In the complicated world of chess, cheating piques the curiosity of players and fans alike. What Are Cheating in Online Chess? They refer to stratagems and tricks designed to surprise the opponent and gain an unethical advantage using digital means. Who is responsible for these deceptive tactics? Shrewd players looking to unbalance the game in their favor to make some kind of profit. Cheating can arise at any level of play, from casual matches to high-level competitions, challenging the integrity of the game. Why do some players resort to these questionable practices? Motivation can range from the desire for an easy win to the pressure of competition, but in online chess it is often for financial reasons.
This article discusses the scandals that have occurred lately in the world of chess that have to do with cheating in online games. Since last year’s scandal when reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen dropped out of a tournament after losing to Hans Moke Niemann, an American player who later admitted to cheating in many online games. Until the latest scandal involving Vladimir Kramnik, former world chess champion, who without saying so pointed out that a player of notable prestige, Hikaru Nakamura, had anomalous results in many of his games.
Why do people cheat?
The answer to this question is very simple, it is very easy to ask them. And besides, at the moment the analysis modules are better than the players. Therefore, the cheater with the help of a machine is very likely to win his game, regardless of the level of his opponent. When you play an online game, you can have a computer playing a game and next to it have a tablet or mobile phone that is analyzing the game in real time. If no one is looking, you can turn your gaze and see what the engine suggests and make that move.
Normally the person who cheats is looking for some kind of recognition or economic gain, however, at the level of chess in face-to-face tournaments, where ELO points are assigned (measures chess prowess) according to the results against other players, this type of cheating is hardly seen, although the appearance of mobile phones has changed this trend. Face-to-face tournaments nowadays use several anti-cheat systems that are collected by the international chess federation, FIDE.
At the level of online gambling, many accounts are created every day and many players cheat to quickly climb the ranking of the website, although it is likely that sooner or later they will end up getting caught because it is very striking that a person without any chess title beats titled players practically without any analysis errors.
The problem with online tournaments with money like chess.com’s Titled Tuesday
The world’s largest chess platform chess.com offers every Tuesday a tournament for titled chess players (from Fide Masters to Grandmasters) called Titled Tuesdays. Two events are played every Tuesday and more than 500 titled players come together who play a total of 11 rounds and there are a total of 6 prizes shown below:
Cheating in this event has always been talked about, and while chess.com forces some players to put up a camera to see what they’re doing, it’s possible to put a device that can be camouflaged in many ways if placed in a blind angle of the camera. In addition, it is not checked if you have a device in your ears and that someone else sings the plays to you from another room.
In November 2023, 54,949 cheating accounts chess.com closed, of which 3 were from titled players. Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana, runner-up in the World Chess Championship, has even hinted that he thinks that 50% of the players in this event use analysis engines while playing.
The biggest problem with this event and one of the ways that could be used to avoid these traps would be to avoid the rating bar. The image below shows an online game and you can see the rating bar on the left using a module. It shows that White has a decisive advantage of 2.7 points (almost a knight or bishop advantage). If you enable the EVALUATION option, it appears. No matter how bad a chess player you are, if you more or less know how to move the pieces, if you see that bar has an advantage, it is very likely that you will end up winning the game. Plus, you can even see the best plays, it’s like a silicon snitch that tells you what you have to play.
Vladimir Kramnik, the new champion against cheating
No one expected it, but suddenly Vladimir Kramnik, world chess champion, has become the protagonist of controversy by doubting the integrity of the Tuesday tournament and talking about the toxicity of online cheating. From his own experience, he was able to see how he lost to players who supposedly had a lower level than him. This happened to him especially on Titled Tuesday and after watching several of his games I can tell you that he lost some of them due to his poor dexterity using the mouse. This tournament is played by qualified players, and you have to respect that they can play as well as you, or that if they don’t have your chess level in a 3+2 minute game you can lose your game.
Surprising, without naming names, he noted a winning streak of a famous player, the world’s biggest streamer, Hikaru Nakamura, seemed highly suspicious to him. Without providing any evidence, he even insinuated that he was cheating. Having seen how Hikaru plays, which he does live, with a camera in front of him, one realizes the enormous dexterity and handling of positions he has. He may have a losing game but is able to come back from it by having a huge positional vision.
Kramnik has been posting his findings on his chess.com profile. Using reasoning that borders on the absurd, he has tried to demonstrate, without providing any evidence, that there are cheating on the chess.com platform. He talks about several players and gives them as examples. It stands out how several players of a good level of chess are always able to win in the last rounds of Titled Tuesday, where the real money is at stake.
In statistics, there is what is called an atypical case, a value that stands out from others that are around an average value. The case of Hikaru Nakamura, from a statistical point of view, would fall into that outlier, we expect one result, but we get a different one. Not only does he happen to be one of the best rapid chess players in the world, but he also has an impressive playing prowess. Therefore, in terms of numbers, it is expected to obtain very good results, but nevertheless, in reality it obtains even better results, but until proven otherwise, it is not to cheat.
Finally chess.com decided to ban Kramnik’s blog:
Content creators who use cheating as a lure
These cheats are a lure for many content creators who play against cheaters and record the game and then upload it to their channels putting in the title that they have played with a cheater. Those videos tend to have a lot more views than others that are uploaded on the same channel, possibly because we are attracted to seeing something that is not right. Examples are these videos:
What Can Be Done to Avoid Cheating on Online Platforms
Because the punishment so far is not harmful enough for the player who has cheated, perhaps it would be time to take drastic measures to end this scourge of the game. Among those measures I would include:
- Sanction players who cheat. Equating online cheating to cheating in real-life tournaments and punishing the player for life with no chance of playing on the same platform again for several years. Not allowing them to play online money tournaments again for life.
- Do not allow evaluation bars in online tournaments with prizes. The cheating player can have a mobile phone or tablet next to them and be watching their own game and analysis from a secondary account.
- Players should always use their webcam in online tournaments where the screen and the plays they make are clearly visible.
- Implement trap detection systems. Gaming platforms can use automated systems to detect gambling patterns that are suspected of cheating.
- Review suspicious items. Gambling platforms can review suspicious games manually to check for evidence of cheating.