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Cheating through dark glasses
Cheating at chess, we are proud to say, has never been a serious problem in the T&T arena. Although DR has heard suspicions dating back over decades of games being surrendered and draws being agreed to among friends, with the intention, obviously, of influencing the final results.
Whether any of these suspicions were proven to be true, DR has no idea. At the highest level of the sport, however, this kind of collusion is not unknown. It apparently became a strategy among top Soviet grandmasters who used it to maintain their traditional hegemony over the international sport.
In fact, it was this form of cheating that infuriated young American GM Bobby Fischer who accused the Russians of strategically “selling” games among themselves to prevent him from winning major international tournaments.
Fischer eventually got his revenge by brutally crushing the Russian resistance on his way to the world title which he won by dethroning Boris Spassky, 12.5 to 8.5, in Reykjavik in 1972.
Especially during the cold war years, maintaining superiority in their national sport was a vital matter of pride for the Russians. So that resorting to this form of cheating was really no big thing for them.
Now, however, the world of international chess is troubled by a different and more pernicious form of cheating. It involves the cunning use of sophisticated wireless technology by which players are able to obtain advice from top class computer programmes situated outside the playing area.
The latest incident as reported in Chessbase News indicts a former mayor of the northern Italian town of Buccinasco who has been banned for using dark glasses fitted with a hidden micro camera during three tournament games.
As Chessbase tells it, the glasses transmitted live images of his opponent’s move to a powerful chess software programme which then dictated through a secret earpiece the correct counter move to make.
Louis Cereda, a member of Berlusconi’s Peoples Freedom Party, was exposed by fellow players who had witnessed a sudden improvement in his game. The ex-mayor was transformed “from a mediocre amateur into a local Garry Kasparov,” they observed.
Cereda denied the charge but refused to appear before the tournament’s judging panel. That was a mistake, he said, “but I didn’t want to fuel controversies that could have damaged the world of chess that is my passion and has been part of my life for 40 years.”
Incidentally, according to the Chessbase report, Cereda is also facing corruption charges after he was allegedly filmed taking a Euro 10,000 bribe to green-light the construction of a car park next to a shopping centre.
The problem of cheating in chess, it seems, simply would not go away. So frequent it has become, in fact, that the Association of Chess Professionals has launched a petition calling on FIDE to address the issue. So far, 517 players, including 190 GMs, have signed.
An article by Dave McKenna in Grantland puts it rather mildly, that “the supremely old-school game of chess is dealing with a very avant-garde brand of unsportsmanlike conduct.” Unsportsmanlike conduct? How could this kind of downright, devious and devised cheating be so casually described?
As one example in several, McKenna cites the case of Clark Smiley, rated 1875 on the USCF list, who had won nine of the twelve tournaments he recently contested and “was crushing a much stronger opponent at the 2012 Virginia Scholastic and Collegiate Chess Tournament.” The student player was entering his moves on a handheld Dell computer using a scorekeeping application called eNotate which its designers had convinced the USCF was fail safe for cheating.
However, alert tournament director Robert Getty became suspicious about the way that Smiley consulted his personal digital assistant and decided to take a closer look.
He stopped the game and asked to see the PDA. Smiley pulled away and promptly turned off the device. After some uncomfortable seconds, he handed it over without saying a word. Getty fired up the Dell again and no scoresheet appeared. Instead, a screen popped up for a programme from the Fritz line of so-called chess engines.
“These are super smart, user friendly apps,” said Getty. By pushing all the right buttons on a good chess engine, any Kardashian sister could conceivably checkmate Fischer.”
Shortly after, USCF president Bill Hall announced that 16-year-old Smiley is the youngest computer cheat ever brought before the national sanctioning body. Smiley now faces a lifetime ban.
Over the last five years or so, cases of electronic cheating at chess tournaments have been highlighted in the media and generated an angry response from the sporting public of several chess-playing countries. Alarmingly, even a few grandmasters have been suspected of engaging in this sad breach of sporting ethics.
Clearly the problem has now become a serious challenge for FIDE, the world chess body, Let us hope that the ACP petition will spur them into action. Chess, which is celebrated as a unique mind game, having particular benefits for young people, should not have its image so sadly tarnished.
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