinescu was doing the same. I was clearly obsessed with these two cheaters. Once home, I wrote up the Formal Letter Requesting Inquiry and Formal Complaint with the Exhibits. These documents were submitted to the WBF on October 4, 2013.
Meanwhile, DiSacco wanted more evidence and knew the Doctors would be playing in the Cavendish a couple of weeks after the Championships. He asked the DIC to track their coughs and compare them with the handrecords. 19 out of 19 hands recorded matched the coughing code. Corroborating evidence from a separate tournament. But they political wheels would soon drag in the mud.
Two months after submitting the Formal Letter Requesting Inquiry and Formal Complaint, I received a phone call from DiSacco who said that I needed to do more because the WBF President was not going to take action unless forced. I immediately wrote President Gianarriogo Rona an email and said that the story would come out on social media. Did he want to the headline to be “USA2 Cheated out of Gold” or “Germans Stripped of Gold and USA2 Awarded Gold Medals?”
In January 2014, a Committee Hearing date was set for the Dallas NABCs in March. Apparently the Germans had not been notified of my Formal Letter of Request for Inquiry until the Dallas Hearing date was set. I suppose (and I am just supposing) that the WBF was hoping I would go away…Are you getting the idea of where I got my nickname, “Bulldog?”
I emailed the “then” WBF Legal Counsel and offered my support in presenting the case in Dallas. I knew all of the evidence back and forth and could help with showing the videos. He replied that he thought he had this one under control and that he did not think he needed to show the videos to the Committee. My jaw dropped as I read the line where he did not think he needed to include the videos as part of the evidence. Now, you do not need to be an attorney to know that the best possible evidence of cheating (or anything else) is a video! I was being called to testify at the hearing so I would make sure the Committee heard about the videos!
The day of the hearing finally arrived ~ 5 months after the Championships ended. I arrived early for the hearing and once again offered to help set up the computer to show the videos and was told again by “then” WBF Legal Counsel that he wasn’t planning on offering the videos as evidence. When I was finally called, one of the first questions they asked was if I had first hand (eye witness) of the coughing during Sets 5 and 6. My response was “No.” However, I did see them coughing on the video at the start of the bidding and the start of the play.” One of the Committee members raised an eyebrow and said, “Video, what Video?” Music to my ears. I said that I had copies of the videos from Sets 5 and 6 and I would be happy to show the Committee. As I was walking out of the hearing room, Chair Georgia Heth caught up with me and asked if I had a copy of the video with me. I told her that I had a copy on my computer and I would bring it down to the Committee.
Once the Committee shared their final findings, I was told (second hand) that it was a good thing that I was so persistent with the video because it was the determining factor in finding the Coughing Germans guilty. Who knows if this was true or not. But if true, then what was the “then” WBF Legal Counsel thinking? Was he told to suppress the video? We will never know and we can only hope for the best.
You would think, “Great! Now USA 2 gets their medals!” Not so fast. The Committee did find the German Doctors guilty and handed down punishment ~ They cannot play together forever and are both barred from bridge for 10 years. The medals, however, were a different matter which would be decided by the WBF Board in October at the 2014 World Championships (One year after the Letter of Inquiry was filed). I have written up “The Fight for the Medal” in a separate link. At least the German Doctors now know they did not get away with it! There are still law suits going on in Germany in which I am named for allegedly bribing the WBF into trumping up these charges. I guess both sides are true "Bulldogs."
USA2 sends a BIG Thank You to Maurizio DiSacco for stepping up to the WBF officials doing the right thing. Without DiSacco and D'Orsi, I truly believe I would not have had a chance to earn the title of "Bulldog."