A history of cheating in chess (1)

by ChessBase
9/29/2011 – Hardly a month goes by without some report of cheating in international chess tournaments. The problem has become acute, but it is not new. In 2001 Frederic Friedel contributed a paper to the book "Advances in Computer Chess 9". It traces the many forms of illicit manipulations in chess and, a decade later, appears disconcertingly topical and up-to-date. We reproduce the paper in five parts.

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Cheating in Chess – Part one

By Frederic Friedel

Advances in Computer Games 9", edited by Professors H. J. van den Herik, University Maastricht, and B. Monien, University of Paderborn. It was published by the Universiteit Maastricht in 2001 (written and submitted by the author in 2000). In the following the text has been slightly edited and additional pictures included.


Nowadays, players at all levels of chess can profit from computer assistance during a game of chess. This is a new development and a serious problem for the game. This contribution lists the main forms of cheating and provides some occurrences from practice. The most prevailing one (Allwermann at the Böblinger Open) is placed in a historical context by describing previously noticed cases of cheating. Finally, the problem of cheating is addressed at the highest level of play. What are the possibilities and how can we prevent cheating at this level? Since there is no clear solution, the problem of cheating remains on the list of issues to be addressed very seriously in the near future.

1. Introduction

The problem of cheating in chess is certainly not new. It has become acute in recent times, but we must not forget that cheating has been going on for a long time. Probably the first dishonest players emerged just after the invention of the game (around AD 600), and cheating continued throughout the history of chess, more or less unchanged, up to the present time.

The main forms of cheating are:

  1. Manipulating the position (removing or changing pieces, playing more than one move, etc.). This is rarely seen in tournament chess, it is more of a coffee-house practice.

  2. Purposely losing or drawing in return for some reward. This is the most common form encountered in international tournaments.

  3. Consulting a stronger player during the game. This is unfortunately quite common in team championships, where a player from the top board may assist his weaker colleague, or in fact help a player from a different team if he is playing against a strong rival team.

  4. Other miscellaneous methods of cheating.

Already in the middle ages we have examples of dubious practices by chess masters. The best known – certainly the most often quoted – are by Lucena (“Try to play after your opponent has eaten or drunk freely”) and Ruy López (“Place the board so that the sun is in your opponent’s eyes”). More recent examples include bringing a cat to the playing site when you know your opponent is allergic to these animals (allegedly done by Alekhine), smoking cigars or, more devastatingly, threatening to smoke them (as in the famous story of Vidmar against Nimzovitsch), fidgeting, humming, even placing your pieces off-centre if you know your opponent (e.g. Meking) is obsessed by neatness, and countless similar ploys.

1.1 A Classical Swindle

In chess it is important to distinguish between cheating and a “swindle”, which is a perfectly legal way of tricking your opponent without breaking any of the rules of chess. Here’s an example of a classical swindle.

In 1981 the 15-year-old Nigel Short was playing in a GM tournament in Hamburg. In round six he had outplayed the Bulgarian grandmaster Ivan Radulov with white, reaching the position shown below. The only reasonable course of action for Radulov would have been to resign. Instead, assuming that his young opponent was fairly inexperienced, he tried a clever little trick.

Short,Nigel D (2440) - Radulov,Ivan (2465) [A36]
Hamburg op Hamburg (6), 1981

38...Qf3 39.Rxd7 Qd1+ 40.Kg2. The moves were executed swiftly, as if Black had seen some kind of a perpetual check. And now came the trap: 40...Qe2+. Naturally Nigel was expecting his opponent to deliver the next check on d2 or c2, and he was all set to play 41.Kh3. Had he done so mechanically he would have lost the game.

Luckily Nigel did not fall for the trap. When he saw what his opponent had done he punished him in an amusing way. He went into a deep think. There was a crowd of spectators watching the game, and everyone began to laugh. Radulov could only grin sheepishly and stick out his hand in resignation. Nigel played 41.Qxe2 before he accepted.

1.2 An Example of Genuine Cheating

A case of genuine cheating occurred during a tournament in Zagreb, which Fischer was dominating ahead of Smyslov, Petrosian and Korchnoi. In his game against the relative outsider Kovacevic the unstoppable American set the following trap:

Fischer,Robert James - Kovacevic,Vlatko [C15]
Rovinj/Zagreb Zagreb (8), 21.04.1970
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.a3 Bxc3+ 5.bxc3 dxe4 6.Qg4 Nf6 7.Qxg7 Rg8 8.Qh6 Nbd7 9.Ne2 b6 10.Bg5 Qe7 11.Qh4 Bb7 12.Ng3 h6 13.Bd2 0-0-0 14.Be2 Nf8 15.0-0 Ng6 16.Qxh6 Rh8 17.Qg5 Rdg8 18.f3

It looks as though Black can win after 18...Nh4 19.Qe5 Nd7 20.Qf4 Nxg2 21.Kxg2 Rh4 and White must give up the queen or be mated: 22.Qe3 Rxh2+ 23.Kxh2 Qh4+ 24.Kg1 Rxg3+ 25.Kf2 Rg8#.

However, Petrosian and Korchnoi, who were watching the game, spotted Fischer’s deadly intention: 18...Nh4 19.fxe4! Rxg5 20.Bxg5 and it is White who is going to win. Petrosian’s wife, famous for her radical partisanship, had followed the analysis of the two Soviet GMs. To Korchnoi’s horror she walked across to the board and whispered the lines to Kovacevic. He played 18...e3 and the disconcerted Fischer actually lost the game. It was Fischer’s only loss in the 17-round tournament, and he finished first, two points ahead of Korchnoi and Smyslov (Petrosian was half a point behind them).

Addendum: Tomislav Mabić informs me that Vlatko Kovačević told a different story on Croatian National Television. He was not sitting at the board but walking around the hall nervously. Rona Petrosian approached him and whispered something, but since he did not speak Russian he had no idea what she was saying. He came up with 18...e3 all by himself.

[Event "Rovinj/Zagreb"] [Site "Zagreb"] [Date "1970.04.21"] [Round "8"] [White "Fischer, Robert James"] [Black "Kovacevic, Vlatko"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C15"] [PlyCount "60"] [EventDate "1970.04.12"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "17"] [EventCountry "YUG"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. a3 Bxc3+ 5. bxc3 dxe4 6. Qg4 Nf6 7. Qxg7 Rg8 8. Qh6 Nbd7 9. Ne2 b6 10. Bg5 Qe7 11. Qh4 Bb7 12. Ng3 h6 13. Bd2 O-O-O 14. Be2 Nf8 15. O-O Ng6 16. Qxh6 Rh8 17. Qg5 Rdg8 18. f3 {[#]} e3 ({It looks as though Black can win after} 18... Nh4 19. Qe5 ({But White has} 19. fxe4 $1 Rxg5 20. Bxg5) 19... Nd7 20. Qf4 Nxg2 21. Kxg2 Rh4 {and White must give up the queen or be mated:} 22. Qe3 Rxh2+ 23. Kxh2 Qh4+ 24. Kg1 Rxg3+ 25. Kf2 Rg8#) 19. Bxe3 Nf8 20. Qb5 Nd5 21. Kf2 a6 22. Qd3 Rxh2 23. Rh1 Qh4 24. Rxh2 Qxh2 25. Nf1 Rxg2+ 26. Ke1 Qh4+ 27. Kd2 Ng6 28. Re1 Ngf4 29. Bxf4 Nxf4 30. Qe3 Rf2 0-1

– Part two will follow soon –

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