Cheating scandal in the Bundesliga – readers' reactions

10/30/2012 – It will surprise nobody that there were a very large number of messages that poured in regarding our recent report on the disqualification of a Bundesliga player for carrying a cellphone to the bathroom during his games. Here's a small selection of letters, plus a thoughtful article by Assistant Professor Kung-Ming Tiong of Malaysia, comparing the problem in chess with academic cheating.

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General reader feedback

Joe Kruml, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Banned for two years? Why not banned for life? Such GMs disgrace chess in the same way Lance Armstrong has disgraced cycling. They are worthy of all disrespect.

Paul Shipley, Rochdale, United Kingdom
I think Falco Bindrich protests too much. Isn't this situation a case of "those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear". Why does Mr Bindrich or any other chess player need to carry a phone around with him during a game. I would have no problem in surrendering my mobile phone and any other peripheral devices to the organisers before the start of any match/tournament game. This would surely remove any suspicion of cheating.

Holger Lieske, Berlin, Germany
For me personally it is déjà-vu: Feller, Naitsidis, Bindrich. Does it surprise me? Yes, but somehow not at all. Naitsidis was caught cheating in the 2011 German Championship, where he handed over his mobile phone to the arbiter, and the arbiter found evidences on the phone. We can't expect that anymore. Players who have something to hide, simply won't hand over their phones. They have learnt from the "mistakes" of the players who were caught.

So what can the chess world, FIDE, organisers and arbiters do? Put all mobile phones into a box and sealing them before the games start? Do metal scans as we know them from airports and other high security places? Yes, it's an option, but in opens with 200+ players it won't be easy. It is also a question of costs. In my opinion federations (FIDE, national federations, local federations) need to change and increase the sanctions. Zero tolerance should apply not just to players who are too late for the start of the round, but to players leaving the board and going to the refreshing rooms, or anywhere they are not in public view.

In my opinion cases of cheating are still the exception, and the big majority – I think I can safely speak of 99% of all chess players – would never commit such actions, but the 1% who will are destroying the game. Newspapers will again start reporting on chess, but in a negative vein. Chess is suffering enough from the financial and bank crises. It doesn't need this additional problem.

Alex, Liverpool, England
One can no more assume a phone has been used illegally simply because its owner refuses to hand it over than one can assume that someone is guilty simply because they exercise their right to remain silent. The phrase "I consider the refusal to hand over the mobile phone clear proof that it had been used illegally" is even more obviously fallacious reasoning than standard appeals to ignorance, but, more than this, it is a chilling example of just how lacking in intelligence some of these officials are. Of course Bindrich should be disqualified: he broke the rules – but he broke technical rules about handing over a phone. There is no evidence whatsoever that he cheated in a chess-specific way. For the uttering the aforementioned phrase about a lack of evidence being proof of guilt Dieter von Häfen should be immediately relieved of any duties which give him any kind of power.

David Levy, London
The referee states: "I had no other choice but to terminate the game and award the point to Sebastian Siebrecht. I consider the refusal to hand over the mobile phone clear proof that it had been used illegally, and in addition the refusal was against the rules of the event." It seems to me that he is wrong in asserting that the refusal was clear proof that it had been used illegally. The refusal could, for example, have been made as a matter of principal by the player, or for other reasons known only to the player. However, the referee is absolutely correct in forfeiting the player, because the rules state that he is allowed to demand to examine the mobile phone, and the player's refusal to allow that was a flagrant breach of the rules, deserving a forfeit.

Julian Wan, Ann Arbor, USA
From this recent article about the Bundesliga affair, why would any player at a major event even have a smart phone on their person during a game? Couldn't this be left with a non-playing captain or administrator for the team during the match? The phone could be password locked for privacy. Unfortunately smart phones and electronic cheating now has developed the same stink that bicycling had with PEDs – one can hide and avoid facing the reality, but not I fear for long.

Michael Vidler
A thought occurred to me: if phones must be switched off during games, why do the players need to carry them during the game? Obviously there's a convenience to this, but in principle organisers could store all phones (properly tagged, etc.) for the duration of a game. Then, simply having a phone on you becomes the offence, and the defence of breaching human rights/right to privacy becomes irrelevant.

Richard Mallett, Eaton Bray, Dunstable, UK
It seems to me that there is no reason for a player to take a cell phone into the playing hall. If there is a reason, he or she can switch it off, and leave it on the table by the board. Then he or she can go to the toilet as often as needed – problem solved (or so it seems to me).


Getting rid of cheating in chess: inspirations from university exams

By Kung-Ming Tiong

Cheating in chess has many parallels to academic cheating. Unlike other forms of competitions that focus on physical aspects - ultimately who is stronger (e.g. weightlifting), faster (e.g. sprints), higher (e.g. pole vault), further (e.g. long jump), has lower scores (e.g. golf), has highest scores (e.g. bowling), reaches target scores first (e.g. tennis) – chess is mainly a test of mind skills. In many ways, playing chess in a tournament hall is just like having a university exam in an exam hall.

Might I suggest the following simple non-invasive steps?

  1. Before entering the playing hall, mobile phone batteries should be taken out and both the mobile phone and battery are put into a clear sealed bag (like in airports when you have to seal your liquids). This clear bag and its contents must be labelled with name stickers and put on the floor under/near the table of play. This doesn't take up a lot of space, is easy to do, and is easy to identify the contents. It also protects the privacy of players who wouldn't want others to "accidentally" see private photos/videos/sensitive business data. It also prevents "death by ringtone".

  2. For the toilets, have the chess officials check thoroughly using all acceptable methods (like visual inspection and using metal detectors) before the commencement of a playing round. Have an official or two guard the toilets to record ins and outs and to prevent non-players (media staff, fans, other chess playing spectators who are not involved or have completed their rounds, coaches) from using the players toilet. In university exams, a student cannot go to the toilet when another student (or outsiders) is in the toilet to prevent collusion/discussion/handing over electronic or printed help.

  3. When a player has to go to the toilet or have smoking breaks, the player's movement must be visible to chess officials i.e. if the player goes to the toilet, he/she is seen to go to the toilet and not detour somewhere or if the player wants to get a smoke, he /she is seen to go the room/area allocated for smoking. In university exam invigilation, all student movements are monitored and followed till they go into the toilet, but of course they don't have smoking breaks, unlike the lucky chess players. A special place for players to smoke is not difficult to arrange. For drinks, have players bring their own to the playing area. There really shouldn't be any drinking break outside of the playing area.

  4. A player should have limited access to the toilets during a playing round in progress. In university exams, a student is not allowed to go out of the exam hall in the first hour and last 15 minutes of a paper. For players who are playing a round, it is really no excuse to "go the toilet shortly after the start of a game, to get a drink a few moves later, and again to the toilet on move nine". There should be a rule forbidding players to go to the toilets at certain times, and only allow them to go at specific times. In a round that may reach up to six hours, players should only be allowed at maximum three times to the toilets. If players think that is too little, then they should just drink less water. In three hour papers, in my many years of teaching, I have yet to see the same student go to the toilet more than twice. Surely, chess players' bladders are of the normal type?! By the way, chess is the only sport (okay, it's not yet a sport) where players can go to the toilets as they wish. Heck, they even get to choose when to arrive at their tables to start their games in most tournaments (but this is another issue).

All of the above are workable ways even for a large class size (roughly about three invigilators for about 150 students), so any arguments that it is too much work or not feasible does not really apply. In a tournament of say 300 players, it wouldn't be that difficult to have six chess officials, I presume?

Additionally, students who violate a rule are automatically put under suspicion, a report made, and the necessary investigations are carried out. A student who is found with a mobile phone on him/her going into/coming out from the toilet is definitely liable for the above process.

Kung-Ming TIONG
Assistant Professor
The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

Kung-Ming Tiong is a mathematician and logician at School of Science and Technology, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia. He is interested in the application of logical and mathematical-statistical reasoning in aspects of daily life, and the factor of incentives which are related to personal reasoning decisions.

Kung-Ming is also an avid chess player who has participated in state and university level competitions. He can be reached at KungMing.Tiong (at) nottingham.edu.my

Previous articles by Prof. Kung-Ming Tiong

Feedback: Badminton vs grandmaster draws in chess
11.08.2012 – Yesterday Kung-Ming Tiong drew a comparison between no-contest badminton matches at the Olympics in London, which led to the disqualification of eight players, and short, uncontested draws in grandmaster tournament. Our readers reacted vigorously, mainly pointing to the rather obvious fact that there are no draws in badminton. But many have other valid objections.
Badminton’s “Grandmaster Draw” vs Chess
10.08.2012 – It happened in the Olympics: four sets of badminton women's doubles players ditched their ties by giving a "not trying to win" performance. This earned the ire of spectators, and officials cautioned the players several times for the farcical display. In the end they were disqualified. Kung-Ming Tiong of the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus compares this to the situation in chess.
Unfought draws – reader feedback
20.03.2008 – Last week we published an article of the perceived problem of unfought "grandmaster draws" in professional chess. Kung-Ming Tiong, a mathematician and logician at School of Science and Technology, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia, put together the arguments presented so far, and his analysis of their conclusions. Today we present further imaginative proposals from our readers.
Unfought draws – mathematical, logical and practical considerations
14.03.2008 – The problem of short "grandmaster" draws is one that has occupied our readers for some time. A number of proposals have been made, some quite ingenious, to force tournament and match players to be more aggressive, risk more and go for wins. Today we bring you a comprehensive analysis of the current state of the debate, by a mathematician and logician in Malaysia. Long interesting read.

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