This year 2022 looked like an excellent year for chess. However, lately scandals are happening after scandals that muddy what promised to be a year of continuing to grow and attract more people to the game. Many times success is based on noise. The more noise there is about something, the more likely it is to be more relevant, therefore, more people are interested in it and algorithms “teach” it to more people. The virality on the internet is based on noise and there is no doubt that a lot of noise is being generated this year around chess.
In this article I share some of the biggest scandals that the chess world has experienced. They are until today, possibly tomorrow a new scandal will come out so I will edit this list from time to time. The scandals are sorted in chronological order.
- Robert Fischer vs Boris Spassky (1972)
- Anatoli Karpov vs Victor Korchnoi (1978)
- Veselin Topalov vs Vladimir Kramnik (2006)
- Anna Rudolf and Her Lipstick vs Conspiracy (2007)
- Nigel Short vs Ivan Cheparinov (2008)
- Hou Yifan vs Program 🎰 That Makes Matches (2017)
- Sergei Karjakin vs Rest of the World Who Doesn’t Think Like Him (2022)
- Magnus Carlsen vs Hans Moke Niemann (2022)
Robert Fischer vs Boris Spassky (1972)
In the middle of the Cold War there was a confrontation for the world scepter between Robert Fischer of the United States and Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union. It was not only a confrontation to know who the chess world champion was, but also, a fight between two atomic superpowers at that time, a nuclear duel.
In this confrontation Fischer complained about practically everything. The money destined for prizes, the lighting, the board, the pieces, the game venue, etc. A real festival of occurrences each crazier that did not make Spassky lose concentration, possibly because of his Soviet coldness.
After losing the first game by a serious mistake, Fischer made more demands of the organizers, including the elimination of all the cameras that broadcast the event. When he was not accepted, he refused to play the No. 2 game, which gave Spassky a victory for non-appearance.
The clash took place at the Laugardalshöll arena in Reykjavík in 1972 and was called the Departure of the Century. Fischer became the first American chess world champion since Steinitz winning the match 121/2 – 81/2, being the eleventh world champion.
Anatoli Karpov vs Victor Korchnoi (1978)
One of the most emblematic images of chess occurred in this confrontation. Victor Korchnoi, a dissident from the Soviet Union, led a match with a mirror against Anatoly Karpov. It was a battle not only on the board but off it. Karpov was upset because in the front row of the spectators was a parapsychologist who according to him sent him “bad vibrations”. The solution was to send it beyond the sixth row. It was one of the dirtiest matches in the history of chess.
Veselin Topalov vs Vladimir Kramnik (2006)
This controversy was a little different from the previous ones, because here, in the middle of the era of the internet and chess analysis modules, there was already talk of computer traps. During the FIDE World Chess Championship 2006 Veselin Topalov and his team accused Vladimir Kramnik of visiting his private bathroom on a ridiculous number of occasions during his games. They suspected that he had been helped by an analysis module that was in the bathroom and this incident was titled the toilergate.
In the fifth game Kramnik had to play with the white pieces. The game ended with Topalov’s victory byincompanity, after Kramnik refused to play and his clock was allowed to run for an hour. This is the first world chess championship game since Spassky-Fischer 1972 in which a game is lost due to abandonment. Kramnik won that match 81/2 – 71/2, becoming the new world champion. .
The consequence was that for years both players stopped shaking hands at the beginning of the games. As it is mandatory to do it at the beginning of the games, they managed to just not be in front of each other when making the first move of each game.
Anna Rudolf and Her Lipstick vs Conspiracy (2007)
Anna Rudolf, a promising young player from Hungary, caused a strong sensation when she played an open tournament in Vandœuvre-lès-Nancy in December 2007. There he defeated tournament favorite GM Christian Bauer. After her successes in the early rounds of the tournament, three players accused her of cheating: Oleg Krivonosov, Vladimir Lazarev and Ilmārs Starostīts.
These conspiracists suspected that their moves were transmitted through a device that posed as a lipstick, but that it was a sophisticated camouflaged transmitter-receiver that was telling him the moves. They did not provide any proof of this, but Rudolf was under further observation by the referees in the remaining rounds causing significant stress on the young player.
In the last round, Rudolf had to play against one of the players who accused her of cheating, Starostīts, who refused to give her the usual handshake. After the tournament, the Hungarian Chess Federation protested the “unethical behavior” of the three players and requested an examination by FIDE’s ethics committee.
All this story was shared by her on her Youtube channel.
Nigel Short vs Ivan Cheparinov (2008)
At the beginning of a chess game the rivals courtesy shake hands. However, in 2008 Ivan Cheparinov twice refused to shake hands with Nigel Short. As a good Briton this act of contempt he considered very serious and complained to the referee, who gave the game for loss to Ivan. FIDE (International Chess Federation) has it written in its rules:
Any player who does not greet the opponent by shaking hands (or greets the opponent in a normal social manner in accordance with the conventional rules of his society) before a match begins in a FIDE tournament or during a FIDE match (and does not do so after the referee asks him to) or deliberately insults his opponent or the officials of the event, will immediately and definitively lose the corresponding item.
Hou Yifan vs Program 🎰 That Makes Matches (2017)
Perhaps this scandal is one of the most bizarre. Chinese Grandmaster Hou Yifan at an open tournament in Gibraltar was upset because in most rounds she had to play with women. In the first 9 rounds the pairing program made her play against 7 women. These programs follow a series of rules, programmed in the program code, and cannot make pairings “by hand”. In the tenth round she played against Lalith Babu and the game ended after 5 moves, in which the Chinese player let herself be killed.
Sergei Karjakin vs Rest of the World Who Doesn’t Think Like Him (2022)
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has also caused an earthquake in the chess world. I already talked about this in Russian chess players position themselves in the Ukraine conflict. Sergei Karjakin, totally in favor of the invasion, won for a few months the attention of the whole world for his totally unfortunate comments on social networks. What he achieved is that for 6 months he will not be able to play any official FIDE tournament as well as other members of the chess community who had a similar behavior.
Magnus Carlsen vs Hans Moke Niemann (2022)
As I mentioned in the article Magnus Carlsen retires from the Sinquefield cup after losing to Hans Niemann it all started with a game in which the world champion lost to a 19-year-old American boy. This kid named Hans Niemann this week has been playing an online tournament and in the seventh round they had to face again. Magnus Carlsen played with black and after making a move he quit.
The problem here is that Hans Niemann has acknowledged that he cheated in the past playing online. And now he’s paying for that. There’s always going to be that shadow of doubt over him. It’s never a good idea to cheat chess. Sooner or later cheaters are always caught. A summary of what happened on this topic is this video, although events are still unfolding:
In short, chess is one of the sports where self-centeredness is most exaggerated. No one likes to lose, least of all a chess player. If you win you feel good and if you lose the blame it is the universe that conspires against you. The other player who has surely cheated or had a huge luck and feels a great frustration.
Scandals in chess have existed and will always exist. The era changes and the motive changes, but there will always be something that shakes this game because it is a struggle between two minds, and when the minds are at stake everything becomes more complicated.