Five Washington-area world champion bridge players announced yesterday that they will refuse to defend their title next year as a protest against the handling of an alleged cheating incident by national bridge officials.
The five players are Bobby Lipsitz; his wife, Peggy; Steve Parker; Steve Robinson, and Jo Morse. They won the world mixed team championship in 1974 in the Canary Islands, and are scheduled to defend that title in Cannes in 1978.
They issued a statement yesterday that condemned "coverups by United States bridge officials." They urged that "the air. . .be cleared of rumors and half-truths," and stressed that any U.S. bridge success in future internation play will be open to question if officials do not act.
Their statement stems from an incident Jan. 9 in Houston, where two teams were playing for the right to represent the United States in international competition later this year.
Two members of one team, Richard Katz and Larry Cohen, both 34 and both of Los Angeles, abruptly resigned from the playoff and the American Contract Bridge League three-quarters of the way through their match against a team of Los Angeles and Dallas experts.
No allegations were formally lodged, and no explanations were official, Lewis Mathe, was quoted in yesterday's editions of The New York Times as saying that "allegations of improprieties" had been made against Katz and Cohen by witnesses to their match. Neither Katz nor Cohen could be reached for comment yesterday.
Opaque, 6-feet-high screens were used during the match so that partners could not see each other, and "idding boxes" were used so that no words were spoken. Two West Coast expert bridge players said that, in view of these precautions, if there was any cheating it would probably have had to involve a battery-powered device used to transmit information from one player to the other.
ACBL president Louis Gurvich, a New Orleans businessman, said in a telephone interview yesterday that he plans to make full report to the ACBL board on the matter. The board in turn will make a public statement, he said.
Asked if the ACBL had covered anything up, Gurvich replied, "Of course not."
Nor would he comment on the reason for the withdrawal of Katz and Cohen from the tournament and from organized bridge. "We did not have a hearing where formal charges were brought," Curvich said. "I have no comment. It would be presumptuous of me."
Gurvich also refused to comment on the action of the five Washington-area players.