Dutch chess player banned after using PocketFritz

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage
Last Saturday, while playing a game for his club, a Dutch chess player got caught outside the playing hall, holding a PDA. On the screen, a chess position was visible. It appeared that the player had entered the actual position of the game into PocketFritz. His game was declared lost, and yesterday the player was punished severely by the competition manager of the Dutch Chess Federation: a ban till the end of the season 2009-2010.

In the match Bergen op Zoom-AAS of last Saturday, played in Dutch League 2C, the arbiter caught the team captain of AAS (who was playing himself on board 6), using a PDA. The player was outside the playing hall, with permission, to get some fresh air. The arbiter had followed him and caught him using PocketFritz. On the screen, the actual position of the game was shown. The arbiter declared the game lost and informed the Dutch Federation about the incident. Yesterday the competition manager communicated a heavy penalty: the player has been banned to play in the Dutch League and Cup matches, not only for this season, but also for next two seasons. The competition manager applied article 20.3 of the Federation's competition regulations:

"When a player or captain breaks the rules of the FIDE or those of the Federation's competition, the competition manager has the right to ban this particular person for a certain period for playing or being team captain in Dutch League matches. This period cannot be longer than till the end of the running season plus three more seasons.(...)"

Utrechtschaak At the Dutch forum Utrechtschaak the incident was mentioned on Sunday morning. The player himself left a comment already on Sunday afternoon, stating he wasn't entering the game to analyse it, but to build an electronical database of his personal games. This lead to a storm of comments during the last few days. It was striking that the player was burnt down completely sometimes, and some anonymous commentators went much too far in this, while chess players who were logged in (and do have the guts to leave comments under their own name) reacted more mildly.

"Terrible mistake" Everybody agrees on one thing: it wasn't a smart thing to do, and the player himself thinks so too. On the phone, he said he "deeply regrets this terrible mistake". He was quite disheartened and said he was considering all kinds of things, quit chess, not quitting chess, play Corus or not... Furthermore, he thinks it's "probably the best" that he's punished because of the signal that's been given. "Of course I shouldn't have done it, even though I wasn't analysing the position. You just can't use such a thing, it's 180 degrees against the rules, so a big penalty fits here."

Unique case Which penalty, that's the question of course. I also asked the Dutch Federation's competition manager, Ron Bleeker, to comment. Why a ban for two extra seasons? According to FIDE regulations it would have been possible to ban the player till the end of season 2010-2011, although a ban till the end of the current season might have been heavy enough too. And what about the philosophical question, how to come with a proper penalty in such unique situations?

Bleeker: "It is, as far as I know, the first time this article is being applied but yes, it's a unique case. For deciding on the penalty I used my intuition: I think it's a very heavy offence and so a heavy penalty is needed. And no, it's not the maximum penalty. That I can still use for even heavier offences, like physical violence. Naturally I hope I won't need this." I also asked Bleeker whether he, while deciding on the penalty, had taken into account the player's statement he wasn't using the analysis function of PocketFritz. "I took into account both the statement that the analysis function was off, and also the arbiter's statement that it was on. But to me this is not very important. Merely using it, and the attempt to hide using it, was enough for me."

Other examples Internationally, several examples are known of players seeking external assistence while playing a game. Already in January 2003, at an open tournament in Lampertsheim, a player was caught cheating. He was using PocketFritz at the toilet. Last year two players at the World Open in New York were caught with wireless earphones with which they were in contact with others and received chess related messages, also on the toilet. Several months later an Indian chess player was banned for no no less than ten years, after it was discovered that his enormous rating jump had something to do with a bluetooth device stitched into his cap to receive external computer assistance.

For The Netherlands it's the first time somebody is caught while using external (digital) assistance. A serious penalty has been given to a serious offence. It's obvious that the competition manager wanted to give a clear signal. No human being is perfect, and this chess player slipped. But don't quit the game, I would say to him. It should be clear to everyone that to him, this certainly won't happen again.
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