Reports | December 30, 2012 14:04

Bulgarian player strip searched after suspection of cheating

During the Zadar open, held 16-22 December, a Bulgarian chess player was strip searched after being suspected of cheating. The arbiters didn't find anything and apologized, but the news did reach Croatian main stream media.

Borislav Ivanov, untitled and rated 2227, had the tournament of his life at the Zadar Open which concluded last week. The 25-year-old Bulgarian, who works as a programmer, 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. Suspected of getting help via an electronic device, Ivanov had to take off his clothes.

After the eighth round there were suspicions that Ivanov had some electronic tools to help him and in my capacity of arbiter I decided to make a move in line with the FIDE rules,

Stanislav Maroja, the chairperson of the Zadar County Chess Federation told daily newspaper Jutarnji List.

According to the newspaper Ivanov voluntarily took off his shirt, had his pockets emptied and gave his pen for inspection, but the arbiters didn't find anything and then apologized to him. A number of Croatian newspapers reported on the incident, e.g. the Croatian Times, Focus and the aforementioned Jutarnji List.

It's unclear whether the current FIDE regulations give an arbiter the right to search a player. The official Laws of Chess don't mention anything specific, so perhaps Maroja referred to the following paragraphs:


The arbiter shall see that the Laws of Chess are strictly observed.


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.

Two months ago a German chess player was suspected of cheating at the German Bundesliga. He refused to be searched, whereupon his game was declared lost. This decision wasn't based on FIDE regulations though, but on specific Bundesliga regulations. The regulations for the Zadar Open don't mention anything about (penalties related to) cheating or the possibility to search players.

The tournament had two separate groups, and the Bulgarian participated in the top group. This A group was for players rated above 2300 FIDE but players rated between 2200-2300 could choose whether they wanted to play in "A" or "B". Both were 9-round Swisses with the time control 90 minutes + 30 seconds increment. Borki Predojević and Hrvoje Stević tied for first with half a point more than Ivanov.

Borislav Ivanov's games

PGN file

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.


Leonard Barden's picture

So far the current 2227-rated Borislav Ivanov case is probably unique in chess history.


1 Borislav Ivanov is probably the first adult (as opposed to a junior talent) with a confirmed low rating ever to achieve a 2600+ GM norm performance in an event of nine rounds or more, playing highly rated opponents throughout. I say 'probably' because I can't think of any previous comparable example, even earlier in chess history before Fide ratings.
Before his stellar result at Zadar 2012, Ivanov was ranked No 114 in Bulgaria, and had played more than 400 Fide-rated games, never surpassing his current rating of 2227. His Fide rating has been static in the 2100-2200 range for the past three years.

Then-whoosh! 2697.


2 Borislav Ivanov is the first player ever to successfully cheat at a major tournament over multiple rounds without the cheating mechanism being detected.

The nearest previous parallels are:

The German club player Clemens Allwermann successfully cheated with an earpiece linked to Fritz at the Bobingen Open 1999 and was awarded first prize, but was subsequently exposed.
Sebastien Feller and his two accomplices cheated with the aid of a long-distance computer link at the 2010 Olympiad but were also caught later.
So was the Indian Umakant Sharma, who cheated at a 2006 Indian tournament with a device sewn into his cap.

Most other cheating episodes have concerned only single games or low rated tournaments and are proven to use either (usually) a cellphone or (occasionally) a hearing device.

There are no examples known of devices successfully transmitting chess moves in competitive play via contact lenses, the skin, the brain or other such concepts.

Assuming that the body search conducted by Zadar tournament officials after round eight included looking carefully for a very small earpiece, the cheating mechanism in this case remains unexplained.

That's why it is important that somebody with access to Houdini or another top program examines the nine 2227-rated Borislav Ivanov games from Zadar 2012 quoted above for correlation of Ivanov's moves with a program.
Such a program check of the games may help to establish whether the player used computer assistance.

I found a few 2227-rated Borislav Ivanov games from earlier events and he seemed then a generally passive and routine player who was regularly crunched by stronger opponents whereas some of his wins against 2550+ GMs at Zadar 2012 are distinguished by very sharp and complex tactics. So my money is on unexplained cheating, but I'd like it confirmed.

Thomas's picture

There is at least one earlier, actually pretty recent example: Two years ago the American Matthew Herman (Elo 2149 before the event) won the Milan Open with 6.5/9 ahead of several GMs. The difference might be that his rating wasn't exactly "confirmed" because he had played just four FIDE-rated games to earn an initial rating - if anything, this makes his result (in Milan and elsewhere October-December 2010) more surprising.
There was even a mildly similar surprise at the Zadar Open 2011 when 20th seed IM Sebenik (now GM) almost won the event. All three players - Herman, Sebenik and Ivanov - are in their mid-to late twenties, too old to be considered junior talents, but young enough to improve their chess (at my age of 45 I haven't lost hope completely even if I lost ambition :) ).

It seems misleading to describe Ivanov's rating history as 'static':
January 2008 (age 20) Elo 1861
January 2009 Elo 1973
January 2010 Elo 2128
January 2011 Elo 2201
[so far 'late' but rather steady progress, then two years of stagnation - including the first half of 2012 when he didn't play at all]
"generally passive and routine player who was regularly crunched by stronger opponents" - which games do you mean? It seems that he played maybe a dozen GMs before the Zadar Open. It is at least possible that he learnt from these games, analysing them (with engines and/or human coaches?), improving his tactical abilities, losing excessive respect for stronger players, ... . I do not consider the tactics all that complex, notably 32.-Bxg3 against Kozul was fairly 'routine' (ask the GM why he missed this shot, indeed inviting it with 31.Nc5).

Bottom line: maybe Ivanov cheated, but there's no hard evidence whatsoever. BTW who suspected Ivanov of "getting help via an electronic device", and why? Just because his games and results were deemed too good to be true, or was there ANY unusual and possibly suspicious behavior: frequent toilet visits, playing key moves very quickly, whatever ... ?

P.S.: While Leonard Barden's comment is still a valid opinion, I wonder if Jocky's is consistent with Chessvibes' Terms and Conditions (no "unfounded or unproved allegations ... against a person") - not my task to decide this.

Leonard Barden's picture

Matthew Herman, according to his online interview with Jen Shahade, was the No2 U13 in the United States behind Hikaru Nakamura when he gave up chess for several years, so I'd count him as a delayed junior talent. Sebenik seems an IM who improved from 2400 ish to 2550 ish, which is quite normal for players in their twenties.
'Crunched by stronger opponents' -see Ivanov's losses to GM Radulski and FM Furman at Albena 2010 (two and a half years ago, and Ivanov was already 2157 then so I question the 'steady improvement' ) and his 22-move loss to Krum Georgiev in September 2012, just two months before his stellar result at Zadar.
It seems to me now that Jocky below may have a point, even it was made somewhat crudely. Apparently the online live coverage was turned off in round 8, when Ivanov played weakly in advance of the body search...
I continue to believe that the next step should be an analysis with Houdini of all these nine games.

Thomas's picture

Last year, Sebenik had Elo 2518 and scored a 2714 TPR (Chessvibes' "other news" report is no longer online, but it's still on my harddisk :) ). How much overperformance is "acceptable", and does it really matter if the successful player is a teenager or aged twenty-something? For Ivanov, would a TPR of 2450 (say, including two wins against GMs and a loss against a player of his own nominal level) be OK, or is this already too much for an 'old' player??

I found Ivanov's losses from Albena 2010 - yes he made progress in the meantime, but such progress is possible without cheating!? As to losing in 22 moves, this (rarely) happens even to the very strongest players, e.g. Carlsen and Kramnik ... .

Regarding Ivanov's steady rating progress, I explicitly referred to January 2008 - January 2011. Random comparison: It took Ivanov less than two years (April 2009 - January 2011) to get from Elo 2002 to 2201. Caruana needed more than three years from Elo 2032 (Jan 2002) to 2255 (April 2005) - obviously at a much younger age, but it seems that Ivanov only started to play tournament chess when he was 20. Of course I don't mean to imply that Ivanov can reach Caruana's current level, but his subsequent stagnation could indicate that he - like Herman - focussed on other things than chess and just didn't quit playing altogether.

jussu's picture

This really looks like a nice steady progress, and the man is quite young, so I am putting my money on him having made further progress in his chess understanding, plus some luck.

CS's picture

According to the discussion how to betray in chess everybody is talking only about electronically means and persons who are giving signs, of course it makes a little bit a strange impression if suddenly a player increases his play and ELO performance like the bulgarian player, but I do not understand that nobody has yet gotten the idea, that it is also possible to betray in total other ways, e.g. somebody has got a twin or an alter ego, so it is of course possible that two complete different people having a different level to play and acting under one identity, while pulling out the clothes or inspect pens thus possibility to betray seems not to be a fitting method to discover what has happend.

By the way, the chess scene was all times a little bit strange and odd, but that now the players have to pull out the clothes I can not accept, because the tendency that somebody in future time will again exagerate control means and functions of controlling,so what will happen next? Shall every player take place in a competion naked or have they discovered a new business field, e.g. how to promote chess in part-time-porno?

O.k., even if the bulgarian player has played better than in past time, may be he is very intelligent, has changed the trainer, improved his training and over all situation?!

What I would like to point out, the tendency to polarize I do not like, because the people doing so, don't see the long-term negative aspect for potential sponsors.

harvey's picture

Hm.. so it may actually be Carlsen's twin playing when he is winning

Chris's picture

Someone has had good tournament. Then you have doubts and suspicions. You made allegations.
That is ill. Are you responsible for that you are written?
There shall be some sanctions for allegations either.

rivaldo's picture

before I would dare to write such a tendentious comment I would examine the games myself. EVERYONE has access to strong engines - for instance houdini - everyone with internetaccess.
but to formulate at a well founded conclusion you should be a strong player with comp experience. some of your points are clearly misleading (static elo..)

Sam's picture

Hi Leonard ..Your argument is baseless. A guy working as a programmer can easily play his this moves with existing rating of 2200+. You simply cannot digest his wins. The opponents rating of 2500+ is not highly unbeatable. I can happen. If you observe the games, the opponents were simply underestimating the guy. we all should appreciate his spirit to cooperate with the orbiter. We cannot attribute cheating here. Let's see how this guy will show his talent to the world.

Anonymous's picture

Thank you for your detailed and thoughtful comment.

eleaticus's picture

The article headline is nonsense to an english speaker. Strip searching involves taking off all the clothing. Without actual strip searching we don't know what device - if any - he had in his pants. a simple receiver/vibration-device and code could communicate the desired moves, Examing the relevant games with Houdini/etc is a good idea. If he wasn't cheating? Would YOU thereafter perform well when looked upon as a cheat?

eleaticus's picture

The article headline is nonsense to an english speaker. Strip searching involves taking off all the clothing. Without actual strip searching we don't know what device - if any - he had in his pants. a simple receiver/vibration-device and code could communicate the desired moves, Examing the relevant games with Houdini/etc is a good idea. If he wasn't cheating? Would YOU thereafter perform well when looked upon as a cheat?

Internet Pedant's picture

"2 Borislav Ivanov is the first player ever to successfully cheat at a major tournament over multiple rounds without the cheating mechanism being detected."

How do you know there haven't been previous players to do so? By definition, if they were successful at cheating and weren't detected, no-one else would know it had happened, right?

Anonymous's picture

"...unexplained cheating..." is no cheating.

Jocky's picture

Its clear he cheated up to rd 8 then ditched the device and willingly was searched, with all eyes on his rd 9 game hisoponentplayed crap. You dont suddenly have a 2700 performance from nowhere, I bet the arbiter was bulling nothing found, maybe a lawsuit now ....that would be funny, the cheat sues the event.........and WINS

Chris's picture

would you do that on his place? it shall be a lawsuit to stop this hystery.

wang chi's picture

In Game 8 of world championship Anand found a novelty which even Kramnik has overlooked. But Houdini knew that move. Does that mean Anand cheated or was acessinh Houdini during the match?

S3's picture

Why on earth would anyone want to cheat at a chess tournament? Chess is hardly the game to make big money by breaking the rules.

voyteck's picture

Haven't you ever see those pictures of children crying after losing a game? Some adults still try to satisfy their parents or simply to compensate some deficiencies. Others buy cars they cannot really afford, for example.

Chris's picture

there are also sore losers who can not accept the lose and are making allegations that someone has cheated.

jussu's picture

Actually, I haven't. I have made lifetime enemies by winning games against supposedly stronger old men, but I have never seen a youngster taking losses that hard.

RG13's picture

People have engaged elaborate means to cheat at board-games with even less payoff in cash and prestige than chess.

Anonymous's picture

As a low rated chess player, I'd love to have a much higher rating....wouldn't most of us?

Theo's picture

Obviously some 'help' by electronical devices. No doubt at all.
It's simply impossible to have a good tournament like this and jump from 2200 to 2600 level. Nope, it's impossible.

Chris's picture

maybe the help from spirits world :)

Berliner's picture

Ivanovs 23.Re8 and 24. Qe2 in his game against Zelcic look very strong....suspiciously strong I'm inclined to say.

Thomas's picture

I have just a 1900ish national Elo (a bit higher in the past), I don't necessarily claim that I would have found these moves myself, but to me they aren't inhumanly difficult to spot: 23.Re8 moves away the attacked rook with check, 24.Qe2 then protects the rook and - under certain circumstances - threatens Qe6 mate. There's still a pin on the c-file, there is another pin on the eigth rank, neither motive is rocket science! And it wasn't even necessary to see all this far in advance (19.g3).
I wonder about your own level, speculating that it is well below Elo 2200 ... .

Berliner's picture

Your speculations about my level of play are quite wrong, and I wonder if the other things you claim here make any more sense. I doubt any 2200 human player would have considered giving black the time to protect his Knight c4 when it could have simply be captured.

Thomas's picture

Some players may automatically recapture with 23.Rxc4, others continue calculating 23.-Qb6+ 24.Kh1 Bxe1 25.Qxe1 - about even material and the white king seems more vulnerable. At this stage they may look for something better.

Whatever your own level is (impossible to verify): Are you also 2200ish but unwilling or unable to calculate a rather simple and straightforward line? Are you stronger and claiming "I could find it but such a patzer cannot"?

Berliner's picture

While you might be right with the line you are giving and maybe even with claiming that Re8 and Qe2 might be within reach of a human player, I will refrain from discussing this topic with you any further. Best of luck on your journey to the 2000 Elo barrier.

Thomas's picture

For what it's worth, I am already on the return trip: my rating used to be above 2000 (last time in 2002, time goes by ...), earlier (in Germany) even above 2100 but than I was probably overrated. Anyone who wants to check and discover my last name: team En Passant

One reason why I became 'weaker': nowadays I only play team competitions, often against much weaker opponents, and would need to score close to 100% to merely defend a higher rating.

My rating and rating history doesn't really matter - but if you, the champ and 2600+ are really as strong as you claim (which I cannot verify and still doubt): could it be that you are simply jealous that Ivanov has achieved something that you never managed to do?

Brian Wall's picture

If Bindrich had embarrassing naked pictures on his phone he might be reluctant to hand it over even to prove he didn't cheat - could be anything, 3 girlfriends that don't know about each other, kiddie porn, gay action, who knows. doesn't mean he cheated, he just didn't want his privacy invaded. People put their whole life into their phones nowadays.

Tarjei's picture

That's just a really bad excuse. The arbiter asked to see his cell phone for running chess programs, not for photos, videos or anything else.

If anything like that was a concern of his, Bindrich could've asked to stand by the arbiter while they were inspecting the phone.

Chris's picture

may be wrong excuse but defencing the privacy is more important then point

Goendi's picture

That is absolute crap. The right to privacy is a fundamental right acknowledged by European laws. Stating this is "just a bad excuse" is adressing democracy itself. It is thanks to rights we have earned that individuals are now protected bymass hysterics and illegal pursuits. These rights are meant to protect every single one of us. Call that an excuse, and I call you an ignorant individual who should have gone to school longer!

Kooma's picture

Don't give that human rights crap. Playing chess tournaments is voluntary. When you enter a tournament you accept the rules. After that you have only bad excuses to not follow them.

Sasha's picture

Well first of all this does not mean he plays at a 2600 level. This could be just a case of variance. Add a possible increase of 100 elo to his strenght and it is not that hard to believe.

NN's picture

Judging from his games, I guess that the arbiters did not search well enough.

the champ's picture

He was cheating. Just checked the game against Kurajica with Stockfish. Every move is the computers first choice! There are quite a number of not obvious moves as well: 12.d5, 15.Qh6, 16.e4, 22.Ra1!! and 23.Nf5! just to name a few.

rivaldo's picture

so you state, that stockfish doesn't change it's "mind" at all? that's the first engine where this is the case. did you measure this at a fixed time/move or what? still would be different on different hardware.

Thomas's picture

Good point: I also went over the game with Stockfish, several times white had more than one good move and the engine hesitated which would be the very best one.
As to the "not obvious moves" (partly repeating what Frits Fritschy already wrote): 12.d5 blocks the black Bb7 (typical motive in such positions), 15.Qh6 says 'hello' to the black king, 16.e4 (again) threatens Nxf5, 22.Ra1 occupies the only open file - maybe counter-intuitive to move away from the kingside action, but e.g. in the closed Ruy Lopez a rook on the a-file can help with a mating attack (and even a 1.d4 player as Ivanov might know). 24.Nf5 may be the only "difficult" move, but not too difficult for someone solving tactical puzzles as part of his chess training!?

Again, I wonder about "the champ's" own chessic level - not much more than club champion in a small amateur club?

the champ's picture

It´s easy to rationalize moves after they have been played. Not so easy to spot them beforehand. In my opinion Ivanov plays extremely strong in some of the games and really weak in a few positions.

Thomas's picture

"Ivanov plays extremely strong in some of the games and really weak in a few positions."
Many chess players have good days and bad days, and are stronger in certain positions and relatively weak in other positions.
What about Ivanov's near-namesake Ivanchuk? One day he plays extremely strong (2900ish), on another day he is, by his standards, pretty weak (2600ish). Does this mean he is cheating whenever he plays well? Of course not, or would you disagree?

the champ's picture

Level is good Thomas - 2500 elo.

Chris's picture

that 2500 it is iccf, iecc, iecg rating or centaur one?

the champ's picture

Of course it would be different with another computer, time etc. But it is all the same striking that Ivanov's moves are identical with Stockfish´s. First choice means the move Stockfish rates highest after ca 30 seconds.

choufleur's picture

I agree with the champ. Look at 23.Nf5 this move is not a human one.

Frits Fritschy's picture

22 Ra1 is a completely logical move; it's the only open file and you make use of the bad black queen side pieces.
23 Nf5 is a nice petite combinaison, but not exceptionally deep - and it's the move you have been waiting to play since you played Nh4.

the champ's picture

Same story with game number one. First choice of Stockfish in every move after opening. But this was not that difficult a game.

In third game against Jovanic he at least played 115. - Ld6?? himself as it loses on the spot. 115. - Ke6 seems to draw. He made a few mistakes earlier on as well that went unpunished (71.Lc6!).


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