Cheating in the chess world is nothing new; for more than three centuries the first gadgets emerged to surprise the occasional unsuspecting rival; even General Napoleon was once a victim. The inexorable passage of time, the skill of cheaters and electronic advances put tournament organizers and referees in check, who sharpen their ingenuity every day to put an end to so many suspicions that cast a shadow over the noble game.
The last one happened during the development of the Sinquefield Cup, at the St. Louis Chess Club in Missouri, between September 2 and 11, and with USD 350,000 in prizes. The case caught the media attention because the current world champion and No. 1 in the world of chess, the Norwegian Magnus Carlsen decided to abandon the competition when only three of the nine scheduled rounds had been runafter losing -according to his own criteria in a strange way- against a weaker rival, a 19-year-old American, Hans Moke Niemann, No. 41 in the international ranking. Carlsen was unbeaten in 53 games with no losses over two years.
And perhaps because the axioms of chess tend to draw similarities to life itself, the Norwegian resorted to that strategy in which “threats are worse than execution” to formulate his defense. On purpose or advised, the world champion Carlsen, posted on his Twitter account: “I withdrew from the tournament; I always liked playing at the St. Louis Chess Club, and I hope to return in the future”, and accompanied the letter with a video of José Mourinho in his time as Chelsea football coach, who after a defeat confessed: “I’d rather not talk; if I speak I will have serious problems”.
If what happened took the chess family by surprise, the commotion was even greater when the press consulted the young Californian “David” about his victory against the Viking “Goliath”. “He must be very demoralized losing to an idiot like me; he must be embarrassing for the world champion to lose against someone like me”, Niemann said that in that tournament he only had one win (against Carlsen), two losses and five draws.
Carlsen’s fans, who number in the millions around the world, and most of his colleagues – who pay unanimous respect to his figure, many even put his name before Kasparov, Fischer or Capablanca – decided to come out in his defense. Due to idolatry or solidarity in the field of chess, a witch hunt was unleashed on the young Niemann, without having the slightest evidence against him. Only an old sanction imposed by an online chess site came to light, when the American was 12 years old and used an electronic device to win an Internet chess game.
“I know I’m clean, if they want me to undress completely before the games, I will do it; I don’t care,” Niemann said in a new interview for a YouTube channel in the US.
For all this, not even the meticulous analyzes of the experts, who showed that it was a game “no outside computer help” and that the defeat was as a result of better preparation and the execution of better movements, were enough to calm the media lynching that the young man born in San Francisco was subjected to on social networks on June 20, 2003.
Only former world champion Garry Kasparov dared to take a different look at the matter, and even took aim at Carlsen for not making a detailed statement:
“I will not delve into the ugly innuendos of the matter now, but I must comment on what we do know: the world chess champion Magnus Carlsen withdrew from the world’s biggest tournament in St. Louis, an act unprecedented in the last 50 years, and his explanation is required.” he wrote on his @Kasparov63 Twitter account, adding: “Carlsen’s withdrawal was a blow to chess fans, his colleagues at the tournament, the organizers and, as rumors and negative publicity swirl in the void, to the game. The world title has its responsibilities, and a public statement is the least of them here.
To make matters worse, and when everything seemed to be archival material for a new chapter in the book Chess Traps, a new competition arose (online chess on the Internet), The Julius Baer Generation Cup, between September 18 and 25, belonging to the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour circuit, and that distributes 1.6 million dollars in prizes. To that test of 16 players that counted among them and as the main star the champion Magnus Carlsen, the North American Hans Niemann was added as a guest; again the Norwegian would be a rival of his last executioner. While all the curiosity was fed by the way in which Carlsen would expose the shortcomings of his rival in the middle of the game, the opposite happened unexpectedly. The showdown took place on the 6th wheel, and after the American’s 1st move 1.d4, the champion replied 1.Nf6, and after Niemann executed the 2nd move, c4, with his mouse, the world champion turned off his screen and gave up his game.
Once again the demons were shot through social networks; Carlsen had found a new way to voice his protest. While the fans stood by the champion’s decision, now Many experts considered what happened to be disrespectful. Even in his country, Norway, where the influence of the champion not only changed the nightlife of a nation (since its consecration, the demand for themed bars with chess practice has grown) and the current head of government and leader of the Labor party, Jonas Gahr Store, 61, is one of the great fans of the ancient game, the first rumors emerged in disagreement with his conduct.
While on Reddit (a social bookmarking website where users add text, images or videos and vote for or against the content), someone referred to a new method of cheating in chess, whom he baptized “anal chips”. A joke referring to a new hiding place in the human body to introduce a chip that transmits information to the user. The case reached the ears of Elon Musk, owner of Tesla, who linked the joke with a phrase by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. And on his Twitter account he published (a post he later deleted) and it went viral: “Talent reaches a goal that no one else can reach. The genie hit a target that no one can see (because he is in your c…).”
Only then, and when the term anal beads and cheating in chess became trends in social networks, the Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, 31, decided to break his silence and accepted an interview on TV in his country. There he said: “Unfortunately I can’t talk about it in particular, but people can draw their conclusions, and they certainly have already done so. I have to say that I am very impressed by Niemann’s game, and I think his mentor, Maxim Dugy, You must be doing a great job.”
Carlsen’s reference is not accidental; Dugly is about an American teacher of Russian origin, who was a junior world champion. In the United States he held the presidency of the chess federation, but 17 years ago he was imprisoned in Russia, accused of embezzlement. He was released the same year.
The great Spanish teacher Miguel Illescas, IBM adviser in the duel between Kasparov and Deep Blue, and director of the King’s Pawn magazine, also gave his opinion on the subject: “Maxim Dugly is a controversial character, with a curious biography. He was the one who discovered the Bulgarian Borislav Ivanov, at the open tournament in Zadar in 2013, who hid a device in his shoe to receive the moves he had to make on the board. I dare to think that there is some irony or double meaning in Magnus’s words.
At the end of the interview with the Norwegian journalist Kaja Snare, the world champion was asked if cheating is a problem for chess; Carlsen said, “I think different people will answer that question differently depending on their own experience, but regardless of whether it’s a widespread problem or not, I think it’s pretty easy to cheat. I think that in the future we should not take cheaters lightly, neither online nor on the board.”
It is true that, for more than twenty years, when the International Chess Federation (FIDE) began its campaign for the activity to be part of the sports of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), it included doping controls in its main competitions and such once neglected another aspect such as electronic doping that so much damages the image of the game. The measures taken to date were not enough.
Undoubtedly it is a pity the damage caused by cheaters. Because chess is just a game, the nobility attributed to it is the nobility of those who play it. Y the vast majority of chess players are noble people. At least until new technological advances dare to show us otherwise.
A HISTORY OF CHEATING
In 1769 the automaton El Turco (later known as the Liar Turk) was presented at the Court of Empress Maria Teresa of Austria; a mechanical device built by Wolfgang von Kempelen. It was a farce that pretended to be an automaton that played chess (a chess master was camouflaged inside), Napoleon was defeated with that deception.
In 1999, at the Böblinger Open (Germany), Clemens Allwerman, an amateur player who scored 7.5 points in 9 games, used a device hidden in the temples of his glasses and a micro camera in the frame of the glasses that focused on the position of the board and received the answers for his moves.
In 2006, the “Vatergate” scandal was famous in the match for the world title between the Bulgarian Topalov and the russian Kramnik. Topalov accused his opponent of entering the bathroom (a place with no tracking cameras) more than 30 times in less than an hour during the games. Kramnik won the match and a subsequent inspection showed that there were network cables for Internet connection on the ceiling of the bathroom.
In 2010, the French Chess Federation sanctioned masters Sébastien Feller, Arnaud Hauchard and Cyril Marzolo, after it was shown that they cheated at the Khanty-Mansyisk Olympiad.
In 2010, Svetlana Kiseleva was disqualified by the Benidorm Open organization for being suspected of cheating and committing fraud. She never received the award from her.
In 2015 Georgian grandmaster Gaioz Nigalidze was discovered in the bathroom at the Dubai Open using a mobile phone to analyze the game.
In 2015, during the European Women’s Chess Championship, several teachers signed a manifesto against the Romanian player, Mihaela Sandu. However, the analyzes of renowned experts showed that the suspicions were unfounded.
In 2019 the Latvian Igors Rausis was discovered in the bathroom of the Strasbourg Open using a chess program on his cell phone looking for the best moves. He was suspended for six years and barred from participating in official competitions.