Cheating scandal: Opinions, concerns and revelations

by Albert Silver
4/6/2011 – 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 eye-opener.

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Opinions, concerns, and revelations

The French cheating scandal has rocked the chess world in this regard far more than any previous incident, whether it be a 1900 player winning a large open, or a WGM sneaking into a beginner’s tournament. The reason is perfectly understandable, since the implications, the level of organization to cheat, and of course the who and where are so astonishing, it makes one wonder what player or level is above such shenanigans. That said, even with a condemnation by the Disciplinary Committee, some players are still undecided on how concrete the evidence is, while others are more concerned about preventing future incidents from occurring. GM Robert Fontaine from Europe Echecs took the time to gather the opinions of French players, foreign players, and finally do a lengthy revealing interview with Jean-Claude Moingt, the president of the French chess federation. Though the interview is in French, we have highlighted some of the main points of interest.

 
French players IM Bellaiche, IM Wirig and GM Sebastien Mazé comment on the affair (French)

Bellaiche is of course worried about the image of chess and how it is affected by this turn of events, highlights the importance of presumption of innocence, and then if there is proof there is proof. The if making it clear he feels it hasn't been shown yet.

Wirig argues on the federation throwing the players under the bus (refuted by an excerpt of the interview with Moingt - see below), and feels the case isn't believable since Feller did lose to a 2300 player in the Olympiad, and also played very well at the European championship.

GM Mazé also feels nothing concrete has been shown, though balks when asked on his opinion of 200 messages exchanged during the games, and only during the games. He explains that if true there is little to say, but having worked with Feller throughout the year, considers him a friend, and will support him until denial is no longer an option, as he would like to benefit similarly were the roles inverted.

 
Interview with GM Vallejo-Pons and GM Nepomniachtchi (English)

Finally, there is an 18-minute interview with Jean-Claude Moingt, who addresses a number of points brought up over the last months, as well as some clarifications and revelations.


Interview with Jean-Claude Moingt, president of the French chess federation (French)

The French federation was not the sole instigator of these issues. The first actual issue came from Mrs. Pomian, who contacted Laurent Vérat during the final rounds of the Olympiads (not after), to explain there was a major issue. The detailed billing of the phone lent to Marzolo explicitly showed an enormous number of SMS sent right at the start of each game, and then stopped as soon as it was over. However, it is worth reiterating that both Vachier-Lagrave and Edouard learned of this, not via the Federation, but through Arnaud Hauchard’s personal confession to them.

The federation had no choice but to pursue this, since with these issues already in the open and spreading, how would the chess world react if they learned of this and found the French leaders indifferent? Imagine how its partners such as the French Ministry or FIDE would react if they heard and saw this. In fact Fressinet called Moingt after learning of it through the two players, but just days before the affair was made public, and was shocked and furious wanting to know what the Federation was going to do about it.

After the Olympiad, the Federation, including Verat and Moingt, summoned all the players under contract (this was not a disciplinary meeting), which did not include Marzolo as he was not available, and they not only admitted what they had done, but explained in detail how they had done it! The rumors that the federation claimed other methods is sadly one of those insidious issues of the Internet where theory is stated as fact.

There is also a claim that the SMS were actually sent from Marzolo’s phone to the phone of Sebastien Feller’s father, so what evidence do they have that Feller had it on him? The players said they used that same number to set up meetings for dinner and others with Feller throughout the event so there is no question he was using it.

Once the appeals by the accused are done, and the federation’s next step is to have FIDE extend the range of the punishment throughout its jurisdiction, since FIDE must also make good on its own obligations. The French federation will have done what it needed to do, but the issue is not a local one and took place in one of the foremost events under FIDE’s aegis.

Punitive measures are not enough however, and in agreement with the signed letter, FIDE must create laws such as delayed transmission on the Internet, as well as not allowing a player to have a mobile phone or other on them in the playing area, even turned off. He does agree with Feller that the timing of the letter was ill-chosen, and should have been done prior to the event.

(Summary by Albert Silver)


Previous reports

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 release.

Feller replies: 'I completely deny the cheating accusations'
24.01.2011 – Two days ago the French Chess Federation announced 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 Sebastien 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 letter.

Battesti: 'It's insulting to our president and his federation'
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 the FFE
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 public 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. Open letters.

FFE Cheating: Judge rules incriminating SMS inadmissible
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 statement.

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.

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Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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