Cheating is much less in the headlines than last year. The most prominent case in 2021 was probably the disqualification of Iulija Osmak after she had come first in the Women’s Rapid of the University World Championship that was held online in March (17 less prominent participants were also disqualified). Many see the Ukrainian as a victim of an imperfect detection algorithm with no right to appeal a majority vote decision of the fair play panel.
Another indication that cheating may be on the decline is the decreasing number of fair play violations on Chess.com. While 1100 to 1200 accounts were closed on an average day in the early months of the year, this number has gone down to 800 a day, and it is unlikely that the platform has quietly become more lenient. Chess.com not only has a high-powered fair play team but is also educating its members about cheating-related questions and how cheaters are detected. Its subsidiary Chesskid has an entertaining video that is often played to children who are going to play an online tournament.
Meanwhile, FIDE has a stricter Ethics Code in the works, which is expected to be presented to the General Assembly on 20–23 December. At the Work4Chess conference Salomėja Zaksaitė, chairwoman of the Fair Play Commission, revealed two novelties: Players, officials and coaches will be required to report any cheating attempt they become aware of, and they will have to cooperate if a fair play panel investigates them or needs them as a witness. „You cannot remain an indifferent bystander any more. The responsibility to prevent cheating is now on every player, coach and official“, said Zaksaitė.
Preagreed draws are a normality in chess, yet in international sports law every preagreed result constitutes match fixing.
As a legal scholar at the Lithuanian Centre for Social Sciences, she pointed out the oddity that preagreed draws are a normality in chess and that the FIDE Ethics Commission, when it examined fixed draws in a precedential judgement (2/2020), determined that this practice constitutes match-fixing only if any of the players may have a financial gain. „Any preagreed result is match fixing from an international sports law point of view. Whether it can be stopped in chess is another matter“, said Zaksaitė. In this regard she mentioned that Sergey Shipov, while commenting on the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals, frowned upon the predetermined draws between Nakamura and Radjabov, though it was a moralistic rather than a legal condemnation. [Update:] Meanwhile Zaksaitė has published an article that lines out an integrated approach to investigating and sanctioning computer-assisted cheating and match fixing in chess. She calls for a global online screening tool and whistleblower protection.
Smerdon pointed to one story that didn’t focus on the alleged cheater but on the grave consequences on several other players. He suggests that such reframing can have a preventive impact.
David Smerdon, a grandmaster and experimental economist at the University of Queensland, has conducted an anonymous survey of 797 players. Nearly one out of three admitted to have cheated, but most of these claimed to have stopped after only one or two indiscretions. The behavioural theory of ethics stipulates that „most cheaters are not inherently immoral or bad. Deep down they want to be honest but they struggle for various reasons and something pushes them over the line to become dishonest in this situation. Dishonesty is a highly malleable behaviour“, said Smerdon and pointed out that cheaters estimate the share of online players who use engines on average two and a half times higher than the estimates by non-cheaters. A feeling that everybody else is doing it is a typical trigger for dishonesty. A player who feels that he or she has just been cheated, is more likely to cheat in the next game. So is a player who is close to her or his personal best rating.
In his presentation at Work4Chess he reviewed what chess can learn from the fast growing scientific research about dishonesty in psychology, economics, law and neuroscience, even if the star of the field Dan Ariely was recently forced to rectract a much-cited publication for what looked like cooked data. Since university examinations have moved online, there is no shortage of studies on academic cheating, and one of them has even drawn wisdom from anti-cheating in chess for academia. Generally, males and younger people are a bit more likely to cheat, which correlates with risk-taking. Participants in experiments cheat less when the experimenter can observe if they cheat or if they are aware that their behaviour affects someone else. Smerdon pointed to one story of 2020 that didn’t focus on the alleged cheater but on the grave consequences of her alleged cheating (unrelatedly, her federation has been ordered by a court to investigate the Patrycja Waszczuk case again because of formal errors) on several other players. He suggests that such reframing can have a preventive impact.