Anti-cheating: the fifteen minute debate continues
By Frederic Friedel
In the latest New in Chess article, which is once again unsigned,
the author begins by scolding us for the almost complete reproduction of two
columns in the magazine. He writes: "With a slight frown we couldn't remember
having given permission for that, but then quickly realised that we were in
the world of copy and paste." Copy and paste indeed – New in
Chess comes on very thin slices of tree, so we had to scan and OCR the
blooming thing. Give us at least credit for that – even if reproducing
most of the piece did cause our critic the inconvenience of not being able to
say we quoted him incompletely or out of context.
This time, however, he will have no occasion to frown. We have gone through
the new article a couple of times, but we could not find anything new or substantial.
We even consulted a very wise GM advisor and colleague, who confirmed that the
author "hasn't added anything to the discussion and has simply repeated
his earlier assertions without providing any extra arguments to support his
Our critic does restate one remarkable opinion: "Mr. Friedel rightly remembers
that for some time German television stopped broadcasting cycling altogether
because of its criminal image. Today doping tests are stricter than ever and
racers are monitored in and out of competition, but there is widespread cynicism
that today's champions are mainly 'clean' because their doping methods have
become even more sophisticated. We wouldn't like to see our champions in that
category." That is exactly our point – except that we believe that
the problem cannot be addressed by ignoring it. We either do something or they
end up in exactly the same category.
In the new article our critic once again patiently explains that it is not
about "hiding your head in the sand" – it is that our method
simply doesn't work! He specifies that it will not work if it is not accompanied
by other conditions. What conditions? Exactly the ones we enumerated and
which are contained in our proposal
to FIDE, to which we linked and which we partially quoted. Here they are
as a reminder:
FIDE must announce that it is taking measures to prevent any suspicion
of cheating, and that there will be stern penalties for anyone caught using
outside assistance during a game.
Players are advised that they are not allowed to take any electronic devices
whatsoever to the playing site. If a player needs a specific electronic
device, e.g. a hearing aid, this must be registered with the arbiter and
organiser in advance.
If a player is caught transporting any form of electronic device to the
playing location he immediately forfeits the game, irrespective of whether
the device can be used to communicate moves or not (i.e. a switched-off
cell phone or an iPod).
The seconds and associates of a player are not allowed to enter the playing
hall. This measure can be implemented for all categories of tournaments.
The audience at the event are advised that they may not take any electronic
devices into the playing hall. Cell phones must be switched off, and any
spectator caught operating a cell phone in the playing hall will be subject
to expulsion and a stiff fine.
In top-level classical chess games the moves must not leave the playing
hall for a certain period of time, typically for 15 minutes after they have
been played. In rapid chess games that are being broadcast the delay can
be reduced to five minutes.
The playing hall should be designed to prevent visual contact between the
players and the audience. This is done by lighting up the stage brightly
and keeping the audience area dark (as in a theatre). A glass wall may also
The players in matches can only have private rest rooms if both players
agree in advance to this arrangement. The toilets should be common for both
FIDE should define standard penalties for players caught cheating, e.g.
a three-year ban from tournament play for first-time offenders, a life-long
ban for the second time.
FIDE should aim at reaching a situation where top-level tournaments (later
all tournaments) must install a basic catalogue of anti-cheating measures
in order to receive recognition by FIDE.
Naturally we are not proposing that the Internet broadcast be delayed
and at the same time players be allowed to make phone calls during their games,
consult their cell phones for SMS messages, or that spectators be allowed to
use mobile phones or even notebook computers in the playing hall during major
events (we have seen this happen!). Our critic again seems to pin his hopes
on "frisking the players". But as we said in our previous article,
wireless receiving gadgets today are the size
of peas. Surely he does not want to introduce the infamous cavity
search (click at your own peril!). Please let us try the broadcast delay
before we install such intrusive measures.
But does it work?
Another point is the repeated contention that the fifteen-minute broadcast
delay is ineffective. Let us take a brief look at that. The method used by the
players accused of cheating at the Chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk is well
known and was described in an article in the broadsheet the Daily Telegraph:
world rocked by French cheating scandal":
The system required Mr Marzolo to follow the game via the Internet. He logged
the moves into a chess computer then texted its suggested moves to Mr Hauchard
in codes within phony telephone numbers. The captain communicated these to
Mr Feller during his match by standing next to a particular player who represented
a pre-agreed number and a figure. Mr Feller could follow his captain's movements
to know which piece to move and where. Mr Feller won three games at the tournament,
enough to earn him a gold medal and €5,000 (£4,400).
The point we are making is that delaying the broadcast of moves from Khanty-Mansiysk
to the rest of the world would have made the task very much more difficult.
Someone would have had to relay the moves played at the board in Russia to the
computer analyst in Nancy (France), going in and out of the playing hall after
every move – instead of having every move automatically delivered, in
real time, to the computer screen back home.
A broadcast delay would have also prevented the Dubai Open scandal, where a
player was being assisted by colleagues in Tehran. Here's an excerpt from our
report at the time:
"Sadatnajafi is alleged to have followed instructions from some of his
friends aided by computer in Iran while playing against Chao. This match was
relayed live on the Internet and his friend, closely following his moves on
the web, guided Sadatnajafi accordingly. Sadatnajafi had made only ten moves
when he was caught looking into his mobile handset. When confronted, he immediately
dropped his cell phone. On examining the handset, it was found that he had
received SMS instructions in Farsi. The identity of the friend who had sent
the text messages is still unknown."
In case you haven't heard, there is news on the French
cheating scandal: a mediation session of the French National Olympic Committee
(CNOSF) confirmed, on May 19th, 2011 in Paris, the sanctions placed by the French
Chess Federation on three players, in fact increasing the penalty placed on
one player, Sébastien Feller, from three to five years, and adding a three-year
ban as a player to Arnaud Hauchard’s lifelong ban as captain or team manager.
You can read about it in this Europe
Echecs report, or in greater detail on the CNOSF
site. An emergency appeal was filed by the players at the High Court in
Versailles, but this was rejected and the three players involved were each ordered
to pay 1,000 Euro in court costs.
Finally, our New in Chess critic quotes us as saying: "Most importantly,
it is highly inconvenient to the chess journalist who would be forced to walk
all the way from the press room to the playing hall – often dozens of
yards – if they want to find out the result of a game," and adds:
"We assume that was a friendly joke." It was not, it was pure, unadulterated
sarcasm, something we learnt from the terrifying Doug Piranha in the Monty Python
We publish a selection of letters we received – selected, however,
in a semi-automated process and then further pared down to eliminate too much
repetition (some remains). Rude and gratuitously insulting letters are also
removed, as are those in caps or written with all-too adventurous orthography.
We removed none that showed even the slightest agreement with the opinion of
our critic, or even faint skepticism towards our position.
Karl Gellert, New York City, United States
Although Bobby Fischer was famous for many zany (or down-right offensive) opinions,
he seems to have gotten it 100% correct on the issue of the 15 minute broadcast
delay: This is a no-brainer. Let's hope those in charge of tournaments and/or
FIDE start realizing this. The power of the solution is its elegance: it accomplishes
quite a bit, but is exceptionally easy to implement and the downsides to it
are not significant. When you can do a lot at a small cost (like locking your
car) you do it.
Chris Kantack, USA
I agree. The 15 minute delay for chess tournament broadcasts is a "no-brainer".
A much bigger problem are these early grandmaster draws!
Albert Frank, International Arbiter, Brussels, Belgium
It's evident that, with a 15 minutes delay and the players not able to see the
spectators, the problem is solved – maybe not absolutely perfectly, nevertheless
it would be okay. Technically, it's not a problem (for "very important"
tournaments). Anand suggested it years ago – as usual in FIDE, nothing
French Chess Federation, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines
We know that you are strongly supporting the idea of a 15-minute delay for Internet
transmission, above all in high level chess tournaments. The French Chess Federation
considers that this solution has to be implemented; although it is a pity that
real live broadcasting would no longer be available. On the basis of the actual
context of the chess world, we think the 15-minute delay must be the rule, and
this is precisely what we did for the European Championships in Aix-les-Bains.
The French Chess Federation also considers that further measures have to be
taken, and we urge FIDE to take its responsibilities on the matter.
Alonzo McCaulley, Rancho Cordova, USA
Bravo for standing by your conviction and advocating something that is both
cost effective and non-invasive. Until someone comes up with a better idea this
is by far the best measure available.
Elmer Dumlao Sangalang, Manila, the Philippines
To say that your recent article, "Anti-cheating: the fifteen minute broadcast
delay", is a brilliant rebuttal of the NIC journalist's criticism is an
understatement. I literally applauded (by clapping my hands), to the consternation
of my 15-year-old daughter, the arguments you stated to refute those of the
NIC journalist's. Here's my own thoughts about the self-incriminating mess he
got himself into: The Fifteen-Minute Delay rule does not have substantial disadvantages
compared to the advantage the chess world will derive from it. It's a giant
leap towards the improvement and development of chess as an educational and
K. Yunus Camsari, West Lafayette
As far as I remember, the so-called 15-minute delay rule was never proposed
as the "ultimate solution" to the cheating problem in chess. It is
an affordable, simple and easy-to-implement method with great benefits. If the
NiC author was really as familiar with the professional tournament chess circuit
as he claims to be, he would appreciate that this simple proposition makes life
infinitely more difficult for the cheater. As for the disadvantage: as an amateur,
I couldn't care less if I saw Aronian's moves five or ten minutes later.
Pablo Pena, Tustin, CA
I agree with some of the opinions stated in the article, disagree with others.
The argument that stiffer penalties don't prevent bank-robbers or thieves either
is a huge stretch. First of all people who have a rating usually love
chess to some degree and a life-long ban would prove extremely painful. Someone
who robs a bank is usually so mentally imbalanced as to simply not carefully
consider the seriousness of the consequences. Chess players (most of them) don't
have "not considering consequences" as one of their innate failings.
If anything they over think consequences and are more likely to be motivated
by a lunge for easy cash and the comfort of "soft-ball" penalties
should they fail.
We cannot resist an editorial comment. What would you
say, Pablo, would a player who had already secured his IM norm one game before
the end of a tournament, risk it by cheating in the final round? Would a law
student with his final approbation just ahead of him, put his entire career
in jeopardy with a felonious indiscretion? Did you read our recent
Steven Mitlitzky, Woodmere, NY USA
When it comes to cheating, chess is no different from anything else. To believe
that most pros in chess or any field wouldn't cheat, if they think they can
get away with it, is extremely naive! Realistic anti-cheating security measures
must make cheating far riskier than it is worth to the would-be cheater. Otherwise
the potential rewards from cheating, financial and otherwise, could prove irresistible.
No amount of enforcement can guarantee to stop clever and resourceful cheaters
but harsh punishments can stop cheaters cold when they are caught. For juniors
a six month ban from rated competition for each year of age and a lifetime ban
for adult (over 21) cheaters plus full disclosure to the press, may seem too
harsh but is actually appropriate.
Some leniency from this might sometimes be appropriate at
the sole discretion of the federations having jurisdiction under certain
conditions. These conditions should at a minimum include: (1) a full and
unconditional admission of guilt; (2) a complete explanation of
how the cheating was done; and (3) full cooperation with all
competent authorities. Generally, an additional requirement for any leniency
deal should include full disclosure to the press of all details involving the
agreement for leniency. A secrecy exception might be made for ongoing law enforcement
There is no one perfect set of solutions because the settings in which cheating
takes place vary so much. But all objections to any proposed security measures
come down to "inconvenience." In view of the ease of cheating in the
absence of adequate supervision, this objection is very weak.
For serious events let's therefore require:
- a 15 minute move transmission delay;
- mandatory checking of all mobile devices; and
- strict supervision and prohibition of any unauthorized communication to
or between players.
Violators should be subject to instant expulsion and or forfeit at the discretion
of the chief official in charge. These measures may not defeat all cheaters
but they are reasonable and I don't see how they harm any innocent parties.
Julian Wan, Ann Arbor, USA
Cheating and the accusation of cheating in chess is what steroids is to track
and field and cycling. Does it exist? Yes, there have been several well documented
cases – thus far involving large ear headphones and pretty crude methods.
But with smaller discreet systems, it could easily be done and it should not
come as surprise. The organizers should not think it is impossible and be willfully
ignorant as the officials in cycling and track and field have been. Worse than
the actual cheating episodes is the taint of the rumor of cheating. The accusation
is thrown around far too easily and without any regard to the consequence. Toiletgate
and the aftermath are more likely to turn off sponsors than any screening measures.
Time delay to broadcast is a simple measure, but realistically a broad set of
basic rules must be implemented to keep confidence.
Shiv Mathur, Mumbai, India
Amazing! I defy anyone to seriously assert that it's a 'wonderful luxury' to
follow games in real time – as opposed to a 15 minute delay. Frederic,
you have written wonderfully and absolutely to the point (and with humour!).
I could not agree more with everything you have written. More power to your
Joseph Grinton, London, UK
It is understandable that one of the editors of New In Chess ardently seeks
to hang onto the "wonderful luxury" of following top tournament games
in real time. New In Chess is a magnificent magazine but there is one disadvantage
its editors can never overcome: its reports are old hat by the time they are
published for we have already followed the games on ChessBase. Nevertheless
I wouldn't want to be without New In Chess. The quality of the articles is worth
waiting for. Sometimes it is important to take a little time to achieve the
highest standards. In our age of instant everything, integrity often takes second
Let's not make this mistake with chess. The credibility of the game and its
players are in serious jeopardy. Unless stringent provisions are taken to prevent
cheating, rumours will circulate, reputations will be tarnished, fans will lose
interest and sponsors will disappear even if no players actually cheat. But
players do cheat. It has already been shown. Action should have been taken long
ago but it is not too late. The 15-minute delay is one of many measures that
should be adopted as a matter of course in top tournaments everywhere. Failure
to do so is naive and indefensible. If it really were true that audiences cannot
wait even a few seconds to see the latest moves in a top game, then New In Chess
would not be in business. Indeed, the very title of this magazine is an example
of what Oscar Wilde called "the triumph of hope over experience."
Such naivety can be endearing but it has no place in policing the intellectual
integrity of top tournaments.
Pat B, Leighton Buzzard, UK
Loved your reply post, Frederic. Also like the idea: losing 15 minutes off a
realtime broadcast isn't going to make chess fans hurt, it just makes the games
Brian Carson, Toronto
Mr. Friedel you did an outstanding job of addressing all aspects of this subject.
You are clearly 'fair minded' and share a rich heart and soul love of chess
and chess players around the world. That you so kindly took the time to equitably
address the content of the New in Chess author's unsigned chagrin is a welcome
testament to you and the ChessBase standard of excellence. Your article "Anti-cheating:
the fifteen minute broadcast delay" is well written and full of heart and
soul in favor of chess and chess players around the world. You fairly and concisely
address every aspect of this subject. You are awesome. I admire what you stand
for, and the chess world is a better place because of you.
"...that wonderful luxury of following the games in real time." What
does it mean? You'll never see the move in the same time it was played, due
to transmission delays, server delays etc. Where is the difference among 3 seconds
delay, and 15 minutes delay? On your personal internal clock, every move appears
as being just played.
We know that once again we are going to receive many letters and opinions
on this subject. Please use the feedback link on the left of the page and
give your submission the title “15 minute delay.” We warn you,
however, that entertaining as this debate may be to our readers, we will at
some stage have to resign and leave it to the players and organisers
to find a solution themselves. If it is deep cavity searches and draconian
punishment they opt for, instead of a simple broadcast delay, so be it.
ChessBase reports on recent cases of cheating
||FFE accuses its own players of cheating
22.01.2011 – Shocking news: the French Chess
Federation (FFE) has announced that it has initiated disciplinary action
against three players – one of them one of France's most promising talents
– on suspicion of "organized cheating, serious breach of sport ethics,
undermining the image of the national Olympic team in Khanty-Mansyik".
We are following the investigation. Press
||Feller replies: 'I completely deny the cheating accusations'
24.01.2011 – Two days ago the French Chess
the investigation of three French players on suspicion of "organized
cheating" at the Chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansyik. Now one of the three,
19-year-old French GM Sébastien Feller, has replied emphatically, implying
that the entire action was a result of his support of the current FIDE
president (the FFE supported his rival Karpov). Open
||Battesti: 'It's insulting to our president and his
24.01.2011 – Instead of adopting an ostrich
position the President of the French Chess Federation and his VP have
initiated an investigation of French Olympiad members suspected of cheating.
They have appointed Leo Battesti, a Sorbonne-educated lawyer, as the
spokesperson for the Federation. Battesti has reacted to the
criticism of one of the accused player with an interview
in Europe Echecs.
||French GMs: ''We express our full support of
27.01.2011 – Four grandmasters Maxime
Vachier-Lagrave, Laurent Fressinet, Vladislav Tkachiev and Romain Edouard
have expressed their dismay at the charges brought against three of
their colleagues who are accused of cheating. "If the allegations are
found to be true, we will condemn them firmly," they write, in this
statement in Europe Echecs.
||FFE: cheating not the first time, Biel statement
01.02.2011– The French Chess Federation
disclosed they had evidence that the "organized cheating" accusation,
which has rocked the chess world recently, is in fact not the first
time. They have now mandated the Federal Bureau to take the case
to trial in a court of law. Meanwhile the Organisers in Biel have issued
a statement on the same players earlier last year in their Master Group.
||FFE Cheating: Judge rules incriminating SMS
11.03.2011– After unearthing a series of SMS messages
between players accused of cheating at the Olympiad using a phone lent
by the French Chess Federation vice president, the FFE sought to have
those messages transcribed and included as evidence in the upcoming
Disciplinary Committee. A judge ruled that secrecy could only be waived
if the FFE sued in court, as the FFE explains in a public
||Cheating in chess: the problem won't go away
30.03.2011 – As you know the recent suspicion
of organized cheating during a Chess Olympiad has led to three French
players being suspended. One is currently playing in the European Individual
Championship, where his colleagues have published an open letter demanding
additional security. For years we have been proposing a remedy for this
very serious problem. It
needs to be implemented now.
||Cheating scandal: Opinions, concerns and revelations
06.04.2011 – In a series of interviews, Robert
Fontaine from Europe Echecs, culled the opinions of the players, to get
a clearer idea on how players both French and foreign viewed the cheating
scandal. A lengthy interview with Jean-Claude Moingt, the president of
the French federation, revealed not only the next steps to be taken, but
also that confessions were not only made to the players. An
||Anti-cheating: the fifteen minute broadcast delay
13.05.2011 – For five years we have been trying
to get FIDE to implement a 15-minute delay in the Internet broadcast of
important games – to make organised cheating harder. A chess journalist
has now pointed out a fatal flaw in the plan: it would force chess journalists
to walk many yards to find out the current status of the games. Damn –
and we thought it was such a good idea! What
is your opinion?
||Brilliance, drama and scandal at the German Championship
04.06.2011 – GM Igor Kenkin tied for first
with GM Jan Gustafsson, winning the championship on the tiebreak score.
In the women's section Sarah Hoolt took sole first with 7.5/9 points.
In round six the defending champion, 19-year-old IM Niclas Huschenbeth
played a delightful game against Gustafsson, and in the final round FM
Christoph Natsidis was disqualified for cheating. Big
||Anti-cheating: the fifteen minute debate continues
29.06.2011 – Our recent
reply to stern criticism leveled against us in the Dutch magazine
New in Chess resulted, unsurprisingly, in a large number of letters
from our readers, many quite effusive. But we decided not to publish
any until at least one turned up supporting the views of our NiC critic.
Six weeks went by until it at last came, authored by the critic himself.
Now we can publish