Anti-cheating: the fifteen minute debate continues

6/29/2011 – Our recent reply to stern criticism leveled against us in the Dutch magazine New in Chess resulted, unsurprisingly, in a large number of letters from our readers, many quite effusive. But we decided not to publish any until at least one turned up supporting the views of our NiC critic. Six weeks went by until it at last came, authored by the critic himself. Now we can publish your letters.

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Anti-cheating: the fifteen minute debate continues

By Frederic Friedel

In the latest New in Chess article, which is once again unsigned, the author begins by scolding us for the almost complete reproduction of two columns in the magazine. He writes: "With a slight frown we couldn't remember having given permission for that, but then quickly realised that we were in the world of copy and paste." Copy and paste indeed – New in Chess comes on very thin slices of tree, so we had to scan and OCR the blooming thing. Give us at least credit for that – even if reproducing most of the piece did cause our critic the inconvenience of not being able to say we quoted him incompletely or out of context.

This time, however, he will have no occasion to frown. We have gone through the new article a couple of times, but we could not find anything new or substantial. We even consulted a very wise GM advisor and colleague, who confirmed that the author "hasn't added anything to the discussion and has simply repeated his earlier assertions without providing any extra arguments to support his views."

Our critic does restate one remarkable opinion: "Mr. Friedel rightly remembers that for some time German television stopped broadcasting cycling altogether because of its criminal image. Today doping tests are stricter than ever and racers are monitored in and out of competition, but there is widespread cynicism that today's champions are mainly 'clean' because their doping methods have become even more sophisticated. We wouldn't like to see our champions in that category." That is exactly our point – except that we believe that the problem cannot be addressed by ignoring it. We either do something or they end up in exactly the same category.

Additional measures

In the new article our critic once again patiently explains that it is not about "hiding your head in the sand" – it is that our method simply doesn't work! He specifies that it will not work if it is not accompanied by other conditions. What conditions? Exactly the ones we enumerated and which are contained in our proposal to FIDE, to which we linked and which we partially quoted. Here they are as a reminder:

  1. FIDE must announce that it is taking measures to prevent any suspicion of cheating, and that there will be stern penalties for anyone caught using outside assistance during a game.

  2. Players are advised that they are not allowed to take any electronic devices whatsoever to the playing site. If a player needs a specific electronic device, e.g. a hearing aid, this must be registered with the arbiter and organiser in advance.

  3. If a player is caught transporting any form of electronic device to the playing location he immediately forfeits the game, irrespective of whether the device can be used to communicate moves or not (i.e. a switched-off cell phone or an iPod).

  4. The seconds and associates of a player are not allowed to enter the playing hall. This measure can be implemented for all categories of tournaments.

  5. The audience at the event are advised that they may not take any electronic devices into the playing hall. Cell phones must be switched off, and any spectator caught operating a cell phone in the playing hall will be subject to expulsion and a stiff fine.

  6. In top-level classical chess games the moves must not leave the playing hall for a certain period of time, typically for 15 minutes after they have been played. In rapid chess games that are being broadcast the delay can be reduced to five minutes.

  7. The playing hall should be designed to prevent visual contact between the players and the audience. This is done by lighting up the stage brightly and keeping the audience area dark (as in a theatre). A glass wall may also be necessary.

  8. The players in matches can only have private rest rooms if both players agree in advance to this arrangement. The toilets should be common for both players.

  9. FIDE should define standard penalties for players caught cheating, e.g. a three-year ban from tournament play for first-time offenders, a life-long ban for the second time.

  10. FIDE should aim at reaching a situation where top-level tournaments (later all tournaments) must install a basic catalogue of anti-cheating measures in order to receive recognition by FIDE.

Naturally we are not proposing that the Internet broadcast be delayed and at the same time players be allowed to make phone calls during their games, consult their cell phones for SMS messages, or that spectators be allowed to use mobile phones or even notebook computers in the playing hall during major events (we have seen this happen!). Our critic again seems to pin his hopes on "frisking the players". But as we said in our previous article, wireless receiving gadgets today are the size of peas. Surely he does not want to introduce the infamous cavity search (click at your own peril!). Please let us try the broadcast delay before we install such intrusive measures.

But does it work?

Another point is the repeated contention that the fifteen-minute broadcast delay is ineffective. Let us take a brief look at that. The method used by the players accused of cheating at the Chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk is well known and was described in an article in the broadsheet the Daily Telegraph: "Chess world rocked by French cheating scandal":

The system required Mr Marzolo to follow the game via the Internet. He logged the moves into a chess computer then texted its suggested moves to Mr Hauchard in codes within phony telephone numbers. The captain communicated these to Mr Feller during his match by standing next to a particular player who represented a pre-agreed number and a figure. Mr Feller could follow his captain's movements to know which piece to move and where. Mr Feller won three games at the tournament, enough to earn him a gold medal and €5,000 (£4,400).

The point we are making is that delaying the broadcast of moves from Khanty-Mansiysk to the rest of the world would have made the task very much more difficult. Someone would have had to relay the moves played at the board in Russia to the computer analyst in Nancy (France), going in and out of the playing hall after every move – instead of having every move automatically delivered, in real time, to the computer screen back home.

A broadcast delay would have also prevented the Dubai Open scandal, where a player was being assisted by colleagues in Tehran. Here's an excerpt from our report at the time:

"Sadatnajafi is alleged to have followed instructions from some of his friends aided by computer in Iran while playing against Chao. This match was relayed live on the Internet and his friend, closely following his moves on the web, guided Sadatnajafi accordingly. Sadatnajafi had made only ten moves when he was caught looking into his mobile handset. When confronted, he immediately dropped his cell phone. On examining the handset, it was found that he had received SMS instructions in Farsi. The identity of the friend who had sent the text messages is still unknown."

In case you haven't heard, there is news on the French cheating scandal: a mediation session of the French National Olympic Committee (CNOSF) confirmed, on May 19th, 2011 in Paris, the sanctions placed by the French Chess Federation on three players, in fact increasing the penalty placed on one player, Sébastien Feller, from three to five years, and adding a three-year ban as a player to Arnaud Hauchard’s lifelong ban as captain or team manager. You can read about it in this Europe Echecs report, or in greater detail on the CNOSF site. An emergency appeal was filed by the players at the High Court in Versailles, but this was rejected and the three players involved were each ordered to pay 1,000 Euro in court costs.

Finally, our New in Chess critic quotes us as saying: "Most importantly, it is highly inconvenient to the chess journalist who would be forced to walk all the way from the press room to the playing hall – often dozens of yards – if they want to find out the result of a game," and adds: "We assume that was a friendly joke." It was not, it was pure, unadulterated sarcasm, something we learnt from the terrifying Doug Piranha in the Monty Python sketch:


Reader feedback

We publish a selection of letters we received – selected, however, in a semi-automated process and then further pared down to eliminate too much repetition (some remains). Rude and gratuitously insulting letters are also removed, as are those in caps or written with all-too adventurous orthography. We removed none that showed even the slightest agreement with the opinion of our critic, or even faint skepticism towards our position.

Karl Gellert, New York City, United States
Although Bobby Fischer was famous for many zany (or down-right offensive) opinions, he seems to have gotten it 100% correct on the issue of the 15 minute broadcast delay: This is a no-brainer. Let's hope those in charge of tournaments and/or FIDE start realizing this. The power of the solution is its elegance: it accomplishes quite a bit, but is exceptionally easy to implement and the downsides to it are not significant. When you can do a lot at a small cost (like locking your car) you do it.

Chris Kantack, USA
I agree. The 15 minute delay for chess tournament broadcasts is a "no-brainer". A much bigger problem are these early grandmaster draws!

Albert Frank, International Arbiter, Brussels, Belgium
It's evident that, with a 15 minutes delay and the players not able to see the spectators, the problem is solved – maybe not absolutely perfectly, nevertheless it would be okay. Technically, it's not a problem (for "very important" tournaments). Anand suggested it years ago – as usual in FIDE, nothing was done.

French Chess Federation, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines
We know that you are strongly supporting the idea of a 15-minute delay for Internet transmission, above all in high level chess tournaments. The French Chess Federation considers that this solution has to be implemented; although it is a pity that real live broadcasting would no longer be available. On the basis of the actual context of the chess world, we think the 15-minute delay must be the rule, and this is precisely what we did for the European Championships in Aix-les-Bains. The French Chess Federation also considers that further measures have to be taken, and we urge FIDE to take its responsibilities on the matter.

Alonzo McCaulley, Rancho Cordova, USA
Bravo for standing by your conviction and advocating something that is both cost effective and non-invasive. Until someone comes up with a better idea this is by far the best measure available.

Elmer Dumlao Sangalang, Manila, the Philippines
To say that your recent article, "Anti-cheating: the fifteen minute broadcast delay", is a brilliant rebuttal of the NIC journalist's criticism is an understatement. I literally applauded (by clapping my hands), to the consternation of my 15-year-old daughter, the arguments you stated to refute those of the NIC journalist's. Here's my own thoughts about the self-incriminating mess he got himself into: The Fifteen-Minute Delay rule does not have substantial disadvantages compared to the advantage the chess world will derive from it. It's a giant leap towards the improvement and development of chess as an educational and professional pursuit.

K. Yunus Camsari, West Lafayette
As far as I remember, the so-called 15-minute delay rule was never proposed as the "ultimate solution" to the cheating problem in chess. It is an affordable, simple and easy-to-implement method with great benefits. If the NiC author was really as familiar with the professional tournament chess circuit as he claims to be, he would appreciate that this simple proposition makes life infinitely more difficult for the cheater. As for the disadvantage: as an amateur, I couldn't care less if I saw Aronian's moves five or ten minutes later.

Pablo Pena, Tustin, CA
I agree with some of the opinions stated in the article, disagree with others. The argument that stiffer penalties don't prevent bank-robbers or thieves either is a huge stretch. First of all people who have a rating usually love chess to some degree and a life-long ban would prove extremely painful. Someone who robs a bank is usually so mentally imbalanced as to simply not carefully consider the seriousness of the consequences. Chess players (most of them) don't have "not considering consequences" as one of their innate failings. If anything they over think consequences and are more likely to be motivated by a lunge for easy cash and the comfort of "soft-ball" penalties should they fail.

We cannot resist an editorial comment. What would you say, Pablo, would a player who had already secured his IM norm one game before the end of a tournament, risk it by cheating in the final round? Would a law student with his final approbation just ahead of him, put his entire career in jeopardy with a felonious indiscretion? Did you read our recent report?

Steven Mitlitzky, Woodmere, NY USA
When it comes to cheating, chess is no different from anything else. To believe that most pros in chess or any field wouldn't cheat, if they think they can get away with it, is extremely naive! Realistic anti-cheating security measures must make cheating far riskier than it is worth to the would-be cheater. Otherwise the potential rewards from cheating, financial and otherwise, could prove irresistible.

No amount of enforcement can guarantee to stop clever and resourceful cheaters but harsh punishments can stop cheaters cold when they are caught. For juniors a six month ban from rated competition for each year of age and a lifetime ban for adult (over 21) cheaters plus full disclosure to the press, may seem too harsh but is actually appropriate.

Some leniency from this might sometimes be appropriate at the sole discretion of the federations having jurisdiction under certain conditions. These conditions should at a minimum include: (1) a full and unconditional admission of guilt; (2) a complete explanation of how the cheating was done; and (3) full cooperation with all competent authorities. Generally, an additional requirement for any leniency deal should include full disclosure to the press of all details involving the agreement for leniency. A secrecy exception might be made for ongoing law enforcement investigations.

There is no one perfect set of solutions because the settings in which cheating takes place vary so much. But all objections to any proposed security measures come down to "inconvenience." In view of the ease of cheating in the absence of adequate supervision, this objection is very weak.

For serious events let's therefore require:

  • a 15 minute move transmission delay;
  • mandatory checking of all mobile devices; and
  • strict supervision and prohibition of any unauthorized communication to or between players.

Violators should be subject to instant expulsion and or forfeit at the discretion of the chief official in charge. These measures may not defeat all cheaters but they are reasonable and I don't see how they harm any innocent parties.

Julian Wan, Ann Arbor, USA
Cheating and the accusation of cheating in chess is what steroids is to track and field and cycling. Does it exist? Yes, there have been several well documented cases – thus far involving large ear headphones and pretty crude methods. But with smaller discreet systems, it could easily be done and it should not come as surprise. The organizers should not think it is impossible and be willfully ignorant as the officials in cycling and track and field have been. Worse than the actual cheating episodes is the taint of the rumor of cheating. The accusation is thrown around far too easily and without any regard to the consequence. Toiletgate and the aftermath are more likely to turn off sponsors than any screening measures. Time delay to broadcast is a simple measure, but realistically a broad set of basic rules must be implemented to keep confidence.

Shiv Mathur, Mumbai, India
Amazing! I defy anyone to seriously assert that it's a 'wonderful luxury' to follow games in real time – as opposed to a 15 minute delay. Frederic, you have written wonderfully and absolutely to the point (and with humour!). I could not agree more with everything you have written. More power to your pen.

Joseph Grinton, London, UK
It is understandable that one of the editors of New In Chess ardently seeks to hang onto the "wonderful luxury" of following top tournament games in real time. New In Chess is a magnificent magazine but there is one disadvantage its editors can never overcome: its reports are old hat by the time they are published for we have already followed the games on ChessBase. Nevertheless I wouldn't want to be without New In Chess. The quality of the articles is worth waiting for. Sometimes it is important to take a little time to achieve the highest standards. In our age of instant everything, integrity often takes second place.

Let's not make this mistake with chess. The credibility of the game and its players are in serious jeopardy. Unless stringent provisions are taken to prevent cheating, rumours will circulate, reputations will be tarnished, fans will lose interest and sponsors will disappear even if no players actually cheat. But players do cheat. It has already been shown. Action should have been taken long ago but it is not too late. The 15-minute delay is one of many measures that should be adopted as a matter of course in top tournaments everywhere. Failure to do so is naive and indefensible. If it really were true that audiences cannot wait even a few seconds to see the latest moves in a top game, then New In Chess would not be in business. Indeed, the very title of this magazine is an example of what Oscar Wilde called "the triumph of hope over experience." Such naivety can be endearing but it has no place in policing the intellectual integrity of top tournaments.

Pat B, Leighton Buzzard, UK
Loved your reply post, Frederic. Also like the idea: losing 15 minutes off a realtime broadcast isn't going to make chess fans hurt, it just makes the games fairer.

Brian Carson, Toronto
Mr. Friedel you did an outstanding job of addressing all aspects of this subject. You are clearly 'fair minded' and share a rich heart and soul love of chess and chess players around the world. That you so kindly took the time to equitably address the content of the New in Chess author's unsigned chagrin is a welcome testament to you and the ChessBase standard of excellence. Your article "Anti-cheating: the fifteen minute broadcast delay" is well written and full of heart and soul in favor of chess and chess players around the world. You fairly and concisely address every aspect of this subject. You are awesome. I admire what you stand for, and the chess world is a better place because of you.

Enrico, Italy
"...that wonderful luxury of following the games in real time." What does it mean? You'll never see the move in the same time it was played, due to transmission delays, server delays etc. Where is the difference among 3 seconds delay, and 15 minutes delay? On your personal internal clock, every move appears as being just played.

We know that once again we are going to receive many letters and opinions on this subject. Please use the feedback link on the left of the page and give your submission the title “15 minute delay.” We warn you, however, that entertaining as this debate may be to our readers, we will at some stage have to resign and leave it to the players and organisers to find a solution themselves. If it is deep cavity searches and draconian punishment they opt for, instead of a simple broadcast delay, so be it.


ChessBase reports on recent cases of cheating

FFE accuses its own players of cheating
22.01.2011 – Shocking news: the French Chess Federation (FFE) has announced that it has initiated disciplinary action against three players – one of them one of France's most promising talents – on suspicion of "organized cheating, serious breach of sport ethics, undermining the image of the national Olympic team in Khanty-Mansyik". We are following the investigation. Press release.
Feller replies: 'I completely deny the cheating accusations'
24.01.2011 – Two days ago the French Chess Federation announced the investigation of three French players on suspicion of "organized cheating" at the Chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansyik. Now one of the three, 19-year-old French GM Sébastien Feller, has replied emphatically, implying that the entire action was a result of his support of the current FIDE president (the FFE supported his rival Karpov). Open letter.
Battesti: 'It's insulting to our president and his federation'
24.01.2011 – Instead of adopting an ostrich position the President of the French Chess Federation and his VP have initiated an investigation of French Olympiad members suspected of cheating. They have appointed Leo Battesti, a Sorbonne-educated lawyer, as the spokesperson for the Federation. Battesti has reacted to the criticism of one of the accused player with an interview in Europe Echecs.
French GMs: ''We express our full support of the FFE
27.01.2011 – Four grandmasters Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Laurent Fressinet, Vladislav Tkachiev and Romain Edouard have expressed their dismay at the charges brought against three of their colleagues who are accused of cheating. "If the allegations are found to be true, we will condemn them firmly," they write, in this public statement in Europe Echecs.
FFE: cheating not the first time, Biel statement
01.02.2011– The French Chess Federation disclosed they had evidence that the "organized cheating" accusation, which has rocked the chess world recently, is in fact not the first time. They have now mandated the Federal Bureau to take the case to trial in a court of law. Meanwhile the Organisers in Biel have issued a statement on the same players earlier last year in their Master Group. Open letters.
FFE Cheating: Judge rules incriminating SMS inadmissible
11.03.2011– After unearthing a series of SMS messages between players accused of cheating at the Olympiad using a phone lent by the French Chess Federation vice president, the FFE sought to have those messages transcribed and included as evidence in the upcoming Disciplinary Committee. A judge ruled that secrecy could only be waived if the FFE sued in court, as the FFE explains in a public statement.
Cheating in chess: the problem won't go away
30.03.2011 – As you know the recent suspicion of organized cheating during a Chess Olympiad has led to three French players being suspended. One is currently playing in the European Individual Championship, where his colleagues have published an open letter demanding additional security. For years we have been proposing a remedy for this very serious problem. It needs to be implemented now.
Cheating scandal: Opinions, concerns and revelations
06.04.2011 – In a series of interviews, Robert Fontaine from Europe Echecs, culled the opinions of the players, to get a clearer idea on how players both French and foreign viewed the cheating scandal. A lengthy interview with Jean-Claude Moingt, the president of the French federation, revealed not only the next steps to be taken, but also that confessions were not only made to the players. An eye-opener.
Anti-cheating: the fifteen minute broadcast delay
13.05.2011 – For five years we have been trying to get FIDE to implement a 15-minute delay in the Internet broadcast of important games – to make organised cheating harder. A chess journalist has now pointed out a fatal flaw in the plan: it would force chess journalists to walk many yards to find out the current status of the games. Damn – and we thought it was such a good idea! What is your opinion?
Brilliance, drama and scandal at the German Championship
04.06.2011 – GM Igor Kenkin tied for first with GM Jan Gustafsson, winning the championship on the tiebreak score. In the women's section Sarah Hoolt took sole first with 7.5/9 points. In round six the defending champion, 19-year-old IM Niclas Huschenbeth played a delightful game against Gustafsson, and in the final round FM Christoph Natsidis was disqualified for cheating. Big illustrated report.
Anti-cheating: the fifteen minute debate continues
29.06.2011 – Our recent reply to stern criticism leveled against us in the Dutch magazine New in Chess resulted, unsurprisingly, in a large number of letters from our readers, many quite effusive. But we decided not to publish any until at least one turned up supporting the views of our NiC critic. Six weeks went by until it at last came, authored by the critic himself. Now we can publish your letters.

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