This last post in our chess animal series covers the most reprehensible of creatures, the chess skunk (aka cheaters). In fact, fears about cheating have become more prevalent than ever. It is no surprise that the June 2014 Chess Life magazine featured and article that chronicled the efforts of Dr. Ken Regan to weed out chess cheaters, especially at the highest levels of competition.
There is little mystery as to why people cheat. Chess can be a difficult game to master. It takes years of study to become proficient at the different phases of the game. There is no question that some players are able to absorb information more quickly than others. Those that feel they have been left behind may give in to their baser impulses and decide it’s better to cheat and win, then to hardly win at all.
Many online chess sites monitor the games and revoke memberships of players who are suspected of cheating. The online Chess.com publishes a list of handles of players who have been caught cheating in an effort to embarrass those who have no regards for the rules.
Another big motivation is the chance to win easy money by cheating at a major event. Many large events have sections for class players that offer top prizes of $5,000 to $10,000. As cell phones and other digital devices get more powerful, it is easier than ever to find a platform to access a strong chess engine.
Fortunately, the vast majority of chess players, enjoy going to their local club to test their abilities against fellow enthusiasts. Books are educational and playing on the internet can provide competition any time of day or night, but nothing can replace the experience of face to face competition. It is also interesting to observe the many different styles of play at the local club or regional tournament.
However, beware of players who exhibit suspicious behaviors, especially those that suddenly perform way above their recent rating level for no apparent reason.
Below are a few examples of chess cheaters at noted in various publications:
- John Von Neumann (1993 World Open, Philadelphia, PA): A player entered the tournament under the alias “John Von Neumann” (which is the name of a famous Hungarian/American mathematician and physicist). The player achieved a strong 4.5 out of 9 in the open section of the tournament, including a draw against a GM, and qualified for an $800 prize. Needless to say, tournament directors were suspicious and asked him to solve a simple chess puzzle before he could claim his prize. He refused and left the premises, never to be seen again.
- Sebastian Feller, Cyril Marzolo, Arnaud Hauchard (2010 Chess Olympiad): Feller, a 20-year-old French Grandmaster was the gold medal winner at an International event. As detailed in the NY Times and on the Chessbase website, Cyril Marzolo an international master, was inputting moves on his computer while watching the online broadcast of the matches. Marzolo would send a text message to the French coach, Arnaud Hauchard, who would then relay the moves to Feller. The plot was uncovered when the VP of the French chess federation happened to see a text on Marzolo’s phone from Hauchard stating “hurry up, send moves”. After further investigation, over 200 text messages were discovered and conspiracy was uncovered. Feller was banned for 3 years and was also required to perform 2 years of community service. Marzolo was banned for 5 years. The coach was given a lifetime ban as captain and coach of French Chess Federation.
- Borislov Ivanov (2012 Zadar Open, 2013 Bladoevgrad Open, 2013 Navalmoral Open): Not content with cheating and and getting away with it, 26-year-old Borislav Ivanov posted questionable results in three separate tournaments over a short period of time. Though Ivanov is a strong 2300 player, he defeated four Grandmasters at the Zadar Open and two other Grandmasters in the Navalmoral Open. He was eventually searched and a suspicious device was found on his person. He was expelled from the tournament after Round 6. He was eventually suspended for four months by the Bulgarian Chess Federation. He has since retired and would have a hard time competing in any future tournaments without facing intense scrutiny.
The sad fact is, there is no real justification for cheating at chess. Some steroid users on the Tour de France or other professional sports often state that “everybody else was doing it” or that it just “enhanced my natural abilities”. None of these excuses make sense for chess. What would tournaments be like if everybody brought their own computer? Imagine the results of a major tournament where all players tie for the lead with 9 draws in nine rounds!
Let’s hope that monitoring for suspicious activities improves and that those who are tempted to cheat see the error of their ways.