Updated: April 8, 2021 9:42:23 am
Online chess has boomed during the pandemic and so has cheating by players who sit in remote locations. The latest scandal was at the international body’s (FIDE) online university tournament where the winner, a former Ukrainian women’s champion, was disqualified and so were 19 others. So how deep is the rot in chess?
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What do statistics say?
In August last year, chess.com put out statistics to show how accounts were closed, as cheating went up post the online chess boom. Before the start of the pandemic, the popular site for online play was banning about 6,000 players a month. In June 2020, the figure touched nearly 17,000. Titled players have also used illegal means. The website says accounts of 400 players with titles were closed, which included 46 Grandmasters.
What are the common ways of cheating online?
Using a chess engine, a computer programme, while playing online is one of the methods players use to cheat. FIDE president Arkady Dvorkovich has said ‘computer-assisted cheating is a real plague of contemporary chess’. Computer programmes, which power chess engines, and Apps can help a chess player play accurately and very quickly. Players can also get a prompt from those rated better than them on an electronic device, which is tough to detect as the game is being played over a screen. In over the board games, though cheating does occur, the fact that players sit face to face makes it much easier for an arbiter to detect any sort of hanky-panky.
What are signs that someone is using a chess engine?
An experienced player can find patterns that indicate possible cheating. Grandmaster Pravin Thipsay puts it down to prophylaxis (identifying a move which stops the threat from an opponent). “It is easy to make out when someone is cheating,” Thipsay tells The Indian Express. Engines have a very strange way of prophylaxis, doing it in an arithmetic manner and not in a strategic manner. The engine will always avoid a defensive move. An engine’s first agenda is counter-attack. If you threaten a chess engine (being used by a player), the machine will threaten you back, which means you don’t get a chance to play that move. After that if you play all your moves right, later on, if the engine figures out there is no way to counter, only then will it opt for a defensive move. Nobody has that sort of energy to play in such a sharp manner and always counter-attack,” Thipsay says.
Other giveaways are when a relatively new online account has a high win percentage with a very high level of accuracy, say 95 per cent, and is punching away above its weight in terms of ratings. Like a 1,500 rated player would be playing consistently like a 2,200 rated player.
Amateurs can be caught but what about Grandmasters?
Grandmasters have a much better chance of getting away if they cheat using a chess engine, says Thipsay.
“For example if I want to cheat, I will play my normal moves and when I find a crucial position I will take the help of the engine. Why beginners are getting caught cheating is because they are using the engine in every move and they depend on the engine completely,” Thipsay says.
“What a Grandmaster will do is, he will play his regular opening, he will play his regular position and suddenly at a crucial moment, he will take the engine’s help. The engine will give a good move and the Grandmaster will find logic to it. At the most, he may need one more help from the chess engine. And then the Grandmaster is in a powerful position. It is very easy for a top player to cheat and that is the major concern,” Thipsay, who has stopped playing Open tournaments online because of the cheating menace, elaborates.
What checks are in place to prevent cheating?
At the Magnus Carlsen Invitational online tournament, one of the first major events during lockdown, there were deterrents in place. All the players were asked to go into screen sharing mode during play, which would be viewed by the chief arbiter. A webcam had to be focussed on each player and two extra recording cameras at different angles were to be operational. No other software was to be kept open on the computer and games would be reviewed by an anti-cheating software. Most online tournaments now adopt strict anti-cheating safeguards.
What are the major incidents of online cheating?
In October last year, Armenia Eagles beat St Louis Arch Bishops in the final of the PRO Chess League. Armenian Grandmaster Tigran Petrosian, then World No.260, beat Fabiano Caruana, the No.2. However, Chess.com’s Fairplay team came to the conclusion that Petrosian had cheated in the semifinal and final and banned him for life. Although players were constantly monitored using cameras, Petrosian was seen glancing away from his screen often, The Guardian reported.
On Twitter, Petrosian hit out at world No.8 Wesley So, who had called him out: “You are a biggest loser I ever seen in my life! You was doing PiPi in your pampers when I was beating players much more stronger (sic) than you!… you are like a girl crying after I beat you!” Petrosian tweeted.
Incidentally, Petrosian had said drinking gin during the game helped him while playing.
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