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The Man in the Hat

Jun 30, 2012, 10:00 PM 6,928 Reads 10 Comments
 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?

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