The cheating world of chess

OCT 8 — In recent months I have noticed a disturbing trend... something I directly experienced while being Chief Arbiter at the KL Open and harshly confirmed by too many at the Malaysian Chess Festival.

What am I talking about? Very simply put, it is cheating!

Cheating in chess is not new and there are numerous stories and anecdotes told over the years, many which are part of the history of the game but what we are seeing today is simply beyond fun and games.

To start with, let me try and broadly list the various contexts where I would argue that cheating occurs and illustrate with some known incidents:

1. During last year's FIDE (World Chess Federation) election, disenfranchising of the votes of national chess federations was a common accusation; the worst incidents were where whole federations were replaced by new ones. In the main, it was about changing delegates, buying proxies and in the case of Malaysia, not voting as we had committed to previously. It is said that when the leadership has no morals, then everyone follows suit. That might explain MCF (Malaysian Chess Federation) trying to prevent several of its long-standing members voting at its coming election.

2. There is also the depriving of those who have won the right or are qualified to represent their country in a particular event. In Malaysia, it is done in several ways. First is administrative where the invitation letter and other such needed formalities are delayed to the point that the player has to pull out. But equally common is a change or adjustment in selection criteria and together with this we often see non publication or announcement of a particular event.

3. I think it is also cheating when one is playing an international open event (when looking for a title norm) and it is all but ruined for you when suddenly you find yourself force paired or getting a walkover because the organiser did not bother to verify its participation.    

4. For sure the same can certainly be said if the tournament you are playing in has a change in time control, the number of rules reduced, or when the seedings are inaccurate and sometimes the tie-breaks are wrongly calculated or even changed during or after the games are played. Would you not feel cheated?

5. What is it then when the arbiter does not know the rules, in fact not even the laws of chess, and he or she makes a serious mistake when a dispute arises? I would argue that known incompetence not addressed is also cheating!

What, however,is more commonly thought of as cheating is the getting of an unfair advantage during the game.

History is rife with what World Champions have done to secure an advantage in their matches but as unfair as some of this may have been, all this was agreed to between the parties. Even refusals to play their main rivals and their efforts to avoid them have not been taken too seriously.

Today chess is in serious danger because of the stealth use of technology by some players during games. 

From primitive to sophisticated communication methods and devices for an accomplice to suggest moves to direct interface with a computer; all this is commonplace today. 

In a tournament, the playing area is defined as where the game takes place, the general playing hall where only players should be moving around, and the toilets. 

The biggest challenge is of course that many venues to not have toilets just for players.

At youth events, to prevent access from spectators, including coaches and parents who could assist a young player, organisers tend to take the easy way out which is to bar all from the playing hall.

Yet in Open events, we see the opposite with electronic devices prevalent and in the hands of the same spectators who would normally be expelled! Photo with iPad anyone? No camera, or how about using my smartphone?

But there is also another equally — in my view — human trend which is the reason for my discussion of this topic.

I was shocked, as were many others, to see children from certain countries, with specific coaches, having been taught when competing in the faster forms of the game like Rapid chess and especially Blitz, how to take advantage of minor infringements to win on technicalities.

These still infrequent cases can be dealt with but as I moved from one event to the next, my job as arbiter became more difficult because more and more were doing it and some were even playing to create the opportunity!

Yet once again Malaysia managed to go one further.

At the KL Open, I had three to five such incidents every round without fail. Complete with confrontations with irate parents because I did not forfeit their opponents or had advised them to play on.

When they insisted they should get the point when their opponent accidentally knocked down a piece and pressed the clock, I did give them the point as the rules demand but only after asking if that was the way they wanted to win instead of agreeing to play on.

The kids cannot be blamed as they are taught this but I do wonder what kind of parents some of them have. Surely you are not so desperate as to believe everything that coach you have from overseas tells you.

Chess has no benefits for your child if he/she no longer plays for enjoyment of the game, make friends over the board and compete in the spirit of sportsmanship.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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