Chess, cycling, hearing and other aids

8/26/2006 – Seldom has a report generated such intense feedback as our series on cheating. It turns out that the communications device worn by a player at the World Open, the Phonito, was indeed a hearing aid, but one that is ideal for wireless communication as well. It is made by a company that sponsors cycling. Interesting information.

Our recent report regarding two players accused of receiving computer assistance during their games at the World Open in Philadelphia in July originally appeared in the New York Times. But it contained some inaccuracies. Subsequently the tournament director who found the secret communication device set the record straight. In the meantime we have received more feedback from readers, which we would like to share with you.

Christian Jessen
Copenhagen, Denmark

Guys,

Phonak is not just a retailer, but in fact a hearing aid producer, the third largest and second most profitable in the world. It is a Swiss company which was involved in the greatest sporting scandal of this summer, when another ambitious US athlete tried a short-cut to success and fame. Phonak sponsors the cycling team that won the Tour de France, with American athlete Floyd Landis, who was presumeably on drugs when he killed the whole peloton on the crucial stage, and now is soon to be stripped of his victory.

Christian

Incidentally Phonak seems to be reconsidering their sponsorship focus after the Floyd Landis B sample tested positive, and moving it from cycling to the arts.


Statement by Phonak on sponsoring the cycling team

The next is a letter from an expert in a critical area.

Dr Michael Vidler
Birmingham, England

Dear Chessbase,

First, congratulations on your excellent site – it's a daily read!

I'm writing because I've read your two reports on the allegations of cheating using the Phonito aid. I'm a clinical scientist who specialises in hearing, and as such I think I'm qualified to point out a few things.

  1. Hearing aids can have two modes: microphone mode, and radio mode. Some can have both working concurrently. Microphone mode allows sounds around you – people's speech, environmental noise – to enter the hearing aids. Radio mode allows the aid to receive input from a remote place from someone elsewhere using a microphone and transmitter.

  2. The arbiter is absolultely right: why would you use headphones over hearing aids? Although hearing aids can have sophisticated noise reduction circuitry, earmoulds can still allow background noise through. If your user was not hearing impaired, he would have set the aid very low, else it would have been at least uncomfortable, and could affect his hearing. Then he has the problem: the background noise of the tournament hall may make the signal – the moves relayed, presumably – inaudible. That would be my guess for the use of headphones, and probably the arbiter's too. If the player was hearing impaired and did not want to hearing background noise, he could simply take the aids out! The only possible reason for not doing that would be if he had tinnitus and the aids were surpressing the tinnitus, but again, why wear the headphones when tinnitus gets worse in quiet?

  3. The arbiter mentioned the use of a loop system, worn around the neck of the hearing aid user, which is the receiver. These are actually very unpopular, because of their bulk and cosmetic considerations, so hearing aid manufacturers have developed receivers that clip onto the hearing aid itself – worth knowing if you are an arbiter – assuming it is a behind-the-ear device, rather than in-the-ear. So, not wearing a loop does not mean you can't receive external input.

  4. Finally, it's worth pondering why radio aids were developed. The principal use is in schools. Classrooms tend to be noisy, particularly if they have hard floors/windows, and the child using a hearing aid has a tough time hearing the teacher amongst all the reverberation and background noise. It's a common problem that a teacher thinks a hearing-impaired child ignores them, when they simply have not heard them. The radio transmitter is worn with a lapel microphone by the teacher, so when they talk into it, it is as if the teacher is beside the pupil. The dual use – mic and radio aid – was developed so that the child can hear what is going on around them, as well as benefitting greatly from an improved signal-to-noise ratio vis-a-vis the teacher's voice. Adults are much less likely to have them – people in meetings can use them, for example – whilst loop systems can be installed in buildings – theatres, post offices etc., where the hearing impaired person might go – but this is of course far different from actually wearing a personal loop.

In short, I can see no reason why a hearing impaired person playing at a chess congress should wear a radio aid during a game for normal purposes.

I hope this information is useful – it might help arbiters in future.

All best wishes
Dr. Michael Vidler

Other comments

Randy Evans, Richmond, VA
In addition to the disqualification, I think this information should be brought to the attention of the District Attorney in Philadelphia. If Mr. Rosenberg was cheating as suspected, he may well be guilty of attempted fraud or obtainig money under false pretenses. He would be no different than a con man who attempted to cheat a group of people out of $18,000. Even if charges could not be brought in this case, this would give organizers an idea of what would be necessary to do so in the future.

I am well aware that I have only heard one side of this story, and Mr. Rosenberg may be completely innocent. The facts would seem to indicate otherwise (particularly since the TD, Michael Atkins, is a very reasonable person in my experience), but they always do when you only hear one side. This is another reason to get some input from law enforcement officals. If organizers had the type of proof that would be necessary to bring a criminal case, there would be less chance of making a mistake.

James Stripes, Spokane, USA
After your report last week regarding cheating at the World Open, I researched one of the players in the US Chess Federation's online database. In September 2004, Steve Rosenberg took 19th place in the Michigan Open with 3 wins, 2 draws, and 2 losses. Since that event, he played in four OTB events, and 33 USCF rated online quick events. Through this nearly two year period he played 181 games with 159 wins, 15 draws, and 7 losses. I suspect that he has spent a long time working on his (cheating?) technique, and hope there will be a full investigation.


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