Irina Lymar: "I don't understand what prevents FIDE from developing anti-cheating rules."
Grandmaster Oleg Korneev talks with a lawyer on the legal aspects of the computer prompting issue in chess
Oleg Korneev, 43, Russian grandmaster representing Spain, Open Tournament specialist, with a highest rating of 2671 (in April 2006), ranked number 34 in the world. In March this year he lost a game to the controversial FM Borislav Ivanov in Villava, Spain. Ivanov finished first in the event, with a phenomenal score of eight points out of nine games, and a tournament performance of 2696.
Oleg Korneev: Today we are going to talk about the mass epidemic development that is sweeping over tournaments – about chess players (and sometimes people who hardly even know how the pieces move) using computer prompts during games.
I would like to inform those of you who don't deal with chess closely enough that for more than a decade already chess programs play better than the world's top chess masters, so today in a hypothetic match the best computer chess program is expected to beat the world's best player 9 to 1. This should let you understand what great advantage over the opponent a chess player gains by using computer prompts during a game.
It happens quite often that referees and tournament organizers show extraordinary tolerance to supposed cheaters, which can probably be explained by the fact that cheaters take money and rating points from the pockets of other chess players, but not from referees or organizers.
Irina, you are a bright person, an international women grandmaster and a well-known lawyer. We could hardly find anyone better to discuss that topic with. What do you think a chess player should do if he or she suspects the opponent of playing unfairly, but the referees and organizers do nothing? What other ways are there except for the standard ones: following the supposed cheater to toilets and smoking rooms, looking at the opponents ears, asking him or her questions like "Where are you hiding your computer?", threatening the opponent with phrases like "Let's have a talk outside!", or offering a draw even to a low-skilled player? Because, you know, in some cases actions of this kind may lead to various incidents and problems with the local law enforcement agencies.
Irina Lymar, Ukrainian WGM who hails Dnepropetrovsk
at the Moscow State Law Academy, and now lives and works in Russia.
Irina Lymar: Exactly. With such "standard" ways of solving the problem, I'm afraid my services may as well be of help to the player who "craves for justice". And who needs this kind of "justice" then if it may cost so much to the player? The solution seems to lie in a different plane. And I guess it's not about cheaters themselves, not about people using unfair instruments to play, but about what kind of right they have to do so. I believe they do that mainly because of the fact that this kind of activity is not actually forbidden (forget about the moral and ethical aspect for now), and, as we all know, what is not forbidden by the law is considered allowed, which means unpunishable.
For instance, you and I, Oleg, have tried to find at least a single rule, provision or clause saying that exactly this kind of activity (using prompts produced by computer software) is forbidden by the regulations…
Oleg Korneev: Here is what Article 12.3 of the FIDE Regulations says: "During play the players are forbidden to make use of any notes, sources of information or advice, or analyze on another chessboard."
Irina Lymar: Forbidden to make use of "sources of information"? What could they be, do you think?
Oleg Korneev: I'm not sure but I guess it should include using a computer…
Irina Lymar: You are not sure and neither am I. Moreover, considering how widely cheating has spread now, there are quite a lot of those who are not sure either. Some cheaters may even be sure they are not violating any rules or laws. And as for morals and honesty, different people may have different understanding of those things. By the way, do the FIDE Regulations provide for any penalties for violation of Article 12.3? Disqualification, fines or correctional work? Maybe, even arrest?
Oleg Korneev: No penalties are mentioned.
Irina Lymar: Which means we can't see any clear legal mechanism to deter people from this kind of activity. Because there is simply no mechanism of that sort yet. And even the provisions of Article 12.3 are beyond the cheater's liability area.
Oleg Korneev: The two major problems that I can see as a chess professional and that should be solved in order to eradicate cheating is the absence of any legal mechanism and the abovementioned fact that cheaters cause losses to players, while the authority to fight this kind of activity is in the hands of those who don't directly suffer from the cheaters sitting at chess tables. In situations when there are suspicions of cheating, we often hear tournament organizers and arbiters say: "So what can we do? Should we ask them to show what is in their pockets? But what if they refuse?"
Irina Lymar: Right. Organizers and arbiters are often pressed especially hard in such situations, but they are not authorized to perform any examination of the person whom somebody just didn't like there or suspected of playing unfairly.
Oleg Korneev: It is obvious that personal examination, even if allowed, is quite an unpleasant procedure, both for examiners and for those examined. But is that procedure really necessary to expose cheaters? You know that professional chess players are well aware of the fact that a player following the recommendations of computer programs make 60 to 70 per cent the same moves, in the middle game or in the endgame when there are a lot of pieces left on the board. Computer programs have a different algorithm in the search for the right move, different from the one followed by the human brain. The computer algorithm is based on a much deeper and wider analysis of variants, which exceeds human abilities by a thousandfold.
This means that the regularly appearance of a high percentage of computer moves in his game is actually an evidence of the fact that the player uses computer assistance. In this situation the question whether he or she is playing fairly is no more the one we should ask. There is only one thing left unclear: how is the player getting the computer prompts? And sometimes it may be really hard to find the answer. But do we have to search for the answer if the computer prompts themselves are so obvious? Can this kind of clear evidence for computer assistance as manifested by too a high percentage of engine moves be considered a sufficient argument to eliminate the player from the tournament and disqualify him or her without any searches, examinations or finding any "material evidence"? I believe the answer is definitely "yes". But what do you think?
Irina Lymar: I think the "too high percentage" should be considered as a required and sufficient evidence of playing unfairly. However, everything (including, probably, a certain percentage of the moves coinciding with the ones made by computer) has to be properly specified in the Regulations or other FIDE provisions. The international regulations should officially provide for a procedure to be followed in such situations by players, referees, and the Federation itself. Then it will be correct and legitimate. The main thing is to do nothing spontaneously and allow no arbitrariness.
To be honest, I don't understand what prevents FIDE, when presented with a large number of games where players used computer prompts, from developing anti-cheating rules providing for liability for their violations. I can't see any big problem there.
Once again: the point is that there should be unified general regulations binding for all chess players participating in all tournaments, as well as for organizers and federations. Of course, if those organizers and federations want their tournaments to be counted under the FIDE Regulations. That's what we should start with.
As for the practical aspect, there are certain difficulties, but I think they are still quite solvable. For example, I would support the idea that all participants have to pass through a metal detecting gate before every round of any tournament, like we all do when boarding a flight at an airport.
Oleg Korneev: They did have such a metal detecting gate at the last Olympics in Istanbul.
Irina Lymar: Well, that was an important step by the organizers. When entering the playing hall, players have to leave all their communication instruments, if they have any with them, from cell phones to mobile computers, with the organisers. Apart from this I consider it important to make it the referees' task to monitor certain participants who have already been suspected of playing unfairly, for instance, by examining their games with chess programs after the round. And if there is any reliable information confirming that the player uses any assistance from outside, the referee must send a request to FIDE to apply the penalties provided in the Regulations to that player.
Oleg Korneev: Speaking about the anti-cheating measures, I'm greatly surprised by how mild the punishment is. When a pickpocket steals a wallet containing a couple of hundred rubles, he may get imprisoned for a period of up to two years for his first crime, as provided in Article 158 of the Criminal Code of Russia. But cheaters steal much bigger amounts from chess players, and make them go down in the world rating, which results in lower rewards that they get at chess tournaments. Which article of the Criminal Code do you think is the one to be applied to cheaters?
Irina Lymar: Do you expect me to say that this kind of activity should be determined as fraud under the Russian criminal law? I'll have to disappoint you then: cheating doesn't fall within the crime features provided in Article 159 of the Criminal Code of Russia, as there is no direct larceny. Judging by the meaning of the law, we should rather speak of determining such activities under Article 165: causing property damage by means of deception or abuse of confidence, as it deals with loss of profit or uncollected income that a player would have been able to collect if the opponent had played fairly. However, there are also some uncertain issues here: we can't be 100 percent sure that the stronger player with the higher rating would always win (that means the player would collect the income as the prize money) even if they play "on equal terms" with the opponent.
Oleg Korneev: What organizations and officials should initiate investigations and criminal cases if a cheater is caught red-handed?
Irina Lymar: Again: who, how, on what grounds, and within what terms – I believe there should be clear provisions for that in the FIDE Regulations. If it's not there, it's just not there. At the current time everything depends on, let's say, the intensions and good will of the officials of the World Chess Federation.
Oleg Korneev: If the officials and organizations assigned to prevent cheating do nothing, is it possible then to make them liable themselves for ignoring their responsibilities? Where and how should chess players apply to if they suffer from cheating and from the inaction of those who are supposed to prevent it?
Irina Lymar: Are you driving at making FIDE liable for doing nothing to prevent cheating? But how do you imagine that? FIDE is an organization uniting more than 170 chess federations all round the world. There's no alternative, and there won't be any in the near future. This is a monopoly in the chess world. Yes, today it's popular to criticize FIDE on every occasion, but criticizing someone is always easier than doing something. Nevertheless, I can't avoid mentioning that FIDE keeps behaving as though the cheating issue didn't exist at all.
What kind of way out can I see in this situation? It's hard to say, but I guess I would be willing to take an opportunity to meet the FIDE President in person and introduce a certain carefully developed draft of the amendments to be made to the FIDE Regulations with regards to prevention of cheating. I guess Mr. Ilyumzhinov, being an intelligent and reasonable person, will lend an ear and find an opportunity to implement a project of this sort in the Regulations or other FIDE terms. By the way, I wouldn't be surprised if he has never heard of such a serious problem as cheating.
At the same time, as a lawyer, I believe it is required to establish some kind of Chess Arbitrage at FIDE. It could consist of two FIDE referees and one or two professional lawyers. This could be the place where all complaints and violations of various FIDE rules are examined, including referees' reports (see above) on dishonest chess players, with penalties provided in the FIDE Regulations applied to them. I can assure you this would considerably reduce the number of unclean hands, as well as organizers violating the Regulations and ethical norms of FIDE.
Oleg Korneev: I'd like to know your opinion about one celebrated case. At the 2010 Chess Olympics in Khanty-Mansiysk, a group of players from the national team of one of the European countries was accused of using computer prompts and temporarily disqualified by their own national chess federation. The accused players tried to appeal against the verdict in a civil court, but as far as I understood from the information published in the Russian-language sector of the Internet, the appeal was rejected after months of examinations. After that FIDE returned the lost rating points to those who had suffered from the activities of that group of players.
Thus, here is the question that comes to mind: if the civil court rejection to cancel the disqualification and the fact that FIDE returned the rating served to confirm the accusations against the abovementioned persons of their using computer prompts during the games at the 2010 Olympics as true (which, apart from "winning" the prize for the best result at the Olympics, caused some national teams to go down in the final qualification and lose money in the end, as they didn't get their bonuses for the good results from their national federations), so isn't FIDE, under the aegis of which the Chess Olympics are held, supposed not only to return the rating to those who had suffered from the activities of the chess swindlers, but also to initiate a criminal case against the group?
Irina Lymar: To be honest, it's difficult for me to comment on the court decision without having it before me, or on the disqualification verdict of the federation. But in general, if we speak about complaints made by chess players with regards to various issues, for example, to the Russian civil courts of general jurisdiction, it seems correct, on the one hand, as everyone has the right to apply to court to get his or her rights protected when they are infringed. On the other hand, when I imagine the face of a judge listening to the claimant's arguments on "stolen ratings, tournaments not counted, faked games and toilet scandals", I feel sincerely sorry for the judge. With all my respect to the work of a judge, I should admit that a person who has little to do with the peculiarities of the chess world can hardly sort all the things out and produce an adequate and equitable decision. It's really difficult. Especially when there are other 50, 60 or even more cases on the shelf waiting for you. Our courts are overloaded, so they certainly have no time to decide those chess-related claims. That's why court decisions made upon examination of such cases are often formal and superficial.
And this is exactly why FIDE should probably establish their own special international chess arbitrage where chess players, in cooperation with a couple of independent skilled lawyers, could examine and decide some of their chess-related cases, so to speak, "within the team", when everyone speaks the same language of chess.
Oleg Korneev: Chess players themselves, and professionals in particular, are very much interested in eradication of cheating. According to the logic, it's the chess players' trade union that is expected to initiate strict anti-cheating measures. And we have a union of this kind, which is the Association of Chess Professionals (ACP). It seems obvious to me that in such complicated matters as prevention of cheating, which touches upon the international law as well, lawyers should play the leading role. As we remember, one of the first FIDE presidents in the post-war period was a lawyer, Mr. Folke Rogard from Sweden, and under his presidency FIDE passed a series of important norms and rules that added some order to the chess world.
Do you think that in the present troubled situation (where cheating is far from being the only problem, but it may be the most burning issue though), an experienced lawyer among the chief executives of the ACP could be of great help to professional players, as solving the current top-priority tasks faced by chess professionals requires a deep knowledge of the laws and establishing some new norms and regulations?
Irina Lymar: The ACP is a kind of trade union? Interesting… What makes you come to such a conclusion?
Oleg Korneev: Well, the ACP helps chess players, represents their interests, holds tournaments…
Irina Lymar: But how exactly do they help? Holding tournaments doesn't mean protecting or representing players' interests.
Oleg Korneev: For example, they have collected more than 700 signatures and sent a petition to FIDE requiring that some anti-cheating measures should be taken.
Irina Lymar: Collecting signatures seems a kind of fashion today, I think. So the ACP is really keeping pace with the time. But I'd like to remind you that a trade union is a voluntary community of people of the same profession or activities, which they create in order to have their rights protected and represented, including such protection and representation at courts. As for the role of lawyers in the chess movement, I'm sure it's high time to let them enjoy the beautiful.
Here's what we have now: FIDE has 17 different committees, for all kinds of purposes and all sorts of activities, but there's no legal division. What does that mean? That means chess is a very old game, and it seems to still be where it started, in the ancient times. That's why it is of little interest to sponsors and patrons. During all that long period of time we should have been able to find a clear position on what chess is, whether it is a sport, art, science, or just a game played in yards and parks, and a game for a dozen of top players only. The sports part of the game is strong today as never before, which means chess is considered a kind of sports. But the entire sports world has long been living under the fair play rules; it is a world providing for unified norms of behavior for all sportsmen, while the relations between them are based on ethical principles and mutual respect. And there are tough penalties for those who breach the rules, right up to lifetime disqualification. So why are chess players unable to put things in order in their own sector? Thousands of lawyers, one way or another, work in the field of sports technologies, helping sportsmen competently prepare their personal contracts, representing and protecting their interests during negotiations or when brought to arbitrage, etc. By the way, the example of the Kosintseva sisters is quite significant in this respect: today a player wants to play and so is playing, but tomorrow changes his or her mind and refuses to play. That's it. There are no legal obligations provided in a contract. The player is just a free agent and doesn't owe anything to anyone.
Summing it up, I can say that if compared to other kinds of sports, chess remains an amateur one, where a legal chaos reigns and everyone is by himself only. Chess has not become a professional sport yet, with all the rights and obligations clearly specified in contracts and protected by the law or regulations, or by arbitrage. I believe the time has come to change that situation.
Oleg Korneev: Irina, thank you very much for finding time to give your answers to the questions that probably a lot of chess players are worried about.