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The Man in the Hat

 99 | EUGENE VARSHAVSKY              |5.0  |H   0|X  39|Z  77|X  56|X  49|L   8|X 159|L  41|L  45|
   NJ | 12575590 / R: 2169   ->2165    |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
 
The first and only time I met Eugene Varshavsky was at the 2006 World Open. I made the annual pilgrimage to Philadelphia, PA on a high note, having scored my final IM norm and completed my first year of college just a few weeks prior.
 
This particular World Open began normally for me. I stood on 3-1 near the half-way mark but had yet to play a higher-rated player. As fate would have it, I was paired down again in round five:
 
My opponent blundered a pawn on move 14 in a well-known position, but I failed to convert, eventually suffering a bitter reversal instead.
 
A disappointing loss, completely unnecessary and self-inflicted. Or was it?
 
There were some things that didn't add up about my opponent's over-the-board demeanor. He arrived 20 minutes late and took a lot of time in the opening (even on the standard reply 4...dxc6) before switching to a mechanical pace. His moves started coming methodical and determined, and I slowly realized that I was getting outplayed by this outwardly average player. Strangely, despite his obvious strength, he appeared to have no grasp of chess notation. He struggled to record his moves (erasing and re-writing throughout), and he cleary had to use the "a-h" and "1-8" grid-markings to identify squares (I still don't know any 2000+ player who does this). Lastly, he wore very heavy clothes (this was the beginning of July) and a characteristic, drooping bucket hat that hung low, covering his ears. Myself and others would later give more extensive accounts of Varshavsky's peculiarities here.
 
Still, there was no hard evidence of foul play, and I remember feeling far more bewildered/frustrated than suspicious. Our game would have been consigned to the chessic dustbin were it not for the events that followed.
 
In the next round Varshavsky made a gross blunder against GM Giorgi Kacheisvhili, allowing an elementary fork with 9.Be3?? d5.
 
Order restored. Varshavsky would surely be crushed by his world-class opponent in the following round and tumble down to his "rightful" place in the crosstable. Wouldn't he?
 
THIS was the game that really set the chess hivemind abuzz. Not only had Varshavsky beaten one of the top players in the world, but he did it in fine technical style - as if he were the world-class GM himself!
 
The unheralded middle-aged USCF expert had thus far defeated FM Farai Mandizha (2366), FM Robby Adamson (2343), myself (2471), and GM Ilya Smirin (2799), with a draw against WGM Nisha Mohota (2386) for good measure.
 
Unfortunately for Varshavsky, this is where his Cinderella story ended. Players and spectators become suspicious of the uncharacteristically strong play from the "Man in the Hat". His cause was not aided when GM Larry Christiansen ran the moves of Smirin-Varshavsky through Shredder and found that Varshavsky's last 25 moves matched that of the program's. Similar reports began to pour in.
 
An investigation was launched. ChessBase picks up the story:
 
Bill Goichberg, the director of the World Open, asked to see Varshavsky before the next round, at which stage the player hurried off to the bathroom. Goichberg waited ten minutes outside a stall until he came out. Varshavsky consented to be searched, but no electronic device was found. So he was allowed to proceed in the tournament. When a couple of tournament directors went to search the bathroom stall later on they found it occupied. They waited 45 minutes before a director peeked under the door and saw Varshavsky’s shoes. After Varshavsky left the stall, nothing was found in it. In the last two rounds, Varshavsky played against two grandmasters and lost each game quickly.
 
Indeed, Varshavsky was a shell of his former self in these final two contests:
 

Varshavsky never played in another USCF rated event. His past results were scrutinized (he won the Class "A" section of the 2003 Eastern Class Championship and the U2200 at the 2300 National Chess Congress), and some of his old opponents came out of the woodwork to attest to his strange play and demeanor. Later a very interesting scientific study of his games at the 2006 World Open was performed by Ken Regan of the University of Buffalo, with apparently conclusive evidence of cheating (link).

Still, at times I wondered if Varshavsky could actually have been innocent. He was, after all, never actually caught in the act of cheating. Was it really possible he was the victim of some witchunt in the early days of July 2006?
 
My thoughts were put to rest when I ran across this article awhile back about the 2009 World Sudoku Championship:

The person on the right, Eugene Varshavsky, entered the competition in highly irregular circumstances. He skipped the first and second rounds altogether, arriving late. He then proceeded to finish the 3rd round in blazing time, qualifying him for the final. This is his grid at the end of the competition: 
 
 
Yes, Varshavsky had found a new calling: competitive Sudoku!
 
This was him in the finals of the above competition (@1:50): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mlduV51cAA
 
And finally, Varshavsky himself (sans bucket hat):
 
QED. To be continued?

Comments


  • 2 years ago

    RegicidalManiac

    Their are all kinds of ways to detect electronic devices. The chess world would do themselves a tremondous amount of justice by purchasing one of the many. Then it would be easy to bar anyone carrying an electronic communication device of any kind into the tournament area. It does not need to be military or law enforcement grade equipment. This one costs about $18 - $20 USD. It will detect anything that can possibly be used for cheating in chess at a tournament. http://www.alibaba.com/product-gs/480733234/Electronic_Device_Detector_Hand_Held_Bomb/showimage.html

    The ones below vary in price from $10 - $55 USD. They will also work quite well. USCF and FIDE can certainly afford to give their members the peace of mind that they deserve when playing in a tournament.


    original manufacturer for cell phone signal detector
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    cell phone siginal detector with direct factory price
    FOB Price:
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  • 2 years ago

    elindauer

    Wherever you find competition, you will find someone trying to cheat!

  • 2 years ago

    F22Raptor

    I think he rotated from game to game,  using similar cheating tricks,  from chess to sudoku.

  • 2 years ago

    FM gauranga

    So now he found a way to cheat at Sudoko. He probably flushed that electronic device down the toilet at the World Open.

  • 2 years ago

    Elubas

    Fascinating mystery Smile

    There is certainly a lot of evidence against him, and yet it seems so strange that he is able to consistently come up empty upon searches. There are some people who play really inconsistently -- they will get wins against very strong players and then commit basic errors, maybe losing to someone much lower rated. The purist fear of mine, that having a stroke of pure brilliance, though temporary and rare, might result in incidentally playing a lot of computer moves and end up being punished, is probably ignorant -- I could believe that it would be safe to assume that having such accurate computer matches is almost beyond humans. Do you have any stats on how much grandmasters match with the computer? That would be interesting to see.

    He could just be eccentric Smile

    I have to admit though, tthat pawn sacrifice on move 14 reminds me of all the "huh??" moments I have had when analyzing with Houdini or Fritz -- it's one of those where it's just down a pawn and it is completely indifferent. And then about 7 moves later, black's bishops serendipitously find such beautiful diagonals. Those kinds of sacrifices (which may not actually be sacrifices, considering how deep computers see) for pure piece harmony are very characteristic of an engine in my experience.

  • 2 years ago

    RegicidalManiac

    There is rightfully a growing concern with all of the technology available that a person could be cheating in OTB games rather significantly without being detected.

    I only play online now and I am not a strong enough player to be up against a lot of people that could be cheating. Here online their has been only a few that I know of. I have not played OTB chess in a tournament in 30 years. It is terrible that the very few people that do cheat, make it so difficult for the majority that do not.

  • 2 years ago

    IM Fins0905

    @sheardp - It was a tongue-in-cheek assessment meant to be read with the next paragraph ("A disappointing loss, completely unnecessary and self-inflicted. Or was it?"). I was trying to convey the emotions I was feeling during and immediately after the game. I simply couldn't understand how he could make a "blunder" with 14...Ne7 and then proceed to dismantle me move-by-move in very technical fashion. At the time I chalked it up to my poor technique.

    Certainly now I don't believe that 14...Ne7 is a blunder. Far from it - it might just be the best move in the position. Houdini prefers it over 14...b5, and a 2006-era Shredder also liked it. Moreover, the only other instance of this deep positional sacrifice is from a "Freestyle" (computer assisted) event. See where this is going? Smile

    I agree that accusing a player of cheating based purely on the engine matches of his moves will never be an ideal solution. It is, however, an EXTREMELY reliable indicator. Humans simply can't match computer-generated lines for long stretches of moves, and people get their Chess.com accounts banned daily for returning exactly these matches. It's often the closest thing we've got in the fight against increasingly sophisticated cheating methods.

    In Varshavsky's case the totality of the circumstantial evidence was overwhelmingly against him, smoking gun or not.

  • 2 years ago

    PawnPromotes

    I've met bunch of cheating(either for the whole game or using computers in some critical positions) players when I playing online, and I believe those players using computers against their opponents are already big shame enough. Yet, this is the first time I've heard that a cheating player dare to play in OTB tournaments and using his dirty computer tricks against top masters. It's a really shock real story.

    I took a look at his USCF tournament data and found he never played an USCF tournament again after he was caught in the 2006 World Open, so what happened? Was he prohibited to play in USCF forever or he finally felt shame and not dare to all of those players who know about his ugly cheating deed? I guess either way can be true. What a dirty trick he chose and how a pathetic ending he met!

     

    That's why sometimes I think a lot about why many players (including me) much prefer to play OTB tournaments: it allows and only allows players to play by using real skills they got, no help from any third party is allowed. Although cheating cases could occur in OTB tournaments occasionally (such as Varshavsky Eugene), but they definitely belong to an extremely minor group and 99.99999% of us who play in OTB tournaments play against our opponents with using our own head only :) 


    A real fight for being a stronger player and beat stonger opponents should be study chess and pratice it a lot. Using computer against human, and feel pleased after the computer beat the opponent is just foolish, nonsense and ignominious. Glad to know in this case, the cheating guy was ultimately caught and top masters who lost to the computer he used can finally be comforting.


  • 2 years ago

    RegicidalManiac

    Interesting?? I really do not understand why cheaters choose chess as a forum to carry out their cheating ways. Is there not another more profitable and less likeky to get caught place to cheat?

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