March 30, 2011 18:37

European Championship participants fight cheating with open letter

The French cheating case is clearly having an effect on the atmosphere at the European Championship in Aix les Bains. Since day one it has been widely discussed among participants, and now many of them have signed a letter in which they demand that "arbiters reserve the rights to search player’s pockets", "no electronic devices can be brought into the playing hall" and "electronic boards can be unplugged if one of the players demands it".

On Tuesday night Spanish grandmaster Francisco Vallejo Pons posted the following open letter on Facebook, which he allowed us to cross-post:

Open Letter Dear French chess federation, dear ECU, dear chess community, In view of the rumours and allegations about possible cheating using electronic devices and outside help taking place during the European Individual Championship in Aix-les-Bains, we have an atmosphere that makes it impossible for the players to approach their games calmly and being sure that their opponents do not break the rules. We therefore demand that - the arbiters reserve the rights to search any player’s pockets in case of suspicion - no electronic devices can be brought into the playing hall, switched off or otherwise - electronic boards can be unplugged if one of the players demands it Respectfully,

Open letter
(Click for bigger version)

From the letter we recognize that players like Victor Bologan, Boris Grachev, Jan Gustafsson, Anna Muzychuk, Tomi Nyback, Jan Smeets, Peter Svidler and Natalia Zhukova have already signed. The question is, whether these players really intend to change tournament rules while a tournament is being played, or rather want to make sure that the European Chess Union takes their suggestions into account for subsequent events. We asked Vallejo about this. "Paco" didn't want to speak on the phone this morning as he's preparing for an important game (he's currently sharing second place and plays, lo and behold, Sebastien Feller today.) He did reply shortly, though: "I love rules, especially when you have a brain to break them if absolutely needed." On the letter there's also the note "except for electronic boards. 15 min. delay should be OK." And indeed the last sentence "electronic boards can be unplugged if one of the players demands it" is a remarkable one, especially since the tournament already works with a 15 minute delay for the online transmission of the games. The note seems to have been written by Jan Smeets, because in the comments on Facebook, Vallejo writes: "Actually Smeet [sic] made an interesting point there, saying that with 15 min delay will be enough to avoid some "things" :)" Update: Jan Smeets has confirmed to us that he wrote that note about the 15-minute delay. Vallejo further explained to us: "We didn't have much time to do it as we started yesterday night, and specially today there is a game so we will not disturb people till after the game." This open letter signed by top players is another, very clear sign that the chess world desperately needs better anti-cheating measures. The European Chess Union and the World Chess Federation (FIDE) need to get their act together. Now that the French cheating case has been picked up by international media, our sport has been damaged too much already.

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers


Thomas's picture

While many signatures (e.g. the one below Papouiannou) are unrecognizable, I don't see Feller's ... . If he's indeed innocent (as he claims) he shouldn't mind anti-cheating measures. Did Vallejo or anyone else contact him??

BTW, don't arbiters already have the right to search player's pockets in case of cheating suspicions or accusations? If I remember correctly, in another widely mentioned case an arbiter searched Kurnosov's pockets, found just a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, and concluded that "where there's smoke there's fire" doesn't make sense in the given case ... .

guitarspider's picture

It's slightly silly to blame Feller for not signing it. There are about 400 players there, he's not the only one who didn't sign... If he had signed it people would complain how "the cheater" could dare to sign such a document.

I don't like plugging out the board, because it cuts off the internet audience (maybe up the delay?), but the other proposals look very reasonable.

noone's picture

"electronic boards can be unplugged if one of the players demands it" This demand will not be approved because of the viewers.

Arjo's picture

i agree... live (or semi live) relay has made chess much more suitable for the big public. taking that away would bring the sport back to the middle ages were chess was an obscure thing for old men :P

cip's picture

How come there aren't more signatures? Was it a practical problem to ask more people to sign, lack of motivation to involve more people, or some players simply refused to sign?

I used to think that there is little motivation for chess players to cheat, seeing how it would defeat the whole purpose of playing chess. A friend (a semi-professional player) pointed out that when you try to gain money from chess the mind becomes blurry and cheating becomes more attractive. Being naive, I thought that the risk of being exposed as a cheater would be so great that nobody would do it as a means of financial profit. After all, you can't base a career on cheating. (At least I hope not!) I thought maybe this risk alone could clear the mind, so people wouldn't be tempted to use assistance during the game.

I am very sad to find out that the professional world of chess is so harsh that it produces people who are probably good players, probably love chess, but would still think about cheating in order to improve their odds of winning some game. I will remain naive in hoping that we do not need excessive security measures in order to force professional chess players to refrain from thinking about cheating - I hope they can be mature, I hope they can be realistic about ratio of benefits/risk and I hope that if they should show human weakness, let them show it in the moves they make and not by falling to temptation to cheat.

I also hope that the vast majority of players who show the total fair-play that characterizes chess, don't freak out over loosing one game due to what they suspect to be "cheating". If your opponent makes a good move you should not suspect it comes from someone else. Please don't develop paranoia just because there is some small chance that someone could cheat and get away with it once or twice. Don't forget that chess is a sport of gentlemen and will remain a sport of gentlemen, no matter how many poor-minded professionals cheat. It should be enough to make sure that cheating is not the way to sustain a career in chess - cheaters will die out on their own.

test's picture

Chess and society in general needs ways to protect the majority from the evil intentions of a minority.

I don't think that is up for argument. More controversially some might even say that "man" is born evil, not good as some would "naively" like to believe. ;)

cip's picture

" “man” is born evil " - hope not. There is no proof to support this. Some scientific studies on the brain show that we are born with some basic drives (like the drive to mimic other individuals of our species), but not born evil. So yes, you are right, this is a controversial point.

You make a valid point, of course. I was just trying to bring ethics and morals back into people's minds. You can't do this enough these days. Just imagine: what would chess be if you took away the ideals it symbolizes? As chess players we should be careful to preserve what chess stands for. Otherwise chess players may appear as cheaters, or as people obsessed about winning, or as paranoid players... instead of showing what they really are: people who find happiness investing their time in an abstract game, beautiful, idealistic people who like to create original ideas in the "pure" setting of a game with simple rules and complex dynamics.

One other point I would like to make is the following. If your goal is to win money, maybe you are lost in the world of chess. Maybe you should try something different. I think many professionals know this well. Many professionals accept a humble life in order to afford the idealistic life of a chess player. For non idealists, I hear chess and poker go very well together... but please, not chess and cheating.

Thomas's picture

Given that Vallejo started his action only yesterday evening and didn't want to disturb fellow players the next morning, I think he collected a lot (rather than not enough) signatures in a few hours. It might have gone like this: the three Spaniards (Vallejo himself, Salgado and Alsina) had dinner together and were the first ones to sign. Then they met (Vallejo's Bundesliga teammate) Svidler, then they bumped into the ladies (Zhukova and Muzychuk), ... . Each signature might take 2-5, maybe 10 minutes: players want to read what exactly they are signing, who else signed already, and there may be a bit of smalltalk. How could Vallejo have collected more signatures, contacting everyone who might support him? Knock at many hotel room doors??

As to "why would people cheat"? How big is the risk of being caught? Feller and colleagues were only caught because they were unlucky and a bit stupid, AND the French federation was willing to investigate (getting quite some criticism and insults here in the comments). In any case, a cheater in chess - like a doping sinner in other sports - probably thinks he won't be caught, and even if he is caught he might survive the investigation using some legal tricks (indeed Feller's strategy).

cip's picture

So you suspect a practical problem. I thought the same, but was wondering if someone can give a stronger answer.

My speculation is that Vallejo wanted to submit the open letter as soon as possible, before the game with Feller. Otherwise he might have waited to obtain more signatures and give more players the opportunity to show their support for this idea. Again, I hope I'm wrong, being naive gets harder and harder.

RdC's picture

"use of specialized programs to analyze suspect games;"

Why is it difficult to believe that human players cannot play good moves?

In some cases the computer assistance may have been quite legitimate in helping to analyse a previously known position for new ideas.

I think it's the low tech signalling revelation that's the most disturbing feature of the Feller case.

Mike's picture

Computers alone are not a threat to chess, but electronic cheating is a great one. I would recommend additional urgent severe measures against cheating, like: Immediate banishment from sport; blacklist the cheater at all competitions, federations, COI and FIDE; use of specialized programs to analyze suspect games; to establish electromagnetic blind zones at games hall, etc.

Anti-cheater's picture

It's necessary half hour delay. Feller played 18.Nxf7! against Papin with only 1'20" on his clock.

cip's picture

Wait, two questions:
1. how do you know the time on his clock to the second?
2. what is your point? how does the time on Feller's clock relate to the necessary delay?
Maybe you have a valid point, but please explain it.

Coco Loco's picture

Cheating is a delicate issue, and the off-with-the-suspects' heads calls are particularly harmful. It seems the only conclusions we can draw with near certainty are of the following type: Swiercz Dariusz, Petrik Tomas, Prie Eric, and Djukic Nikola (GM's who've scored 3/8 so far) are either not cheating or are terrible at it

SXL's picture

tChess Pro on my iPhone can beat the GMs at the European - which is why it makes perfect sense to ban electronic devices in the playing hall.
In addition, there are mobile network suppressing systems that are being used by hospitals, theatres and cinemas. These can be used to ensure that communication to and from mobile phones is impossible in a defined area.

Also, implementing a flow control to the traffic in and out of the playing halls, as mentioned by some, will also make sense. You get to enter and leave at specific times - and that takes care of people relaying moves.

And most importantly, a delay in the relaying of moves over the internet. While unfortunate, it's always fun to follow events as they unfold, it's necessary in order to suppress someone setting up off-site to run a computer.

Staying at the top level in chess is so demanding as concerns time invested that it is very difficult for players to hold down any other occupations - and that then leaves chess as their source of revenue. Even if they don't get the top prize, a solid showing in international tournaments will impact their potential to earn money from books, teaching, coaching and exhibitions. The motivation is there.

It's a sad fact, but until this is properly addressed, then all chess players are finding themselves under suspicion, and the sport suffers as a consequence.

And here's one of the many technologies that can be used to relay moves to the device you have on your body:

And there are return devices that can tell you what the computer suggests.

Csaba's picture

The oldest trick in the cheater book - sign an open letter against cheating.

(don't take this post very seriously)

test's picture

Are you implying that it's a lost cause?

It's true that it's hard to prevent all and every possible way of cheating or bad sportsmanship.

But does that mean we should just stick our heads in the sand and pretend it does not exist? Would that be better?

Pal G.'s picture

I believe simple, low cost solutions can go far to curb cheating. Here are two simple ideas. 1) Reduce the amount of time per game. We all enjoy Rapid. If players have less time for cheating, they will be forced to play chess. 2) Don't allow players to leave their seats during a game. If my first rule is implemented then sitting through an entire game is no problem. (Or allow one "stretch" per game. Put a DGT sensor in the seat to keep score).

Only use classical time controls for Championship matches or Super GM tournaments, where the players are so high profile, and under so much public scrutiny / observation, that cheating is not an issue.

Pal G.'s picture

Ten down-votes and not a single response or argument? What a bunch of trolls..

middlewave's picture

They are not trolls. It's just that, from what you write, it is clear that you have never played serious tournament chess in your life.

Septimus's picture


Pal G.'s picture

Could at least provide an argument, or are you too arrogant? Make a point..

christos (greece)'s picture

"We all enjoy Rapid".

What if we all don't? Did this ever cross your mind or is it too deep an argument?

jussu's picture

Exactly. I have no problem with rapid, but it is another game. Solving cheating problems in classical chess by replacing it with rapid is like undermining black ivory market by killing off elephants.

Besides, cheating evidently becomes bigger problem in stronger tournaments.

Arne's picture

I wonder how Kramnik is ever going to win a game against the elite if these measures are implemented.

test's picture

Troll alert.

Arne's picture

Yeah, right... I´m just saying it like it is. The burden of proof is immense. You can either join the debate or keep your aggressive thoughts to yourself.

What a way to avoid the subject you have developed...

test's picture

Nice try.

Arne Moll's picture

Let's just hope this won't be seen by FIDE or ECU as an opportunity to introduce some new kind of "Patriot Act" where even getting up from your table to go for a stroll is considered suspicious and will result in the arbiter's hands being all over your body...

Janis Nisii's picture

I suggest not to hire any attractive arbiters, otherwise everyone will act suspiciously in order to provoke his/her body frisking. ;)

Arne Moll's picture

Janis, attractive people are suspicious in the chess world anyway. I mean, why would anyone who has a life want to get involved with a bunch of chess-playing nerds, anyway? There can be only one reason: they're cheating!

Janis Nisii's picture

OMG What an enlightment! You are definitely righ! But, since we were talking about artbiters, another problem arises. What if someone uses a (corrupt&handsome of course) arbiter to cheat? That would be perfection in cheating achievements, right?

test's picture

You seem to be in a misanthropic mood. Or should I say a bout of chessmisia?

What do you want: let's just forget about it?

test's picture

There's always the full body scanner. ;)

But you do raise an important point. At what point do these anti-cheating measures become too invasive, what are all the possible downsides, where do we draw the line?
It's a bit unfortunate because a full body scan would go a long way of eliminating some concerns. ;)

Barack Obama's picture

I'm happy you mention the patriot act because I propose all kinds of searches for chess tourneys like we implement here in the US with the cooperation of SXL, we can find the most hidden devices in your body, rectal searches, body scanners or full strip are commonly used by the TSA and can guarantee no more cheating willl ever occur in chess anymore!

Call me at the white house if your interested (price negotiable)...

Arne Moll's picture

It's a strange proposal if you ask me. If you ban all electronic equipment, then why is a delay still necessary?

test's picture

I'm no expert but I would think that a good metal detector should be able to detect even the smallest electronics.

There's still the issue of a spectator (receiving computer analysis from the outside) manually signaling the moves to the player. Convoluted but possible. As has been said before in these discussions: one single hint during the game can be enough. Although you could take care of this by also submitting the spectators to the same scrutiny as the players or simply not allowing them close enough to the players to permit signaling.

cip's picture

"Although you could take care of this by also submitting the spectators to the same scrutiny as the players or simply not allowing them close enough to the players to permit signaling."

Spectators?! Why? Let's push this idea a step further and forbid spectators altogether! The game can be viewed online anyway, people who watch it in the playing hall are suspicious, they probably want to help players cheat!

SXL's picture

Anand has explained that quite well.
He stated that if he could receive one and ideally three indications during critical stages of a game as to whether he was positionally ahead or not, that would be enough to win. He didn't need moves, just an indication - am I slightly ahead or slightly down.

Which means that a spectator could go outside, find out, and come in wearing his jacket, or having it over his arm, and Anand would know what he needs to know.

And that's why Friedel and others are saying that spectators should be let in and out of the playing hall at specific times. And yes, it's a problem because one wants spectators to be able to experience chess close-up. However, with the advent of chess engines, wifi, relay of moves - there's a problem that needs to be fixed for chess results to have integrity.

Capablanca's picture

Common sense.
The evidence that proves that SF cheated in the Olympiads is overwhelming, I have already written this previously. What I do not understand is the line of defence taken by the group. It is my opinion that if they had avowed, they would certainly have lost some money which would have to be given back but they would have gotten off with a small penalty. The line of defence taken which is a denial of the facts plus a smearing campaign to people who uncovered the cheating can be very counterproductive. It seems to me that the deep hatred, written in this forum, towards the best french player today shows that his entourage cannot cope with this issue with a cold mind, it is a pity. Floyd Landis and Oscar Wilde before him tried to prove in the courts a fact that they knew was false, they lost. Perhaps the defence thinks that they will pull an 'OJ Simpson'.
In the past many top athletes have had parents who are deeply involved in their sons career. On the good side, McEnroe's father invested his sons money with savvy and he did not have the money problems that other tennis stars, like Borg and Connors had. On the other side, the role played by the parents of some other tennis players is less impressive. It is unfortunate that common sense in chess does not mean common sense in real life.

cip's picture

"there’s a problem that needs to be fixed for chess results to have integrity."

I agree that there should be rules preventing cheating. Maybe removing all ways in which you can cheat is not even possible from a practical viewpoint.
My point: We shouldn't allow the cheating scandal to muddy the image of all past and future chess. All chess results so far and future ones have integrity. Integrity should not be proven. Cheating must be proven.

SXL's picture

It's been an issue ever since S. Luis.

Here's the proposal that has long since been sent to FIDE concerning the problem. Worth looking at:

mishanp's picture

Actually the ChessBase "proposal" is just for something that's already in place in Aix-les-Bains (the 15-minute delay). It was simply that some of the signatories thought that was enough and you didn't need to have the right to ask for the board to be unplugged. It's a shame ChessBase ignored the content of the letter in favour of going off on a historical tangent, though some of the pics are nice :)

Daaim Shabazz's picture

It's interesting. I remember a case where Tomi Nyback (who also signed) had been accused of another type of cheating in the 2006 Olympiad in Italy. In Finland-Jamaica, he was accused of picking up a piece to make a losing move only place it back on the square, pick up another piece and move it. He claimed he was adjusting the first piece. After Jamaican complained to the arbiter, he ruled in his favor after which the Finland captain got involved and supported Nyback claim of adjusting the piece. The captain was not present during the game, but there was another witness from another federation who saw the incident. A higher arbiter was summoned. That arbiter overruled the first arbiter and told them to play on. The Jamaican player, who was virtually in tears and distraught, allowed his time to run out in disgust. Jamaica had to settle for a 2-2 draw. Jamaica's appeal was lost on a technicality due to the fact that Matthews signed the scoresheet. Perhaps they should resort to having the tournament halls videotaped. That would handle many suspicions of player collusion and even game disputes as the one above. Just a thought.

middlewave's picture

In fact, since cheating is more likely to occur in high-level events where a lot is at stake, it would not be a bad idea at all to videotape the playing hall from various angles. This would enable arbiters to monitor the hall more efficiently, plus it would certainly be most welcome by the internet spectators.

gg's picture

Are you certain that Nyback is lying? I've seen you mention the incident numerous times before and you have referred to Nyback as "someone as dishonorable as Tomi Nyback", that "the worst case I have heard was the cheating case" involving Nyback, that he "deserves no respect", that he has "earned the moniker Tomi Takeback", and many other things in a similar vein. I didn't see the incident either, but you sound quite certain that your descriptions of Nyback are warranted, and you call him a cheater without any doubts or "alleged" whatsoever. When looking at the game several years ago it struck me as a very strange move to make and also strange to be in such time trouble just after the time control after some forced moves, but the Jamaican version could of course be totally true. One of the nicer articles:

Septimus's picture

A chess+street-brawl will alleviate all problems. It is ok if you lose OTB, but you can always try to win a street-fight.

If I were the referee, I would walk around with a steel pipe in my hands to dispense instant justice in the event of an infraction. Chess players need to be violently beaten or they will never learn to play fair.

PS# $100 that this comment will never see the light of day. Censorship sucks.

Barack Obama's picture

You owe me a hundred!

Septimus's picture

The check is in the mail.

respect the legends's picture

But, why searching only the pockets? It is well known that these French guys have large underwear, where a pocket fritz or a mini rybka or similar…, can very cozily be hided ?
Of course that could mean a little extra ‘dirty’ work for the referees, but what the heck, they should anyway earn their money doing something more than pressing the clocks, shouldn’t they? And they could always deduct 2-3 minutes from the clock for dirty underwear…
Seriously now, shame on everyone who signed this shameful letter.


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