Cough’s the word: Bridge world champions found guilty of cheating

‘The German Doctors’ passed messages though a system of coded signals of coughs

The Bridge community knows them as “The German Doctors”, but they will forever more be known as the world champions that cheated – and coughed - their way to the top.

Michael Elinescu, 61, and Etscho Wladow, 71, two medical doctors from Germany, have been found guilty of cheating at the game’s world championships in Bali last September, where they both walked away with gold medals.

The pair were found out after a lengthy investigation involving computer analysis of a video recording of their final game, in which they won their gold medals, The Telegraph has reported.

In a case that resembles the “Coughing Major”, the man who used a system of coughs to win the top prize on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”, the investigation found the two doctors had constructed a series of coughing codes to signal to each other which cards they held.

The World Bridge Foundation (WBF) found the pair “guilty of reprehensible conduct” at a two-day hearing in Dallas, Texas, and have been banned from playing together at one of the body’s tournaments for life.

In addition, they have been banned from playing separately for 10 years.

The investigation was sparked by a complaint from the German players’ American opponents. One of the US players became suspicious of their actions at the d’Orsi World Senior Bowl, which remains the biggest event in the bridge world.

Eddie World started noting down each time one of his German opponents coughed, and which cards he believed these signals corresponded with.

This information was then passed to Max Bavin, the English chief referee, who authorised the secret monitoring and video surveillance of the game as it developed.

The system that Elinescu and Wladow were discovered to be using involved two areas: one that indicated if they had fewer than two cards in a certain suit – and that specified which suit – and one that indicated the ‘preferred lead’.

In contract Bridge involves a bidding process that takes place before a hand is played, and by communicating at this time, the pair placed themselves at an unfair advantage to their opponents.

The German doctors purposefully did not attend the hearing, claiming that they would not have been given a fair trial as both the chairman of the disciplinary commission and the WBF’s prosecutors were America.

Elinescu and Wladow’s guilty verdict will not affect the outcome of their fellow German team players however, who have been completely exonerated in the process.

The doctors are to be stripped of their gold medals, pending a possible appeal, and the American team will be named the champions in their place.

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