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General Oct 29, 2020 | 6:19 PMby Colin McGourty

17-year-old European Chess Champion gets 2-year ban for cheating

Patrycja Waszczuk, the reigning Polish U18 Girls Champion and 2019 European U16 Girls Champion, has been disqualified for two years after allegedly being caught using a mobile phone in a toilet during Round 4 of the Ustroń Chess Festival on August 16th this year. Patrycja played the adult Polish Women’s Chess Championship a week earlier, with Klaudia Kulon and Monika Soćko saying they were reduced to tears after playing the youngest opponent in the field. Her father claims a smear campaign and has appealed, describing the evidence as circumstantial.

"Disqualified: Without the right to play in chess tournaments" says Patrycja Waszczuk's card at the Polish Chess Federation website | photo: Wojciech Zawadzki,   

The Polish Chess Federation has disqualified 17-year-old Patrycja Waszczuk from playing chess for two years after finding her guilty of using “outside help or electronic doping” during Round 4 of the Ustroń Chess Festival FIDE Open on August 16th this year. Her draw in that game was converted into a loss and she was expelled from the tournament.

Resolution 1/10/2020 of the Commission for Awards and Discipline, dated 6 October 2020, was recently published on the Polish Chess Federation website, with all names blacked out (including, at one point, that of Magnus Carlsen!). 

The main findings are listed as follows (the emphasis is our own, for clarity):

  1. Miss Patrycja Wlied to the arbiters: IA (International Arbiter – the highest international arbiter class) … in the presence of IA … and the Head of the Silesian Chess Federation Mr … about possessing electronic devices.
  2. She used a telephone in the toilet, which was confirmed by the report of eyewitness Ms …
  3. She admitted she had another telephone, admitting that twice, which was confirmed by witnesses: IA … and IA …
  4. She refused to show her bag, which was confirmed by the testimony of witnesses: IA … … and the Head of the Silesian Chess Federation, Mr …
  5. She tried to leave the playing hall, which was confirmed by the testimony of witnesses: IA … …
  6. She tried to hide the telephone in the playing hall, which was confirmed by a statement from witness Ms …
  7. She used a telephone during other events, which was confirmed by the testimony of a witness - coach of the women’s national team, GM …
  8. An analysis of moves made by the accused shows the use of a computer program, which was confirmed by testimony from the Coach of the Women’s National Team …

The report notes that the Polish Chess Federation applies a strict zero tolerance approach to the possession of a mobile phone at its main events such as the Polish Chess Championships, which would bring an automatic two-year ban. Zero tolerance wasn’t in place at the Ustroń Chess Festival – which featured almost 600 players and had Anatoly Karpov as a guest of honour - but the Commission says the possession of a phone and the suspicion of its being used is sufficient for a guilty verdict, even in the absence of other evidence. 

They state there was no doubt of guilt and that Patrycja was clearly fully-aware of what she was doing, and say they applied a two-year ban rather than a longer sentence (the case of Igors Rausis being stripped of his GM title and receiving a 6-year ban is mentioned) due to the young age of the player.

Earlier suspicions

Patrycja Waszczuk took gold in the 2019 European U16 Girls Championship | photo: official website

The Commission’s resolution also notes that experts found a correspondence between Patrycja’s moves and computer chess engine analysis of the 2019 European U16 Girls Championship in Bratislava (replay the games), where she took clear first with 7.5/9…

…and the Polish U18 Girls Championship in Szklarska Poręba in March 2020, a 39-player open tournament where she scored a near perfect 7.5/8. The one player she drew against, Michalina Rudzińska, took to Facebook on 17th August, a day after Patrycja had allegedly been caught cheating. 

She described the suspicions of other players and the feeling of helplessness:

Such a situation should be shocking, but it isn’t for any of us, because for around 1.5 years the question hasn’t been if she’s cheating, but when it would be revealed. I played that player myself this year in the Polish U18 Girls Championship, and after every move she left the playing hall to go to the toilet, but in time trouble, in an objectively easily won position, she was unable to convert and the game ended in a draw, her only draw in that tournament, since she won the Championship with an incredible 7.5/8 result, easily beating all the players in the oldest age group.

Were we 100% sure that it was pure cheating? Of course not. But the way continual suspicion, irritation and a lack of reaction from the people who should have got involved affected our mental state is indescribable. I’m not talking even of crying, breakdowns and a feeling of helplessness after a round, emotions that impacted the further course of the tournament. It was never about the result. It was about the fact that each of us knew that something was wrong. And yes, the suspicions were strong, yes, they were reported. And in reply we heard that we’re jealous, that we can’t enjoy the success of a colleague and why are we wishing misfortune on her? That as Polish girls we’re a unit and we play on the same team, we should root for her, support her, clap when she stands on the podium and proudly listen to the national anthem. How many people lost medals, the chance of fair and deserved career development, the fulfilment of dreams? We felt cheated, almost unable to do anything about it, since, to put it bluntly, there was simply hardly anyone who wanted to catch her.

The climax, however, came when Patrycja Waszczuk qualified as the youngest participant to play in the prestigious Polish Women’s Championship, held August 4-12 in Ostrów Wielkopolski. 

You can replay any of the games from that event by clicking on a result in the crosstable below, or hover over a name to see all of a player's games.

Patrycja announced her arrival on the national stage with a stunning first round win over 4-time Polish Women’s Champion Jolanta Zawadzka. In terms of arousing suspicion, the mysterious computer-approved king move 26…Kf8! in the following position was dynamite.

FM Maciej Sroczyński made a YouTube video analysing Patrycja's comments in the post-game press interviews - here the bubbles read: "Kf8, the 1st line, 2 minutes 55 second thought" & "Kf8!! the move of the tournament, the grandmaster [Zbigniew Pakleza] amazed, observers amazed"

That wouldn’t be the only brilliancy. After 41.Rxc8 Black is doing well after simply 41…Bxc8, but 41…Ng4!!, the choice of Stockfish, was a beautiful touch.

Patrycja explained that she was planning to take on c8, but then in the toilet it occurred to her, why not play Ne3-g4! instead

Black won in 51 moves.

Kulia Kulon, who was on 5.5/6 when she lost a stunning game to Patrycja in Round 7, talked first about Jolanta's game, to the major Polish news site

During that game she managed to go to the toilet more than a dozen times over the course of three hours. That was really a lot. And in itself it was suspicious. In the game against me, she went every two-three moves at key moments, and when she returned she made a move almost immediately. Without thinking. It was clear she was getting help in some way, although we still don’t know how. At the Polish Championship she didn’t have a phone, and that really made it tougher for us to catch her, although we were all 99.9% sure that something was wrong.

I was in the form of my life. I wanted to fulfil my dream and fight for the title of Polish Women’s Champion. I feel cheated. There was crying and despair. The first thing I did after the loss to Patrycja was to phone my mum and cry, because I was sure that it wasn’t a clean sporting contest. More than three months have gone by since the Polish Championship and not a day has gone by when I haven’t talked to someone about it. I can’t get it out of my mind.

Klaudia went on to tie for first place before losing out in a playoff to a heavily-pregnant Karina Cyfka, who beat Patrycja in 82 moves in Round 2. It wasn’t only players who lost to Waszczuk who were upset, however, with 8-time Polish Women’s Champion Monika Soćko drawing a hugely complicated ending in Round 6. She told Onet:

What happened really hurts. During the tournament we knew what we were up against. I was so desperate that I wanted to go to the toilet after her and check if she wasn’t using electronic doping. Two other players did that, however, and caught her using a telephone. At the Polish Championship, after my game against Patrycja, we were both checked. And something squeaked around the level of the belt of her trousers. She was checked by two teenage girls, who probably weren’t ready for such a situation and didn’t know what they should do. Still a long time after the Polish Championship I was shocked by the situation, as the girl isn’t backing down and still claims that she’s innocent. I’m 42 years old and rarely cry, but after the game against Patrycja, which I drew, my nerves were gone. For a week after that event I couldn’t sleep. All because I felt that she was making moves that wouldn’t have occurred to her. But I couldn’t prove anything. That was a terrible experience. The situation is unprecedented and sad.

Socko-Waszczuk in Round 6 | photo: Szymon Pieczewski,

There were just three days after the Polish Chess Championship before the Ustroń Chess Festival began, with Patrycja finally caught.

“There’s a smear campaign against my daughter”

According to Patrycja’s father Mariusz, however, his daughter is innocent. He told Onet:

There’s been a smear campaign against my daughter. Terrible hate has been poured out on her. We’re suffering terribly. People see us as cheaters, but that’s not true. There’s no evidence. This case is a conspiracy by two of Patrycja’s direct rivals.

Mariusz makes multiple complaints about the procedure followed, including arguing that since they’ve appealed the verdict the message under his daughter’s name on the Polish Chess Federation website should be changed.

The card in the register of Polish chess players reads: "Player disqualified | without the right to play in chess tournaments"

He complains that COVID-19 concerns were used by the Commission to avoid giving him access to all the documents and that there were biased members on the commission – he says the chairman had publicly commented, “it’s good that this disease [pathology] has come to an end,” before the case had fully been heard.

He’s hired a lawyer and chess player, Paweł Dziubiński, who successfully defended another Polish player, Krzysztof Ejsmont, in 2007. Krzysztof was accused of computer assistance on the basis of the strength of his moves. Back then the Commission ruled:

The arbiters did not have indisputable evidence, and analysis of the program Rybka can at most serve as circumstantial evidence in the matter.

Mariusz makes it clear they plan to use the same argument, though in this case there are eye-witness statements and apparent confessions as well as computer analysis. He gave his version of events in Ustroń:

In Round 4 an arbiter came up to my daughter and informed her that he’d received a report from one of the players that Patricja had used a telephone in the toilet. Of course the question was posed of whether she had it on her. She took her telephone out of her bag and showed that it was turned off, and then she gave it up. That was in accordance with the rules of the event, where we read: “A player has the right to have a mobile phone or other electronic communication device in the playing hall if it’s completely switched off and kept in a special packet, bag or rucksack”.

The arbiter asked my daughter if she had any other electronic device. She said she didn’t, after which she was allowed to keep playing. After the end of the game Patricja was told that she had to undergo a search of herself and her bag with a metal detector. She agreed, but since she’s a minor she asked that it could take place in the presence of her guardian, and at this tournament that was her grandmother. Here we have another example of stretching the facts. Patricja wanted to phone her grandmother, but since this was taking place in the playing hall she asked about the possibility of making a call to her guardian outside, which was described in the Resolution as an attempt to leave the playing hall. She was also asked about whether she had a telephone or other electronic device. She then remembered that she also had a power bank. The arbiters then raised their voices and began to say that she hadn’t mentioned that previously. My daughter then suggested not waiting for her grandmother and to carry out the check without the presence of a guardian. Then the chief arbiter backed out of that. He told Patricja that he didn’t see the need for that any longer since she’d confessed and that was sufficient for them. The draw in that game was changed to a loss, and then she was excluded from the event and he announced that he would report the matter to the Commission for Awards and Discipline. Therefore no-one was interested in the possession of another device and what kind of device it was. Also no-one saw the alleged second telephone. My daughter was wrongfully accused. Moreover, when she went to the toilet she didn’t take her bag, in which the telephone and power bank could be found. Without any checking she was made into a bandit and a cheat.

On paper Patrycja Waszczuk should be the pride of Polish chess - she went into the Polish Women's Championship rated 2321 and ranked 22nd worldwide among female players under the age of 20 | photo: Wojciech Zawadzki,  

Grandmaster Radosław Jedynak, the President of the Polish Chess Federation, commented, referring back to the Polish Women’s Championship.

This kind of cheating is very hard to detect. It’s hard to confirm, after all, that someone did something in the toilet if you don’t enter. However, if someone goes to the bathroom over a dozen times over the course of one game, and then beats one of the best female players, and then wins against other strong rivals, it gives food for thought.

What’s abundantly clear from the case is the huge impact cheating, and the suspicion of cheating, has on chess players and events, with chess players of all ages having been affected in this case. We’ll keep you updated on any developments.

See also:

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