Cheating in chess is a deliberate violation of the rules of chess or other behavior that is intended to give an unfair advantage to a player or team. Digital chess engines, data clouds, personal server space, and high-tech miniature wireless devices have been handy tools to hoodwink judges and arbitrators.
Cheating at chess is almost as old as the game itself, and may even have caused chess-related deaths. According to one legend, a dispute over cheating at chess led King Cnut of the North Sea Empire to murder a Danish nobleman. One of the most anthologized chess stories is Slippery Elm (1929) by Percival Wilde, involving a ruse to allow a weak player to beat the club champion, using messages passed on “Slippery Elm” brand throat lozenges made by Thayers.
Television shows have engaged the plot of cheating in chess, including a Mission: Impossible episode (Season 2, Episode 17) where using a supposedly “unbeatable at chess” computer, the Impossible Mission Force cheats at chess to accomplish their mission, and a Cheers episode (Season 8, Episode 19) where Robin challenges Sam to a game of intellectual cunning: chess.
Robin makes the challenge irresistible for Sam with a wager of a week’s salary, Sam figuring that he can use the winnings to buy back the bar. Sam accepts despite the fact that he doesn’t know how to play chess. Using some transmitting equipment and Norm and Pete sitting in front of a computer chess game, Sam takes on Robin with Norm and Pete’s computer help. Could this cheating get Sam his bar back, or will the computer lose, or…?
The new-age cheaters have come a long way since the days when Anatoly Karpov would allegedly be tutored about his next moves by the color of the drink he would be delivered. It all really began in 1996 when grandmaster Garry Kasparov, widely recognized as one of the best players ever, faced off against an IBM supercomputer called ‘Deep Blue’ in a series of matches. Although Kasparov won the first match, ‘Deep Blue’ won two games, becoming the first computer program to defeat a world champion in a classical game under tournament regulations.
A year later, the two faced off in a rematch with ‘Deep Blue’ defeating Kasparov, in doing so, becoming the first computer program to defeat a world champion in a full match. Chess.com has closed roughly 165,300 accounts for cheating.
While cheating in over-the-board chess remains difficult, more so since players are scanned by electromagnetic wands these days, the scrutiny in online tournaments is less intense. The easy availability of a free-to-download chess app that gives the ‘best moves’ option for all situations has sickeningly leveled the playing field. Now even a novice, aided by an app, can beat a world champion 10 times in 10 games.
For online chess, most cheaters use a chess engine to analyze game positions. To stop this from happening, tournament organizers have software that detects if a player was toggling between programs. But in case a cheater is operating the chess engine on a different device, it becomes impossible to detect. In his book The Art of Cheating in Chess, Grandmaster Bill Jordan touches on this issue. “A high correlation between the moves of a human player and an engine could indicate cheating.
To prevent a correlation from being found, the cheat may only use an engine to help in a few critical positions. Even using an engine to help in just one critical position, could help a player win a game against an opponent of roughly equal strength, especially if the players are strong.”
International Chess Federation Director-General Emil Sutovsky recently said that in the chess community, “we need a social contract, agreeing that cheating, in particular online, will often remain in the gray zone.” When asked how prevalent cheating is at the elite level, Ken Regan, an authority on cheating in chess who is a professor of computer science and engineering at the University at Buffalo, said,
“In online chess, several other elite players have been sanctioned, even apart from Chess.com and what they say in the report.” As for in-person cheating, he added, “I do not know of any over-the-board case involving someone rated 2700 or above, i.e. top 50-60” in the world that was significant.
Italian amateur Arcangelo Ricciardi hid a tiny camera in a pendant he was wearing, apparently, a good luck charm, that transmitted moves and received messages in Morse code. There are some who are still sticking to the old-school trick of a ‘washroom break.’ Georgian GM Gaioz Nigalidze, during a game, repeatedly went to the loo to allegedly check the phone hidden in the toilet flush. In 2010, French GM Sébastien Feller had a team of two give him signals during a game. He was banned for three years but is now back on the circuit.
- Cnut (died November 12, 1035), also known as Cnut the Great and Canute, was King of England from 1016, King of Denmark from 1018, and King of Norway from 1028 until his death in 1035. The three kingdoms united under Cnut’s rule are referred to together as the North Sea Empire. As a Danish prince, Cnut won the throne of England in 1016 in the wake of centuries of Viking activity in northwestern Europe. His later accession to the Danish throne in 1018 brought the crowns of England and Denmark together. Cnut sought to keep this power base by uniting Danes and English under cultural bonds of wealth and custom. After a decade of conflict with opponents in Scandinavia, Cnut claimed the crown of Norway in Trondheim in 1028. [Back]
- Thayers was founded by Dr. Henry Thayer, who studied medicine and chemistry in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1847, he opened up his first drugstore called Henry Thayer & Company. Because of the Civil War, many of his products were in high demand for the army, making his business the largest manufacturer of pharmaceuticals in America at the time. This success led him to create his own line of elixirs, syrups, and tinctures, including his famous witch hazel tonic, which remains the brand’s star ingredient almost 200 years later. Acquired by our parent company L’Oréal in 2021, Thayers remains a legacy brand that always looks to the history of Henry Thayer & Company when innovating formulas. The brand continues to fulfill its long-standing commitment to creating pure, effective, cruelty-free products that are great for all skin types. [Back]
- Anatoly Yevgenyevich Karpov (born May 23, 1951) is a Russian and former Soviet chess grandmaster, former World Chess Champion, and politician. He was the 12th World Chess Champion from 1975 to 1985, a three-time FIDE World Champion (1993, 1996, 1998), twice World Chess champion as a member of the USSR team (1985, 1989), and a six-time winner of Chess Olympiads as a member of the USSR team (1972, 1974, 1980, 1982, 1986, 1988). [Back]
- Chess.com started in 2005 when two friends — Jay and Erik — decided the world needed a better chess website. We met 10 years earlier in college, where Erik first became addicted to chess — and Jay was the chess club president. They became friends through their shared passion for the game. There were places to play online, but none of them felt like home. They imagined a place where people could build their chess home online and all in one place: to play in a safe and friendly environment, find friends, save their games, tell their chess stories, share ideas, and learn from each other. Over the next several years, Jay and Erik poured their life savings, hearts, and most of our waking hours into building Chess.com. But they never imagined what Chess.com would become! [Back]
The Indian Express