Dirty Tricks: documenting an elite-level cheating scandal

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
5/14/2021 – Chess and bridge are the only ‘mind sports’ recognized by the International Olympic Committee. The two highly popularized games also share that cheating has become a growing preoccupation for fans and organizers alike. In a recently released documentary, Israeli filmmaker Daniel Sivan tells the story of a cheating scandal which involved Lotan Fisher, the strongest bridge player in the world. | Pictured: Lotan Fisher and Ron Schwartz

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An elite-level scandal

Although chess might have more in common in terms of gameplay with draughts or go, there is a salient similarity it shares with the game of bridge: they are the only ‘mind sports’ recognized by the International Olympic Committee — albeit neither of them has been found eligible for the main Olympic program.

Chess and bridge also share that cheating has become a growing preoccupation for fans and organizers of the sport. In the case of bridge, a game in which partners need to convey information in a restricted manner, notable incidents date back to as early as the 1930s, when a scandal led to Willard S. Karn bringing a one million dollar defamation suit against Ely Culbertson, six others and Crockford Inc., accusing them of spreading rumours and conspiring to remove him from the bridge world.

And the problem persists in the 21st century. In 2015, a scandal involving who was then considered the best player in the world ended with two Israeli players being banned from participating in events organized by the European Bridge League and the American Contract Bridge League, among others.

Lotan Fisher and Ron Schwartz had been found guilty both of collusive cheating and of giving false information. 

Lotan Fisher

Lotan Fisher

Daniel Sivan, a documentary filmmaker who co-directed “The Olso Diaries” and directed five episodes of the mini-series “The Devil Next Door”, picked up the story and decided to write, direct and produce “Dirty Tricks”, a 100-minute film which not only focuses on the cheating scandal but also on the world of elite-level competitive bridge.

Talking about the process which led to Fisher and Schwartz’s collapse, Sivan told The Guardian:

This was basically the first time, to my knowledge, in history that a cheating scandal was outsourced. You never heard local players saying, ‘I suspect Lance Armstrong is juicing. Please, internet community, look for the proof.’ Here was the first time they used crowdfunding, beehive brain, people from all over the world breaking down codes, chasing cheaters. It was totally self-policed.

Referring to Fisher, who was (or is?) considered the best bridge player in the world, Sivan reflected:

[The film] is kind of a Greek tragedy that goes deeper and deeper. Can you be the best player if nobody else believes you?

Watch the trailer of “Dirty Tricks”:

In his piece for The Guardian, Rich Tenorio uses the example of fictional character Beth Harmon to explain how talented Fisher was as a kid:

The film incorporates footage of Fisher as a child star, where much like the character Beth Harmon on the Netflix hit “The Queen’s Gambit”, he displayed an incredible knack for visualization and memory.

Igors RausisWhile we have yet to see a similar scandal in the chess world — i.e., a player of Magnus Carlsen’s calibre getting caught cheating in a top-level tournament — a major incident was seen a couple of years ago, when a photo of Igors Rausis using a mobile phone in a toilet during a tournament game made international headlines.

Perhaps the one comparable scandal, albeit of a different nature, would be Bobby Fischer’s claim that Soviet players had colluded against him during the 1962 Candidates Tournament.

The popularization of online chess has opened a whole other can of worms — coincidentally, a few instances of online cheating in bridge have already been penalized by sport authorities. Perhaps the chess community might find a way to learn from a similar sport that has been dealing with this problem for a longer period of time.


Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


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