Aeroflot scandal – the accused responds
After being crushed in just 21 moves with the white pieces, Mamedyarov claimed
that Kurnosov had repeatedly left the playing hall between moves, taking his
coat with him, and that all of the latter's moves coincided with the first choice
A search of Kurnosov's coat failed to reveal any suspicious objects, and in
the absence of any hard evidence of wrong-doing, the arbiters dismissed Mamedyarov's
protest. The Azeri GM, who was top seed for the tournament, then withdrew and
took no further part in the event.
The fateful game: Igor Kurnosov ponders his 12th move against Shakhriyar
Mamedyarov thinks about his 13th move
Now, on the Russian-language site e3-e5, Kurnosov has hit back with a letter,
in which he puts his side of the story. We present below our translation of
Dear Colleagues and chess lovers,
With regard to the discussions in the press of Mamedyarov's letter, I must
explain the situation. I present the game Mamedyarov-Kurnosov from round six
of the Aeroflot Open, with my brief notes:
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nb6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Be3 0–0
8.Qd2 Nc6 9.0–0–0 f5 10.h4 fxe4 11.h5 gxh5. A well-known theoretical
position, which I consider to be better for Black. Here my opponent played
a move which was new to me. 12.d5 Ne5 13.Bh6 Nec4. I also
looked at Rf7, but I did not like the fact that after Rh5 the knight is attacked
with tempo: 13...Rf7?! 14.Bxg7 Rxg7 15.Rxh5. 14.Qg5 Rf7.
The only move. 15.Bxc4. This move seemed dubious to me, but
objectively, it is not bad. 15...Nxc4. After thinking over
his previous move for 40 minutes, my opponent now offered me a draw. However,
I considered that I had a serious advantage, and saw no grounds for taking
a draw. 16.Rd4? It seemed to me as though the move Qd6 gave
me a serious initiative. It turns out that instead, Nb2 led to a decisive
advantage, but I did not consider this move. Just think how much I would be
to blame if I had analysed this position at home!? 16...Qd6?! 17.Bxg7
Rxg7. The only move! 18.Qxh5 Qf4+. Also forced,
and mate was threatened, and the knight en prise. Now I would invite any competent
player to give themselves three minutes on the clock, and try to find Black's
next three fairly straightforward moves. I think the majority of people would
manage this! 19.Kb1 Bf5 20.fxe4 Bg4 21.Nge2? Losing immediately.
21.Qh6 Qf2. 21...Qd2! 0–1. Black has a winning position.
Here, my opponent stopped the clocks and, without shaking hands or signing
the scoresheet, approached the arbiters' table. The rest you know yourselves...
I believe that every chessplayer, regardless of titles or ratings, should
have respect for himself and his colleagues, and should not make accusations
of computer use, without any foundation or evidence whatsoever. Especially
when they have played the game quite weakly! Mamedyarov's claim, that I left
the playing hall after every move, taking my coat with me, and went into the
toilet, does not correspond with the facts. During the first twelve moves,
which we played quite quickly, I did not once leave the hall. Whilst my opponent
was thinking for 40 minutes over his 15th move, I twice went to the smoking
area, which was located just two metres from the door into the hall, and where
there were always quite a few other players, arbiters and also security guards.
I also several times went and splashed cold water over myself, without ever
speaking to anyone. Neither before, nor after, the protest did the arbiters
show any unusual interest in me, as claimed in the press. I behaved exactly
as I always do. Whilst my opponent is thinking, I find it easier to think
about the position whilst walking round, without looking at the board. As
far as I know, most other chessplayers do exactly the same.
Unfortunately, all these negative things could not but have an effect on
my play in the rest of the tournament... I should like to thank all those
who supported me on the pages of the Internet, or in personal conversations.
I should also like to make the following proposals:
That the organisers of top tournaments install metal detectors and other
such devices at the entrance to the playing hall, so as to exclude the
possibility of players receiving outside help, and also to rule out unfounded
and insulting accusations, which can seriously impact on a player's reputation.
That the international chess organisation adopt a rule, under which serious
sanctions would apply both to those who use outside help, and also to
those who make unfounded accusations of such, against other players.
IGM Igor Kurnosov
Report and translation by Steve Giddins
Reader feedback to the original report
Kevin Cotreau, Nashua, NH USA
With regards to Mamedyarov withdrawing, I would first like to say: "Grow
up Mamedyarov". 16.Rd4? is actually in Powerbook 2006 and continues 16...Nd6
17.f3 Bg4 18.Bg7 Rg7 19.Qe3 e5 20.dxe5. Considering that after 16.Rd4 instead
of 16...Qd6, 16...Nb2 is even worse per Rybka, it does not seem likely that
he was using a computer. Also, not all the moves matched Rybka as he contends,
and the ones that did were virtually forced. Mamedyarov would realize this had
he not let his emotions get the better of him. He lost, and lost badly. It happens
Lastly, there are those who like to walk around, and nerves make them go to
the bathroom frequently. I can speak from personal experience, but I was never
accused of cheating since most of my playing days were before computers. Just
because you don't have that tension does not mean others do not. For me, it
was 10 years of playing before I did not throw up before every game.
John Wunderle, London, UK
According to my database, the move 16.Rd4 is NOT a novelty; it was played in
the game Rodshtein-Margvelashvilli in the EU-ch U14 Budva in 2003. The novelty
is 16. ... Qd6 (which my Fritz engine gives as best - the game above continued
16. ... Nd6 with a draw in 49 moves). It seems like sour grapes to me from Mamedyarov
as the best move is 16. ... Nxb2! (the Knight is immune due to the line 17.
Kxb2? c5 18. Rxe4 (18. dxc6 Qxd4) Qb6+! (picking up the bishop on h6).
GM Daniel Gormally, Alnwick, England
In relation to the cheating episode, I checked this game with Fritz 11 and it
seemed to think that 16..Nxb2! was even stronger than 16..Qd6. It would seem
that 19 Kb1? was an obvious error; 19.Kc2 was much stronger, and would have
retained equal chances. When I played at the recent Hastings tournament I noticed
that Kurnosov was a chain smoker; whenever I went outside to have a ciggarette,
he was always there, smoking away. Such regular abscences of the board can always
fuel paranoia in an opponent.
FM Eric Peterson, PhD. Slovakia
First, you write that the novelty was 16...Qd6 and that Mamedyarov played it.
That's not consistent. Second, Mamedyarov's protest is completely bogus. Kurnosov
played only five moves after his prepared novelty, and that could have all been
prepared at home before the game, very easily. And some of those 5 moves were
practically forced and obvious to anyone under 2000 rating. One recapture. One
check. One developing move. One attack on Mamed's queen. What was so special
about these moves by Kurnosov? Nothing.
Rajko Vujatovic, London
Mamyedarov's toilet cheating allegations against Kurnosov are extremely serious.
From your initial report, I have some general comments and impressions as an
outsider who wasn't in the playing hall:
First, a player should take great care before accusing his opponent of cheating!
Such an accusation could unjustifiably tarnish the reputation of the accused
(as well as the accuser himself), and in my opinion should never be made public
without 100% evidence. The suspect should always be given the benefit of doubt.
The proper procedure should be followed, to quietly inform the arbiter of your
suspicions, who will monitor the opponent's behaviour during the game and the
remainder of the tournament.
Second, the opening novelty was on move 16, the final move on move 21. Since
some of the moves were forced, and it's not unusual for preparation to go five
moves beyond the novelty, there is nothing surprising that all the moves were
also found by Rybka. Did it cross Mamyedarov's mind that Kurnosov might have
used Rybka in his home preparation? Kurnosov's think on move 12 might have been
simply to run thru home preparation in his head.
Third, it would indeed require explanation if Kurnosov visited the toilet after
every move! What evidence is there that he did this and why didn't Mamyedarov
sooner alert the arbiter of his suspicions? Also, if a grandmaster were to cheat,
I don't see why he would need to consult his pocket computer every single move;
he simply needs to check a few key variations on each toilet visit, and will
have no problem remembering them 4 moves ahead. Grandmasters are intelligent
enough to know that if they were to cheat they would need to do it in a subtle
way; they shouldn't get greedy but should use Rybka for e.g. no more than two
moves per game.
Fifth, now these allegations are in the open an investigation needs to be carried
out. Not only should the allegations against Kurnosov be investigated, but also
to punish Mamyedarov if it is found that he improperly tarnished the reputation
of a fellow player who had not been found guilty of foul play.
Aristides Capizzano, Iowa City, USA
I find it very discouraging as a chess enthusiast that a top chess player as
Mamedyarov resorts to a cheating accusation to explain a 21-move defeat with
the white pieces. Regardless of the validity of his claim, I think that losing
with white pieces in so few moves is only possible after making major mistakes,
regardless if he was playing against a strong computer software or not. If the
opponent's alleged cheating with a computer excuses the serious mistakes of
a top player, I don't see much future for chess as a human endeavor.
Julian Wan, Ann Arbor, USA
FIDE, all professional players and other chess bodies have to take these things
very seriously. Accusations and suspicions of cheating will taint the game much
as it has already affected athletics, bicycling, weight lifting, and American
baseball. Real cheating should be identified and stopped but false accusations
of cheating are equally devastating for the game. There may be mitigating circumstances
such as in this case, very odd behavior – reportedly one player was leaving
the table after every move. Could ChessBase find out more of the details? Wouldn't
that seem odd?
The organizers and leading players should be able to abide by a reasonable
set of rules about this. Consider in other individual sports, once the game
has begun, one cannot at will leave and return to the game. In some sports,
such as tennis, there are prescribed bathroom breaks at the longer tournaments
(e.g. Roland Garros 5 setters) or there are rules about what is allowable -
in high level squash, vomiting up on the court leads to disqualification.
Whether cheating with a computer occurred or not is not the only issue here.
There should be better rules in place so that all involved and all the fans
can be feel greater confidence about the results.
Joh Crooks, Stilwell, KS USA
This really looks like sour grapes. Early moves like 9...f5 and 11...gxh5 are
not computer moves but the moves of someone booked up on the line. The moves
had all been played before and most computer engines would not put several of
the moves to the top of their list of options. The big question is could he
have found Qd6 over the board? Their was mention of him leaving the board a
lot but did he leave it after Rd4? Qd6 does not pop to the top of several search
engines I used, but I don't have Rybka. It is not an unreasonable move. In response
to the threat of Rxc4 Black has Qxh6.
Most of the rest of the moves are pretty forcing forced for Black or at the
very least obvious. Bxh6 Rxh6 Qxh5 Qf4+ (what else?). It is here that Mamedyarov
started to lose the path. Kc2 is better than Kb1. Regardless Bf5 is pretty easy
to see as well. After fxe4 Bg4 White is in trouble already. No computer is needed
to find these moves and his opponent, though 100 points lower rated IS a 2600
player! The move Nge2 loses to the cute Qd2. Did he need a computer to find
this in between move? I hope not.
We will never know for sure what happened, but it seems sad that the state
of chess is coming to this. Why not protest during the game? Was a draw offer
really made and refused? So much of this just seems very odd. I will be curious
to read what if anything else comes of it.
I think if you go out once is ok, but 2 or 3 times is not fine and the principal
most to put you 0 in this game. I agree, some people use Rybka...
Lonnie Kwartler, Chester, NY, USA
I do not know these players and cannot speak about their character. The position
after move 12 is tactical, but not too complex, and the moves of the players
and Rybka should be the same. The choices were limited. I think 21.Qh6 was needed
to stay in the game. If White failed the engine test, that does not make Black
guilty. Perhaps, the story of Nimzowitsch being intimidated by a cigar on the
table could be changed in this case to laxative on the table.
Marc Plum, Southbury CT USA
So let's get this straight. A 2700 level GM loses to a 2600 level GM. The first
16 moves are theory, then the 2600 plays six new moves, has a winning position,
and his opponent resigns. On the basis that a computer found those same six
moves after the game, the 2700 player says that his opponent must have been
cheating. Okay, the lower rated player was leaving the board after each move,
but some players do that as a psychological ploy. It still doesn't make sense
that a correlation between human and computer play over just six moves would
prove anything at all. And he may very well have used a computer for his pre-game
preparation, which would have been perfectly legitimate. My sympathy is with
the accused in this case, until the accuser comes up with something a bit better