An Affair to Ponder

Dec 15, 2009, 6:19 PM |

                         You don't need a weather man
                    To know which way the wind blows.
                                      -Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues


Not too long ago I played a couple of 4/0 Blitz games in which I was paired up with my opponent through a blind challenge.

My opponent, unfortunately for her, lost her Queen fairly early in both games and resigned each game.

Here are the two games:



The games are nothing special, not even clever, and I won mainly due to her glaring mistakes, but later that evening she wrote to me out of the blue saying:
Is [it]that hard for you to actually win a blasted chess game without
      taking your opponent's queen in some sleazy way while still having
      your queen? Seriously you can't honestly think that you are really a
      good chess player if you can't beat someone on equal standing
      meaning that both you and your opponent still have queens!

Now, just for the record, I was at first mildly amused by the condemnation, but the more I thought about it, the more perplexed I grew. It took me a while to understand that my perplexity arose not from why she wrote what she did, but from what might convince a chess player, someone who should, above all else, think in a rational manner, that such a viewpoint, and such a response, is reasonable.

After some pondering, I concluded that her attitude isn't an isolated occurrence, but just a variation of some type of attitude, while by no means pervasive, I've seen many times as an online chess player, but rarely have witnessed in real life, even though my job puts me on a firing line of interaction with strangers, while apparently some people do harbor those attitudes.

So, basically, she claimed that it was my fault she lost her Queen, and in taking her Queen I was revealing my ineptitude as a chess player - a real player wouldn't create such an unfair imbalance.  In claiming this she seemed to absolved herself of all responsibility and accountability.

It's this attitude of lack of responsibility and accountability that concerns me. Of course, this goes hand-in-hand with anonymity, the nature of the internet.

I recently started a thread on the chess forums called "Why Cheat?" in which I had hoped to explore this attitude, evident I believe in all cheaters, with other minds here.

I am mostly curious whether some people are simply aberrations from the norm - i.e. if the norm is that people don't cheat; whether the norm is that people have a tendency to cheat, but generally restrain it, and anonymity is the straw that breaks some peoples' will (such as the old saying that locked doors keep honest men honest);  or has the internet created an environment that fosters certain attitudes. For instance, I know there are groups or whatever where people, who would probably never come in contact otherwise, meet and seemingly discuss completely socially unacceptable topics as if they were quite normal - in other words, they validate themselves and their behavior. Now, I question whether the openness of the internet validates certain attitudes, and yes, behaviors, resulting in an environment that fosters unaccountability and irresponsibility.

It's my opinion that in many given circumstance, one can act honorably or dishonorably.  How one acts when know one is around - or when their identity is irrelevant - is a measure of that person's character. The conclusion, however, in this context, is somewhat paradoxical.  Growth requires freedom - a child will mature when given the freedom to test his/her limits. Freedom, on the other hand, allows a person to act in ways that are commonly construed as unacceptable.  The difference is, when a child tests her limits, those limits respond with repercussions.  So, an immature minds who finds in necessary to cheat or to behave in some unacceptable manner online doesn't necessarily receive the responses (repercussions) that teach them to grow.

Several folks in the "Why Cheat?" thread believe that while this type of attitude is more evident on the internet, that the internet revolution itself wasn't, at least totally, responsible. Others don't seem to think it's not even anything new. Still others claim it's human nature, possibly part of our survival instinct. (To be clear - I am amazed at the quantity of well-considered, effectively-expressed responses the thread attracted, a tribute to the fine minds here at

Maybe overpopulation, interminable traffic jams, the always-on-call, cell-phoned-directed lifesyles, TV watching, 200 gig worth of music on demand have something to do with it. Maybe not. But I am convinced that something happened during my lifetime (I'm 36) that has made certain attitudes and behaviors, if not more tolerated, if not more acceptable, at least more evident and blatantly displayed.

I'm in no way comparing the attitude of this (seemingly) young girl who turned her two losses into a tribute to my inadequacies to cheating, but I do wonder if the same elements are in play.