Reports | January 28, 2011 1:33

French cheating case: Olympic team members support their federation

French chess federation accuses three of its players of cheating; one of them deniesFour members of the French team that participated in the Khanty-Mansiysk Olympiad have supported their federation's investigation into the cheating allegations against Sébastien Feller, Arnaud Hauchard and Cyril Marzolo of cheating. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Laurent Fressinet, Vladislav Tkachiev and Romain Edouard expressed their "full support for the FFE in its quest to find the truth".

Three days ago we reported about the cheating scandal in France: the French Chess Federation (FFE) accuses GMs Sébastien Feller and Arnaud Hauchard and IM Cyril Marzolo of organized cheating during the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk last year. Today a communiqué was published on the French website Europe-Echecs, signed by the other team members. Here it is in English:

The French Chess Federation (FFE) announced on January 21, 2011, that on December 22 disciplinary action was undertaken against two International Grand Masters and members of the French team, and against a French International Master, "following suspicions of organized cheating, a serious breach of sporting ethics and undermining the image of the Olympic national team during the Chess Olympiad that took place in Khanty-Mansiysk (Russia) from September 21 to October 3, 2010". As members of the French team that took part in this competition, we wish to express our utter amazement on reading the seriousness of the charges, and our utmost commitment to ensuring that full light will be shed on this matter. The complaints are serious because they are liable to discredit the game of chess not only as a high-level sport, but also as a hobby open to the greatest number of practitioners, whether club members or amateurs. Therefore, without prejudging the outcome of pending or future proceedings, we express our full support for the FFE in its quest to find the truth, and in the willingness it is demonstrating to do everything in its power to combat cheating. We have full confidence in the Federal Disciplinary Committee to decide on the veracity of the allegations, while respecting the necessity for independence and impartiality, and we are entirely at its disposal. If the facts are true, then we will strongly condemn them. Finally, we would like to reiterate the importance we attach to the values of fair play, respect for your opponent and the exemplary role of someone who surpasses himself, which constitute the universal ethical principles of the Olympic spirit, but also to the uniqueness of our sport, based on the analytical and creative capability inherent to human thought.

Earlier this week ChessVibes spoke to one of the members of the French Olympic team. The player, currently active in Wijk aan Zee, told us that the Olympic team members were preparing this joint statement. Because of the senstitivity of the subject, the player refrained from commenting any further. Almost two years ago top grandmaster Shakhriyar Mamedyarov accused GM Igor Kurnosov of cheating, but couldn't come up with real proof. If the French Chess Federation turns out to be right and manages to support their case with evidence, we're dealing with so far the strongest player(s) ever to get caught cheating. For chess as a sport it will be of enormous value when some form of jurisprudence is created, demonstrating that cheating carries the risk of heavy penalties. In general it was just a matter of time before a new cheating case would appear. Technology is moving fast, and with the help of today's mobile phones it's extremely easy to obtain the opinion of a strong engine about one's position on the board. (Did you know that with the latest mobile apps one can connect to an engine running at a powerful computer at home?) The only way to rule out this possibility is to deny any mobile phone, carried by players and spectators, into a playing hall. However, few tournament organizers will be looking forward to taking such a drastic measure.

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Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of ChessVibes.com, 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.

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Comments

Bobby Ball's picture

Suspect few writing here have played in an Olympiad.
Have played, likely wouldnt have noticed if one of my team mates was popping off to the loo more frequently or whatever. One is very focused on one's own game.
If a stripey shirted fella was yelling moves at a comrade, yeah would have, but otherwise, non.

Amnesik's picture

……as French defense is in england ?

Septimus's picture

Good one!

Nome Nomine's picture

John looked at the position on the board. His pieces were well placed, but it was hard to see a continuation against his opponent's setup. He had several possibilities, but couldn't work out anything decisive.
He put his hands behind his head, feigning that he was relaxed and in control, and leaned back in his chair, while casting a glance down at the board, before raising his eyes to the ceiling.
The back of his head rested against the cradle of his hands.

That was the prearranged signal, and he settled down to wait for the assistance he had just called for.
His collaborator caught the signal, and moved out of the playing hall towards the exit, taking his cigarette pack out of his jacket pocket as he walked through the doors, into the smoker's area outside. He nodded to the other smokers there, and lit up his cigarette, taking a deep pull on it, before shooting smoke into the air.

The third collaborator had been waiting for the second one to emerge. He was seated at a table outside the playing hall. His laptop had been churning John's position, following the game through Playchess, and the engine was deep into the game.

The second collaborator got an sms, smiled to one of the other smokers and checked his phone. He then appeared to be answering the sms, but what he was doing was priming his phone to send a bluetooth message when it was within reach of a receiver it had been paired to.
He then returned to the playing hall and walked along the tables, stopping to check the playing at one, before stopping with his back to John's game, while looking at the game opposite. No one thought anything of the fact that he had his hand in his pocket. He pressed send, and John's receiver got the message.

Five taps. e-file.
Four taps. e4
Three taps. c-file
Six taps. c6

John smiled. He'd already calculated an attack with his bishop there, but hadn't felt certain. He settled down to receive the whole sequence, appearing to be deep in calculation.

When certain he'd got it right, he touched both heels together, his bluetooth receiver went on standby.

---

That rigged "buzzer" can be in your shoes, in your glasses or on your body.

Frits Fritschy's picture

Write a novel about it. What about 'The Mansiysk Conspiracy' as a title?

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

meh

Thomas's picture

If that was the case, all five French players would be guilty, mostly Tkachiev who has 30 games in chessgames.com with the English opening. Others were still playing it in Wijk aan Zee 2011, Vachier-Lagrave - so it seems - for the first time in his career.
But chessgames.com has no French English games from the Olympiad 2010. Nice try and joke, but there must be something else going on ... .

Evan's picture

Brilliant powers of deduction, there.

S's picture

Oh my gosh seriously, are you really comparing your experience in a clubteam of amateurs and friends with that of a team consisting of professional players at the olympiad? Ridiculous.

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

LMAO at least half the teams in the Olympiads are amateurs !!! that is the point of the chess Olympiads the second biggest sport event after the world cup.
With my rating I could have been part of the Hong Kong team if I was a Hong Kong citizen!

Thomas's picture

Yes, many teams at the Olympiad are amateurs - but did France face any such teams? Their weakest opponents were Paraguay (#84) and Austria (#45). And if cheating occurred, then probably in other more important matches (for what it's worth, Feller didn't play against Paraguay and lost against Austria).

In short, you continue to make remarks that, while correct, have nothing to do with the thread.

Matthew Turner's picture

Receiving help just once in a game will make a massive difference to a player of Sebastien Feller's ability. There are a myriad of ways to transmit this advice. Consider this, there are 64 squares on the board and 64 is equal to 2 to the power 6. Therefore you can use 6 switches to transmit any square on the board. These might be buttons on a cardigan, flavour of drink, colour of a tie etc. etc. With practice you would soon get very good at quickly picking up these signals. It is ridiculous to suggest that a teammate would pick up this type of cheating.

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

OMG those cheaters are so smart, they can outsmart everybody !!

what you don't seem to understand is if the system was so perfectly implemented and easy to do, how FFE discovered it while the closest people around (including arbiters and organizers) didn't know ?
If the system was "sloppy" then this would have been discovered on the spot.
Too bad FFE doesn't have an answer.
Unless some people around at the time knew about it and somebody reported it to the FFE ...

Thomas's picture

LOL, apparently you expect roommates to search each other's suitcases and pockets of their clothes? Besides, the "buzzer bluetooth" could look like or even be something that looks or even is perfectly legal in between games, but a cheating device when used during the game. And it's actually even possible that Hauchard and Feller shared a room with each other?

Note that I don't say they are guilty, all I say is that there seem to be reasons for an investigation. Others seem to consider them innocent well beyond "innocent unless/until proven guilty", and automatically condemn the federation.

Turning things around: What if at some stage someone else (an investigative journalist?) found out that they are guilty, and the federation knew or at least had reasons to be suspicious but did NOT investigate? IMO the investigation itself makes sense, though we can discuss whether it was needed or appropriate to make things public.

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

My point was it is improbable that the captain and the board 4 could cheat without being noticed by the teammates, I never talked about search or anything, get over it Thomas WWII is over...

Furthermore FFE got condemned by most people for the way they lashed out names into the public without any facts to back it up, the question wasn't are they telling the truth ? but can you release name into the public while not being able to bring facts or evidence ?
They either went to soon or too late but surely too vaguely. Damage is already done.

Frits Fritschy's picture

Possible I read over it, but does it say anywhere who actually noticed the cheating, or brought it under the attention of the FFE?

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

Yes or throwing mud hoping it'll stick...

Stefan's picture

The team captain and one of the players were cheating, and the other guys on the team didn't notice? Come on, this is ridiculous.

Don Quijote's picture

To add credence to these accusations. It has been mentioned on different forums that GM Feller was banned from playchess.com for cheating couple of years ago. And another of the accused IM Cyril Marzolo is a known ICC cheater. Check http://www.chessclub.com/activities/finger.php?handle=bambampioute with a 3500 record in blitz, which is Nakamura/Carlsen/Radjabov etc. heights, while in reality being a ICC 2800 level player.

test's picture

I agree.

Imo they are poisoning the well by making a big (now international) scandal before anything at all is even proven.

Alexander's picture

OK, now I have read the interview with Battesti, who is apparently a FFE official responsible for the case. As far as your hypothesis is concerned, he sadly doesn't confirm it. He claims that the accusations were made public in order to defend "sportsmanship" and promote "social and educational benefits of chess". But when asked if he would care to explain how exactly Feller cheated, Mr. Battesti steps back by saying that he cannot comment a running investigation.
Those answers don't really go together. It would be very much in interest of investigation not to go public with the whole thing altogether. And on the other hand, it is really not so obvious how a national federation can possibly promote "educational" values of chess by loudly announcing an on-going investigation of one of its best players.
Again, even if Feller did cheat, this is absolutely not a proper way of dealing with it. It is absolutely unprofessional.

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

Lol seriously dude have you ever played a chess competition before ?

The whole point of a team competition is to be together as a team,
you think you can hide the infamous "buzzer bluetooth" from your teammates, your roomate in the small hotel room 24/7 over a 2 weeks tournament in the middle of nowhere?

Please just wait for the FFE to come up with irrefutable evidence before you take their cheating as a fact. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

Well, under French public law (FFE is under the tutoring of the Minister of sports) any person subject of an internal investigation has to be notified in the respect of the right to the defense. But this doesn't have to be public, usually the people subject to disciplinary action or investigation go public themselves but in this case they might have renounced to do that because it could have hurt their reputation.

test's picture

I was thinking the same thing when I read this new letter by these players.

Imo they are covering their ... (you know what) and want to try to avoid that they will be implicated or under a cloud of suspicion as well.

Thomas's picture

In case you didn't know, the French team captain was Hauchard, himself under investigation.
"How could the other members of the team be unaware of the cheating of their partners?"
Well, I guess in a team competition many players primarily follow their own game. They may occasionally look at the other positions, but normally it's the team captain's job to keep track of the overall match situation. They certainly won't follow their teammate whenever he leaves the board.
It's even more absurd to suggest that Feller's roommate MUST have noticed something. Only if Feller was talking in his sleep, and the other guy couldn't sleep himself!!??

arkan's picture

It is possible that they are ''forced'' to at least announce the investigation under some law, or in cooperation with the French Ministry of Justice - don't forget on large events like the Olympiad (or like the Tata tournament!) bets can be placed on and offline, so there could be huge sums of money involved.

I guess we'll have to wait and see, but the above scenario wouldn't surprise me at all

John O's picture

Too bad the French players don't support the truth.

Septimus's picture

Brilliant!

Septimus's picture

The players seem to be supporting their federation's quest for the truth, not the federation itself.

Marcel's picture

They had a heavy dose of garlic before their matches.

Roberto Alvarez's picture

Very interesting.... sounds like there are some political "differences" on the French Olimpic Team: Some of them are supporting the FFE and the others are "under investigacion"...
My questions: How could the other members of the team be unaware of the cheating of their partners? If they observed some "irregular" things, they could have informed the team captain or the arbiters...
It is difficult to believe that some players or your team are cheating (unless, for example, they are using forbidden drugs...-doping-) and you have not idea, neither the team captain...
Another point, not less important is: a judge needs to be fair, preferably, not designed for the FFE. You cannot be the "accuser" and the "judge" at the same time...
There is another matter: jurisdiction. The olympiad was under FIDE jurisdiction, not FFE. Then, only FIDE is legally able to judge those matters (or maybe, a sports court in Khanty Mansysk).
I believe there are another "matters" (maybe personal disputes) and all the whole thing sucks.

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

Yes, also who was Feller's roomate during the Olympiads ?

Win's picture

Firstly making a title - "French cheating: Olympic team members support their federation" in not really good journalism. It should be - "Suspected case of French cheating:...."

It has not been proved so we cannot say if they cheated or not.

Secondly - why other players send letter like these?? They should just quietly wait and see what proof there is. No need for such statements imho (after all they are not a side in this case).

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

Yes the title is misleading (intentionally?)...

Alexander's picture

I really don't understand why is FFE announcing the investigation. If they already are in possession of evidence, they should immediately present it publicly. On the other hand, if they are merely beginning the investigation, they should not make it big news, as if cheating was already an established fact.
It is quite obvious to me that the whole business is motivated by some anterior row.

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

LOL

Harish Srinivasan's picture

So far it has not been mentioned anywhere what is the exact nature of cheating that they were accused of? Is it use of device, or is it mutual help or is it losing games to help another individual / team.

Joker's picture

Maybe they played the english opening. It is surely illegal in france.

test's picture

EuropeEchecs has posted a video interview with Laurent Fressinet and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave about the affair:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMGUG3NX9ww

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave says he learned about the affair shortly before Tata Wijk aan Zee when the federation informed him there would be an open letter about the investigation so that he would be prepared and not have to face some kind of news "bombshell".

Laurent Fressinet says he was surprised and even shocked that their team could be under suspicion.

Both say they didn't suspect anything during the Olympiad or noticed anything out of the ordinary.

Arnaud Hauchard was going to be mentioned in the open letter about the investigation and he is also the trainer and second of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. He didn't accompany Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to Wijk aan Zee.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: I talked to Arnaud Hauchard and my sponsor and we decided that under the current circumstances and at least until the investigation has finished it would be impossible that Arnaud Hauchard could accompany me to a tournament.

Have other players (in Wijk aan Zee) talked to you about the affair?
Laurent Fressinet: (in short) Yes, they wanted to know what really happened.
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: (in short) Yes, amongst others Anand & Carlsen. We try to cope as best as possible.
Laurent Fressinet: (paraphrasing) Considering the gravity of the situation and the accusations we understand all the concerns and that it takes time and have published our open letter to explain our position.

Thomas's picture

Thanks, and - as far as I can tell, French is my fourth language - good job in translating! As an amateur/hobby chess translator, I find it difficult to report on video interviews, I usually have to watch and listen several times.
I can add - no surprises here - that Vachier-Lagrave and Fressinet clearly didn't enjoy the interview (but saw the need for it).

leigh's picture

looks like a Party Fighting rather than a game cheating.
Everyone has to choose to support whom without considering the evidence.

Janis Nisii's picture

This is one of the most ridiculous letters I've ever read in my life!
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Laurent Fressinet, Vladislav Tkachiev and Romain Edouard really sound like they're being blackmailed.
Since there is little to no content at all in this letter my impression is not of fairness and honesty. The only reason I see for them to support their federation in their public and ahead of time accusations is FEAR. Sorry, but I have no respect for such people. (Too bad I didn't read this when I was in WaZ, otherwise I would have told them directly).

steve75's picture

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