Background

The Hunt is On

24 Apr 2020

As current cases confirm online competitions are rife with cheating. FIDE cooperates with all major platforms to take detection to a new level. Can cheaters be caught via eyetracking? Stefan Löffler reports.

Participants of the Sunway Sitges Online Open captured on Zoom, but one of them turned out to be a cheater.
Participants of the Sunway Sitges Online Open captured on Zoom, but one of them turned out to be a cheater. (@SunwayChessOpen)

Cheaters caught in two online competitions this week

Online competitions are not over after the last round, at least not when the result is concerned. The final stage of the German Internet Amateur Championship was played out on the Playchess server already last Saturday. It took until Thursday, until the winner was officially announced. It was neither of the two players who had ended up at the top of the table. Both had scored way above their expectation. Their nearly flawless play raised suspicions that aired on social media. A closer look at their games resulted in both being disqualified.

(Added paragraph:) The President of the regional federation of Lower Saxony in Germany aired that numerous cheaters were caught in recent online competitions and called for fairplay. Within three weeks since the 4NCL Online League launched, already a dozen players are barred from further participation. Five used accounts that were priorily marked as using computer assistance. Seven others were caught using an engine in their 4NCL game. Curiously, all cheaters were detected by the Lichess team with a software developed by Ken Regan. In none of the at least fifteen cases where a player reported a suspicion against his opponent evidence for computer assistance was found.

Another cheater was caught at the Sunway Sitges Online Open and expelled from the first significant online competition with a classical time control that is played on Chess.com until Monday. During every round about five or six players complain that their opponent might be getting forbidden help. The arbiters and cheating experts from Chess.com come into action immediately. They share information via Slack, a work management app. All participants have to join a zoom meeting and have to stay visible throughout their games except for bathroom visits. Organiser Oscar Stöber Blazquez told Chess.com: “At the end of the tournament, our mechanisms will be much better than on the first day. Will they be perfect? I don't think so. But that's also the case for regular tournaments.”

Chess.com takes anti-cheating very seriously. Two staff are working on the prevention and detection full time. Other platforms are more vague on how they try to catch cheaters in order not to let them refine their methods or excuses. The main principle everywhere is to check the percentage of moves that overlap with an engine’s first choice. Even world class grandmasters rarely reach above seventy percent. If an amateur suddenly emulates Stockfish it is statistically fair to assume forbidden electronic assistance. Another of many indicators is time consumption. Whereas engines take their decisions at steady intervals, humans play many moves within seconds and think much longer at other times. Many cheaters have first come under suspicion by spending time on recaptures.

FIDE works with all platforms to prevent cheating

The German magazine Schach asked two dozen professional players for its May Edition how they consider the prospects for major events going online. Virtually all of them replied that it is impossible to prevent cheating. FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich seems to agree: Noone may be trusted in online chess except maybe the very top players who cannot take any risk for their reputation, he told the Russian newspaper Kommersant (translation on FIDE.com).

Preventing cheating is high on the agenda of FIDE General Director Emil Sutovsky. In a video interview with Chessbase India he said that FIDE is cooperating with all major platforms to cope with this problem. Whereas cheaters in over-the-board tournaments can be caught through the electronic devices they use, there is no “smoking gun proof” in online cheating. Therefore FIDE plans to let all participants sign a clause that they accept to be expelled from a tournament if their play shows a high overlap with engine moves. Camera surveillance is another condition, and this will require a high level of informed consent by all participants. Sutovsky also mentioned a possible innovation: FIDE is looking into eye-tracking as an indicator of forbidden assistance.