Cheating in chess

Cheating in chess

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[1] 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 cheating.



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 nobleman[citation needed].

Automaton hoaxes

In contrast to the modern methods of cheating by playing moves calculated by machines, in the 18th and 19th centuries the public were hoaxed by the opposite deception in which machines played 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).


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.[2][3] The study argues that Soviet players agreed to draws between themselves to improve their standings. While it is generally believed that this collusion sometimes happened, opinions differ over how effective it was. For example, if a leading player draws his game, it may allow his rivals to gain ground on him by winning their games. The most famous alleged instance, the 1962 Candidates' Tournament, is discussed further at the World Chess Championship 1963 article.

Touch-move rule

In chess, the "touch-move" rule states that if a player (whose turn it is to move) touches one of his pieces, it must be moved if it has a legal move. In addition, 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. These rules are often difficult to enforce because the only witnesses are the two players themselves. Nevertheless, violations of these rules are cheating.[4][5]

In one famous instance, Garry Kasparov changed his move against Judit Polgár in 1994 after momentarily letting go of a piece. Kasparov went on to win the game. The tournament officials had video tape proving that his hand left the piece, but refused to release the video evidence and allow Polgár the win. A factor counting against Polgar was that she waited a whole day before complaining, and such claims must be made during the game. The video tape revealed that Kasparov did let go of the piece for ¼ second. Cognitive psychologist Robert Solso stated that that is too short of a time to make a conscious decision.[6]

A famous incident occurred in a game between Milan Matulović and István Bilek at the Sousse Interzonal in 1967.[7] Matulović played a losing move but then took it back after saying "J'adoube" ("I adjust" - which should be announced before adjusting pieces on their square). His opponent complained to the arbiter but the move was allowed to stand. This incident earned Matulović the nickname "J'adoubovic."[8]

Cheating with technology

Technology has been used by chess cheats in several ways. Perhaps the most common way is to use a chess program while playing chess remotely, e.g. on the internet. Another type of cheating, with the aim of boosting one's rating on an internet chess site, is to sign on with a different IP address and user name to play and lose against themselves. Electronic communication with an accomplice during face-to-face competitive chess is another reported type of cheating.

Communication with an accomplice

One of the earliest known cases of using technology to cheat was in 1993 at the World Open. An unrated newcomer wearing headphones used the name "John von Neumann" (matching the name of a famous computer science pioneer), and scored 4½/9 in the Open Section, including a draw with a grandmaster and a win over a 2350-rated player. This player 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 he was quizzed by the tournament director, he was unable to demonstrate even a rudimentary knowledge of some simple chess concepts, and he was disqualified.[9]

In the Lampertheim Open Tournament 2002 the arbiter announced the disqualification of a player before round seven. Markus Keller 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 the 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 first through third place 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.[10]

In the Subroto Mukerjee memorial international rating chess tournament 2006, an Indian chess player was banned from playing competitive chess for ten years due to cheating.[11] 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.[12][13] His accomplices were outside the building, and were relaying moves from a computer simulation. Officials became suspicious after Sharma had made unusually large gains in rating points during the previous 18 months, even qualifying for the national championship.[13] 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 exactly the same sequence suggested by the chess computer.[12] Eventually, in the seventh round of the tournament, Indian Air Force officials searched the players on 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.[11] 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.[14] 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."[14]

In the Philadelphia World Open 2006, Steve Rosenberg, who was playing in a lower section, 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 event.[15]

In a Dutch League 2C 2007 match between Bergen and Zoom-AAS, the arbiter caught the team captain of AAS (who was playing 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 Pocket Fritz. 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 was banned from playing in the Dutch League and Cup matches, not only for that season, but also for next two seasons. The competition manager applied article 20.3 of the Federation's competition regulations.[16]

In the 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.[17] The game was being relayed live over the internet and it was alleged that his friends were following it and guiding him using a computer.[17]

In the Norths Chess Club Centenary Year Under 1600 Tournament a 14-year old boy 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. He was using the program Chessmaster on a PlayStation Portable, and that was probably the reason why the moves were not particularly strong. It was 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.[18]

In the 2010 FIDE Olympiad Tournament at Khanty-Mansiysk, three French players were caught in a scheme to use a computer program to decide moves. Their plan involved one player, Cyril Marzolo, following the tournament at home and using the computer program to decide the best moves. He would send the moves by SMS to another player, Arnaud Hauchard, who would then stand or sit at various tables as a signal to the player, Sebastian Feller, to make a certain move. Sebastian Feller and Cyril Marzolo were given five-year suspensions for this. Arnaud Hauchard was given a lifetime suspension. Unlike other cases, each player involved was a legitimate Grandmaster or International Master. None of the other players on the team knew of this or were involved.[19][20]

In the German Chess Championship 2011 FM Christoph Natsidis used a chess program on his smartphone during his last-round game against GM Sebastian Siebrecht. Natsidis admitted that he had cheated, and was disqualified from the championship.[21]

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.[22][23]

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.[24]

See also


  1. ^ "Cheating Accusations in Mental Sports, Too". The New York Times. 2006-08-08. Retrieved 2007-01-01. 
  2. ^ "Cheating in world chess championships is nothing new, study suggests". Retrieved 2007-01-01. 
  3. ^ "Did the Soviets Collude? A Statistical Analysis of Championship Chess 1940-64". Retrieved 2007-01-01. 
  4. ^ "When the man in the street hears of someone cheating at chess... usually involve a violation of article 7 of the Laws of Chess, usually called the 'touch-move' rule.", Lombardy & Daniels, p. 102
  5. ^ "He stuttered, J'adoube, and moved another piece instead, which is commonly known as cheating.", Evans, p. 307
  6. ^ Evans, pp. 284–85
  7. ^ Matulović vs. Bilek, Sousse 1967. According to discussion there, he withdrew 38. Bf3 and replaced it with 38. Kg1.
  8. ^ Hooper and Whyld, p. 252, says "... he played in the Sousse Interzonal in which, after a little cheating (see j'adoube), he came ninth." P. 185 (the "j'adoube" entry) says: "... withdrew a losing move saying "Ich spreche j'doube"; this ruse went unpunished ...".
  9. ^ "Minutes of the Chess Cheating conference in New York". ChessBase. 2007-01-11. Retrieved 29 March 2011. 
  10. ^ "Blockade Chess Cheaters USCF Petition". SeniorChess. Retrieved 29 March 2011. 
  11. ^ a b "Verdict on chess cheating this week". Retrieved 2006-12-28. [dead link]
  12. ^ a b "Player expelled for technology misuse". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 2006-12-06. Retrieved 2006-12-28. 
  13. ^ a b "Chess player caught cheating with wireless device". CNN. Archived from the original on 2007-01-01. Retrieved 2006-12-28. 
  14. ^ a b "Umakant Shama banned for 10 years". Chennai, India. Archived from the original on 2007-01-03. Retrieved 2006-12-28. 
  15. ^ "Cheating Accusations at the World Open". ChessBase. 2006-08-10. Retrieved 29 March 2011. 
  16. ^ Doggers, Peter (2007-11-09). "Dutch chess player banned after using PocketFritz". Retrieved 29 March 2011. 
  17. ^ a b "Wesley So wins Dubai Open, player disqualified for cheating". ChessBase. Retrieved 2008-04-17. 
  18. ^ Doggers, Peter (2009-01-08). "Is cheating always newsworthy". ChessVibes. Retrieved 29 March 2011. 
  19. ^ "French chess in pieces after three top players are suspended for cheating". London: Retrieved 29 March 2011. 
  20. ^ "Cheating chess champ banned". Retrieved 29 March 2011. 
  21. ^ McClain, Dylan (2011-06-12). "Christoph Natsidis Punished for Cheating". Retrieved 15 July 2011. 
  22. ^ "FIDE Ruling on Alexandru Crisan". The Week in Chess Magazine. London Chess Centre. 2001-09-07. Retrieved 2007-06-14. 
  23. ^ "Chess Player Profile: Crisan, Alexandru". FIDE. Retrieved 2009-03-26. 
  24. ^ Daniels, Morgan (2004-04-29). "The magical chess experiment". Chessbase. Retrieved 2009-03-26. 

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