Another case of cheating?

by Johannes Fischer
9/15/2015 – Smartphones, mini cameras, strong chess programs - the better the technology, the more cheaters rejoice. But how to explain your new playing strength? Or your strange behavior at the board? Or (when discovered) the hidden electronic devices? At the Imperia Chess Festival in Italy one player raised a lot of suspicion and left many questions unanswered.

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Cheating at the Imperia Chess Festival?

The Imperia Chess Festival in Italy has a long tradition - this year the 57th edition was played. The open tournament, which took place from 30. August to 6. September, attracted 63 players and was won by the Russian Grandmaster Igor Naumkin. He scored 7.0/9 and finished half a point ahead of five players with 6.5/9 each.

Final standings

1 GM Naumkin Igor 2437 RUS 7.0 2154.4
2 IM Mazur Stefan 2378 SVK 6.5 2225.6
3 FM Zach Andreas 2326 GER 6.5 2162.5
4 FM Stoppa Omar 2260 IM 6.5 2159.4
5 FM Passerotti Pierluigi 2264 PT 6.5 2052.8
6 GM Legky Nikolay A 2407 FRA 6.5 2046.3
7 CN Raineri Valerio 2070 SO 6.0 2035.0
8 CF Popa Claudiu 2114 VR 6.0 1972.0
9 FM Albano Marco 2303 SP 5.5 2160.1
10 FM Luciani Valerio 2249 VR 5.5 2108.7
11 CN Olivetti Davide 2014 BZ 5.5 2002.7
12 CN Di Chiara Mauro 1886 TO 5.5 1933.0
13 M Cugini Verter 2089 RE 5.5 1841.9
14 1N Rossi Cassani Gianni 1795 IM 5.5 1820.6
15 CN Malano Francesco 1917 TO 5.5 1784.6
16 -- Ahner Thomas 2100 GER 5.0 2192.1
17 CN Nastro Federico 2029 TO 5.0 2048.4
18 CN Mercandelli Claudio 1881 SV 5.0 2004.0
19 -- Blum Gernot 2052 GER 5.0 1997.3
20 -- Wunder Fabian 2062 GER 5.0 1996.6
21 CN Mina Marco 2011 TO 5.0 1992.6
22 -- Kopischke Maik 1854 GER 5.0 1992.3
23 CN De Vita Gianni 2041 BZ 5.0 1944.2
24 1N Arnaudo Davide 1885 CN 5.0 1919.6
25 -- Walter Tobias 1884 GER 5.0 1910.7
26 CN Arigoni Bruno 2004 RM 5.0 1868.8
27 1N Cavalieri Riccardo 1828 MB 5.0 1854.4
28 CN Ruffini Pier Luigi 1884 IM 5.0 1766.0

...63 participants

This year international media such as the BBC or the Telegraph reported about the tournament. Sadly, the reason was a case of alleged cheating. The player suspected of foul play is Arcangelo Ricciardi from Italy who is 37 years old and has a rating of 1829. After seven rounds he was leading the tournament with 6.0/7 and had aroused the suspicion of International Arbiter Jean Coqueraut. "In chess, performances like this are impossible", the arbiter told the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

Coqueraut had watched Ricciardi closely and noticed that the Italian behaved in a suspicious way. As the arbiter observed, Ricciardi did not once get up during the game and constantly had his hand under his armpit. He was also "batting his eyelids in the most unnatural way". Finally, the arbiter decided to check Ricciardi with a metal detector and it turned out that the player had a camera hidden in a pendant around his neck. The camera was connected to a small box under his armpit.

Ricciardi claimed that the pendant was a "lucky charm" but the organisers decided to ban him from the tournament and declared all his games as lost by default because of the forbidden electronic equipment he had on him. They assumed that Ricciardi's equipment was used to transmit moves to someone with a chess computer who used Morse code to transmit the computer moves back to the player. Arbiter Coqueraut suspected that Ricciardi  "was deciphering signals in Morse code" when he blinked.

Scoresheet of the game Passerotti vs Ricciardi

Games by Arcangelo Ricciardi (Rounds 1 to 6)


Tournament page...
Report at the BBC...
Report in the Telegraph

Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".
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Aighearach Aighearach 9/15/2015 09:09
@gmwdim I'm perfectly comfortable with the idea that he was correctly banned, and also that some of the accusations against him were unfounded and also in violation of competition norms. To me they seem totally unrelated problems of equal weight, and only one side of the problems was even addressed by the tournament, at least judging from this report.

What I see at tournaments is over 5 to 1 false accusations vs reasonable suspicion. "He sits down a different percent of the time than me, he's computer-cheating!" "He uses the bathroom too much" "He's playing stronger than I wanted him to" "I played his rating instead of the board and lost, he must have a computer in his sandwich!"
Aighearach Aighearach 9/15/2015 09:03
I just wanted to add, you blink to transmit Morse Code. Blinking does not help in deciphering the code. Seems obvious, but there it is in the story, unchallenged.

One of my "unanswered questions" is why they think he would have a camera, whose only use in cheating would be to transmit the position, and then they also find suspicion in his blinking, which is a slower and more difficult way of transmitting code.

They even find suspicion in remaining at the board; I guess we learned from Toiletgate that getting up and pacing is allowed and not even suspicious, so now the nannies have decided that remaining at the board is suspicious. No, it isn't. It has nothing to do with cheating, and is not a valid basis for suspicion.

The whole situation would be improved by leaving out the low quality nonsense. He refused inspection, had electronic devices, and was banned. There is no need to risk falsely accusing him of other things or specific unknown details; maybe the blinking is an unrelated medical condition. Or he was using a memory technique based on blink patterns; you can't take notes, but I do believe you could use blink-mnemonics within the rules.
gmwdim gmwdim 9/15/2015 09:02
Generally agree that false accusations need to be punished harshly, but in this case they found a hidden camera connected to a box under the player's armpit. That's pretty damning evidence, looks like they were correct to forfeit him this time.
excalibur2 excalibur2 9/15/2015 08:59
@Aigearach A blatant case of cheating. I don't know what you're on about.
Aighearach Aighearach 9/15/2015 08:49
You know, I've seen so many unsportsmanlike false accusations lately, if you don't have the proof and make the accusation anyways, based on having a good tournament, I'm inclined to think we need to ban that group of accusers as a first step. And increase sophistication of technology detection.

And anybody that says 6/7 is "impossible" can't be trusted even with basic math. You could get that result without even playing all that well. Statistically, being the recipient of that many blunders will happen. I've had tournaments where I played poorly but had a performance rating a few hundred points above my rating. I've had other tournaments where I played well, and lost points.

Accusations of cheating is the last place you want to introduce hyperbole and over-state a case, because if you're wrong it isn't just a neutral thing; and if you didn't have the evidence but engaged in hyperbole, you're cheating; even if the other guy was, too.