[blind-chess] Chess Article #98: Cheating in Chess

  • From: Roderick Macdonald <rmacd@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: Blind Chess Mailing List <blind-chess@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 31 Jul 2010 20:25:41 -1000 (HST)

Chess Article #98:
Cheating in Chess
Adapted and Condensed from
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia

Cheating in chess refers to a deliberate violation of the rules of
chess or other unethical behaviour that is intended to give an
unfair advantage to a player or team. Cheating can occur in many
forms and can take place before, during, or possibly even after a
game. Commonly cited instances of cheating include: collusion with
spectators or other players linking to remote computers, rating
manipulation, misuse of the touch-move rule, the pre-arranged draw,
and the use of psychological tactics to unsettle an opponent. Many
suspiciously-motivated practices are not comprehensively covered by
the rules of chess and so, on ethical or 'moral conduct' grounds
only, may be judged by some as acceptable and by others, as

++1. History

Cheating at chess is almost as old as the game itself, and may even
have caused chess-related deaths. According to one legend, a
dispute over cheating at chess led King Canute to murder a Danish

++1.A     Automaton hoaxes

Rather than the modern problem in which humans cheat by
surreptitiously reproducing the play of machines, in the 18th and
19th centuries the public were hoaxed by the opposite deception in
which machines reproduced the moves of hidden humans. The first and
most famous of the chess automaton hoaxes was The Turk (1770),
followed by Ajeeb (1868) and Mephisto (1886).

++2. Collusion

Over the years there have been many accusations of collusion,
either of players deliberately losing (often to help a friend or
teammate get a title norm), or of players agreeing to draws to help
both players in a tournament.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis claim that Soviet
chess masters may have colluded in world chess championships held
from 1940 to 1964. The study argues that the Soviet players agreed
to draws amongst themselves to help their chances. While it is
generally believed that these agreements happened at times,
opinions differ over how effective their agreements were. The most
famous alleged instance, the 1962 Candidates' Tournament is
discussed further at the World Chess Championship 1963 article.

++3. Touch-move rule

In tournament chess, there are certain "touch-move" rules: If one's
own piece is touched, it must be moved if it is legal to do so. If
a piece is picked up and released on another square, the move must
stand if it is a legal move. If an opponent's piece is touched, it
must be captured if it is legal to do so. Often rules involving
these incidents are difficult to enforce because the only witnesses
are the two players involved. Nevertheless, violations of these
rules are considered cheating.

In one famous instance, Garry Kasparov changed his move against
Judit Polgar in 1994 after momentarily letting go of a piece (a
violation of the "touch piece" rule). Kasparov went on to win the
game. The tournament officials allegedly had video tape proving
that his hand left the piece, but refused to release the video
evidence and allow Polgar the win. Also against Polgar was the fact
that she waited one full day before issuing her complaint, and such
claims must be made during the game. The videotape reveals that
Kasparov did let go of the piece for < second. Cognitive
psychologist Robert Solso stated that that is too short of a time
to make a conscious decision.

A famous incident occurred in a game by Milan Matulovic against
Istvan Bilek at the Sousse Interzonal in 1967. Matulovic played a
losing move but then took it back after saying "j'adoube" ("I
adjust" - which is spoken before adjusting pieces on their square).
His opponent complained to the arbiter but the move was allowed to
stand. This incident earned Matulovic the nickname "J'adoubovic."

++4. Cheating with technology

Technology has been used by chess cheats in several ways. Perhaps
the most common form is to use a chess program while playing chess
remotely, usually through online chess servers. Or, to boost
ratings on a chess server, a competitor may sign on through a
different IP address to play and lose against themselves.
Electronic communication with an accomplice during face-to-face
competitive chess is another reported technique.

++4.A     Communication with an accomplice

One of the earliest known cases of using technology to cheat was in
1993 at the World Open, a dreadlocked, headphone-wearing, unrated
newcomer, who took the name "John von Neumann" (matching the name
of a famous artificial intelligence research pioneer), scored 4=/9
in the Open Section, including a draw with a grandmaster and a win
over a 2350 player. This "von Neumann" seemed to have a suspicious
bulge in one of his pockets, which appeared to make a soft humming
or buzzing sound at important points in the game. "When quizzed by
the tournament director, the `lesser' von Neumann was unable to
demonstrate even a rudimentary knowledge of some simple chess
concepts, and he was

In Lampertsheim Open Tournament 2003 the arbiter announced the
disqualification of a player before round seven. Volker Widmann
explained what had happened: "In the sixth round a player came to
me and said he suspected his opponent, W.S. from L., was using
illicit aids during the game. He often left the board for
protracted periods of time to go to the toilet, even when
(especially when) it was his turn to play. He had done this in
earlier rounds against other players as well. I watched W.S. and
noticed that he played a number of moves very rapidly and then
disappeared in the toilet. I followed him and could hear no sound
coming from the stall. I looked under the door and saw that his
feet were pointing sideways, so that he could not have been using
the toilet. So I entered the neighbouring stall, stood on the
toilet bowl and looked over the dividing wall. I saw W.S. standing
there with a handheld PC which displayed a running chess program.
He was using a stylus to operate it. I immediately disqualified the
player. When confronted he claimed that he was only checking his
emails, so I asked him to show me the computer, which he refused to
do. There are witnesses for my investigation in the toilet, and we
will ask the chess federation of our state to ban the player from
playing in other tournaments."

In HB Global Chess Challenge 2005, a player in the Under-2000
section exited the event under suspicion of cheating, while his
final-round game was under way. According to tournament officials,
he was caught repeatedly talking on his cell phone during his game
- which the published rules for that event expressly prohibited.
Directors suspected that he was receiving moves over the phone from
an accomplice elsewhere in the building. His results were expunged
from the tournament and an ethics complaint lodged. Six weeks
later, the same player entered the World Open and tied for 1st-3rd
in the Under-2200 section, pocketing $5,833. An attempt was made to
eject him midway through that event, when the organizers belatedly
learned about the earlier incident in Minnesota. But, lacking any
specific allegation that he was cheating in the World Open, they
backtracked and re-admitted him after he threatened legal action.

In Subroto Mukerjee memorial international rating chess tournament
2006, an Indian chess player was banned from playing competitive
chess for ten years due to cheating. During the tournament at
Subroto Park, Umakant Sharma was caught receiving instructions from
an accomplice using a chess computer via a Bluetooth-enabled device
which had been sewn into his cap. The accomplices he had been
communicating with were outside the location at which he was
playing, and were relaying moves from a computer simulation.
Officials became suspicious after Sharma made unusually large gains
in rating points during the previous eighteen months, even
qualifying for the national championship. Umakant began the year
with an average rating of 1933, and in 64 games gained over 500
points to attain a rating of 2484. Officials received multiple
written complaints alleging that Umakant's moves were in the exact
same sequence suggested by the chess computer HIARCS 10.
Eventually, in the seventh round of the tournament, Indian Air
Force officials searched the players at the top eight boards with
a metal detector and found that Umakant was the only player who was
cheating. Umakant's ten-year ban was imposed by the All India Chess
Federation (AICF) after reviewing evidence presented by Umakant
himself and the electronic devices seized by the tournament
organizers. The penalty was considered harsh, especially
considering that those in other sports who have been found to be
doping and match fixing did not receive such lengthy suspensions.
When officials were asked about the suspension they stated, "We
wanted to be frank and send a stern message to all players. It is
like cheating on exams."

In Philadelphia World open 2006, Steve Rosenberg, who was playing
in a lower section and was leading before the final round. A
victory would have been worth about $18,000. He was confronted by
a tournament director and found to be using a wireless transmitter
and receiver called a "Phonito". He was disqualified from the

Dutch League 2C 2007 match between Bergen vs Zoom-AAS, the arbiter
caught the team captain of AAS (who was playing himself on board
6), using a PDA. The player was outside the playing hall, with
permission, to get some fresh air. The arbiter had followed him and
caught him using PocketFritz. On the screen, the actual position of
the game was shown. The arbiter declared the game lost and informed
the Dutch Federation about the incident. The competition manager
communicated a heavy penalty: the player has been banned to play in
the Dutch League and Cup matches, not only for this season, but
also for next two seasons. The competition manager applied article
20.3 of the Federation's competition regulations.

In Dubai Open 2008, M Sadatnajafi, an untitled Iranian player
(rated 2288 at the time), was disqualified from the tournament
after he was caught receiving suggested moves by text message on
his mobile phone while playing Grandmaster Li Chao. The game was
being relayed live over the internet and it was alleged that his
friends were following it and guiding him using a

In Norths Chess Club Centenary Year Under 1600 Tournament 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.

++5. Rating manipulation

Ratings manipulation occurs when game results are determined before
the game starts or by falsifying tournament reports. The most
common type is called sandbagging, where a person plays in lower
entry fee tournaments and loses to lower their rating so they can
play in a large money tournament in a lower section, and increase
their chance of winning. Sandbagging, however, is very difficult to
detect and prove, so USCF has included minimum ratings based on
previous ratings or money winnings to minimize the effect. The most
notable example of ratings manipulation involves Romanian Alexandru
Crisan, who falsified tournament reports to gain a Grandmaster
title and ranked 33rd in the world on FIDE ratings list. A
committee overseeing the matter recommended his rating erased and
his Grandmaster title revoked, but this has not happened.

++6. Simultaneous games

A player with no knowledge of chess can achieve a 50% score in
simultaneous chess by replicating the moves made by one of his
white opponents in a match against a black opponent, and vice
versa; the opponents in effect play each other rather than the
cheater. This trick was attempted in correspondence chess matches
against Alexander Alekhine and Efim Bogoljubov, which they
uncovered after discussing the games with each other. Stage
magician Derren Brown used the trick against nine leading British
chess players in his television show.
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