Tkachiev: How I became a cheater in chess

5/13/2015 – Grandmaster Vladislav Tkachiev is a flamboyant character. His most recent escapade: to test how easy it is to cheat in chess. He spent an hour and a half researching the subject, $30 to rent some equipment and a hidden conspirator to wirelessly send him key moves. That was enough to thoroughly trash a colleague of similar strength. Tkachiev had it all recorded on video.

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Before we come to the video of the fraudulent games, we should find out what drove Vladislav Tkachiev to undertake this experiment. It is described in a Russian language article available on his ChEsSay web site and summarizes the current status of the problem.

It was the recent case of GM Gaioz Nigalidze, who was caught cheating at the Dubai Open, with a smartphone hidden in the toilet, that set Tkachiev thinking. He believed it was time to take concrete action and conducted a survey amongst his colleagues. They came up with all kinds of different solutions: monitor toilet visits; use metal detectors to scan participants; use polygraphs on suspicious players; make everyone sign solumn assurances not to cheat. One thing everyone seems to agree on: people caught cheating, with no room for doubt, must receive a lifetime ban from tournament chess. "What bloodthirsty people chess players are!" says Tkachiev.

The Kazakh grandmaster has some tongue-in-cheek ideas of his own on the subject and presents a short list of the most promising:

  1. Competent cheaters who are caught or surrender themselves are offered amnesty and a chance to turn their weapons onto other cheaters. Equip them with ultra-modern technology and set them up as a 21st century inquision for chess, so that they can redeem themselves, just like former hackers have done in the FBI.
  2. Open Cheaters Anonymous, a club where people can drop in and help each other overcome their harmful tendencies.
  3. Provide bounties for people who successfully hunt down cheaters.
  4. Introduce criminal responsibility for the crime of cheating in chess, and help judges and prosecutors to become chess literate.

Tkachiev points out the the last point was already addressed by lawyer and WGM Irina Lymar (above), who in a ChessBase interview proposed that cheating in chess be dealt with under Article 165 of the Russian Criminal Code – damage to property by deception or abuse of trust. He quotes the case of Darren Woods who was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of one million pounds sterling for cheating in poker. (We haven't researched this case thoroughly, but it appears that Woods had succeeded in overcoming the protection of online poker sites and used multiple accounts in a single game in order to be able to see more than just one set of cards).

FIDE has, as Tkachiev points out, published Anti-Cheating Guidelines, which ere prepared by the FIDE/ACP Anti-Cheating Committee and approved by the FIDE Presidential Board in Sochi (November 2014). It is a 22-page PDF document you can study here. In it the Committee describes the procedures of checking and searching suspicious players; how to deal with frivilous complaints (two unfounded complaints in six months will result in a three-month suspension of the "witch hunter"); and the promise of an online Game Screening Tool that will help identify suspicious correlations with computer moves in human games.

The penalties for cheating are:

  • First offence: suspension from the game for three years, one year if the player is under 14 years of age or two years if the players is under 18.
  • Second offence: suspension for 15 years.
  • The offender will be stripped of his FIDE titles and norms.

Chess tournaments are divided into three categories, standard, increased and maximum, with different levels of anti-cheating protection, depending on the average rating of the players and the prize funds at stake.

The technical equipment recommended for cheating prevention are:

  • Mobile phone jammers
  • Hand-held security metal detectors
  • Walk-through metal detectors
  • Automatic electro-magnetic screening devices for metallic/non-metallic items
  • Closed circuit cameras

The hand-held metal detectors should always be considered as the first-choice device for maximum protection. FIDE has promised to obtain "extremely sophisticated anti-cheating equipment" for use in sample checks, but will not disclose th features of such devices.

How I became a cheater

"After delving into the details of the fight against the new incarnation of evil, and then the solution came by itself: I set out to become a cheater," Tkachiev says. He decided that it was only necessary for him, as a 2657 grandmaster, to receive assistance two or three times during a game.

It is interesting to note that twenty years ago Garry Kasparov had drawn attention to exactly this circumstance: that a strong player doesn't need all the moves from the computer. In part four of his History of Cheating in Chess (link below) Frederic Friedel describes how in 1996 during the Las Palmas Super-GM Kasparov would have needed just one bit – literally – of external information ("Now!") to win his game against Anand. Lacking this during the game he was only able to draw.

Kasparov's second Juri Dokhoian checking a key move with Fritz in real time during the game,
Kasparov and Anand analyse after it six hours of play – video grabs from CBM 56 multimedia.

Tkachiev decided to put his theory to the test. He discovered that with the progressive miniaturisation of electonics it becomes easier and easier to hide cheating devices on your person – he adds "or in your person" – or in the playing hall. He spent about an hour and a half to find the equipment required for his deception on the Internet, and renting it for a day cost him just 1500 Roubles (less than $30).

A colleague would be following the game on a notebook outside the playing room and occasionally transmitting a key move to a tiny device hidden in Tkachiev's ear – one he says is very popular amongst certain students (i.e. those cheating in exams). A walk-through airport detector would not find it, and a hand-operated scanner would need to be set to high sensitivity and directly scan the ear.

To this we add: any spy worth his salt will never carry the device to the scene of his activity himself. He will have it placed there for him to retrieve, much like Michael Corleone when he killed McCluskey and Sollozzo in Godfather One – a scene to which Tkachiev eliptically alludes (warning: brutal, lots of fake blood):

Michael Corleone retrieving the gun to kill McCluskey and Sollozzo in the restaurant

After setting everything up Tkachiev played three blitz games against a colleague, GM Daniil Dubov, who is slightly higher on the rating list (2647). The hidden assistant was Stas Romanov, a candidate master rated 2100, who followed the action via closed circuit video and used a notebook to calculate key moves. These were transmitted to Tkachiev's earpiece via radio. Sample instruction by Stas: "Play b4, and on axb4 go a5 and gloat!"

Tkachiev (left, with invisible earpiece) won both games. When he wanted to play a third Dubov refused: "That's enough, you really thrashed me today. A circus!" He leaves fairly dejected, and the two perpetrators reveal their secret.

Now watch the five-minute video, written and directed by Irina Stepaniuk.

We have known French-Russian-Kazakh GM Vlad Tkachiev for a long time now and always enjoyed his company. He is a flamboyant personality, very frank and open, with a wide range of subjects one can discuss with him for hours. He may be a bit wild, but he is never dull or boring. Here's an extraordinary intervew we conducted with in ChessBase Magazine, him back in 2003. Read also this interview from 2004.

Earlier ChessBase reports

A history of cheating in chess (1)
29.09.2011 – Hardly a month goes by without some report of cheating in international chess tournaments. The problem has become acute, but it is not new. In 2001 Frederic Friedel contributed a paper to the book "Advances in Computer Chess 9". It traces the many forms of illicit manipulations in chess and, a decade later, appears disconcertingly topical and up-to-date. We reproduce the paper in five parts.
A history of cheating in chess (2)
04.10.2011 – Coaching players during the game is probably the most widespread form of cheating (rivaled only perhaps by bribery and the throwing of games). Although this practice began long before the advent of chess playing machines, computers have added a new and dramatic dimension to this method of cheating in chess. You will never guess: who were the pioneers of cheating with computers?
A history of cheating in chess (3)
18.12.2011 – In January 1999 the main topic of conversation amongst top players like Kasparov, Anand and others: who was the mysterious German chess amateur, rated below 2000, who had won a strong Open ahead of GMs and IMs, with wonderfully courageous attacking chess and a 2630 performance? How had he done it? Turns out it was with unconventional methods, as subsequent investigation uncovered.
A history of cheating in chess (4)
28.2.2012– Las Palmas 1996: Garry Kasparov is agonizing over his 20th move against Vishy Anand. He calculates and calculates but cannot make a very tempting pawn push work. Immediately after the game he discovers, from his helpers, that it would have won the ultimately drawn position. The point that became clear to him: a single bit of information, given at the top level in chess, can decide a game.
A history of cheating in chess (5)
10/6/2014 – A few weeks ago FIDE took first executive steps to combat the most serious threat that the game of chess currently faces: the secret use of computer assistance during the game. In a paper written fourteen years ago Frederic Friedel had first drawn attention to the dangers that are lurking. We re-published this historical document in four parts. Here is the fifth and final section.

Cheating in chess: the problem won't go away
3/30/2011 – As you know the recent suspicion of organized cheating during a Chess Olympiad has led to three French players being suspended. One is currently playing in the European Individual Championship, where his colleagues have published an open letter demanding additional security. For years we have been proposing a remedy for this very serious problem. It needs to be implemented now.

Anti-cheating: the fifteen minute broadcast delay
5/13/2011 – For five years we have been trying to get FIDE to implement a 15-minute delay in the Internet broadcast of important games – to make organised cheating harder. A chess journalist has now pointed out a fatal flaw in the plan: it would force chess journalists to walk many yards to find out the current status of the games. Damn – and we thought it was such a good idea! What is your opinion?

Anti-cheating: the fifteen minute debate continues
6/29/2011 – Our recent reply to stern criticism leveled against us in the Dutch magazine New in Chess resulted, unsurprisingly, in a large number of letters from our readers, many quite effusive. But we decided not to publish any until at least one turned up supporting the views of our NiC critic. Six weeks went by until it at last came, authored by the critic himself. Now we can publish your letters.

Topics Cheating
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duvvurioct65 duvvurioct65 4/25/2017 05:31
I became premium member on three popular chess sites. To play fair game of chess. But disappointed. Very low rated players playing tactics of GM level. No site is taking action on these cheaters. I already withdrew my membership from two sites. I also experience same in chessbase also. Only site now i have premium membership. Soon i will withdraw from this site also.
Lafayette Lafayette 5/15/2015 12:13
Chess elite is highly suspicious . I remember Shengelia speaking freely in Rhodes 2014 about a 2700+ GM believing he lost vs S because of cheating .
algorithmy algorithmy 5/14/2015 09:47
Hey Vlady, thanks for the interesting article, but do you think we need more ideas? beside those rules which you suggested to prevent cheating: 1)amnesty 2) Open Cheaters Anonymous 3)Provide bounties for people who successfully hunt down cheaters??
What type were you smoking when you came up with that. It must be strong one, very strong!!
MarriedRhombus MarriedRhombus 5/13/2015 11:51
Cheating-festivals, anyone? There are online tournaments (by FIDE) with cash prizes.
websnarf websnarf 5/13/2015 10:57
What is wrong with the solution used in track and field? They randomly inspect some of the contestants, but taking blood/urine samples or whatever. In this case, before each round of a big tournament, people who are contending for prizes are randomly chosen and they are body-searched for any sort of device that could be used to help them while they are in the play zone.
maxi80 maxi80 5/13/2015 09:20
Chess is naive. No Bathroom Leaves. Three Half-Move Delay Transmission.
Problem Solved.
Mike Pacasi Mike Pacasi 5/13/2015 08:48
Noe it's wrong to call our species "homo sapiens" because we already evolved to a new species: "homo sapiens elektrus"...a "virtually networked computer assisted species"...Interesting to see how FIDE will deal with it....I propose: "Gens-Machina Una Sumus"...
jefferson jefferson 5/13/2015 07:55
don't worry gmwdim, in 10 years GO will be broken by computers too and its time will come.

I've encountered my fair share of uppity GO players. They're living it up now, but they're time will come.
Mike Pacasi Mike Pacasi 5/13/2015 07:12
In fact, every PRO chess master or GM, when seated in front of his adversary for an official game, he already came up with the game previously prepared by computers say up to the 40th move, and one alrady can consider this a type o cheating....
Mike Pacasi Mike Pacasi 5/13/2015 07:00
The seamless integration between Man and Machine already occurred in a degree greater than we imagine....
X iLeon aka DMG X iLeon aka DMG 5/13/2015 05:20
Love it! Tkachiev is one of our club trainer's favourite players and now one of mine too! He really plays ballsy chess but after today I see he's got a good sense of humour too! And this is definitely an issue that needs addressing. I thought scanners had taken care of this problem - no? What about frequency jumblers, so people can't use devices during the game? Oh! and re-introduce the Guilotine for some good ol fashioned French Revolution treatment of offenders...
scoobeedo scoobeedo 5/13/2015 03:55
Tkachiev did a good job, BUT on normal cases does the operator have no idea about the current position on the board. And to check for hidden mini cameras is easy. the play room should be closed before the start of the round and only short time before the games begin should be the doors opened.

Toilets near the play room should have a guard on the door. (not on every single toilet, but on the entrance of the toilet area). and fromtime to time check if somebody is extrem long time in a toilet. (Knock on the door and ask what is going on if somebody is inside the toilet for 20 or more minutes.)

Jammers will do the job. I used jammers and they work really good. But they are maybe not good because they block emergency lines too.

A better option is a radio scanner with recording option and auto band scan. Then is any transmitting of waves recorded and it is possible to check after every round for something. To find the cheater is then easy because the move suggestions. The tournament helpers need just to find which game match the transmission.

gmwdim gmwdim 5/13/2015 03:23
Looks like professional chess will die a slow but sure death. Hey, anyone up for a game of go?
Martas Martas 5/13/2015 02:54
"1. Competent cheaters who are caught or surrender themselves are offered amnesty and a chance to turn their weapons onto other cheaters." - sounds like "chance to make a photo of somebody else with a handy".
Sorry, these ideas from Kazakh "GM" must be a product of drinking a lot of alcohol after being caught. It's mainly issues caused by GMs which result in recent rules applied also for local leagues making a harder life for people who are mainly playing for fun after work.
Lifetime ban after being caught first time is the best way preventing 99.99% of people from trying something like this. Softer rules only cause more people trying things like this.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 5/13/2015 02:14
The technical equipment for cheating prevention is regularly used in Dutch school exams. There is one problem: the only device that does the job thoroughly, is the jammer. And selling, possessing or using a jammer is prohibited under Dutch law. Schools get warned and, if necessary, fined if they get caught using them. It won't be any different for chess tournaments in the Netherlands.
So I guess the only real solution is to prohibit the sale, possession or use of all chess software...
A7fecd1676b88 A7fecd1676b88 5/13/2015 01:58
Don't do the crime if you can't do the time.
If you are caught cheating, it should result in a lifetime ban from tournament chess.
firestorm firestorm 5/13/2015 01:36
I pointed out to Chessbase around a decade ago that ITE (In The Ear) hearing aids allowed radio transmission (purpose of use- primarily for teachers to have simultaneous group discussion and one-to-one communcation with a hearing impaired child in a classroom), and that these were invisble to the unaided eye. Detection is simple: use an otoscope, though as the report says, it is not simply a case of screening on entry to the playing hall.

Over the past decade the technology has, unsurprisingly, developed considerably, with ITEs now being able to take calls from smartphones. With the advent of smartphone apps that are able to communicate in natural language, one is close to cutting out the human collaborator. Another possibility (but only for the seriously hardcore or barking mad cheat) would be a subcutaneous implant to receive advice in morse (as another person suggested to me recently), if one wanted to avoid any device that could be seen (even if it required an otoscope).

I'm surprised at the claim that these would not be detected by a scanner, however, though that depends on the sensitivity of the scanner, I guess.

As a final point, there is a problem with screening for ITE aids- a chess player with a hearing loss could legitimately wear one (or two), and it would be unreasonable to demand their removal, as they can also suppress tinnitus, for example, or provide a low level of background sound to which the user habituates, the absence of which would then be more disturbing.

Regarding Tkachiev's article- yes, good demonstration, and good for him for carrying out a simple test to see if he could get away with it, even if its only a single-subject test.
KevinC KevinC 5/13/2015 01:23
From the article: "The Kazakh grandmaster has some ideas of his own on the subject and presents a short list of the most promising"

Wow, 3 out of the 4 suggestions are anything but "promising: They are idiotic. First, I don't care how much they redeem themselves, cheaters should not get amnesty. Second, Cheaters Anonymous? Really? Good luck getting anyone to organize that, let alone catch enough people in one area to make enough for a meeting. Lastly, as much as I hate cheating, I think it is stupid, and potentially dangerous to put up bounties. If someone suspects an opponent, that is enough.

I think that banning any phones from the tournament hall, and metal detectors, coupled with monitoring the bathrooms should be enough, in particular the last suggestion since it is easy to set up anywhere..."YOU, stand here, and tell me if you see anything fishy!"

Radio jammers would probably help a lot, but they are very illegal in the U.S. Even our prison systems are not allowed to use them, although they would like to. Also, most of that equipment is too expensive for most organizers (closed-circuit the bathroom?)

Making cheating something you take to the police immediately would probably deter a lot of people. It really is a criminal act as it attempts to steal money, and defraud.

KhanCaro KhanCaro 5/13/2015 12:14
We are now talking about chess and this is already sad.

But I was surprised reading student cheaters uses the same technique for exams. And what there ? The technical equipment recommended for cheating prevention listed above needs to be in schools too ?

hahaha ;)
Francis Pogi Francis Pogi 5/13/2015 11:30
Like I've said before, airing games slightly delayed to all fans inside & outside the playing hall by at least 30-60 mins would at least guarantee of honest games especially on the elite or airing the games 5-10 moves delayed is a good option as well!!
NYTed NYTed 5/13/2015 11:08
Computers might not have killed the game of Chess, but Cheaters just might succeed in doing so.
Rational Rational 5/13/2015 10:22
Tkachiev is to be congratulated for exposing this. I am sure some 'grandmasters ' are using this method.
Classical chess is finished all that remains is to enjoy a look back at pre computer chess history of true fighters like Lasker,Alekhine etc.