The issues aren’t limited to chess, with similar issues reported in poker, bridge, and even backgammon, but they are perhaps the most disruptive for a game with a reputation for gravitas and class.
“The pandemic brought me as much work in one day as the year before,” said Professor Kenneth Regan, an international chess master and computer scientist whose model is used by sport’s governing body, Fide. , to detect suspicious game patterns. “It ruined my sabbatical.”
Fide chief executive Emil Sutovsky described it as “a huge subject on which I work dozens of hours a week”, and its chairman, Arkady Dvorkovich, said “computer doping” was “a real deal. scourge”.
At the heart of the problem are programs or applications that can quickly calculate nearly perfect motions in any situation. To counter these drivers, more and more high-level match players must agree to be recorded by multiple cameras, be available on Zoom or WhatsApp at all times, and grant remote access to their computers. They may not be allowed to leave their screens, even for bathroom breaks. In some cases, they must have a “supervisor” or supervisor search their room and then sit with them throughout a game.
Sutovsky also suggested that eye-tracking programs could be a way to raise a red flag if a player appears to look away with suspicious frequency.
Chess.com, the world’s largest online gaming site, said it saw 12 million new users this year, up from 6.5 million last year. The rate of cheating rose from 5,000 to 6,000 players banned each month last year to nearly 17,000 in August.
Gerard Le-Maréchal, the site’s fair play team leader, said he had brought in three new staff to deal with the issue. “I think it’s related to the fact that people are locked up. It’s so easy to do, so alluring, and it definitely creates a crisis.
The growth of cheating and the corresponding explosion in discussion of the issue on social media has created a new atmosphere of suspicion and recrimination. “Paranoia has become the culture,” said Le-Maréchal, whom a friend called “the cyberchess sleuth” when he got the job. “There’s this very romantic take on the game that’s being sabotaged.”
While chess.com is reluctant to reveal details of its system, Regan describes it as “a role model who detects cheating as a departure from the inclinations of an honest human player.” With enough evidence, such models produce a high level of confidence that a given player could not have performed a particular set of moves without assistance.
The most significant of recent disqualifications came in the PRO Chess League when the St Louis Arch Bishops, a team made up of America’s top players, lost to underdogs Armenia Eagles in the final.
The Eagles’ victory hinged on the performance of Tigran Petrosian, Armenian grandmaster and world No. 260, who stunned commentators with his victory over Fabiano Caruana, ranked second in the world.
Petrosian attributed his game to the gin he drank during the match. But suspicious observers suggested that he often seemed to look away from his screen, and chess.com then canceled the team’s wins and banned him for life.
Petrosian later called these claims “silly and fabricated claims.” He posted a long rant to another opponent, world No.8 Wesley So: “You’re a bigger coward. [sic] I’ve never seen in my life! You were doing PiPi in your care when I beat players much harder than you!… You’re like a girl who cries after I beat you!
So, for his part, told The Guardian in an email that he felt sorry for Petrosian. Thinking maybe of Lance Armstrong, he added, “I was a huge fan of a certain rider and part of me understands the pressure to be successful at all costs. At the same time, I feel pain for the other competitors… Who will restore what was taken from them? ”
Conrad Schormann, who covered the cheating crisis as the editor of chesstech.com, notes that Petrosian didn’t appear to be getting help with every move, making the suspicious behavior even harder to spot. “In his games, there were anomalies, divine sequences he played, but there were also errors,” he says.
Such controversies have been reproduced even in the low-stakes world of junior gaming. Sarah Longson, a former British ladies ‘champion who runs the Delancey UK Schools’ Chess Challenge, said at least 100 of the 2,000 online entrants had cheated.
The cheating was blatant, she said, with mediocre tweens at the level of world champion Magnus Carlsen. “But only three of them admitted it, which is pretty disgusting. After realizing the day before the final that the top three qualifiers had all cheated, she said, “we stayed up until 3am deciding what to do” and almost canceled.
“These are the kids from private schools, unfortunately,” she said. “When I call their parents, they get mad at me. They are under such pressure to be successful.
Without a significant culture shift, most people say, cheating is unlikely to take place directly. Regan is realistic but determined. “If you cheat on one fell swoop, I’ll deny any possibility of catching you,” he said. “You can fly under the radar. But if you keep going at the same pace, you’ll eventually get on the radar. “