May 23, 2013 13:05

"Don't panic!" On the recent developments around cheating

"Don't panic!" On the recent developments around cheating

Unfortunately the topic of cheating in chess is still quite topical. In this article we sum up a number of recent developments, helped by the Facebook group No more cheating in chess!! Cheat=ban for life.

Borislav Ivanov

The Bulgarian Chess Federation has suspended Borislav Ivanov from official events for a period of four months. (See PDF)

The reason seems to be two-fold:

  • Ivanov's "continuous media appearances" are "incompatible with sporting ethics" and "undermine the prestige of the Bulgarian Chess Federation and chess in general".  
  • Following "suspicion and accusations at different international tournaments" an "expert analysis of Ivanov's games over the last nine months" has been conducted. "More than 70% of his moves are the first choice of leading chess programs such as Houdini and Rybka", which makes it likely that he has cheated.

This seems to be the first time ever that a chess player has been suspended without direct proof; Ivanov has never been "caught in the act", using a (mobile) device, computer or other means of contact with a chess engine.

Ivanov was strip searched after being suspected of cheating at the Zadar Open in December. Untitled and rated 2227, he scored 6/9 and a 2697 rating performance which included victories against GMs Bojan Kurajica, Robert Zelcic, Zdenko Kozul and Ivan Saric. At some point the arbiters decided to search the player, but nothing was found.

Two months later, Ivanov scored a mediocre performance, finishing 88th at the Tringov Memorial in Plovdiv. However, mid-March he finished first, with a 2696 performance, at a rapid tournament in Spain.

Jens Kotainy

In Germany the name Jens Kotainy has been connected to alleged cheating. On Saturday, May 11th, 2013 a rapid tournament took place in Dortmund: the "13. WHH-Turnier". At this tournament, Kotainy was refused participation and this led to a lot of debate at the Schachfeld Forum. Kotainy had apparently been accused of cheating earlier, and at the forum the following post was published:

The most relevant happened around 20 minutes in advance, before the tourney started. When the name of JK (Jens Kotainy) appeared through the beamer on the wall as participant, there was started a spontanous call to boycott the tourney by a couple of players. Spokesperson was IM Ilja Schneider who was supported by the last year tourney winner IM Mikhail Zaitsev. The threat of the group: not to join and participate the tourney, if Kotainy will play as well. The reason why they didn't want to play with him in the same tourney was, that they didn't want to play in the same tournament with a cheater.

The tourney manager was somewhat surprised by those accusations, he wasn't aware of any of them. How should he react? It was impossible to satisfy both sites. In the end he felt a pragmatical decission and decided to let play the group and not Kotainy - without giving a statement about wether the accusations have a solid base or not.
Some time later Jens Kotainy and his brother Gregor entered the playing venue and some heated discussions started. Of course, both brothers were no happy with the situation and the decission and were not going to accept it that easy. While the discussion with the tourney manager, the brother, Gregor shall threatened to use violance (against things - not persons!), according to a statement of the tourney manager, but he defended and kept his decission to not allow them to play. Both brothers left the playing venue somewhat disappointed and angry.

(Translation by Holger Lieske.)

However, later another post was published on the forum which seems to put things in perspective. According to "Daniel T", Kotainy wasn't refused participation because of alleged cheating. This

didn't play a role, since these accusations towards JK haven't been proven.

Apparently Kotainy was refused for another reason: his online entry to the tournament had appared at a very late stage, and the arbiters hadn't noticed it in time.

Loris Cereda

You'll probably remember the Loris Cereda case as well. In January the Italian Chess Federation accused the former mayor of the small town of Buccinasco, Italy of cheating at chess. Cereda was the first person ever to have been kicked out of the federation, who accused him of using a tiny camera in his glasses while playing games.

However, in the meantime Cereda had his name cleared and his ban got removed, after an appeal panel decided that there was not enough evidence.

Falko Bindrich

The suspension of Falko Bindrich has been revoked as well. This case was about a Bundesliga game in October last year: Bindrich's game against Sebastian Siebrecht (part of the match between SC Eppingen and Katernberg) was declared lost for Bindrich, who refused to show his smartphone when the arbiter asked him to do so. The German grandmaster went to the toilet while it was his move, something he had allegedly done more than once during his Saturday game as well. In a case of suspected cheating the Bundesliga regulations allow the arbiter to search a player's clothes, bags or other pieces of luggage, but Bindrich refused to show his phone.

On May 3rd the German Chess Federation published a press release which informed that Bindrich's 2-year ban was removed. The reason was that the current statutes of the German Chess Federation don't allow such a ban.

FIDE committee

Recently FIDE has supported the idea of the Association of Chess Professionals (ACP) to establish a special anti-cheating commission. At the Presidential Board in Baku, a proposal was accepted to "create an ad hoc Committee to discuss anti-cheating measures". In our opinion, the main focus of this committee should be on dealing with the creation of proper regulations in cases of cheating which can work as a blueprint for regulations within national chess federations.

Another important aspect is the problem of actually catching alleged cheaters, and the decision of how and when to check if there is suspicion. In general it's very important to deal with (alleged) cheating carefully – we shouldn't panic – because (false) accusations can be damaging to a player. For example, in an interview with Chess-News, GM David Shengalia of Austria recently said that he was accused of cheating after one of his games at the European Championship.

I beat Areschenko yesterday, so my today’s rival [Alexander Moiseenko, who would eventually win the tournament - CV] suspected that I could be cheating. So, you can’t defeat a 2700+ player without being accused of cheating. That’s just not nice. Especially after winning a game – telling that your opponent could be cheating in the previous game… It’s really upsetting that such kind of, perhaps, narrow-minded people are in chess world...

Dejan Bojkov

Perhaps the following open letter by GM Dejan Bojkov, which was in fact published already a few weeks ago, can be a starting point for the FIDE committee.

Dear all,

due to the increased level of fraud and suspicions of cheating of lately in chess. I would like to to present you an idea of how to deal with the problem.

The idea for anti-cheating commission is fairly simple.
You know that in all sports there are is the so-called doping police. In chess, the main doping is the use of chess engines during the game.
ACP can create a squad, which will receive signals of possible cheating. The players under suspicion can be checked by the doping police randomly and without any hint of what is going to happen.

For example, the case with the notorious Borislav Ivanov cannot be solved at the moment as none is actually checking him. Everyone suspects, believes, but as there are no proves, none can take actions. A sudden check can disclose his real strength. You probably do not know that before the open Bulgarian championship in Plovdiv this February the arbiter (IA Rumen Angelov) showed at the opening ceremony a gadget and stated that he has the right to check anyone during the event. This gadget was basically nothing, but for one or another reason Ivanov's performance there was around 1800-1900.

Anti-cheaters squad will be equipped with the necessary tools for the random checks.
They will have the authority to punish the proved cheater.

I will suggest that at first the cheaters should be banned for 5 years. It is a bit rough, but people need to start thinking twice before doing this. After some years, the ban can be lowered to 2 years, but at least at the beginning things should be scary for the potential cheaters.

The anti-doping cops should be spread on all the continents (although I am not quite sure if this is possible from financial point of view). You will need to polish the details.

One more thing- there should be punishments for people who claim cheating just because they do not like particular player. The anti-cheating squad will also add the names of the people who make the signals and check their reliability.

Please, make me know what do you think about this idea,

GM Dejan Bojkov, Bulgaria


Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers


Frits Fritschy's picture

I think GM Bojkov's idea is a reasonable starting point for anti-cheating regulations. The wording could have been a bit more precise (I don't know about any sport with a doping police, I suppose he means the anti-doping agency), but a lawyer will say the same about my writing. But I like the idea that suspicion shouldn't automatically lead to suspension (as the Bulgarian Chess Federation seems to follow).
It is comparable with the problems the doping agency had with epo in cycling, when it started being used. With the absence of a good test, blood values were seen as an indication of epo use, but not as a proof. The solution was to keep riders out of competition as long as these values were to high, but not to suspend them yet.
I also like it that investigations are left to specialists, and that not just anyone can be subjected to official investigation. There should be objective grounds.

In the following, I only talk about suspicious behaviour, not about proven violations.

Of course the main problem here is how the rights of the person under suspicion should be treated.
1. When should an official investigation be started? Accusations by others may lead to have a look at this player's games, but shouldn't lead to forced body searches. Big rating gains are statistically too wobbly - accepting them just from young players sounds like age discrimination.
A good reason to submit a player to extended investigation would be a high correlation of the player's moves with what a strong engine would play. An expert comittee should determine how high this correlation should be, and how it relates to the known strength of a player.
2. What should constitute an official investigation? I think the means available to the investigators should be limited by the (lack of) possible gains for the player under suspicion. You shouldn't use guns to kill mosquitoes.
3. A player should in all stages of an investigation have the possibility to appeal. He should be properly warned that he is under investigation, and be given the right to appeal to the decision to investigate him. Procedural mistakes during the investigation should be a ground for appeal. After investigators have formally accused him of cheating, he should be heard and be sentenced or cleared by a separate institution.
4. There should be a limitation on the duration of the investigation. After a certain amount of time or a certain number of games, the suspect shall be considered cleared.
5. The investigators should be up to their task. They should know and follow procedures and not act unnecessary harsh or impolite.

Another problem is: who should start an investigation and who should pay for it? (The cost of anti-cheating investigators and necessary equipment will ultimately lead to higher personal federation contributions and lower prize money!) A proper procedure for national tournaments seems to me that tournament directors afterwards report suspicions to the national federation, with all the known facts, like games, behaviour of the suspect etc. The national federation decides whether there is enough to start an investigation. Any (group of) individual(s) might also be give the right to ask for an investigation, but it doesn't seem unreasonable to me to ask for a money deposit. The same for a tournament organisation that wants an investigation started before the tournament begins. No reason to investigate? You lose yor money. If a federation wants to make an investigation international, it should pay FIDE. For FIDE tournaments it would seem fair to me (because of the greater juridical implications) that FIDE takes care of the expenses.

I don't claim I have covered all the ins and outs of anti-cheating procedures here. I hope it will contribute to a less panicky discussion.

Anonymous's picture

I know for a fact that the so-called "expert analysis" for computer agreement on Ivanov's games was done incorrectly.

Anonymous's picture

Welcome to Chessvibes, Borislav.

Kirk Anderson's picture

Hah hah. That's a good one! :)

Anonymous's picture

I know for a fact that the so-called "expert analysis" for computer agreement on Ivanov's games was done incorrectly. Computer agreement isn't enough.

wibble_wobble's picture

Unannounced chess-skill tests seem pretty much the best option in my opinion, they should build a portable faraday cage and conduct the test there (maybe modify a van or a helicopter or something :P). If they are getting outside help, it will not be available, and using a device with a chess program isn't really possible while people are watching your every move I guess...

NN's picture

Your suggestion for such a test could cost more than a whole tournament.

wibble_wobble's picture

Building a faraday cage to fit in the back of a van shouldn't cost more then a few hundred bucks, and the van doesn't have to be new (though companies lease new cars all the time, shouldn't break the bank either way), so that's debatable.
Ofcourse I was kidding about the helicopter ;)

willem's picture

this was a truly depressing article, showing some very negative sides of some of the involved parties.

i agree with some of the things frits fritschy has written. but even his comments - which were nuanced compared to some of the things that were said in the article - are far too extreme in my opinion.

first of all: 99.9% (rounded down(!)) of all otb chess players never have cheated and never will. a lot of anti-cheating measures will cost these people (either directly or indirectly) money, while actually decreasing their enjoyment of the game. so, the damage done by the 0.1% who do cheat has to be really significant to justify large scale measures.

let's get to the article:
i hope ivanov sues the bulgarian chess federation and wins. the first reason of this chess federation is ridiculous. it basically states: "this player has been accused of cheating. the media has picked up on this, and has basically declared him guilty. to save face we must do the same." it's not about right and wrong, it's about image and not having the backbone to stand up against an angry mob.
like actual witchhunts, this hunt has culminated in some dubious test, which is the second reason the bulgarian chess fed has named. this test is not direct evidence, it's circumstancial at best and should never be the sole reason to ban a player (especially as one of ivanov's good tournaments was a rapid tournament).

now, i do not blindly believe in ivanov's innocence. on the contrary. however, it's better if a cheater gets away than if he gets convicted on bad grounds. bad judgements like this one pave the way for paranoid accusations. i feel quite sorry for gm shengalia, and if there was no solid ground for the accusation i think moiseenko should be fined or even banned for slander. under a previous chessvibes article a certain 'jacob aagard' (i can not be certain if it was actually gm jacob aagard or just someone using his name) wrote about a student of his quitting chess after being falsely accused of cheating. in my opinion incidents like these where innocent people get hurt are a direct consequence of - thanks to the bulgarian chess federation - an institutionalised suspicion of great results.

then there's the bindrich ban. i think it's a good thing he wasn't banned for cheating as there is not enough evidence for this. he should however be disciplined in some way as he didn't comply with the rules: in the bundesliga players are obliged to hand over their phone when asked. there can be great reasons to not let your phone be checked by a stranger, and bindrich' choice to not comply with the arbiter's request is not proof that he cheated. however, no-one can deny he broke the rules, and there should be some consequence.

then, as the facts surrounding the kotainy case are unclear, there's the bojkov letter left: his suggestion of an anti cheating agency brought a smile to my face. in cycling, where doping was a real problem, these guys tested cyclists before and after stages, and also out of competition. to begin with the latter: unlike actual 'physical' doping, there is no problem if players are using engines outside their games. then the first part; testing before and after games. sure, that might work. of course it'd be much cheaper and more sensible and more effective to come up with some way in which people would hand in their phone before the start of a game without having to worry about it being stolen. (or, let's just do nothing because - again - almost nobody cheats anyway) but yeah, let's get an expensive anti cheating agency testing chess skill before and after games...
the reason this made me smile is slightly different though. the one thing the anti doping agency in cycling doesn't do is test cyclists during a stage. and this is something positive. i don't think that any chess player should have to acticaly prove he doesn't cheat DURING the game. it's undoubtedly an upsetting experience and would not allow most people to continue a game in a reasonable fashion. (for the record; i think i know which gadget mr bojkov mentioned, and as it is non-intrusive i have no problem with using this during games)
mister bojkov said something else - this time intentional - with which i wholeheartedly agree. frivolous accusations should be punished.

- cheating in chess is not a big problem
- convicting players on poor evidence hurts innocent players
- anti-cheating measures should be cheap and non-intrusive

Frits Fritschy's picture

As I agree with your summary and with most you write, I'm very interested what exactly in my comment you did find far too extreme. I have no problem in modifying any points I mentioned.

willem's picture

my apologies, that was sloppy reading (and writing - after writing such a lengthy comment i didn't feel like re-reading everything as thoroughly as i should) on my behalf. i still disagree with calling mr. bojkov's statement a 'reasonable starting point' as i don't think his contribution was very reasonable. i also disagree with specific ideas like 'expert committees determinating how high engine/player move correlations should be'. but my main problem in general was that i originally got the feeling that you see investigations as a thing that should be normal/common, but upon re-reading i see that i was wrong, or at least very unnuanced.
so, if i knew how, i'd change the paragraph in which i referred to your comment into something more nuanced.

Frits Fritschy's picture

Speak your mind! No need for apologies.
I called GM Bojkov's statement a reasonable starting point as he entered some new elements, giving a fraud suspect some more chances than the rotten tomatoe throwing crowd in the market place (in Roman times called a forum) does.
It's not necessary to totally agree with eachother if we just want to get this discussion to another level.
You can't deny there is a problem. Although at least 99.9% of the players won't do any serious cheating, the possibilities are there and they make some people nervous. Some of them even feel threatened in their livelihood. You can't ignore that. There is a difference between taking a pocket chess or your written opening notes set to the lavatory, as always has been done by that less than 0.1%, and using a chess engine on the same place.
If you're not willing to regulate this, you leave it to the mob.
About the 'expert committee': no doubt you have seen the comments of Mr. Rogoff. I have no reason to doubt he is a trustworthy expert, but still: I can't say he is right, as I'm not a trained statistician. So other experts should be invited to check his findings. That's why I suggested this 'expert committee' - it shouldn't be just one (this) expert.

S3's picture

The list of cheating incidents is by no means complete. This year it was handled quite well by one of the victims at the Cork chess congress. He took the arbiter with him, kicked in the door and dragged Michael Donelly out of toilet with his android chess program still in his hands.
A very good method for such cases in my opinion. However, I do believe it could lead to embarassing moments when suspicions prove to be unfounded.
In this case they proved to be justified anyway, but unfortunately the organisers removed both contestants from the tourney after the cheater called the cops...quite a guy...

bondegnasker's picture

I think IA Angelov's solution of showing off an alleged scanning device was brilliant. But alas, it won't work each time.

Soviet School's picture

Most of the cheats we know of, have only been discovered because they did it ineptly or got overconfident. Ivanov seems able to use his methods at rapid games too.

I think blitz chess is the future slow chess is too easy a target. Is Ist possible to scan For electronic devices in some way?

live tv's picture

I know this website presents quality dependent articles or reviews and extra information, is there any other website which presents these stuff in quality?

Bartleby's picture

For a young talent who thinks about getting pro, the choice is: Do it smarter than Ivanov does, or forget about chess and get a job in real life.

Mike's picture

This is actually the movie Matrix: When a human easily defeats another human, he is under suspicion of having support from a machine, because the later is now superior...In future the outcome of this tendency will turn us slaves of the machines because superior systems tend to dominate inferior ones...What's the cure? I don't know, and it would be foolish to ask a computer....

Merlinovich's picture

The cheating Ivanov has used in his chess games is thoroughly demonstrated comparing his moves with popular engines like Houdini. Houdart (the programmer of Houdini) is right on the money: No human being can match a typical engine's choice #1 or #2 in almost all of the moves. Comparing Carlsen's or Kramnik's moves will convince you, they will never come that close to "computer chess". That's because the human brain cannot calculate the same way a computer can. Sophisticated human intuition will not bring the human moves close enough to calculation-based moves.

It is wrong to compare a single move with what would be a "reasonable move" according to a human - it is the the fact that the computer's choice is used each and every time that proves that the chess game was not played with a human brain. This is the most promising way to catch cheaters like Ivanov.

Maybe Ivanov should be thanked for exposing this problem to FIDE, because a solution is urgent. The technology is definitely on the side of Ivanov and his like, and it will only grow. See this article
A quote from this article: "The company is also developing hi-tech lenses for use by American soldiers, feeding battlefield information directly into their eyes."
I believe this is how Ivanov receives his moves even for 10-minutes Blitz games. How he transmits the moves from the game to the engine before receiving his response move, I don't know. But I think all the suggestions for catching this electronically or by strip search etc. is bound to be inefficient in the long run. We can perhaps catch Ivanov now, but then other tecnical solutions will emerge to continue cheating.

What the cheater can't hide by any means is that he is making computer moves, based on computer calculations. This is where the FIDE "cheating committee" should put their efforts. The solution would be to develop a relatively simple program that can receive a number of games that has been played, and analyze if they are consisting of "computer moves" for one of the players. It should have the strongest engines as default comparison. It would then conclude whether cheating with a chess engine was taking place. If this engine is run on Carlsen's and Kramnik's games and concludes that no cheating is taking place, while run on Ivanov's games will conclude that cheating is taking place, we have a working solution which can be refined over time. One of the things to consider is that weaker chess engines could be used to try to "confuse" the cheating detection, and a way to calibrate the detection to different engines should be possible. Also certain moves might be chosen by the human instead of relying on the computer move, when the player is winning easily. Of course we have also seen Ivanov sometimes play a complete game himself, as a means of "sandbagging" where he loses easily against a strong grandmaster. The program should be able to point out which games were played with computer intelligence, and which were not.

Suspension policies for cheaters is best left to a legal aftermath where any player accused of cheating has the right to defend himself. The tournament director of a given tournament could simply state that no prize money is given to a player that has been determined to cheat by the above outlined program, and the presumed cheating is then handled separately in court, whether that be according to FIDE statutes, or a specific country's legal mechanisms, or in the national chess federation where the tournament was played.

I recommend Lilov for the analysis he has made of Ivanov's games to highlight suspicion, but I don't believe this type of analysis is sufficiently valid from a scientific point of view. It is far too easy to start a witch hunt, without indisputable evidence.

midknight's picture

Don't believe the experts with agendas. Lilov and his manager are fringe players getting publicity for trashes Ng Ivanov's name with zero evidence. Secondly, Ivanov's correlation with Houdini is lower than Kramnik's, not higher. Why do you think he is turning in 2400-2500 performances instead of 2700 plus performances? Because he is a decent hour layer, but not a superGM. If he has Houdini magically injected into his extracellular fluid, then he would be playing 3400 level chess. Also the computer move claims for Bf4 and Qxc5 in recent chessbase article about whining Italian GM were laughable. Clearly on move 8 a player is likely still using home prepared opening analysis so claims of computer assistance at this point are comical. As for Qxc5 later in the game, it was an obvious candidate move, But a sour grapes GM tells us it is not a human move,so I guess we are to believe him. What happened to appreciating creative moves. You didn't expect your 2400 opponent to play a move, so you resort to jumping on the band wagon and claiming that he cheats. I do not believe Ivanov should be subjected to scrutiny unless your suspicions have more substance or unless you test all participants. If you catch someone by testing everyone, then you help all of chess. If u subject one guy to a witch hunt, and emerge with no evidence each time then you are barking up the wrong tree.

Kirk Anderson's picture

Is that you Borislav?

Anonymous's picture

On June 19, the Bulgarian Chess Federation organized an anti-cheating test for Borislav Ivanov. He did not show up for the test, giving notice via his lawyer the night before the test. It stated that at the time scheduled for the test Ivanov was going to play at the Varna Open.

jerome's picture

Which he did not.

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