Aeroflot scandal – the accused responds

by ChessBase
3/2/2009 – A week ago we reported on the sensational incident at the Aeroflot Open, when world-class grandmaster Shakriyar Mamedyarov publicly accused Russian GM Igor Kurnosov of using computer assistance, in their sixth-round game. Now the accused player has responded in a formal statement on what transpired. We bring you a translation and selection of readers' letters.

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Aeroflot scandal – the accused responds

After being crushed in just 21 moves with the white pieces, Mamedyarov claimed that Kurnosov had repeatedly left the playing hall between moves, taking his coat with him, and that all of the latter's moves coincided with the first choice of Rybka.

A search of Kurnosov's coat failed to reveal any suspicious objects, and in the absence of any hard evidence of wrong-doing, the arbiters dismissed Mamedyarov's protest. The Azeri GM, who was top seed for the tournament, then withdrew and took no further part in the event.

The fateful game: Igor Kurnosov ponders his 12th move against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

Mamedyarov thinks about his 13th move

Now, on the Russian-language site e3-e5, Kurnosov has hit back with a letter, in which he puts his side of the story. We present below our translation of Kurnosov's letter.

Dear Colleagues and chess lovers,

With regard to the discussions in the press of Mamedyarov's letter, I must explain the situation. I present the game Mamedyarov-Kurnosov from round six of the Aeroflot Open, with my brief notes:

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nb6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.Be3 0–0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.0–0–0 f5 10.h4 fxe4 11.h5 gxh5. A well-known theoretical position, which I consider to be better for Black. Here my opponent played a move which was new to me. 12.d5 Ne5 13.Bh6 Nec4. I also looked at Rf7, but I did not like the fact that after Rh5 the knight is attacked with tempo: 13...Rf7?! 14.Bxg7 Rxg7 15.Rxh5. 14.Qg5 Rf7. The only move. 15.Bxc4. This move seemed dubious to me, but objectively, it is not bad. 15...Nxc4. After thinking over his previous move for 40 minutes, my opponent now offered me a draw. However, I considered that I had a serious advantage, and saw no grounds for taking a draw. 16.Rd4? It seemed to me as though the move Qd6 gave me a serious initiative. It turns out that instead, Nb2 led to a decisive advantage, but I did not consider this move. Just think how much I would be to blame if I had analysed this position at home!? 16...Qd6?! 17.Bxg7 Rxg7. The only move! 18.Qxh5 Qf4+. Also forced, and mate was threatened, and the knight en prise. Now I would invite any competent player to give themselves three minutes on the clock, and try to find Black's next three fairly straightforward moves. I think the majority of people would manage this! 19.Kb1 Bf5 20.fxe4 Bg4 21.Nge2? Losing immediately. 21.Qh6 Qf2. 21...Qd2! 0–1. Black has a winning position. Here, my opponent stopped the clocks and, without shaking hands or signing the scoresheet, approached the arbiters' table. The rest you know yourselves...

I believe that every chessplayer, regardless of titles or ratings, should have respect for himself and his colleagues, and should not make accusations of computer use, without any foundation or evidence whatsoever. Especially when they have played the game quite weakly! Mamedyarov's claim, that I left the playing hall after every move, taking my coat with me, and went into the toilet, does not correspond with the facts. During the first twelve moves, which we played quite quickly, I did not once leave the hall. Whilst my opponent was thinking for 40 minutes over his 15th move, I twice went to the smoking area, which was located just two metres from the door into the hall, and where there were always quite a few other players, arbiters and also security guards. I also several times went and splashed cold water over myself, without ever speaking to anyone. Neither before, nor after, the protest did the arbiters show any unusual interest in me, as claimed in the press. I behaved exactly as I always do. Whilst my opponent is thinking, I find it easier to think about the position whilst walking round, without looking at the board. As far as I know, most other chessplayers do exactly the same.

Unfortunately, all these negative things could not but have an effect on my play in the rest of the tournament... I should like to thank all those who supported me on the pages of the Internet, or in personal conversations. I should also like to make the following proposals:

  1. That the organisers of top tournaments install metal detectors and other such devices at the entrance to the playing hall, so as to exclude the possibility of players receiving outside help, and also to rule out unfounded and insulting accusations, which can seriously impact on a player's reputation.

  2. That the international chess organisation adopt a rule, under which serious sanctions would apply both to those who use outside help, and also to those who make unfounded accusations of such, against other players.

IGM Igor Kurnosov

Report and translation by Steve Giddins

Reader feedback to the original report

Kevin Cotreau, Nashua, NH USA
With regards to Mamedyarov withdrawing, I would first like to say: "Grow up Mamedyarov". 16.Rd4? is actually in Powerbook 2006 and continues 16...Nd6 17.f3 Bg4 18.Bg7 Rg7 19.Qe3 e5 20.dxe5. Considering that after 16.Rd4 instead of 16...Qd6, 16...Nb2 is even worse per Rybka, it does not seem likely that he was using a computer. Also, not all the moves matched Rybka as he contends, and the ones that did were virtually forced. Mamedyarov would realize this had he not let his emotions get the better of him. He lost, and lost badly. It happens to everyone.

Lastly, there are those who like to walk around, and nerves make them go to the bathroom frequently. I can speak from personal experience, but I was never accused of cheating since most of my playing days were before computers. Just because you don't have that tension does not mean others do not. For me, it was 10 years of playing before I did not throw up before every game.

John Wunderle, London, UK
According to my database, the move 16.Rd4 is NOT a novelty; it was played in the game Rodshtein-Margvelashvilli in the EU-ch U14 Budva in 2003. The novelty is 16. ... Qd6 (which my Fritz engine gives as best - the game above continued 16. ... Nd6 with a draw in 49 moves). It seems like sour grapes to me from Mamedyarov as the best move is 16. ... Nxb2! (the Knight is immune due to the line 17. Kxb2? c5 18. Rxe4 (18. dxc6 Qxd4) Qb6+! (picking up the bishop on h6).

GM Daniel Gormally, Alnwick, England
In relation to the cheating episode, I checked this game with Fritz 11 and it seemed to think that 16..Nxb2! was even stronger than 16..Qd6. It would seem that 19 Kb1? was an obvious error; 19.Kc2 was much stronger, and would have retained equal chances. When I played at the recent Hastings tournament I noticed that Kurnosov was a chain smoker; whenever I went outside to have a ciggarette, he was always there, smoking away. Such regular abscences of the board can always fuel paranoia in an opponent.

FM Eric Peterson, PhD. Slovakia
First, you write that the novelty was 16...Qd6 and that Mamedyarov played it. That's not consistent. Second, Mamedyarov's protest is completely bogus. Kurnosov played only five moves after his prepared novelty, and that could have all been prepared at home before the game, very easily. And some of those 5 moves were practically forced and obvious to anyone under 2000 rating. One recapture. One check. One developing move. One attack on Mamed's queen. What was so special about these moves by Kurnosov? Nothing.

Rajko Vujatovic, London
Mamyedarov's toilet cheating allegations against Kurnosov are extremely serious. From your initial report, I have some general comments and impressions as an outsider who wasn't in the playing hall:

First, a player should take great care before accusing his opponent of cheating! Such an accusation could unjustifiably tarnish the reputation of the accused (as well as the accuser himself), and in my opinion should never be made public without 100% evidence. The suspect should always be given the benefit of doubt. The proper procedure should be followed, to quietly inform the arbiter of your suspicions, who will monitor the opponent's behaviour during the game and the remainder of the tournament.

Second, the opening novelty was on move 16, the final move on move 21. Since some of the moves were forced, and it's not unusual for preparation to go five moves beyond the novelty, there is nothing surprising that all the moves were also found by Rybka. Did it cross Mamyedarov's mind that Kurnosov might have used Rybka in his home preparation? Kurnosov's think on move 12 might have been simply to run thru home preparation in his head.

Third, it would indeed require explanation if Kurnosov visited the toilet after every move! What evidence is there that he did this and why didn't Mamyedarov sooner alert the arbiter of his suspicions? Also, if a grandmaster were to cheat, I don't see why he would need to consult his pocket computer every single move; he simply needs to check a few key variations on each toilet visit, and will have no problem remembering them 4 moves ahead. Grandmasters are intelligent enough to know that if they were to cheat they would need to do it in a subtle way; they shouldn't get greedy but should use Rybka for e.g. no more than two moves per game.

Fifth, now these allegations are in the open an investigation needs to be carried out. Not only should the allegations against Kurnosov be investigated, but also to punish Mamyedarov if it is found that he improperly tarnished the reputation of a fellow player who had not been found guilty of foul play.

Aristides Capizzano, Iowa City, USA
I find it very discouraging as a chess enthusiast that a top chess player as Mamedyarov resorts to a cheating accusation to explain a 21-move defeat with the white pieces. Regardless of the validity of his claim, I think that losing with white pieces in so few moves is only possible after making major mistakes, regardless if he was playing against a strong computer software or not. If the opponent's alleged cheating with a computer excuses the serious mistakes of a top player, I don't see much future for chess as a human endeavor.

Julian Wan, Ann Arbor, USA
FIDE, all professional players and other chess bodies have to take these things very seriously. Accusations and suspicions of cheating will taint the game much as it has already affected athletics, bicycling, weight lifting, and American baseball. Real cheating should be identified and stopped but false accusations of cheating are equally devastating for the game. There may be mitigating circumstances such as in this case, very odd behavior – reportedly one player was leaving the table after every move. Could ChessBase find out more of the details? Wouldn't that seem odd?

The organizers and leading players should be able to abide by a reasonable set of rules about this. Consider in other individual sports, once the game has begun, one cannot at will leave and return to the game. In some sports, such as tennis, there are prescribed bathroom breaks at the longer tournaments (e.g. Roland Garros 5 setters) or there are rules about what is allowable - in high level squash, vomiting up on the court leads to disqualification.

Whether cheating with a computer occurred or not is not the only issue here. There should be better rules in place so that all involved and all the fans can be feel greater confidence about the results.

Joh Crooks, Stilwell, KS USA
This really looks like sour grapes. Early moves like 9...f5 and 11...gxh5 are not computer moves but the moves of someone booked up on the line. The moves had all been played before and most computer engines would not put several of the moves to the top of their list of options. The big question is could he have found Qd6 over the board? Their was mention of him leaving the board a lot but did he leave it after Rd4? Qd6 does not pop to the top of several search engines I used, but I don't have Rybka. It is not an unreasonable move. In response to the threat of Rxc4 Black has Qxh6.

Most of the rest of the moves are pretty forcing forced for Black or at the very least obvious. Bxh6 Rxh6 Qxh5 Qf4+ (what else?). It is here that Mamedyarov started to lose the path. Kc2 is better than Kb1. Regardless Bf5 is pretty easy to see as well. After fxe4 Bg4 White is in trouble already. No computer is needed to find these moves and his opponent, though 100 points lower rated IS a 2600 player! The move Nge2 loses to the cute Qd2. Did he need a computer to find this in between move? I hope not.

We will never know for sure what happened, but it seems sad that the state of chess is coming to this. Why not protest during the game? Was a draw offer really made and refused? So much of this just seems very odd. I will be curious to read what if anything else comes of it.

Renier, Spain
I think if you go out once is ok, but 2 or 3 times is not fine and the principal most to put you 0 in this game. I agree, some people use Rybka...

Lonnie Kwartler, Chester, NY, USA
I do not know these players and cannot speak about their character. The position after move 12 is tactical, but not too complex, and the moves of the players and Rybka should be the same. The choices were limited. I think 21.Qh6 was needed to stay in the game. If White failed the engine test, that does not make Black guilty. Perhaps, the story of Nimzowitsch being intimidated by a cigar on the table could be changed in this case to laxative on the table.

Marc Plum, Southbury CT USA
So let's get this straight. A 2700 level GM loses to a 2600 level GM. The first 16 moves are theory, then the 2600 plays six new moves, has a winning position, and his opponent resigns. On the basis that a computer found those same six moves after the game, the 2700 player says that his opponent must have been cheating. Okay, the lower rated player was leaving the board after each move, but some players do that as a psychological ploy. It still doesn't make sense that a correlation between human and computer play over just six moves would prove anything at all. And he may very well have used a computer for his pre-game preparation, which would have been perfectly legitimate. My sympathy is with the accused in this case, until the accuser comes up with something a bit better than this.

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