Bartek Macieja | July 10, 2013 3:36

Fighting cheating in chess

A week ago Chessbase published an interview with two grandmasters: Irina Lymar and Oleg Korneev.
The topic was important, many valuable thoughts were included. Perhaps the only clear exaggeration was to state that cheating was not clearly prohibited by FIDE rules and there were no sanctions (see, for instance, excerpts included in Problem 5).

My first impression was that the information provided seemed to be outdated. Indeed, as shown at the bottom of that page, the interview was originally published in Chess-News on the 15th of April 2013 in Russian.
Since then, on the proposal of the ACP, the joint Anti-Cheating Committee has been formed. It consists of 5 representatives of the ACP and 5 representatives of FIDE:

ACP Representatives:
IA Laurent Freyd
IO Yuri Garrett
GM/FST Miguel Illescas
GM/FST Konstantin Landa
IM Kenneth Regan

FIDE Representatives:
IA Klaus Deventer
FM/IA/IO/FST Israel Gelfer
Michalis Kaloumenos
IM/IO George Mastrokoukos
FM/IA Shaun Press.

I hope the committee will work intensively and come into concrete conclusions reasonably soon.

Definitely, the range of activity of the committee needs to be defined. There are many possible problems:

1) The use of electronic databases and engines during a game
It is important to remember that a person can try to cheat himself or as a part of a team.

1.1. Shall someone have the right to inspect a suspected player? What should be the procedure?
1.2. What kind of measures shall be taken? Shall metal detectors be used? How sensitive? Are the costs realistic for tournament organisers? What should be the procedure of checking? Should there be a delay in online transmission?
1.3. What shall be done for official events and what can be demanded, what only recommended and what left up to an organiser's choice for other tournaments?
1.4. Should players have the right to bring means of communication to the playing hall if they are completely switched off or not? What about spectators?
1.5. What can be considered as a prove of electronic cheating and what as a violation of the anti-cheating procedure? Definitely somebody's mobile phone not completely switched off is not a prove of electronic cheating, but it can be considered as a violation of the anti-cheating procedure.
1.6. Under which circumstances a player can be accused of cheating based solely on the moves played?
1.7. What shall be the sanctions?

Suggested by Irina Lymar huge metal detectors used at airports are not sensitive enough to catch some small electronic devices. I know this is a physicist, also from my personal experience. For instance it hardly ever happens that such a metal detector can detect my insulin pump, my watch never! Let's remember that many devices that can be used for cheating have uncomparably small sizes and can be build from various materials!
Such huge metal devices are used mostly to find guns and ... to scare people.
Hand metal detectors used at the airport are much more sensitive. In particular, all of them can immediately detect my insulin pump.

Let me tell you a practical example - during a tournament in Nakhchivan (Azerbaijan) in May 2013, every person entering the playing hall was checked with a hand metal detector. Not only once, but every time he/she was entering the playing hall. I had some natural doubts, but the system proved to be working smoothly in practice.

2) The use of paper books and magazines during a game
Very often books are widely available during tournaments at the playing hall or nearby. Sometimes players read them during their games. It has happened many times that such books contained information that could be useful for that particular game of a reader.

2.1. How to fight this problem?
2.2. Shall reading books be totally prohibited while playing?
2.3. What about people that sell books during tournaments in which they are playing?
2.4. What shall be the sanctions?

3) The use of the third party help during a game
It happens often that players talk to other players or "spectators" about their current games. Sometimes it influences the result of such games.

3.1. What shall be done to reduce/eliminate this kind of cheating?
3.2. Shall the players be allowed to talk during games about other topics or not at all?
3.3. What shall be the sanctions?

It is easy to defeat players for every word said, but it is not a practical solution. Every player has many friends ("gens una sumus"), it is clear a way how to greet with them is needed. People may have other practical problems - for instance they share a room with someone, but there is only one key. Therefore a reasonable rule needs to be proposed.

4) Irregular situations
Sometimes it happens that the situation runs out of control. For instance there is no electricity for 1 hour and games need to be stopped.

4.1. What are the players allowed to do? It is practically impossible to keep them silent, staying at the playing hall (especially without light).
4.2. What shall be done in such cases to prevent cheating attempts described in previous points?

5) Prearranged results
Prearranged results may have even a bigger impact on the final standings than an electronic cheating.

5.1. What shall be the sanctions for a prearranged resultative game?
5.2. What shall be the sanctions for a prearranged draw? Do they depend if the 30-move (or 40-move) rule is applied or not?
5.3. What shall be the sanctions for players deliberately losing games in order to reduce rating and to be able later on to fight for rating range prizes?
5.4. When can a game be declared prearranged?

Prearranged draws were widely spread and tolerated, though formally never allowed. Indeed, it was difficult to explain why players could freely agree to a draw after one move and couldn't earlier. Formally it was a different situation, but practically?
The situation is visibly different when the 30-move (or 40-move) rule is applied. Still, it is clear that the damage is significantly less than in the case of a prearranged resultative game. One important difference is that players agree to a draw, as they are satisfied with that result, whereas people deliberately lose games for other reasons (usually financial).

An additional problem with prearranged games is that in practice very often arbiters prefer not to do anything. It is more simple and avoids problems. Organisers (and sponsors) also prefer, if there are no scandals in their tournaments.

However, such a common approach violates FIDE rules:

FIDE Laws of Chess

Article 13: The role of the Arbiter (See Preface)
13.1. The arbiter shall see that the Laws of Chess are strictly observed.
13.2. The arbiter shall act in the best interest of the competition. He should ensure that a good playing environment is maintained and that the players are not disturbed. He shall supervise the progress of the competition.
13.3. The arbiter shall observe the games, especially when the players are short of time, enforce decisions he has made and impose penalties on players where appropriate.
FIDE Tournament Rules
8.f Where it is clear games have been pre-arranged, the CA shall impose suitable penalties.
FIDE Code of Ethics
The Code of Ethics shall be breached by a person or organization who directly or indirectly
2.1 offers, or attempts to offer or accepts any consideration or bribe with a view of influencing the result in a game of chess or election into FIDE office.
2.2 in other respects acts contrary to this Code.
Of particular importance in this respect are the following:
(...) Cheating or attempts at cheating during games and tournaments.
3. The tournament officials will take all necessary steps to ensure the proper conduct of both games and tournaments according to the Laws of Chess and the tournament regulations.

The committee definitely needs to help arbiters by providing them with a guide when they should react and when they should refrain from reacting (not less important!).
Fighting prearranged results without a help from arbiters is impossible. In order to motivate them to do their job properly, I believe that the following two questions need to be answered:
a) What kind of sanctions / disciplinary measures shall be taken against an arbiter who didn't react, although he should have been?
b) What kind of sanctions / disciplinary measures shall be taken against an arbiter who reacted, although he should have not been?

6. The role and conduct of captains
The role and conduct of captains in team competitions need to be clarified. I can see several doubtful situations, for instance:

6.1. A player asks for a permission to offer/accept a draw, then - before giving an answer - his captain consults the position with other people or chess engines.
6.2. A captain permanently consults the position with other people or chess engines and at one moment is being asked whether to offer/accept a draw.

During the Azerbaijan-Poland match at the last Olympiad, before making a move, my opponent asked his captain whether to offer a draw. It was before his 26th move. It was round 9, so everybody knew that the rules of the Olympiad didn't even allow a draw offer before move 30.
"Coincidentally" my opponent had two possibilities: to keep playing an unclear balanced position or to sacrifice a rook and finish a game with a perpetual check instantly.
In my opinion it was an obvious attempt of cheating (Problem 3: The use of the third party help during a game).

Some players ask in similar situations the same question to the captain, but at the stage when a draw offer is possible.
I hope the committee will clarify whether it shall be considered as an attempt of cheating or as the right of a player.

7. Taking back moves
Some players have been caught on taking back moves or on moving a piece other than touched. The list even includes one World Champion and one European Champion.

Shall additional sanctions (apart of forcing such a player to make a move according to the Laws of Chess) apply?

The answer may strongly depend on the level and experience of players. Beginners often touch or take back pieces due to unawareness. With grandmasters it is usually an obvious/conscious attempt to cheat.

8. The appeals
An accusation of cheating can definitely destroy a career of a player, therefore a protection mechanism needs to be set.

The FIDE Code of Ethics already predicts some protection:

2.2.9 Players or members of their delegations must not make unjustified accusations toward other players, officials or sponsors. All protests must be referred directly to the arbiter or the Technical Director of the tournament.
2.2.10 In addition, disciplinary action in accordance with this Code of Ethics will be taken in cases of occurrences which cause the game of chess, FIDE or its federations to appear in an unjustifiable unfavorable light and in this way damage its reputation.
2.2.11 Any conduct likely to injure or discredit the reputation of FIDE, its events, organizers, participants, sponsors or that will enhance the goodwill which attaches to the same.

A proper procedure of appeals needs to be set. Irina Lymar is right that it is extremely difficult for a standard judge to understand nuances of chess cheating. Perhaps an arbitrage committee would deal with a problem much better than a civil court. The verdicts will be faster, better and will not generate such costs. Perhaps the whole mechanism of appeals needs to be included into FIDE rules, whereas by joining a tournament a person will automatically agree to follow that procedure.
A compensation to a falsely accused person need to be foreseen (this is clearly missing nowadays!).

9. The disqualification and its consequences
The consequences of disqualification in each case need to be specified and contain also financial consequences (especially if by cheating players won prizes).
It is definitely more difficult as it may seem to be, as:
9.1. We have different type of tournaments (team, individual, open, round robin, etc.)
9.2. It can be found either during a tournament or after its accomplishment that a person was cheating.

So far FIDE totally fails on this field. In 2004, when 2 players from Papua New Guinea and Bermuda refused to take anti-doping tests, their personal results were modified to defeats in all games and the final standing of the Olympiad was changed accordingly. In 2010, when GM Feller was caught on electronic team cheating, the personal results were adjusted according to another, more sophisticated procedure, whereas the final standings of the team of France at the Olympiad was left unchanged!
Such an inconsequence is not acceptable and definitely does not look professional at all!
Oleg Korneev's arguments also need to be taken into account.
With my full respect to the actions taken by the French federation, I wonder if the result of France would be left unchanged if they finished on the first place...

10. The conclusion
Figthing cheating in chess is relatively easy by prohibiting everything and applying severe sanctions.
That's, however, not a practical solution, with a lot of drawbacks. The common sense needs to prevail. And that's the difficult part!

I wish the newly created Anti-Cheating Committee a fruitful work.

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Bartek Macieja's picture
Author: Bartek Macieja


Thomas Oliver's picture

With cheating accusations in general, and particularly with the new aspects GM Macieja proposes to address (problems 5 and 6), I see the problem that the cure can be worse than the purported disease - alertness yes, paranoia no.

For prearranged games, I see no 'general' way to answer "5.4 When can a game be declared prearranged?". If players follow a well-known theoretical draw, it doesn't necessarily mean that they agreed on this variation before the game. They might just stumble into this variation, or they were even unaware of predecessor games and "reinvented the wheel" - particularly at lower (amateur) level, but even at the world top it's unclear whether Karjakin and/or Anand knew that their Tal Memorial game was a copy of two correspondence games.
For (possibly!) prearranged losses, do players retain the right to make mistakes, even horrendous ones, or not? Just a few days ago in Beijing, Gelfand needlessly lost on time against Giri - here noone would suspect cheating because Gelfand has an excellent reputation and the benefit for Giri was (at least at that moment in the tournament) limited. In the previous GP series, Mamedyarov lost on time against Radjabov and several titled players suspected cheating because it was a win-win situation for both (Radjabov qualified for the candidates, Mamedyarov got a wildcard). In the final round of the Beijing GP, the three current leaders (Karjakin, Grischuk and Mamedyarov) and the current overall leader Topalov may all face opponents who have little to win or lose for themselves - what if something "strange" (strange being a matter of personal taste) happens in any of these games??

On the role of team captains (Problem 6): Should they really be limited to providing beverages for their players, or is it their task to monitor the entire match while each player has to primarily focus on his own game? If so, it makes sense that they can interfer with the games when it comes to offering a draw or accepting a draw offer. If this is allowed, can players also ask "May/should I _force_ a draw?" ? Indeed sometimes players are harshly criticized for making such decisions (offering, accepting or forcing a draw) without first asking their team captain.
IMO Macieja goes to far calling the incident from the Olympiad "an obvious attempt of cheating". The Azeri team captain may have given the player green light not because of his (engine-assisted or not) opinion on this particular position, but because of his assessment of the entire match situation. [The game is easy to trace, and Guseinov did sacrifice a rook to force perpetual check]

RG13's picture

@Thomas Oliver I missed your comment about what seems to be a serious question for the FIDE anti-cheating committee;

"1.6. Under which circumstances a player can be accused of cheating based solely on the moves played?"

Under other threads you seem to be of the opinion that it is not a serious question at all because cheating can never be determined based solely upon the moves played (and many strong players have made up their minds about Boris Ivanov on that basis). If I am not mistaken about your view on this then I doubt that you are a grandmaster because I don't know of any grandmasters that share your view on that. And who better than grandmasters to know what is strong human play and what is assisted play?

Anonymous's picture

I thought thhat the rule was in case a player ask if he would make a draw. The arbiter may then evaluate all positions ( of course without computer) of the math except yours. And then for the interest of the math position he can allow you to make a draw of refuse it because the othere games stands bad.

Anonymous's picture

I am sorry NOT the arbiter
I mean the Team captain of course!

Anonymous's picture

I stopped reading once he started about reading chess magazines during the game. This committee seems to be on a committee-typical crusade to consider everything and achieve nothing. We need a solution against people who cheat by secretly using electronic devices.

If they have solved this little side issue they may go back to think about life-banning people who have taken back a move or wear their hat the wrong way.

Anonymous's picture

To stop cheating:
1. The player is allowed to talk to no one excep the TD or his assistants during the game.
2. No electronic devices switched on at any time during the game.
PS: Cheating or allegations of cheating will only be considered if a breach of the above rules is proven.

Yuri's picture

Everyone online cheats at chess. Those who say they don't are the worse culprits.

RG13's picture

The ratings are very depressed on sites like When I see a USCF master with a 'live standard rating' of less than 1700 or an International master with a 'live standard rating' of less than 2000 (after playing many games) then I don't assume that THEY are cheating. Or maybe they just have weak hardware?

hansdampf's picture

?? what impertinent statement! At least we know that you are cheating!

Anonymous's picture

I have a simple solution that may work in most cases.
For the game started all players give there mobile phones to the arbiter ( or first to the teamcaptian ).
After the game every body will get back his mobile Phone. Phone calles during the games are not allowed. Maybe except if there is something special that is agree with the arbiter. Like someone expected a call to become a father that day.

Anonymous's picture

All the phones can lay in a plastic basket on the desk of the arbiter in sight of every body. And I see no problems. Maybe you can even put stickers with the names of the players on the phones.

Ivan Madsen's picture

Well, take all electronic devices and put them in the tournament office. But what about glasses (I wear glasses and is helpless wihtout) or lenses? I don't know how far it is necessary to go - but the last news mean that anything similar to an electronic device on or near the player are prohibited except those needed by nedical causes. Wow - we've got to find some place to keep all that equipment during the 4-5 hours of play. And players who can't live without their devices for that time - dismiss them, they are not serious anyway ;-) I don't accuse them of cheating but just being dependant of being online.

Anonymous's picture

-there is no way to stop smart cheatters with such measures,even mass metal detector scanning is useless
I think every player has a right to be searched twice per game,as a rule

Aruba!'s picture

"there is no way to stop smart cheatters"

There are no smart chatters to stop here.

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