In Trini parlance, Milan Matulovic was obviously “trying ah ting.” At the Sousse Interzonal chess tournament in 1967, the Yugoslav Grandmaster played a losing move against Istvan Bilek and quickly took it back after announcing “j’adoube”. Amusingly enough, the experienced Yugoslav champion was able to get away with this obvious attempt at cheating. An outraged Bilek complained to the arbiter but, for whatever reason, Matulovic’s illegal “gambit” was allowed to stand. Even the non-playing reader would know that in chess, as in other board or table games, taking back moves is a dishonest no no. The phrase “j’adoube”, French for “I adjust”, is used simply as a courtesy before adjusting pieces on their particular squares and not as a way to cancel moves already played.
For trying and getting away with this piece of trickery, Matulovic, a prolific competitor in international tournaments in the 60s and 70s, earned for himself the nickname “J’adoubovic”. This episode, however, is far from being an isolated one, and cheating in the royal game, even among the most celebrated players, is just as frequent and furtive as in any other sport. One famous incident, in fact, involves world champion Garry Kasparov who, it is reported, illegally changed an apparently losing knight move against Judit Polgar during the elite 1994 Linares super tournament.
Almost immediately he realised the dire consequences of the move and quickly placed the knight on another square. He eventually won the game. Tournament officials had a video tape of the play showing that Kasparov’s hand had, in fact, left the piece, however briefly, but they refused to release the evidence which would have given Polgar the game. However, against the rising woman GM was the fact that she waited one full day before registering her complaint when, according to the rules, such a claim should have been made during the game. Polgar, who was 17 at the time, eventually became the greatest female chessplayer ever, the first woman to compete for the World Chess Championship title in 2005. After the Kasparov incident, she explained: “I was playing the world champion and I didn’t want to cause any unpleasantness during my first invitation to such an important event. I was also afraid that if my complaint was overruled, I would be penalised on the clock when we were in time pressure.”
Cheating at chess has a long and dark history dating back to the 18th century when members of the public were hoaxed by “automatons”, such as the famous “Turk,” claiming to be ‘miraculous’ chess playing machines which, in fact, were contraptions operated by skilled players hidden inside their box-like structures. Oddly enough, the most recent cases of dishonesty in the sport involve something of the opposite, surreptitious attempts by players to reproduce the “skill” of machines, namely expertly programmed computers. Assisted by the easy person-to-person communication provided by omnipresent cellphones, the temptation among some chessplayers to use this technology for cheating seems to becoming more and more irresistible.
This, in fact, comprised the stratagem used by 23-year-old FM Christoph Natsidis to gain an illegal advantage at last month’s German Championship, a “gambit” which resulted in his disqualification. Natsidis admitted to cheating after he was caught consulting a chess programme on his cellphone during the penultimate game of the tournament. The IM norm, which he had scored even before the final round, was also rendered invalid. An even more elaborate stratagem for cheating was apparently devised by three top French players at the Olympiad in Siberia last September. The three, GM Sebastien Feller, 19, Cyril Marzolo and captain Arnaud Hauchard were subsequently suspended by the French Chess Federation for “violating sporting ethics.”