As the pandemic forced most players online, the problem of cheating consumed the game’s highest levels. Top players say a tight-lipped culture is finally changing.

A few months later, wealthy sponsors pleaded for players to clean up the game. Then officials suspended one top player, and another, and this summer 30 teams forfeited rather than play someone accused of cheating.

For over a year, the topic of cheating has consumed many players in the highest levels of contract bridge, the card game with a reputation for complex gameplay and clubby community, as the New York Times reports.

In interviews, top players, league officials and data analysts described a surge in cheating as the coronavirus pandemic pushed players online, and a subsequent backlog of cases in the game’s byzantine disciplinary system.

“It’s a problem. I think anybody who says it’s not a problem is probably naïve,” said A.J. Stephani, the chair of the appeals and charges committee — a kind of Supreme Court of bridge — for the American Contract Bridge League, North America’s biggest federation.

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