Cheating: Chess has Nearly Seen it all


    In chess and other sports, both real and rumored instances of cheating have been around for decades, but other sports malfeasance — sign-stealing or otherwise — has nothing on chess. At prestigious live tournaments and among thousands of others playing daily online, cheating is a scourge. Most especially in this age of explosion in technology and data, which has made it even harder to curb. Chess has nearly seen it all in both live and online tournaments.

    In chess, players at live tournaments are now required to leave their phones behind and pass through metal detectors before entering the playing area. Some have even been asked to remove clothing and been searched. And some tournaments now put players behind one-way mirrors to limit visual communication.

    Despite all these, many chess players still try.

    Just last year, a grandmaster named Igors Rausis was caught examining a smartphone in a bathroom stall at a tournament in France. In 2015, Gaioz Nigalidze of Georgia was barred for three years by FIDE, chess’s global governing body, and had his grandmaster status revoked for the same offense.

    FIDE’s anti-cheating commission has recently stepped up its efforts to combat the problem. The group met last month and resolved to give financial support to national federations that need it to help them root out cheating, and will share detection techniques with online chess platforms. They are currently investigating 20 cases.

    In 2013, Borislav Ivanov, a young player from Bulgaria, was essentially forced into retirement after he refused to take off his shoes to be searched for an electronic device that might be used to transmit signals to him. A device was never found — Ivanov reportedly refused to remove his shoes because he claimed, his socks were too smelly — but he retired shortly after the tournament.

    Dominguez said he did not think the top 20 players in the world cheat: It would be too risky to their reputations, he said. But he was at the 2012 chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, when accusations flew that the French team had used an elaborate cheating scheme. The French team was accused of sending text messages to teammates, who would then stand in prearranged spots in the gallery. Their location was supposedly the signal to a young, unproven player, Sébastien Feller, for the next move.

    Feller denied the accusations but was suspended by the French chess federation, which said it discovered numerous suspicious texts. That penalty was later overruled by a French court.

    There are players who cheat by sandbagging — intentionally playing poorly in order to qualify for a lower tournament and win the prize money. There are some who create fake accounts online, build up the stature of that account, and then beat it in order to improve their own ranking. Sometimes opponents agree to an outcome and share the meager prize money.

    In 1978, Viktor Korchnoi accused Anatoly Karpov of cheating with blueberry yogurt. After Karpov received purple yogurt from a waiter during the game, Korchnoi worried that the flavor was a signal from someone on the outside.

    Korchnoi later claimed his accusation was a joke, but officials took it seriously, ultimately mandating that the same snack would be delivered to both players at a predetermined time.

    Le-Marechal is one of six people employed by, one of the world’s largest online chess platforms to combat cheating. They rely on sophisticated algorithms of statistical data. According to him, Le-Marechal says he gets ping alerts throughout the day about cheaters — many amateurs, some professionals and even the occasional grandmaster.

    There has also been plenty of speculation and concern with the scourge of online cheating on his platform. Ever since the IBM computer Deep Blue beat the world champion, Garry Kasparov, in 1997, increasingly powerful chess engines have made cheating easy.

    “It’s so much worse now,” Le-Marechal said. “You have this almighty god that can tell you everything. It’s so tempting for everybody.” There is no doubt that this has threatened the legitimacy of online chess.

    Arkady Dvorkovich, the head of FIDE, added that just as the cheaters benefit from technology, the authorities can, too.“No matter what the game is,” Dvorkovich said, “when there are benefits from winning, you have cheating.”  “The cheaters have been winning for a long time, But in the last few months we showed our determination to fight it and I think people realize it is serious.”

    Original article by David Waldstein


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