Anti-Cheating Measures – the discussion continues

7/8/2013 – Last week we published a discussion between GM Oleg Korneev and international lawyer WGM Irina Lymar on a grave problem that is confronting chess today: cheating with computer assistance. What can and should be done about it. Naturally a lot of mail poured in – with an especially interesting proposal by an IM (and IA) who has spent twelve years on the FIDE Rules Commission. Readers' feedback.

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Anti-Cheating Measures

By David Levy

I was delighted to read the interview between Irina Lymar and Oleg Korneev. Never before have I seen so much good sense written on the subject of computerized cheating in human chess events. Reading their text was like a breath of fresh air for me.

I have my own ideas on how to prevent electronic cheating, but first I would like to amplify some of the comments from their discussion.

Korneev has difficulty in understanding why “referees and tournament organizers show extraordinary tolerance to supposed cheaters”. Sadly this has been the case for far too long, even decades before computers came on the scene. Since a long time some referees knew full well that a game was being bought and sold, or that a player was being given advice during a game by a much stronger player. But there are various reasons of self-interest why such incidents have been “overlooked”. For example, a tournament arbiter has worked for many years to establish his International Arbiter title and other credentials, and wants to be invited again and again to be an arbiter at nice chess events where they receive a fee and all their travel and hotel expenses. Fair enough. But many arbiters are probably worried that if they cause a fuss by exposing a cheat they might not receive so many invitations in the future because they will have in some way helped to create negative publicity for the tournament sponsors. This is just one possible explanation for the supine behaviour of some arbiters.

Korneev also correctly points out that a personal examination of a player is quite an unpleasant procedure, both for the player and for the examiner. But unfortunately life in the 21st century is such that not everyone behaves correctly, with the result that strong preventative measures are sometimes necessary. If someone does not like to go through the personal body checks at an airport then the simple solution is not to fly. Similarly, if a chess player does not wish to be subject to comparable searches at a chess tournament then the solution is equally simple – do not take part in the tournament.

Lymar and Korneev discuss the important question of whether or not Article 12.3 of the FIDE Laws of Chess actually forbids the use of computerized assistance during a game. In my opinion the answer is clearly “Yes it does”. The computers (by which term I naturally include the computer chips employed in mobile telephones) are clearly a source of information, and the information they provide is advice just as much as if it were to come from another human player, so my view is that we already have a rule sufficient for determining that the use of computing devices during a game is strictly forbidden.

There are many other excellent points and comments from their conversation which will doubtless be thoroughly discussed on ChessBase.com and in other chess media, but I would now like to focus on my own suggestions for ridding the chess world of this horrible disease. I believe that many of the points and questions raised by Lymar and Korneev would be satisfied by my proposal.

I believe that the problem could be solved, without too much difficulty, by the addition of a new rule, in five parts, to the FIDE Tournament Rules. Perhaps this could be inserted in Section 12: “Conduct of the Players”. What I have in mind is something akin to the following:

  1. Prior to the start of a tournament every player must sign a standard FIDE document, presented to them in their own language together with an English translation, in which they agree to submit to airport-like security checks, immediately and on demand from the tournament organizers and/or the Chief Arbiter. Such checks may be carried out, at the organizers’ or Chief Arbiter’s discretion, shortly before the start of a game and/or shortly after the conclusion of a game. Even if not demanded by the Chief Arbiter or the tournament organizers, such a check must be carried out on a player in a tournament if at least 25% of the other players in that tournament present a signed request to the Chief Arbiter. [NOTE: The question as to what constitutes an acceptable form of security check can be clarified by FIDE from time to time according to whatever is normal practice at international airports.]

  2. Any player refusing to sign such a document and/or refusing to co-operate with a request by the tournament organizers and/or the Chief Arbiter to conduct such a security check shall immediately be disqualified by the organizers from participating in the tournament. [NOTE: In order to avoid having players cause a nuisance by trying to enter one tournament after another, but always refusing to sign, FIDE could consider adding the words: "and may not participate in any other FIDE rated tournament during the subsequent 12 months."]

  3. A tournament whose organizers and/or Chief Arbiter knowingly permit the participation of a player who has been banned in accordance with point [2] above or point [5] below shall not be rated and shall not be counted for title application purposes. [NOTE: The purpose of this point is to encourage the honest participants to ensure that these rules are adhered to.]

  4. A player who appears prima facie to fail such a security check is entitled to make an immediate appeal by demanding to be strip-searched by one or more medical practitioners of the same sex as themselves, such practitioners to be arranged by the tournament organizers at the tournament’s cost as soon as is possible after the demand has been made. During any period between such a demand being made and the search being carried out, the player concerned shall be constantly supervised by same sex personnel arranged by the tournament organizers, the purpose being to ensure that the player does not dispose of any incriminating evidence.

  5. A player who is found, as a result of such security checks, to have been cheating by means of electronic equipment, shall immediately be disqualified by the organizers from participating in the tournament. In addition, players who are under 18 years of age on the date of any such disqualification shall be banned for five years from participating in future tournaments conducted under the FIDE Tournament Rules, and players who are 18 years or older shall be banned for life.

David Levy, PhD, is an IM and President of the International Computer Games Asssociation, an International Arbiter, and was, for twelve years, a member of the FIDE Rules Commission.

General reader feedback

Itzhak Solsky, Israel
With the development of technology over time it becomes easier and easier to cheat, and this could threaten the future of competitive chess, the livelihood of professional chess players, the pleasure so many people derive from participating in tournaments, and the whole integrity of our game. A possible solution to this could be simply installing disciplinary measures, of actually pressing criminal charges against those people, for fraud, or fraudulent receipt, or breach of contract, or obtaining by fraud – or whatever this offense is called in the relevant jurisdiction. The Israeli term is literally translatable to "obtaining something by fraud" or "by cheating". It is punishable by law, in Israel, by three years' imprisonment, and if done under severe circumstances five years. This can be a greater deterrent to cheating than a mere tournament ban, which remains inside the chess world and carries absolutely no implications outside. Personally I think that it is completely in place, as fraud in order to get rating points, tournament placement or cash prizes, thereby depriving other players of the fruit of their labour (people sometimes travel long distances and make considerable investments to play in a good international tournament, hoping for norms or for invitations, glory, rating points, etc.) is simply fraud, just like in any other field. It is criminal and the best way to handle it is probably by pressing charges.

GM David Navara, Prague
I found the article interesting and inspiring, and I agree with Mr. Korneev's opinion of Borislav Ivanov and many similar cases. But to my mind the correlation between computer recommendations and played moves should serve only as indirect evidence. The problem is that there is no clear-cut way to distinguish correct players from the cheaters just by looking at their play. Even if some program would be able to detect all the cheaters and would produce 90 percent of justified allegations in grandmaster tournaments (and significantly more in amateur events), this would mean that ten percent of the allegations would affect innocent players! On the other hand some cheaters could use some other good moves to reduce the correlation of his moves with the computer. I agree that such a comparative analysis might bring valuable evidence and that at certain confidence level it might be sufficient to prove foul play, but it is simply impossible to detect all the cheaters and at the same time not to accuse innocent players. In my mind, other factors like player's behavior and his play at other tournaments should also be taken into account.

Keyang Li
In top GM games a player seeks some kind of assistance in only one or two critical moments in a game. In so many top GM games there are moments when it's wither you find that “!!” move to win or save a draw, and you wonder if some of those moves are not the GMs' own effort. Whatever the case, clearly something must be done immediately!

H.R. Sadeghi
Why not write a soul-searching piece about the role ChessBase is playing, effectively, in helping the spread of the cheating plague?

Kevin Denny
Sadly the new Android app will only serve to facilitate the already growing problem of cheating in chess that threatens to destroy our royal game as a competitive sport. Perhaps ChessBase should invest in the development of an app that detects electronic cheating during games.

Eric C. Johnson
What an odd article! For years, a high-level FIDE Arbiter has been telling us that if grandmasters write down their intended move prior to playing it on the board, such behavior is "cheating" and can be punished under the rules (for using "notes" -- imagine, a grandmaster needs a half-ply reminder before playing his or her move; calling such things "cheating" is bizarre in itself). Yet the young lawyer who is the main focus of the anti-cheating article claims that there are no provisions in the FIDE Laws of Chess that clearly stop amateurs from either using computer assistance or receiving computer assistance via third parties during games! Astonishing. In the US – under USCF rules – our rulebook makes it clear that such activity is cheating. Under Rule 20D, the use of an additional chessboard or computer during play is prohibited. (Note that this does not include simply staring at a demonstration board during play, but rather the physical manipulation of pieces on a board OR the use of computer analysis fresh off of an electronic device or program.) It is abundantly clear that cheating is already against the rules.

The Western federations in particular usually react with indignation whenever FIDE tries to regulate player behavior (whether it be dress codes, or anti-doping rules, or similar). The onus is not on FIDE, but rather on the various federations and organizers that run FIDE events (or even non-FIDE private events). They are the ones who are responsible for policing their own events (not FIDE per se). It is very easy for any organization to say that event X will be run by FIDE rules and that computer assistance will lead to immediate expulsion from the tournament. The reason organizers often don't do this is that they fear being sued by players who are merely accused of cheating. But players who are caught in the act certainly have no case – they are defrauding the other players. It is only the cases where others "think" there is cheating or there is no proof other than strong play by under-rated players...those are the cases that can never be fully treated by anti-cheating rules. Unless you catch the culprit in the act, how can you be sure? And if you cannot be sure, you cannot enforce harsh punishments. This is a principle of Western Law 101. The world of sports has learned this the hard way – with steroids and point-shaving and other scandals.

Organizers must police their own events. It is not a FIDE issue per se – other than it is correct to say that FIDE should back up any organizers who do take action in particular instances. If the focus of the article is that FIDE hasn't spoken out about computer cheating – that is wrong on its face. If the focus is that FIDE is the proper venue for heavy-handed penalties against players – that is also misguided. The proper venue is at the federation or organizer level (either with penalties inside the federation or possibly even within the legal system of a particular federation) and for such action to be backed by FIDE approval if the facts so warrant. But for FIDE to sue players or initiate legal action is wrong – it is top down for an action that should be bottom up.

Incidentally, has anyone considered the possibility that Ivanov has an implant – a glass eye as in old-fashioned spy thrillers? The article says he maintains the same pose at all times: “For the entire game with me, Borislav assumed one and the same posture, supporting his chin with his hands and staring straight down at the board without looking at anyone.” This is what you would expect if he has to keep level for an implant to have constant sight of the board. Interesting.


Topics Cheating
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