Nigalidze stripped of GM title, receives 3 year ban

by Albert Silver
12/26/2015 – Readers may recall that earlier this year, GM Gaoiz Nigalidze was caught cheating in the 2015 Dubai Open, where his smartphone was found hidden in the toilet. The case was sent to the FIDE Ethics Commission, which investigated and ruled on it, and has issued its first judgement on cheating since the Anti-Cheating Commission was created. Breaking news.

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It was the biggest story of the round, and possibly the event, as reported by IM Sagar Shah who was there on location at the 2015 Dubai Open. His story was hardly the first cheating tale to make the news, but was certainly one of the highest profile scandals. In almost all previous cases, it involved amateurs, weak or strong, but not full-fledged grandmasters. To make things worse, he had been on the ascension with back-to-back wins of the Georgian Championship in 2013 and 2014, in spite of being one of the lowest rated participants, and had been the outright winner of the Al Ain Open in 2014.

In April 2015, after complaints by GM Petrosian of highly suspicious behavior, evidence was found of his cheating.

The device was hidden behind the waste bin in the toilet

After initially denying ownership of the phone, officials checked the smart phone and found it was logged into a social networking site under Nigalidze’s account. They also found his game being analyzed in one of the chess applications.

Chief arbiter Mahdi Abdul Rahman checking the device against the score sheet

The device had the same game moves as on the scoresheet
You can read the full report on the incident here.

Gaoiz Nigalidze was stripped of his title on the basis of unworthiness

Official statement by FIDE

official logo

The advent of the rising number of cheating cases, and of course the increased ease with modern technology such as smartphones that can beat even Magnus Carlsen, has made the creation of new guidelines by FIDE and even the Anti-Cheating Commission a must.

This is the first case of a player being investigated, judged, and punished by FIDE, in which the strongest punishments were deemed appropriate. Here is the statement by FIDE, and a link to the full decision.

The FIDE Ethics Commission has recently announced its judgment and sanction in the case against GM Gaioz Nigalidze of Georgia for cheating in the 2015 Dubai Open, held in April this year. Mr Nigalidze was found guilty of violating clause 2.2.5 of the FIDE Code of Ethics and sanctioned with a 3 year ban and revocation of his Grandmaster title. 

The investigation followed an incident when Nigalidze was caught using an electronic device during play to analyze his game against GM Tigran Petrosian of Armenia in the 6th round of the tournament. Nigalidze was immediately defaulted in the game by the chief arbiter and expelled from the tournament. 

The Presidential Board appointed a three-person Investigatory Chamber to investigate the complaint of cheating. Nigalidze admitted his guilt and voluntarily withdrew from participation in all tournaments as of April 2015. 

The Ethics Commission stressed that cheating is a very serious offence. The anti-cheating guidelines adopted by FIDE recommends up to a 3 year ban for a first offence and up to a 15 year ban for a second or later offence, subject to further review in the future. 

Given that the offence was committed by a professional player and reigning national champion in a high profile tournament with substantial prize monies, the Ethics Commission held that a worldwide ban of 3 years from participation as a player in any rated chess competition or any chess activity as an arbiter, organizer or representative of a chess federation is appropriate. The ban will last until 5 September 2018. 

In addition, Nigalidze was stripped of his Grandmaster (GM) title on the basis of unworthiness. However, his international master (IM) title, obtained already in 2009, was left intact in recognition of his remorseful and cooperative conduct in the investigation. 

This case is significant for being the first case of cheating being decided since FIDE’s establishment of an Anti-Cheating Committee and its adoption of anti-cheating guidelines and amendment of the Code of Ethics to provide for much increased sanctions in November 2014. 

The full text of the Ethics Commission’s decision is available here.

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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dysanfel dysanfel 12/28/2015 04:47
Can anyone explain why Chief arbiter Mahdi Abdul Rahman found the phone, discovered the cheater, yet still gave the prize money to Nigalidze?
dysanfel dysanfel 12/28/2015 04:45
I don't think it is silly analogy at all yesenadam. Madoff earned a degree in business and then later cheated people in business by stealing millions of dollars. Nigalidze earned a title in chess and then later cheated at chess. Madoff was jailed and Nigalidze was punished, but the idea of taking away Madoff's business degree is just silly. Maybe I am old fashion, but accomplishments such as legitimately earning a degree or earning a title such as GM is a sacred accomplishment that should never be taken away under any circumstances. He earned it.
daniel7472 daniel7472 12/28/2015 09:00
I agree with oputu on this one. What if we would have the same hard punishments, as most of you here request, for all the wrongdoings? And by that I mean all wrongdoings in life, in general. The purpose of a punishment is to correct and save someone, not destroy him. If anyone pretends he has never done anything wrong in his life then I believe he is lying. But it's always someone else's wrongdoings that we see the best.
ubernomics ubernomics 12/28/2015 04:48

The accused has already admitted his guilt. Has he returned his winnings yet? - ASK HIM. The answer is no, obviously. Has he been sued by other players for damages? (probably not, due to inconvenience.) But he would be liable for monetary damages.

E.g., 2014 Al Ain Tournament:

Please appreciate how relatively mild the punishment is (and incomplete punishment at that, because his winnings should be subject of clawback PLUS compensatory damages to make others whole, and possibly PLUS punitive damages.) Not sure why anyone would side with this criminal. And yes, he is a multi-count felon, by U.S. standards. He STOLE the $10,000 plus or whatever falsely won.
oputu oputu 12/28/2015 01:20
Dear All who responded to my post. My real name is Oputu (Google me up if you like) and I am a Chemistry lecturer at a University (my PhD came by hard work). I do not condone cheating in my exams or any exams for that matter even if I am a passerby. How be it, I am very careful in appropriating punishments to a cheating crime because any decision take even in accordance with a law drastically affects the life of a human being. If you deny this GM of a means of livelihood, you might as well sentence him to death or confine him to a life of a beggar for the rest of his life.
Clearly, it is important to send a message to his likes out there, but do we really have to kill him? The FIDE president probably did worse but no one is calling for a reproach or any of his acquired entitlements. Justice at all times should be served with some degree of mercy, this is a human being after all. I decide the lives of kids everyday while brooding on my desk. A strict decision on my part could cost a kid and parents several years. I always ask myself one sane question (via the kid in question): is the damage to this life worth the change I am trying to effect? If not, is there another way out?
These are questions we should ask ourselves here. Is the lesson FIDE is giving worth the cost of a life? The stigma is already more than adequate. This man can never touch a pawn in his life furthermore. If we all think that we have done the right thing at this point, then I fear for the course of humanity.

I heard the Ex-FIDE president is a titled player. Maybe we should call for his titles too.
yesenadam yesenadam 12/27/2015 10:35
I hear you dysanfel, but it's silly analogy. (Only in the USA.) Perhaps if your guy had done something that specifically undermined or messed with the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Business School on a fundamental level, they would consider stripping him of his MBA. Something that ridiculed everything they stand for. (i.e. it would have to be something other than stealing money from people.)
dysanfel dysanfel 12/27/2015 04:52
Taking his title is over the top. Bernie Madoff cheated people of MILLIONS of dollars and was sentenced to 150 years in prison. No one took his MBA degree from University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Business School away from him. Why? Because he earned that and no crime can take that away from him without proof he cheated while earning it!
thlai80 thlai80 12/27/2015 01:21
@oputu!! I'm so surprise of why you said. Clearly you had cheated in some kind of school exams before, thus you have such impression of everyone. And no, a lot of my friends and I had never cheated in any educational exams up until we graduated from universities!!
RaoulBertorello RaoulBertorello 12/27/2015 01:11
To everybody (except oputu): Are you able to distinguish the difference in proportions of what we're talking about ? With his cheating Gaioz Nigalidze won about $ 11000, and has been stripped of a Grand Master title, which, despite its ridicolous name (think about it, 'Grand' and 'Master' of a game, and G and M are even capital letters), has got some relevance only because somebody manages to carve some offering out of it. Then, as a player who lives on chess, he has been also prohibited to take part into tournament with some mites as prize for the next 3 years. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the Grand Chief of an organization, which uses a motto so much more ridicolous that they translated it into a fake Latin, hoping people is impressed by the language and forgets what the motto means, has attracted on himself the intersest of a US Treasury Dept. body over allegations for undisclosed amounts of money he got unlawfully (mind it: not because he helped somehow Assad, but because the way he got the undisclosed amount of money was illegal): he is the president of the same organization that bans Nigalidze. I would say: who are them to judge that player ? Or are they trying to divert people focus from the big scandal to another, minuscule one ? 12/27/2015 12:23
With his behavior, Mr. Nigalidze has proved that not only he has no self-respect, but has no respect for his title, his profession and his colleagues either. Every such scandal mean fewer sponsors, less press coverage for non-scandalous tournaments, less prize money, less interested parents and kids. It not only degrades the sport we all love but also adversely affect tens of thousands of people who make a living out of chess, from Carlsen to organizers, publishers, trainers, teachers.

This is not a case where a friend whispers a good move in a team event, or one accepts a draw offer in a better position because the opponent is a good friend (not that I condone these). This is pre-mediated cheating, committed by an adult and for all we know not for the first time. Under the circumstences, a ban for life seems to be the only just punishment: we patzers perhaps wouldn't care but no serious chess player should ever suffer to play a game with Mr. Nigalidze where the stakes are high. And, no, this is not condemning Mr. Nigalidze to poverty: like many non-elite grandmasters (or grandmasters past their prime), he can always find a way to turn his skill into a livehood for example by becoming a trainer (assuming he can find students willing to learn from him).
Offramp Offramp 12/27/2015 10:14
If you put temptation into some people's way they can give in. Hopefully security is now better at stopping h-itech phones from entering the playing area. I think 3 years is about right. Chess is his career, after all.
RaoulBertorello RaoulBertorello 12/27/2015 09:38
oputu is the only true Christian man on today's blog. Yes, I totally agree with oputu. Moreover, there were evidence of cheating for this tournament, not for Nigalidze past, therefore nobody on earth can imply he got his GM title by any wrongdoing. And finally, we are in presence of a much, much, much bigger scandal in the chess world, namely what swept Kirsan Ilyumzhinov away (look at US Sanctions against FIDE President, Ilyumzhinov: Only chess connects me to Syria!, Breaking news: Ilyumzhinov transfers powers on this very site). In sight of such behaviors that ultimately translates in less money for those who play chess for a living like Gaoiz Nigalidze, the least you can expect from professional players is to cheat in order to get one crumb from a sumptuous banquet devoured by the real thieves. Season's Greetings and Happy New Year to all.
triangulate triangulate 12/27/2015 09:37
"Smartphone apps that can even beat Magnus Carlsen" Even FIDE has him as a benchmark
Werewolf Werewolf 12/27/2015 09:07

And what YOU forget is that all the other people there also have to make a living, and they are being cheated.

This guy should be banned for life, there's no excuse for cheating.
fightingchess fightingchess 12/27/2015 09:05
3 years and stripping of GM title is good enough. let's not be so harsh about this.
cptmajormajor cptmajormajor 12/27/2015 08:54
oputu @

You must be Gaioz's mother
oputu oputu 12/27/2015 08:03
While you are all busy pointing fingers and all, kindly remember this guy is a professional chess player and chess is his means of livelihood. So what do you expect him to do for a living? We are all saying ban for life is better. Anyone here who has never cheated in an exam to pass to another level, hands up? So if you were caught, your studentship for life is banned? If decisions like that were made, nobody would finish high school and only a handful would make it out of the university.
So think twice before throwing stones. This guy has a life to live
handsomechuck handsomechuck 12/27/2015 07:10
Additionallly, I think tournament directors should have an option of disallowing any such convicted person from FIDE rated tournaments, at their discretion (that is, even after the 3 year blanket ban has passed.) Other players should not have to put up with this at all.

Absolutely. There's no way you can run an event with a guy like this. Look what happened with Borislav Ivanov before he was even busted (GMs boycotting, the mess with Dlugy).
jpmoldovan jpmoldovan 12/27/2015 05:38
@JackCrabb The phone's list has moves 1-9 transposed & its board shows 23.Bf4 b6 24.g4(?) instead of the game's 23.Rf4 but moves 10-22 are identical to the score sheet &, in both photos, an engine was running at move 19.
peter frost peter frost 12/27/2015 04:12
I agree that three years is wholly insufficient. We are defending the honour of Caissa here. I would support a lifetime ban for such a blatant offence. It's not as if he then goes to jail. He will still have access to many of Caissa's pleasures, such as studying, playing over the games of others, and the satisfaction of applying his analytical skills to given positions. He can even continue to play the game on-line. But we will be rid of him from actual tournaments forever. I'm not sure that 3 years is even a meaningful deterrent. The regulations should be revised.
Bertman Bertman 12/27/2015 03:41
@JackCrabb It's true the pic in the montage was not the best example, however note that Nagildze admitted he cheated as clearly explained.
ubernomics ubernomics 12/27/2015 03:31
The main punishment is that the entire chess world knows about his disgraceful behavior. That is lifetime punishment, more than 3 years formal sentence.

Additionallly, I think tournament directors should have an option of disallowing any such convicted person from FIDE rated tournaments, at their discretion (that is, even after the 3 year blanket ban has passed.) Other players should not have to put up with this at all.
JackCrabb JackCrabb 12/27/2015 12:47
Have a short look at the picture with the positions on the smart phone and the board: two or three seconds should be enough to realize that the positions resemble one another, but are NOT the same.
Of course hiding a smartphone with a chess program on the toilet is cheating already and deserves the mentioned measures. However, an arbiter should deal with the evidence more accurately when the consequences are that grave.
yesenadam yesenadam 12/27/2015 12:39
3 years? It seems like nothing. Really it doesn't seem at all severe - Fischer didn't play for 3 years when he was world champion. How can anyone not realize what they are doing when they cheat like this? 10 or 20 years seems more appropriate. Or really, life. Find something else to do in life. 3 years says "It's not so serious". I think it is very serious. "Life" would say - "if you can even think about doing this, you have no place in chess."
Phillidor Phillidor 12/27/2015 12:37
I miss argumentation in the decision. In what way was the case different than that of Feller's or which circumstances exactly make it a bigger offence. It would be appropriate to set or at least mention some criterions, which could be relevant (the importance of the tournament(s), the time period of cheating, the fact if the competitor cheated before).

It puzzles me why Feller got smaller punishment than Nigalidze. The importance of the tournament where Feller cheated was bigger, also Feller did not admit a thing (which Nigalidze did - cooperation in investigation is mentioned above), and the fact that Feller cooperated with some fellows, do not make his offence any lesser (if anything: bigger). So all in all, if this is the decision, it is disappointing, because it's pretty unreliable what will happen with future offenders. Or at least I hope this is just the part of the decision, which becomes "final" (=valid for all the time) and there is also a part with arguments, dissenting opinions, etc., etc.?
JackCrabb JackCrabb 12/26/2015 11:08
Have a short look at the picture with the positions on the smart phone and the board: two or three seconds should be enough to realize that the positions resemble one another, but are NOT the same.
Of course hiding a smartphone with a chess program on the toilet is cheating already and deserves the mentioned measures. However, an arbiter should deal with the evidence more accurately when the consequences are that grave.
KevinC KevinC 12/26/2015 08:57
John S, while I do not disagree, that was the maximum ban that was previously set up under the FIDE laws. A second offense is up to 15 years. They need to change the rules to allow for a more fitting punishment.
algorithmy algorithmy 12/26/2015 08:55
What??? 3 years ban? kidding me?? you mean you will allow him to play again?????????
John S John S 12/26/2015 08:45
Not strong enough. He should be banned for life, and someone else should be awarded his Georgian Championships. In the future, this will get harder and harder to catch. The more draconian the punishment, the better.
Truffaut Truffaut 12/26/2015 08:27
I am glad FIDE decided that "the strongest punishments were deemed appropriate" for FORMER GM Gaioz Nigalidze. However, he will find that an even harsher punishment awaits him. He will never be looked at the same way again BY ANYONE (except maybe his mother).