Anti-cheating shenanigans at the World Chess Olympiad

SEPTEMBER 8 ― The World Chess Olympiad held in Baku, Azerbaijan from September 1-14 is well underway with four rounds played at the time of writing.

Azerbaijan has a lot of experience hosting mega events such as the recently-concluded Formula 1 Grand Prix, last year's European Games and of course the Eurovision Song Contest so participants at the Chess Olympiad are wanting for nothing.

On the other hand, what is considered one of the best Olympiads in recent memory has been marred by the usual combination of World Chess Federation (FIDE) incompetence and politics.

It has to be said that Armenia, a two-time Olympiad champion which would have been one of the favourites here, was never going to take part if the Olympiad was held In Azerbaijan despite the assurances by FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and others.

What was a little alarming was so many did not have their visas till the last minute. That is the reason being given unofficially as to why several countries did not actually show up while others were late but for countries that followed procedures early on, there was absolutely no problem.

So the Tromso Olympiad retains its crown as the best attended in history!

This Olympiad sees anti-cheating measures which have been rather aggressively introduced by a new FIDE Anti-Cheating Commission that has to work with the FIDE Arbiters Commission. The creation in secrecy of special anti-cheating arbiters and pretending to have trained them is pathetically misleading, not to mention amateurish.

One experienced trainer noted, in an anti-cheating discussion forum on FaceBook, is that once everyone has been cleared to enter the tournament hall ― after being subjected to scanning and searches of bags for prohibited items such as communication devices and with the venue and playing having been similarly secured ―  why is there a need to keep hassling players through random and targeted checks during and after play based on the judgement of these so-called specially trained anti-cheating arbiters?

At the captains' meeting before the start, I, together with other more experienced captains, was shocked at how poor the senior technical team was. The match arbiters were not told what the rules were as apparently the arbiters' meeting held before ours was equally a shambles.

Then during play itself in the four rounds held, it became clear that many of the middle arbiter management in place such as the sector arbiters were not only not empowered but were either unable or afraid to make decisions while the most senior arbiters who were their bosses were, as has become the norm, guided by FIDE relationships and politics.

As such, they refused to commit to, let alone actually make any difficult decisions, and so simple queries were ignored although a few did admit to their challenges while appealing to friendship for sympathy.

It was especially painful to see ― at the captains' meeting ― the Chief Arbiter from Azerbaijan sidelined and the Tournament Director who is the chairman of the FIDE Arbiters Commission and usually Chief Arbiter of major events, instead taking over his role while speaking for him.

FIDE is very fond of giving titles and positions at such events away to reward their supporters and there is no question that the Tournament Director is both competent and capable but only if he was the Chief Arbiter and not obliged to accommodate the many vested interests.

Perhaps it was out of sheer frustration but several former legends of the game who were present decided to make a point of their distaste for a particularly obnoxious anti-cheating rule by drafting a petition, which at the time of writing, has at least a hundred signatures of the captains.

So what rule is this? Well, very simply put, players have to get permission to go to the toilet!

I do know by talking to some of the arbiters that they were instructed to record the number of toilet visits by players; at a certain number deemed suspicious, they would be subject to investigation by the special anti-cheating arbiters. While that sounds not too unreasonable, at every Olympiad, in a large and rather cold hall and with tensions running high and when large amounts of water, coffee and tea are being consumed, there is a constant flow of players and officials to and from the many toilets.

The toilets in the venue are restricted to players who do not have any communication devices on them and in fact the place does not even have Wif-Fi.

But the real issue and the underlying reason for the petition ― as a FIDE official put it so well on Facebook ― is that these measures are an insult to both chess players and their profession as the assumption is that everyone is looking to cheat and are cheating!

Sorry, FIDE, we are not the mediocre chess players who have joined you on the dark side. We actually love chess and are simply not like you!

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.