58-year-old GM Igors Rausis accused of cheating

by Sagar Shah
7/12/2019 – Every once in a while we hear a story of a chess player who surpasses the established norms and achieves truly something special. At that point a thought does cross almost every chess fan's mind: Is he for real? This is the case of 58-year-old GM Igors Rausis who saw a phenomenal surge in his rating that brought him as high as 2686, gaining over 50 Elo points in the last year alone. For a player of his age, Rausis' performance was closely scrutinized. Was it just his beating many lower rated players honestly? On July 11th, suspicions of something more nefarious finally gained gravity in the Strasbourg Open in France where he stands accused of cheating with his mobile phone inside a toilet! | Photo: Dominique Primel, Sautron (2018)

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An improbable rise

A few days ago there was quite an intense debate taking place on Facebook about the rule of Elo difference between two opponents being limited to 400 points. In chess, even if the rating difference between two opponents is over 1000 Elo points (let's say a 2700 GM playing a 1700 rated opponent), the difference is limited to 400 points for the purposes of rating calculations. This discussion was taking place because, as ChessBase has covered before, Igors Rausis, a GM from Latvia and who now plays for the Czech Republic, had gained massive amounts of rating in the last few months and at the age of 58 years had climbed to an Elo of 2686!

Igors Rausis, a 58-year-old GM is the oldest player in the top 100 with an Elo of 2686 | Photo: orcherlatour.fr

The phenomenal rating rise of Igors Rausis

Igors' strategy was to choose weak events and play against players who were rated more than 400 points below him and gain 0.8 Elo points per game. In this way he had gained 17.3 Elo points in the last month and moved from 2669 to 2686!

While all of the above was controversial behaviour from Rausis, it was well within the FIDE rules. However, at the 10th Strasbourg summer festival that is being held in France from the 10th to the 14th of July 2019, Rausis allegedly did something which no rule book would approve of! The first prize was just EUR €1000 and there were no GMs taking part in the tournament apart from Rausis. In fact, he was the top seed by 320 Elo points! The second seed was rated just 2365. It was clear that Rausis was following his strategy of facing weak opponents and gaining 0.8 Elo points from every game. Reaching 2700 Elo would have really made FIDE take notice of his rise and do something to fix the rating system. But things didn't reach this stage. Rausis was caught cheating when his mobile phone was found in the toilet by the team of Fair Play Commission headed by Yuri Garrett, working in concert with the tournament's arbiters: Here is what Garrett wrote on Facebook:

Fide anti-cheating procedures work best in team. The Fair Play Commission has been closely following a player for months thank to Prof. Regan’s excellent statistical insights. Then we finally get a chance: a good arbiter does the right thing. He calls the Chairman of the Arbiters Commission for advice when he understands something is wrong in his tournament.  At this point the Chair of ARB consults with the Secretary of FPC and a procedure is devised and applied. Trust me, the guy didn’t stand a chance from the moment I knew about the incident: FPC knows how to protect chess if given the chance. The final result is finding a phone in the toilet and also finding its owner. Now the incident will follow the regular procedure and a trial will follow to establish what really happened. This is how anti-cheating works in chess. It’s the team of the good guys against those who attempt at our game. Play in our team and help us defend the royal game. Study the anti-cheating regulations, protect your tournament and chess by applying the anti-cheating measures in all international tournaments. Do the right thing, and all cheaters will eventually be defeated. I wish to thank the chief arbiter for doing the right thing, my friend Laurent Freyd for alerting me and Fide for finally believing in anti-cheating efforts. The fight has just begun and we will pursue anyone who attempts at our integrity. Today was a great day for chess."

The fairy tale story of Igors Rausis comes to an end

Emil Sutovsky, FIDE Director General, made a post in Russian on his Facebook profile (translated using Google):

BREAKING: Igor Rausis is caught at the tournament in Strasbourg. Thank you Yuri Garrett and Laurent Freyd, who managed to capture the long-suspected player. A thanks to the arbiters of the tournament, who clearly followed all the instructions. Rausis is suspended from the tournament, and all the material will be sent to the Ethics Commission. In Parallel, the French police will take part. Ten days ago I wrote that I don't advise anyone to cheat. The capture of Rausis is the beginning. FIDE has tightened its attitude towards cheating. Although it is impossible to eliminate cheating, the risk of being caught has significantly increased and the penalties will be greater. The war against cheating will last for years, and FIDE is in it for the long haul.

Two important questions

There are two important things for FIDE to think about after this incident:

  1. What is the penalty for cheating?
  2. What is to be done about the 400 Elo points difference rule?

When we talk about the penalty, it is important that stringent laws have to be imposed. As a journalist I was present at the Dubai Open 2015 when Gaoiz Nigalidze was caught cheating and his phone was found in the toilet. FIDE stripped him of his GM title and imposed a ban of three years. The three years period has ended and Nigalidze can once again start playing chess. Just like how Rausis had beaten so many opponents and won so many rating points before he was caught, Nigalidze had also won the Al Ain Open 2014 and went back home richer by $11,000.

The Nigalidze incident where the same position on the board was seen on his mobile phone

For the 400 Elo point difference rule, it's fine if you face one or two opponents with that difference in a tournament or a rating period. But if you are facing lower rated opponents on a consistent basis, then something should be done about it. One of the events that comes to my mind is the Colombo Open 2015 when Li Chao with a rating of 2693 was the top seed. He faced all opponents who were rated 400 points below him and gained 5.6 Elo points and moved to 2699 on the Elo scale.

Li Chao's performance at the Colombo Open 2015

Of course Li Chao had proved before and even after the event that he is a world-class player by fighting against the best players in the world and pumping his rating beyond 2750, but if someone decides to play around with the rules, and does something like this on a regular basis, he would not be cheating, as he is within the laws of FIDE. Hence, it is important to take this into consideration and bring about a change.

As for Rausis' case, the FIDE Ethics Commission's will take up the case and be the ultimate arbiters as to his guilt and sanction.

Sagar Shah is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He and is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India website, the biggest news outlet in the country related to chess.
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KOTLD KOTLD 9/16/2019 08:52
Good article. Thak you.
oxygenes oxygenes 8/1/2019 09:27
positions on mobile device and chessboard are different. missing pawns e4, d5, bishop on c1/f4, rook f1/f4, pawn b7/b6
so what proof? :)
polecateddy polecateddy 7/21/2019 11:23
Now the Ginger GM, Simon Williams himself is in trouble, after a Saturday front page article in The Times newspaper named and shamed him and IM Gary Quillan for running a 5 million pound pensions scam;

Kerveros Kerveros 7/19/2019 05:33
FIDE can't ignore any more the rise of technology!
Signal seeking devices,metal detectors etc are now mandatory.
If chess loses any more credibility people will stop bother with it.
It is time for real measures in all tournaments.
Number of cheaters has increased dramatically.
All suspect cases must be checked.
I'm sure that FIDE is aware of the problem and will make whatever is necessary to protect the sport.
KevinC KevinC 7/17/2019 01:57
@EatMyShorts Good one!
EatMyShorts EatMyShorts 7/17/2019 01:29
Did you hear the latest? Apparently he was using a beta version of Commodo!
KevinC KevinC 7/16/2019 07:26
The FIDE official statement:

Lausanne, July 16th, 2019.-

FIDE herewith officially confirms that during round three of the open tournament in Strasbourg, Grand Master Igors Rausis (CZE) was inspected by the arbiters, who found hard evidence of computer-assisted cheating. GM Rausis admitted using a smartphone for help during the game in public comments.

FIDE as a responsible international body is reluctant to comment officially on any additional details before this case is thoroughly investigated by FIDE Fair-Play Commission and FIDE Ethics Commission make a decision.

FIDE is committed to fair-play principles, and we are adjusting the regulations in order to fight any kind of cheating, including computer-assisted cheating, with maximal effectiveness as stated in the resolution approved at the FIDE Presidential Board meeting two weeks ago.

We will make all necessary efforts to successfully fight cheating, and we are going to make punishments for violations more severe. However, we urge the entire chess community to respect the law and let us work diligently for the benefit of chess.

koko48 koko48 7/16/2019 05:02
@genem - Your arguments here are irrelevant distractions. We are not talking about touching a piece and moving another one here.

We are talking about a widespread method of cheating, that could literally destroy chess as a competitive and professional endeavor
genem genem 7/16/2019 04:07
*Lifetime* bans are unrealistic. I am seriously confident that Magnus Carlsen has never ever cheated in chess, and that Magnus never will cheat. But imagine that he did cheat once when he was 18 or 21, and that he got caught. For example, suppose that Magnus touched a piece when his opponent was wandering elsewhere and did not see Magnus. Then Magnus realized it is crucial for him to move a different piece. So Magnus deliberately pretends he never touched the first piece, makes his move, presses his clock. But overhead a security camera caught the cheating in action. ..... Now should Magnus, who even then might have been the world's best chess player, have been banned for *Life*? No. ..... Better is a 3 year ban, plus extra restrictions on him for 5 years after the 3 years suspension is completed.
joshdarius joshdarius 7/16/2019 02:01
The photo someone/something took of him on the loo is a bit disturbing though, not sure that is legal?
Jacob woge Jacob woge 7/16/2019 12:40
Thank you very much. That not only removes all doubt, bu also teaches me not to rely on chessbase.com as my only source of chess news.
adbennet adbennet 7/16/2019 12:12
"Where does it say so?"

Basically everywhere but here. I read the correct details on chess24.com, npr.org, cnn.com. It's global news, pick a reputable news source and search, e.g. igor rausis site:chess24.com
Jacob woge Jacob woge 7/15/2019 11:38
How to interpret this phrase correctly:

“The final result is finding a phone in the toilet and also finding its owner.”

Knows only the author. My impression was, a phone was found, in a toilet, or rest room as you may have it unless it’s actually down the toilet - and further investigation revealed whose phone it was. The phrasing

“Rausis was caught cheating when his mobile phone was found in the toilet by the team of Fair Play Commission ..."

Indicates that this is what happened. A phone was found, but no person. A phone separated from its owner is not in use.

Therefore, this statement, from below

“He was pictured looking at the phone in the toilet during a game”

is not founded in this article. So apparently there is another article I haven’t read. Please, would it be possible to direct me to the source with this elaboration? Where does it say so?
KevinC KevinC 7/15/2019 09:06
@adbennet, we are free to discuss what we want to discuss. You are free to prove your comment, or not.

@koko48, I never said I would not strip him of the title, in fact, i went further: "any title should be taken." We are, basically, in agreement there. I was just voicing my opinion that I believe at one point, he was on the level.

@Jacob woge, just using the phone without permission constitutes cheating. You can argue that maybe he was not using it to analyze his game, but frankly, if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.
koko48 koko48 7/15/2019 08:13
"He earned it in 1992, before phones and even full computers were that strong"

People were cheating to get norms long before the smartphone/computer era. Back then they were mostly paying people to offer draws or lose games in norm tournaments

Even if he got the title 'legitimately', the only true justice is to strip him. A cheater no longer deserves to be called a GM - or any advanced title for that matter. And this is the only punishment that will make future cheaters think twice

"Rausis was caught cheating when his mobile phone was found in the toilet by the team of Fair Play Commission ..."

This does not in itself constitute proof of cheating."

He was pictured looking at the phone in the toilet during a game. Proof does not get more indisputable than that
adbennet adbennet 7/15/2019 07:37
@A Alekhine @KevinC - Not the place for discussion of USCF rules, so I started a thread on the USCF forums. For what it's worth, a longtime NTD and USCF delegate also remembers this rule. But tune in there for the final verdict on whether I am crazy or smart.

Back on topic, RE the stripping of titles, I don't know the right or the wrong of it. But it should be considered that a title also counts towards norm opportunities for *other* players. Not sure if it's wise for a known cheater to be playing in an event where 1/2 point either way decides a norm.

RE the lifetime ban, I don't believe in it. Krishna said: "Even if he is a man of great evil, if he worships Me with unswerving faith, he must be regarded a saint, for what his reason has determined is right. He soon becomes a soul imbued with dharma, and obtains eternal peace. O Son of Kunti, know this for certain, that My devotee is never destroyed." The Bhagavadgita (IX.30-31), translated by V.Nabar and S.Tumkur (Wordsworth Classics, 1997).
Jacob woge Jacob woge 7/15/2019 07:24
"Rausis was caught cheating when his mobile phone was found in the toilet by the team of Fair Play Commission ..."

This does not in itself constitute proof of cheating. No indication so far that said phone was even switched on, let alone used for chess analysis. Unlike the Nigalidze incident.

Had this been the case, this report would supposedly have said so.

I admit that the rating development looks suspicious - if only in combination with age. But then again - the guy seems to play non-stop. Flexing the chess muscle on a daily basis pays off, and we are surprised?

As for the phone. What could equally well have happened, is that whilst visiting "spice island", object silently slides out of trouser pocket, ends up on the floor. By why would one carry this device around in the first place? This is why:

If there is no collection of cell phones before games begin, and hand-out when games end, what do you do? In some tournaments (e.g. Wijk aan Zee) you switch it off, and carry it with you. No problem with that. The tournaments in question seem to be not of the high-security kind, with scanners and whatnot.

Of course, carrying a phone you may be accused. A friend in the lower echelons until recently had a strategy to avoid this. At game start, switched off phone is placed in plain sight, beside the chess board. Accusation of foul play made impossible.

This worked well for many a tournament, until one day, upon reaching a winning position he got up for a bit fresh air. Only to return and discover he had been declared loser. Because of the phone.

It seems that FIDE regulations are that it should be kept in a purse. And the very approach designed to avoid trouble led to a loss. To an alert opponent, waiting for the right moment.

At least, no cheating accusation.

No male with any self-respect carries a purse. Solution is to pocket a dead phone.

Details may reveal otherwise, but so far it seems to me someones are jumping to conclusion.
KevinC KevinC 7/15/2019 07:21
@koko48, while I do not disagree, FIDE has already set the precedent with stripping the title, and a three-year ban. I also do not believe that it should be just their highest title, but any title should be taken.

And while it is possible that some may try to cheat for a title, historically, it has been more in collusion with unscrupulous organizers, and federations. Rausis, while a cheater later, I do not think there is any doubt that he originally earned the title legitimately. He earned it in 1992, before phones and even full computers were that strong, and it was only in recent years that his rating anomalies started to surface. We would have seen them years ago if he has somehow cheated back then. I think, for whatever reason (money? adulation hitting 2700?), he just decided to try it one day, and there was no going back.

In practice, after getting caught, most just fade away anyway due to the embarrassment.
koko48 koko48 7/15/2019 06:58
IMO the perpetrator not only needs to be banned for life, but stripped of the GM title (or the highest title they achieved)

The reason being, many people cheat to get their GM and IM norms and everyone knows it. A perpetrator caught red handed, it is most reasonable to assume they cheated to get his title. Even if he/she did not, they don't deserve the title anymore.

A lifetime ban is not strong enough a punishment or deterrent IMO, because a player like Rausis who is facing advancing age and/or career irrelevance anyway, will still have nothing to lose by cheating. A lifetime ban imposed by FIDE, is not much worse a fate than being relegated to second rate swisses at the end of ones' playing career. Most players in that situation will likely eventually quit playing anyway

A player will think three times about the consequences of cheating, if it leads to not only a lifetime ban but stripping of the highest title they achieved
KevinC KevinC 7/15/2019 02:03
@A Alekhine, I have to say that in my 39 years as a USCF member, and USCF Master for 34, I also do not recall ever hearing of such a rule. I suppose it could exist, but I would like to see it in writing somewhere before I concede.
melante melante 7/15/2019 07:58
I also agree with Brabo_hf.
Moreover, I believe the 400 point rule was originally established to actually protect the stronger player in an open tournament setting. Anyone can have a bad day and, with this rule, even a draw or loss against a much lower rated player won't completely spoil an otherwise good tournament performance.
Of course, whatever the rule, we can always find a case where it works and another one where it can be exploited at one's advantage.
A Alekhine A Alekhine 7/15/2019 05:15
I do not agree that every chessplayer who cheats should automatically be banned for life--one should allow for the possibility of youthful error or even the occasional adult who does something very stupid once in his life--but Rausis has apparently behaved so egregiously, and cheated so much, I do agree that he should be banned for life.

On another topic, "adbennet" wrote below in one of his comments:

"Decades ago in the USA there was a case where an 1800-ish player tried to exploit the one-rating-point-per-victory minimum to achieve a "master" title, which in the USCF requires only a 2200 rating. Before that happened, the USCF woke up and changed their rules, to require a 2200 rating to be achieved against experts and masters."

I do not believe this is correct. I am not aware of any USCF rule "to require a 2200 rating to be achieved against experts and masters."

How would such a rule work? Would an aspiring master be required to play ONLY against experts and masters? Clearly that would be unworkable and ridiculous, in a country where nearly all events are paired using the swiss system. Would he (or she) be required to play (say) 50% of all his games against experts and masters? Also unworkable and ridiculous.

When one considers that such a rule would be undefinable, unworkable, and therefore impossible to implement, it becomes obvious that such a rule could not exist.

Nor in my 46 years of USCF membership have I ever seen such a rule in writing anywhere, which is strong evidence that it does not in fact exist (although by definition, it is hard to prove a negative--the fact that no one has ever produced a physical specimen of Bigfoot does not by itself prove the non-existence of Bigfoot).
Green22 Green22 7/14/2019 10:40
What a putz!! Good job! smh
Marco224 Marco224 7/14/2019 05:56
That's the reason this person should be expelled forever from chess Fide!🙅 How could people trust in tournament if they give just a penality like if it was a irregular move?
KevinC KevinC 7/14/2019 01:24
@hurwitz, I do not think it has anything to do with them thinking their career is over. I know several older GMs, who win weekend Swiss after weekend Swiss, and they can also give lessons. This guy was never going to make a run at the elite tournaments.

As far as the lifetime ban goes, the last GM to be caught doing this ins 2015, Gaoiz Nigalidze, he was given a three-year ban, and was stripped of his title. His ban would have been up last year, but he has not played since. I am sure that has a lot to do with the notoriety and embarrassment of being a cheater. It was only three years, but it may be, for a practical purposes for most cheaters, a lifetime ban.

Even his teaching career was probably hurt badly by this. I would not want to take lessons from him, and even if I did, I would drive a hard bargain on the rate.
apad07 apad07 7/14/2019 10:43
@mashan i agree with you he is an approachable GM he is willing to discuss or analyze the game. i once played classical game with him before and after the game he gave me some input on how to treat the type of position arisen in our game as we are on the same pet line which i used to him before. Was the news turned out of proportion? any detailed clarity with the news?
hurwitz hurwitz 7/14/2019 09:44
Speaking of possible preventive measures, I think a life-time ban may not necessarily do the job since there are always cheaters who know their chess career is over and want to try this as a last attempt. It might be more effective if this kind of cheating is recognized as a criminal act like theft with social life consequences.
mashan mashan 7/14/2019 12:15
@ Aighearach - The ELO system is supposed to fit mathematical probability and it does to the 400 point difference. So it is safe to assume it does beyond the 400 point in which case we can say that there IS an edge to playing so much weaker players. You experience is subjective and not objective - sorry. I have played about two thousand rated games and have managed only 1 draw against a plus 400 higher rated player and I have never lost to a 400+ lower rated player but have drawn twice. For Igor Rausis he needed only 12 wins for each draw and he would expect that easily or rating is meaningless. Many of his opponents like me were about 800 below his true rating circa 2500. To beat us all is not difficult!
Aighearach Aighearach 7/13/2019 10:59
I've had an 800 point upset in a tournament, and multiple 400 point upsets.

If he wasn't cheating, he wouldn't just win and win and win and go up, his quality of play would be going down if his opponents aren't good enough.

Playing weak players to eek out ratings points is only workable over a short time period.

Missing from the story, but hinted at, are the statistical expectations of his results. The low points per game makes the graph line look reasonable at first glance, but look how much more variation he had when he was around 2500! And then years just sloping upwards.
Papatactics Papatactics 7/13/2019 10:46
What is Sagar doing?? This is in extremely poor taste to mention Li Chao in such an article as others have pointed out. My opinion of Sagar has been dipping for a while but this is just a new low.
gambit-man gambit-man 7/13/2019 09:45
@mashan... analysis of his games shows he was cheating...
MarcoFB2010 MarcoFB2010 7/13/2019 09:41
I do not like the confusion in this article.
How it could be put together two so different things? One is cheating which it is and it will be a very serious problem for the developing of this sport and the other is to use a rule in a convenient way ( which is to play in tournament where the others competitors are rated 400 Elo points below)? I was expecting a severe critic for the cheater not a critic to his his way of gaining elo points with the choice of the tournaments!!
mashan mashan 7/13/2019 08:56
Fact:- 1. The rating method is flawed. It is possible to gain 0.8 pts playing an absolute patzer (like me & he did - I am one of his very recent victims in June)
2. As long as you find players significantly more than 400 pts below your real rating (his must be circa 2450-2500) you still gain points, FIDE needs to rectify this.
3. He was using a phone in the toilet which is against rules regardless of why!
I found him a nice guy, he watched my games and made helpful comments after.
Did he cheat? Yes, if he had engine on the phone and used it, otherwise no. No! If he took a call on the phone it was not cheating BUT it was a game losing infringement. Keep an open mind!
I plan to contact him as this is traumatic to me also - I really enjoyed my game against him last month and enjoyed his input after. Has anyone here driven above speed limits, not declared all their income? Stand firm, think and then when you have all the facts perhaps find a judgement.
adbennet adbennet 7/13/2019 06:43
When looking at the curve, it's important to realize that the gains made since 2012 can be due to: (1) +0.8 per game against comparatively weaker players; or (2) outright cheating; or (3) BOTH at the same time. I see a lot of comments that accept (2) or (3) on the basis of the graph alone, but this is not sufficient evidence. Of course he was over-rated, but to the extent that was due to (1), it was not cheating. There can be other reasons for suspicion, such as actual behavior at the board, but the graph alone proves nothing.

The correct graphical analysis would be to re-rate the accused over the same time period, *excluding* any games where the rating difference is more than 400 Elo plus or minus. See what that shows, and correlate it with any suspicious behavior in the same time period, and a true picture might emerge.

Actually I suspect that the whole purpose of the steady diet of +0.8 per game in (1) was simply to mask the gains from (2/3). Whether it was this way from the start, or changed sometime in the past seven years, should be highlighted by the re-rating I suggested. I imagine Prof. Regan knows the answer already.

Former Prodigy wrote: "I am not going to comment on it any more here, as I am not a big fan of such discussions."

Yes, most of us want to "just play chess", rather than spend time confronting cheaters, presenting evidence to arbiters, or even "waste time" discussing it online. But at some point, _somebody_ must do or say something, otherwise it does not stop.
TimSpanton TimSpanton 7/13/2019 04:38
You say "he stands accused of cheating with his mobile phone inside a toilet." Judging from the photo I have seen, "he sits accused of cheating with his mobile phone inside a toilet."
Hello2018 Hello2018 7/13/2019 04:05
I disagree completely with brabo_hf. The whole elo system is flawed to the bone. Why would anyone be against fixing one of the problems it has? It's not even difficult.
wb_munchausen wb_munchausen 7/13/2019 03:13
Well, I am disappointed. Since he is almost exactly my age, I had thought his improvement was an inspiration to us older players. Drat.
Maido7 Maido7 7/13/2019 03:06
Playing against lower rated players isn't worth risking a lot of your rating only for 0.8...! unless you are sure of your win. Means cheating.
Grad Grad 7/13/2019 03:06
Ivanov is forgoten. Sadly.
davide2015 davide2015 7/13/2019 02:48
From the graph in the article it is clear he was doing it from May 2012, and in about 2 years he gained 100 points. So he did it smartly (like a pro does it, using the phone at critical moments). Yuri Garett says: "Today was a great day for chess..." I don't think so. If FIDE and their anti-cheating system take 7 years to catch a cheater, we are speaking of hundred of players/victims robbed of norms, money prizes, and money spent to attend tournaments (hotel, flights, food, vacation days, entry fees, coach for tournament preparation etc. we are speaking of thousand of dollars multiplied the number of players he played all these years)
FIDE needs to have a legal team to begin prosecute cheaters like this guy and take away all their savings, to re-distribute them to the players who played against this criminal. Or FIDE needs to have an insurance to indemnify the victims. Because also in all socials and articles I read, nobody talks of reparations for the victims.