Cheating problem in Go

by Frederic Friedel
4/24/2023 – An international Go tournament, the Chunlan Cup, with a $200,000 prize fund, has been wrapped in controversy. In the semifinal round, newcomer Li Xuanhao (China) managed to defeat the reigning world champion Shin Jin-seo (South Korea). Li’s own teammate accused him of receiving AI support during the game.

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The story was reported in multiple news outlets, including CNN, where we first learned about the scandal. The Chinese Weiqi (Go) Association spent weeks investigating the matter, but found no evidence of cheating. However, the scandal does raise questions about the future of the game, with many parallels to the problem that chess faces.

You can watch the entire annotated game – if you have five hours for it

Jiuheng He, who researches AI at Cornell University and is an avid Go player, said to CNN: “Human experts used to dominate the whole realm. Now we have to accept a non-human actor who has expertise, maybe even has exceeded the human experts. So how are we going to deal with it?” 

The game of Go is played on a 19 x 19 board and has only one piece type (similar to checkers) and simple rules. But it is profoundly complex. There are an astonishing 10170 possible board configurations, making the game immeasurably more complex than chess. Go was completely out of the scope of computer intelligence.

But then Google’s AI lab, DeepMind, developed AlphaGo, which was trained on thousands of human amateur and professional games. In 2016 it beat the 18-time world champion Lee Se-dol of South Korea in a widely-publicized match. Lee announced his retirement three years later, citing the match as the reason. The next iteration, AlphaGo Zero, learnt by simply playing games against itself. In doing so, it quickly surpassed human level of play and defeated the first AlphaGo version by 100 games to zero.

Since 2016 there have been a number of Go cheating scandals. In 2020 a South Korean court sentenced two people to a year in prison after they were caught using AI in an official competition, using a camera and earphones and receiving computer moves from an accomplice outside. Players fears the sport will lose its relevance if Go organizations cannot guarantee clean games. The situation is especially precarious in online Go leagues, where it is estimated that top players frequently use AI to enhance their game.

Players generally also use computers to train, and AI has also succeeded in setting a new, higher bar for them, even as it disrupted the game. Professor Nam Chi-hyung, who had been teaching Go for more than 20 years, told CNN that AI had became essential in her lessons. “AI can pick the right moves but cannot explain why. People still need me to interpret AI,” she said. And fans use AI viewers to understand who is winning or losing during a match broadcast.

Doesn't all of the above sound very familiar, chess lovers? 

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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Mr TambourineMan Mr TambourineMan 4/25/2023 10:40
Now Friedric I want to see the follow up article telleing the story how every go amateur can beat the smartest go computer with an easy trick!
SushiDefense SushiDefense 4/25/2023 09:15
I like how cheating in go gets you prison sentences. Why cant we have that in chess?
Hans Niemann of Go?
shivasundar shivasundar 4/25/2023 06:33
Here we go again... leavenfish? others? :-)

[On the whole Neimann affair: here's my 2 more cents by the way, sorry Freidel, couldn't resist!: Ken Regan may be an expert, he may be a good professor... but is he the only Data Scientist? The only Statistics Professor? The only guy who does decent math with a chess rating of, I donno 1200 FIDE at least?! How about 1600?....

FIDE must cover itself in enough "independent expertise" IMHO, just like bring in independent auditors when even a big corporation is under severe fire and they all have their internal auditors.

Btw, Friedel, you gotta put up an article on the latest Hulu documentary. Also, any idea when the Ethics report is out? Seems like FIDE said 3 weeks no...

No offense Ken!
That's all I have to say on THAT.]
arzi arzi 4/25/2023 06:16
Cheating happens in everyday life, not just in chess or go. We cheat when we say one thing but mean something else. We compliment a person's appearance even though we are actually secretly laughing behind his back. Human is a lying animal. Lies are inherited by humans, that's why we are human.
Morrisfri Morrisfri 4/25/2023 03:48
It was a sad day when the computers beat the world champion at Chess, but i consoled myself that the best Go players were still better than the machine. Now the question is are people better cheaters than the computers? I'm sure it will take years for the computers to cheat better then us...
Green22 Green22 4/25/2023 12:53
Cheating is such a COWARD move and people have no guilt or remorse when they know they are losers deep down in society, and resort to cheating. Simple as that...