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    « A Tribute to Svetozar Gligoric | Main | Karjakin Interview »
    Wednesday
    Sep122012

    Another Story of Chess Cheating

    One of the worst chess inventions, in my view, is the e-recorder. Truly a solution to a problem that never existed, it would be more apt to call it the problem to a solution. Where before players had the horrific burden of having to write their moves on a sheet of paper, now they tap them in on expensive hand-held computers. Some of these units, like those sold as "MonRoi" devices, are dedicated and do nothing else. In theory, they cannot be used to help a player cheat, as the unit's chip is programmed for the sole task of recording the moves. I'm sure that no one could ever defeat that system, say, by opening the unit and putting in a iPod chip or something like that. Nah, that could never happen.

    The good news for aspiring cheats is that there's no need to go through all that trouble, as there are e-notating apps for handheld devices. How convenient! This would seem to be a boon to cheaters everywhere...but not so fast. The app is designed so that once it's running, it's "impossible" to switch to another program, like a chess engine. Wow, I am SO relieved to hear that. Governments manage to hack into other governments' national security computers, hackers breach the systems of some of the world's biggest companies and steal the private data of millions of people, but glory be to the heavens: there's just no way to hack e-notation programs! Its designers must be among the greatest geniuses of all time!! (Alternatively, those who believe such claims are among the most naive individuals of all time. I'll allow my readers to decide which possibility is likelier.)

    Speaking of geniuses, it would be nice if the ones working at the US Chess Federation would prohibit MonRoi devices and other e-notating devices, but as they have a motive (i.e. $$$) to keep them in use, it probably won't happen unless the scandals mount or someone they deem important (i.e. someone responsible for bringing in even more $$$) makes a big enough stink. Another asinine policy is allowing headphones. In addition to the possibility that the device they're plugged into can receive information from an outside source, there's the problem of "internal" cheating as well. As I've mentioned before, someone could at the very least record tracks on an MP3 player which supply all the needed opening theory. For instance, let's take an "album" on the Ruy Lopez: track 1 gives minor third move alternatives for Black; track 2 has the Schliemann, track 3 the Berlin, etc. These can be given regular musical titles, in case someone takes a quick look at the screen, and could be interspersed with real music. And this is just a trivially simple idea. I'm sure clever, industrious cheaters can think of far subtler ways to use an electronic device.

    But back to the e-notation app. There's already a story where it was used to cheat (HT: hylen), or at the very least where the player pretended to use it but only ran engine software instead. The perpetrator claims he only cheated in the one game where he was caught, a claim no one but his mother believes, among those interviewed in the story. Nevertheless, in his last few events prior to the one where he had been caught, his results had been exceptional - way over anything he had done in the past - and he made a decent chunk of change (by the standards of club tournaments, at least). Of course he deserves some punishment (though I hope he doesn't get a lifetime ban, especially as he's only 16), but the most obvious, simplest and most effective solution is to get rid of the devices. For the marginal convenience of making it easier to get one's game scores into one's computer after the game (because gosh, mousing in the moves could take upwards of two minutes for a long game), these devices create new opportunities to cheat and make monitoring the danger much more difficult.

    Will the USCF change its policy? I wish I had faith to believe that they would eschew MonRoi's advertising dollars and ban the use of e-notators in tournament play, and the use of MP3 players as well, but I don't. So the bottom line is that cheaters have a green light; they just need to be careful.

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    Reader Comments (15)

    One other way to get around the E-notate app 'security' is to write your own program which looks identical to the e-notate app but allows you to exit the program. This would not require a great deal of programming experience as you do not have to write a program that plays chess, just one in which you can enter the moves.

    I believe chess players should sign a contract which obligates them to pay significant fines if it can be proved that they cheated in a tournament. I feel bad for the players who worked so hard and came so close to achieving their chess goals only to have a cheat finish above them.

    September 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Karen

    I used to play in small club tournaments, and hope to resume doing so in the near future. I didn't really have a problem with people using MP3 players in the tournaments - I was never that worried about people cheating. I'm not saying that people haven't and won't, as I have seen examples of people cheating in unrated games on the internet. But if someone wants to listen to some Bach to make their day a little more pleasant, I had no problem with it. Besides, in the club tournaments we would all pretty easily spot it if some 1400 started playing like a 2700. And if someone wanted to listen to, say, Limp Bizket, I was DEFINITELY in favor of that (as long as the volume was down) as the brain cells they were killing couldn't hurt me! (I tried listening to music on my iPod a couple of times but found it more aggravating than enjoyable and stopped trying. It was one of those things that work in theory but not reality.)

    Now if I had been playing in bigger tournaments it would have been more of a concern - the larger potential prize money adds to the suspicion.

    But lately I've been thinking about this more. Smart phones are ubiquitous now, and every one of them might have the latest apps from any number of sources. Or even just text files with some pertinent notes. Now every trip to the bathroom is going to be cause for concern. If I go someone might accuse me of cheating (and this has nothing to do with our least favorite manager in the game), if someone else goes _I_ will possibly be suspicious of _them_ if they come back and play a couple of perfect moves. I'm not seeing any way around this for tournaments. How can the organizers confiscate everyone's phone? Short of frisking people how can they even be certain that if someone gives up a phone they don't have another device stashed on their person somewhere?

    I'm really wondering if it will even be worth it to take up live tournament chess again.

    ...

    I'll also point out that a really smart cheater will only use a device at a critical juncture and not all the time. If they know the game is reaching a crisis point, duck into the bathroom and do a quick check of the tactics. Just avoiding one or two pitfalls a tournament could make for a marked improvement in results without necessarily arousing suspicion. Sure they made the right move at this point or that, but look at all the other little and medium sized mistakes the silicon monster points out later. Matching a smart cheater to a program would be impossible unless you caught them in the act or they came up with something insane. (I've got a game of my own I'm thinking of. A wild tactical mess against a regular opponent. I had an attack and a substantial advantage, which I frittered away, eventually losing the game. Years later I finally got around to feeding the game to an engine. It came up with a fairly crushing move at a critical juncture that I'm not sure any human would have considered. Dennis, maybe I'll send you that game and see if you can spot the move.)

    So far the cheaters that have been caught have been a bit stupid about what they've been doing. Use the machines for every move in every game? Obvious and stupid. But how many smart cheaters are out there using a light touch to achieve small but marked improvements that don't arouse suspicion?

    That's the worst development. Now every time someone does well in a tournament everyone will be suspicious of them.

    September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIcepick

    "It should take maybe three or four taps, max, to record a move on a score sheet," Chrisney says. "He was making copious amounts of taps on the keyboard, and I really started wondering what the hell he was doing."

    Mind-boggling that no one noticed for so long. And what about all the prize money this cheating champ scooped up?

    September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJaideepblue

    I'm surprised headphones are allowed, I don't think they are here in Ireland. I'd heard of these computer scoresheets but I've never seen anyone using them here, they seem like an awful waste of money to be honest. I'd definitely be wary of anyone using one, regardless of this story, it just seems like a needless opportunity to cheating.

    September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCiaran

    I've been very mixed on seeing the Monroi and definitely way more skeptical of the cell phone apps for move recording. I was also wondering if the Monroi would end up with a generation of chess players not knowing any system of notation!

    Considering how many people that I know that seem to prefer using Monroi who had no handwriting problem who use it, it's probably useful for some people. The price always seemed too high to me and my understanding is that the battery on it isn't great.

    I agree on the headphones for major tournaments, but so many minor tournaments have noise issues that I've wished I was a person who listened to music while playing.

    September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJG

    Another thing that annoys me a little bit about these machines is that some players I know that have them will stare at the board on their machine to calculate, since they prefer calculating on a 2-D computer screen. These things are for notating only and shouldn't be used to for improving the user's play.

    There is one player in our club that uses one because he is physically handicapped and has a difficult time wrting down moves and he can use the machine a little bit easier. I guess that's OK, but I am still with you that these machines should not be used in tournament play.

    September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommentercheVelle

    I for one would like to see Icepick's game.

    September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

    I found the interviewer to be antagonistic. Constantly questioning Karjakin's accomplishment and fighting qualities. If I were Karjakin I would have at some point said "I am 5th in the world (presently 7th- BK) and only 22 years old. I must be doing something right.

    September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Karen

    I for one would like to see Icepick's game.

    The game is a complete mess. Two players around 1800 making a mess of things. But the move (to me, anyway) seems really bizarre. Maybe Dennis will think it isn't that strange, but he's a much stronger player than I am.

    September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIcepick

    Oops, my opponent was rated 2025 at the time. I forgot he was that strong. I'll email the game to Dennis and he can use it if he sees fit.

    September 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIcepick

    The simple thing is to just ban all electronic devices, and I do think something like that is coming, simply because I think they will have no choice. Icepick brings up a good point, though -- are people to be frisked upon entering the hall? He brings up the point that people could have a text file with some critical opening analysis on their phone, which they could consult in the bathroom or something...that is true, but people could have done the same thing with *written* analysis stashed in their wallet for many decades now.

    Seems to me not such a simple problem to solve, if the idea is to stop truly dedicated cheaters.

    September 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMikeO

    I sent this to Geurt Gjessen in 2003:

    Question Dear Mr. Gijssen, as you know, the proliferation of pocket sized
    chess computers escalates the probability of cheating at tournaments.
    Numerous ideas have been suggested to fix this problem but most strike me as
    unrealistic and intrusive. A friend suggested an idea to me that seems logical.
    The first part is that a person cannot leave his board during the game. The
    obvious flaw in this rule is that it does not make an allowance if the player has
    to go to the bathroom or has some other important task to perform. To fix this
    problem my friend suggested that the rule should be modified to read, "If a
    person leaves his board he must make his move and leave his clock running."
    This will not only make it harder to cheat but will also make it more obvious
    if someone is cheating since not many chess players would leave their board
    with such a penalty. I'm wondering what you think of this idea and if you
    have any other possible solutions.
    Also, I think if a person is caught cheating he should be banned from chess
    play for 5 years. Brian Karen (USA)

    Answer Let me start to tell you that I fully agree with you that there is a
    problem with these small computers. I think that this problem is much bigger
    than the so-called drug problem. In my opinion this is not a problem at all in
    our sport. It is a pity that large sums of money are spent to solve this nonexistent problem. But we have to find a solution for the real problem of these
    small computers and other technology of transmitting computer moves to a
    chessplayer during the game in the playing hall.
    file:///C|/Cafe/geurt/geurt.htm (4 of 11) [04/13/2003 7:05:37 AM]An Arbiter's Notebook
    During the world chess championships in Moscow the players were checked
    with a metal detector when they returned from the bathrooms. This is in my
    opinion only the first step. I am afraid that we have to check in the future all
    players before the start of each round with metal detectors. This is the only
    way to stop this problem. I do not see another solution.
    I am not sure that your solution helps. First of all, there are many players who
    really have to go to the bathroom very often during the game. It has to do with
    their physical condition and why punish them and give the opponent a time
    advantage?
    I fully agree with your last sentence: persons, who are caught cheating should
    be banned from the chess scene for a long period.

    http://www.chesscafe.com/geurt/An_Arbiters_Notebook_by_Geurt_Gijssen.asp

    September 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Karen

    that is true, but people could have done the same thing with *written* analysis stashed in their wallet for many decades now.

    Very true. But I really don't think that's much of a concern (even though I brought it up!), nor do I think someone listening to recordings of their opening lines on an MP3 player is much of a concern. I'm only about 1700 to 1830 in strength (USCF, depending on how much I'm playing/practicing) but I really don't fear people doing that too much. If someone were reduced to doing that I really don't think it will really help them except on rare occasion. Seriously, if that's the best they can do then they're probably not all that good to begin with! And the stronger I got the less I would fear that - there are just too many places for someone to vary from what you've prepared. All that time preparing your Zaitsev Variation as Black in the Ruy, and everyone plays 1 b4 against you that tournament! ARGH!

    [DM: Depends on the repertoire. Sure, someone might play 1.b4 against you, but you'll get your Zaitsev - or Najdorf - a good percentage of the time, and then it could help.]

    No, I'm really worried about using programs to find moves in critical situations. In the game I mentioned of mine (posted in a later post here) I knew, I just KNEW there was a winning move for me (as White) on move thirty. I couldn't find the move. If I could have pulled up a version of Fritz I would have seen it immediately produce the winning move 30 Bd5. [DM: Okay, but you had lots of wins in that game!] A minute to absorb the information and I would have been good to go in the game. Now I'm not interested in cheating myself. I also don't like having to think about OTHER PEOPLE cheating. I almost exclusively play in small tournaments for exactly this reason - I don't even want to consider if my opponents are cheating, and that risk is much reduced when you're playing for MAYBE $100 prize money against the a fairly regular cast of people you know.

    But seriously, most of those caught so far have been very obvious about it. How many smarter cheaters are out there, using a program for just a few moves in a tournament? I went back and looked at the tournament where I played the game that's been posted here. It was a one day, four round affair. I was rated a little over 1800 at the time. In two rounds I played people with ratings under 1000. If I were a cheater, I'd be an idiot to cheat during those games assuming my 1800 rating were deserved. In two other games I played a weak expert and a weak master. Against the expert I played a fine game, up to a point, and had a winning position. In fact I missed several wins along the way. If I had checked one of several moves with a comp, I would have won the game. I knew at least one position where I KNEW the move was there if I could find it! Alas, I could not, and chickened out from playing the move I thought was winning (it WAS winning!) on several other moves and managed to lose the game.

    (Sorry, it's late, I'm tired and rambling.)

    The point is, I could have found the critical move with ONE quick check with a comp. [DM: Of course - though you don't always know when you need to look!] I didn't need it for the whole game. Similarly, in the game against the weak master there were no more than two points (looking at the game now) where I would have needed to consult a program to secure the draw. (Well, it would have given me a much better opportunity to get the draw, more precisely.) If I had scored 1.5 out of 2 from those two games I would have won the tournament instead of finishing at .500. Again, that would have probably been an $80 or $100 prize at best, but the principle is the same no matter the size of the tournament. That's all it would take, if you're playing well anyway, just a couple of checks during critical moments to win a tournament. If you're not playing well, don't take the risk. But it would be damned near impossible to catch someone doing things this way. Even if you ran their games against several computer programs you wouldn't match things up except here and there (if they're weaker players), because they didn't actually use a computer except for one or two moves.*

    That's my big fear, and why I've only played in two bigger tournaments this millennium.

    * Unless the move is really strange. That's why I mentioned the game above, as I would have been very suspicious of some player around my strength or weaker coming up with 30 Bd5. It just seems too much like a computer move. That said, Dennis DID consider the move, though he also saw several other easier wins before and after that point. But it would take a very strange move to arouse suspicion, and even that proves nothing. We're all getting more experienced with "computer" moves, and we're all becoming a little more likely to look for strange moves these days.

    September 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIcepick

    In the Netherlands a couple of years ago a player was caught for cheating and using Fritz. However he was often away during his game so he was already suspected of cheating by several people. So I think it is not that easy to cheat over a longer period of time, without getting caught. That player by the way was banned, and lost his big hobby.

    [DM: Cheating is a problem and it's only going to get worse. Nevertheless, when there are easy ways to eliminate some sorts of cheating - e.g. not allowing e-notators, especially apps on multi-functional devices! - they should be implemented.]

    September 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeo Hovestadt

    In Contract Bridge events, cellphones and all electronic devices are not allowed in the playing hall. I would wish not to see this inconvenience in chess, but that's how it is.

    September 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKenneth W. Regan

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