Cheating in Chess

Some form of chess cheating has been present for a long time. There are many different types of it. An early treatise on chess from around 15th or 16th century had instructions to sit at the board in such a way that the sun shines directly into the opponent’s eyes. Since those days, generally speaking, chess cheating has been sporadic, with some suspicion here and a bit of a scandal there, but it was never in a position to actually ruin the game. That is, until now.

 I for one was always very annoyed with people who get up from the table and discuss position and moves with their friends and others while the opponent is thinking. This happens a lot more than you may believe. And that is just one of many different ways of cheating in chess.

 With the advent of powerful computer chess engines cheating has become a much bigger threat. Last couple of years we had several well publicized cases of cheating or alleged cheating. The problem is that with every case which is blown all over the internet, and other media, the game of chess is tarnished whether the actual cheating took place or not. Then again maybe it’s a sign of the times. We have already had scandals with cheating in soccer, athletics, cycling etc.

 Many people believe the use of computer chess engines in postal play and online competition is common. I do not share that view. Some people do use illegal computer help but vast majority of chess players do not. In my opinion people who use computers to think for them, whether in an illegal manner or not, are likely to stunt their chess and their intellectual development. Obviously, there are some chess players who disagree with me. In order to win a prize, improve their rating and impress others they will use any means available.

 Most of the attention has been given to a few cases of alleged cheating in OTB play. Specifically the use of Houdini and other well known and easily available chess software. Using chess engines a weak or an average player can defeat a much stronger opponent. Lately there has been a lot of concern about computer-aided cheaters bordering on paranoia. With suspected cheating we should not allow the situation to evolve into a witch hunt with torches and pitchforks. It should be done in a better way. Yet the chess organizers and FIDE itself have not seen this type of cheating as a major problem so far.

 The cheaters ought to be caught and punished through some clever control and investigation not through fascist methods. I don’t want to see routine searches or even stripping people naked at the slightest doubt of cheating. Still, I cannot think of a good way to nip this thing in the bud before it develops into an even bigger problem.

 After all the recent hooplah we have a situation where if anybody manages a result that appears to be unlikely he or she might be accused of wrong doing. A player’s reputation can be irreparably damaged even if cleared of all charges. It has been proposed that a jamming device be used in tournament halls to block any kind of electronic communication with the outside world and prevent the cheaters getting machine advice from their cohorts. This seems like a good idea but I have a question or two about it.

 Would this mean an emergency call or SMS could not reach the TD? Would it interfere with the functioning of implanted heart pacemakers? What about if it only blocks connection with outside the hall but the culprit has tiny chess engine hidden on the body or inside it? And how do you make sure it blocks only the tournament hall and not further? Some tournaments are played in hotels etc which creates an obvious problem for the blocking idea. There are people who believe it is enough to compare the moves played in the game with the first, second and third move choices of the leading chess engines. I think this may be a good place to start but it is not enough and not necessarily conclusive. However, when a player who is say 2300 suddenly starts beating regularly 2600+ players this should be a cause for alarm.

 So, what is the solution? Actually, I worry there may not be an efficient and complete solution. With the encroachment of the ever more sophisticated technology it might be impossible to stop the tide. Then perhaps computer help will be allowed to all players in chess tournaments. Did not Gary Kasparov predict just that?

 Vojin Vujosevic.

 

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