Famous chess player arrested in Bulgaria

by Frederic Friedel
3/22/2017 – He gained fame a few years ago, by playing in GM tournaments and crushing players many categories above him with flawless tactical play. Then Borislav Ivanov, who has been the subject of at least a dozen articles here, was disqualified and suspended – for not allowing the organisers to check his shoes for electronic signaling devices. That finally ended his chess career. Now Ivanov is in the news again, this time for selling counterfeit drivers licenses. He faces eight years in prison.

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Borislav Ivanov came to sudden fame in the chess world when in December 2012 at the Zadar Open the untitled 2227 player defeated GMs Bojan Kurajica, Robert Zelcic, Zdenko Kozul and Ivan Saric, finishing fourth with 6.0/9 points and a 2700 performance that gained him 30 rating points. This kind of sudden meteoric progress of players causes alarm signals to go off, and the organisers conducted what was at the time called a "strip search" of the Bulgarian player: Ivanov was asked to take off his shirt, empty his pockets and submit his pen for inspection. Nothing was found.

Of course the media lapped it all up. The headline of the above Croatian report reads: "Genius or crook? Check Bulgarian chess player stripped to see whether he is using cheating chip!" And the intro paragraph: "Ivanov is 25 years old and has a job as a programmer. Everybody is watching him, but he is not doing anything that raises suspicion that he might be receiving signals during the game."

In 2913 Ivanov was permanently in the news, and you can follow his chess career in the twelve articles listed below. At one stage GM Max Dlugy (picture above) was scheduled to play him at the 2013 Blagoevgrad Open. He was well prepared, having read all our articles. He knew that Ivanov had an uncomfortable gait – during the rounds, but not on the free day, when he effortlessly played soccer.

During the pre-game check of both players, in which Ivanov cooperated willingly, Max asked for the shoes to be checked. At this Ivanov balked, and even though he was told he would be disqualified from the tournament if he resisted, he simply refused to take off his shoes (II categorically will not take off my shoes. My socks smell."). Max told us all about it in an exclusive interview.

This article also tells of a a low-tech way to cheat in chess: a modern Android or Apple smartphone easily fits into a shoe, and you can use your toes to operate a chess program. There is no need for external communications.

Ivanov was duly disqualified from the Blagoevgrad Open, and soon after that, and after missing an anti-cheating test by the Bulgarian Chess Federation (see link below), ended his chess career. Since then very little was heard from him – until this week, when he was back in the news.

During his chess escapades Ivanov was closely followed by the top Bulgarian TV channel Gospodari na Efira. They were not able to show conclusive evidence, actual electronic devices, but promised to keep track of the affair – to "hunt down Borislav Ivanov", as they said.

And hunt him they did, following him in a car and apparently filming him as he perpetrated his latest scam: counterfeiting drivers licenses. We are told that he worked on Skype, supplying (unsuspecting?) clients the required documents for 1000 Euros, even setting up a fake Government website for online checking of the papers. He was arrested on March 17th in Kiustendil when the police caught him red handed, sending counterfeited licenses from a local post office. Gospodari filmed it all as it happened.

You can watch the gleeful video here, which contains a retrospect of Ivanov's chess career. It also documents what news programs in Bulgaria are like, but it's a definite advantage if you are fluent in Bulgarian.

Ivanov is facing eight years of jail for producing fake documents, and now additional charges of producing of fake university diplomas has been added. Gospodari say that the chess cheating scheme will also be revealed in the process (and they are also investigating a scandal in the Bulgarian Chess Federation scandal). Chessdom is following the story and promises to keep the chess community briefed. You may also want to follow the action on Artur Kogan's anti-cheating Facebook page.

There is an extensive report on the arrest in Dagbladet – use Google Translate if you are not fluent in Norwegian.

ChessBase stories on Borislav Ivanov

Cheating suspicion at the Zadar Open in Croatia
1/4/2013 – In this event, with 16 GMs and a host of other strong players, one participant stood out especially: the 25-year-old untitled Bulgarian Borislav Ivanov scored 6.0/9 points, with a rating performance of 2697. In the January FIDE list Ivanov has gained 115 points over his previous 2277 rating, gained in over 400 games over three years. A certain suspicion once again raises its ugly head.

Cheating scandal in Croatia – feedback and analysis
1/8/2013 – Recently we reported that the incredibly brilliant play by a 25-year-old untitled Bulgarian player at the Zadar Open in Croatia had raised suspicion that he might have been using illicit electronic assistance during his games. A number of readers criticised us – for linking to the mainstream Croatian media reports?! One of them, an expert in the field, actually analysed all the games in question.

Cheating scandal – Borislav Ivanov speaks out
1/17/2013 – Recently a 25-year-old untitled Bulgarian player scored 6.0/9 points in a strong GM tournament, with a 2697 performance. His opponents complained, he was searched, and no electronic equipment was found. Still, the case put chess on the front pages of the mainstream media, and led to intense discussions on the Internet. Now Ivanov has given the Russian news portal WhyChess an exclusive interview.

A Game of Chicken: Ivanov rides again
3/23/2013 – In the last weeks of 2012 he wowed the chess world with a 2700 performance. Two months later the new Bulgarian star FM Borislav Ivanov finished 88th in the Plovdiv, this time with a performance of 1970. Then came another enviable achievement, a clear win at the Villava rapid (again with a 2700 performance). What is going on? Alex Karaivanov speculates, with new video analysis by Valeri Lilov.

The show goes on: Ivanov in Kustendil
6/3/2013 – Borislav Ivanov is an FM who in the past months has been crushing players hundreds of points stronger than himself. Bulgarian GMs, who suspect computer cheating, are now boycotting tournaments in which he appears, or chosing not to play their games against him. Ivanov has called them antisocial buttheads in newspaper interviews. Alex Karaivanov reports, with new video analysis by Valeri Lilov.

Experts weigh in on Ivanov's performance
6/5/2013 – Two days ago we reported on the crushing victories of a Bulgarian FM against top grandmasters and the suspicion that he was secretly using computer assistance to achieve his success. Extensive analysis of the games by Valeri Lilov made this seem quite plausible. In part two of our series we present the opinions of international experts and one of the GM victims, plus initial reader feeback.

Rombaldoni: "He never calculated moves"
6/19/2013 – The very talented Italian IM Axel Rombaldoni, aiming for a final GM norm, recently travelled to Bulgaria to play in a GM tournament. First he discovered that most of the grandmasters had cancelled their participation, and then in round seven he faced the reason for the cancellation: FM Borislav Ivanov, who has been accused of computer cheating. Alex tells us what it is like to play Ivanov.

Ivanov misses BCF anti-cheating test
7/11/2013 – The Borislav Ivanov saga continues. Recently the wonder chess player agreed to take part in a test, conducted by the Bulgarian Chess Federation, to prove the authenticity of his amazing new-found chess skills. In the end Ivanov simply did not appear at the appointed time. Meanwhile a 12-year-old player, student of a famous coach, was caught cheating, and FIDE is at last stirring into action.

The shoe assistant – Ivanov forfeits at Blagoevgrad
10/3/2013 – Everyone has heard about Borislav Ivanov, a lowly FM from Bulgaria, who since late 2012 has wowed the chess world with super-GM performances. Ivanov was suspected of computer cheating, and forty GMs are boycotting tournaments in which he plays. GM Max Dlugy is not one of them, but he insisted on a thorough check of his opponent before their game. You'll never believe what happened next.

Ivanov ends his chess career
10/5/2013 – On Thursday we reported that FM Borislav Ivanov had forfeited his round seven game after he refused to take off his shoes and allow the arbiter to check for hidden devices. His opponent in that round, GM Maxim Dlugy, provided all the details. Ivanov was permitted to continue in rounds eight and nine, but now has announced that he will retire from chess, as the Bulgarian new outlet Blitz reports.

Ivanov restarts his chess career
12/9/2013 – In early October we reported that Borislav Ivanov had announced that he will retire from chess, after the Bulgarian FM had forfeited a game in the Blagoevgrad Open for refusing to allow the arbiter to check his shoes for hidden devices. Now Ivanov is back at it again: he started the Navalmoral de la Mata Open in Spain with 4.5/5 points, beating two GMs and drawing a third. But then there was, once again, a problem with his shoes.

Ivanov in Navalmoral – the real deal
12/12/2013 – On Monday we published a report on the forfeit and disqualification of Borislav Ivanov at this year's Navalmoral de la Mata Open, after the Bulgarian FM had started with a 4.5/5, beating two GMs in the process. An examination was requested by his round six opponent, and a suspicious device was detected. But Ivanov refused to allow the search to proceed and left the event voluntarily.

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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