The topic of cheating has come up (as is natural I'm sure) quite a bit lately in the Chess.com threads. Many people express dismay at the very thought of it. Almost everyone spews out the seemingly universal belief that "Cheaters only cheat themselves!"
I submit that that is true, and exactly why cheaters aren't a long-term problem to internet chess.
Of course cheating happens, and of course it will always happen. Our fearless leader Erik has informed us he is looking for a way to stop cheating (perhaps limit cheating.. who knows) on this site. A very intriguing idea.
But most of us play chess because we love it. We are addicted to it. It fulfills a need or desire in our lives. Quite honestly, I can't imagine doing without it. It has certainly been said truly, Chess has the power to make men (people) happy.
I submit cheaters don't truly love chess. They may admire at some level the beauty and artistry of it. They aren't necessarily bad people. They are people who are playing for a different reason than the true chess lover. And I don't believe what they get from cheating at chess will sustain them. The true chess lover has a lifelong connection to the game. The cheater is simply having an affair. Like any affair, once the thrill is gone, once whatever little benefit they are getting from beating "mere mortals" loses its luster, they will go their way and seek their jollies elsewhere.
In saying this I know I am oversimplifying. There is cheating that goes on that isn't just done for the "joy" of seeing one's rating balloon. There is a much more subtle cheating that I think happens that most of us should be able to understand, if we are completely honest with ourselves. A manner of cheating that is clearly cheating, but can almost be rationalized if we lose sight of that which is most important.
Most players who are serious about their chess improvement analyze their games. They pour over their finished games looking for missed ideas, or gleaning from an opponent some chess wisdom not already assimilated. After their analysis, many of us run our games through computer analysis to see even deeper. The truth is, computer analysis used properly can teach us a lot, and can help make us stronger players. Using computers for our study, and our game analysis is a very good and proper thing.
The temptation then can be, and I admit to having this temptation from time to time myself, to use computer analysis to understand a position better even during a game.
I have no chess ego. I have no temptation to watch my account be usurped by Fritz or Crafty while it crushes my opponents. I have no temptation to win by use of computers. But sometimes a game is happening that is so interesting, that I feel like studying it even as it is being played. I pour over lines of analysis and can simply not find the best lines by myself. It is in these moments that the temptation arises to put the position into a computer, just to see which of these lines I have found myself, is better. Which ideas would work, which won't.
It is from a purely educational standpoint that this urge arises, not from any fear of losing. Not from any panic that I might get caught in some trap my opponent has laid for me. It is just an urge to further my understanding of certain positions.
When this temptation arises, I simply remember I need to reset my focus and concentrate more on the struggle at hand. Human mind against human mind, a battle of wits. I don't mind losing a battle of wits, but I of course do like to win. And there is no feeling quite so satisfying of finding the winning lines in positions after having really given a part of yourself to the game. Long thinks on positions, lines after lines of analysis and continuations. This effort stretches the mind and teaches you more about chess (and life) than any computer analysis will ever show you.
Cheaters are a problem to internet chess. But I don't believe the simple cheater is around long enough to really give a lasting impact to the site. But real chess players do need to be careful as well... computer analysis can become a crutch that will forever teach you to limp, instead of strive forward. It is the very struggle of finding your own moves in positions that test your chess understanding that builds character in your chess game.