Tuesday, August 8, 2006

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Cheaters are everywhere

Given the many doping scandals in sports like cycling and baseball, the New York Times' Dylan Loeb McClain points out that cheating exists in "mental sports" too:

Accusations of cheating at the largest tournament of the year have the chess world buzzing ó 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 gentlemanís 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.

posted by Dan on 08.08.06 at 08:29 AM


The obvious thing to do is to have tournaments where computer assistance is allowed. It would be an excellent field for exploring computer-to-expert interactions.

posted by: Dave on 08.08.06 at 08:29 AM [permalink]

Haven't read the article (Times Select and all that), but unsurprisingly, cheating in chess has been around long before computers. The larger tournaments have been rife with 'sandbaggers' for years (since tournaments are divided into sections of different playing strengths, it can be profitable for a strong player to artificially lower his rating and then take first in a weaker section).

What's really interesting about computers in chess is the way they've revolutionized home preparation. Recently, a top grandmaster beat one of the world's elite players while barely using any time on his clock; he then revealed that he had prepared and checked the entire game (including many possible sidelines) on his laptop. The only thing he needed to do at the board was remember his conclusions! (For those who are interested, the game was Jobava-Bareev, Rethymnon 2003). This has become common practice, and it's raised an ongoing debate in the chess world as to what the nature of chess competition actually is, whether the game is played out, etc.

In response to Dave, there have been a few tournaments where top players openly play with computer assistance (this is sometimes called "advanced chess"). There used to be an annual tournament of this type in Leon, Spain, but unfortunately I'm not sure if it's still being held.

posted by: Charles Riordan on 08.08.06 at 08:29 AM [permalink]

I don't quite follow. You mean the guy already had a set move planned for every possible move or sequences of pieces from his opponent? How did he remember?

posted by: Dustin on 08.08.06 at 08:29 AM [permalink]

Not every possible move or sequence, just a very large number of plausible sequences in this particular opening line. In modern tournaments, players' games are submitted to commercial databases, so it's easy to see which openings your opponent likes to play and prepare accordingly. As far as remembering the moves, it's often enough to remember one main line and re-calculate the sidelines at the board. In this case, though, my guess is that Bareev played straight into the main line without deviating much, so Jobava just needed to recall thirty-odd moves in a line he had analysed extensively. This isn't so hard when your opponent is playing what you expected him to. [But I should stress that this was an extreme case, of course :-)]

Love the site, btw.

posted by: Charles Riordan on 08.08.06 at 08:29 AM [permalink]

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