Can chess beat cheaters? | Chess

Atrack and field isn’t the only sport whose integrity has been called into question by accusations of cheating. The failures also face what could become a crisis unless authorities take strong action. In athletics, the problem is drug use, and at least that can usually be detected by rigorous and frequent testing of athletes. In chess, the problem is more insidious and harder to root out.

This stems from the fact that digital chess engines are now more powerful than any human – free downloadable software would beat world champion Magnus Carlsen in a match. Thus, players armed with an application can play well above their strength. There have been allegations of cheating at every level of the game, and they now come with disturbing frequency.

The latest concerns Italian amateur Arcangelo Ricciardi, who was expelled from a tournament in Italy for allegedly receiving moves transmitted to him in Morse code by an accomplice. Ricciardi has a Fide rating from 1868 but let grandmasters and international masters trail in his wake before the referee ruled something was wrong.

A search revealed a small camera to transmit the movements of each game he played and a device to receive the coded messages. Referee Jean Coqueraut said he doubted winning the event’s €1,000 (£726) top prize was the motive for the alleged fraud, and assumed Ricciardi was testing the system to another player. Ricciardi denied the charges and said the pendant containing the suspicious devices was a lucky charm.

The incident comes just months after grandmaster and former Georgian champion Gaioz Nigalidze was disqualified from the Dubai Open. He would frequently go to the toilet, where a smartphone was hidden behind a cistern and covered in toilet paper. Nigalidze denied owning the device, but officials found it was logged into a social networking site under his name.

The highest level of cheating occurred in the 2010 Chess Olympiad when French grandmaster Sébastien Feller was accused of colluding with another French player and the captain of the France team to receive moves generated by computer by SMS. Feller was just 19 and already in the top 100 in the world when the alleged cheating happened. He was banned from competition for three years by the chess governing body – far too lenient punishment, critics say – and has recently resumed his career.

It will be interesting to see if he is accepted by the chess fraternity. “Once a cheater, always a cheater” is a maxim held by the less forgiving. It’s very difficult to play correctly if you think your opponent is cheating – a truism that has led to many false accusations. I have experienced this myself while playing online: if you think your opponent is using a chess engine, it is simply impossible to play normal chess.

As for out-of-game chess, the answer might be that tournaments are held in enclosed areas from which all electronic devices are prohibited. The constant trickle of allegations harms chess and must be stemmed before it becomes a torrent. Cheating is not yet, as some great gamers claim, an epidemic, but it is a virus that could eventually kill a beautiful game.

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