Suspicion at the European Women's Championship

by Frederic Friedel
5/29/2015 – As we reported last Sunday, the 45th seed at the 16th European Women's Individual championship in Chakvi, Georgia, Romanian WGM Mihaela Sandu, rated 2300, was sensationally leading, with 5.0/5 points. 32 other participants became suspicious of this result and demanded that during the live broadcast of the games the organisation should implement a fifteen-minute delay.

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Suspicion at the European Women's Championship

Romanian WGM Mihaela Sandu, rated 2300 and 45th seed, was the biggest surprise
of this event. After five rounds she was leading with a clean 5.0 score.

After seven rounds Sandu was still leading, in joint first (together with IM Nino Batsiashvili), which led to the action of her colleagues in the tournament. They posted two letters of petition directed at the organisation:

The text of the letter:

We, the participants of the 16 European Women Chess Championship would like to express our grave concern regarding raising suspicion of cheating in the tournament. We would like to ask organisers cooperation in this regard. There are a few ways to fight with advanced technology, and we believe organizers should do their utmost to avoid such situations. We have already asked for a 15 min delay in the live transmission of all the games. It is a common solution, used in many top level tournaments. If this is technically not possible, then we would like to ask organizers to propose another solution of this problem for the remaining rounds of the Championship.

The letter is signed by 32 players: Natalia Zhukova, Alisa Galliamova, Lanita Stetsko, Nastassia Ziaziulkina, Olga Girya, Dina Belenkaya, Anastasia Bodnaruk, Anastasia Savina, Vlada Sviridova, Lilit Galojan, Jolanta Zawadzka, Jovana Vojinovic, Nino Batsiashvili, Bela Khotenashvili, Evgenija Ovod, Inna Gaponenko, Sofio Gvetadze, Nino Khurtsidze, Maya Lomineishvili, Salome Melia, Svetlana Matveeva, Olga Zimina, Alessia Santeramo, Maria Kursova, Anna Hairapetian, Maria Gevorgyan, Marina Guseva, Svetlana Petrenko, Ekaterina Kovalevskaya, Anna Ushenina, Elina Danielian, Alina Kashlinskaya.

Text of the second letter:

We, the participants of the 16th European Individual Women's Chess Championship want to express concern about the situation with M.Sandu's performance. We would like to ask organizers not to include her games from round 8-11 in a live transmission and publish them after the rounds. We do not see any important reason to dislike this precautionary measure for both sides. We hope that such a decision will prevent all possible suspicions.

The letter was signed by 15 players: Natalia Zhukova, Alisa Galliamova, Lanita Stetsko, Nastassia Ziaziulkina, Anastasia Bodnaruk, Anastasia Savina, Dina Belenkaya, Jovana Vojinovic, Evgenija Ovod, Salome Melia, Svetlana Matveeva, Marina Guseva, Anna Tskhadadze, Tatyana Ivanova, Ekaterina Kovalevskaya.

Addendum: We apologize for giving a number of incorrectly rendered names in an earlier version of this report. That resulted from us accepting a Google translation which Chess News had published. There names like Evgenija Ovod had turned into Evgeny Gadfly. We have corrected the names above to the best of our ability.

Tournament director Giorgia Giorgadze replied as follows:

Giorgadze wrote (verbatim):

Regarding to the first letter, organisers agree with 32 players to delay 15 minutes transmission of all games on the internet from round 8 to 11. We are sure, that such solution is a right way to avoid any suspicion of cheating, in general. But we don't share concerns of "rising suspicions of cheating" in this tournament.

Regarding to the second letter, which is a serious accusation of Mrs. Sandhu, organizers do not agree with 15 players. After consultation with the arbiters and also with grandmasters, organizers are sure, that there is not any particular reason not to transmit games of Mrs. Sandu. Grandmasters have checked her games with different programs and did not find any use of computer help during the game.

We consider this accusation as unfair, insulting and creating some psychological pressure. We think that both letters should be seriously discussed in ECU to find the right way to protect players advanced technology, so that not a single chessplayer is put under psychological pressure or undeserved insult.

Organizers ask those 15 players to show their respect to their colleague and to withdraw their signatures.

Organisers, in cooperation with arbiters, follos all rules included in FIDE Law of Chess according to cheating, which was announced during the Technical Meeting of EWICC 2015 in Chakvi.

During play, a player is forbidden to have a mobile phone and/or other electronic means of communication in the playing venue. If it is evident that a player brought such a device into the playing venue, he shall lose the game. The opponent shall win.

The arbiter may require the player to allow his clothes, bags or other items to be inspected, in private. The arbiter or a person authorised by the arbiter shall inspect the player and shall be of the same gender as the player (11.3 FIDE Law of Chess).

So If you suspect, during the play, that your opponent is cheating you may announce this to the arbiter. Arbiter should observe your opponent and may decide to control him. But in case of a false accusation you may be penalized by the arbiter according to the Article 12.2 and 12.9 of the Laws of Chess (from warning to expulsion from the competition).

Top standings after nine rounds

After the delay was implemented Mihaela Sandu lost the next two games and decended to place seven on the scoreboard.

Rk. SNo Title Name FED Rtg Pts.  TB1   TB2   TB3 
1 7 IM Batsiashvili Nino GEO 2473 8.0 2416 46.0 49.0
2 15 GM Zhukova Natalia UKR 2456 7.5 2345 41.5 44.5
3 30 IM Guseva Marina RUS 2391 6.5 2415 44.5 48.5
4 14 GM Danielian Elina ARM 2458 6.5 2413 44.5 48.0
5 4 WGM Girya Olga RUS 2479 6.5 2405 47.0 51.5
6 16 IM Melia Salome GEO 2452 6.5 2333 43.5 46.5
7 45 WGM Sandu Mihaela ROU 2300 6.0 2472 50.5 53.0
8 20 IM Kashlinskaya Alina RUS 2423 6.0 2434 47.0 50.5
9 25 IM Bodnaruk Anastasia RUS 2402 6.0 2385 44.0 47.5
10 11 GM Socko Monika POL 2467 6.0 2354 43.5 48.0
11 29 IM Gaponenko Inna UKR 2391 6.0 2333 40.5 43.0
12 6 WGM Goryachkina Aleksandra RUS 2474 6.0 2332 40.5 44.5
13 8 IM Paehtz Elisabeth GER 2473 6.0 2332 38.5 42.0
14 13 IM Mkrtchian Lilit ARM 2459 6.0 2314 40.0 43.5
15 19 WGM Zawadzka Jolanta POL 2434 6.0 2266 37.0 40.0

Individual performance of Mihaela Sandu

Rd. Bo. SNo Title Name Rtg FED Pts. Res.
1 45 94 Mammadova Aysel 1862 AZE 2.5 w 1
2 12 16 IM Melia Salome 2452 GEO 6.5 s 1
3 4 6 WGM Goryachkina Aleksandra 2474 RUS 6.0 w 1
4 1 4 WGM Girya Olga 2479 RUS 6.5 s 1
5 1 10 IM Javakhishvili Lela 2472 GEO 4.0 w 1
6 1 7 IM Batsiashvili Nino 2473 GEO 8.0 s 0
7 2 3 GM Stefanova Antoaneta 2512 BUL 4.5 w 1
8 2 15 GM Zhukova Natalia 2456 UKR 7.5 s 0
9 3 14 GM Danielian Elina 2458 ARM 6.5 w 0
10 6 11 GM Socko Monika 2467 POL 6.0 w
We have quickly scanned the games of Mihaela Sandu and reached the following preliminary conclusion: it would seem that the Romanian WGM was not using computer assistance. Naturally there is a theoretical possibility that players may be getting very sophisticated forms of help, which may conceal the deceit from cursory investigation. But that seems unlikely in this case. However, our readers can judge for themselves, using the following PGN file – and perhaps the computer correlation function in ChessBase 13 (highlight the games in the games list, right click and use "Edit – Let's Check Engine Correlation").

Replay all games of Mihaela Sandu

Select games from the dropdown menu above the board


  • Sandu leads European Women's Championship

  • Cheating in chess: the problem won't go away
    3/30/2011 – 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.

  • Anti-cheating: the fifteen minute broadcast delay
    5/13/2011 – For five years we have been trying to get FIDE to implement a 15-minute delay in the Internet broadcast of important games – to make organised cheating harder. A chess journalist has now pointed out a fatal flaw in the plan: it would force chess journalists to walk many yards to find out the current status of the games. Damn – and we thought it was such a good idea! What is your opinion?

    Anti-cheating: the fifteen minute debate continues
    6/29/2011 – Our recent reply to stern criticism leveled against us in the Dutch magazine New in Chess resulted, unsurprisingly, in a large number of letters from our readers, many quite effusive. But we decided not to publish any until at least one turned up supporting the views of our NiC critic. Six weeks went by until it at last came, authored by the critic himself. Now we can publish your letters.

Topics Cheating

Editor-in-Chief of the ChessBase News Page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.
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imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 6/1/2015 06:32
"Everything was started by N. Zhukova . A couple of years back , also in a EU Championship , she lost against M. Sandu in very depressing manner and now she started this cheating-paranoia before their game aided by her teammate Inna Gaponenko who was very vocal during this charade."


"I believe that justice would be well-served if the accusers co-sign a letter of apology to Ms. Sandu."

I'm pretty sure 'apology' is not in this type of people's vocabulary...

Honestly, this is absolutely disgusting. Nobody should have to endure something like this DURING a tournament. I'd be very, very happy if all of the players who signed those letters (and the instigators in particular, be they Zhukova & Gaponenko or whoever) suddenly disappeared from the chess world forever. I certainly hope I myself never have to play such poor losers.
Something definitely needs to be done so that this never happens in the future. These kinds of claims need to be anonymous (and only published if proven correct) and there need to be clear rules that forbid such talk, especially during a tournament. I can't imagine playing on in a tournament after something like this. Not playing well, anyway. This is not poker, people, where you get to taunt and torment your opponent however you like! Honestly, even in poker, if you made such an accusation, with no evidence to back it up, you'd get beaten senseless, and rightly so. Why should it be OK in chess?
This is Toiletgate all over again... It was pathetic and disgusting then, and it's the same now.
vincero vincero 5/31/2015 03:46
i would not casually dismiss the accusations of 32 players regarding their suspicions of cheating.
no player i am aware of can vastly exceed their known performances in previous games.
and..cheating has been exposed before.

i doubt it is ever possible to come to a factual conclusion by playing over games since all players know it only takes a few moves to gain a winning edge in top level chess.

but...what this does show is greater measures are needed to convince skeptics that un -natural performances were achieved legally
Oldy Oldy 5/31/2015 11:30
Obviously you don't play much chess. The move 26.f6 is actually very natural in this type of position and a top player would spot it, but still in rapid games it happenes. Also, if you analyse other players games you find 2nd and 3rd computer option matched easily. They rarely make mistakes, this is why they are there. The way you usually spot a cheater is when they make right moves in critical situations and under time pressure and never happened in Sandu's games.
Great_Scot Great_Scot 5/30/2015 06:10
In an event with >50 titled players, it is not surprising that somebody has a hot start with 5/5 - you see such an occurrence at almost all opens. Additionally, preliminary computer analysis of her games suggests that they were not played by computers. Shame on everyone who signed that second letter - it seems to have been a clearly intentional ploy to disturb the mental composure of a competitor simply in good form.
flachspieler flachspieler 5/30/2015 11:11
"An Amateur" wrote:
> I do not think this letter was caused by paranoia, it was actually a clever move
> which eventually achieved its aim: disturbing a dangerous opponent and causing
> her to play less confidently.

Mr. Danailov drove such a strategy back in 2006. He was manager of Topalov
in the Worldchampionship Match against Kramnik. Luckily, Kramnik survived
the assault.
daftarche daftarche 5/30/2015 10:34
morality and character is not something common in chess world.
abadah abadah 5/30/2015 10:23
"Olga Kettlebell", "Eugene Gadfly" - using google translate for names...
BeachBum2 BeachBum2 5/30/2015 09:07
Why don't they do what almost all other pro sports do? Random checks. Even with those blood/urine tests many people related to sports like running, cycling etc suspect that elite athletes just use some substances that are not detectable or not banned yet. W/o checks you would probably have all "top 50" runners or skiers be using something… Similar in chess - just check them, it should drop the rate of cheating a lot. FIDE should have enough people to do this on random tourneys (or ask for local police/special services assistance).

You need to keep up with tech… remember how years ago you can "postpone" a game till next day? Makes no sense with computers now, so it is not done any more. Checks are next thing to do.
Mason Mason 5/30/2015 07:23
This is a classical lynching set in modern times . You have the condemned ( Sandu ) , the main force behind the charade - directly benefiting from all this (Zhukova) and the angry mob - a bunch of ignorant people being manipulated ( the players that signed whitout even analyzing the games themselves) .
It is quite simple stuff when you come to think about it , humans are doing it for thousands of years .
chess4life23 chess4life23 5/30/2015 04:27
If it turns out that she didn't cheat then this was extremely unfair of the players and organizers to make such accusations toward her. I am sure that it rattled her greatly and was part of the reason her performance afterword was not very good.
dysanfel dysanfel 5/30/2015 03:24
Even a 1500 player can look at the games with a few different engines and see she is not cheating. Shame on them!
MarriedRhombus MarriedRhombus 5/30/2015 01:55
So now, unless you are Carlsen or any of the top 10 players, you are rewarded with accusations of cheating when you perform.
The contestants should have examined the games first before accusing. Maybe everybody else just played bad.
I pity Mihaela Sandu. This will truly affect her remaining games.
Igor Freiberger Igor Freiberger 5/30/2015 12:28
WHAT IS THIS? Accusation without ANY evidence? A player becomes suspect to cheating just because is doing well? Mrs. Zhukova may even win this tournament, but her behavior –with the other 15 subscribers– is just unnacceptable. I hope Mrs. Sandu to emerge stronger after this episode and to FIDE and Georgian organizers to put under investigation the procedure of the second letter subscribers.
Merry Poppies Merry Poppies 5/29/2015 11:52
A Grand Master Never Blames His Tools!
Remove the log in your eye before you blame others!

Mihaela has ethics and morals unlike many... I can bet that she can (apropos and many other 'lower rated' girls) beat those 15 with her knowledge and determination, if you place them in a Bilbao like glass box...
I join Mihaela and the Romanian Federation in their campaign to clear her beautiful name from blemishes.
And last but not least, I, without hesitation, put my money on Mihaela that she can beat the champion in question in one to one match!

P.S. Ditto Mason: Soviet habits die hard
DoctorMove DoctorMove 5/29/2015 11:41
I remember when Alan Trefler, a rated expert tied for first place at the World Open in 1975 ahead of several grandmasters. Trefler did this well before the advent of very strong computers, ruling out the possibility of compute-related assistance.
What WGM Mihaela Sandu achieved, who is rated over 200 points higher than Trefler was at the time of his victory, is certainly possible. At 2300 FIDE, she is a strong player and is eminently capable of such a result upon occasion. It is regrettable that her competitors jumped to conclusions. I believe that justice would be well-served if the accusers co-sign a letter of apology to Ms. Sandu.

Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia (from Chess Life & Review) on Trefler's 1975 result:

"While at Dartmouth, Trefler entered the 1975 World Open Chess Championship in New York. He entered the tournament with a 2075 Elo rating, 125 points below the lowest master-rated player, ranking him 115th overall in the tournament. He went on to be crowned co-champion along with International Grandmaster Pal Benko, who was rated at 2504, and placed ahead of Grandmasters such as Walter Browne, Michael Rohde, and Nicolas Rossolimo.[9]"
[9]Chess Life & Review, September 1975, pp. 586-87.
Mason Mason 5/29/2015 10:48
N. Zhukova, you are a disgrace for the world of chess .
I doubt any measures will ever be taken against those who conceived and signed the letter .
sundummy sundummy 5/29/2015 10:31
Ms. Sandu has made an official complaint:
Truffaut Truffaut 5/29/2015 09:57
In America you are assumed to be innocent until proven guilty. It seems some Eastern Europeans still follow their government's ethics and assume a citizen is guilty until proven innocent. Such a sad state of affairs!
Bauerndiplom Bauerndiplom 5/29/2015 09:51
Didnt know that "Protest Letters" are legitimate , according to Annex A you have to fill out a Tournament Complaint Form :
websnarf websnarf 5/29/2015 08:34
As Tkachiev demonstrates, you don't need a lot of help, just a little at key moments in the game. This would lead to a situation which is basically undetectable by checking against what a computer would do. I'm afraid the only way do deal with this is to screen the players for devices.
digupagal digupagal 5/29/2015 06:52
There is no trust left in chess anymore, you can have all the technology in the world at the venue to ensure that no one cheats but should not accuse anyone without a substantial proof. I believe all the 15 players who signed were master class, they ought to have scanned the accused's games before signing. If things continue like this, a player like me (~1800) has no chance of ever reaching a master level. where is it writtern that drastic improvements in chess gameplay in short time can only be achieved by children?
thlai80 thlai80 5/29/2015 05:24
I supposed now Sandu can make similar accusations about Zhukova after 9 games.
An Amateur An Amateur 5/29/2015 05:10
I do not think this letter was caused by paranoia, it was actually a clever move which eventually achieved its aim: disturbing a dangerous opponent and causing her to play less confidently.
chesshead24 chesshead24 5/29/2015 04:59
very sad indeed. who does these "top players" think they are?! very cheap play. Go M. Sandu! prove them all wrong!
algorithmy algorithmy 5/29/2015 04:01
Very rude and disgusting to make such accusations without evidence, really sick players.
if we are to punish those who cheat we should punish as well those paranoid players who accuse without evidence, both are destroying chess and should be severely punished.
fistoffury fistoffury 5/29/2015 03:35
Disgusting and sick attitude of these accusers. They can't win so take it out on one of the winners with good chances of being framed. Maybe she lost the next two because of the psychological pressure. Organizers handled well.

In today's world if the highest elo dont win in the tournament, it looks like its always considered a cheating case. Why not just pick the top 5 elo in the applicant list and let them play becaues the lower ones are bound to lose anyway owing to the psychological pressure imposed by the losers.
Mason Mason 5/29/2015 02:40
Everything was started by N. Zhukova . A couple of years back , also in a EU Championship , she lost against M. Sandu in very depressing manner and now she started this cheating-paranoia before their game aided by her teammate Inna Gaponenko who was very vocal during this charade . Old Soviet-habits die hard ...
MrL2014 MrL2014 5/29/2015 02:32

To the Organizers of the European's Women Championship 2015
Chief Arbiter of the European's Women Championship 2015
European Chess Union

Dear Sirs,

Romanian Chess Federation, being aware about some allegations regarding
the possible cheating by the Romanian Player WGM Mihaela SANDU during
EWICC 2015 which is happening in these days in Chakvi - GEORGIA,
hereby ask you to observe strictly the FIDE Anti Cheating regulations and
FIDE Ethic rules jn this situation.

This field was recently regulated by FIDE in what regarding cheating cases,
false accusations and sanctions and that is why we draw your special
attention in dealing with the situation. In this particular case, it is clear when a
Cheating Complaint, without any evidence or clue, was forwarded in the stage
when Mihaela SANDU was leading the tournament, that a big pressure was
put on her. Here we mention also the negative atmosphere around the case
and that she is complaining about severe harassment, situation that clearly
affects the capacity of Mihaela SANDU to compete at her best.

The Romanian Chess Federation {RCF) states that Mihaela SANDU
had a irreprochable fair play attitude during all her chess career and express
its will to support and protect Mihaela SANDU against any breach of Anti
cheating or Ethics rules ·and kindly ask you to inform RCF about the entire
situation and what actions were taken by the arbiters and organizers.

We assure you that our federation is supporting FIDE anti cheating policy
including the protection against false accusations and for the sake of chess,
we ask your strong support in assuring a proper environment during the
EWICC 2015.

Vladimir DANILOV
General Secretary
TsekTod TsekTod 5/29/2015 02:19
Dear Ladies, you have no right to blame any athlete without any serious evidence of guilt.
I wonder by the time the organizing committee reject any suspicion of guilt if there will be sanctions for all those who slander the Romanian chess-player
Mason Mason 5/29/2015 02:09
There is no suspicion , i don't understand the title . Suspicion should be when qualified people are saying that after reviewing her games , not when a bunch of ex-soviets players are ganging up against an "intruder" that got a lucky string of wins .
It's not like she is a beginner , she has lots of wins against many GM's , both male and female ; looking at her games and profile you will realize that she is a talented tactician but not a very consistent player, now she got a good tournament and the "stars" had to accuse her of cheating, well ... it costs nothing to do it .
I wander what is the future of chess , if you are scoring higher than expected it means you are cheating , still...if your moves don't quite match the engine suggestions it means you are "smart-cheating" - basically just cheating here and there .
Maybe it will be better to create algorithms and let them decide the entire tournament , why having players play at all ? It looks like classical chess will be plagued for many years to come , rapid and blitz are the future of chess : fun to watch , fast , no cheating paranoia . Who cares about the quality of the games , the engines have showed us that we don't understand too much anyway .
eltollo eltollo 5/29/2015 02:02
It's sad that a good performance arouses suspicion. I remember that Mamedyarov once accused his opponent of cheating after a well-deserved loss, basically claiming that he (M) would otherwise not have lost against such a weak opponent.
I sympathize with the Romanian player, but wonder how the organizers can prove a "false accusation".
treetown treetown 5/29/2015 01:49
It is unfortunate but like in athletics (track and field) any good performance has the shadow of suspicion falling on it.
Ultimately players may have to be carefully "wanded" searching for any electronic devices, and live broadcast of games may have to be curtailed or time delayed. The recent articles here from May 1 and May 13 showing how a very small transmitter can be hidden shows how far technology has advanced.