Chess just got another black eye today when a cheating scandal hits the mainstream news. Dylan Loeb McClain, a friend of mine, who is a journalist for the NY Times, published the following article today:
August 8, 2006
Cheating Accusations in Mental Sports, Too
By DYLAN LOEB McCLAIN
The New York Times
Accusations of cheating at the largest tournament of the year have the chess world buzzing — and have tournament directors worried about what they may have to do to stop players from trying to cheat in the future.
The cheating is alleged to have occurred at the World Open in Philadelphia over the July 4 weekend and to have involved two players in two sections of the tournament. In each case, the player was suspected of receiving help from computers or from accomplices using computers. Neither player was caught cheating, but one player, Steve Rosenberg, was expelled. The other, Eugene Varshavsky, was allowed to finish the tournament but was searched before each round, then watched closely during games.
Chess has always been considered a gentleman’s game, with an unwritten honor code. But the advent of powerful and inexpensive chess-playing computers and improved wireless technology has made it easier to cheat.
Although rare, cheating at chess is not new. For years, players who wanted to cheat would leave the board and ask other players for advice, or consult chess books or magazines for suggested moves. Cheating at chess may seem like a twisted exercise in ego gratification, but growing prize money has made the rewards more meaningful. At the World Open, the total prizes were $358,000, with first place in the top section worth as much as $28,000.
Bill Goichberg, the director of the World Open and the Continental Chess Association, an organization that sponsors many big tournaments, said that, if true, the incidents at this year’s tournament were troubling because of the players’ stealth and effectiveness.
“Before, a player might have discussed the position with someone who is a grandmaster,” Goichberg said. “That sounds terrible, but if the grandmaster hasn’t seen your position, I don’t know if that is going to be much help. What is happening now is that the cheaters are concealing the fact that the moves are being transmitted to a computer.”
Goichberg said the older methods of cheating were easier to spot, but there are signs to indicate when someone may be using a computer program. Programs often play sequences of moves that are different from what a player would do, and they rarely make mistakes. Another signal is if a player shows a significant improvement over a short period of time, something that is rare among adult players.
Goichberg said that he became suspicious of Varshavsky at the Open because he displayed those tendencies.
Varshavsky was among the lowest-ranked players in the top section of the tournament. In his first four games, he beat three high-ranked masters and played another to a draw. Then after losing to a grandmaster, he played almost flawlessly to beat another grandmaster in his next game.
You can read the rest of it here.