Experts weigh in on Ivanov's performance

6/5/2013 – Two days ago we reported on the crushing victories of a Bulgarian FM against top grandmasters and the suspicion that he was secretly using computer assistance to achieve his success. Extensive analysis of the games by Valeri Lilov made this seem quite plausible. In part two of our series we present the opinions of international experts and one of the GM victims, plus initial reader feeback.

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The show goes on: Ivanov in Kustendil and Veliko Tarnovo

By Alex Karaivanov

Before we come to the new material – mainly feedback from leading experts and from readers and viewers – here the important video in which Valeri Lilov. The internationally known Bulgarian chess trainer examines the games played by Borislav Ivanov and comes to some fairly devastating conclusions. If you missed it in our previous article here is a chance to review it in full. Don't miss it – it is truly gripping.

Analysis of Ivanov's games by Valeri Lilov

FM Valeri Lilov’s extensive analysis of Ivanov’s games have played central role in the international investigation of Ivanov’s alleged cheating scheme. Many sources have refered back to Lilov’s YouTube video annotation of the alleged cheater’s latest games in Kustendil and Veliko Tarnovo.

Not amused: Bulgarian Champion Kiril Georgiev at the Bogomil Andonov Memorial

One of the most popular games analyzed by Valeri is Ivanov’s game against GM Kiril Georgiev, whom he beat convincingly, leaving him in sharp zeitnot with a terrible position. GM Kiril Georgiev commented on his game in a separate interview broadcast on the national TV channel. He also responded to an e-mail interview by Alex Karaivanov and provided the following statement for ChessBase.

GM Kiril Georgiev: Dear Alex, I am glad to know that there are young people like you and Valeri who are searching for the truth!

A photo in the original form and orientation taken during the game

My game against Borislav Ivanov was played at ten minutes plus five second increment. He played very fast, which came as a big surprise to me. He spent between five and seven seconds per move, and never took more time on any of his moves during the game. For the whole game he was supporting his chin with his two hands. He was making his moves quickly and vigorously, displaying a high level of self-confidence at all times.

He nevertheless had a lot of time on the clock – at the end of the game he had over seven minutes left! He didn’t stand up even once during the game. Our game was not broadcast over the Internet. It made a strong impression on me that at some point, when the position was repeated twice, he thought for about three seconds and diverted, avoiding a three-fold repetition! Best Regards, Kiril.

In a separate interview for ChessBase, Alex Karaivanov contacted Dr. Kenneth Regan, a renowned statistics professor and International Master from the University of Buffalo who have studied extensively the correlation between computer and human moves in tournament games.

Question: Let’s imagine that an effective anti-cheating FIDE commission was already in place at the time of Borislav Ivanov’s participation at the Bulgarian “Old Capital” Open tournament. Would the current sum of statistical evidence, e.g. the unprecedentedly high correlation with the first choice of the chess engine Houdini 3.0, have been sufficient for such a commission to ban Borislav Ivanov from attending FIDE rated tournaments in the future?

Dr. Kenneth Regan: That is exactly the philosophical question posed in my cover letter to the Ivanov report in January. I would like the chess world to determine this, in consultation with experts in other fraud-detection areas. I believe that a commission should be empowered to recommend procedures that would operate for judgments within the chess world. The procedures and judgments must be consistent with applicable laws, but should not require the use of general laws to implement sanctions against players.

Also as my report says, I cannot imagine the statistical evidence in any case being stronger than for Zadar. As it comes to Ivanov’s performance at the “Old Capital” Open in Veliko Tarnovo, even when the games from the first two rounds are included, I get significant deviations in both the MM and AE tests, and an IPR of 3149 with 97.5% confidence above 2940.

A bit of information in FM Valeri Lilov's new video that I regard as most surprising and important is that Ivanov took about ten seconds for most of his moves, regardless of position. GM Kiril Georgiev had stated this for his game against Ivanov in the rapid chess tournament in Kustendil (Bulgaria), where this would be less surprising. If that is true, then it meets the standards of observational evidence of cheating that I had in mind when composing my "Parable of the Golfers" policy page. I regard (outside-evidence + 1,000-1 odds) as having higher-precedence than (statistical-only 1,000,000-1 odds) in human terms, and perhaps this will inform your own deliberations about how a commission should regard the evidence. If this observation is true, then I will give a straight Yes answer to your final question, in my own opinion of guidelines that the chess world still needs to establish for itself. As it comes to my results with strong deviations, they are only based on the Ivanov’s games from Veliko Tarnovo and not Kustendil, for which I have only the game versus GM Georgiev. Sincerely, Ken Regan.

Ken Regan is a member of the FIDE Anti-Cheating Commitee
that will put forward proposals to the FIDE General Assembly in Tromso.

Robert Houdart, the author of the chess engine Houdini, also expressed his opinion on the subject of chess cheating where ‘Houdini 3.0’ was involved. On YouTube, under the latest video analysis of Ivanov’s games by FM Valeri Lilov, Houdart states:

Robert Houdart: No human being can consistently play the #1 or #2 choice of Houdini. Detecting this pattern exposes the cheating, no further evidence is required. It's not very useful to focus on individual move choices that appear unlikely (like Qd1 in the blitz game), it's the combined evidence of ALL the moves that is compelling.

Some feedback from our readers

Jack Green
Personally, I have no doubt whatsoever that Ivanov cheats. The evidence that Lilov presents is just overwhelming. No one can play chess like this, not even Carlsen or Kramnik. Things have now progressed to the point that some IMs and GMs refuse to play against Ivanov, and as a consequence he cannot get a prize. But this is not a good solution as he is still messing up results. It is about time that the FIDE installs an anti cheating committee. If the world cycling federation has the power to make cyclists hand over a sample of their urine and can even demand a blood sample, why can the FIDE not have the power to have a medical doctor present in order to examine the players? If in every physical sport athletes need to agree to anti-doping controls, why can someone similar not happen in chess? Ivanov has given himself away by playing celestial chess, even in blitz, but others may not be so extravagantly imprudent. Who says that there are no IMs or GMs, professional chess players who’s livelihood depends on chess, who succumb to the temptation of using a chess engine? And what about the flip side of the coin – and this is very serious also – people who manage to play some great chess games in a tournament somewhere, getting a much better result than their rating would predict? All of those are now regarded with suspicion. This is not acceptable on a personal level and it is not good for chess. So, the simple solution to this is for FIDE to make rules and to set up a system of control. If a chess player does not agree, then he cannot play. In my opinion, this is the way to solve this.

David Levy
If FIDE and/or the ACP decide to set up a special commission to investigate such claims of cheating, the International Computer Games Association (ICGA) would be pleased to assist.

Eric Tohni
We know his device isn't on his upper body, as he variously wears a T-shirt or jacket, and the latter is the first item he offers to remove. We know it's fast enough to work in rapid. We know that it didn't work when the broadcast went down in Zardar. He doesn't go to the bathroom and appears to make constant visual contact with the board, as though he's thinking. Unless he does something with his feet, I don't see how he can be inputting moves into a computer. This means he must have an accomplice, or more likely two. He probably has one person in the hall operating a clicker that relays the opponents move and one person manning a computer who sends the next move to Ivanov's clicker. That's the only way fast enough for rapid chess. All the people crowing around Ivanov looking for "clues" to how he does it just make it easier by giving the first relayer cover. This method can be interrupted by having Ivanov play a game against an IM or GM in seclusion.

Kerem Yunus Camsari
Valeri Lilov is acting like a crackpot, and you are giving him too much attention. He first proves that playing a move Houdini suggests is cheating, although in his videos the opponents of the cheater invariably play lots of these moves, too. And secondly, he tries to prove that moves that are suggested by Houdini are actually illogical. Perhaps we need a real expert, talk about this in a more objective fashion. I am not defending Ivanov, it just irritates me as a scientist to witness this witch-hunt.

Peter Stevens
If cheating is suspected, check out a player's shoes and socks for the presence of a pulsating device.

Danny Purvis
WWMGD? (What would Martin Gardner do?) There's no need to reinvent the wheel. Hire a professional magician. That's how psychic research was cleaned up years ago.

Peter Jameson
This article alleging that Ivanov is a cheat provides no real evidence. How does he cheat even in rapid games watched by a horde of observers? And what are we to make of the two other amazing players in the table displayed after nine rounds? Lyubomir Danov ranked 16th initially sits in seventh place above many titled players! Even more dramatic is Radi Danov who sits in sixth place though initially seeded 28th! And above many titled players. His performance is remarkable too, possibly puts Ivanov in the shade! And both of these players with very lowly ratings. So is your correspondent Alex Karaivanov now demanding an investigation of these players too? If not why not? Or has Alex Karaivanov shot himself in both feet?

Brian Karen
These are the procedures I would like added to combat cheating:

  1. To be officially accused of cheating a certain percentage of the participants in the tournament will complete forms detailing the reasons they are making this accusation. Records will be kept of the quantity of accusations made by a person and whether they were correct. If a person is continually making false accusations this will be noted in step 2.
  2. The TD will review these forms to determine if they have merit.
  3. If the forms are declared to have merit the accused will be asked to analyze his games in front of TD and his advisors. The analysis will not be done in a move-by move fashion because that will make it easer for a person who is cheating to follow his computer analysis. Rather, specific complicated positions will be shown from the game and the accused will answer questions about them. This will be a qualitative assessment so he does not have to answer all the questions correctly but he must convince the examiners that he understands the game. These examinations should be video taped and publicly available so if the accused fails he has recourse to protest.
  4. If he does fail the examination he is withdrawn from the tournament. If this happens X number of times he will be banned for a certain number of years.
  5. When a person leaves the tournament room he must complete a sign out sheet which details the time he left, time he returned, move number and where he is going.

Ivanov in the press

Borislav Ivanov himself has become increasingly agitated by the negative comments that have accumulated around his name lately. He has been desperate to clear his reputation, so he proclaimed his innocence, once again, in an interview for the most popular Bulgarian newspaper “Труд” (Trud).

FM Borislav Ivanov: Thus far, nothing has been found, nothing! […] But I am deprived of my right to play based on mere suspicions. […] I have decided to sue everyone to the end! I will get even with FIDE. I want to clear my name and play chess.

– To be continued –

About the author: Alex Karaivanov is the manager of FM Valeri Lilov and has managed his coaching career for the past six years. He is the CEO and co-founder of Tiger Lilov’s Chess School and the president of Shanghai Chess Club: Pudong Branch. He is also involved in producing Valeri Lilov's ChessBase DVDs.


Previous articles

08.1.2013 - Cheating scandal in Croatia – feedback and analysis
Recently we reported that the incredibly brilliant play by a 25-year-old untitled Bulgarian player at the Zadar Open in Croatia had raised suspicion that he might have been using illicit electronic assistance during his games. A number of readers criticised us – for linking to the mainstream Croatian media reports?! One of them, an expert in the field, actually analysed all the games in question.

17.1.2013 - Cheating scandal – Borislav Ivanov speaks out
Recently a 25-year-old untitled Bulgarian player scored 6.0/9 points in a strong GM tournament, with a 2697 performance. His opponents complained, he was searched, and no electronic equipment was found. Still, the case put chess on the front pages of the mainstream media, and led to intense discussions on the Internet. Now Ivanov has given the Russian news portal WhyChess an exclusive interview.

23.3.2013 - A Game of Chicken: Ivanov rides again
In the last weeks of 2012 he wowed the chess world with a 2700 performance. Two months later the new Bulgarian star FM Borislav Ivanov finished 88th in the Plovdiv, this time with a performance of 1970. Then came another enviable achievement, a clear win at the Villava rapid (again with a 2700 performance). What is going on? Alex Karaivanov speculates, with new video analysis by Valeri Lilov.

3.6.2013 - The show goes on: Ivanov in Kustendil
Borislav Ivanov is an FM who in the past months has been crushing GM hundreds of points stronger than himself. Bulgarian GMs, who suspect computer cheating, are now boycotting tournaments in which he appears, or chosing not to play their games against him. Ivanov has called them antisocial buttheads in newspaper interviews. Alex Karaivanov reports, with new video analysis by Valeri Lilov.


Topics Cheating, Ivanov
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