Can You Catch The Cheater?

Can You Catch The Cheater?

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Note: As is always the case, but should be stated clearly in this particular context, the views expressed by GM Serper in his articles are his views alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Chess is in the worldwide news again, but unfortunately for a completely wrong reason. The controversy that involves GMs Magnus Carlsen and Hans Niemann got so big that FIDE has even created a special investigatory panel. These days only a lazy person doesn't speculate on this topic.

Since I don't have any material on this controversy that you won't be able to find elsewhere, I am not going to theorize on the subject and instead let FIDE do its due diligence. However, I fully agree with Carlsen that cheating creates an existential threat to our game, and so I would like to share my thoughts on this general topic.

Don't expect me to be very original here—as far as I know, the opinion that I am going to express is shared by most chess professionals. The punishment for cheating should be much, much tougher than what we have these days. We had a young grandmaster who got caught using his cell phone during his game in a big international tournament. As a punishment, he got banned for only three years from official chess tournaments. A group of players was caught cheating in the Chess Olympiad, which is by far one of the biggest and most popular FIDE events. Surely FIDE punished them very severely, right? Well, they got different suspensions, ranging from one and a half to three years! 

In my opinion, this kind of punishment is little more than a slap on the wrist. If a chess player is caught cheating, and I mean really caught with hard evidence—as in all the cases from the paragraph just above—then the punishment should be really tough. If such a person is a minor, then a suspension of just two to three years is probably enough. But if the offender is an adult, then the first offense should result in a lifetime ban, with FIDE title and rating being completely revoked!

I would like to underscore the main point of my suggestion. A chess player shouldn't be punished unless there is clear, unquestionable evidence, but if such evidence does exist, then the punishment should be very severe. This is the only way to make people think about possible negative consequences. Thoughts like, "Even if I get caught, that's not a big deal since it is just a couple of years that I will spend teaching chess," should never cross the mind of a potential culprit. It should be crystal clear: If you get caught, then you'll get stripped of all your chess titles and rating, and so for potential students, you will be pretty much a beginner chess player!

A chess player shouldn't be punished unless there is clear, unquestionable evidence. But if such evidence does exist, then the punishment should be very severe.

Once again, as it cannot be repeated enough, the most important part is: the evidence of cheating should go beyond any reasonable doubt. For instance, a string of fantastic results itself proves nothing. Otherwise, we would need to call GM Bobby Fischer a cheater for his consecutive 6-0 walkovers against GMs Mark Taimanov and Bent Larsen in 1971.

Extremely strong play in any particular game is also not proof of cheating. For instance, in many of his games, Carlsen himself has played so well that I sometimes wonder if he was produced in some laboratory as the Ultimate Chess Player, similar to the protagonist of this famous song:

To this point, I would like to offer our readers a challenge. In the following eight games, four were played by cheaters who got caught. Can you determine in what games one of the players used computer assistance and catch the cheater? The answers are below the games.









  1. Kholmov -Bronstein, USSR Championship 1964/1965. It is one of the most brilliant wins by the famous Soviet grandmaster.
  2. B. Ivanov - Kurajica, Zadar Open 2012. It is one of many wins over grandmasters by one of the most famous chess cheaters.
  3. Bischoff - Nogueiras, Cuba 1998. This beautiful queen sacrifice by a very respectable German grandmaster will be featured in chess textbooks for years!
  4. Allwermann - Kalinitschew, Böblingen 1999. This was one of the first high-profile cases of computer-assisted cheating in chess.
  5. Smirin - Varshavsky, World Open 2006. This is a unique case, where a chess player was cheating in a sudoku tournament as well!
  6. Ivanchuk - Shirov, Wijk aan Zee 1996. The Ukrainian grandmaster played hundreds of brilliant moves in his chess career, but this one is probably the most memorable one!
  7. Agrest - Ponomariov, Plovdiv 2003. A famous case where the FIDE World Champion forgot to turn off his cell phone. The game was played on his birthday and one of his friends called to wish him a happy birthday. The phone rang and, as a result, the game was an instant forfeit for poor Ponomariov. No cheating was involved here, just a painful case of carelessness.
  8. Petrosian - Nigalidze, Dubai 2015. During the game, a cell phone belonging to GM Nigalidze was found in a restroom. A position from the game was analyzed by an engine there. 

Was it easy for you, my dear readers, to distinguish brilliant games from computer-assisted ones? That's my point! Strong moves and brilliant games are not proof that a player was cheating!

This is the biggest challenge to produce unquestionable evidence of cheating, so don't ask me how to do it—since I am not an expert, I simply don't know. What I do know is that the only way to deter potential cheaters is to make the punishment for cheating way more severe than it is now. 

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