Paranoia threatens to upend professional chess

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In September, chess world champion Magnus Carlsen accused a young grandmaster, Hans Niemann, of cheating after losing a match to him in the 2022 Sinquefield Cup. After weeks of speculation, a Chess.com investigation found Niemann likely cheated more than 100 times in online chess, giving the prosecution more credence by Carlsen.

Although this particular case has captivated the public due to Carlsen’s involvement, as well as rumors of how Niemann might have gained the upper hand, many high-level players fear that it is easy to cheat and scam. ‘draw.

“There’s a lot of paranoia out there,” Grandmaster Jon Tisdall said in a recent conversation with me on the second captains podcast. “And that’s the word that the best players use about it. My general opinion is that everyone suspects some of their colleagues, not necessarily the same ones, and not necessarily for the same things. This paranoia poses an existential threat to the game professional chess community and must be addressed with changes in the way cheating is detected, reported and investigated by chess organizers and governing bodies.

How exactly someone cheats during a game of chess? Although there is speculation about the possible use of high-tech gadgets like this, or the use of a small vibrating device as was alleged in the case of Borislav Ivanov (who was suspected of having hidden a device in his shoe), the most common form of cheating in tournaments is much less glamorous: the use of mobile phones in the toilets. Such was the case with Igors Rausis, who was caught out during the Strasbourg Chess Open 2019 when a photo of him in the bathroom on his mobile phone, analyzing his game, leaked. While Rausis admitted to cheating and later announced his retirement from professional chess, FIDE, the international chess governing body, revoked his grandmaster title and banned him from participating in FIDE-rated events for six years. year.

In another well-known case, several members of the French team were caught up in a complex scheme during the 2010 Chess Olympiad. A player watched a broadcast of the matches remotely and analyzed them on a computer. He then texted the best moves to the team captain, who was present in the playroom. The team captain then communicated the moves to the player at the board using convoluted visual code.

Since 2006, when the cheating scandal known as “toiletgate” rocked the chess world, FIDE has used statistician Kenneth Regan’s model to analyze chess games and make decisions about cheating in games. situations where there is no concrete evidence.

Regan’s model determines the likelihood of cheating by analyzing a player’s in-game moves against expected performance based on their rating. It is not designed to report anyone may cheat, only to catch those who almost certainly have cheated. Such determinations are much easier to make with weaker players. Recently, Regan told ChessBase that there was no reason to suspect Hans Niemann of cheating – a verdict now in doubt, given Chess.com’s report.

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