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September 12, 2012 8:02 AM   Subscribe

Rooked: The evolution of cheating in Chess
posted by Groundhog Week (59 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
where do these writers get the idea that a single game of chess in a tournament is called a "match"?
posted by thelonius at 8:08 AM on September 12, 2012


Why are players doing their own notations anyway? Surely the game is already being tracked by the officials and coaches. Or by "notations" do they mean "thoughts about the game" not "record of moves"?
posted by DU at 8:10 AM on September 12, 2012


Nah, he only cheated that one time. Makes me wonder how many chess clubs also own bridges.

Or by "notations" do they mean "thoughts about the game" not "record of moves"?

They point out that eNotate should only take three or four taps per move, so it must just be moves.
posted by Etrigan at 8:12 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


This sort of thing would seem to have been inevitable, once they started allowing the digital record keepers. It was only a matterof time, especially given our "whatever it takes, win at all costs" mentality.

Why are players doing their own notations anyway?
Players have long kept their own notations. This facilitates studying their play later.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:13 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


By pushing all the right buttons on a good chess engine, any Kardashian sister could conceivably checkmate Fischer.

I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine.
posted by chavenet at 8:14 AM on September 12, 2012 [25 favorites]


Well, at least in US Scholastic (K-12) tournaments, matches are only one single game. At least that how it was from 1997-2001 when I participated.

Regarding notations, at Scholastic tournaments, there are up to 100s of matches going on at one time, so there aren't enough officials to watch each match. The reason you take notation (which is just noting the moves of the game) as a player is to prevent any possible disputes over the results when both players go report their result.
posted by Groundhog Week at 8:14 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Amateur. I have a video camera in the frame of my glasses connected to a computer in my shoe that buzzes out my next move.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:19 AM on September 12, 2012


super-smart, user-friendly apps able to analyze the positions of all pieces on the chessboard and consider millions of possible outcomes in a matter of nanoseconds

A nanosecond is a billionth of a second, so, no.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:20 AM on September 12, 2012


Yes, I understand why notations are made. What I don't understand is why the PLAYER make them. The coaches at least are standing right there, right? Although I guess coaches could have multiple players going at once.
posted by DU at 8:20 AM on September 12, 2012


nanoseconds. Possibly billions of them.
posted by DU at 8:21 AM on September 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


Seems like it'd be pretty easy to prevent, and I'm surprised they allowed digital notation in the first place. New rule: no PDAs, cell phones, or other electronic devices. Everyone gets a pen and a sheet of paper. If you want to analyze your games later, it'll only take you five minutes to enter the data.

Or if they've got the manpower for it, notation is done by a contest official and notations of all the games are made public after the event.

You might have to make allowances for people with disabilities; obviously Stephen Hawking can have electronic devices, but you can deal with that case-by-case.
posted by echo target at 8:23 AM on September 12, 2012


Impressive how DU was able to answer in a matter of picoseconds. Trillions of them.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:24 AM on September 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yes, I understand why notations are made. What I don't understand is why the PLAYER make them. The coaches at least are standing right there, right? Although I guess coaches could have multiple players going at once.
It is generally not the case that there is one observer per game, even in top-level world-class tournaments.
posted by dfan at 8:24 AM on September 12, 2012


Deep Blue won by this method, with an internal program. Kasparov was correct, this is a cheat.
posted by Mblue at 8:26 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


DU: The coaches at least are standing right there, right? Although I guess coaches could have multiple players going at once.

A school's coach is in charge of the entire team. My high school would usually have 15-20 players in a tournament (which is high-end). So having a coach with multiple players is the norm in scholastic tournaments.
posted by Groundhog Week at 8:27 AM on September 12, 2012


Maybe things have changed since I played competitive chess; but, back in the day, the term "match" usually applied to a series of games between two specific players, played as a stand-alone event rather than part of a tournament.
posted by steambadger at 8:29 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even easier solution: hang a camera above each board. Or put sensors in the pieces (a feature that already exists in physical, play-against-the-computer chess sets). Instant auto-record, no disputing and super cheap.
posted by DU at 8:30 AM on September 12, 2012


Father Shen was a devoted tournament player. Once he spotted a player at an adjoining board cheating. [Moving a piece to a more advantageous square while the opponent was away from the table, I believe.] He was torn between the ethos of his Brooklyn upbringing - "Thou shalt not fink" - and his desire to protect the integrity of the game.
posted by Egg Shen at 8:32 AM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I suppose you could have the board make the notations, electronically. Snapshot the piece positions after every move and convert, give each player the file at the end of the tournament.

On preview, what DU said.
posted by chavenet at 8:33 AM on September 12, 2012


In addition to the offenses of calling a game a "match" and the unjustified hyperbole of "nanoseconds" I would like add the reference to "the Kevitz variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined", which does not exist.

It appears that some people refer to 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6 as the Kevitz-Trajkovich defense (although these days the common name is the Black Knights' Tango) and 1.d4 Nc6 as the Kevitz-Mikenas defense, but neither of those is a Queen's Gambit Declined (which starts 1.d4 d5 2.c4). You could transpose to a subtype of QGD with 1.d4 Nc6 2.c4 d5, but then it's called the Chigorin Defense.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I have to admit that the article overall is reasonably accurate.
posted by dfan at 8:34 AM on September 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


TBM once shared with us a story related to him about more low tech cheating in chess
posted by Blasdelb at 8:35 AM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Smiley could have run a version of Fritz that puts up a reasonable facsimile of eNotate upon casual inspection (maybe even a functional facsimile that could record moves), and thus accomplish his cheating without having to defeat the safeguards put in place for the certified software.
posted by growli at 8:35 AM on September 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


Egg Shen, I've also seen a lot of stuff like that. Any player worth their salt at Chess would notice the change and would be able to check their own notation. But then again, I once saw a player take their opponent's notation and then try to cheat by moving pieces... he was caught when a tournament official noted the missing notation. Middle Schoolers can be mean sometimes.
posted by Groundhog Week at 8:37 AM on September 12, 2012


Blackjack cheats in Vegas have used far more sophisticated cheating techniques. For example back in the 70s someone made a device small enough to fit in your shoe that would take binary input from your toes and output blackjack card counting calculations through vibrations. These days it would be relatively easy to make a similar system for chess out of a smartphone without even using any custom hardware.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:38 AM on September 12, 2012


It's funny to see so much attention paid to the practice of keeping a record of the game as you go; I've gotten so used to it that I've forgotten that it's kind of a weird requirement.

There are a few instances where you need the scoresheet in order to make a claim in a tournament game. If you claim that your opponent has lost on time by not making enough moves before a certain time deadline, you have to produce a scoresheet showing all of his moves, and if you claim a draw because your next move is going to result in a position that has already occurred twice, you have to produce a scoresheet showing that that is the case.

It is possible these days with technology to do game-recording automatically (though you still have to be careful about human error, knocking pieces around and such), but of course the vast majority of games are played with regular dumb boards and pieces, so rules still have to support that.
posted by dfan at 8:42 AM on September 12, 2012


It's interesting to me that in bridge, paired team mates could easily cheat by signalling to each other what cards they have. I asked a tournament player if that ever happened, and he said, no, simply because the game play would be improbable.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:55 AM on September 12, 2012


dfan - you forgot the gratuitous references to Fischer. After all, the article is about chess - better mention Fischer!
posted by thelonius at 8:56 AM on September 12, 2012


Interesting to see a mention of the chess engine Rybka, which has been embroiled in cheating scandal of a different kind.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 8:59 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


"He's just a little boy who made a mistake," says Catherine Smiley, his mother.

If anyone else had said this then I would have laughed at them, but since mum did I am prepared to consider someone else should have a share in the blame. Guess who?
posted by biffa at 9:04 AM on September 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


From the article: In the late 18th century, for example, a Hungarian engineer named Wolfgang von Kempelen toured Europe with a machine called The Turk, which he promoted as a mechanical chess master. Legend holds that Napoleon and Ben Franklin are among the chess aficionados who lost to Kempelen's brainchild. Decades after those big wins, word got out that The Turk, which Kempelen built to woo Empress Maria Theresa Walburga Amalia Christina of Austria, was a royal scam: For all its pulleys and wheels, Kempelen always made sure an accomplished and totally human chess player was hiding inside the machine, making all the right moves.

I love this for so many reasons. Chess Master ex machina, wooing an Empress... and not just any Empress -- Maria Theresa ascending to the throne in Austria kick-started the War of Austrian Succession and eventually led to King Friedrich of Prussia to earn the title "Great" in the subsequent Seven Years' War (aka the French-Indian War). This lead to the creation of my favorite board game.

It's like a perfect combination of all of my favorite things: Chess, weird motivations, 18th Century European politics, board games.
posted by Groundhog Week at 9:06 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


...but of course the vast majority of games are played with regular dumb boards and pieces, so rules still have to support that.

That's a fun disparity... no interest in update the basic technology of the board, but no attention paid to the really glaringly, punishingly obvious vulnerability of letting players sit their with basically unsupervised handheld computers!

The fact that they accept the premise that some piece of software is cheatproof actually blows my mind!
posted by SharkParty at 9:07 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Impressive how DU was able to answer in a matter of picoseconds. Trillions of them.

DU deserves our praise. How many attoboys would be sufficient?
posted by zippy at 9:09 AM on September 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


zippy: Impressive how DU was able to answer in a matter of picoseconds. Trillions of them.

DU deserves our praise. How many attoboys would be sufficient?
I see what you did...
posted by IAmBroom at 9:18 AM on September 12, 2012


The only surprising thing about this is how lax the rules around PDAs were, and how unsophisticated the cheating was. Worse, for most all but the highest-profile chess games, it would be prohibitively expensive to monitor all of the side channels that unscrupulous players could use for input/output with a computer, especially if they had a confederate in the audience. You basically would need casino security watching everyone like a hawk.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:20 AM on September 12, 2012


It's interesting to me that in bridge, paired team mates could easily cheat by signalling to each other what cards they have. I asked a tournament player if that ever happened, and he said, no, simply because the game play would be improbable.

Cheating at bridge tournaments is definitely a thing. I believe some of the really high level tournaments don't allow you to actually see your partner at all. (Of course we're talking about illegal signalling like foot taps, blinks, etc, not conventions which are basically a way to signal within the rules of the game.)
posted by kmz at 9:24 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's still plenty of nobility and and fair mindedness in chess. From the finals of the French Championship a few weeks ago:
Christian Bauer, tied for first in the penultimate round, learned that his four-month old son had died, and withdrew. … After consultation with the players, the final round was cancelled and a playoff was to be held to determine the champion of the final three, Bauer having left. However, in a show of solidarity, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Etienne Bacrot, and Romain Edouard refused, and the understanding federation declared the four as joint champions.
posted by zamboni at 9:27 AM on September 12, 2012 [8 favorites]


That's a fun disparity... no interest in update the basic technology of the board
There's plenty of interest. See the DGT boards chavenet mentioned, for example. They are used in top-level tournaments, although players are still required to keep score. It is not financially feasible to update every chessboard used in every local tournament though.
but no attention paid to the really glaringly, punishingly obvious vulnerability of letting players sit their with basically unsupervised handheld computers!
This statement would be closer to the truth if you replaced "no attention" with "insufficient attention". Certainly lots of people think (and talk) about it a lot; that much is probably clear from reading the article. If you look at the United States Chess Federation forums, for example, there is a ton of discussion on the possibility of cheating using electronic devices ostensibly used for scorekeeping. Plenty of people want to disallow them entirely. Until very recently the only electronic devices allowed were specialized hardware that didn't run any other software (of course there is a danger someone could construct a fake one) for exactly this reason.
posted by dfan at 9:28 AM on September 12, 2012


It's interesting to me that in bridge, paired team mates could easily cheat by signalling to each other what cards they have.

Not in professional duplicate bridge tournaments. You don't even see your partner. There's a screen between you and them (you can see one of your opponents. Bidding is not done verbally, instead, you use a bidding box to play cards with the standard bids. When you're making an unusual bid or a jump bid, you play a card that says "STOP", bid, and then remove the card -- the next bidder is required to wait 10 seconds. This helps limit using tempo as a clue.

Questions may be asked about what bids mean, and must be answered truthfully. When screens are in play, these questions, and the answers, must be written, and are only shown to the opponent on your side of the screen (typically, N and E are on one side, S and W the other.)

It doesn't protect from all communication cheats, but it cuts out a whole bunch of them.
posted by eriko at 9:31 AM on September 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Allowing PDAs with allegedly locked down software is absurd. I don't even like the dedicated hardware recording devices that they started allowing - I think they are made by a company called Monroi.
posted by thelonius at 9:36 AM on September 12, 2012


"I asked a tournament player if that ever happened, and he said, no, simply because the game play would be improbable."
I'm surprised they hadn't heard of this.
posted by edd at 9:40 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


A mere matter of 40 quadrillion nanoseconds!
posted by shakespeherian at 9:43 AM on September 12, 2012


It is not financially feasible to update every chessboard used in every local tournament though.

Chess tournaments are lucky if they can cover the cost of providing tables, chairs, and a roof.

There will be electronic notation-recording boards about the time that there are showgirls in bejeweled costumed walking around holding over their heads signs with the last move printed on them.
posted by Egg Shen at 9:47 AM on September 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Scrabble players, pay attention.
posted by Fizz at 10:07 AM on September 12, 2012


Ah crap. What's the world coming to?

We played every Wednesday evening at DiCiccos Pizza parlor. They were kind enough to indulge us by often staying open late during particularly interesting games, and we were grateful enough to buy a few pizzas and pitchers of beer. We logged our own moves during tournaments. The logs sometimes were used to recreate situations for analysis and discussion. This was good enough to get our ratings confirmed. Some of the members were hot-doggers, and went to higher level tournaments, but most of us just loved to play the game.

I forget how the administrative details worked, as this was back in the early 1980's, and nowadays I play chess only with RedBud. She's gotten pretty good over the years, and kicks my ass about half the time. Nobody in her family plays with us anymore.

Goddam chess cheaters. If hell exists, I hope there's a special place reserved for those guys.
posted by mule98J at 10:08 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


In my day, we wrote down our moves with pencils and paper. Seemed to work just fine. Whoever allowed players to use handheld computers during a match is idiotic.
posted by Renoroc at 10:36 AM on September 12, 2012


Muradian remains convinced [eNotate is] hack-proof.

Unlikely, though it's equally unlikely that hacking eNotate is the only way to cheat using your PDA.
posted by jepler at 11:42 AM on September 12, 2012


The USCF rulebook specifically states that to gain tournament certification, vendors of electronic score sheets must prove that anybody using the score sheet "cannot access a chess engine or any stored games, openings, or analysis contained within the electronics of the device."
Sounds like the chess community has a lot to learn from the experiences of the electonic voting machine cracking community , and the DRM cracking community.

I wouldn't be surprised if this could be gotten around as simply as running eNotate inside a virtual machine on your handheld PC.
posted by joeyh at 11:48 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


burnmp3s: Blackjack cheats in Vegas have used far more sophisticated cheating techniques. For example back in the 70s someone made a device small enough to fit in your shoe that would take binary input from your toes and output blackjack card counting calculations through vibrations.

That's only defined as cheating because it removes the house advantage. It's perfectly legal play in Blackjack, it's just that casinos hate it. It's still relevant though because it's only a matter of time before chess cheaters adopt similar methods. How long will it be, I wonder, before chess tournaments are held in Faraday cages to prevent outside communication? How about when mobile computers get powerful enough to secretly run chess engines at the table?

When I played Power Grid at DragonCon last week I didn't generally worry about opponents cheating, because we all agreed it was more important to play as best we could within the rules of the game, to use that to understand the game better and figure out the best strategy. If you're cheating at a game you're missing the entire point; you're doing not just a wrong thing, but a stupid thing. If you have to cheat, then why bother playing? I guess for the answer to that, you'd have to ask FPS haxxors.

Of course the stakes are much higher in chess tournaments, in the sense that there actually are stakes.
posted by JHarris at 12:05 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Muradian remains convinced [eNotate is] hack-proof.

The belief that a program running on a computer that is controlled by the cheater is hackproof is adorable; it would be perfectly possible to write a program that analysed the screen buffer to see the new moves in eNotate, then processed the new move and displayed it when the volume down button was pressed as you picked it up to notate. All you'd need to do is appear to be recording your move before making it, and that looks harmless enough. Run eNotate in a VM, have the host OS do the framebuffer analysis.

Et voila. Muradian, if you're reading this I hope that you're saying it's hackproof because of your business interests rather than because you're just that unimaginative. The latter would suggest other holes before I/random hackers even started to bother to poke at your program.
posted by jaduncan at 4:21 AM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


To clarify: you record the opponents move, which starts the processing. After a moment or two you pick up your PDA, press the volume down button, and in the corner the new move is displayed. You record this move as normal.

Failing the corner thing (if we're assuming casino style player-watching of the screen such that even a little corner text wouldn't be missed), do bluetooth/other non-standard wireless to a vibrating unit somewhere on the body. Morse would work perfectly well here.
posted by jaduncan at 4:24 AM on September 13, 2012


Damnit joeyh, that'll teach me to go straight to the end. :)
posted by jaduncan at 4:26 AM on September 13, 2012


The take of Dennis Monokroussos, noted chess blogger (spoiler: it's pretty much the same as the consensus here).
posted by dfan at 5:13 AM on September 13, 2012


Of course the stakes are much higher in chess tournaments, in the sense that there actually are stakes.

For this reason I'm having a hard time not seeing this as fraud. It's making a false claim for pecuniary gain.
posted by jaduncan at 9:14 AM on September 13, 2012


Is there any legitimate reason at all to allow devices like this? As I said, I haven't been involved in tournament chess for many years; but I don't recall ever encountering a serious problem with manual notation.
posted by steambadger at 9:55 AM on September 13, 2012


Is there any legitimate reason at all to allow devices like this?

Makes it (very slightly) easier to load your moves into your personal spreadsheet after the tournament. Also, as Monokroussos points out in dfan's link above, the makers of the devices sponsor tournaments. It is, unsurprisingly, about the money.
posted by Etrigan at 10:30 AM on September 13, 2012


Yeah, VERY slightly -- any serious player is going to play through the game anyway, after which it is trivial to dump it to a database. The money part makes sense, though. Doesn't it always...
posted by steambadger at 10:54 AM on September 13, 2012


Some players also complain that it takes them an unreasonable amount of time to translate their moves to standard notation and write it out, especially when one has little time left. I've totally internalized the board, but I see plenty of players at tournaments laboriously looking up rows and columns to figure out how to notate their move.
posted by dfan at 10:57 AM on September 13, 2012


Garry Kasparov introduced the idea of Advanced Chess, which goes some way towards fixing this. The idea is that both sides have a computer. The human part of the team will usually use the computer to explore possible moves in more depth, thus prouding play that is better than either the human or computer could produce alone (in theory).

Of course, you could still have a cheating problem if someone uses technology to consult with a computer program that is more powerful than the one allowed by the rules of the match, so it probably doesn't help all that much.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:23 AM on September 13, 2012


As mentioned previously, cheating happens at the top levels.

Notation is required in tournament play. (Section 8.1: In the course of play each player is required to record his own moves and those of his opponent...) Players short on time are given some slack. I've never seen a coach doing notation. (Seldom even seen a coach) The DGT is used sometimes for top players, and is quite nice, but it's expensive. You're not going to see that on 50 boards at a tournament.

While most electronic devices are banned in the tournament room, there seems to be a push in the USCF for devices like the MonRoi. I don't know why. Maybe they're paid to promote it. It should be noted that the MonRoi is a single-purpose device, that will not offer moves. (Though I suppose it could be hacked...) I played against a guy using one and the only thing I didn't like was that you could make your move on the device, and see the position, before moving on the board.

For example back in the 70s someone made a device small enough to fit in your shoe...
Great book.
posted by MtDewd at 1:38 PM on September 13, 2012


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