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James Altucher


How can people possibly cheat at Chess?

Right now there is a cheating scandal in chess. Magnus Carlsen maybe implied that another player cheated in over-the-board (i.e. not online) chess. I think it's very rare to cheat in live over the board chess but it has happened. There are many kinds of cheating in chess.

Here are some of the ways people have cheated in chess. The first one happened to me once.

    1. Sandbagging

    In the 1997 World Open there was a $9,000 prize. There were nine rounds. About 500 people were in my section (the U2200 section). I was in second place and my opponent in the last round was in first place so we played on board number one. Many people were watching.

    He destroyed me. On the last round, I made a joke out of resigning. I picked up my queen and moved it all the way to the other side of the board and put it down next to his king and said, "Checkmate!". One of the watchers jumped up and said, "NO NO NO!" but then everyone laughed and he calmed down and I shook my opponent's hand.

    My opponent who cheated.

    How did he cheat? He wasn't rated "Under 2200", which was my section at the time. He was a very strong international master who came to the US and, on purpose, developed a lower rating. Then he won the section with 9 wins out of 9 wins.

    When it was discovered he was cheating they sent me a check for the full amount of the prize. It was the first time in my life I ever had any extra money.

    2. Online cheating: using a computer. The simple method

    Computers are better than humans at chess. This wasn't always the case.

    Back in 1989, I was in graduate school and working on a computer called Chiptest. It was the strongest computer in the world at the time. It was later renamed Deep Thought (after the computer in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) and then renamed Deep Blue when it was bought by IBM.

    IBM offered me a job but I couldn't take it. A girl.

    Deep Blue went on to beat Garry Kasparov and for the first time, a computer had beaten the best player in the world. That was 25 years ago.

    Now humans don't stand a chance. If Magnus Carlsen played the average chess computer he would lose 100-0 most likely.

    So if you had a computer open in one window and was entering the moves being played in another window, you could make the computer's suggestions and trivially win the game.

    This is cheating and it's pretty obvious to catch. You simply see if how close a human plays compared with the computer's suggestions.

    3. The above, but vary it up.

    What if you only used the computer every fifth move?

    What if you didn't make the top suggestion of the computer but the third suggestion?

    This is much harder to catch. One way they try to do this is to see how often you are switching away from your tab with your game, presumably to check the tab where you have the computer running.

    4. Vary it up more

    Use two different computers. For instance, use a phone. Put a VPN on the phone so it will seem you are in a different geographic address. Use a different computer than the computer program on the online chess server you are using.

    And further, use it every fifth move. Don't take the top suggestion, etc.

    This is probably impossible to catch.

    The only way, perhaps, is to maybe do more of a pattern recognition approach. Maybe some moves ONLY a computer would do and NEVER a human would do. For instance, if a move looks like a stupid move but 11 moves later you finally see the reason for it.

    So perhaps you can show 1000 people a move and if 1000 people say this is a human move but it's actually a computer move then you can classify that as a computer move.

    this way if someone even makes one computer move they can be possibly flagged for cheating. But i'm not sure how to implement this.

    5. Other online cheating

    If I have open in one window the database of all games played I can make moves that are theoretically "book" moves much longer than if I were relying on just memory.

    This sort of cheating is impossible to detect, particularly if you are using two computers, or if you are using a book with the opening instead of a computer.

    6. Over the board cheating.

    If you are playing in a live tournament, you aren't allowed to bring a phone into the tournament hall.

    But what if you sneak it in, and then go to the bathroom and look at the computer on the phone and get computer suggestions.

    Or what if you have a phone hidden in the bathroom or some other part of the tournament hall.

    One time a strong grandmaster was caught in the bathroom looking at the chess program on his phone.


    He hasn't been heard from since.

    In most tournaments, if you are caught with a phone or they even suspect you have a phone they will forfeit you from the tournament.

    7. Using a partner.

    Most tournaments aren't closed off from spectators. What if someone looks at your position, then leaves the tournament hall, inputs the position into their phone, and then when you are walking around, they tell you the correct move.

    I can imagine this happens many times. I hope it has never happened against me but who knows?

    8. What if you aren't allowed to talk to anyone?

    It only takes a little bit of computer-like information to have a significant advantage in the game.

    Often I don't even know in the middle of a game if I am winning or losing.

    What if someone saw my position and either entered it into a computer or spoke to a stronger player.

    They could then enter the tournament hall and stand to my left if I am winning or to the right if I am losing.

    This is enough of an advantage to cause most games to be won.

    9. Wearable computer

    What if I had a computer in my shoe. In some tournaments, moves are transmitted to a website so people not at the tournament can follow. What if someone following the tournament sent a message to my shoe computer signaling what moves can be made?

    10. Or even worse

    What if we get chips in our head that can transmit moves? This would almost be an existential threat to all of chess if cheating could happen all the time and never be detected.

    11. Summary: online cheating is rampant but manageable.

    There's a lot of decent detection software and it's hard to get away with. But this current scandal is a reminder how afraid people are of cheating and how demoralizing it can be.

    Hopefully this is a situation that remain under control and not get crazy.

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