In the opening words of an old song, "There are worse things I could do...", and that certainly applies to cheating in a chess game. Nevertheless, Arne Moll's argument over on ChessVibes (HT: Brian Karen) that cheating a la Falko Bindrich (allegedly) really isn't so bad seems a bit strained. His reasoning goes roughly like this:
1. Practically everyone cheats sometime, and is thus a "cheat".
2. This happens in tournament chess too on a very regular basis as well, when players chat about their games with friends and colleagues - a practically he admits to participating in as well.
3. So Bindrich's (alleged) cheating (i.e. consulting a chess engine on a smartphone during visits to the toilet) really isn't so bad; in fact, Moll claims not to be sure that " this would be any worse than discussing the position with friends or colleagues".
Moll doesn't mean that cheating isn't wrong and shouldn't be discouraged - he says both. But he does downplay it - it seems more of a peccadillo than a "mortal sin" against the game, in his telling, and he is more concerned with the civil liberties aspect of searching players and/or taking their phones in advance, and with compassion for people like Bindrich.
Some of what he says is surely right, and we should all beware of Phariseeism and have compassion on those who have gone morally amiss - especially when they are repentant. And point 1 above is surely true as well, as both research and a modicum of honest introspection will prove in spades. (Though one may argue about the application of labelling someone a "cheat". But let's waive that and move on to more interesting worries.)
But points 2 and 3 in the argument above are simply incredible, in the sense of being unbelievable. That's a little quick though. The second premise is ambiguous between two interpretations. On one interpretation, it's true or at least plausible, but useless. On the other interpretation it helps his argument, but is very highly implausible. (At least I hope it is!)
It's true that many players will discuss their games with their friends, and it's also true that they shouldn't do this. But what sort of "discussion" is taking place? I've had (lower-rated) friends ask how my game is going, and on occasion I might say "I think I'm doing well" or "I'm not sure!" or "it's looking tough". I've probably even said things like "I plan to do [such-and-such], and then the game should be over". But that's the end of the discussion - I don't solicit advice from them, and if they started to volunteer it I would shush them immediately. Nor will I give my friends any advice during their games.
I've seen these kinds of conversations a lot in my experience, and while they may be against the letter of the law they're pretty innocuous. There's no comparison with what Bindrich allegedly did! He wasn't consulting with Pocket Fritz to get a bit of friendly moral support; he was looking for information. So this doesn't help his argument a bit.
What he would need to make the argument go is full-fledged interpersonal cheating: "Hey Arne, did you consider the following variation....?" That would give his argument wings alright, but that kind of discussion, that kind of cheating, is rare - at least I hope it is. I hope those aren't the sorts of discussions Moll has been engaging in with his friends. At any rate, most of us would find that sort of act reprehensible in the tournament context. There are worse things one can do, but not as a chess player!
Finally, even if we give him premise 2, which we shouldn't, even then I think the final step fails (though as a matter of degree, not of kind). If I ask a fellow master what he thinks about my position, I'm going to get a snap judgment from a peer who is distracted by his own game. Consulting with a smartphone's engine will give me the advice of a stronger and altogether undistracted player who can spend several minutes calculating the position with all its might. My fellow master might give me a moment's insight, but he might just as easily miss the boat. (All the more so if I'm a 2000 asking a fellow 2000, a 1600 asking a fellow 1600, etc.) But the engine will give me concrete information I can use, information that's far likelier to be accurate.
In conclusion: of course Bindrich didn't kill anybody and we should take civil liberties into account. (Though putting it this way may be inapt: it's not as if there's a universal right to play in chess tournaments guaranteed by God, the natural law or even the U.N.'s Declaration of Human Rights.) But that doesn't mean that what Bindrich is alleged to have done is trivial, or just slightly past trivial. Even aside from questions of competitive honor, it's potentially a matter of theft: there can be hundreds, even thousands of dollars at stake in tournament chess. In the real world that sort of thing can land one in jail. (At least unless one has the good fortune to be in government. Then it's called "taxation".) Why isn't it a big deal here, too?