The recent scandal involving two-time Georgian Champion Gaioz Nigalidze got Vlad Tkachiev thinking about the problem of cheating in chess. He wondered what can be done about it, but also why those who call for lifetime bans condone the fixing of individual games in open tournaments. After getting thoroughly acquainted with FIDE's new plans for dealing with computer assistance he decided there was only one option left to him... to become a cheater himself!
After the original publication of this article in Russian a friend of Tkachiev's asked him what the idea behind it was. His response:
There's a picture by Edvard Munch - The Scream. How can I describe it any better?
Don't miss Vlad's cri de coeur, including a video of his first attempt at cheating:
“If there’s no God, everything is permitted”
(attributed to Fyodor Dostoevsky)
18 years ago – on 6 May 1997, at a specially convened press conference, World Champion Garry Kasparov accused his opponent of cheating. If anyone’s forgotten, or isn’t aware what I’m talking about, I’ll remind you: he was playing against the IBM corporation’s supercomputer Deep Blue, and he suspected his opponent and its team of getting help from “superior intelligence”. He used that precise phrase. Who did he have in mind? You won’t believe it – a Human Being.A few days later the match was lost, and the faith of chess players in the superiority of biological brains over silicon ones rapidly began to melt away. The deity raised up on a pedestal over the centuries of the Renaissance, Enlightenment and technological progress was relegated to a much lower rank. As for the Blue monster, it was soon dismantled, but there was little time to savour that fact: a whole new variety of afflictions began to gush from the Pandora’s Box uncovered in its entrails. Computer expertise went on to become a determining factor in the outcome of tournaments and matches between people. That happened in the early years of the new millennium, and since then the process has only accelerated: so I’m sitting now and writing these lines while somewhere in another corner of the world the latest advanced user is “plumbing the depths”. You see, we’ve even got our own slang for it (in Russian).
You’ve got to hand it to Garry Kasparov – he was the first to sense the looming danger and proposed the idea of Advanced Chess; as if to say, what harms us can also help us. But, as always in chess, utter conservatism conquered innovation, and Kasparov himself soon retired from professional sport, out of harm’s way. Computer cheating scandals had already shaken our community by then, but only the recent one linked to the name Gaioz Nigalidze has really got me thinking.
A two-time Georgian Champion, member of the national team and grandmaster with a solid rating was caught red-handed cheating. You know, that really is a new stage of degradation. What next – catching an elite-tournament regular? You don’t think it can happen? Blessed is he who believes. I preferred action and began by conducting a survey of my colleagues.
The proposals for cleaning out our ranks turned out to be highly varied: from the classic demand to monitor toilet visits and introduce metal detectors to testing suspects with a lie-detector and making players sign a solemn assurance that they won’t cheat. Everyone was agreed on one thing: a 100% certified cheater should be punished with lifetime disqualification. What a bloodthirsty lot chess players are!
I decided to formulate some ideas on this topic myself. Here’s a short list of the most promising:
However, an acquaintance drew my attention to the fact that the last suggestion isn’t original – the opportunity to include cheating under article no. 165 of the Russian Criminal Code was already pointed out by lawyer and grandmaster Irina Lymar. It refers to damage done to property by deception or the abuse of trust. It’s clear that the offence can similarly be criminalised in the legislation of other countries – after all, the well-known British poker player Darren Woods has already been sentenced to three years in jail and a fine of one million pounds sterling. That also happened very recently, in January 2015. There’s one hitch, though: in poker the players bet and deceiving those sitting at the same table can be counted as fraud. In chess the culprit mainly picks the pocket of the organisers, and even then only if he gets a prize. The rest is hard to prove as it’s a matter of speculation.
Taking a look around on the internet I considered it my duty to familiarise myself with the whole gamut of opinion on the problem at hand, and what struck me was that often in the forefront of the battle for the purity of morals were players who themselves aren’t exactly scrupulous when it comes to morality. After all, what is cheating in chess according to the Wikipedia definition?
Cheating in chess refers to a deliberate violation of the rules of chess or other unethical behaviour that is intended to give an unfair advantage to a player or team. Cheating can occur in many forms and can take place before, during, or possibly even after a game. Commonly cited instances of cheating include: collusion with spectators or other players, linking to remote computers, rating manipulation, misuse of the touch-move rule, and the pre-arranged draw. Many suspiciously-motivated practices are not comprehensively covered by the rules of chess and so, on ethical or 'moral conduct' grounds only, may be judged by some as acceptable, and by others as cheating.
Note there’s not a word about “throwing games”… although we all know that’s far more common than cases of remote-controlled geniuses or fans of the first Godfather!
If the formulation "suspiciously-motivated practices… not comprehensively covered by the rules of chess" confused you, then I’ll point out that the practice of taking out so-called "insurance" * with an opponent in the last round is widespread at all levels. And since it’s almost always the person who has the better tiebreakers who wins it’s nothing other than a thinly-veiled example of throwing a game. Scamming your colleagues? If so, then should people be imprisoned for that as well, or perhaps disqualified for life? By the way, since 1997 sporting “colluders” directly fall under article no. 184 of the Russian Criminal Code.
* "Insurance" is when opponents agree to compensate each other with part of the difference between the prizes for winning and losing. Often in such cases it's much more advantageous to lose a game than to draw. The impossibility of a peaceful outcome is often discussed separately – someone must win.
Or what if, in the form of our technically-gifted colleagues, progress itself is knocking on the door of the enchanted kingdom of chess? And demanding urgent changes; heroic films are now made about bootleggers in the time of Prohibition and pirates of the Caribbean – without them the world wouldn’t be the same. The story of the years during which Kempelen hoodwinked the respected public with his automaton forms part of the golden treasury of chess heritage, though it could easily have ended with the Austrian engineer enjoying a protracted tour of the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg.
Thus wandered my thoughts until they came upon solid ground…
It turns out a legal framework for dealing with this scourge already exists – since August 2014. There’s also an appropriate regulatory body that deals with the issue – FIDE’s Anti-Cheating Commission (from January 2015) made up of 13 people, two of whom are grandmasters (Konstantin Landa, Rafael Vaganian), two Women’s International Masters (Yuliya Levitan, Salomeja Zaksaite) and one a FIDE Master – the Chairman of the Committee, Israel Gelfer. The rest are IT and legal specialists.
The secretary of the ACC (Anti-Cheating Commission) Yuri Garrett kindly agreed to answer my questions on Facebook, and at the same time pointed out where to find a document that’s vital for us all:
I’ll try – as far as I’m able – to summarise the main points of the conversation and regulations:
Ufff!!! It seems that covers all the most important points. I spent a long time delving into the details of the fight against this new incarnation of Evil, and then the decision came all by itself.
I set out to become a cheater.
In general I hate technology and, alas, the feeling’s mutual. I’ve done everything in my power to lose my new iPhone – I’m sick of everyone coming up with the same jokes about how I use only three functions: calls, text messages and reading on the internet. I didn’t, however, find there to be any difficulty circumventing the rules – I only need computer help about three times a game, and no IBGST is going to pick that up. In order to play the opening the good old paper “crib sheet” will do – no-one even thinks to check for them. Finally, historical truth itself is on my side:
In 1965 the future founder of Intel, Gordon Moore, formulated a law that later acquired his name: that every 12 months the number of components on an integrated circuit doubles. Ten years later he revised his prediction to each 24 months. What that means for us is that miniaturised technology is becoming easier and easier to hide on or in yourself or somewhere in the hall – with terrifying and increasing simplicity. Of course I love Al Pacino, but there’s no need to hide anything in a toilet tank. Thankfully, it’s already 2015 out there.
Mr Garrett admitted during our conversation that the new rules wouldn’t, of course, stop James Bond, but would be a reliable net to catch others. You get to decide for yourself whether I look like a cloak-and-dagger agent in my first incarnation as a cheat.
P.S. I found the necessary equipment on the internet in about an hour and a half, while renting it for one day cost me no more than 1500 roubles (€25). A walk-through metal detector wouldn’t find it, while a hand-held detector would only uncover it if you changed the settings and checked my ear. The device can be completely invisible, which is why it’s very popular among a certain sub-section of students.
Have you ever been tempted to go over to "the dark side"? What would you do about the problem of cheating in chess? Let us know in the comments below!
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