Igors Rausis: How to quit chess in one move

8/23/2019 – A photo of a chess player using a mobile phone in a toilet during a tournament game made international headlines for the sport and rekindled fears of cheating in chess. Igors Rausis, the grandmaster caught in the act, says that it was his chance to quit the world of chess in one move. ANDRIS TIHOMIROVS spoke to the accused. | Photos: Playerbase

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A conversation with Igors Rausis

By Andris Tihomirovs
Originally published in
SestDiena magazine, July 26, 2019

In 1770, the Hungarian inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen invented a chess machine, whose appearance earned it the moniker of The Turk. This chess machine was showcased in the royal houses of Europe as a technical marvel. The machine played chess against human beings and often beat them. It became a genuine sensation. The Turk’s opponents included both Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin. However, needless to say, the mechanical chess machine could not play. It was a hoax. In truth, the Turk’s mechanism was designed so as to conceal a real chess player inside it, who helped the machine play humans.

Rausis phoneJust under 250 years later, on July 12th of this year, the whole chess world was shocked by the news that a grandmaster from Latvia, Igors Rausis, had cheated by using a mobile phone during a tournament in Strasbourg. The news was accompanied by a photo of the grandmaster in a toilet with a mobile phone in his hands. Nowadays, using a chess application on a mobile phone, even the world champion can be beaten by anyone in a match. This is how signifcant the unauthorised use of a phone could be during a chess tournament. Cheating and dishonest play do occur in chess from time to time, but on this occasion the news about Igors Rausis became the focal point for global attention, because during the past six years, the 58-year-old grandmaster, who represents the Czech Republic, has succeeded in climbing the chess rating list to 52nd place in the world. Nothing like this had ever occurred at such a high level.

I invited Igors Rausis to an interview to hear his version of these events, because the chess world is almost unanimous — the cheating had been going on for years and the penalty must be severe. At the outset of the interview, in order to feel more comfortable, Rausis went to the toilet. Could it be that herein lies a fine irony?


Andris Tihomirovs: Let’s go through the initial phase of your biography. You’re from Ukraine?

Igors Rausis: I was only born there. I believe that Sevastopol was never Ukraine. I grew up in Sevastopol. But I was born in Luhansk Oblast in 1961.

How did you come to chess?

As in all the big cities during the Soviet era, there was a pioneers’ castle in Sevastsopol, which I attended. It was a similar story with Mikhail Tal — he attended the one, where the President now resides. It was a nice house in Sevastopol. I played everything there: chess, draughts, but I started very late.

How old were you when you started?

Fourteen. As a beginner. I got my first rating when I was 27. I was a candidate master.

When did you move to Latvia?

In the first Latvian championship, I finished second to last. That could have been in 1985. Back then, mostly masters played in the championship and good ones at that. Like Edvīns Ķeņģis.

Was chess already your profession at that time?

I worked in a chess school. I entered university in Riga in the Faculty of Medicine, but didn’t graduate. I switched to the pedagogical faculty and graduated from there. I studied and worked. I worked in first aid. I witnessed it all and somehow escaped medicine.

How did your chess career develop in Latvia? How did you become a grandmaster?

From 1986 to 1988, I spent two years studying in Moscow at the Supreme Coaches’ School. In Moscow, I obtained the title of USSR master by playing in tournaments in Moscow. The Supreme Coaches’ School was an elite institution, where budding coaches in football, hockey and chess were educated. We had all the famous hockey players, Olympic champions and footballers there. In other words, we were training together with celebrities.

Back then chess players were celebrities too!

Well, we were coaches, whereas the hockey players and footballers were members of the USSR team. We sometimes travelled abroad for international competitions. The hockey players went to Canada and we visited Yugoslavia. In just my second tournament, I made it to International Master. But this was no surprise, because back then a USSR master was stronger than an international one.

How was your career affected by the collapse of the USSR? 

Rausis 1996I fulfilled the Grandmaster criteria from 1990 to 1992. I think I was awarded the title of Grandmaster in 1992. But then the USSR collapsed and so did my job. We were driven out onto the streets from the Riga Chess School. I had my own workplace near Dome Square. We worked there with Alexei Shirov and others. I had good pupils. Shirov was hugely motivated. He thought about chess twenty-four hours a days and started to progress very quickly. Maybe I have problems with fantasy, because I’ve never had dreams about chess. I started organising my pupils’ trips to the West; we visited Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and other countries. [Pictured in Yerevan, 1996.]

How did you end up in Bangladesh?

When a cross was erected over my chess career in Riga. It’s sad that you receive an education, have never done anything else, and then suddenly everything collapses. Grants were cut. They were tough times — salaries were tiny. And people already knew where they could earn more, so it was logical that I left the chess school. For a while, I was still officially the youth team’s coach. I looked for opportunities to earn money. I had small children. Naturally, I continued to coach. At first, I was a private coach in Southern Germany. Semi-privately, the chess federation in that country also paid me officially. I was able to travel. I worked in Bangladesh where I became the national coach. I was followed [hired as a coach by the Bangladeshi Federation] by the coach in the Emirates, Edvīns Ķeņģis.

What does a national team coach do in chess?

I met pupils, some in private; there were also group training sessions. There were also major lectures intended for everyone. Those were quite rare. The frequency of meetings depended on tournament schedules. In Bangladesh, the players were of a high standard. When I arrived, I started to coach the national team. At that time, there were already players of my level. It was very interesting to work with them. It was interesting in Iran and in Egypt too. When I quit, I recommended Edvīns Ķeņģis. I recommended Ķeņģis three times, because he also worked in Bangladesh after me.

How did you arrive in the Czech Republic?

Rausis in 2004In 2006, I also worked in Tunisia and there I received a letter from my fellow students from my Moscow days. One of them approached me and told me how good things were in the Czech Republic.

What did you do in the Czech Republic as a chess player?

I arrived in a small inhabited place in the Czech Republic, not far from Austria. I did a little coaching and started competing as a professional chess player.

Can you make a living in chess by playing in tournaments?

Only by playing […at elite level]. There was not enough money at the level where I was. But one can make a living coaching, organising trips and doing various things. I organised our Czech chess school’s overseas trips, as well as offering advice as a coach during tournaments. They were children, I was responsible for them. I literally represented them until last month. In 2007, I became a Czech chess player, which was in the interests of my Czech chess club. However, from the outset, I felt that I didn’t have a good relationship with the coaches, because I was a foreigner.

The Czechs didn’t accept you as one of them?

It’s understandable. I don’t speak Czech and I was older than anyone in the Czech team. Formally, I was among the ten best Czech players. These ten are awarded the federation’s money. For twelve years, I didn’t receive a copeck from them. I totally understand them and don’t want to complain.

Around 2013, your rating started to climb rapidly. How do you explain this?

My rating rose and fell. I also had unsuccessful tournaments. For the first time in my life, I paid more attention to my rating and I had good pupils. I started doing a lot more work on openings. I’d always found it interesting to study endgames, and to solve compositions, but in regard to openings … Unlike Zigurds [Lanka, Latvian grandmaster and coach], openings were my weak spot. I recall that one time I was visited by a grandmaster from India, and I asked Zigurds to help coach him on openings. However, computer capabilities and databases changed rapidly. Previously, I was thrilled to buy any chess publications; now there are thousands of them. In principle, with a good computer, good database and good engine, you can quickly prepare any opening. You also require patience and motivation. There are many factors. And you need to be in good health.

It’s no secret that Tal’s competitive results benefited from his collaboration with Karpov. Did your pupils influence your game?

Yes. That was an another factor. That’s why the best grandmasters seek good seconds.

From 2013, did your rating rise, because you started working on openings, you had good pupils and you kept track of your rating?

I became more serious about my rating, because I realised that it was significant. Until then, it had been different. I would turn up at tournaments ill, but now I started to pick my tournaments and to avoid double-rounds and blitz chess games and so on.

Was your goal to avoid double headers and blitz tournaments?

At my age, a person tires more quickly. It was vital for me to prepare before a game. Both in regard to my opponent and myself. It was vital for me to go for a proper walk before a game and to eat well.

When did the rumours about your possible cheating start?

That was in 2017.

What exactly happened in Strasbourg?

Starting from 2017, the pressure was considerable. There was no need for me to pay attention to social media. But nowadays that’s practically impossible. If you don’t read it yourself, one of your friends will send it to you. I also got calls from colleagues, who said: “Do you know what’s being written about you?” And there were certain confrontations, especially when the Czech team coach Konopka announced that two letters signed by Latvian grandmasters had been received accusing me of cheating. For a long time, he didn’t say who, but finally he revealed the surname: Miezis. [Normunds Miezis, Latvian grandmaster]. Normunds was, to put it mildly, shocked. [Rausis shows me the correspondence in which Konopka informs Miezis, that someone in Czechs side misheard Miezis`surname].

If the federation received letters, how could they have misheard about Miezis?

The Czechs blackmailed me with these letters for a year and a half. I don’t want to moan now. I made a huge mistake in Strasbourg, and that’s a fact. People make mistakes sometimes. That was an awful moment.

What exactly did you do during the Strasbourg tournament? Did you use a chess programme?

The phone was in my hands. You can’t see it [in the photo], but I agree that I did use one. But it was against the rules to film me. I don’t want to complain. I had a phone in my hand. Why was I holding a phone?  Maybe I was provoked by the unpleasant rumours concerning me. This was all in my head. The Strasbourg tournament was quite weak. Every other player had a phone with them. Even the player who filmed me had a phone with him. To threaten me with the courts is nonsense on the part of Mr [Emil] Sutovsky [Director General of the International Chess Federation]. Until now, chess has had nothing to do with the criminal code. [Sutovsky denies threatening Rausis, noting that the FIDE Presidential Board as a whole recommended in a recent resolution (PDF) that tournament organizers "avail themselves of all recourse that the legal system of their country provides against cheating and to submit relevant evidence to law enforcement agencies to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of matters". -Ed.]

Maybe the aspect that the tournament had cash prizes?

I signed the form. I withdrew from the tournament. I signed the statement that I’d used a phone and left. I paid all the travel and hotel costs.

Did the tournament organisers suffer financially?

No. Theoretically, claims could be brought by the players from the first two rounds. Because it all happened during the third round. But then they would have to find proof that I did it during games.

Did you also admit using an app?

I’ve got an app. Let them give me what [penalty] I deserve, then I’ll tell you.

What did you think you deserve?

Remember that I am a coach. If we discuss this, it could induce one of the youngsters to do the same. And this is the main reason why I agreed to this interview. To say that what I did is very bad.

Was this the only time that you used a phone during a tournament?

FIDE is trying to get the answer to this question from me all the time, because it matters to them. The sanctions will depend on it. In this situation, nobody is going to believe me. Trust has vanished. What I can say is what was done to me.

What exactly?

A provocation. On the part of the Czechs. I was expecting it.

But were there any other instances of this?

There’s no evidence. No matter how I answer your question, it will be used against me. If it goes to court, I will fight my corner.

Do you intend to collaborate with FIDE in combating cheating in chess tournaments?

I am now wondering whether, in my situation, it’s a good idea to continue my life in chess. Because all my colleagues, if not doing so askance, now view me with hatred. I felt this flying to Riga on Monday. There were some chess players on the plane. They noticed me. Being a coach, I would also meet other chess players. The situation with my pupils is not clear cut. Yes, some pupils left on Monday. But some remained. The question is whether it’s worth my while to continue my chess activities. I’m giving this some serious thought. But first I have to await FIDE’s verdict [referring to a pending Ethics Committee process].

What would like to say to the International Chess Federation?

I’ve already complained, but that was one instance concerning Normunds’ [Miezis’] letters. That’s not a complaint. It’s a fact. Normunds knows about this matter. I’ve got nothing good to say, but nor do I wish to complain.

People say that nobody has ever raised their rating to such a degree at such an age.

Raised? That’s a good word. During the past year, I deliberately raised my rating. I didn’t want anything to do with the Czech grandmasters. And so I started attending small tournaments, so small in fact that at one tournament, the German Seniors’ Open Championship, I won all nine games. At first, my goal was to attain a rating of 2600.

Was this was a strategy? To  specially play in the weakest tournaments to attain a high rating?

My target was 2600. After that, the backroom gossip began. I decided to maintain my rating. Believe me, I earned it myself, not sitting on a toilet. And I also played in good tournaments. This year, I was tested [for using unauthorised devices] before games during tournaments in the Czech Republic. Because they had to placate all the people writing in.

Has anyone else been accused or suspected of cheating in chess?

Lots. Unfortunately, lots. I don’t want to talk about the others. I don’t want to name any specific surnames. I don’t know why people came up with this idea of making phone apps for chess. It all started with that.

They’ve been around for a long time.

But why? What’s the point?

To play. To analyse. I play on the tram.

But they didn’t think about the consequences. Well, there are a lot of sick people in the world. Previously, this sickness didn’t exist. Gaming mania. Unfortunately, it’s a contemporary illness.

Like casino?

That’s different, because a person goes to the casino and leaves money behind. It’s like drugs.

What exactly? Chess?

Gaming. And the world supports this, because somebody’s earning money from his.

Beyond phones, is chess a sickness?

Chess players never talk about it, because chess fans like other words — like chess is art. Maybe it partially applies to those who compile compositions [chess problems].

So is chess a disease?

In a manner of speaking. A great pyramid has been built. I can now say something controversial aimed at the functionaries.

What will you do if you quit chess?

I’ll quit. If I have to, I’ll quit. But I’ll find an alternative.

What do you reckon you’ll do? Can you at least give us a clue?

I just discussed this with a friend of mine. I believe that I’m smart enough to emerge from this situation. Right now, I’m devoting my time to my daughters and grandsons. I’m happy now. And it’s easy for me now, because there’s no longer all that pressure. Of course, a lot is being written now, but I don’t read it. I’m not interested.

But there’s one thing I’d like to understand. The pressure already existed before Strasbourg, the rumours spread by fellow players. Given the shadow of suspicion, shouldn’t you have completely avoided your phone?

If you’ve got bad thoughts in your head that you can go and do something like that, then it’s better to do it.

So you wanted to be caught?

Afterwards, I analysed this situation; why things turned out as they did. Maybe It was a kind of suicide. I escaped. Now I’ve no longer got anything in common with the Czech Federation. I achieved the objective I set out to.

What objective?

Well, I thought they’d kick me out of the federation. I instantly left all those problems behind me. I don’t want to say that I did anything deliberately or that I asked someone to film me. I’m a believer. God gave me a chance. Why shouldn’t I take advantage of it? I don’t know whether I’ll stay in chess. If I do remain, it’ll only be for a while. I’ll try to make the most of this chance.

Not going to write a book?

No, I’m only a reader. And I don’t remember a book that I’ve read through to the end. I don’t have the patience.

But you had the patience to attain a 2685 rating?

That was a goal, it was not patience. Patience was travelling to small tournaments.

Original article in Latvian


Andris Tihomirovs correction August 27:

During the interview Igors Rausis showed me the email for short period of time, some seconds. Content of this email was understood as apology to Miezis and email was signed by Konopka. [The article has been updated to revise the characterization of the email from Mr. Konopka -Ed.]


Editor's note: We received the following email from Mr. Konopka on the matter:

First - there is no letter from two Latvian chess players. It was just an oral statement, irrelevant in this case. - we had received a number of other similar statements from other players from different countries.

Secondly, I have never spoken about Mr Miezis in connection with the Rausis case. It was a mistake by the officials of the chess club in which Mr Rausis played. I have never apologised to Mr Miezis! There was no reason! On the contrary, the chess club official apologised to me and Mr Miezis.

A screenshot attached appears to show an email from Mr. Konopka to Mr. Miezis, dated July 14, 2019, in which he reiterates that he has never mentioned Miezis in connection with the Rausis affair.