FIDE Ethics issues 3-month ban to Zhukova

by Albert Silver
5/7/2017 – Readers may recall the astonishing accusations leveraged against Mihaela Sandu during the 2015 European Championship, after her great start, in which 15 players filed a letter of petition accusing Sandu of cheating, and requesting her games alone not be broadcast. Needless to say, computer analysis in no way backed their claims, and Sandu filed an official complaint against her accusers. The FIDE Ethics Commission has published its results.

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Back in May, 2015, the 45th seed at the 16th European Women's Individual championship in Chakvi, Georgia, Romanian WGM Mihaela Sandu, rated 2300, was sensationally leading, with 5.0/5 points. Rather than celebrate her result, a number of her colleagues submitted two letters of petition to the organizers. The first, signed by 32 of the players,

The text of the letter:

We, the participants of the 16 European Women Chess Championship would like to express our grave concern regarding raising suspicion of cheating in the tournament. We would like to ask organisers cooperation in this regard. There are a few ways to fight with advanced technology, and we believe organizers should do their utmost to avoid such situations. We have already asked for a 15 min delay in the live transmission of all the games. It is a common solution, used in many top level tournaments. If this is technically not possible, then we would like to ask organizers to propose another solution of this problem for the remaining rounds of the Championship.

The letter is signed by 32 players: Natalia Zhukova, Alisa Galliamova, Lanita Stetsko, Nastassia Ziaziulkina, Olga Girya, Dina Belenkaya, Anastasia Bodnaruk, Anastasia Savina, Vlada Sviridova, Lilit Galojan, Jolanta Zawadzka, Jovana Vojinovic, Nino Batsiashvili, Bela Khotenashvili, Evgenija Ovod, Inna Gaponenko, Sofio Gvetadze, Nino Khurtsidze, Maya Lomineishvili, Salome Melia, Svetlana Matveeva, Olga Zimina, Alessia Santeramo, Maria Kursova, Anna Hairapetian, Maria Gevorgyan, Marina Guseva, Svetlana Petrenko, Ekaterina Kovalevskaya, Anna Ushenina, Elina Danielian, Alina Kashlinskaya.

The second letter was far more direct, and cited Sandu outright:

We, the participants of the 16th European Individual Women's Chess Championship want to express concern about the situation with M.Sandu's performance. We would like to ask organizers not to include her games from round 8-11 in a live transmission and publish them after the rounds. We do not see any important reason to dislike this precautionary measure for both sides. We hope that such a decision will prevent all possible suspicions.

The letter was signed by 15 players: Natalia Zhukova, Alisa Galliamova, Lanita Stetsko, Nastassia Ziaziulkina, Anastasia Bodnaruk, Anastasia Savina, Dina Belenkaya, Jovana Vojinovic, Evgenija Ovod, Salome Melia, Svetlana Matveeva, Marina Guseva, Anna Tskhadadze, Tatyana Ivanova, Ekaterina Kovalevskaya.

Needless to say, this led to a flurry of analysis by players, grandmasters, and experts. The author of these lines also checked and saw nothing out of the ordinary other than a large number of fatal mistakes by her opponents. In other words, the accusers would find the culprit for their losses by looking in the mirror.

Georgi Giorgadze, the Tournament Director, replied (verbatim):

Regarding to the first letter, organisers agree with 32 players to delay 15 minutes transmission of all games on the internet from round 8 to 11. We are sure, that such solution is a right way to avoid any suspicion of cheating, in general. But we don't share concerns of "rising suspicions of cheating" in this tournament.

Regarding to the second letter, which is a serious accusation of Mrs. Sandu, organizers do not agree with 15 players. After consultation with the arbiters and also with grandmasters, organizers are sure, that there is not any particular reason not to transmit games of Mrs. Sandu. Grandmasters have checked her games with different programs and did not find any use of computer help during the game.

We consider this accusation as unfair, insulting and creating some psychological pressure. We think that both letters should be seriously discussed in ECU to find the right way to protect players advanced technology, so that not a single chessplayer is put under psychological pressure or undeserved insult.

Organizers ask those 15 players to show their respect to their colleague and to withdraw their signatures.

Organisers, in cooperation with arbiters, follos all rules included in FIDE Law of Chess according to cheating, which was announced during the Technical Meeting of EWICC 2015 in Chakvi.

During play, a player is forbidden to have a mobile phone and/or other electronic means of communication in the playing venue. If it is evident that a player brought such a device into the playing venue, he shall lose the game. The opponent shall win.

The arbiter may require the player to allow his clothes, bags or other items to be inspected, in private. The arbiter or a person authorised by the arbiter shall inspect the player and shall be of the same gender as the player (11.3 FIDE Law of Chess).

So If you suspect, during the play, that your opponent is cheating you may announce this to the arbiter. Arbiter should observe your opponent and may decide to control him. But in case of a false accusation you may be penalized by the arbiter according to the Article 12.2 and 12.9 of the Laws of Chess (from warning to expulsion from the competition).

This latter line in boldface above has finally come full circle after a complaint filed by Mihaela Sandu after the event to the FIDE Ethics commission, who have just posted their conclusions and recommendations.

The provisional finding of the Ethics Commission is as follows:

Respondents 1 – 15 are all guilty of a breach of art. 2.2.11 of the FIDE Code of Ethics for making reckless and unjustified accusations of cheating against WGM Mihaela Sandu, thereby injuring and discrediting her reputation as a honest chess player.

The Ethics Commission intends to impose the following sanctions:

Respondent no. 1:

Ms Natalia Zhukova

A three (3) month ban from playing chess in any tournament. The sanction is wholly suspended for a period of one (1) year, on the condition that she is not found guilty of making reckless or unjustified accusations of cheating against any other chess player during the period of suspension.

Respondents no. 2 – 10:

Ms Alisa Galliamova
Ms Lanita Stetsko
Ms Anastasia Bodnaruk
Ms Dina Belenkaya
Ms Jovana Rapport (néé Vojinova)
Ms Svetlana Matveeva
Ms Marina Guseva
Ms Anna Tskhadadze
Ms Tatiana Ivanova

A reprimand (severe expression of disapproval and warning of consequences if conduct is repeated).

Respondents no. 11 – 15:

Ms Natassia Ziaziulkina
Ms Anastasia Savina
Ms Evgenija Ovod
Ms Melia Salome
Ms Ekaterina Kovalevskaya

A warning (caution to avoid a repeat of the same conduct).

The making of reckless and unjustified accusations of cheating is a serious offence which will normally attract severe punishment. In the present case the proposed sanctions were mitigated, amongst other things, by the inappropriate handling of the situation by the officials as well as the long time delay (relating to the formal establishment of the ACC) since the happening of the incident.

The differentiation between the sanctions proposed for the three groups of players is justified by the fact that Respondent no. 1 played a leading role in obtaining the signatures of the other players, Respondents no. 2 – 10 did not show remorse for their actions by withdrawing their signatures or giving an apology, whereas Respondents no. 11 – 15 did show the necessary remorse by withdrawing their signatures or apologizing for their conduct.

Click here to download the full PDF of the FIDE Ethics Commission's findings

Note: The findings are subject to confirmation on May 10, subject to challenge prior, upon which the sanctions will be made official.

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.
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imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 5/15/2017 12:16
At least they've done something - more than I expected... Hard to believe they'll be able to properly discourage such behavior in the future through such lenient sanctions, but it's better than nothing. At least it's some acknowledgement of how deeply wrong and damaging what happened over there was...
fons fons 5/11/2017 11:10
The Association of Chess Professionals has made a statement about the case and they sum up the situation very well:
BabyPfuscher BabyPfuscher 5/11/2017 09:57
A virtual slap on the wrist -and a very mild one at that, for such a vile and unfounded character assassination. Shame on Ms Natalia Zhukova, shame on all who signed the second letter and shame on FIDE.
drcloak drcloak 5/11/2017 07:50
I agree, lots of people seem to be "for" cheating. I just don't get it. But here is what I know: Currently, the top officials of chess are incompetent when it comes to preventing the cheating, whether it be an online event or over the board. They have the tools and technology, but are not very good at deploying them. It appears that Tournament Directors, Arbiters, FIDE Officials, etc. don't really care that much about it, which hurts the sport.

One of the things that shows this uncaring is allowing any player to use E-Notation devices to record their games in OTB play. They were originally meant to be used by disabled people who had difficulty writing down the moves onto a score sheet. Now I see 10 year olds using them. Some of them have found ways to put an engine into these Notation devices and have no qualms about using the engine during games to check the evaluation.

In short, chess has become a joke due to the rampant cheating. It will only get worse.
BeachBum2 BeachBum2 5/11/2017 03:19
If you want to consider chess a "sport" and chess to have a broader audience (not just a few tens of thousands of nerds...), you need drama, you need "personalities". Look at soccer or some other sports. Players accuse each other, they shout at arbiters during the game, they cry and fake "I hit the ball, not my opponent's leg" even if it is plainly obvious (on slow mo replay) they did hit the leg... Accusations of cheating, who respects/disrespects whom and so on could/should be part of sport. Just look at how many comments an article like that brings even on this site, compared to some boring theoretical article on some end game...

No bans should be necessary. Move on. But yep, before filing any complain I would check the games wit the engine and see how often the moves correspondent to best 3 choices, and if there were some bad moves by opponents that significantly changed position eval...
RazorX RazorX 5/10/2017 08:01

The "Ethics Commission" respondents are not in the same order as they are listed in the "second" letter.

Initially, I had skimmed through this article, and originally I was confused about the sanctions.
fons fons 5/10/2017 02:54
1) It's not up to the participants of a tournament do do the investigation.

2) With engine analysis you may be able to prove somebody cheated. However you cannot prove somebody did not cheat.

You don't need computer assistance for every single move to cheat, this is well known.

If all the moves correspond with the engine: great, you caught a cheater!
If all the moves do not correspond: anything is still possible.
GM77251 GM77251 5/10/2017 12:27
I don't know what actually went on beforehand but surely a formal letter of complaint from the other participants must have been a last resort, in terms of bringing the matter to the organisers' and controller's attention? Were there any preliminary, informal steps taken to check the offending games by the organisers or at least an agreement to do so? If so, then the petition letter would not have been needed and indeed serves only as a tactic to put off their rival.
Martas Martas 5/10/2017 12:08
Psychology and "you play the board, not the man" - this is true for computers, not for humans. It has big impact on the game and it's up to FIDE to set limits. Here it was not just accusation by single person, she increased psychological impact by asking for support of her friends (btw. the only player who was beaten by Sandu and signed second letter got only warning in this case). There are good reasons why by law organized crime is punished more severely then the same crime done by single person. Effect of what she did is comparable with a hit before starting boxing duel (that's what I meant with boxing analogy), impact depends on strength of the opponent, but in any case it's violating rules.
Regarding "chess player is not scientist" - yes, you are right, even Lilov's analysis was not a clear proof. What I wanted to say is that Zhukova made no effort at all before accusation, it was based only on results. And there is a big difference in motivation, based on timing of accusation it seems the main intention here was to win the game at any cost, computer assistance is used here only as an instrument to achieve this. No try to be objective.
"Guilty until proven innocent" - from middle age we know this is not a good way to go, since it's easily misused. And the money involved in this business is very good motivation to misuse something like this. If a master spends months preparing for a tournament and is having a good tournament, why should somebody be allowed to destroy his work by organized attack like this? Only because of suspicion based on few unexpected results?
I have no sympathy to cheaters, lifetime ban should be the main penalty used in such cases. But so I have no sympathy to unfair behaviour like this, it's a sort of cheating as well.
RayLopez RayLopez 5/10/2017 03:23
@Martas - your points 1,2 go to psychology. If a strong GM like Tal wears sunglasses at the board, do you fear him and lose? No, you play the board, not the man. It is a mistake to let your opponent's complaints affect your play. Your points 3-5 go to mathematics. Chessplayers, as I say, are not scientists for the most part but sports people or artists. They are not expected to understand science. Even Lilov did not understand science. He made an accusation, backed by some engine analysis that was actually weak (some of cheater Ivanov's moves were nearly forced moves, and not really evidence of engine use) and only when CSci scientist IM Ken Regan did a proper analysis, and only when Ivanov's shoe was removed in response to another GMs complaint, was the cheating found. But Lilov's hunch was valuable, even if not scientific. As for your boxing analogy, I don't understand it but it's OK.

I notice BTW many people here seem to be for chess cheating (not this thread but others). They also seem to be sympathetic to cheater or potential cheaters. I say all chess players must be examined as thoroughly as they examine passengers at airports. If a master spends months preparing for a tournament, why should a potential cheat steal it? The standard should be: guilty until proven innocent. Sounds harsh, but chess is a competition, not a criminal law court.
Martas Martas 5/9/2017 10:22
RayLopez - quite many differences of Zhukova vs Lilov, isn't it
1/ timing - public accusation of opponent right before game vs. analysis of games after finishing tournaments (thus no insult during the tournament)
2/ benefit - taking immediate psychological advantage in the game against accused opponent vs. no impact on the tournament
3/ basis - accusation based purely on result vs. computer analysis of moves
4/ result - multiple analysis showing only mistakes of opponents vs. multiple proofs showing game influenced by computer
5/ form - weak accusation boosted by signatures of friends who didn't care much vs. articles signed by single person

Btw. would you support strong boxer who punches outsider right before their finals match only because he thinks that his opponent was unlikely to beat his opponent in semifinals? Because this is exactly what Mrs. Zhukova did in this case.
drcloak drcloak 5/9/2017 05:40
@JS72 Get rekt.
RayLopez RayLopez 5/9/2017 05:28
@JS72 - "Raylopez is ignoring the fact that the onus is on the accuser to substantiate their claims"- no it's not. That's only in a court of law. Outside a court of law, if you have a suspicion as a private person, you complain to the authorities and they investigate. That's what WGM Zhukova did, along with hose that signed with her. Seems to me Fide wants to punish the person making an accusation instead of simply investigating and then clearing WGM Sandu. This Fide punishment will cut down on such accusations, to the detriment of the sport. For example, if GM Lilov had not made his accusations, then Borislav Ivanov would not have been found, by others, to be a cheater.
JS72 JS72 5/9/2017 11:28
Raylopez is ignoring the fact that the onus is on the accuser to substantiate their claims. They should have done the maths. To accuse someone on the strength that you think it's a bit fishy is scant justification.
danbotea danbotea 5/9/2017 10:44
Robwijn: For your information she was Vice-champion of Romania in 2016 and a permanent member of The Olympic Team of Romania during last 5 years.
But maybe you heard about her before too (sure the one who harassed her between the direct game in the 8th Round remembered this:
Sandu Mihaela 2253 - Zhukova Natalia 2435 =1-0 (EU-ch (Women) 13th Gaziantep 04-03-2012.... the same level of competition and aprox. 200 rating points difference , too. Not speaking that Mrs Zhukova played for years in the Romanian Team Championship and they know each other...
The problem is not about your need for broader information , not about she is now a star or not and if the one who initiate this is a star now or not, on my opinion is about to be treated equal (Gens una sumus??? ) and correct .
A title of European Champion won like this has no value and FIDE has to state it.
Robwijn Robwijn 5/9/2017 02:18
Did we hear from Mihaela Sandu ever after?
Aighearach Aighearach 5/9/2017 02:10
Unfounded and false accusations are both misconduct in this context. There is significant overlap. If you know an accusation to be unfounded, then you know that it is false to make it. That is what happened here; the players could have checked with an engine, and discovered it to be false, but they did not. And, they knew both that they could investigate, and that they had not investigated. So they knew that the accusation itself was false.

If they had attempted to verify with a computer, and had made a mistake in how they used the computer, and so their accusation was unfounded, that is the sort of context where an accusation would be unfounded but not also false, merely incorrect. Or for example Toiletgate, where Topalov was concerned about computer ethernet wiring that was routed through the ceiling space above Kramnik's rest area. Topalov's team didn't understand enough about how ethernet works to understand that since the wires hadn't been spliced into and there were no plugs installed then it wasn't even being used. The accusation was baseless based on the known observations, but only to an expert. Unfortunately, there is sometimes an evil art of making unfounded but reasonable accusations during important events.

It is obvious that making an intentional unfounded accusation puts psychological pressure on an opponent; it is a traditional trick that players and arbiters have to watch out for.

It is amazing, but FIDE actually made a correct decision for once! The first time since 1982 or something, I heard. And a suspended sentence was exactly the right punishment because it establishes in the minds of the players that FIDE has authority to issue bans for this type of behavior, and that they are willing to do so to stop the behavior that happened here.

The reason it is good to establish that before actually giving real bans is that these false computer accusations have been going on for a long time and were going unpunished. It is good for the rules to be enforced, and it is good to begin with a visible gesture to give players a chance to correct their behavior. What I've observed at the lower levels of chess is that many players simply do not comprehend the invisible line that society draws between vigilance and false accusation. So any change in enforcement policy should be taught at the beginning of the change.
Martas Martas 5/8/2017 11:03
Fons: if you suspect that somebody is cheating and you take unfair actions, you are in risk that your opponent might be innocent and you stay as the only person who did something against the rules. Chess is a lot about concentration and any public accusation is affecting players ability to concentrate on the game. So if you want to break rules and stress your opponent with public accusation you should be pretty sure what you are doing. Otherwise stay within rules and rely on arbiters. In the end nobody wants to protect cheaters, if somebody tries to cheat and is not caught, he will try it again and again until finally caught, it's just a matter of time.
drcloak drcloak 5/8/2017 10:20
Anyone else notice that Zhukova has Resting Bitch Face? (RBF)
fons fons 5/8/2017 09:23
Message: if you suspect somebody is cheating: stay silent. Because if it later turns out that you were wrong you will be punished.

The result will be that cheaters have free rein because nobody will dare say anything. Well done FIDE. Problem solved.

And if public letters is the only way to bring cheating suspicions to the attention of organizers it only further illustrates how FIDE is unprepared, unwilling or incapable to properly address this issue.
flachspieler flachspieler 5/8/2017 08:11
The penalty against Mrs. Zhukova is indeed more soft then hard.
Nevertheless, at least some organizers will look for substitutes
of similar strength when confronted with the question if to
invite Z. to their event.
Mtudorache Mtudorache 5/8/2017 08:10
But what about to retired the European Chess Champion title 2015 of Zhukova? This is the right decision! What we see in this article (the decision) it's simply scandalous! Unbelievable! How FIDE Ethic Commission had the courage to publish it? Is an offense to all chess players! 3 months with the sanction suspended for 1 year... Unbelievable!
Martas Martas 5/8/2017 06:49
Indeed a late and soft (rather symbolic) punishment of Mrs. Zhukova. Especially one thing - if she is considered guilty because of behaviour which directly influenced her success in tournament (round 8 win against Mrs Sandu), how can she be still considered European Champion 2015?
I hope in future any public accusation like this during the tournament would be sanctioned quicker and more severely. In case of suspicion players should address it privately to arbiter (Dlugy vs Ivanov), if he/she is not happy with actions taken, then go public after tournament or at least withdraw from tournament if you cannot wait (Mamedyarov vs Kurnosov - not proper, but at least you have no benefit from false accusation).
sco-ish sco-ish 5/8/2017 04:57
In my humble opinion, all of them should be banned for 3 months (or even more). Such a blatant character assassination could only arise out of individuals with exceptionally large egos and who perhaps also lack critical thinking skills (something I would think most chess players are good at).
RJ Nolts RJ Nolts 5/8/2017 04:53
too many envy!!! you have the evidence first before you accused of cheating!!!
austin_guy austin_guy 5/8/2017 02:10
'Fide Ethics' sounds like two words that should not be so close together in a sentence.
David Herz David Herz 5/8/2017 01:54
don't forget Mamedyarov's baseless accusations against Kurnusov when he lost in 21 moves:
A week ago we reported on the sensational incident at the Aeroflot Open, when world-class grandmaster Shakriyar Mamedyarov publicly accused Russian GM Igor Kurnosov of using computer assistance, in their sixth-round game. Now the accused player has responded in a formal statement on what transpired. We bring you a translation and selection of readers' letters...I think accusers should think twice and more before speaking up so quickly and without proof of any kind...It was obvious hat Sandu's further performance was destroyed by Zhukova's mindless accusation.
MKT MKT 5/8/2017 12:58
Sentence is suspended, FIDE have waved their finger is about all. Hopefully that will prove sufficient, not just for the players involved but anybody else with a notion of taking over the arbiters duties while they themselves compete in a tournament.
Fritz 15 Fritz 15 5/8/2017 11:37
FIDE is a great team of complete idiots !!! they never helped chess...and never will ! they make me sick already...
mikemarotta mikemarotta 5/8/2017 11:31
Fide should discourage similar actions when not proved. Impact on the player (Sandu ) was evident and her played the remaining rounds badly and under psycological stress.
So, the FIDE decision is correct but it came too late and this is not acceptable at all. In addition the ban period should be longer (from 6 month to one year) otherwise it has no sense.
danbotea danbotea 5/8/2017 11:10
Disgusting ! To answer after 2 years with such a symbolic and "formal" punishment for psychological harassment before the direct game M. Sandu- N. Zhukhova (Ms. Zhukhova was declared Champion at the end of competition , after these maneuvers ...- and remains Champion 2015 in the history of the European Chess) means very simple: "We don t care !" "Play it again , Sam ! " "We support and protege this behavior and everyone who have the courage to confront the Dark Forces that drive our Organization forward should be minimized and humiliated!"
Thank you guys for your false fair-play and impartiality , from today you embossed your honor and value: ZERO .
KevinC KevinC 5/8/2017 10:56
Karbuncle really sums it up well.
jackie jackie 5/8/2017 10:50
Remarkable that she gets away so lightly for such appalling conduct.
Bullies, and leads a witch-hunt of an individual who played well, and whose opponents made some errors. Accuses, stupidly, without having bothered to look at software.
It looks as though players can accuse, put off fellow players, then get off with a bare wrist slap of a laughably light suspended playing sentence.
Agreed with above - this marks Zhukova as a real low-life.
mekbul99 mekbul99 5/8/2017 10:21
I don't agree with RayLopez.
The sanction should be more severe in my opinion, because accusing with no evidence is serious crime to me and one should be very careful when doing so.
dclivejazz dclivejazz 5/8/2017 09:56
Zhukova is getting off easy for her witch-hunting act of character assassination and intimidation. But her behavior has cemented for her a reputation as a low-life. At least a few of the original signers of the false allegation had the decency to apologize.
brainboy123 brainboy123 5/8/2017 08:38
there is no prove of the accusion being false and neither being true so how can fide decide to ban zhukova i dont think that there was any cheating but the point does not matter.If fide wants to ban then ban all or dont ban anyone
Regulus Guy Regulus Guy 5/8/2017 08:31
FIDE have spoken. Anyone else thinking of doing this will know that their wrists could be mercilessly slapped.
valu831 valu831 5/8/2017 04:02
RayLopez you are an ... not smart. Ring leaders should be punished more severely in most cases, this one included. The message is not "you cannot organize a protest" but rather "if you organize one, better succeed."
drcloak drcloak 5/8/2017 03:45
A typical cat fight. One player started out with 5 straight wins and the rest of the field got their feelings hurt.
Karbuncle Karbuncle 5/8/2017 03:20
I think they used the term "false allegation" to imply it was actually "unfounded accusation", and they are warning that these players need to be mindful that you better have a compelling argument over just simply the number of wins. In the case of Borislav Ivanov, you could plainly see from the chess moves themselves he was cheating. Whereas here they didn't even bother to check the moves first to see if there was strong correlation evidence.