Another case of cheating?

by Johannes Fischer
9/15/2015 – Smartphones, mini cameras, strong chess programs - the better the technology, the more cheaters rejoice. But how to explain your new playing strength? Or your strange behavior at the board? Or (when discovered) the hidden electronic devices? At the Imperia Chess Festival in Italy one player raised a lot of suspicion and left many questions unanswered.

ChessBase 14 Download ChessBase 14 Download

Everyone uses ChessBase, from the World Champion to the amateur next door. Start your personal success story with ChessBase 14 and enjoy your chess even more!

Along with the ChessBase 14 program you can access the Live Database of 8 million games, and receive three months of free ChesssBase Account Premium membership and all of our online apps! Have a look today!


Cheating at the Imperia Chess Festival?

The Imperia Chess Festival in Italy has a long tradition - this year the 57th edition was played. The open tournament, which took place from 30. August to 6. September, attracted 63 players and was won by the Russian Grandmaster Igor Naumkin. He scored 7.0/9 and finished half a point ahead of five players with 6.5/9 each.

Final standings

1 GM Naumkin Igor 2437 RUS 7.0 2154.4
2 IM Mazur Stefan 2378 SVK 6.5 2225.6
3 FM Zach Andreas 2326 GER 6.5 2162.5
4 FM Stoppa Omar 2260 IM 6.5 2159.4
5 FM Passerotti Pierluigi 2264 PT 6.5 2052.8
6 GM Legky Nikolay A 2407 FRA 6.5 2046.3
7 CN Raineri Valerio 2070 SO 6.0 2035.0
8 CF Popa Claudiu 2114 VR 6.0 1972.0
9 FM Albano Marco 2303 SP 5.5 2160.1
10 FM Luciani Valerio 2249 VR 5.5 2108.7
11 CN Olivetti Davide 2014 BZ 5.5 2002.7
12 CN Di Chiara Mauro 1886 TO 5.5 1933.0
13 M Cugini Verter 2089 RE 5.5 1841.9
14 1N Rossi Cassani Gianni 1795 IM 5.5 1820.6
15 CN Malano Francesco 1917 TO 5.5 1784.6
16 -- Ahner Thomas 2100 GER 5.0 2192.1
17 CN Nastro Federico 2029 TO 5.0 2048.4
18 CN Mercandelli Claudio 1881 SV 5.0 2004.0
19 -- Blum Gernot 2052 GER 5.0 1997.3
20 -- Wunder Fabian 2062 GER 5.0 1996.6
21 CN Mina Marco 2011 TO 5.0 1992.6
22 -- Kopischke Maik 1854 GER 5.0 1992.3
23 CN De Vita Gianni 2041 BZ 5.0 1944.2
24 1N Arnaudo Davide 1885 CN 5.0 1919.6
25 -- Walter Tobias 1884 GER 5.0 1910.7
26 CN Arigoni Bruno 2004 RM 5.0 1868.8
27 1N Cavalieri Riccardo 1828 MB 5.0 1854.4
28 CN Ruffini Pier Luigi 1884 IM 5.0 1766.0

...63 participants

This year international media such as the BBC or the Telegraph reported about the tournament. Sadly, the reason was a case of alleged cheating. The player suspected of foul play is Arcangelo Ricciardi from Italy who is 37 years old and has a rating of 1829. After seven rounds he was leading the tournament with 6.0/7 and had aroused the suspicion of International Arbiter Jean Coqueraut. "In chess, performances like this are impossible", the arbiter told the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

Coqueraut had watched Ricciardi closely and noticed that the Italian behaved in a suspicious way. As the arbiter observed, Ricciardi did not once get up during the game and constantly had his hand under his armpit. He was also "batting his eyelids in the most unnatural way". Finally, the arbiter decided to check Ricciardi with a metal detector and it turned out that the player had a camera hidden in a pendant around his neck. The camera was connected to a small box under his armpit.

Ricciardi claimed that the pendant was a "lucky charm" but the organisers decided to ban him from the tournament and declared all his games as lost by default because of the forbidden electronic equipment he had on him. They assumed that Ricciardi's equipment was used to transmit moves to someone with a chess computer who used Morse code to transmit the computer moves back to the player. Arbiter Coqueraut suspected that Ricciardi  "was deciphering signals in Morse code" when he blinked.

Scoresheet of the game Passerotti vs Ricciardi

Games by Arcangelo Ricciardi (Rounds 1 to 6)


Tournament page...
Report at the BBC...
Report in the Telegraph

Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".
Discussion and Feedback Join the public discussion or submit your feedback to the editors


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register

reddawg07 reddawg07 9/30/2015 03:37
Really a picture of the score sheet, why not a picture of the pendant and the small box?
Where's UK Daily Mail when you need them, they usually scooped other news magazines on stories like this
with lots of pictures.
Hengist Hengist 9/20/2015 10:25
Are you able to read all the posts? Are you able to understand?If not, and i think so, shut up, unless you are...
Blackacre Blackacre 9/19/2015 02:28
"The player had a camera hidden in a pendant around his neck. The camera was connected to a small box under his armpit."

Case closed, unless you're an idiot.
DJones DJones 9/18/2015 02:02
Too many amoral kids posting their idea son these forums. He broke the rules and was promptly removed as he should have been. Cheating has the potential to destroy this game at the pro level in ways that other sports don't have to deal with. I shudder to think about the future of top chess with the implants and organic computing that will coming to the forefront. I think top chess won't last another 20 years. Carlsen could very well be our last champion ever. Maybe the only solution will be eliminating classical chess as a spectator sport and moving to rapids and blitz where even the best computers don't have time to settle on the best lines and will overlook sacrifices or even rapid and blitz fischer random chess where opening books will become less useful. I don't see a way out. The money is there for the taking for people who lack the moral fibre to play honest chess and are desperate enough to explore their options.
Hengist Hengist 9/17/2015 03:59
Chess is just a (super) game, nothing more nothing less. But accusing someone of something, whatever it is, cheating or anything else, is not a game. Anyway i don't want to be misinterpreted: i am against any form of cheating, in life like in chess! Now i will stop here and i won't reply again. Thank you all.
Karbuncle Karbuncle 9/17/2015 12:57
"no true evidences". What the hell else do you need besides the device, the odd behavior, the miracle performance, and that his play matches Stockfish? You might as well not even believe in DNA evidence with that attitude. After all, DNA merely goes by statistics, just like engine matching moves.

Also remember that this is not a court. It's a tournament where the organizers make a judgement call and do their best to prevent cheating. If you don't like it, go play a different game, but don't expect them to have to put on a legal case, when they are not afforded the same luxury of a full investigation by court order.
Hengist Hengist 9/17/2015 10:05
It is just a question of principles of legal culture. No one can break these principles in life and consequently also in chess. So it is correct to have kicked out the player who had forbidden devices. But accusing him of cheating with no true evidences means breaking the rules in the same way he did with those devices.
Kingpawnkid Kingpawnkid 9/17/2015 05:30
According to the ACC (FIDE Anti-Cheating Comittee)..."good or even outstanding performance by a player can never in itself be the basis for an accusation or complaint"...but the realty is that this is the first reason of if you're a strong titled player maybe is more difficult to detect unless you're acting stupid as Nigalidze
Karbuncle Karbuncle 9/17/2015 12:30
Some of the Devil's advocates here are making the exact same excuses that were made for Borislav Ivanov...
oputu oputu 9/16/2015 10:43
@ flachspieler : you are right. I did cheat. But EVERY player in an open goes around to look at other boards. That means WE ALL cheat, GM and patzers alike. LOL.

Next time you see Kramnik leaning over Carlsen to see his moves, he might as well be 'looking for an idea'
Rational Rational 9/16/2015 10:04
Some posters put forward very good point that we need sanctions like no mobile phones which do not mean move transmission has taken place but will stop it. There is a similar set of rules in bridge where certain actions suffer penalty even though it is not assumed that unethical advantage was being sought.
I would say though chess is a sport and in sport referees make decisions on balance of probabilities not requiring the levels of evidence required in a criminal case. for example if I trip someone up deliberately on the street I may face prosecution for assault but probably high level of evidence is required, if I trip someone who is through on goal in a soccer match the referee only needs to think It was more likely than not that I did it deliberately to send me off.
flachspieler flachspieler 9/16/2015 09:57

> I forgot my prep and got up to look for players in the top boards playing my line
> (use of another board for analysis is forbidden). After 2 mins stroll, I find two
> IMs playing my line, I study the position carefully and go back to by board,
> played a brilliancy I just saw and won nicely. Did I cheat???

in my eyes, yes.
The_Jeh The_Jeh 9/16/2015 08:22
Was he actually cheating? It seems highly likely that he was, but no one can know for sure. Fortunately for arbiters, that's irrelevant. The electronic equipment he had on his person was forbidden. Therefore, he was breaking the rules whether or not he was cheating in the sense of getting recommendations for moves.

To combat cheating, this is exactly what we need: Strict enforcement of rules that combat cheating and don't depend on whether or not you actually are.
donwaffel donwaffel 9/16/2015 07:49
cant understand the morons who are defendin this asshole of a cheater.
Hengist Hengist 9/16/2015 07:31
The suspect can be justified. But thinking that a player is cheating batting his eyelids and using the Morse code is pure fantasy. No matter the score ( anyway 6/7 is not impossible in chess!)
BKnight2003 BKnight2003 9/16/2015 07:15
This discussion is simply unbelievable. It reminds me of a joke.

Some guy calls a detective, suspecting that his wife was cheating on him.
Detective: I followed your wife yesterday.
Guy: What happened?
Detective: She met a man in the middle of the afternoon, and they went to a motel.
Guy: What happened then?
Detective: They got a room, entered the room and took off their clothes.
Guy: And after that, what happened??
Detective: After that they shut the curtains, and I couldn´t see more.
Guy: Oh, no! This doubt is killing me...
RaoulBertorello RaoulBertorello 9/16/2015 05:31
Personally I think the guy was cheating, but no matter how strong the circumstantial evidence are, yet they are not proofs and my opinion is worth nothing. Here Aighearach and oputu are totally right. Period. But It's just that Johannes Fisher is a good chess player, otherwise he wouldn't write on Chessbase: I think all of us can agree on this 'circumstantial evidence' :)
lord_erick lord_erick 9/16/2015 04:26
The case has been deeply discussed here in Italy, and everyone was quite sure there was something wrong days before the devices were found on the guy.
Here are the FACTS in Imperia:
1) almost 100% moves equal with Stockfish 1st line (with only one big exception, Bxc3, in the 3rd round draw) - maybe an error in "translation" of the move?)
2) the player NEVER did any post-mortem analysys even if asked for
3) the behaviour at the board was very strange - never standing up, always with his hand under the armpit
4) some moves (12.g4!! in game against Mazur) are mostly "engine"moves with deep tactical AND positional ideas behind, ideas that the guy could NOT explain
Moreover, the guy wa already under the spyglass for a tournament in Milan in june, where he played a few odd games:
1) versus GM Salvador he was playing 100% stockfish moves, with a +2 advantage - until he blundered the queen in ONE MOVE, his queen was on b1 and after a Qb2 played by Salvador, the gut played Qc2???? leaving the queen en prise.
2) in another game he sacrificed the queen for R+B and a crushing attack, but some moves later he took MATE IN ONE

After all these "strange" facts, the guy was checked with a detector - which revealed he had something on him. The device (pendant + box) were found and the guy rushed away before arbiters and organizer could do anything - tajing photos or taking the devices to analyze deeper. I think this is an EVIDENT admission of guiltiness.
kandydat1969 kandydat1969 9/16/2015 11:25
I definitly adree with judge player break the all rules !
digupagal digupagal 9/16/2015 11:06
Its a cheating case, which does not surprise me but the manner in which the arbiter decided that 6/7 is unreasonable for a 37 year old player. i am 33 years old and surely above my ~1800 rating, can't i achieve a result such as 6/7 by just normal play? does a human brain stop learning after a particular age?

In this case the suspicions were proved correct, i wonder what would have happened otherwise??
daftarche daftarche 9/16/2015 10:01
finding device is enough to kick him out. arbiters are not detectives.
Keesje Keesje 9/16/2015 09:03
It's important to publish a detailed description of the way he cheated. Then we can learn how to recognize these idiots in the future.

I assume and hope this fool is banned from the chess scene for the rest of his life.
wowbagger wowbagger 9/16/2015 07:44
The case shows that the rule changes of the last years work.
He has an electronic device with him, so he can be expelled.
It does not stop the speculations making the headlines, but the guy was not expelled for criminal intent, morse blinking, or impossible performance, but for the electronic device.
apad apad 9/16/2015 07:07
as you read it seem there is a doubt how did they justify their accusation transmitting move through battling eyelash ..if they could also presented some photographs of the gadget and how it done the alleged transmitting then they could qualify their accusation.
royc royc 9/16/2015 04:32
The basic point here is that there is a disconnect between the engine-wise moves, the camera, and the box. It made the arbiter suspect the player of cheating but the "evidence" fall short of being a proof. The abiter played wisely by using the "banned electronic equipment" as basis of his decision, but he cannot straight-forwardly accuse the player of cheating.
To prove cheating, the arbiter must find the TRANSCEIVER device (TRANSmitter - reCEIVER) which I suspect was the box. But all we have here are plain suspicions, and nothing definite.
sicilian_D sicilian_D 9/16/2015 03:46
Ok, so this guy probably fell to the temptation of cheating.

Now, something not directly related to this:
If, as per International Arbiter Jean Coqueraut. "In chess, performances like this are impossible" holds any truth, which, it does not, then people like Bobby Fischer, lightning kid Vishwanathan Anand, Karpov, Kasparov (greats) and the current world champion Magnus Carlsen... all would have been lost to us under accusations of cheating.
11/11? cheating.
you play so fast and keep winning? cheating
you guys stay champs for a combined 20+ years (and are from same country) cheating.
you keep winning all the time (ok, recent Carlsen form excluded) cheating.

perhaps International Arbitrators needs to undergo a sanity check first.
oputu oputu 9/16/2015 03:03
@ Stupido: Sorry, I dont even know the guy Ricciardi. While I honestly 'suspect' he is cheating (I am not so stupid to believe an 1800 can play like that), I however believe in the LAW.

No evidence, no accusation.

This kangaroo court we are hosting here (pointing fingers and all) is not the way modern society operates. In a place of law and order, that young man could sue for defamation of character and the organizers and news publishers would be cleaning out accounts to compensate him. The writer (a smart cheater or good chess player) of this report was actually quite clever with the title- putting it as a question for us to argue (note question mark in the title of the article), as he also knows that no evidence was provided.

We are chess players not hooligans. Someone is cheating? lets see the evidence. No evidence? then, keep your speculative news to yourself. Till then, he is one of us!
lwolf123 lwolf123 9/16/2015 02:05
@oputu I agree short draws are a bane of the game, however it isn't cheating if the rules allow for it. Comparing short draws to someone that uses an electronic device to make moves is ridiculous.

Also, Topalov is one of the least likely to take a short draw. I have no doubt he did take some, but you'll find Kramnik and Leko, as well as many other top players, abused the draw agreement far more often.
anonimous anonimous 9/16/2015 12:42

Regarding short draws by Topalov and co.: there are privately-founded supertournaments, like the Grand Tour ones, where Sofia Rules are implemented and they cannot agree to a draw. Then there are official FIDE competitions where players are fighting for the title of World Champion, and not for the pleasure of the fans - I believe it would be violence to implement a Sofia rule in those tournaments, as every player should be free to try to implement the best possible strategy to achieve his aim.
daftarche daftarche 9/16/2015 12:41
i understand his results is impressive for his rating but all of his opponents except one also played poorly.
KOTLD KOTLD 9/16/2015 12:27
Oputu, you make an interesting point about the early boxing result. Definitely something worth considering regarding short GM draws.
oputu oputu 9/16/2015 12:05
Hi everyone who referred to my piece. Do not get me wrong, I went through his games, I am an 1800 myself and I know I cannot play like that no matter the circumstance. His moves are too strong. There has to be some assistance coming from somewhere. My main problem with this article is the complete lack of evidence with which it is aired. This is one man's word (the story teller abiter) against the player. I am completely against cheating (cheaters should be shot). But coming up with cheating stories just because they are 'good news' topics is very bad for chess. If this cheating propaganda is allowed to continue, not only would it ruin chess publicity in the eyes of non-chess players, it would also cause sponsors to withdraw from the sport as it would cease to become a sport.

While cheaters should be punished severely, anyone who attempts to give chess a bad name by airing un evidenced cheating scandals should also be punished very severely. This witch hunting would go viral if unchecked (Sandu Mihaela is a case in point).

Interestingly, these electronic cheating are the only forms of cheating we are acquainted with. Topalov and co making a draw in less than 15 moves is another form of cheating too. If I paid my tickets to watch a Tyson match and a KO occurred in round 2 its fine. But if on round 2, there is a unanimous decision by the judges to give the match to one fighter, I will definitely be needing my money back!!

Chess is a developing sport (as far as public play is concerned), we should not allow cheating scandals to drag it down, else we could never get Bill Gates to sponsor a tournament.
KevinC KevinC 9/15/2015 11:34
Very guilty.

From another source: "Tournament organisers then asked the 37-year old to pass through a metal detector and a sophisticated pendant was found hanging around his neck underneath a shirt. The pendant contained a tiny video camera as well as a mass of wires attached to his body and a 4cm box under his armpit."
Rational Rational 9/15/2015 10:35
Amazing that there are people on here defending this guy, they are either incredibly naive or......if ever there was a cut and dried case of cheating this is it. Really wake up chess! This man was caught because he did it so amateurishly , there are probably people doing this much more subtly. I can think of 2 'top players' in one country alone who are either cheating or have made some of the most remarkable improvements in the whole history of chess.
Even on the Internet for nothing more than meaningless rating points anything slower than 3minutes per person is riddled with it. It seems over the board Blitz is the only future for competitive human chess, after all that is the form of chess most people play for pleasure, these Two hour s plus a side games were alright in the past when players were making it up for themselves but now it's had it's day.
Stupido Stupido 9/15/2015 10:19
oputu, I hope you are Ricciardi or or a friend of his, because there is no way a man in his reason could believe that a 1829 player can consistently play at this level several games in a row. You can play the lawyer asking for evidence, but every chess player knows what happened.
Truffaut Truffaut 9/15/2015 10:14
@ Aighearach

It's obvious from the facts given that he cheated. End of story. No need to go into a fantasy world to try to prove his innocence.

Also, his blinking could have been to confirm the moves transmitted to him or to transmit the moves to his accomplice.

@ oputu

An innocent person would have done everything in his power to prove his innocence. He would have let them examine all the hardware on his body. He would have explained why he was blinking his eyes. Did he have dry eyes? EVERY innocent person would have fought bitterly to prove his innocence. We see the same thing happen whenever a cheating story comes up. The person accused of cheating either runs away as fast as possible and/or refuses to fully cooperate with the tournament director. It's COMMON SENSE to know that he's cheating. Yet some people still think he's innocent!

I have an excellent opportunity for these believers! If you are interested in purchasing Ocean Front property in Nevada at extremely low prices, please contact me ASAP.
anonimous anonimous 9/15/2015 10:08

You are overreacting and misreading the article. The unnatural blinking, the still posture he kept for hours, indeed the entire length of the game - those are facts that raise suspicions about the way he was (allegedly) cheating, but they are NOT the accusations that were moved to the player. The player was accused of bringing into the tournament hall electronic devices that were not permitted - and thus expelled.

It goes without saying that the level of his play, and in fact the more-than-extraordinary performance he was having at that tournament, are extremely compelling statistical evidence of cheating - in particular since his moves had been double-checked against Stockfish and consistently match up with the first choice (this I read on another source). IMO such statistical evidence together with such a high ratio of correspondence with the engine's choices *should* be enough evidence to convict of cheating, but the FIDE regulations are different, for now.
The player is 37yo with a rating of 1829 and has been playing for years. It is simply impossible that one day he wakes up and gets into a hot streak, beating IMs and GMs left and right, with brilliant play that match up Stockfish's suggestions.
Then, they even found electronic stuff hidden on him. Case closed.
oputu oputu 9/15/2015 09:43
iI an open tournament I forgot my prep and got up to look for players in the top boards playing my line (use of another board for analysis is forbidden). After 2 mins stroll, I find two IMs playing my line, I study the position carefully and go back to by board, played a brilliancy I just saw and won nicely. Did I cheat???

I have even heard super GMs say they walk around to look at other boards to find ideas.....isnt that cheating???

Now, in the current world cup, players are busy strolling around, 'looking for ideas' (dont tell me I am wrong because I follow the games online and at least 2 players are playing the same line each round) and yet no one is accusing anyone there when there is actual room for suspicion (Did u see Topalov looking at someone else's score sheet to understand how they arrived at a particular position?).........

Yet here we sit, accusing someone of cheating without hard evidence?? I have read this story a week ago. Its just being re-publicized for journalism sake. If the evidence isnt made public, then the guy is as innocent as an angel. On a lighter mood, you may actually need an engine to play the benoni (game 1 against Ferrari, Nicola) that well. LOL

Finally: He is INNOCENT until there is PUBLIC evidence to say otherwise. This blinking story or hidden camera (no images for us to see) doesnt fly in 2015!!
reivilos reivilos 9/15/2015 09:35
Demolishing several players 500+ elo above oneself is a little more than just having a good tournament, I think.
ciuto ciuto 9/15/2015 09:23
1 - He has been playing as a 1700-1800 for many years before this brilliant +2600 performance.
2 - In this tournamet he violently crushed some IM-GM rated 2400 or more playing much much better than them (no blunders from the GMs he simply played much much better than them).
3 - He was hidding some device under his clothes.