# Chess mates' cheating checkedMarch 24, 2011 11:01 PM   Subscribe

Three grand masters have been caught cheating at a chess Olympiad. The team members communicated using instructions disguised as phone numbers and and an ingenious system relating positions within the room to positions on the board. Details of the system and the way it was revealed can be found here, and the French Chess Federation's report (in French) here.
posted by Joe in Australia (74 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

Obligatory Surprise Check Mate trope.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:12 PM on March 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

Of course, the interesting subtext here is that the only reason they wanted to do this was because computer chess programs have gotten so good that using them gives a human player an edge.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:13 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

1-800-ZUG-ZWANG
posted by pyramid termite at 11:13 PM on March 24, 2011 [6 favorites]

On one hand, I have to admire their ingenuity, but on the other...?

moving to and from the playing area, typing and speaking on the phone

OK, that right there will get you an ass-kicking at any pub trivia night.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:17 PM on March 24, 2011 [10 favorites]

They were caught because one of the cheating players had such shit credit he couldn't get a mobile phone. So he borrowed his friend's cell phone. His friend who was the vice president of the chess federation.

Smart like bricks, these guys.
posted by ryanrs at 11:23 PM on March 24, 2011 [32 favorites]

The thing about steganography that makes it work is, the un-hidden material that the data is hidden in, has to be inherently un-suspicious. A stack of text messages that look like phone numbers is very suspicious.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:24 PM on March 24, 2011 [5 favorites]

Kasparov wrote a book "How life imitates chess" but it seems he had the nouns reversed. Everyone cheats in everything. The ironic thing is how smart people can be so stupid! It would be trivial to analyze these games afterwards and see that the moves were the ones suggested by the program - which is probably now being done on their games from other matches.

Grand masters indeed.
posted by three blind mice at 11:28 PM on March 24, 2011

Even more suspicious was the message "Hurry up and send the moves." That's the one that tipped off the phone's owner. (I am not not kidding.)
posted by ryanrs at 11:28 PM on March 24, 2011 [24 favorites]

The potential exists for Everyone to cheat in everything.

FTFY
posted by hippybear at 11:34 PM on March 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

The potential exists for Everyone to cheat in everything.

You didn't fix anything, but I am glad that Panglossian optimism exists in some people.

If this was the real Olympics instead of the "Chess Olympiad", the assumption would be that everyone is cheating and everyone would be required to piss in a cup to prove otherwise.

If you can fix that for me, I will be impressed.
posted by three blind mice at 12:13 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Why can they not hire bullies during competitions to keep everyone in "check"?

Double funny, bitches.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:16 AM on March 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

If this was the real Olympics instead of the "Chess Olympiad", the assumption would be that anyone could be cheating and everyone would be required to piss in a cup to prove otherwise. Also, most participants would come out clean and no one would find this surprising.

FTFY
posted by baf at 12:21 AM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Why are they allowed cell phones?

My grandmother always said that cheating in games was part of the game. Half the game was spent figuring out how she was cheating. She recently was given a computer and was playing hearts on it. She kept trying to cheat but the computer would not let her. She complained that the computer was cheating by looking at her hand. "How else would it know I still have Clubs left!"

She cheated because my grandfather was a game inventor and cheating would screw with the game dynamics he had worked so hard to perfect. She is almost 90 and can still beat me in cribbage, with some cheating.
posted by Felex at 1:05 AM on March 25, 2011 [25 favorites]

I'm just mildly surprised to see such evidence of neurotypicality in very strong chess players.

A guy I knew who edited a chess newsletter observed that nobody knows whether chess drives you mad or madness drives you to chess, but that the correlation was nonetheless undeniable. Mere Beat-The-Casino-type cheating, in the upper echelons of chess, is I think somewhat less common than eyeing the audience trying to figure out which of them are alien reptiles.
posted by dansdata at 1:06 AM on March 25, 2011 [7 favorites]

If this was the real Olympics instead of the "Chess Olympiad", the assumption would be that anyone could be cheating and everyone would be required to piss in a cup to prove otherwise. Also, most participants would come out clean and no one would find this surprising.

You know what they award those participants who come out clean? Second place.

Don't ever change. Man's unwavering faith his fellow man is what cheaters need to succeed.
posted by three blind mice at 1:08 AM on March 25, 2011

My grandmother always said that cheating in games was part of the game.

We had the same grandmother. For years I just thought she was really good at card games and never considered the arrangement of the mirrors in her house.
posted by fshgrl at 1:16 AM on March 25, 2011 [11 favorites]

I'm just mildly surprised to see such evidence of neurotypicality in very strong chess players.

A friend of mine was once a top-ranked chess player before cancer killed him.

When he was 13 years old he was playing in the Philadelphia Open against a much older male opponent, who was ranked much higher than he was.

About half-way through the game, Mark was clearly getting the better of him and the older man was becoming agitated with this young punk. When it came time for Mark's next move, as he put his hand on the piece to move it, the old guy kicked him under the table as hard as he could.

Mark said "I was completely shocked. I couldn't believe that he did that, but what could I do? I wasn't going to start throwing fists with this full grown man." So he stays at the table - and looses the game. "My concentration was completely lost after that," he explained.

The chess world is rough and tumble. That was the lesson Mark learned. Players cheat in every way imaginable - and some unimaginable.

Mark harbored that for a long time and bided his time. Ten years later, he's in Vegas playing in a tournament and, by luck, he draws the same opponent who is by now pretty frail. Mark was by then 6 foot 4 and +/- 300 pounds. He called himself fat, but he was one of those southern boys who had hydraulics instead of muscles.

About half way through the game, as Mark's opponent puts his hand on his piece to move it. BAM! Mark kicks him with all of his might, smiles broadly and says "Philadelphia 1978."

The man didn't say a word. Got up from the table, hobbled out of the room, and left the tournament without playing another game.

Chess is not a sport for cowards.
posted by three blind mice at 1:36 AM on March 25, 2011 [203 favorites]

HEY! HE SAYS THE COMPUTER SAID TO MOVE YOUR KNIGHT TO B3! NO, NOT C3, YOU IDIOT! THAT'S NOT EVEN A LEGAL MOVE! BEE THREE, B AS IN BOY!
posted by double block and bleed at 2:38 AM on March 25, 2011

Who says cheaters never win? One international master is now being called a grandmaster.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:28 AM on March 25, 2011

I'm surprised that mobile phones are allowed at chess matches. The potential for abuse seems huge. Forget this coded spy stuff -- what's stopping somebody sending instructions in the clear? Unless the players have people hanging over their shoulders, nobody would see the messages anyway.

This isn't the first time that (suspected) cheating has gone on at the upper levels of chess. In 2006, two men were accused of receiving instructions via radio waves at the World Open. One of them, Eugene Varshavsky, was later accused of cheating at Sudoku as well.

Clearly, the solution is for everyone to play in their underwear.
posted by Georgina at 4:55 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Remember in Wrath of Khan, Shatner beat the Kobayashi Maru by altering the program. Despite it being "cheating," he was awarded a commendation for original thinking.

In the JJ Abrams Star Trek, when Kirk cheats, he gets in trouble for it. He's told the point of the test isn't to win, but to face death, develop the qualities necessary in a leader, etc. It's a test of character. Kirk isn't commended for it, he isn't thought of as clever.

But the purpose of the test was the same in Wrath of Khan as in 2009. So what was the reason for the change in the opinion of Kirk's "cheating?"

I can't help but think it has a lot to do with 1982 Reagan vs. 2009 JJ Abrams: in 1982 the spirit was to win at whatever cost; a solution to every problem, and if you have to trade some Iranians for some guns or whatever, so be it. In 2009 there's a lot more pessimism and a lot fewer solutions (Cloverfield monster wins, after all), and the point is to show your "character" even as you fail.

So how people interpret this bout of cheating in chess, or steroids in baseball is mostly going to depend on what you think the game is about. If a player is cheating, and he wins, we dismiss it. But if a player cheats, and his opponent wins, does that say something more about the player or the opponent?
posted by TheLastPsychiatrist at 4:58 AM on March 25, 2011 [6 favorites]

"HEY! HE SAYS THE COMPUTER SAID TO MOVE YOUR KNIGHT TO B3! NO, NOT C3, YOU IDIOT! THAT'S NOT EVEN A LEGAL MOVE! BEE THREE, B AS IN BOY!"

(Throws arms up.) BINGO!

Oh wait... oh crap.
posted by Mike D at 5:00 AM on March 25, 2011

It might be nice if serious competitive chess were to be gradually discredited so it could be just a pleasant game again. Or is it too late for that?
posted by Segundus at 5:04 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

"You want to know what I want. I'll tell you what I want. I want back what Bobby Fischer took with him when he disappeared."
posted by Fizz at 5:23 AM on March 25, 2011

My grandmother always said that cheating in games was part of the game. Half the game was spent figuring out how she was cheating

Felex, how I wish there was some sort of cosmic alignment that can take a person's life experience and move them into a position they were unknowingly trained for - like you working as an SEC investigator.
posted by any major dude at 5:25 AM on March 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

My grandmother always said that cheating in games was part of the game. Half the game was spent figuring out how she was cheating. She recently was given a computer and was playing hearts on it. She kept trying to cheat but the computer would not let her. She complained that the computer was cheating by looking at her hand. "How else would it know I still have Clubs left!"

Ah, brings back memories of kids at math camp playing bridge on Yahoo Games, sitting side by side so they could talk to each other about their hands. It seemed so stupid to me, why even play if you're going to cheat? Where's the fun in that?
posted by kmz at 5:32 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

God, I loathe cheats.
posted by Decani at 5:36 AM on March 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, 1. e4 e5.
posted by Fizz at 5:39 AM on March 25, 2011 [13 favorites]

Why are they allowed cell phones?

The players aren't allowed cell phones. It was the coach.
Cell phones aren't allowed in low-level (i.e.- the kind I play in) tournaments, let alone FIDE tournaments. In CCA tounaments, you lose 10 minutes off your clock if your phone rings. I remember a few years back seeing that NO electronic devices were allowed in the hall (MP3 players even), but that's not on their current rule list.
posted by MtDewd at 5:43 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

But the purpose of the test was the same in Wrath of Khan as in 2009. So what was the reason for the change in the opinion of Kirk's "cheating?"

\begin{derail}

First, we don't know that Kirk won't receive a commendation for original thinking in the altered timeline too. For all we know, Shatner-Kirk got hauled up in front of the board too before it relented and gave him a commendation.

Second, the reason for the change is that Pine-Kirk is different from Shatner-Kirk.* Angrier, probably more impulsive. I could imagine Shatner-Kirk losing the KM scenario a few times and then going to an instructor to say "Look, this is obviously a no-win scenario, so why do they make everyone do it? I think this must be some other kind of test... like maybe an intrusion test. So, I'm going to try to get into the system and change the circumstances of the test, and wanted to tell you ahead of time to keep everything on the up-and-up." But Pine-Kirk just wouldn't do that.

I don't think you can reasonably say that TWOK is about how you should win at any cost, unless Khan is the hero of that story and we're not supposed to care about Spock dying.

*Among other things. Maybe it's because Finnegan's parents were on Kelvin too, and it was Finnegan's antics in the Academy that opened the door for Shatner-Kirk.

/end[for now]{derail}
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:59 AM on March 25, 2011 [6 favorites]

It seems remarkable that chess grandmasters would be so confident that a chess program on a normal desktop computer could win the tournament I guess it's true, but it sure does make chess tournaments seem less interesting. You're apparently not playing the best game that could be played, anymore, if you're not using a computer.
posted by empath at 6:25 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Everyone cheats in everything.

The only time I ever really got into a competitive game was when I played Magic competitively in the 90s. People cheated like crazy once you got into the final rounds of qualifier tournaments. Palming cards, drawing extra cards, fake shuffles, getting people disqualified because you're friends with the ref, taking illegal moves, 'forgetting' to write down damage, etc...

Sometimes, I felt like I was in a game of three card monte whenever I got into the top 8 of a tourney. I'd sit down before a match, and guys would be flipping their cards around like they were practicing slight of hand. It wasn't so bad once you got to the 'pro' level where Wizards of the Coast themselves were running hte tourneys, but the regional qualifiers were brutal. The only time I ever got someone disqualified for pulling that kind of shit, it was a 12 year old kid, and he cried when he got thrown out. I had another game where I caught someone blatantly and obviously cheating, but he was friends with the tournament organizer and lied to his face about what happened when I called the ref over, and nothing happened.

And such low stakes, too. Tournament prizes would be like $50 or$100. I'd see the same guys playing no limit hold-em games on side tables between rounds, and I couldn't believe people would put up real money against them, when they obviously knew how to manipulate cards. Some people are just cheaters. And they think it's just part of the game.
posted by empath at 6:37 AM on March 25, 2011 [8 favorites]

empath, it's not so much that grandmasters have blanket confidence in a normal desktop computer. Rather, the human decides when to defer to the computer's expertise. The human is very good at knowing when the computer's going to have a reliable answer.
posted by cotterpin at 6:46 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

empath, it's not so much that grandmasters have blanket confidence in a normal desktop computer. Rather, the human decides when to defer to the computer's expertise. The human is very good at knowing when the computer's going to have a reliable answer.

I wonder how many of them now train on computer chess games.

Back in the late 90's, Sierra sold a game called "Power Chess" based on the WChess engine, which had played against Deep Blue in the 1995 Hong Kong World Computer Championship. The press release for Power Chess 98 can be seen online.

The game was fantastic. You could play at varying levels of difficulty, or take on the "King," which was a teaching mode for novices. The King learned from you and games got progressively harder as he tailored his strategy around your weaknesses. But games played against the King's AI were recorded. When you won or lost, you could play back the game move by move and the "Queen" character would explain his strategy. She might suggest alternatives to your moves that might have given a greater tactical advantage. "If you had moved your pawn to B6, mate could have been achieved in six steps." And then she'd show you what those moves were. So you also had the opportunity to learn from the King.

Sadly, it was Windows-only for Win95 and 98 and won't play on XP, Vista or Win7. Sierra never released an OS update, and now that they've been shut down by Activision it'll never happen. But I see from the comments on that youtube vid that it's possible to run it on a virtual machine -- wonder if I still have the CDs kicking around somewhere....
posted by zarq at 7:07 AM on March 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

I've been catching up on the Terminator: The Sarah Chronicles series on Netflix lately, and a surprising amount of what I've seen so far seems to have to do with competitive chess.

And let me tell you, this kind of behavior is just the sort of thing that will get these guys killed by resistance fighters from the future.
posted by Naberius at 7:11 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

When I was a kid, we played a game called Cheat Poker, just for chips of course (typically $1,$5, & $10 chips). It was basically just 5 card draw, but you could cheat in any conceivable way -- hide cards, steal chips, stack the deck, bottom deal, whatever. Any player could accuse another player of a specific act of cheating at any time. (And this is where you had to be honest, or the game wouldn't work.) If they WERE cheating, the offending player would pay a$5 fee to the accuser and remedy the situation (give the stolen chips back, return stashed cards to the deck, shuffle correctly, etc.). If they WEREN'T cheating, the accuser would pay the falsely-accused player \$5 and go back to playing.

I feel it helped prepare me for life.
posted by LordSludge at 7:18 AM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

"You want to know what I want. I'll tell you what I want. I want back what Bobby Fischer took with him when he disappeared."

You mean the virulent antisemitism? I'm recalling the virulent antisemitism. Was there something less insane than the virulent antisemitism that Bobby Fischer took with his when he disappeared?

You know, the whole: "8/24/99 Death to the Jews. Just kill the Motherfuckers!" and the "12/13/99 It's time to start randomly killing Jews." and the "expose the Jews for the criminals they are [...] the murderers they are"

We all remember that right?
posted by Blasdelb at 7:19 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Some people are just cheaters.

And some people just enjoy the challenge of cheating.

Same friend I mentioned above. We used to go out drinking (a lot) and instead of buying each other rounds, we would flip a coin at the end of the evening to see who picked up the tab.

Invariably, when I let Mark toss the coin. He won.

That was until I insisted that he let the coin hit the ground.... then things evened up a bit.

I accused him of cheating and he laughed at me and said "Impossible. It's your coin and you're watching me flip it. You're just unlucky."

Years later, we're driving back from Phoenix to LA, he was Stage 4.999999 cancer and didn't have much time left. I knew it was the last time I would see him alive.

So, I says, "Mark, I just gotta know. All those years ago, when I accused you of cheating me on the coin toss... I figured out how you were cheating me."

Mark says nothing.

"I'm guessing that when you caught the coin and laid it on the back of your hand, you could somehow tell which side was up, and then you taught yourself how to turn it over if need be as you lifted your cover hand off."

Mark says nothing.

"I know you, you bastard, and you're a clever son-of-a-bitch."

Mark thinks for a minute and then says "Eric, you're my friend, I'd never cheat you."

"Yes you would - you would do anything to make a game of it."

Mark looks at me "If I was cheating you, I would had to teach myself how to tell if the coin was heads or tails. I suppose I could have done that by dragging it across the knuckle of my left hand. But then the problem would be for me to turn the coin over if need be as I lifted my cover hand. Would have required years of practice to be able to do that in front of you without you noticing. But if I only did it when you were drunk.... you might not ever notice."

"But I did notice," I interrupt.

"Hey, I'm not admitting anything. I'm just saying that is how I imagine it could be done."

And then he gives me this sly, shit-eating grin.

"Motherfucker," I say.

He denies it again.

So we arrive at the airport, make some stupid plans about meeting again which we both knew would never happen, and as I walk away, Mark says "Eric.."

I turn around, "Yeah."

"Thanks for all those beers. They were delicious."

And he rides off into the sunset - quite literally.

OK. Got tears in my eyes thinking about him. Long time ago friends, but it still hurts.
posted by three blind mice at 7:28 AM on March 25, 2011 [151 favorites]

Clearly, the solution is for everyone to play in their underwear.

Oh hell no. I'd rather have them cheat.
posted by scrutiny at 7:29 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

It seems remarkable that chess grandmasters would be so confident that a chess program on a normal desktop computer could win the tournament I guess it's true, but it sure does make chess tournaments seem less interesting. You're apparently not playing the best game that could be played, anymore, if you're not using a computer.

Checkers is a solved game with 5x10^20 or so possible positions. It's somewhat likely that a full Chess board can be solved within our lifetimes, considering advances in computing power like that behind IBM's WATSON. So yea, even the best human player has little chance agianst a powerful Chess playing computer overlord.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:44 AM on March 25, 2011

three blind mice - he was cheating, but if he was doing it that way then he was doing it the hard way It's pretty easy to learn to flip a coin so that it makes a whole number of rotations in the air. If you want heads, just make sure it starts as heads when you flip it.

(re-derail)
I would argue that Kirk did not cheat in the Kobayashi Maru . It's a test of character and what he did shows conclusively that he's the sort of guy who believes that there is always a way. Every other person who played that game gave up. Every single one was a quitter. Every single one resigned themselves to their fate. Kirk was the lone exception, but the only way he could show that was to "cheat".

not really a nerd

Back to the original story - doesn't Kasparov have a plan to have a computer-aided chess tournament, in which the players can use a computer program to assist them? He says that he can play better chess with a program than either he or the program can play alone.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 7:48 AM on March 25, 2011

I've never run across anybody cheating in a B&M tournament (as far as I know); but in online chess, people cheat constantly. You can always catch them if you want to -- look up an obscure, non-obvious fatal blunder in a minor opening, and then play it in a speed game. If your opponent plays the right move, you're probably playing a computer.

Thing is, I've never understood why people would do this. They're not getting any money for it. They can't play in live tournaments, for fear of revealing themselves. Nobody they're playing knows who they are, and none of their real friends know or care that they're internet chess gods. Is cheating at a game just a weird, sordid yaya in it's own right? Like stealing candy bars from a 7-11 when you're fourteen?

Because to me, the point of playing a game is to crush my enemies, see them driven before me, and hear the lamentation of their women. And I just can't see how it would any fun to watch a robot do that.
posted by steambadger at 7:56 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

the Disciplinary Committee pronounced the players “guilty of a violation of sporting ethics.” ... GM Sebastien Feller was sentenced to three years followed by two years of community service with the French Chess Federation

Next time someone gets a 3 week time out, maybe they should also be sentenced to two weeks of back-tagging.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:10 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Somewhere on its shelves my local library used to have a book called "How to Cheat at Chess." It was very old-school, and I enjoyed the Renaissance-era advice to set up the time and place of games so that you could seat your opponent so he was squinting into the sun. I was also impressed by the tale of two guys who played a weekly game at the house of one of the pair. The host sawed a quarter inch off the guest's chair legs between games, so by the end of few months of weekly games, the guest was peering up between the pieces from tabletop height.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:10 AM on March 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

"How to Cheat at Chess." It was very old-school, and I enjoyed the Renaissance-era advice to set up the time and place of games so that you could seat your opponent so he was squinting into the sun.

I can't remember who it was, but a modern grandmaster, wrote a chess book, and the first chapter was just this kind of stuff. The squinting into the sun thing entailed polishing the board and getting a window reflection onto the board. It was also recommended that, in the sanctioned tournament play of the day, one should blow a steady stream of cigar smoke in the opponents face.

The guy would also do headstands between moves, which he felt distracted his opponent, but that's also been shown recently to actually increase concentration.

Myself, I didn't have a cheat, but I had a bluff that I played in tournaments, because I'm not a good player. I learned only the English and Reti openings, for white and black respectively, because they could be played against anything. They both lead to slow, crowded, complex positions.

Mainly, instead of practicing chess, I practiced setting up the pieces for hours and hours. I got to where I could set up my pieces five at a time in each hand, and have everything there with just a casual waving gesture.

This caused my oppoents to overestimate my abilities, and my trickery. Then, when I made blunders, they wasted all their time figuring out that it was actually a cunning sacrifice (that I was unaware of.) They then got exhausted and ran out of time, sometimes making blunders themselves, so I did win a few games.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:30 AM on March 25, 2011 [13 favorites]

Of course, the interesting subtext here is that the only reason they wanted to do this was because computer chess programs have gotten so good that using them gives a human player an edge.

Well, that happened a long time ago. This would have worked great in the 1990s too.
posted by dfan at 8:45 AM on March 25, 2011

Back to the original story - doesn't Kasparov have a plan to have a computer-aided chess tournament, in which the players can use a computer program to assist them?

It's called Advanced Chess. I think it's a neat idea, but it hasn't really caught on.
posted by dfan at 8:53 AM on March 25, 2011

It's somewhat likely that a full Chess board can be solved within our lifetimes, considering advances in computing power like that behind IBM's WATSON.

The chance of this happening is vanishingly small. There are more possible chess positions than atoms in the observable universe. The wikipedia section you linked to has a pretty good explanation of the theoretical difficulties of "solving chess".
posted by dfan at 8:57 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Of course, the interesting subtext here is that the only reason they wanted to do this was because computer chess programs have gotten so good that using them gives a human player an edge.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:13 AM on March 25 [1 favorite +] [!]

Nah, they wanted to do this because they were insecure about their abilities and had fucked up priorities. It's the computer gimmick that made it as easy as it was.

As a former Pub Quiz-meister, though, I am SHOCKED that they let high-level chess players away from the board with access to communication gadgets. Their bathroom breaks should be monitored, too, one of 'em might be hiding an extra bishop in the toilet tank like in Godfather

posted by jtron at 9:25 AM on March 25, 2011

It seems remarkable that chess grandmasters would be so confident that a chess program on a normal desktop computer could win the tournament I guess it's true, but it sure does make chess tournaments seem less interesting. You're apparently not playing the best game that could be played, anymore, if you're not using a computer.

There was an article in the New Yorker last week about the 20-year-old former world number one chess player (currently number two) Magnus Carlsen, which discusses the influence of computer chess on today's top-level chess. Basically it says most of the world's top chess players train on computers. Carlsen prefers not to because he thinks it hinders the creativity of play. But he says something to the effect of no human player stands a chance against today's top computer programs. (I'd link to the article but it's behind a paywall.)
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 10:01 AM on March 25, 2011

dfan: The page you link to says otherwise. It claims that there are "less than 1046.7" possible positions, and that the number of atoms in the universe "is estimated to be between 4×1079 and 1081". The number it's saying is greater than the number of atoms in the universe is the number of possible complete games.
posted by baf at 10:22 AM on March 25, 2011

uv- I was just gonna mention the Carlsen piece.
Although it's not that good of a piece...just that it addressed zarq's and Chocolate Pickle's questions.
posted by MtDewd at 10:52 AM on March 25, 2011

My grandmother always said that cheating in games was part of the game.

If I had played her in a eurogame, her age would be no defense against my wrath.
posted by JHarris at 11:16 AM on March 25, 2011

It's a test of character and what he did shows conclusively that he's the sort of guy who believes that there is always a way. Every other person who played that game gave up. Every single one was a quitter. Every single one resigned themselves to their fate. Kirk was the lone exception, but the only way he could show that was to "cheat"

(MOAR derail)

But the whole point of the movie is that, in the end, that isn't true! Kirk has to face the no-win scenario, i.e. mortality--Spock's and, ultimately, his.

(And no, Star Trek III doesn't make all of this moot, because it doesn't exist.)
posted by IjonTichy at 11:43 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

@Obscure Reference: Who says cheaters never win? One international master is now being called a grandmaster.

I've always understood "Cheaters never win" to mean that cheaters never win the actual game, because they're not really playing it. Like, if someone uses weighted dice in backgammon, and gets all his pieces off the board first, he hasn't actually won a game of backgammon. He's won a different game -- call it "modified backgammon". And it's not as meaningful: consistently beating someone at modified backgammon doesn't really show that you're a better backgammon player. It doesn't even show that you're better at cheating and not getting caught, if your opponent isn't trying to cheat. I suspect that this is what's behind the "everyone cheats/cheating is part of the game" mentality. It's a way for cheaters to convince themselves that their cheating is just leveling the playing field -- if no one is playing the game as stated and everyone is playing the cheating game, then your victory from cheating becomes a genuine.
posted by baf at 12:19 PM on March 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

My grandmother always said that cheating in games was part of the game.

When you're playing against a system of rules, thats legit. Against other humans, you're just another common cheater.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:55 PM on March 25, 2011

three blind mice - he was cheating, but if he was doing it that way then he was doing it the hard way It's pretty easy to learn to flip a coin so that it makes a whole number of rotations in the air. If you want heads, just make sure it starts as heads when you flip it.

How does that help you if the opponent is calling heads/tails in the air or after you catch it?
posted by nzero at 1:23 PM on March 25, 2011

Chess is not a sport for cowards.

Nor, is Chess Boxing ("You Throw A Punch, I Take Your Queen").

2003: First World Chess Boxing Championship (Amsterdam).

'World Chess Boxing Organization' website.

Previously on MeFi.
posted by ericb at 3:44 PM on March 25, 2011

Can someone explain the straight up mechanics of cheating in chess? Do you get instructions for every subsequent move? Or does it get to a point where you're stuck and just need the best move and you can take it from there?

Is this about maximizing probabilities and expected values for future game outcomes by having someone check your moves against what a computer would do?
posted by stratastar at 4:29 PM on March 25, 2011

Everybody cheats, I just didn't know.

— Breaking Away
posted by cccorlew at 5:18 PM on March 25, 2011

I've never cheated, therefore not everyone cheats. Proven.

More people cheat than we're like: true.
posted by you're a kitty! at 5:30 PM on March 25, 2011

Do you get instructions for every subsequent move?

If all you are getting is the move, which you would have played yourself if you understood it, then you're probably going to want tp keep getting fed more moves. You can't "take it from here," if you don't know what the strategic objective or the hidden threat is.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:33 PM on March 25, 2011

StickyCarpet - Of course, I get that.

I just don't understand the entire mechanics of a cheating strategy within a tournament...

These are players who must have some inherent chess skill; so do they enter a match, knowing / or later realizing that they are outmatched and then flip to a full cheat strategy?
posted by stratastar at 5:55 PM on March 25, 2011

It might be nice if serious competitive chess were to be gradually discredited so it could be just a pleasant game again. Or is it too late for that?

Yeah, that ship sailed a long time ago. Personally, I wish we could roll the chess clock back to the days of Paul Morphy and Adolf Anderssen; those guys knew how to have a good time. Serious chess today is, for anybody who isn't a fairly strong master, pretty goddamn tedious.

When I was young, my kid brother used to trounce me at chess. This pissed me off, because I was supposed to be the smart one, and he was supposed to be the athletic, popular one. He's an architect now, and he's always had a good spatial sense; so he beat the hell out of me without ever really paying attention. To compensate, I started reading chess books, and practicing tactics; and pretty soon, sure enough, I beat him. Better than that: I discovered the King's Gambit, and the Smith-Morra, and then -- wonder of wonders -- the Blackmar-Diemer gambit; and I beat him in dramatic, swashbuckling form, with rook sacrifices and back-rank mates in the middle game. I was sure I had found a vocation. I was the Pirate King of the chess board. I joined my high school chess club, and devastated the ranks of the chess geeks. At the high point of my fledgling chess career, I won a county tournament by playing a Double Muzio! Hell, I almost gave up Dungeons and Dragons.

Then I got to college, and ran into people who were really serious about chess. I found out that all the weirdo gambits I'd been using in high school were refuted, and that what I really needed to do was memorize a boatload of opening and endgame theory, and learn to play positionally.

Endgame theory! What the fuck was endgame theory? I didn't want there to be an endgame. I wanted my opponent dead and nailed to the back rank on move twenty-seven. But, sure enough, the stronger players really did know how to refute my beloved gambits. Worse: they knew how to transpose them into staid, solid positional positions; in which I was a frantic, futile terrier, nipping pointlessly at their stupid pawn walls.

I stuck with it for a few years, becoming a fairly strong A player; but then I realized I'd never get any better and gave it up. I play with friends from time to time, and I enjoy it; I suspect I'd enjoy it even more if I could get anybody to play Fischer Random with me. But poker's more fun.
posted by steambadger at 6:35 PM on March 25, 2011 [8 favorites]

Thanks, steambadger, for that nice description of competitive chess. I've always wondered what people saw in chess; to me, it seemed like a lot of effort for not much payoff, but your story makes it all come alive.
posted by math at 7:42 PM on March 25, 2011

Why, thank you kindly, math. Keep in mind that it's a very idiosyncratic description of competitive chess. I was never, on my best day, what anybody involved in the game would consider a serious player; I was just a mildly imaginative patzer, hanging around the edges of the bush leagues. There are experts and masters, much more talented than I was, who continue to play wild, weird, wonderful chess, and who occasionally shake the towers and counsels of the great. And there are many more people who play the kind of chess I couldn't wrap my brain around with verve and vigor and exquisite creativity.

But go play through the Immortal Game, a nineteenth-century masterpiece now thoroughly obsolete, and if you know the rudiments of chess I bet you'll be spellbound. A game between two players of equivalent strength today? Unless you're a serious student of the game, you won't know what's going on; you'll be lost.
posted by steambadger at 10:13 PM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Stratastar asked: Can someone explain the straight up mechanics of cheating in chess? Do you get instructions for every subsequent move? Or does it get to a point where you're stuck and just need the best move and you can take it from there?

My reading indicates that the cheaters benefited by being fed really good moves. Sometimes, yes, they were stuck and they needed advice, but other times they were just being shown the best strategy and they could take it from there. On at least one occasion a cheater had to repeat a move (move piece forward, other player responds, move it back, other player reverses his move) because he was waiting to be fed a move.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:41 AM on March 26, 2011

Despite claims above, chess is not beatable in the same way that checkers is - the space of possible positions is not just vast, but Vast, computationally unreachable.

However, I do believe that they will break chess in my lifetime (and I'm pretty old). I wrote quite a bit about this before but it seems that site is down right now :-( but the basic idea is that nearly all of these positions involve obviously bad play on one player or the other's part.

What would need to happen is that theorems would need to be proven that would let you eliminate nearly all the positions - in a similar way to how a grandmaster does it, except provably.

Another, very reasonable possibility is a computer/human combination (which is what I wrote about) where computers identify "hot" positions and then humans eliminate them through competitive play. This wouldn't fully "break" the game but for all intents and purposes would finish it off...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:04 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Chess can't be broken by giving AI a "feel" for bad positions. The possibility would exist that the AI didn't replicate grandmaster intuition; that the intuition was wrong; or that there was an unconsidered case that led to a surprise loss. I have a feeling that better approaches will succeed, but that this will be done by e.g., vigorously forcing exchanges to simplify the board and only backtracking when this simplification leads to a loss.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:30 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

these guts watched to much Mission Impossible.
posted by clavdivs at 9:59 AM on March 26, 2011

guys rather. "Game of Chess" is a classic and the Op seems similar, well without the gold bars.
posted by clavdivs at 10:00 AM on March 26, 2011

Game of Chess was my all-time favorite MI.
The chess computer was so big they needed Peter Lupus to carry it.
There was also a Surprise Mate. Ya gotta love it when a grandmaster doesn't see a mate in one. (OK, then, there's Kramnik)
posted by MtDewd at 5:14 PM on March 26, 2011

steambadger writes "Thing is, I've never understood why people would do this. They're not getting any money for it. They can't play in live tournaments, for fear of revealing themselves. Nobody they're playing knows who they are, and none of their real friends know or care that they're internet chess gods. Is cheating at a game just a weird, sordid yaya in it's own right? Like stealing candy bars from a 7-11 when you're fourteen? "

People xheat at nethack. Which is idiotic because you are playing against a machine and there is a god mode that give you the power of not dying anytime you want.
posted by Mitheral at 2:54 AM on March 28, 2011

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