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.