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Can online chess overcome cheating?

24 May 2020

Numerous disqualifications at the ongoing European Online Championship highlight the major battle online chess is fighting these days: cheating. Games with longer time controls will be an especially critical battleground. Is the detection system in place good enough? How do we sanction cheaters? Ahead of our online debate on Tuesday here is an update by Conrad Schormann.

Five out of six players at the top of the B group of the European Online Championship were disqualified.
Five out of six players at the top of the B group of the European Online Championship were disqualified.

Five out of the six players who took the first six places in the 1400–1700 category of the European Online Championship were subsequently disqualified. In total, more than eighty participants have been disqualified so far in all categories, the majority were from the children’s and youth competitions. The news circulated fast on social media, but you would not find it on the website of the European Chess Union. Before this massive event that is hosted by Chess.com, it was anticipated that some participants would use forbidden electronic assistance. It was also expected that they would be found out. And so it happened.

The European Online Championship highlights the greatest challenge faced by online chess – cheating. How can all cheaters be found? How can cheating be prevented? What penalties are fair? Should penalties for online cheating be extended to over the board play? And how does it all look from a legal point of view? For as long as all or most competitions are online, solutions are urgently needed.

The ECU is banning the accused participants for two years. “For the time being only online”, was clarified in reply to ChessTech’s query. But expanding the cheating penalties to over the board play is currently under discussion, ECU stated.

FIDE’s General Director Emil Sutovsky says: “Cheating is a huge topic that I work on dozens of hours every week.” FIDE is planning a digital Chess Olympiad in the second and third week of July. Its rules and anti-cheating mechanisms have to be fixed as soon as possible. Sutovsky hopes that by the summer a system will have emerged that makes competitions and results credible – not only for world-class players but for everyone. “In this regard, we are also doing the preparatory work for the national associations”, Sutovsky writes on Facebook.

The legal justification for the bans imposed by online providers is uncharted territory. The terms and conditions for a Playchess (the platform run by ChessBase) tournament conducted by the German Chess Federation DSB include the rule: “If the tournament director … believes that the game was played with the help of an engine, it is on him to decide to exclude the player from the tournament. This decision is final.” If this passage would stand in court, we will only discover when someone takes legal action.

Chess.com, with its multi-headed anti-cheating staff, claims to have made a breakthrough in cheating detection recently. “Bring it on!”, said Daniel Rensch recently in a video on cheating. Whenever Chess.com bans someone the company is confident not only about its detection process but also about the robustness of its legal position according to Rensch. For some competitions, Chess.com has now asked the participants to align a second camera on the keyboard/screen during the game and to be reachable at any time via WhatsApp or Zoom.

The German Online Chess League starting in June already has a logo, but does it have an anti-cheating policy?
The German Online Chess League starting in June already has a logo, but does it have an anti-cheating policy?

While FIDE is working out its anti-cheating policy in cooperation with the leading platforms, some national federations are confronted with the issue of sanctions. In the UK the online version of the “Four Nations League” (4NCL) started in April and soon enough had its first cheating cases. The English Chess Federation has considerable legal reservations about applying online bans also in over the board play. In the preliminary round of the Austrian Internet Championship there was a cheating case as well. The secretary of the Austrian Chess Federation Walter Kastner wrote in an internal circular that a regulation was now being drawn up, “according to which such behavior will also have far-reaching consequences”.

The developments are probably closely watched by the German Chess Federation. It has announced a club league similar to 4NCL with longer time controls on Playchess to take off in June. ChessTech asked what measures are planned to deal with cheating. No reply so far. Let us assume that they wait for inputs from our webinar on Tuesday.

Debate: Can Online Chess Overcome Cheating? Tue 26 May 2020, 17.00–19.00 CEST (4–6 pm London time)

Also read: The hunt is on