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The Sad Reality of Cheating in Chess

In his recent Chess.com column, chess legend Bruce Pandolfini explores the phenomenon of cheating in chess and how technology has evolved over time to make it easier for cheating both online and in tournament games. The point of the article is to explore the community perspective of cheating in chess. Does it happen as often as we think it does? What is the community’s experience at large with such cheating? As I read through the article and perused the comments left by the Chess.com user community, I wondered how the world of professional chess has dealt with the rising prevalence of technology and its affect on tournament culture throughout the years.

WGM Mihaela Sandu: One of the more recent high profile cases was the accusations of cheating surrounding WGM Mihaela Sandu at the European Women’s Individual Championship. Her perfect 5.0/5 score led 32 people to submit a letter to FIDE claiming that she was receiving outside assistance for her games. WGM Sandu’s performance in the tournament suffered significantly after the accusations, which prompted some to believe was an indicator of her dishonesty, but the psychological difficulties with being accused by so many participants in a tournament like that would have devastated anyone person’s performance.

WGM Anna Rudolf, who is a huge chess crush of mine, was accused in 2008 of receiving hints in her game against GM Christian Bauer at the Vandoeuvre Open. She scored a WGM and IM norm during that tournament and drew the ire of three Latvian players: Oleg Krivonosov, Vladimir Lazarev and Ilmārs Starostīts. The Latvians accused her of receiving messages in her lip balm, which was confiscated during the tournament to satisfy the complainants. The fallout from the incident was well documented on Chessdom featuring interviews from GM Bauer and WGM Rudolf. There was no real evidence that Anna was cheating and few (if any) people believe that she was cheating even today, but it was just a precursor to other instances of cheating that would appear in the coming years as technology continued to advance. Here is the Bauer-Rudolf game from Round 2 of the 2007 Vandoeuvre Open in which WGM Rudolf was accused of receiving messages in her lip balm:

Dhruv Kakkar: Cheating is an audacious behavior anyway, but this case was particularly disturbing given the brazen methods employed to cheat. Dhruv Kakkar basically came to the game wired with two Android smartphones strategically placed on his body to help improve his moves. However, when he missed some basic opening lines and paused at unusual points in the game, it gave away the fact that he was receiving outside help. The phones were linked into a tiny speaker tucked away in Kakkar’s ear (pictured below…the speaker, not his ear).

GM Gaioz Nigalidze: For one final example: at the 2015 Dubai Open, GM Tigran Petrosian faced a Georgian GM who held a strong attraction to a particular bathroom stall. After some investigation by the tournament staff, it was discovered that GM Nigalidze was using an iPhone hidden away behind a bathroom trash can. Prior to being discovered in Dubai, Nigalidze had won the Georgian Championship in 2013 and 2014 despite being ranked #9 and also won the Al-Ain Open in 2014 which netted him an $11,000 prize. In the official record of Round 6 between Nigalidze and Petrosian, the game ends at 23.Rf4, but the screenshot from the cheating device shows the game proceeding beyond move 24. Nigalidze learned quickly that cheaters will be caught and that it will stop them dead in their tracks:

Unfortunately, cheating is alive and well in chess. Technology continues to advance at an incredible rate and with those advancements come temptations to skirt the rules to gain an advantage in tournament play. Anti-cheating measures can only go so far. The rest of the effort will always come down to the personal integrity of chess players to remain true to themselves and to the game that we have all come to love.