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French Chess Federation suspends players accused of cheating

3/21/2011 – 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.
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Report of the Disciplinary Committee


On Saturday, March 19, 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”. The Committee concluded that there was enough evidence that the three players had cheated during the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk that took place in September 2010. The 19-year-old GM Sebastian Feller, rated 2649, played extremely well at the Olympiad, winning the gold medal on board five with a score of 6/9 and a performance of 2708. Arnaud Hauchard was the French team captain in Khanty-Mansiysk.

Sebastien Feller has categorically denied the accusations of cheating. However, three other members of the French team in Khanty-Mansiysk – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Laurent Fressinet and Romain Edouard – gave their full support to the Federation in investigating the case seriously. Apparently one of the accused had actually admitted to them that there had been cheating.

The French Chess Federation pointed out that Cyril Marzolo had sent nearly two hundred SMS text messages to Sebastien Feller and Arnaud Hauchard during the Olympiad. This was done almost only on the days when Feller was playing, and during his play.

The following information is taken from verbal narrative and from an extensive report in the French chess magazine Europe Echecs,

The evidence

The statements from a number of witnesses were heard by the Disciplinary Committee.

  • Joanna Pomian, Vice-President of the French Chess Federation, told the committee that she had uncovered the matter on September 27, 2010. Cyril Marzolo, who was beset by financial difficulties, had worked for her company. Since he was blacklisted by mobile operators she had paid for his mobile phone account. On September 27, Cyril Marzolo was in the Pomian’s home to give back some papers, and while he left the room a few minutes and left his phone on the table. She saw a sms message arriving, from Arnaud Hauchard, mentioning “Hurry up, send moves…”. Subsequently, when checking the dues, she discovered that she had access to the records of the SMS text messages sent during the Olympiad. Pomian said she knew that Feller and Marzolo were very close, and that she has also heard rumors of cheating during the 2010 Paris Championship (which Feller won with 8.0/9 and a 2859 performance).

  • Laurent Vérat, Executive Director and National Technical Director in the FCF, testified that on September 30, 2010, Mme Pomian had contacted him and showed him the phone records, which clearly showed that there had been cheating.

    French Chess Federation vice president Joanna Pomian and President Jean-Claude Moingt
    ( with their host Larbi Houari, organizer of the 1st Festival of Marrakech in June 2010)

  • Jean-Claude Moingt, the President of the French Chess Federation, had attended the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk and said that he was informed by Vérat on the day of the match against Georgia that there might be cheating involved. He was able to observe that Arnaud Hauchard was moving to and from the playing area, typing and speaking on the phone, but didn't see him signalling moves to Feller. Since he was unable to catch the player in flagranti Moingt asked team captain Hauchard to remove Feller from the team for the last round. He also testified that in Khanty-Mansiysk security only searched the participants for weapons or explosives, but everyone was free to bring their mobile phone into the playing hall. Asked why he did not inform the tournament arbiter of his suspicions Moingt replied that the situation had been quite difficult. He did not have any concrete evidence in his hands. Moreover, the event was in Siberia and it was unclear what would happen to the French players if the case was made public. He consulted Roberto Rivello, president of the FIDE Ethics Committee, who advised him to handle the case internally.

  • GM Romain Edouard, the second youngest member of the French team in Khanty-Mansiysk, said that he had not t witnessed any suspicious behaviour by Sebastien Feller during the games. However, during a lunch with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Arnaud Hauchard in January the latter had admitted that the cheating had taken place.

    Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (2721) playing Boris Gelfand (2751)at the 2010 Olympiad

  • Maxime Vachier-Lagrave said that he had been very impressed by Feller's game against England's David Howell, but that the moves could be found by a strong GM. He did however notice that Arnaud Hauchard, whom he knows well since they had been training together since 2003, had been extremely tense. In addition Hauchard had admitted to him (in January before the 2011 Wijk aan Zee tournament) that there had been cheating at the Olympiad, but that he himself had not been actively involved. Maxime had passed this on to Laurent Fressinet.

    Maxime working together with Hauchard in Wijk back in January 2007

  • Laurent Fressinet, who was not present at the Committee meeting, sent his testimony by email. After hearing about the cheating suspicions from Maxime he decided to compare Feller’s Olympiad games with those of a strong chess engine, Firebird, that was in fashion with the GMs at the time. He had come to the conclusion that in the games against Russia and Georgia Feller had consistantly played the first choice of the engine, as he did in his game against Howell, where he only deviated from the computer's first choice once, on move 37, in order to repeat moves before the time control. [You can download Sebastian Feller's games in Khanty-Mansiysk here].

    Georgia facing France, with Jobava against Vachier-Lagrave on board one.

  • Bd
     Georgia (GEO)
     France (FRA)
    Jobava Baadur
    Vachier-Lagrave Maxime
    Mchedlishvili Mikheil
    Fressinet Laurent
    Pantsulaia Levan
    Tkachiev Vladislav
    Gelashvili Tamaz
    Feller Sebastien

France vs England in round five, with Feller (white shirt) vs Howell in the backtround

     France (FRA)
    2 : 2
     England (ENG)
    Vachier-Lagrave Maxime
    Adams Michael
    Fressinet Laurent
    Short Nigel D
    Tkachiev Vladislav
    McShane Luke J
    Feller Sebastien
    Howell David W L

The defence

  • Arnaud Hauchard (represented by M. Bem) said that the investigation report contained no evidence of the alleged cheating. The messages exchanged between Cyril Marzolo and Arnaud Hauchard were not admissible evidence, as they are protected by by the secrecy of correspondence under section 226-15 of the French Penal Code.

  • Cyril Marzolo (represented by M. Gillier) expressed surprise that the SMS messages were discovered by Mme Pomian on September 27 but only shown to Laurent Vérat three days later, on September 30. With regard to the alleged confession the testimiony had not been signed by the players concerned. [The lawyer of the Disciplinary Committee said this could be remedied after the hearing]. M. Gillier stated that Marzolo had never been questioned by the federal prosecutor and that there was no evidence that he had analysed with a computer during Feller's games.

  • Sebastien Feller (represented by M Morel) questioned the jurisdiction of the Committee, since the Olympiad had not been staged by the French Chess Federation and had not been held on French territory. Furthermore the SMS messages were covered by the laws of secrecy, as determined by a court, and therefore could not be used in the hearing. He went so far as to accues Mme Pomian of forgery and the FCF of "throwing the players to the lions". The news stories that have appeared all over the world have caused considerable damage to the players. Feller had not responded to the accusations because they contained no specific charges, leaving him unable to defend himself.

The verdict

After two hours of deliberation the Disciplinary Committee pronounced the players “guilty of a violation of sporting ethics.” IM Cyril Marzolo received a five-year suspension, GM Sebastien Feller was sentenced to three years followed by two years of community service with the French Chess Federation or other association chosen by it (if he refuses he will receive an additional two-year suspension). GM Arnaud Hauchard was reprimanded for misconduct and was sentenced to a lifetime ban as captain and coach within the French Chess Federation. The Committee noted that it had taken inot account of age Sebastian Feller at the time of the incident. He was 19 years old at the time of the Olympiad.

M. Morel announced that he would appeal the decision. If this is done in time then Sebastien Feller could theoretically still participate in the European Championship in Aix les Bains, the first round of which is on March 22nd.

How it was perpetrated

From Jean-Claude Moingt and from others involved in the investigation we have learnt the technicalities of the alleged cheating in Khanty-Mansiysk. According to Moingt the system, as revealed in the meeting of October 11, 2010, was as follows:

  • Cyril Marzolo, who was in Nancy at the time of the Olympiad, sent SMS texts with phone numbers
  • The first two digits of the numbers were always 06
  • The next two were the move number
  • The fifth and sixth were the "from" square
  • The seventh and eighth were the destination square
  • The final two digits were random and of no importance
  • For example: 06-01-52-54-37, 06-01-57-55-99, 06-02-71-63-84, 06-02-67-65-43 are the first moves of the Latvian Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5).

Arnaud Hauchard had two phones on him, his and that of Sebastien Feller. He would consult them at the bar and then come back to the playing hall. The moves were transmitted to Feller as follows:

  • The opponent of Vachier-Lagrave was A and 1
  • The opponent of Fressinet was B and 2
  • The opponent of Tkachiev C and 3
  • The opponent Feller D and 4
  • Feller himself was E and 5
  • Tkachiev was F and 6
  • Fressinet was G and 7
  • Finally Vachier-Lagrave was H and 8

Arnaud Hauchard would move around the tables and stop for some time behind different players, e.g. behind the opponent of Tkachiev and then behind Fressinet to signal the square c2. Incidentally it is usually sufficient to signal the destination square – a 2600+ (or even much weaker) player is easily able to determine which piece should be moved there.

Previous reports on ChessBase

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.

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