General Jun 14, 2021 | 8:56 AMby Colin McGourty

Billionaire admits cheating against Anand in charity simul

India’s youngest billionaire Nikhil Kamath blundered a pawn on move 1 but then went on to crush 5-time World Chess Champion Vishy Anand in a “Checkmate COVID” charity simul. Nikhil said afterwards that he just got lucky, while the World Champion politely noted, “Today was not the chess of people who just know how the pieces move”. Outrage followed, with Nikhil eventually admitting computer and other help, though his apology implied Vishy was aware his opponent was going to have assistance. The Indian legend made it clear he wasn’t.

Samay Raina and Tania Sachdev talked to Vishy Anand, Nikhil Kamath and the other players after the games | image: Chesscom India/YouTube

In what should have been a purely positive event, the Akshaya Patra Foundation and Chesscom India held a Checkmate COVID event with Vishy Anand, where the 15th World Chess Champion played a simultaneous, live-streamed simul against five players. Although Nikhil Kamath, a 34-year-old billionaire who co-founded brokerage firm Zerodha, is sometimes described as a “chess champion”, his opening move, meeting 1.Nf3 with 1…e5?, blundered a key pawn and suggested otherwise.

From there on, however, Nikhil started to play like a chess god, until he’d actually beaten one of the greatest players of all time.

1. ♘f3 e5 2. ♘xe5 d6 3. ♘f3 ♘c6 4. d4 ♘f6 5. d5 ♘e5 6. ♘c3 ♗e7 7. e4 O-O 8. ♗e2 c6 9. O-O cxd5 10. exd5 a6 11. ♖e1 b5 12. a3 h6 13. ♘d4 ♗d7 14. ♗f4 ♖c8 15. ♗f3 ♕b6 16. ♗xe5 dxe5 17. ♘c6 ♗c5 18. ♕e2 ♖fe8 19. ♘xe5 ♖xe5 20. ♕xe5 ♗xf2+ 21. ♔f1 ♗xe1 22. ♕xe1 b4 23. axb4 ♕xb4 24. ♖a2 ♗b5+ 25. ♘e2 ♕d6 26. ♔g1 ♖xc2 27. ♘c3 ♗d7! 28. ♕e3 ♗g4 29. ♗xg4 ♘xg4 30. ♕e8+ ♔h7 31. ♕e4+ g6 32. ♕xg4 ♕c5+ 33. ♔h1 ♖c1+ 34. ♘d1 ♕xd5  0-1

It didn’t take any deep forensic analysis to know that Nikhil had cheated - it was enough to look, for instance, at the final brilliancy, where Nikhil sacrificed a knight on g4.

Nikhil wrapped up the game with 32…Qc5+! 33.Kh1 Rc1+ 34.Nd1 Qxd5!, hitting the rook on a2 as well as the pinned knight.

A well-known way to beat cheats online is to “flag them” on the clock, since using a computer to make moves costs time and they often don't have the basic skills to simply blitz out the moves in a won position. Vishy could easily have done that here, but understandably, in a charity simultaneous event with nothing at stake, he simply resigned and allowed his opponent his moment of glory, or rather, infamy.

Afterwards Nikhil in no way admitted what he’d done and just talked about luck. Vishy was diplomatic, but his, “today was not the chess of people who just know how the pieces move”, was something more than the usual politeness after playing against amateur players.

The reaction online was fast.

Nikhil Kamath’s account was banned and finally he decided it was time to confess, though his admission of cheating was in the worst traditions of apologies/non-apologies.

He implied that no-one would have treated the game seriously and apologised for causing “confusion” rather than for cheating itself. He even implied Vishy Anand would take playing a game against a chess engine as “a learning experience”.

I had help from the people analyzing the game, computers and the graciousness of Anand sir himself to treat the game as a learning experience. This was for fun and charity. In hindsight, it was quite silly as I didn’t realise all the confusion that can get caused due to this. Apologies…

Vishy Anand made it very clear he expected everyone to play ethically and in no way condoned what Nikhil had done.

It’s fair to say no-one was impressed by Nikhil’s “apology”.

All in all, it’s one of the strangest cases of online cheating we’ve ever witnessed, but perhaps some good will come of it if it once again helps to publicise just how unacceptable cheating by using a chess engine during a game is. No other celebrity is likely to come up with such a brilliant idea to make themselves look smart again in a hurry!

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