GM Daniil Dubov discusses the Candidates' tournament and cheating in chess

Mar 24, 2016, 3:35 AM |

The interview was conducted on March 16th.

Daniil Dubov: This tournament is so depressive that this is the most interesting thing.

Maria Manakova: "This"? What are you talking about?

DD: Is Maria Manakova actually pregnant or not. It was the main thing that made me come to the tournament.

MM: I tell everyone: I just blurted it out! When I stood in the line, I blurted out that I'd drop dead now if nobody lets me ahead. And, who knows, maybe I was pregnant. [Eugeny] Gik was there, he heard that and... The next day I come, and almost everyone asks me if I'm pregnant. I answer: I don't know.

DD: Yes, but maybe you shouldn't laugh. What if you're really...

MM: Actually, yes. I'll have to do a test, just in case.

DD: You'll never know...

MM: Dania, why did you say "depressive"?

DD: Well, the tournament is somewhat depressive?

MM: The games, or the looks?..

DD: All together. The games, the looks.

MM: What's wrong? Organization, the players?...

DD: Well, first of all, there's this transmission - the copyright that nobody actually observes. I think that the idea itself is very sensible, I do think that chess should sell transmission rights. But I also think that if you organize a unique transmission and sell it, you have to make it good. For instance, I sat, let's say, at home and watched the game between Anand and Caruana, and I saw that Anand had 40 minutes, and Caruana had 7. Then suddenly a new move appears on the board, and then it's taken back for some reason, and I don't even know which move this was, and considering that there's time control, the number of the move is important, so this is depressive a bit. Also, I've already had a vivid impression today... Sergei Karjakin gave an interview before the tournament, he said that he prepared a lot, he was at a training camp with a team of coaches, all was well, they prepared some openings. And today, he came and played 1. Nf3 d5 2. e3. Well, I know that chess is a drawish game and encourages such things, but still I hoped that it wasn't so bad. After such a long and well-advertised preparation, you could fight for advantage at least for the first two moves.

MM: Well, this can transpose into anything, no? Into d4, c4, something even more exotic.

DD: 1. Nf3 d5 2. e3?

MM: Yes. Can't it?

DD: Well, I don't know - perhaps you know better.

MM: Maybe we'll see some striking novelty now?

DD: No, no novelty. I know that it's kind of depressive to prepare against Anand. I've once prepared to play against him with White - it's really a bit ridiculous. It's clear that Anand had played high-level chess for 20 years more than you, and any variants you study, say, for a month, he'd already studied for 5 years and a month. It's obvious.

MM: It's hard to choose an opening?

DD: Of course, it's hard to surprise him, but still, 1. Nf3 d5 2. e3 is too much, I think. I don't know, perhaps it's the future of chess? Maybe the game would become more interesting, but still, this surprised me a bit.

MM: So, you're disappointed.

DD: Yes. I once came and saw an Italian with Na3, this 1. Nf3 d5 2. e3, and... Only Svidler makes me happy. Svidler plays the English, and this, I think, is the opening of the future.

MM: Is it?

DD: Yes. I think that 1. c4 is currently the only first move that makes sense and has no direct drawish dead-end. 1. e4 has Berlin. If they don't play Berlin, the games are interesting, but there's a lot of Berlin. And here, we've already seen again what Berlin was. After 1. d4, it's better, but there's Gruenfeld. And Gruenfeld is somewhat depressing. Though if Svidler doesn't play the Gruenfeld [in the Candidates'], I reckon there's some reason for this. I don't know.

MM: Perhaps he's tired of it? He's quite an artistic man.

DD: Perhaps. All in all, if Gruenfeld isn't played, all is well. But if you play 1. c4, there's no Gruenfeld, only some playable positions. There's no clear advantage, but there's interesting play. So, if I had to choose between 1. c4 and 1. Nf3 d5 2. e3, I think that 1. c4 is more logical.

MM: Well, we'll see - what if something incredible happens?...

DD: Yes. If Sergei wins, and Peter plays bad, then my words will be somewhat compromised.

MM: Who do you want to win?

DD: I'm rooting for Peter. But you don't need a reason to support Peter, it's quite clear.

MM: Yes, he just is, our Peter.

DD: I'm also rooting for Anand, because it's a shame that nobody believes in him.

MM: I think that everyone started to believe in him, because he never loses his heart. I think that the majority of chess fans support him.

DD: Well, objectively, by aggregate achievements in the 1990's and later, I think he's the second-best chess player in the world after Kasparov, and by a wide margin. He won World Championships of all versions, and, what's even more important, he'd qualified for all those matches. He defeated Kramnik, defeated Topalov, defeated Gelfand. OK, he lost to Carlsen, but then easily qualified to play Carlsen again. He had no return match clauses, but his achievements are enormous. But nobody believes in him, no matter what he does. I remember a similar thing before his match against Kramnik. Before that match, he played in some depressive tournament in Bilbao, had a -2 or -3 score, without wins. Everyone said that he had no chances. But his match against Kramnik was the best match of his career.

MM: So, he can concentrate all his strength when needed, and listen to nobody?

DD: Yes. Objectively, his age is starting to catch up. But I think he's playing in a peculiar "energy-saving mode": there are tournaments where he just plays without regard of the score. But still, for a couple of tournaments a year, he can concentrate all his strength; perhaps even all Indian medical industry works for him, or something.

MM: Does age matter now, anyway? Today, in our time?

DD: I don't know.

MM: You don't know? You mentioned Anand's age, so you think it is important? It has something to do with energy level? Or with brain working differently, or what?

DD: Energy level, of course. He can't play, say, for seven hours a day, nine days in a row, without rest. He came to Gibraltar - it's clear that he's a strong player. Gibraltar is new to him; he played two games and then suddenly realized that there was no day off. I don't know when Anand last played in a tournament that had no rest days after every 2 or 3 rounds, and there were no rest days at all. Also, he made a draw with Black, and it's not always a good result: new problems arise. So his energy level isn't what it used to be. Still, for a couple tournaments in a year, he can concentrate all his strength, there's no doubt. We shall see.

MM: You mentioned Gibraltar, and I remembered one tournament in France...

DD: Yes.

MM:, there's no secret that you refused to play because you suspected some Chinese player in cheating.

DD: No secret.

MM: I think this was published at Murtas [Kazhgaleev]'s Facebook page. Can you tell me more about this story?

DD: Yes. Eugeny Surov pressed me for details. The story is actually overblown quite a bit. Cannes is a Swiss, open tournament, more like a festival. I'll be fair - I've played badly, but still was quite satisfied. Cannes is a beautiful place, all was good.

MM: Were the prizes big?

DD: No. The first prize was around $2000.

MM: Small prizes!

DD: It's a beautiful place; people come there to rest and play some chess, all is good. So, the tournament is more like a festival. There were some funny episodes here. In one hall, there were four tournaments: three chess tournaments and one checkers tournament. During some game, I talked to Murtas Kazhgaleev for some time, and eventually, a checkers tournament arbiter came to us and asked... Imagine: during the Aeroflot Open, you're warned and told that the next time, your game would be forfeit. But here, the arbiter just asked to move away a bit because we were too loud for checkers players. So, all this was very conventional.

Concerning the game itself. There was a moment when I was paired with some player whose games I've watched for a while. I can't say that I've suspected him much. Still, I was declared ill during the round, and the rumours of my suspicions were spread from Facebook.

MM: So what? There are rumours of my pregnancy - and I took them in stride.

DD: Yes, but such are the modern chess: if you suspect that someone's pregnant, it's all good, but if you suspect that someone's a cheater, this might end badly for you.

MM: Did it end badly for you?

DD: No, at least not yet. But the problem is, you cannot voice your concerns. I can't understand: what should a player do for others to have the right to suspect them? Perhaps you should play nine games and win them all, playing only first-line moves. And if you make, say, three non-first-line moves, everyone will say that the player is just a genius, and you have no right to suspect him or her.

Objectively... what can I say? It was a Chinese 2250 player who played at least 400 points stronger. Before playing me, he defeated several good grandmasters, and I saw it happening. He spent an hour or so against four strong players, scoring 3.5/4. There were no anti-cheating measures at the tournament, and there were a lot of Chinese there. You could easily go back to your hotel room and back during the game, or even try and bring a laptop to the game - just to check if anyone notices that. It's clear that his games looked suspicious. I've never made any official accusations, but the organizers offered me to skip the game: I wasn't a first place contender anyway at that point.

MM: They offered you not to play?! Because you've pestered them with your suspicions, or what? I don't understand.

DD: No, I contacted them and said that it looked suspicious. They said, yes, it's indeed suspicious. I offered: perhaps I could skip the game? They said, yes, you could skip the game if you want, and we'll declare that you're ill. OK, they said that I was ill. I think my only mistake was allowing Murtas to write in his Facebook about this.

MM: And the rumours spread from there?

DD: I don't know. Everyone now seems to actively read each other's Facebook and Twitter pages, but I sometimes struggle to keep up. Eugeny Surov wrote something to the effect that the French organizers reacted and would never invite me again...

MM: Did they say that to you?

DD: No. I don't know where do you get all this. They never said anything like this to me. We had our friendly farewells; I seem to learn all news from Eugeny Surov. I'm in contact with someone close to the organizers, who facilitated my participation there, and there seems to be no problems. But I'm told otherwise. And it's interesting - there are no links, I don't know who exactly reacted, who said they wouldn't invite me anymore.

But I think that there's a wider problem. On one hand, there's presumption of innocence - an important thing, especially for the Europeans. We Russians are accustomed to various interpretations of it, but in Europe, it's the basic thing, the very base of their society. On the other hand, sadly, there are some tournaments where cheating is so lucrative and easy that... I don't know how to fight it. Perhaps we should introduce some new concept, like "adequate suspicion". The problem is: someone scores 7/7, you ask to delay the transmission of their game, and you get problems for that. There were cases when people asked to turn off the transmission of my games because they suspected me; there were cases when I asked to turn off the transmission because I suspected someone else. It was all very open and transparent in both cases. There's a player, Yuri Eliseev, I've been working with him for a long enough time. When he wasn't my coach yet, we played each other; he played very well at that tournament, everyone suspected him. I have sincerely asked to turn off his transmission and honestly told him about it. He didn't take offence. I don't know, I think we'd just have to get used to such things. Because presumption of innocence alone will get us nowhere.

There's another problem: cheating isn't adequately punished.

MM: I agree. I think cheaters should be banned for life when caught.

DD: Yes. People don't understand it clearly. There's the case of Nigalidze. The man cheated for two years, won two Georgian championships - this is the most important tournament for Georgians, I know this for a fact, I have a Georgian friend who's a strong grandmaster. So, Nigalidze was selected into the national team...

MM: Made history, earned money...

DD: Money is the main ussue. He won some opens. OK, he was banned for three years. But, guys, Nigalidze earned more money in the previous two years than you'll earn for all five years. During the ban, he'll just do something else.

For instance: say, I'm a potential cheater with a rating of 2650. Should I begin cheating? I'm starting to think: it's very lucrative, money-wise. There are next to no chances that I'd get caught. I'll just say: guys, I'm a genius, I'm still young. I can earn a lot of points in 2-3 tournaments; also, I'm not stupid, so I understand that it's necessary to win all games and finish first at all tournaments. This can go on for years. And in the worst case, when I get caught, I'll be banned for 2-3 years. It's ridiculous. The only way to lose money on this operation is to get caught in my third tournament.

Another important moment in chess development. It's clear that cheating is a very serious problem, and it's also obvious that it's possible to solve it at this point, at least in the "middle class". Intuition tells us that if there are "weak" cheaters such as Nigalidze, there may be some "strong" cheaters at the top. Let's not name any names, but we all know that there were suspicions about various players. Of course, we can't catch top cheaters with primitive measures. Currently, we can only catch those who hide phones in toilets. But, let me be straight here, if you're a grandmaster, you can come up with something more cunning. Like, hide your phone in women's toilet, I don't know. But if we work seriously, we can solve this problem on the "middle" level.

MM: How?

DD: I don't know, I had several ideas. There was a story 1.5 years or so with Vlad Tkachev - he is, as we all know, a very creative and interesting man. I'm visiting him occasionally, we talk at length, and sometimes something interesting emerges out of this. That's how that video about cheaters came to be: two days passed from the idea to the complete video. We filmed it very quickly. And so, we discussed another idea that hadn't come to fruition yet: writing a manifesto. If all chess players united and started to do certain things together, it'd make life much harder for cheaters. Of course, there are things that we cannot make anyone do, but still, we can unite and...

MM: And what? Why unite? Everyone says: "We have to work together"? What can we do together, I don't understand.

DD: Various things. Firstly, I think that there's a sensible measure. To protect from the strangest people... well, there's a difference between going through a metal detector once before the game, and... I know from experience that it's usually organized quite stupidly. I remember the World Cup in Tromso. It's not a district championship, it's an important tournament. Just two steps removed from a World Championship: qualify to the Candidates' tournament through the World Cup and then win it. So, you should employ some adequate measures: it's not Cannes, with a $2000 first prize. In Tromso, it was divine. The organizers spent a lot of money on the metal detector, and all players were made to go through it. That's great, guys. And there was also an entrance for spectators - without any metal detectors. Then these people meet in the tournament hall - there are no ropes, no barriers, players and spectators even go to the same bathroom. We laughed a lot with my coach. They tried to do something, but in fact, they did nothing.

There's another sensible measure. Any player can ask to double-check any other player with a scanner. Of course, they would have to pay for that. I see it this way: you play, say, 100 or 200 Euro. Half goes to the organizers, half to the player you've asked to be scanned - to compensate the moral damages. I think that all those resentments of transmission delays will quickly go away if people received 100 Euro for each game with delayed transmission. I would surely agree to that. Pay me 100 Euro for every game you use a metal detector on me or turn off my transmission - that's just great! So, if everyone suspects some player, they would check them every time. And if they're not a cheater, they'd just get additional money instead of complaining of being discredited.

MM: Isn't 100 Euro a bit too much? If the first prize is just 2000, would you give your last 50 Euro in Cannes to check your Chinese opponent?

DD: First of all, the sum should obviously vary, depending on the tournament.

MM: I understand. But hypothetically?

DD: There are different tournaments. But I think that this is a very sensible idea. If you state your suspicions and ask to check the other player, you do attack their personal dignity. If you force someone to undergo scanning for, say, 20 minutes, this doesn't feel too good. And if this gets at least compensated with money, it mitigates some damage.

MM: OK, now they bring mobile phones, bring things in their boots. But there'll come a time... They say that it's now possible to build some programs into glasses. And soon, it'll be possible to implant something straight into eyes. Technology is always ahead of chess, don't you think?

DD: Yes, of course technology is ahead of chess, and we'll never overtake it, no question. But the problem should be solved gradually. You can't catch a shark without learning to catch a perch. So, firstly, let's isolate some plainly stupid people who hide their phones in toilets. This is the most primitive cheating, but still, we catch such people only two years later. This is absurd, I don't know!... Nigalidze only got caught because during their game, Petrosian, who suspected him for a long time, took action. The arbiters didn't catch him themselves. You don't just play a game... Petrosian played some spy games during the game. But to play these spy games, you have to clearly suspect your opponent. And during the game, you have to actually play chess as well, you know. So, this is one sensible measure. Of course, we'll always lag behind technology. Of course, any contact with spectators is potential cheating. But I think that the short-term goal should be protection from the most primitive cheating. Of course, there'll be more complicated schemes. Anyone who played cards on Soviet beaches can tell you about elaborate signaling schemes. If there are spectators in the hall, you'll never be able to fight those schemes or even catch those who transmit signals - new people may come next game, etc. Of course, there's a lot of problems. But we have to solve at least the simplest ones first. Right now, I think - perhaps I'm mistaken - almost nothing is done in this regard, because people who work in this field don't clearly understand the problem. Yes, they did spend considerable money, the "Regan method" was developed - have you heard of that?

MM: No.

DD: Regan is a very clever man, a scientist. He wrote a program that analyzes PGNs of your games and tells whether you're a potential cheater or no. I believe that Regan is an excellent scientist, since he managed to write such a program. But, sadly, people seem to not understand that it's not at all necessary to play only the first-line moves. I've been trying to explain that to many people, but they don't understand. You can get a worse position, you can simply lose - it doesn't matter. The idea of this program is based on statistical analysis of all games. As a concept, it's very interesting, but you can only catch an utterly stupid player who plays only first-line moves with it. And I don't know how to catch someone who's more or less sensible. Nothing is done in that department whatsoever. They can bring something with them. They can bring five spectators to the hall who would...

MM: ...give them signals.

DD: Yes. Scratch their noses, move their ears, whatever.

MM: Such things did happen with some French team already. By the way, do you know that the first famous cheater is now playing in the opens again?

DD: Feller? Yes, I know.

MM: He's playing again, like nothing happened.

DD: I've done some research pertaining to this problem. What's the idea? Ideally, it would be great to have criminal liability for cheating; this would put an end to it immediately. The problem is, it's impossible to have criminal liability - I've asked around. Knowledgeable people, who know a lot about chess and law, explained everything to me.

MM: Why it's impossible?

DD: Just impossible. We can't make all countries conform to one criminal law. We should act within the FIDE framework. I think it's obvious that punishment should be very severe. Because three years... it makes it lucrative to cheat and even encourages cheating, in a way. You understand that in the worst-case scenario you'll earn a lot of money and then just do something else for three years, and if you played fairly, you wouldn't win such money even in five years.

MM: I've got a sudden thought. Tell me, is it possible that the highest FIDE brass aren't interested in combating cheaters? Can they perhaps get some kickbacks from that? Of course, I'm fantasizing, but maybe you know more?

DD: No, no, I don't know of anything like that.

MM: Or, at least, say, the organizers get kickbacks from the tournament winner?

DD: You understand that this is pure fantasy. I can't know anything about that. I understand that it's theoretically possible, but there is no real evidence to corroborate that. I think the problem is that most people from FIDE don't understand chess and computer specifics equally well. Because this "Regan method" and the very fact of its creation shows complete misunderstanding of cheating. You're trying to catch an engine rather than a human. Basically, you're checking whether Stockfish played these games. This is the only thing you can check.

MM: In women's chess, you can play third-line moves and still finish among the leaders.

DD: Yes. Remember the Sandu case. We won't discuss whether she's cheater or not here, but when suspicions were voiced, people with conflicting opinions spoke different languages. Some people said, like, we looked through her games, she made mistakes. Other prople said, well, we never said that she played first-line moves. We don't know exactly, but this wasn't the thing she was suspected in.

MM: What's your opinion on that story?

DD: I don't know, I wasn't there. But still, I think that we should introduce a new concept, something like "adequate suspicion". You probably know law better than me...

MM: Me?! No, I know nothing of the sort.

DD: I don't know much too. But still, there's a stage when you're a suspect. You aren't arrested, but you sign a written undertaking not to leave, and your status changes somewhat, your movement is limited. There should be a similar thing in chess. If someone suddenly starts playing on a level way higher than their rating suggests, or something, if they show unique results, you don't need to accuse them in anything. But still, there's nothing bad to impose some limitation on them. I don't understand: if you perform brilliantly at some tournament, why does it bother you so much whether your game is transmitted live or no? By the way, I had bad karma or something. When I played in tournaments and my games were scheduled for live transmission, I performed much worse.

MM: Yes, I suffered from the same thing.

DD: I think that this transmission problem is too overblown.

MM: Perhaps the transmission can be delayed? Or do you think there's no sense?

DD: I don't know. I think we should do something. And delay is better than no delay. It obviously helps somewhat. But you understand that the question is on whom are we trying to catch. Here's an analogy: defending your apartment from thieves. You can have one lock on your door, or three locks. Next level: you can install an alarm system. It's obvious that a highly professional burglar will bypass even your alarm. But locks will at least keep unscrupulous neighbours away.

MM: I understand. Do you think that this tournament has adequate anti-cheating measures?

DD: As far as I know, yes. And I'm hoping that it really has.