Reports | January 24, 2011 23:45

Three French players accused of cheating; one pleads not guilty

French chess federation accuses three of its players of cheating; one of them deniesIn a communiqué on its website the French Chess Federation (EFF) has accused GMs Sébastien Feller and Arnaud Hauchard and IM Cyril Marzolo of cheating. No details were given, but the federation announced that it has "initiated on December 22, 2010 disciplinary action". One of the players, GM Feller, has already issued an official statement denying everything.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave might be doing quite well in Wijk aan Zee, but still the French chess scene is talking about something else at the moment. Last Friday, the French Chess Federation issued the following communiqué on its website:

French Chess Federation engages its Disciplinary Committee against members of the France team for cheating

The French Chess Federation (EFF) announced that it has initiated on December 22, 2010 disciplinary action against the International Grandmasters Sébastien Feller and Arnaud Hauchard and against International Master Cyril Marzolo, following suspicions of "organized cheating, serious breach of ethics in sport and undermining the image of the Olympic national team during the Chess Olympiad that took place in Khanty-Mansiysk (Russia), September 21 to October 3, 2010.

Information on this procedure has also been sent to the International Chess Federation (FIDE), and the Ministry of Sports, as the overseeing administration of the FFE.

Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, 21 January 2011

Apparently the federation has good reason not to provide any details, and even better reasons to publish their accusation anyway. It's safe to say that the three players are accused of using computer help during games, which was also more or less confirmed in an interview with French Chess Federation's Vice President Leo Battesti, who mentions that it's "difficult to cope with technological developments" when games are being "live broadcasted".

In its communiqué the French Chess Federation refers to the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk, where 19-year-old Sébastien Feller played very well. Rated 2649, he won the gold medal on board 5 with a score of 6/9 and a TPR of 2708. The other GM mentioned, Arnaud Hauchard, was team captain in Khanty-Mansiysk.

We tried to reach both Feller and Hauchard via email. The latter didn't respond yet, but Feller sent us the following "official statement" (translated into English by us):

I completely deny the accusations of cheating from the French Chess Federation. This disciplinary procedure is in fact related to the fact that during the Olympiad I supported the current FIDE President, which was contrary to the policy of the French Chess Federation. The President of FIDE is in fact defamed on the blog of Jean-Claude Moingt [President of the French Chess Federation - CV], which claims that the President has profited from fictitious proxies.

In addition, I have repeatedly mentioned in private conversations accounting irregularities of the French Chess Federation (details will be given later), which have angered the president. I asked my lawyer, Charles Morel, to initiate legal action against the French Chess Federation for creating damages on my side by having unjustifiably mentioned my name in a statement included on all French and foreign sites, as well as in the international press.

The aforementioned Leo Battesti calls Feller's accusations "pathetic":

And insulting to our president and his federation. I think this young player is ill advised because instead of taking responsibility, he tries to distract by disrespecting the honor of a great man of French Chess.

There are several examples of cheating in chess, but also several examples of accusations without proof. The fact that a federation is taking measures to some very strong players indicates that they possess at least some form of proof. We'll have to wait and see what it looks like, and what will happen to Hauchard, Feller and Marzolo (and Feller's gold medal).

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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

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?

Simon Grivet's picture

I completely agree with you, they look like FOOLS...

Peter Doggers's picture

I spoke to a strong French chess player who told me this. Guess he knows the French chess scene better than you...

Thomas's picture

OK, I apologize for the tone of my post, but I mentioned my source. It comes down to what one considers "the chess scene". The inner circle may be bigger than I thought (100, maybe 1000 players). I don't know who follows and comments on france-echecs.com, to me it seems similar to the utrechtschaak forum in the Netherlands.

If something similar was underway in the Netherlands, GMs, IMs and journalists (e.g. Peter Doggers) might know about it prior to publication. But average club players (e.g. myself) wouldn't - and for me they are also part of the chess scene. Basically I wondered about and questioned your "almost everyone ...".

Peter Doggers's picture

I also apologize for the tone of my post. It's just that you leave so many comments and read almost all chess sites, which sometimes seems to make you a bit over-confident, and also, sometimes this gives the impression that you try to find fault with everything ('op alle slakken zout leggen' in Dutch). But still, your input is appreciated!

Tarjei's picture

I find it strange that a federation goes public with names accusing their own players of cheating without giving any other details about the incident.

It is even mentioned in the initial press release, that they are SUSPECTING them. But if it's all about suspicions, why go public with the names?

rocean's picture

your perspective should be reckon intensively.

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

The fishy thing here is that this comes out kind of too late after the event itself.
If they were strong evidence it would have been spotted on site don't you think?
most cases of cheating are either caught (world open) or debated (toilet-gate and mamediarov) on site just after the incident because of the nature of such evidence.
if there was strong evidence, why the officials there wouldn't have noticed anything (knowing the importance of the event) and still awarded Feller of a gold medal ?
I can't imagine the FFE realeasing such a statement without strong evidence, but yet they release the names of the players but not how and when they would have committed their cheating.
Don't forget folks everybody is innocent till proven guilty.

Simon Grivet's picture

This is a really terrible situation. As a member of the French Federation (even though I'm not yet ranked...and still just an amateur) paying my yearly fees, I have to say I don't understand what's going on here.
Either, the FFE goes public WITH PROOFS and a clear cut case... or they don't.
But here it's just an invitation for tons of shitty innuendos and this is just disgusting.

On a personal level, I don't really believe these accusations:
-why would Hauchard and Feller take so much risks for the Olympiads? Is that just an important competition?

It doesn't make sense and right now I'm really pissed at the FFE officials who are handling this situation very badly.
I mean Hauchard is VAchier Lagrave's coach for godsake and we're in the middle of Wijk with MVL having to play Carlsen, Nakamura, Anand and Kramnik?! What kind of stupid timing is that?

Very sad anyway...

SG

S's picture

Well said. This Leo Battesti sounds like ---deleted---

GuidedByVoices's picture

In the sake of fairness, any player should never be pointed as a cheater unless it's fully demonstrated. This said, it is even worse that officers of a big federation go public without being even close to a final veredict.

To my mind, even after all this time, Mamedyarov is insane and Kurnosov is a very strong GM playing a handful natural-looking moves out from standard opening preparation. BTW, at the 4NCL, a shared a couple of cigarrettes with him outside the playing hall... He was wearing a jeans and a T-shirt... No place to hide an electronic gadget whatsoever... What's wrong with smoking other than lung cancer???

Guillaume's picture

I'm not at all convinced by what the FFE is doing. They initiated the procedure a month ago. Why releasing those vague accusations now? What was the sudden urgency?

The vice-president of the FFE thought Feller's counter-accusations were pathetic. But how on earth were those players supposed to defend against such uncircumstantial accusations? It's like accusing someone of murder but refusing to say who is the victim.

Oscar's picture

It seems the French Chess Federation took its decision on December the 22th and made it public exactly one month later. Maybe the supposed cheaters had one month to appeal the decision and was it only published after that time had passed?

leigh's picture

Don't be angry! I gave a comment because this is a very interesting issue.

I remember that my son was playing with a young boy at a tournment. I was smoking outside just beside the door. The boy's father and the boy came out, they were talking about Rc4 or something like it. I went back to the hall and took a look at my son's game. Oh My God! If the boy moves R to c4, my son totally lose. But I have to say It was a very complicate game. It beyond my son and the boy's capblity to see it. Of course, my son lost. When I saw my son with tears in eye, I thought I had to do something. I talked with the Organizer. He signed and said: it hard to prove.

So I think it will be same result in the case we are talking about. it hard to prove. The result will be 'everyone keep what they said'.

But the way the FFE work is not right for sure.

Thomas's picture

I was just angry at your insinuation that Aro and me could be one and the same person - if it all was an issue of your non-native English, I retract the “Huuuuh!!???” :) .

In your example, your case would have been stronger (maybe still not strong enough) if you had an independent witness. Apparently - assuming Aro's story is true, why would anyone make this up? - this was the case in Biel: "I [Aro] and other players ... told the organizers". But I repeat that only the organizers (and Hauchard himself) could confirm the story. It is actually unclear if Pelletier complained himself, or even whether he was aware of what was supposedly going on.

Roberto Alvarez's picture

If the SUPPOSED cheating was at the Olympiad in Russia, then, FFE has nothing to do here. First, because the tournament was under another jurisdiction (FIDE), and second, because the FFE officials were present at the Olympiad, and could just have "retired" the team if there was a suspicious of cheating.

Besides, giving the names and some details to publicity, before giving the players the chance of defending on the tribunal, is a very bad thing. Let me suppose they are innocent (and indeed they are unless an impartial judge gives its veredict)... they have just suffered a severe damage to their reputations.

From a legal point of view, I dont think FFE can penalize a player for (what? we dont know) something which was not pelalized in the tournament by the proper tournament auithorities.

Thomas's picture

From a legal point of view, you may well be wrong: Football rules could apply. If an arbiter misses an incident because it happened behind his back and that incident was captured on TV, a player can still be punished. Official punishment is decided by the federation, but a club can still impose additional (e.g. financial) penalties on his player.

In the given case, it _seems_ that evidence became available only after the Olympiad. No idea why this is the case, but I presume that at least some evidence exists - else the FFE will be in a very awkward situation sooner or later, they can't be that stupid ... . Moreover, the FFE did contact FIDE who will be in charge of handling the situation on an international level. All the French federation can do is ban the players for events in or representing France, and fire Hauchard as coach of the national team.

SXL's picture

@¨Thomas

You don't have to talk to the players to relay moves. I'm pretty certain it would be possible to have someone who doesn't play chess very well look like a master with some of the tech-tools now available - if:

1. Moves were relayed outside and could be evaluated with an engine there.

You wouldn't even have to have a person in the hall. Either you can set up a "buzzer" in the shoes of the player, or elsewhere on his body; or you can use light signals or other unobtrusive signals, in the hall itself.
Just modify a blutooth buzzer, if you want.

This is a real problem, and needs to be addressed.

Thomas's picture

Yes, "innocent till proven guilty". But my interpretation is that, right or wrong, after one month of investigations the French federation considers them proven guilty even though the formal procedure will take another few weeks or months. Should they receive tournament invitations in the meantime?

Overall, the Battesti interview is too long to translate and has "more words than facts" but I found one part interesting: "As organizer of international events I was often alerted by certain behaviors. But often, under the legitimate presumption of innocence, without evidence, without precise witness testimonials, it is difficult to interfer." It follows that the evidence is stronger in the given case!?

The story already circulates for two days, Chessvibes commendably waited until Feller had his chance to reply. Outside of France, Jan Gustafsson first mentioned it on his blog - he might have heard it from one of Feller's teammates playing in Wijk aan Zee (Vachier-Lagrave, Fressinet, Tkachiev), BTW according to Battesti they are all 100% innocent. Two comments (on france-echecs.com and Gusti's blog) suggest that Feller and Hauchard may be repeat offenders:
- Feller was already banned for two years on the Playchess server because of cheating.
- Hauchard got external assistance during the Biel Open last year: A Frenchman was analyzing his ongoing game against Pelletier with a laptop, then rushing to the tournament hall to talk to Hauchard. Others contacted the organizers, it seems that the Frenchmen are no longer welcome in Biel.
[These are just rumors, I hesitated to spread them - but, unlike me, Peter Doggers might be in a position to either verify or falsify them.]

VladimirOO's picture

Can you give the link to the Hauchard's cheating case? I am very sceptical.

Thomas's picture

http://www.jan-gustafsson.de/nc/jans-kolumne/beitrag/noooo/
(comment by Aro 23.1.2011 12:55)
Literally he writes "as far as I know the French are banned for Biel". An anonymous poster on the Internet may or may not be right, only the Biel organizers (and Hauchard himself) would know.

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

lol so you repeat a random comment from an anonymous user of Gustafsson's blog???
you can't be serious ??
I mean the chess world was chocked by a teenager cheating with his PS3 in a local Australian chess tournament a year or two ago and a renowned GM like Arnaud Hauchard would be caught cheating in a famous international tournament but nobody would report it anywhere online ?
come on dude

S's picture

He also says that it are rumours-and hopes for cv to check on them. What's your problem then?

NN's picture

I saw a few of his game with a comp.
It seems especially against the stronger opponents Feller switched on the computer
( Timofeev-Feller) saw may many of the comps. first choices for Feller. and also Feller- Gelashvili.

I know this is not proff enough. but there might be something about it. Didnt go over the other two players games yet. I doubt there will be such claims if there is not something about it. However it is tricky issue. Most of the moves in the above games where not that difficult ones.

regards,

IM around 2500.

Oscar's picture

This anonymous poster on the blog of Gustafsson claims Hauchard cheated in his game against Pelletier. Supposedly, another French player was analysing that game on his laptop and continuously rushed to Hauchard to give him the results. The anonymous poster claims that he told this to the organisation, and that "as far as he knows" Hauchard is banned from Biel from now on.

But if that would be true - why was Hauchard allowed to continue the tournament and play all three remaining rounds after his game with Pelletier?

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

No!

FFE doesn't consider them guilty yet, they said "has
initiated (...) a disciplinary action"

and...

"following suspicions of organized cheating"

nobody is proven guilty and the only base is
suspicions...

I read Leo Battesti's interview and when asked
how did they do it ? how the arbiters didn't see it?
he answered that "nothing is easier,
in a live broadcast, to transmit informations. Even
a small help in complex positions it is a garanteed win".

So wait a minute how come Leo battesti and Jean-Claude Moingt
knew about it but no arbiters saw it? why they didn't do nothing
at the time?

As for your accusations of previous cheating of the cited players
it is obviously just rumors i actually never heard of it before eventhough
I followed closely the Biel tournament.
If you spread such accusations you have to back it up with
facts dude.

Meanwhile on the other hand, Feller issued a statement saying
"De plus, j' ai fait état lors de conversations privées,
lesquelles ont été répétées,
d'irrégularités comptables de la Fédération Française
(des précisions seront données ultérieurement),
lesquelles ont déclenché la colère du président."
"I did mention in private conversations, at multiple times,
accounting irregularities at the FFE (more details later),
which deeply angered the president".

I just think FFE lost credibility lashing out names without
evidence. Actually for those who know Battesti it is not a surprise.

jmd85146's picture

Innocent untill guilty... In Belgium we had a murder case not so long ago and there were no evidences needed to convict the woman of murder...

I think it would be pathetic to cheat. And if someone really does cheat he or she should be suspended for a long period. Like in cycling a period of 2 years would be apropriate

John O's picture

With a FIDE rating of 2657 Feller doesn't have to cheat. I'm skeptical about his involvement.

test's picture

That argument is self-defeating.
How did he get to that rating? By cheating?
Apart from that: somebody's rating is irrelevant when it comes to cheating.

I'm not saying he did or he didn't, just saying the argument is not very strong.

Thomas's picture

Strong chess players don't need to cheat!? In other sports, Ben Johnson, Jan Ullrich and many others didn't need to cheat!?

On the low end of the scale, a player with Elo 1200 won't benefit from _incidental_ engine assistance:
- often he will not even reach a position where engines can help him
- even if an engine tells him "mate in 10" he can't remember the variation but has to keep asking his silicon friend "What's next?".

Along with test, I just want to say that your argument doesn't make any sense.

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

"the French chess scene knew what was going on anyway."
You are referring to the procedure itself right?
I agree I don't see how in the small french chess world people weren't aware of it.

But if they don't show serious evidence and their procedure appears to be "flaky" eventually, they will be sued for defamation for sure.

Thomas's picture

Do you know that the rumor I spread (and I never called it anything else) is false? For the time being, only the Biel organizers know.

As to Fischer-Battesti: I just wanted to point out that people who once fought the system can later become part of the system. Battesti now is spokesman of the French, not the Corsican federation. Maybe he would still prefer Corsican independence, that would be his legitimate private opinion and has nothing to do with the case discussed here. And, for example, someone who was once (25 years ago or even yesterday) caught and convicted for stealing from a shop can still accuse others of drunken driving ... .

Technically, your last statement is obviously wrong: Of course people can be accused of things without fair trial, simply because without accusations there will be no trial.

Thomas's picture

I think you are wrong about "almost everyone in the French chess scene knew what was going on anyway". Some inner circle players probably knew because they were contacted during the investigation. But when I first read the news (on Jan Gustfsson's blog) I checked on the france-echecs.com forum - 71 comments at the time, by now 164. Everyone seemed genuinely surprised and puzzled, noone wrote anything resembling "but this is old news" ... .

So the federation must have had other reasons for going public, maybe the ones I suggested in earlier comments.

Frits Fritschy's picture

Don't know what to think of this.
"The fact that a federation is taking measures to some very strong players indicates that they possess at least some form of proof."
I think that's a bit fast. Throwing mud and hope it will stick might be another motive.
"...disrespecting the honor of a great man of French Chess." Who's being pathetic? I automatically distrust anyone trying to put his boss in the good book like this.
On the Biel cheating thing: that requires some easy journalism. Peter, have you contacted the Biel organisers?
Things might be true, they might be not true. Off course you should make something like this public, but with a lot of caution.

Thomas's picture

Maybe I need to clarify my previous post, three points:

- Others blamed the French federation, along with Peter Doggers I suggest that their evidence is rather strong - else it wouldn't make sense to hurt their own team, and they certainly have their legal advisors: Feller can and apparently will sue the federation, even if Kramnik can't sue Topalov and Kurnosov can't sue Mamedyarov. As to calling them 'suspects': even someone shooting another person in plain daylight with ten witnesses is still called a suspect until formally convicted in court!?
But I agree with Simon Grivet that the timing in the middle of Tata Chess is rather odd ... .

- The Biel incident (if it happened as described): the evidence may not be strong enough to prove Hauchard guilty, and organizers usually don't like scandals. But even then the evidence may be strong enough to "politely" tell him that he shouldn't show up next year.

- I was the first one to suggest that Peter Doggers should contact the Biel organizers. And all three outcomes would add to the story:
1) Aro was telling plain nonsense
2) Indeed some players contacted the organizers, but they either refused to investigate or did investigate and evidence that Hauchard was cheating is non-existing or insufficient
3) the incident did occur as described, including Hauchard being banned.

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

You suggest that their evidence is rather strong? you don't know that, that's a certainty.

Just because the motives of such accusations by FFE might seem illogical, it is not proving they are telling the truth. Maybe it is a personal vendetta, anything can be assumed till we have real facts and evidence.

As for the "fictional" Biel incident, first you use this pseudo info to convince people that the players are already cheaters therefor it makes sense that they cheated in the Olympiads, second, you can assume anything based on rumors, but without concrete facts or evidence, your contribution besides being baseless is just hurting the people involved.

leigh's picture

He might post the message first on the other site, then he quotes it for here. I wonder how he did that. haha, I learned that from him

Thomas's picture

Now this is absurd - I can assure you that you're wrong, even if only two people know for sure, Aro and myself. As a matter of fact, I have never even been in Biel! Peter Doggers and Jan Gustafsson could verify if they bothered to trace, exchange and compare the IP addresses for both posts - but they might as well trust their comment contributors in my/our as well as other cases. "I learned that from him" - all i can say is "Huuuuh!!???".

General points:
- At this and earlier occasions, people are quick to bash federations (only when it's a federation against FIDE, some take the federation as the perceived lesser evil). Actually I just want to add some balance to the discussion: if several others had condemned the players (which I don't do), I might have written something along the lines of Wouter's posts (I don't say he's all wrong). But it's at least remarkable that Wouter rather seems to believe Feller's statement on "accounting irregularities" which, for the time being, is at least as cryptic and unsupported. Wouter's key argument seems to be "I don't like Battesti"!?
- It's also interesting that noone defended Feller against earlier cheating accusations. That case may be more easily verifiable if a message was indeed prominently posted on the Playchess server. I would actually rather discount it as a youth sin (e.g. Naiditsch was also once caught for Internet cheating), which doesn't take away that a repeat offender might and should be punished more severely.

Finally - now I am speculating but .... the timing of the FFE press release could make sense after all:
- Vachier-Lagrave, Fressinet and Tkachiev might have already known that something is underway: in an investigation, it makes perfect sense to contact Feller's teammates.
- Maybe the FFE had signs that the story on a French Olympiad team scandal was about to leak out (though I don't know if France has tabloid newspapers always looking for a scandal, and if they would be interested in a chessic scandal). Then it would be in the best interest of the Tata participants if the FFE makes things public, clarifying which players are under investigation and which ones are absolutely innocent.

S's picture

Learn to read. And to reason. Thank you.

S's picture

Your posts were very clear. Some people just can't comprehend what they read. Or refuse to do so, because they perceive everything as critique. I thank you for your information!

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

What if I spread a false rumor about your mom on the internet ? would you critic me ?

I certainly don't trust people who spread false rumors (usually the bad ones), if you are European and you know a lil bit of history it can remind you bad memories...

BTW, what is the added value of your contribution ? what do you bring to the debate besides insulting people about their reading or reasoning skills ?

Frits Fritschy's picture

Something to take into account is that Feller is left hanging out to dry; everyone can check the tiniest detail of his public life (a sure way to find just anything). But who is Aro? Battesti's nephew?
Journalists sometimes use anonymous sources (though sparingly), but by doing so, they put their reputation on the line. But who is this Thomas and what is his reputation?
An anonymous quote by an anonymous quoter, that's not the proper way to bring things into the light.

Peter Doggers's picture

As I understand it, by bringing out details while the investigation is still ongoing, the federation also risks to get sued. The reason they published their communiqué is probably because almost everyone in the French chess scene knew what was going on anyway.

test's picture

From the Interview with Leo Battesti:

What exactly is the cheating system that was used? Have the authors of the cheating admitted the facts?

Battesti DOES NOT answer this question.

I find it strange that he can accuse somebody of cheating without being able to say how.

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

Well, I'm not Feller's lawyer but again I don't think spreading false rumors like you do is a good thing for the chess world or anything for that matter.

Did Joshka fisher went to jail for mafioso activities ?
Also Battesti got an amnesty from Mitterand so he is still guilty in the eyes of justice...

This NN guy can say whatever he wants you know that's the freedom of speech but the society created rules which prohibit people to be accused of things without any evidence or fair trial, everybody will judge when justice will be served, as for now they are still innocent.

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

"this may be the reason why the FFE felt the need to give names rather than just two GMs and an IM. That could lead to all kind of speculations:"

LOL Too bad for you Thomas they released the names, you would have been the first to spread theses speculations on ChessVibes and others...

Thomas's picture

You start playing on the man, both Battesti and myself - maybe you run out of arguments?
First Battesti: OK he apparently has a criminal past some 25 years ago - but everyone who served his sentence should thereafter be considered a 'normal citizen'. Marginally related, probably more differences than similarities: In Germany, young Joschka Fischer was sort of a streetfighter during the late 1960s and early 1970s (generation 1968), later he became a very respected minister of foreign affairs.
Now me: You may have another impression, but I DON'T speculate - I merely try to understand why the FFE is acting the way they do and, unlike others, don't think they're all wrong. BTW, I think most comments in this thread are rather thoughtful. The only exception is "NN" above who boasts with his title and Elo but doesn't give his real name (while insulting Feller), surprising to me that he only got thumbs up.

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

Yes lol I can't wait to see the bluetooth buzzer they pulled out of Feller's pants!

chessnr1's picture

generally I find the whole issue distasteful. The correct way would be to wait for the final verdict of the diciplinary committee. If cheating is prooved, then it is ok to make a public announcement.

To go public in the manner that has been done without a verdict, without proof and even without stateting what exactly the accusations are is very distateful.

In my eyes the image of the French Chess Federation has been considerably damaged.

Cheesus's picture

FFE got it all wrong. Obviously, it was Feller's opponents that were cheating, not that it did them any good. :D

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