FIDE confirms sanctions in French cheating case

7/30/2012 – Since 2010 we have been reporting on a cheating scandal uncovered by the French Chess Federation: one of its players at the Chess Olympiad had been receiving computer-generated moves during his games. The suspension of the three players involved in the conspiracy has now been confirmed by the FIDE Ethics Committee, which in its 26-page ruling provides some gripping new details.

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FIDE confirms sanctions
in French cheating case

The FIDE Ethics Commission has confirmed the sanctions imposed by the French Chess Federation on the players Sébastien Feller, Arnaud Hauchard and Cyril Marzolo, who were found guilty of cheating at the Chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk in September 2010.

The full text of the FIDE Ethics Commission Judgement was published on the FIDE website (in PDF, 26 pages) and summarized in a report on the French magazine Europe Echecs.

On the front page of the French Chess Federation we read:

The Ethics Commission of the FIDE has just released its decision on the matter of cheating which took place September 21 to October 3, 2010, at the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. The decisions are applicable from 1st August 2012. The Commission has suspended Arnaud Hauchard for three years, Sébastien Feller for two years and nine months, and Cyril Marzolo for one year and six months.

After collecting all the evidence the five members of the Ethics Commission, Roberto Rivello, Ralph Alt, Ion Serban Dobronauteanu, Margaret Murphy and Ian Wilkinson, met on 30 June and 1 July 2012, and reached a unanimous decision. They rejected arguments presented by Sébastien Feller and Arnaud Hauchard, but followed detailed testimony by Cyril Marzolo, who confessed to his role in cheating, in collaboration with Hauchard and Feller. Marzolo testified that he had followed the games of Sébastien Feller on the Internet, analyzed them with different engines, and transmitted move suggestions to Arnaud Hauchard by SMS.

We turn to the 26-page PDF document mentioned above (the FIDE Ethics Commission Judgement), which contains a lot of procedural information, but also a wealth of details on the actual cheating charges. Below are some of the most revealing passages from the document. Note that telephone numbers have been obscured to comply with privacy laws. We have not edited the text, which is not by a native English speaker, although "English was confirmed as the only working language of the EC". The following text is to be found on pages 18-22 of the document:

The French Team participated in the Chess Olympiad held in Khanty-Mansiysk (Russia) from 21st September to 3rd October 2010. Mr Sébastien FELLER, a French GM, was a member of the French Team, played 9 games against Slovenia (Sebenik), Israel (Mikhalevski), Serbia (Markus), England (Howell), Austria (Kreisl), Spain (Alsina Leal), Russia 2 (Timofeev), Georgia (Gelashvili), Ukraine (Efimenko), with quite excellent results and also won a prize of 5,000 euro for the best result on the 5th board.

Mr. Arnaud HAUCHARD, a French GM, was the captain and coach of the French Team. Mr. Cyril MARZOLO, a French IM, was in France in that period, engaged in a working relationship with Ms Joanna POMIAN, vice-president of the FF; for these working reasons Mr MARZOLO in those days had received on loan for temporary use a SIM SFR correspondent to the mobile phone number 0033 (0) XXXXXXXXX, number assigned by SFR to Ms POMIAN.

On 27th September 2010, while in Khanty-Mansiysk the French team was playing a match against Austria, Cyril MARZOLO was visiting Ms. POMIAN at her home in NANCY. While he momentarily left the room, Mr. MARZOLO received an SMS text message that appeared on his cell phone screen, left in evidence on the table, in view of Ms. POMIAN who read it. It was a message apparently sent by Mr. Arnaud HAUCHARD, although he was supposed to be acting as captain during the FRANCE-AUSTRIA match, inviting Mr. MARZOLO to “send moves on the cell” (“filer les coups sur le portable”). Ms POMIAN did not immediately react. As soon as he became aware of the message, Mr. MARZOLO took leave of Ms. POMIAN.

Ms. POMIAN knew about existing ties between Mr MARZOLO, Mr FELLER and Mr HAUCHARD and suspected an illegal behavior of cheating by them, informing Mr. Jean Claude MOINGT then President of the FF. Mr. MOINGT in the next days was present in Khanty-Mansiysk and monitored Mr HAUCHARD and Mr FELLER during the FRANCE-UKRAINE match: He remarked that Mr. HAUCHARD frequently entered and exited the playing area in order to consult his cell phone.

Mr. MOINGT informed Mr HAUCHARD about the suspicions of cheating and asked that Mr FELLER not play the French team's last match, against Armenia. Mr. HAUCHARD immediately accepted this decision.

After the return of the team in France, Mr FELLER and Mr HAUCHARD were invited to participate in a meeting in front of Mr. Jean Claude MOINGT, President, Mr. Laurent VERAT, Executive Director and National Technical Director of the FF and Mr. Jordi LOPEZ GARCIA, assistant National Technical Director of the FF. The meeting was held on 11th October 2010 and Mr MOINGT, Mr VERAT and Mr LOPEZ GARCIA have declared that on that occasion Mr. FELLER and Mr HAUCHARD admitted to having cheated in in Khanty-Mansiysk during the Olympiads and also in other 2 previous tournaments (the Paris Championship and the Bienne Open, in July 2010), jointly with Mr MARZOLO (adding that “they were acting under pressure from Mr. MARZOLO”). Mr. MARZOLO followed FELLER's Olympiad matches live on the internet, analyzed them using a chess engine and sent his suggestions via SMS to the mobile phones of Mr. HAUCHARD and of Mr FELLER, during the games both used by Mr HAUCHARD outside the playing area. Then HAUCHARD transmitted the suggested moves to Mr. FELLER, into the playing area.

Mr VERAT, in the oral hearing in front of the EC, confirmed this point: “I was present and I listen at the beginning a confession by all of them. FELLER and HAUCHARD admitted in front of us that they cheated, in October 2010, they spoke for 2 hours. HAUCHARD said this also in a telephonic discussion from Khanty-Mansyisk, that he made a mistake by cheating. FELLER admitted in front of the three leaders of the FF. There were no many details about the way they cheated. After that, they did not mention this meeting. At the hearings [of the FF disciplinary Commission] they talked about consequences and then Feller should talk to his father about the situation. After the meeting and apparently after the discussion with his father, Feller changed his position”.

During the following phases of the FF disciplinary proceedings and in the civil case in France Mr FELLER, Mr HAUCHARD and Mr MARZOLO denied all responsibilities, never participating in the hearings.

During the FF disciplinary three other members of the French Olympic Team made declarations affirming that Mr HAUCHARD in front of them had confessed the cheating.

Mr Maxime VACHIER-LAGRAVE declared that: “During the Olympiad the behavior of Arnaud HAUCHARD was pretty strange … he was clearly more interested in Sébastian FELLER’s results … was very tense … was walking out of the playing hall very frequently …”, “On the 5th of January 2011, when training at home for Wijk Aan Zee with Arnaud HAUCHARD, I suddenly got a call from Jrodi LOPEZ from the FF who, learning I was currently with Arnaud HAUCHARD, asked me to call him back later. When learning that, Arnaud HAUCHARD suddenly told me that the most likely reason for this call was to inform me that a cheating had taken place in Khanty-Mansiysk, and he admitted that it really happened. As he told me, Cyril MARZOLO was sending the moves by text according to a phone code, including the number of the move, departure square and arrival square, and Sébastien FELLER was receiving them. He denied having taken part in the cheating, saying that he was only aware of it and covered it”.

Mr Maxime VACHIER-LAGRAVE produced also a copy of the print script of some messages that would be exchanged between him and Mr. HAUCHARD on 6-1-2011, where Mr HAUCHARD admitted that MARZOLO and FELLER were cheating and explained the code used by MARZOLO for sending the suggested moves, using numbers that could seem similar to phone numbers.

Mr Laurent FRESSINET declared that: “Afterward, the 6th of January 2011, Maxime VACHIER-LAGRAVE announces me, on the evidence of confidences which beforehand delivered him Arnaud HAUCHARD, of an affair of cheating during the Olympiads involving a member of the French team, Sébastien FELLER. I am stunned, shocked, by this piece of news. According to these assertions, FELLER would have, during the Olympiads, played his games on the basis of instruction that Cyril MARZOLO, from FRANCE, gave him”. “That very evening, I receive Arnaud HAUCHARD’s phone call, which, in answer to my request of qualification, confirms me that a system of cheating organized between FELLER and MARZOLO would have effectively been in work during the Olympiad.”

Mr Romain EDOUARD declared that, after being informed by the FF of the assumed cheating, together with VACHIER LAGRAVE and FRESSINET they decided to request Mr HAUCHARD to have a meeting with them: “… on 11th of January (2011), Arnaud HAUCHARD arrived to the meeting (in the “Atlantic” restaurant close to Montparnasse in PARIS) once again on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He said he needed to make his “mea culpa” and explained us the whole cheating system (exactly the same that the federation described me one day earlier): Cyril MARZOLO was analyzing the games with a powerful computer, and sending the moves on Sébastien FELLER’s mobile phone according to a coding system”, “we also asked Arnaud HAUCHARD why Sébastien FELLER had lost two games in spite of his computer assistance. He answered that the cheating system was not well set up at the beginning, and that even later Sébastien FELLER was sometimes lacking time after move 30-35”.

The invoice/itemized telephone statements ­facture detaillée­ concerning the period 19­9/18­10­2010, concerning the SFR mobile telephone number 0033 (0) XXXXXXXXX, received by Ms. Joanna POMIAN from SFR, shows that Mr MARZOLO systematically sent tens of SMS to the phone numbers used by Mr. HAUCHARD (0033 (0) XXXXXXXXX) and Mr FELLER (0033 (0) XXXXXXXXX), exactly during the matches played by Mr FELLER.

On 16 August 2011, in front of the CNOSF, following a procedure of conciliation, Mr MARZOLO admitted his responsibility in the cheating, without adding any details, and obtained a reduction of the disciplinary sanction against him. During the hearing in front of the EC Mr MARZOLO more clearly confessed his responsibility: he admitted his role in the cheating organised in cooperation with Mr FELLER and Mr HAUCHARD, he followed FELLER's Olympiad matches live on the internet, analyzed them using various different chess engines and sent his suggestions via SMS to Mr. HAUCHARD. He added that he received money for this: “I did it just for money, just for money, not for friendship but for money. I was paid”, he needed money because he was in a difficult economic situation.

Finally Mr MARZOLO confirmed again his confession in two written memorials, adding many relevant details: he was contacted by M. HAUCHARD et M. Sébastien FELLER, he did not immediately understand that they intended to organize a cheating, he was surprised because he knew very well M. Sébastien FELLER, FELLER worked very hard on chess with M. DORFMAN and by himself, but M. HAUCHARD strongly insisted, he was tented and he accepted. MARZOLO participated in the cheating sending the moves by sms to M. HAUCHARD who transmitted them to M. Sébastien FELLER. Not all the moves, just some moves in some games: he remembers in the game against Mikalevski quite a lot of moves starting from 12. … h5, till the zeitnot; against Markus more or less 10 moves; against Howell quite a lot of moves starting from 15. … Qa5; against Kreisl some moves, but HAUCHARD and FELLER had problems in the communication of the moves; against Alsina some moves in the middle game and at the end; against Timofeev practically all moves starting from 12… Rc8; against Gelashvili no more than 5 moves in the middle game; against Efimenko starting from 11.Qf4 till the draw. About the method for the communication of the moves by HAUCHARD to FELLER in the playing hall in Khanty-Mansiysk, he declares that he is not sure about what exact method they employed, because there were many different methods of communication, linked to the position of the playing hall, behind some chessboards or some players, in the rows also (“il y a différent moyen de communication, cela dépendait de la position de la salle, cela pouvait être derrière des échiquiers ou joueurs, dans les rangées aussi, je ne sais pas lequel ils ont mis en application sur place“), he says it would be difficult to explain by words the cheating method, but he declares to be available to show it, adding other details.

MARZOLO remarks than after the lost game against Austria, Sébastien FELLER contacted him, FELLER wanted to stop the cheating, because HAUCHARD made mistakes in the transmission of the moves …. but the next day MARZOLO received a sms … they had to continue M. HAUCHARD continuously reminded (“avait pris la tête à”) M.Sébastien FELLER the high phone expenses, therefore they needed to continue. MARZOLO has added also that they cheated in the same way during the Paris Championship and in Bienne, before the Chess Olympiad. More than once he specifies that M.HAUCHARD was the main instigator, he convinced Sébastien FELLER … (lui avait monté le cerveau) .. he did not hesitate to propose the cheating to FELLER, a young man who had a great future as a player, and in his opinion this would not be an isolated case.

The last two paragraphs are particularly revealing. Out of interest we made a file of all the Feller games from the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk and ran a Let's Check analysis on it. This, incidentally, revealed to us that a number of Fritz 13 users have been looking at these games. They were probably particularly interested in the critical Engine/Game correlation that is displayed when you do a full game analysis. It does not prove anything conclusively – it is simply an indication of the percentage of moves that a strong chess engine would also have played.

The sanctions

The ruling of the FIDE Ethics Committee starts with the remark that violation committed by the three is particularly serious, since it was committed during the most important FIDE competition, the Chess Olympiad, by members of a national representative, using sophisticated methods, to gain remunerative advantages. This is what the three were sentenced to (verbatim):

  • Mr. Arnaud HAUCHARD was the captain of his national team. The role of the captain is fundamental in a Chess Olympiad, the captain has particular responsibilities. His behaviour was clearly in contrast with all sport and Olympic values. He has to be sanctioned with the exclusion from the participation in all FIDE tournaments (that means all FIDE rated tournaments), as a player or as a member of a national delegation, for a period of 3 (three) years, starting from the 1st of August 2012.

  • Mr. Sébastien FELLER obtained the main advantages from the cheating and he was playing in a chess Olympiad as a member of a national team. Otherwise he was very young, just 19 years old, and he was instigated by the captain of the team. He has to be sanctioned with the exclusion from the participation in all FIDE tournaments (that means all FIDE rated tournaments), as a player or as a member of a national delegation, for a period of 2 (two) years and 9 (nine) months, starting from the 1st of August 2012.

  • Mr Cyril MARZOLO was not a member of the Olympic team, he confessed his responsibility and he accepted the sanction imposed by the FF and by the CNOSF, the exclusion from the participation in chess tournaments, for a period of 1 (one) year and 6 (six) months, with a suspension of the sanction for the last nine months. It is reasonable, in accordance with CNOSF’s decision, to sanction him for the same period, but for what concerns the effects of the present decision it has to be affirmed the competence of the FIDE EC regarding the evaluation of the period of probation, starting from 27 February 2012 till 27 November 2012, and the French Chess Federation has to be requested to send the FIDE Secretariat a report on the behaviour of Mr. Cyril MARZOLO during the above mentioned period of nine months.

The ruling goes on to say that the FIDE Secretariat and FIDE Presidential Board will be informed of the present decision "for all possible consequences related to the results of the games played by Mr Sébastien FELLER during the 2010 Chess Olympiad, concerning ratings, rankings and prizes." What does this mean? If Feller's results in Khanty-Mansiysk are declared invalid, it might still be too difficult to adjust the FIDE ratings accordingly (or would it?). But another GM – actually this would be Mateusz Bartel – might be able to claim the prize for top performance on board five – 5000 Euros.

Previous reports on the French cheating scandal

Feller's interview, and a solution to the cheating scandal
23.08.2011 – The French Championship is in its eighth round, with four GMs in the joint lead. The event is marred by continued suspicion and anti-cheating measures, brought on by accusations that one of the participants had in the past engaged in organised cheating. Sébastien Feller has given an interview on the subject, and we have a proposal on how to clear up the matter quickly.
Cheating scandal: Opinions, concerns and revelations
06.04.2011 – 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.
French Chess Federation suspends players accused of cheating
21.03.2011 – On Saturday the Disciplinary Committee of the French Chess Federation suspended GMs Sebastien Feller, Arnaud Hauchard and IM Cyril Marzolo, finding them “guilty of a violation of sporting ethics” for allegedly cheating during the Chess Olympiad 2010 in Khanty-Mansiysk. The three received suspensions, after evidence was presented, including a detailed description of how it was done.
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.
French Chess Federation suspends players accused of cheating
21.03.2011 – On Saturday the Disciplinary Committee of the French Chess Federation suspended GMs Sebastien Feller, Arnaud Hauchard and IM Cyril Marzolo, finding them “guilty of a violation of sporting ethics” for allegedly cheating during the Chess Olympiad 2010 in Khanty-Mansiysk. The three received suspensions, after evidence was presented, including a detailed description of how it was done.
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.
Sebastien Feller wins Paris Championship
13.07.2010 – The Paris Championship is the oldest French Open – Abraham Baratz won the first edition in 1925. The leading players in this year's event included GM Tigran Gharamian (2650), GM Alberto David (2622) and GM Sébastien Feller (2611). The Open Tournament took place from July 3rd to 11th, 2010. It was a nine-round Swiss, FIDE rules, 40 moves/1h 30 + 30 sec then 30 mn + 30 sec. Pictorial report.

ChessBase series

A history of cheating in chess (1)
29.09.2011 – Hardly a month goes by without some report of cheating in international chess tournaments. The problem has become acute, but it is not new. In 2001 Frederic Friedel contributed a paper to the book "Advances in Computer Chess 9". It traces the many forms of illicit manipulations in chess and, a decade later, appears disconcertingly topical and up-to-date. We reproduce the paper in five parts.
A history of cheating in chess (2)
04.10.2011 – Coaching players during the game is probably the most widespread form of cheating (rivaled only perhaps by bribery and the throwing of games). Although this practice began long before the advent of chess playing machines, computers have added a new and dramatic dimension to this method of cheating in chess. You will never guess: who were the pioneers of cheating with computers?
A history of cheating in chess (3)
18.12.2011 – In January 1999 the main topic of conversation amongst top players like Kasparov, Anand and others: who was the mysterious German chess amateur, rated below 2000, who had won a strong Open ahead of GMs and IMs, with wonderfully courageous attacking chess and a 2630 performance? How had he done it? Turns out it was with unconventional methods, as subsequent investigation uncovered.
A history of cheating in chess (4)
28.02.2012 – Las Palmas 1996: Garry Kasparov is agonizing over his 20th move against Vishy Anand. He calculates and calculates but cannot make a very tempting pawn push work. Immediately after the game he discovers, from his helpers, that it would have won the ultimately drawn position. The point that became clear to him: a single bit of information, given at the top level in chess, can decide a game.

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