Reports | January 08, 2009 19:32

Is cheating always newsworthy?

HandheldAs various blogs have already reported, a 14-year-old chess player from Australia has been caught cheating while playing a game of chess. It immediately led to a debate among the ChessVibes editors: is it newsworthy?

At the current The Norths Chess Club Centenary Year Under 1600 Tournament, a side event to the Australian Open Championships in Sydney, yesterday a player was caught using what the arbiter called a "hand held machine" in the toilets. The game was declared lost and the boy was expelled from the tournament.

The 14-year old was using the program ChessMaster on a Playstation Portable, and that was probably the reason why the moves were not particularly strong:

It's the first example of a chess player getting caught while using an electronic device in Australia, and so it quickly became a big story in the relatively small Australian chess community. It was mentioned at The Closet Grandmaster (who posted the game notation given above), Lousy@Chess and chessexpress and is being discussed at Chess Chat Australia. However, we have to admit that here at the ChessVibes office we're not 100% sure what to do with it.

When in November 2007 a Dutch player was banned for two and a half years after after he got caught with a PDA during a game, in an official national league, it was not a question: we had to publish the story. But in a column by Arne, published two years ago, we've already expressed our doubts surrounding the subject of cheating in chess - the article's title was "Moral decay or exaggerated hype?"

Normally we would never write about some local under-1600 tournament and one could argue that the case can be compared to petty theft; a small violation that's simply... not interesting. Besides, shouldn't we protect the kid, who made a silly mistake - something we've all done at that age?

But wait, isn't using external electronical assistance enough reason to publish such a story? Isn't it against our complete set of beliefs, against the essence of the game, to give yourself the opportunity to find the strongest move in a position with (almost) absolute certainty?

But then again... don't we all cheat every once in a while? There's not a chess player who has never talked to his team mates during a game, giving a friend a quick advice like "it's always better to wait with that Qb6+ in such positions" or "don't worry, just bring your king to the center and you'll be fine". [Update: this part has led to quite a discussion below. I've explained it a bit.] Where to draw the line?

What makes an article newsworthy depends on timing, significance, proximity, prominence and human interest. In this case, the news is very fresh, but obviously that's not enough. We've already questioned its significance and prominence above, and for anybody except our Australian readers, proximity won't do here either!

So in the end the article you're currently reading at ChessVibes should be categorized as a human interest story - it "appeals to emotion". It "aims to evoke responses such as amusement or sadness."

Yet still we wonder... was the story newsworthy? What do you think?


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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.


Simmillion's picture

I would like to remind all the people questioning the author's own integrity that I think he's Dutch, so you're propably right. Rotten moral, no honour, allways results (=money) first. We're trying to be good real hard, but we just can't help ourselves.

Welcome in the chessworlds own red light district!

I'm kind of surprised by the fanatic disgust of the boy's behaviour I taste in some of the comments. The call upon the author's responsibility towards young chessplayers is hilarious imho.

If a 14 year old is caught looking over some other kids shoulder in a schooltest, he should be given a 0 and a chat with his parents. You dont make him walk around the school with those donkey ears for a week and turn him into some kind of little devil, a bad example for generations to come

Sutton's picture

Magnus Carlson is only a kid, age has nothing to do with it.
Does Chess only have value as an organised sport when the participants are good at it? Cheating at any level is deplorable - ban the kid for life! (maybe not, but punish him the same as a professional). Using the same thought as some of these messages perhaps we should condone cheating in amateur football or amateur rugby? This behaviour reduces the value of our activity and all chess players should be protected from having to sit opposite such a heinous individual.

edvz's picture

At the World Open, under 2000, more than 20 years ago, my opponent got up like that after every 3 or 4 moves. The distraction caused me to blunder away the exchange in the middlegame.

At which point, my opponent sat down without any more 'visits', then finally blundered in turn. Though with a clear and possibly decisive adavantage, I ceded the draw.

As this never occurred to me before or since, for many years I wondered if I should have been more suspicious.

Your article suggests, yes, I should, and perhaps even complained to the TD, as the victim in your story must have done.

So for me, your article is indeed newsworthy.

Mike's picture

Yes probably it is newsworthy because touches fundamental ethics of "classical chess", which is art and sport only if it's a competition between "disarmed" human minds. To play chess with the direct help of any machine turn the game into another thing, not "classical chess". One must be educated since his early years about respecting the rules and the laws in society. One must know that, if he want to play "computer assisted chess", better to look for this type of tournament elsewhere. I play blitz chess on the Internet, and I hate when my opponent uses cheating methods like programs, talking stupidities, and so on...Its is like to move the battlefield to another terrain, because he knows he is going to loose under the normal chessboard & rules...It is like to lie to himself...Anyway, of course because this case is about a kid, his integrity should be protected from moral harassment.

jussu's picture


I don't think you should have been more suspicious. The probability that your opponent cheated looks rather high but anyway, I find a possible false accusation a lot worse than letting some bloke "play" a bunch of games with a computer, until he tires of it and leaves the scene. Perhaps he stole a half-point from you (and some others), do the consequences of it last until today?

I am an online player; judging by paranoid estimates (such as some "Dr. Unclear" in his website, or F3MDR here) I must have played tens, if not hundreds of games against computer cheaters. I have suspected something thrice but I have decided not to come up with a dubious accusation that could possibly destroy all chess interest of my honest opponent who just happened to play very well in one game.

Jim's picture

I think that this story is news of import to anyone who plays competitive chess (at any level), only in that it illustrates how much easier the potential for cheating exists. Though this kid used a very clumsy method of cheating, the prevalence of smaller chess analysis computers make it possible for someone who is determined to design and build a more sophisticated method of cheating at no great cost of money or time. Are officials prepared to meet this new challenge? I suggest to anyone that doubts these possibilities exist that they read The Eudaemonic Pie by Thomas A Bass (

The greatest danger probably exists for a spectator using a small computer in combination with a signaling system -- either hand/body signs or electronic but the possibility exists for using a computer contained upon the person, their score book (or Monroi), or other equipment. Of course the chess world has already taken steps to prevent this type of behavior -- keeping the rewards for winning so low. (;})

And by the way, while I've cheated at cards as a kid, I've never cheated at chess.

edvz's picture

Yes, that is a good point jussu. Online cheating is unremarkable, unnewsworthy, but over-the-board it is illegal. However in regards to the article about OTB cheating, I think my remarks are still relevant.

Twenty years ago, the onus might have been on me to even prove grounds to a TD for my suspicion. Today, in the era of very strong programs and portable devices, such behaviour (disappearing every three moves, then instantly replying on each return), would be instant grounds for investigation.

So I think technology is the main difference between these two similar incidents 20 years apart: etiquette that may've been only questionable then, would be unacceptable today.


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