Rombaldoni: "He never calculated moves"

by ChessBase
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.

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Rombaldoni: “He never calculated moves and variations.”

In a recent article Alex Karaivanov reported on the tournament exploits of Borislav Ivanov, a Bulgarian 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. Extensive analysis by Valeri Lilov made the cheating suspicion seem quite plausible, and in a second article we presented the opinions of international experts and one of the GM victims (plus initial reader feeback).

Karaivanov also also sought the opinion of a very talented Italian International Master, Axel Rombaldoni, who also happened to lose a game against Ivanov at the 1st Cub “Old Capital” International Open. In round seven, Rombaldoni met Ivanov on board one and lost badly both this game – and with it the chance to earn his third GM norm, which would have allowed him to become a full-blown grandmaster (in the meantime Rombaldoni won the 5th Festival Capo d'Orso and gained his title).

In a Skype interview conducted before the Capo d'Orso tournament, Axel Romdaldoni (above) spoke to Alex Karaivanov about his encounter with Borislav Ivanov, as well as his view on the issue of increasing chess cheating that is being observed in international tournaments nowadays.

Interview by Alex Karaivanov

What happened at the 1st Open “Old Capital” 2013?

Well, first of all, I came to play this tournament because I needed to get one last GM norm to become a grandmaster. I saw the starting list featuring so many GM’s and IM’s and thought this was the perfect tournament for me to attain the norm! But then, two days before leaving for Bulgaria, I happened to check out the starting list again and it was surprising to find out that only two GM’s were actually going to play! Then, I realized that Borislav Ivanov had additionally signed up for this tournament.

In the tournament, I started quite well but in round seven I had to play against this guy. I already knew his story and everybody was talking about him. Even though many people were telling me to not show up for my game with Borislav Ivanov, because after three games won by forfeit he wouldn't have been eligible for the prize fund, I decided to play and face him. I was curious and wanted to see the face of the guy who wanted to destroy my norm chances and the tournament itself!

What was suspicious about Borislav Ivanov’s behavior during the game?

From the start of our game until the very end, it was obvious to me that Ivanov was not behaving as a chess player usually does. In my opinion he was never thinking – ever! He was looking at the board, the clock, his score sheet, but he never calculated moves and variations. He was always in the same position whenever I looked at him and he never looked back at me or anyone.

In our game, the first surprise for me came at move eight. One can find this same position in over a hundred games of many strong and famous players with white, like Seirawan and Polgar, and none of them played the move Ivanov chose in our game.

The Livebook function in ChessBase 12 and in Fritz 13 shows moves that have been played in this position. The line starting with 8.Bf4 was played just once, in May by Ivanov in the Old Capital tournament on Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria. The Livebook is automatically updated after every round of every international tournament.

There were like nine popular responses for this position, but 8.Bf4! was not among them. Still, it was the first choice that most top computer engines would make. Here are some comments on the game:

[Event "First International Open Tournament"] [Site "Veliko Tarnovo,Bulgaria"] [Date "2013.05.05"] [Round "7"] [White "Ivanov, Borislav"] [Black "Rombaldoni, Axel"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A92"] [WhiteElo "2303"] [BlackElo "2486"] [Annotator "Rombaldoni,A"] [PlyCount "97"] [EventDate "2013.??.??"] 1. d4 f5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 e6 4. Nf3 Be7 5. c4 O-O 6. O-O c6 7. b3 a5 8. Bf4 $146 {There were like nine popular responses for this position, but 8.Bf4! was not among them. Still, it was the first choice that most top computer engines would make. And I must say that after 7.b3 a move like Bf4 looks weird...} Ne4 9. Nfd2 d5 10. Nxe4 dxe4 11. Nc3 Bf6 12. Be5 Nd7 13. Bxf6 Qxf6 14. Qd2 e5 15. d5 c5 16. d6 {Ivanov played this right away and quickly refused my draw offer after I replied with} Ra6 {He said nothing but just made a face, as if suggesting that it was completely winning for him and my draw offer was unreasonable.} 17. Rad1 Kh8 18. a4 Rd8 19. Nb5 Nf8 20. e3 Bd7 21. Nc7 Ra7 22. f3 exf3 23. Bxf3 Ne6 24. Nd5 Qh6 25. Qc3 e4 26. Bg2 Ng5 27. Ne7 Rf8 28. Qe5 Raa8 29. h4 {One of the most surprising quick moves by Ivanov. He thought for about one or two minutes before making this crazy move!} ({White has many options here, like} 29. Nxf5) ({or} 29. Qxc5 {and even more lines to calculate. }) 29... Nf3+ ({Apart from the text move Black has} 29... Nf7) ({and} 29... Ne6 {which Borislav never considered.}) 30. Bxf3 exf3 31. Qxc5 {This move, which was played in a few seconds time, made no sense! A human would take on f3 after a little thought, not on c5!} f4 32. exf4 Qe6 33. Rxf3 Qe2 34. Rfd3 Rf6 35. Qd5 Raf8 36. Qxb7 Bg4 37. Qd5 Re6 38. d7 Rd8 39. Qa8 Qxd1+ 40. Rxd1 Re1+ 41. Rxe1 Rxa8 42. Nc6 Bxd7 43. Ne5 Bf5 44. c5 Rb8 45. Nc6 Rc8 46. Nxa5 g5 47. Re5 Bc2 48. hxg5 Rd8 49. c6 1-0

The games of the Old Capital tournament can be found here.

Earlier you mentioned that Ivanov had stayed in the same position throughout the game. What posture did he assume when playing you? Did he stand up to walk around during this long four-hour game?

He never stood up, never during my game and likely never during any of his games at the tournament. He was stubbornly sitting on his chair, even while he was winning by forfeit against players who chose to skip their games against him, leaving him to wait on an empty board for quite some time! For the entire game with me, Borislav assumed one and the same posture, supporting his chin with his hands and staring straight down at the board without looking at anyone.

The typical posture of Ivanov during entire games (here against GM Kiril Georgiev)

Do you believe Borislav Ivanov was cheating during your game with him?

Yes, absolutely!

How would you comment on the current lack of specific rules and regulations for effectively preventing computer cheating at major international open tournaments?

I believe that FIDE, working closely with chess federations and tournament organizers, has to quickly find a good solution to this issue. These cheaters (and there are many, unfortunately) are simply destroying chess! I love this game very much and can't believe that I will have to deal with the possibility that some of my opponents could be cheating while playing at international events. Technology is improving day by day, and we must expect that anti-cheating measures mandated by FIDE will be updated adequately, as well.

Should indirect evidence, like the very high correlation between top engine choices and a player’s moves over many tournament games, be factored in a new set of regulations for fighting computer cheating in chess?

I believe that it is possible for a very strong player to match top engine moves at a high rate in one, two, or even three separate games. But it’s impossible in every single game. One can’t find every counter-intuitive move that only engines come up with due to their profound calculation ability! I think this is probably the best solution to fight modern chess cheating which frequently involves the use of computer engines during tournament games.

Recently Alex Rombaldoni won the 5th Festival Capo d'Orso
in Sardinia and completed his final GM norm

Are you planning to submit an official complaint with FIDE and/or the Bulgarian Chess Federation regarding your game with Borislav Ivanov at the “Old Capital” Open?


What do you think of the future of chess in its present form in light of the recent spate of chess cheating scandals that shook the chess world?

I think that we have to show our love for chess right now, and more vigorously than we have ever done before, because this is the only way to save our game and secure its future in its present form!

The full list of local and international tournaments Ivanov has entered in the past couple of years along with some interesting statistics describing his improvement in playing strength and tournament performance are provided in the chart below (click to enlarge):

About the author

Alex Karaivanov is the manager of FM Valeri Lilov and has managed his coaching career for the past six years. He is the CEO and co-founder of Tiger Lilov’s Chess School and the president of Shanghai Chess Club: Pudong Branch. He is also involved in producing Valeri Lilov's ChessBase DVDs.

Previous articles

08.1.2013 - Cheating scandal in Croatia – feedback and analysis
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.

17.1.2013 - Cheating scandal – Borislav Ivanov speaks out
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.

23.3.2013 - A Game of Chicken: Ivanov rides again
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.

3.6.2013 - The show goes on: Ivanov in Kustendil
Borislav Ivanov is an FM who in the past months has been crushing GM 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.

5.6.2013 - Experts weigh in on Ivanov's performance
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.

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