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 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 is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India website, the biggest chess news outlet in the country.

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