Cheating scandal: player disqualified for cell phone use

10/27/2012 – Actually, as the accused player, German GM Falko Bindrich, points out: not for proven use but for refusing to allow the arbiter to examine the phone he had with him during multiple toilet visits during last weekend's Bundesliga round. The rules permit the arbiter to check in case of justified suspicion, and so Bindrich was disqualified and the point awarded to his opponent. Long, compelling read.

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Falko Bindrich disqualified

Last Sunday there was an incident in the Chess Bundesliga in Germany. In the second round of the match between SC Eppingen and Katernberg, held in the city of Mülheim, one of the players was disqualified after just ten moves of play:

Sebastian Siebrecht - Falko Bindrich:
1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. a3 e4 5. Ng5 Qe7 6. e3 h6 7. Nh3 g5 8. Qc2 Bg7 9. Ng1 0-0 10. Nge2 1-0.

This resulted in a 3.5-4.5 loss for Eppingen, the team of GM Falko Bindrich. The reason for the disqualification: Bindrich had a smart phone with him while visiting the toilet, and when confronted refused to show it to the arbiter, which is mandated by the Bundesliga tournament rules. Here is what section 5.3.4 of the rules say:

During a running game the players may not have access to mobile phones, computers or other electronic devices, without the expressed approval of the arbiter. If there is reasonable suspicion that such devices are being used, upon the request of the arbiter the players are obliged to swich on the devices for inspection. Furthermore in case of reasonable suspicion that such devices are being used the players are obliged to permit the arbiter to examine their clothes, bags or other items of luggage. If a player does not honour these obligations, the arbiter may take measures prescribed by section 8.1 of the tournament rules.

Section 8.1 specifies which measures the arbiter may implement: admonition, warning, censure, time penalty, cancellation of the result and ordering the game to be replayed, evaluating the game as a loss for the offending player, excluding him from the current round, ordering him to leave the playing hall, or the auditorium. Multiple penalties may be imposed.

We should mention that in June, during the German Championship, FM Christoph Natsidis was caught using a smartphone in the toilet during his final-round game against Sebastian Siebrecht (who seems to attract opponents with cheating devices). The arbiter had found a chess program running on the phone, and indeed the program was showing a position just before the end of the game against Siebrecht when the arbiter examined it. Natsidis admitted to the deed and was expelled from the tournament. " I apologise," he said, "it was completely stupid of me to do this." Indeed it was, since he had completed an IM norm before the start of the final round (though, one must assume, probably not without some electronic assistance). Natsidis has been banned from tournament play by the German Chess Federation for a period of two years.

But why was Bindrich disqualified after just ten fairly innocuous moves in his game against Siebrecht? On the previous day he had beaten GM Pavel Tregubov and helped his team score a 4.5-3.5 victory over Mülheim. What transpired during that game is described by eye witness Dieter von Häfen, an arbiter during the weekend matches, on the Bundesliga web site:

During the board seven game Bindrich-Tregubov I was approached by the latter, accompanied by GM Daniel Fridman and IM Daniel Hausrath (of the host club Mühlheim). Tregubov pointed out that his opponent had been absent for quite some time and could not be found. I walked towards the toilets and encountered Falko Bindrich returning to the board. I promised to keep an eye on Bindrich and take active measures if there were frequent protracted toilet visits. He went to the toilet two more times, at 24:30 and 15:30 p.m., and used the flush while he was in the cabin. I decided against any immediate action.

Dieter von Häfen continued watching Bindrich during the next round, in his game against Siebrecht, and reported:

On Sunday, at 10:00 a.m. Falko Bindrich was playing on board seven against Sebastian Siebrecht. Shortly after the start of the game I saw that Falko Bindrich disappear into the toilet for the first time. I became suspicious. Shortly after 10:30 a.m. he was gone again, and fifteen minutes again. That was too much for me and I followed him to the toilet. Sebastian Siebrecht, too, had noticed something odd about the behavior of Falko Bindrich. He caught up with me just before we reached the toilet, and we had a brief conversation, during which I told him that I intend to carry out a pocket check. I asked Sebastian Siebrecht leave the space in front of the toilet, so I could confront Falko Bindrich alone.


German GM Sebastian Siebrecht | Photo: Kai Hombrecher

When Falko Bindrich came out of the toilet I confronted him with the suspicion of deception. I told him that according to the rules I had the right to check his pockets and asked him to show me their contents. He was indignant and refused. He said that his cell phone was in his trouser pocket. I asked him to hand over the phone for me examine. This he refused, saying: "Am I crazy?" I confronted Falko Bindrich in the refreshment room again with the suspicions and read to him section 5.3.4 of the Bundesliga rules. He said he had a mobile phone with a chess program on it, but that this contained old games, including the one from the previous day, with his analyses. I informed him that his refusal to show me his mobile phone would lead to an immediate loss of the current game, since I would be forced to assume that he had been using the phone for illegal purposes. I suggest to him that if the current game was not stored on the device he could continue playing, if he handed the phone over to his team captain. But Falko Bindrich continued to categorically refuse. His captain Hans Dekan also tried to convince him, but he refused to hand over the phone.


The venue of the Bundesliga round in Mühlheim | Photo: Kai Hombrecher

I had no other choice but to terminate the game and award the point to Sebastian Siebrecht. I consider the refusal to hand over the mobile phone clear proof that it had been used illegally, and in addition the refusal was against the rules of the event. I would like to mention that the team captain of Eppingen accepted this decision without discussion and later apologised to Sebastian Siebrecht and the team captain of Katernberg for the behaviour of his player.

The full report by Dieter von Häfen, and a statement by the captain of SF Katernberg, Ulrich Geilmann, may be found here. It is in German, but Google does a fair job of translating it. Greilmann writes:

Mr. Bindrich could have contributed to the clarification of the circumstances, but regrettably did not do so, and with that apparently corroborated the suspicions of fraud raised by Mülheimer players during the previous round. The points made by Mr. Bindrich, especially regarding invasion of privacy, are not understandable, since is was only necessary to check whether his mobile phone was switched on and whether there was an engine running with a connection to a chess database. Ultimately, Mr. Bindrich has caused a great deal of damage not only to himself but also to his club, the Chess Bundesliga and chess as a sport. I must mention that at the time of the incident I had a feeling that the young GM was not fully aware of the consequences of his actions.

We cannot end this lengthy report without excepts from an even lengthier statement by Falko Bindrich. Again it is in German, but can be read in the full by non-German speakers using the Google Translate service.


GM Falko Bindrich | Photo: Chess Tigers

On Saturday against Mülheim I faced Russian grandmaster Tregubov (2601). Against the former European champion I had prepared with three other players of Mülheim. The game went as planned. Three weeks earlier, in the top Swiss league, I had had exactly the same variation against GM Istratescu (2650) on the board. Unfortunately at the time I confused the correct sequence of moves and was held to a draw. In subsequent analysis of that game I remembered Jobava-Kunin from the First Austrian Bundesliga, at which I was present and in which White won with surprising ease. So I repeated this game exactly, up to about move 20, including the exchange sacrifice bxa5, which I had already analyzed at home. After gaining an advantage I did not play optimally, something that every chess player will see by replaying the game. Nevertheless I got a good position after the time trouble won the game. Afterwards Pavel Tregubov hesitated to shake hand looked very offended.


During the game Falko Bindrich vs Pavel Tregubov | Photo: Kai Hombrecher

On Sunday I played Sebastian Siebrecht. After one hour I visited the toilet for the second time (it was Sunday morning, and I think it is normal to go to the toilet after breakfast?!). The claim that I got up while I was on the move to go to the toilet is simply wrong. During my more than 15-year chess career I have never done this. If my opponent makes a move while I am in the toilet, it would logically be my move. This happens in every game of chess, except when players stay at the board all the time. Also, I was certainly not the only player who on Saturday, during a period of six hours, visited the toilet four times, and on Sunday twice within an hour of play. I got up three times during the game: the first time shortly after the beginning of the game to go to the toilet, the second time to get myself something to drink, and the third time after move nine. Why was I picked out for inspection, was I the leading toilet-goer?

I want to clarify once again that I was not disqualified by the referee because of cell phone fraud, but because of my refusal to allow him to inspect my cell phone. The reasons for this are complex. First and foremost, I see it as a direct invasion of my privacy. I can allow anyone. really anyone, access to my mobile phone. On it I have, apart from my private data (very private pictures and messages) also sensitive business data. I need to protect this. Releasing the data would cost me my job and important relationships. I could not risk this. It is true that I have, as many other chess players too, a chess app stored on my phone, including a post game analysis of my game against Tregubov, which I conducted on Saturday night after the game in the hotel room. To my knowledge one must carry a cell phone, provided it is switched off, which in this case it always was.

Incidentally, from a human perspective, how far have we come? Stalking and spying, eavesdropping on the toilet. The referee listened for my bowel movement, and Sebastian Siebrecht even lay down on the toilet floor. Who wants to be in a competition run in this fashion or play against an opponent with such an attitude? We must ask ourselves, where does it begin, where does it stop? First we search the pockets, jackets, luggage. Referees listen to players while they are defecating, players lie down on the toilet floor. What's next? Strip searches? Luckily, human and civil rights accompany us during most of our lives, but in chess we should abandon them? This new rule will provide arbiters with a chance to investigate and harass any random player and declare any two-time toilet visit as "reasonable suspicion" for such actions!


Bindrich win against Tregubov has been annotated by our endgame expert Dr Karsten Müller, as part of his column in ChessBase Magazine.

[Event "BL 1213 SV Mülheim Nord - SC Eppingen"] [Site "?"] [Date "2012.10.20"] [Round "1.7"] [White "Bindrich, Falko"] [Black "Tregubov, Pavel V"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A37"] [WhiteElo "2532"] [BlackElo "2601"] [Annotator "Müller,Karsten"] [PlyCount "121"] [EventDate "2012.??.??"] 1. Nf3 c5 2. c4 Nc6 3. Nc3 e5 4. g3 g6 5. Bg2 Bg7 6. a3 Nge7 7. O-O O-O 8. d3 d6 9. Rb1 a5 10. Bd2 h6 11. Ne1 Be6 12. Nc2 d5 13. cxd5 Nxd5 14. Ne3 Nde7 15. Na4 b6 16. b4 cxb4 17. axb4 b5 18. Nc5 Ba2 19. bxa5 Bxb1 20. Qxb1 Ra7 21. Qxb5 Nd4 22. Qb6 Nc8 23. Qxd8 Nxe2+ 24. Kh1 Rxd8 25. Nc4 Nd4 26. Rb1 Bf8 27. Nb7 Re8 28. Be3 f6 29. f4 Ra6 30. fxe5 fxe5 31. Bd5+ Kh7 32. g4 Nc2 33. Bd2 Ne7 34. Be4 Ng8 35. Rb6 Rxb6 36. axb6 Bb4 37. Nbd6 Rb8 38. Bxb4 Nxb4 39. b7 Nf6 40. Nxe5 Nxe4 41. dxe4 Rd8 42. Nec4 Kg7 43. e5 Nc6 44. Kg2 Kf8 45. Kf3 Ke7 46. Ke4 Ke6 47. Nb5 Rd1 {Unfortunately a shadow has been cast over this game, with Falko Bindrich accused of cheating by using a smart phone in the opening phase. A protest has been lodged by Mühlheim. However, Bindrich's combination in the endgames is certainly worthy of our attention:} 48. Na5 $1 Re1+ 49. Kd3 Nb8 50. Nc6 $3 {The real point of White's combination. Tregubov must now return the exchange in order to stop Bindrich's b-pawn.} (50. Nd4+ $2 Kd7 $1 {would spoil it.}) 50... Rd1+ (50... Rb1 51. Nbd4+ (51. Nxb8 $6 Rxb5 52. Nc6 {also wins, but is not good technique.} Rxb7 53. Nd8+ Kxe5 54. Nxb7 Kf4 55. Ke2 Kxg4 56. Kf2 Kh3 57. Kg1 g5 58. Nc5 g4 59. Ne4 h5 60. Kh1 $18) 51... Kd5 52. Nxb8 Rxb7 53. Nbc6 $18) (50... Nxc6 51. Nd4+ Nxd4 52. b8=Q Rd1+ 53. Ke4 Nc6 54. Qb3+ $18) 51. Kc2 Nxc6 (51... Rd7 52. Nbd4+ Rxd4 (52... Kd5 53. Nxb8 Rxb7 54. Nbc6 $18) 53. Nxd4+ Kxe5 54. Kc3 $18) 52. Kxd1 Kxe5 53. Ke2 h5 (53... Nb8 54. Ke3 Kd5 55. Nd4 Kc5 56. Nf3 Kb6 57. Ne5 Kxb7 58. Nxg6 Kc6 59. Ne7+ Kd7 60. Nf5 Ke6 61. Nxh6 Kf6 62. Kf4 $18) 54. Kf3 Nb8 55. h4 Kd5 (55... hxg4+ 56. Kxg4 Kd5 57. Kg5 Kc6 58. Kxg6 Kxb5 59. h5 Kb6 60. h6 Kxb7 61. h7 $18) 56. g5 Kc6 {Black gets the b-pawn, but cannot get back to the kingside in time.} 57. Nd4+ Kxb7 58. Ke4 Nd7 59. Kd5 Kc8 60. Ke6 Kc7 61. Nf3 (61. Nf3 Kc6 (61... Kd8 62. Kf7 $18) 62. Ne5+ $18) 1-0


GM Karsten Müller during a game in the Bundesliga in Mühlheim

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