Famous chess cheating tales - Part 1

by Albert Silver
11/28/2022 – Cheating in chess has a long and storied history, none of these stories ever penetrated the public eye, having been relegated to books on history and anecdotes on the game of chess. This all changed when a cheating controversy in chess became known throughout the US and then the world, and at its center was a 19-year-old American.

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Even in the 20th century, the United States had had several elite players, such as Frank Marshall, Isaac Kashdan, Reuben Fine, and of course Samuel Reshevsky.

Both Reshevsky and Fischer had many a titanic bout, including their famous match in 1961

But none of them had ever captured the public imagination like the young outspoken prodigy Bobby Fischer, and as a result he was the subject or articles and interviews in popular mainstream media such as Harper Magazine, the Saturday Evening Post, and even Sports Illustrated, arguably the most popular sports magazine in the world at the time.

It was therefore no big surprise to see an article in the Sports Illustrated edition of August 20, 1962 on Bobby Fischer, but this wasn't about him, it was by him. It is a testament to his celebrity status and star power that they gave him leeway to publish this massive attack with the very blunt title: "The Russian have fixed World Chess"

The multi-page denunciation by Bobby Fischer was scathing in its content. In it he explained that in the Candidates tournament held in Curacao in 1962, the Russians had colluded amongst themselves in such a way as to ensure that a Russian would always come out as the challenger and as a result, the title would never leave Soviet hands. To understand how such an accusation could even be feasible, you need to understand how the world championship was structured at the time.

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In 1962, the final stage of the World Championship to decide the next challenger to the title was a massive Candidates tournament, similar to today, but with a few differences, The tournament had no restrictions on the number of players from any one nation, and as a result this eight-player competition had no fewer than five Soviet players. However, unlike today, each player was to face every other player no fewer than four times, for a staggering 28 rounds in all.

With four rounds played a week, and two adjournments, it meant a grueling seven weeks of almost non-stop competition. Three of the top players, Petrosian, Geller, and Keres, had an obvious agreement to play quick draws amongst themselves to save their energy and efforts for their foreign rivals. Korchnoi was the odd man out, and Tal was spared of such as he fell ill and was hospitalized for the kidney problems that would plague him throughout his life. 

As an aside, of all the players in the competition, only one ever took the time to visit Tal in the Hospital: Bobby Fischer, who was to be a rival and friend of the Magician from Riga to the end of their days.  

This unsportsmanlike concerted effort was not enough, and Fischer wrote, “If I was playing a Russian opponent, the other Russians watched my games, and commented on my moves in my hearing. Then they ridiculed my protests to officials. They worked as a team.”

Snapshot of the article

Would Bobby Fischer have won it in the absence of this collusion? Grandmaster Larry Evans, years later, didn’t think so and said, "The fact of the matter is that in '62 at Curaçao Bobby just wasn't good enough yet."

However, it bears mentioning that Fischer’s decrying did not fall on deaf ears, and the world championship was restructured to prevent such things repeating themselves. 

It wasn’t until 2006, over 40 years later, that another World Championship would seriously fall under the pall of a cheating accusation.

Continued in Part 2

Video of Chess Cheating Tales


Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.
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arzi arzi 12/2/2022 07:49
As Aighearach wrote fixing the game by resigning on move two is cheating, UNLESS the player has a good reason for giving up, e.g. an illness. Btw fgkdjlkag, who can prove that two players haven´t done fixing the game in advance? The scoring system should be changed so that you want to play for a win, two draws less points than a win and a loss. Of course, the different positions in the final table and the amount of money prizes determined by them encourage you to play for a win and forget fixing the game. It doesn´t matter if fixing the game happens before or during the match, it should be prevented.

What if, for example, in a boxing match, at the beginning of the third round, one of the contestants offers a draw, which the opponent accepts? The match ended in a tie, because the scores were known to the players before the start of the set and the draw offer. Or in a tennis match where the sets are tied 2-2 and a draw offer is made. It can be done only in chess.
Aighearach Aighearach 12/1/2022 09:45
Resigning on move 2 would be another example of match-fixing, though unilateral.
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 12/1/2022 06:57
@arzi, what are you talking about? It's forbidden and cheating to fix a game in advance with your opponent, whether that be by deciding specific moves or just the outcome of the game. If both players decide after the game has started, without a discussion or agreement between them, to draw a game, it is permissible, but depending on the tournament (as many have prohibited short draws or take even more stringent measures). Of course determining when one has cheated is not always as simple as it was in '62 at Curaçao.
arzi arzi 12/1/2022 08:00
Michael Jones:"It's tough to define when playing a quick draw counts as cheating..."

Nowadays, short games are not allowed but it still doesn´t prevent fixing the games. Maybe the scoring system needs to be changed? 10 points for a win and 4 points for a draw. Three points from a win and 1 from a draw is too big a difference. One win and one lost game is 10 points, when two draws are just 8 points. This encourages players more to play for a win.
Michael Jones Michael Jones 12/1/2022 02:52
It's tough to define when playing a quick draw counts as cheating. The Kosintseva sisters were notorious for always drawing quickly against each other; Nick and Richard Pert have done the same thing (including one game which went 1.e4 e5 1/2-1/2). Even the Polgars had a few quick draws, although they had many more decisive games than the other sets of siblings. In some recent online tournaments where the top half of the field in the round-robin stage have qualified for the knockouts, many players have made one when it suited the qualifying chances of both - remember Carlsen and Nakamura's "Double Bong Cloud"? All done in order to preserve energy and/or preserve their places in the crosstable at the expense of other players. Are all of them cheating, or only when it's arranged before the tournament by a national federation rather than just an agreement between siblings or friends?
arzi arzi 11/29/2022 09:55
Cheating is cheating is cheating, fixpont, right? Fixing games are cheating but allowed such. Using computer when playing a game is cheating. Asking an advice from a friend who is not playing a game is cheating.

Nowadays it is thought that one cannot fix games as easily as in the old days, because short games are forbidden. However, before the game, you can agree on a game to be played with the opponent in advance, in which the same position is repeated three times or play certain opening that leads to easy a draw. Is it forbidden? No, but unethical.
fixpont fixpont 11/29/2022 07:25
cheating with computers and fixing games between players are not the same phenomenon so dont mix it
arzi arzi 11/29/2022 06:09
Perhaps the first cheat in chess was related to the Turk, Automaton Chess Player, from 1770 until its destruction by fire in 1854?
Cato the Younger Cato the Younger 11/28/2022 06:11
The AI art is as intriguing as the text! Seems like we are crossing into a new age.