Reports | March 20, 2011 21:36

French cheating: Disciplinary Committee says guilty

On Saturday the Disciplinary Committee of the French Chess Federation suspended GMs Sebastien Feller and Arnaud Hauchard and IM Cyril Marzolo, saying they are "guilty of a violation of sporting ethics". The Committee concluded that there was enough proof that the three players cheated during the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk, in September last year.

On January 24th we reported for the first time on the French cheating case. In a communiqué on its website the French Chess Federation (EFF) accused GMs Sebastien Feller and Arnaud Hauchard and IM Cyril Marzolo of cheating during the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk, in September 2010. 19-year-old Sebastien Feller played an excellent Olympiad. Rated 2649, he won the gold medal on board 5 with a score of 6/9 and a TPR of 2708. Arnaud Hauchard was French team captain in Khanty-Mansiysk. The federation at this stage didn't reveal any details about their accusations that Feller's success was a result of cheating. Not long after the publication of the communiqué, Sebastien Feller completely denied the accusations of cheating. However, in a communiqué published on the French website Europe-Echecs, the other team members in Khanty-Mansiysk - Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Laurent Fressinet, Vladislav Tkachiev and Romain Edouard - gave their full support to the federation in investigating the case seriously. More details can be read here. On March 12th we reported that, according to a Nanterre court judge, the French Chess Federation is not allowed to use SMS text messages as proof for their claim that the players cheated. Feller, Hauchard and Marzolo successfully argued that SMS text messages are covered in Article 1 of the secrecy of correspondence Act of July 10, 1991. Only in criminal cases or security situations can this secrecy be lifted. Disciplinary Committee The meeting of the Disciplinary Committee took place on Saturday, March 19th in a hotel in Paris. Europe-Echecs has published an extensive report and according to two of our own sources, this report on yesterday's meeting is quite accurate. The following paragraphs are largely based on it. Present were four of the five members of the committee (one was excused for personal reasons), the board of the French Chess Federation and the representatives of the defendants (GM Sebastien Feller, GM Arnaud Hauchard and IM Cyril Marzolo). Two members of the French Olympic team, Romain Edouard and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, were also there. The French Chess Federation argued that the three players cheated during the Olympiad. They pointed out that Cyril Marzolo sent nearly two hundred SMS text messages to Sebastien Feller and Arnaud Hauchard. These messages occurred only on days when Feller played. During his games more than two dozen text messages were sent by Marzolo. The federation concluded that this was a very serious violation of sporting ethics, which deserved to be punished. Defence The defendants used several arguments. It was claimed that the sheer number of these SMS text messages didn't prove the cheating itself. It was never proven that Marzolo was actually analysing the games on his computer. Besides, it was claimed that the records of the communication between the players couldn't be used as evidence, referring to secrecy of correspondence. Furthermore, it was questioned whether the Disciplinary Committee had jurisdiction over happenings that occurred in an event not organized by the French Chess Federation, outside France. Witnesses The meeting continued with statements from a number of witnesses. First, Joanna Pomian, Vice-President of the federation, declared that she had discovered the matter on October 27, 2010. She had paid for Cyril Marzolo's mobile phone subscription while he was working in her company. This was how she had access to the data of the SMS text messages sent during the Olympiad. She said she knew that Feller and Marzolo are close friends, and she also knew about allegations of cheating during the 2010 Paris Championship. The President of the French Chess Federation, Jean-Claude Moingt, declared that he had heard about suspicions of cheating already during the Olympiad. He also said that in Khanty-Mansiysk security only searched for weapons or explosives, but that anyone could bring their mobile phone into the playing hall. Failing to witness any cheating, Moingt asked team captain Hauchard to remove Feller from the team for the last round. Romain Edouard, the youngest member of the French team in Khanty-Mansiysk, said that he didn't witness any suspicious behaviour by Sebastien Feller during the matches. However, he did express his surprise that at first Feller was in the team for the last-round match, but then was dropped again. Most importantly, Edouard revealed that during a lunch in January with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Laurent Fressinet and Arnaud Hauchard, the latter admitted that the cheating had taken place. Like Edouard, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave said in his testimony that it is not possible to conclude about cheating from one good game (the example used in the hearing was the game Howell-Feller), as any strong GM could have found the moves over the board. He also said that Hauchard (with whom he was preparing for Wijk aan Zee) had admitted the cheating to him in early January. Laurent Fressinet was not present at the meeting, but sent his testimony by email. When he heard about the cheating from Maxime, he decided to compare Feller's Olympiad games with the strong chess engine Firebird. He felt that indeed in a number of games a large majority of the moves were very similar to the engine's suggestion. Update: we received Fressinet's conclusions from analysing four games (Howell + the last three, against Timofeev, Gelashvili and Efimenko):

  • against Gelashvili and Efimenko, always 1st choice of Firebird
  • against Howell, same except for move repetition on move 37
  • against Timofeev, once 2nd choice, once 3rd choice, all the other times 1st choice until the position was -5.

Guilty After two hours of deliberation, the committee decided that Feller, Hauchard and Marzolo are "guilty of a violation of sporting ethics". The Committee concluded that there was enough proof that the three players cheated during the Olympiad. Marzolo was sentenced to a 5-year suspension from play. Feller received a 3-year ban followed by 2 years of community service with the federation or another association. If he refuses, the 2 years will be added to the suspension period. Hauchard was condemned to a lifetime ban from the duties of captain. The Committee said it had considered the age of Sebastian Feller in its verdict - Feller was 19 during the Olympiad. The ruling of the Disciplinary Committee is not the end of the story. It's a first verdict, and the players have the right to fight the decision. The lawyer of Sebastien Feller, Charles Morel, has already announced that he will address the Appeals Committee. Update 2: Gérard Demuydt of Europe-Echecs sent us some more information. He mentioned a regulation that says that 'when an accused player appeals, the penalty imposed at first instance can't be aggravated'. This probably means that if the appeal arrives in time, Sebastien Feller can still participate in the European Championship in Aix les Bains, which begins Monday, March 21st and has the first round on Tuesday, March 22nd. Besides, according to Jean-Claude Moingt the cheat the system went as follows: Cyril Marzolo sent SMS text messages with phone numbers which functioned as code. The first two digits were always 06, the following two were the number the move, the 5th and 6th figures would refer to the starting square, the 7th and 8th to the ending square, and finally, two counts of no importance. For example: 06 01 52 54 37, 06 01 57 55 99, 06 02 71 63 84, 06 02 67 65 43 are the codes for the moves constituting the Latvian Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5). This is actually the international notation of correspondence chess. Arnaud Hauchard kept the two phones with him: his own and that of Sebastien Feller. He consulted and then returned to the bar at the venue. The way to indicate moves to Feller was as follows: the opponent of Vachier-Lagrave: A and 1, the opponent of Fressinet: B and 2, the opponent of Tkachiev: C and 3, the opponent of Feller: D and 4, Feller: E and 5, Tkachiev: F and 6, Fressinet: G and 7 and finally Vachier Lagrave: H and 8. For example if Arnaud Hauchard revolved around the table and stopped some time behind the opponent Tkachiev, and then behind that of Fressinet, he was signalling square c2.

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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

Gérard's picture

Dear Peter,

"Hauchard was condemned to a lifetime ban from the duties of captain *or coach*."

Just Captain, it can not be captain for the national french team and can not be captain for a club team in France.

Peter Doggers's picture

Merci! Corrected.

Nima's picture

Good to see that a federation takes such issues seriously.

arkan's picture

This circumstantial evidence surely won't hold up in a proper court- can't want for the appeals to start.

mishanp's picture

Well, you can be found guilty in "proper courts" on the basis of circumstantial evidence, and in any case the alleged confession is stronger than that - even if it's uncorroborated/disputed. If this does come before a court the players would have to seriously consider their options. If they are actually guilty as charged then it's a great risk to perjure themselves. There's also the problem that if it became a criminal matter the text messages might be ruled admissible and it looks very possible that they would make the case much stronger.

Even if it's possible to "win" on a technicality it's conceivable that might be worse for the careers of those involved than an admission of guilt/explanation given now. On the other hand, of course, if they're innocent then they should fight the decision up to the highest court possible.

Johnny's picture

Only thing to add is that the burden of proof is merely "more likely than not". This would not be a criminal trial in which the burden of proof would be the very high, "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard.*

I think reaching the "more likely than not" (51% or greater in shorthand) would be very even if the texts themselves are inadmissible as evidence.

*Of course, i use terminology from the American legal system, because i am American, but I imagine France has something analogous in which the level of proof is much higher in a criminal context compared to professional contract/licensing context like the situation here. :)

Johnny's picture

Just saw this, so i have to reply to myself like a loser:
"As it announced in a press release on January 27th, the FFE reserves the right to turn to the criminal courts, which could lift the confidentiality of correspondence."

OK, so with the texts as evidence, it seems there would be sufficient proof even in the criminal court as well.

Thomas's picture

Some more parts of the Europe Echecs report might merit translation:

Timeline:
19/9-4/10/2010 Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiïsk (Russia), rest days 26th september and 2nd october
27/9/2010 Johanna Pomian discovers a compromising SMS message
30/9/2010 Johanna Pomian informs Laurent Vérat who alerts Jean-Claude Moingt [In her testimony, she explains the delay of three days with both professional reasons (an important 'entretien' Monday 28th september) and ethical reasons. "The situation was complex, she hesitated due to the serious facts."]
1/10/2010 Jean-Claude Moingt, in Khanty-Mansiïsk, tries to catch the (supposed) cheaters in action during the match France-Ukraine but doesn't succeed.
2/10/2010 During the rest day, Jean-Claude Moingt insists that Sébastien Feller should leave the team. Arnaud Hauchard tells the other players that Feller is sick.

From the testimony of Jean-Claude Moingt:
"Then he was asked why he didn't tell the arbiter of the competition about his suspicions. He answers explaining that the situation in Siberia can be delicate and that he didn't know what would have happened to the French delegation if the affair had been made public. On his way back in Moscow (during the final round of the Olympiad) he informed Roberto Rivello, president of the FIDE ethics committee, who advised him to deal with the affair internally."

From the testimony of Maxime Vachier-Lagrave:
"Asked by the commission, he states that before the start of the rounds, Sébastien Feller gave his telephone to the captain Arnaud Hauchard. ... Just like Romain Edouard, he was informed about "the affair" on 5th January 2011. While he was preparing for Wijk aan Zee together with Arnaud Hauchard, Jordi Lopez calls him. Told about Hauchard's presence, Lopez tells Maxime that he will call again later. Right after this phone call, Hauchard himself confessed to Maxime that there was cheating during the Olympiad, but that he didn't participate actively, just closed his eyes. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave then informs Laurent Fressinet."

The cheating system:
"Arnaud Hauchard kept 2 mobile phones, his own and the one of Sébastien Feller. He checked them at the bar, then returned to the playing hall. The moves were passed on to Feller as follows:
Vachier-Lagrave's opponent: A and 1, Fressinet's opponent: B and 2, Tkachiev's opponent: C and 3, Feller's opponent: D and 4, Feller: E and 5, Tkachiev: F and 6, Fressinet: G and 7 and finally Vachier-Lagrave: H et 8.
Arnaud Hauchard moved around the table and paused for some time behind Tkachiev's opponent, then behind Fressinet's opponent, hence a piece had to be moved to the square c2."

[all translated to the best of my knowledge, no comments from my side for the time being ...]

KK's picture

Thanks Thomas for the details. Please post more if you have time :)

Confused's picture

Sorry for my dense-ness, but I still don't understand how the cheating was done. What is "A and 1", "B and 2", etc mean? How were move information passed on to the players? Thanks!

noone's picture

I really do not understand the cheating method. First of all what bar? Second why mention the other french players? Also where did that c2 come from?

unknown's picture

Was there special sign for castling?

Pedro Pinto's picture

no need
5171 or 5121

5878 or 5828

Chesslov's picture

I was the one making the live transmission on the France-echecs blog.

There are still two different version on the cheating system, one coming from Arnaud Hauchard stating that he witnessed it without participating in it, and that is supported by the declaration from Maxime, Romain and Laurent from the french team. Sebastien was receiving the texts directly on his phone and there was no sophisticated dance around the players.
This explains why in comparison Arnaud is getting a much lighter condemnation (he still can work as private coach pr plays tournament, but he obviously failed as a team capteain hence the life ban on the captain role.) as the comission followed this interpretation.
The second version is the one still supported by the federation as stated above by Thomas.

After following the meeting until 5.30pm, missing the end, I really appreciated the work done by the commission and find the different sanction fair, may be a litle too hard for Sebastien Feller. He is 19, made a big mistake, has to be punished, but when I think that in other sports condemned sportlers are out sometimes only one year maximum 2 by earning much more than what earn a chess IGM (In tennis it is 3 months, in cycling between 1 and 2) 3 years of ban is quite a lot.

Feller council already made appeal, and according to the french rules in appeal the sanction can not be increased, only reduced or stay same.

Delinquncy's picture

On update 2 " This probably means that if the appeal arrives in time, Sebastien Feller can still participate in the European Championship in Aix les Bains, which begins Monday, March 21st and has the first round on Tuesday, March 22nd. "

There is no issue here. As stated on Europe Echecs, any suspension of Feller would only begin 10 days after official notification.

" Finalement, Sébastien Feller jouera le Championnat d'Europe d'Aix-les-Bains, qui débute le lundi 21 mars 2011, la suspension ne prenant effet que 10 jours après que la décision lui ait été officiellement notifiée. Les 10 jours correspondent au délai que Feller a à sa disposition pour faire appel. "

Alex's picture

>in other sports condemned sportlers are out sometimes only one year maximum >2 by earning much more than what earn a chess IGM (In tennis it is 3 months, in >cycling between 1 and 2) 3 years of ban is quite a lot.

Computer cheating in chess is not comparable to other sports. Because in sprint for example, you can not be driving a car when everybody else is running. While cheating in chess is exactly that.

David Herz's picture

oh really? with the pharmaceutical arsenal available to athletes in every discipline you may be both running on a higher and illegal octane and have taken the drugs to cover it up. Cheating is cheating everywhere, it's an unfair advanage.

S2's picture

Oh lala. Where is Wouter Otto aka Dave..?

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

Wait let me some time to read the report I have a life jeez!

Zeblakob's picture

Where is cousin Poopalov??

Mejnour's picture

In jail?

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

"J'accuse!" c'est biensur une machination, nous avons une commission qui est juge et partie...

S2's picture

it's not a fabricated claim. They clearly cheated; why else the silly sms messages?

SXL's picture

Oh, S2, I believe Otto the Manic PR flack will drop this ball now. Btw, his various issues coincide well with the ridiculous defense of the players, almost down to identical wording. I was particularly taken with the absurd: because it happened outside France it is not a matter for the French Federation.

What a tool Otto was. Shame!

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

Stop insulting, just enjoy the player's martyr...Maybe it'll get some excitement in your life...

This commission is obviously a joke and there was no doubt that they were going to be sentenced guilty, there is no surprise and I actually said it in the precedent article.

The guys that sentenced them guilty are the same that accuse them, it is like a US military tribunal, there's no way around it.
Now this is going to be appealed to the "tribunal du sport" and then probably to a Public court, till then they are still innocent.

BTW we still miss the SMS content, it is not clear how they would have cheated, there is a huge doubt.

SXL's picture

There's only "a huge doubt" if you poke your fingers in your ears, close your eyes and go na-na-na-na-na, Otto.

The evidence is quite conclusive, the testimony given by other players is damning, to put it mildly. And the use of the correspondence chess code was dumb.

SMS being sent, with Firebird's top move, followed by player making that move through an entire game - yes, definitely room for "a huge doubt."
The fact that the SMS messages couldn't be presented doesn't mean that one cannot act on their import.

And, btw, this goes on all over chess now, not just with these guys, and it has to be stopped.

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

BTW I when say they are innocent, It's in legal terms, You can't sentence somebody without material proof. My doubt is based on the lack of material evidence i.e the phone bills and the SMS content.

If you read most of my post I always defended not the players the different rights a accuse has like the right to be treated "innocent till proven guilty" or "the secret of correspondence", those right wont be trashed because of a stupid chess cheating case.

Also, It's easy to point out fingers and call them cheaters just after the case came out, at the time there was no reason to act this way and the civil way to react is to say "wait and see".

Finally, the FFE handled this case in a pretty lousy way anyway and might not even win in court, which would be stupid if they are actually cheaters.

Having said that, what is a turning point in this case is MVL's testimony which is for me not the proof, but the revelation that they actually cheated.
Now this doesn't mean that we don't material proof, we actually need to have everything in order to clarify this doubt about the modus operandi.

SXL's picture

You, Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave, absolutely and totally disappoint.

serge's picture

You'd have a point if the case had been brought up by the French government and the accused were in jeopardy of going to jail or get their heads lopped off. But that isnt the case here.
The fact that they refuse to disclose their text messages shows consiousness of guilt.
If you and I were falsely accused, we would volunteer to disclose our text messages to clear our names.

randi's picture

Yes, it's abvious they cheated..much like Topalov, who obviously lied in Elista.

Burnett's picture

I wonder why one of the accused confessed twice to know about the cheating......if innocent. Wouter you seem the right guy to explain...?

oony's picture

Maybe Hauchard originally thought Feller had cheated, so to protect his prodigy he "confessed" to the whole scheme and took the brunt, but then retraced it when their evidence fell apart. This is Brow Beating 101.

Burnett's picture

Hmmm, yes..... I see ....interesting thought.

Eyeroller's picture

Meh. The thing is that messaging during the games is extremely suspect in itself. If the messages were innocuous, Marzolo simply wouldn't send them because it would only serve to cast a shadow of suspicion over himself and Feller. Professional chess players would tend to be extremely aware of this.

It's obvious that they cheated. The only remaining question is whether they can actually be punished for it. It's a bit llike the OJ trial: everybody knew he did it, they just couldn't sentence him....

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

Well I don't see why MVL would lie about this since Hauchard was his mentor since he was a child prodigy. So yes Hauchard's confession seems genuine.

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

Il n'y pas de preuve materielle idiot, d'un point de vue legal Ils sont toujours innocents, j'espere que ne te targue d'avoir ete un des premiers a les pointer du doigt alors qu'on ne savait rien de l'affaire a l'epoque, parceque c'est une honte...

Thomas's picture

Well, though it's not absolutely clear, "bar" probably refers to the place where players or spectators could get a coffee or a beer :) . c2 presumably refers to 19.-Nc2 in Howell-Feller, often given as the most suspicious game (while it's possible that Feller found the forced sequence until move 27 over the board, or it could have been legitimate computer-assisted home preparation?):
http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1593823

jazzkoo's picture

I wonder if they were set up. What I mean is that there is mention of rumors of cheating at the Paris Championship (according to a post above). I assume that was before the Olympaid. Do you think that these phones were given to the players at the Olympaid with the idea that they could be checked later to get evidence? Of course they wouldn't be any less guilty just because somebody tried to catch them.

Henk de Jager's picture

The fact that players that are acused of such serious sporting offenses continue to want to keep their sms-traffic secret is an indication, but no proof, that something is wrong and the federation is on the right track. If innocent but truly wanting to keep their communication undisclosed to the public, they could agree to the messages being looked at by a panel consisting of a person of their confidence and picking, a representative of the federation and a judge or attorney, with the stipulation the content would not be made public, only an advisory opinion would be formulated as to how the charges relate to the sms messages.

noone's picture

That is right. Even if the messages were about their last night gayorgy they should just come out of the closets and deal with it.

markpark's picture

If I were to cheat during a game with text-messages, I would immediately remove them from my phone to destroy the 'evidence'..

S2's picture

If I understand it correctly they were removed from the phone but nevertheless preserved by the phone company.

Johnny's picture

Actually Ms. Pomian gave IM Marzolo a place to stay and paid his monthly cell phone bill b/c she felt sorry for his broke-ass. So when Pomian got the bill to pay it, she simply accessed the "data" portion of the bill and saw a few hundred text messages to Hauchard and Feller that coincided with Feller's games.

Basically the lesson is don't cheat with borrowed equipment.

They only got caught b/c Hauchard texted Marzolo "Hurry, send moves!" and Marzolo left his phone unattended where Pomian walked by and saw the suspicious message.

I should also mention that Pomian is the VP of the French echecs federation. So it's kinda dumb to cheat using her phone line while in her house. Dumbasses.

randi's picture

Well said

oony's picture

So the whole reason they are all caught is Marzolo was so skint he couldnt afford his own SMS phone? He was the weakest link and there was no real skills needed to watch the games on internet and transcribe Firebird moves to text messages using code. Guess his cut of 5000 euros prize wasnt enough for them to outsource to pro crooks with their own phones. 10 days at 4 hours per day plus setup time, probably not worth it, so low prize money works to lock out freelance cheats in preference of in house.

Schnuffeline's picture

So send a signal all should be baned for lifetime as in snooker for example or other "sports" so if chess wants to be a real sport this should be done....
by the way feller won't get any invitations to turnaments anyway

mishanp's picture

Not directly linked to this, as the alleged cheating would have been carried out differently, but at the Olympiad players are actually allowed to consult their team captain once a game (!). The purpose of that's to discuss draw offers/the match situation, but surely it's an enormous temptation to cheat, at least by passing on the general assessment of a player's position ("you have a win on the board"). If I was FIDE (quite a scary thought!), I'd ban all such consultation immediately.

R.Mutt's picture

Hauchard must have run a marathon every game if he had to communicate all those moves by circling the tables.

Delinquncy's picture

This is where records of how long Feller did spend thinking would be useful. Did he spend approximately 50 minutes on each move, allowing the SMS to come in? Or did he take a long 35 minute think followed by some immediate moves sometimes.

Jr's picture

I think he played most of the games by himself , he cheated only at the key moments , he may have used about 3-4 sms per game , but at the highest level , it is enough to have a huge advantage

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