French cheating: Disciplinary Committee says guilty

0 | Chess Event Coverage

On Saturday the Disciplinary Committee of the French Chess Federation suspended GMs Sebastien Feller and Arnaud Hauchard and IM Cyril Marzolo, saying they are "guilty of a violation of sporting ethics". The Committee concluded that there was enough proof that the three players cheated during the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk, in September last year.On January 24th we reported for the first time on the French cheating case. In a communiqué on its website the French Chess Federation (EFF) accused GMs Sebastien Feller and Arnaud Hauchard and IM Cyril Marzolo of cheating during the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk, in September 2010. 19-year-old Sebastien Feller played an excellent Olympiad. Rated 2649, he won the gold medal on board 5 with a score of 6/9 and a TPR of 2708. Arnaud Hauchard was French team captain in Khanty-Mansiysk. The federation at this stage didn't reveal any details about their accusations that Feller's success was a result of cheating. Not long after the publication of the communiqué, Sebastien Feller completely denied the accusations of cheating. However, in a communiqué published on the French website Europe-Echecs, the other team members in Khanty-Mansiysk - Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Laurent Fressinet, Vladislav Tkachiev and Romain Edouard - gave their full support to the federation in investigating the case seriously. More details can be read here. On March 12th we reported that, according to a Nanterre court judge, the French Chess Federation is not allowed to use SMS text messages as proof for their claim that the players cheated. Feller, Hauchard and Marzolo successfully argued that SMS text messages are covered in Article 1 of the secrecy of correspondence Act of July 10, 1991. Only in criminal cases or security situations can this secrecy be lifted. Disciplinary Committee The meeting of the Disciplinary Committee took place on Saturday, March 19th in a hotel in Paris. Europe-Echecs has published an extensive report and according to two of our own sources, this report on yesterday's meeting is quite accurate. The following paragraphs are largely based on it. Present were four of the five members of the committee (one was excused for personal reasons), the board of the French Chess Federation and the representatives of the defendants (GM Sebastien Feller, GM Arnaud Hauchard and IM Cyril Marzolo). Two members of the French Olympic team, Romain Edouard and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, were also there. The French Chess Federation argued that the three players cheated during the Olympiad. They pointed out that Cyril Marzolo sent nearly two hundred SMS text messages to Sebastien Feller and Arnaud Hauchard. These messages occurred only on days when Feller played. During his games more than two dozen text messages were sent by Marzolo. The federation concluded that this was a very serious violation of sporting ethics, which deserved to be punished. Defence The defendants used several arguments. It was claimed that the sheer number of these SMS text messages didn't prove the cheating itself. It was never proven that Marzolo was actually analysing the games on his computer. Besides, it was claimed that the records of the communication between the players couldn't be used as evidence, referring to secrecy of correspondence. Furthermore, it was questioned whether the Disciplinary Committee had jurisdiction over happenings that occurred in an event not organized by the French Chess Federation, outside France. Witnesses The meeting continued with statements from a number of witnesses. First, Joanna Pomian, Vice-President of the federation, declared that she had discovered the matter on October 27, 2010. She had paid for Cyril Marzolo's mobile phone subscription while he was working in her company. This was how she had access to the data of the SMS text messages sent during the Olympiad. She said she knew that Feller and Marzolo are close friends, and she also knew about allegations of cheating during the 2010 Paris Championship. The President of the French Chess Federation, Jean-Claude Moingt, declared that he had heard about suspicions of cheating already during the Olympiad. He also said that in Khanty-Mansiysk security only searched for weapons or explosives, but that anyone could bring their mobile phone into the playing hall. Failing to witness any cheating, Moingt asked team captain Hauchard to remove Feller from the team for the last round. Romain Edouard, the youngest member of the French team in Khanty-Mansiysk, said that he didn't witness any suspicious behaviour by Sebastien Feller during the matches. However, he did express his surprise that at first Feller was in the team for the last-round match, but then was dropped again. Most importantly, Edouard revealed that during a lunch in January with Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Laurent Fressinet and Arnaud Hauchard, the latter admitted that the cheating had taken place. Like Edouard, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave said in his testimony that it is not possible to conclude about cheating from one good game (the example used in the hearing was the game Howell-Feller), as any strong GM could have found the moves over the board. He also said that Hauchard (with whom he was preparing for Wijk aan Zee) had admitted the cheating to him in early January. Laurent Fressinet was not present at the meeting, but sent his testimony by email. When he heard about the cheating from Maxime, he decided to compare Feller's Olympiad games with the strong chess engine Firebird. He felt that indeed in a number of games a large majority of the moves were very similar to the engine's suggestion. Update: we received Fressinet's conclusions from analysing four games (Howell + the last three, against Timofeev, Gelashvili and Efimenko):

  • against Gelashvili and Efimenko, always 1st choice of Firebird
  • against Howell, same except for move repetition on move 37
  • against Timofeev, once 2nd choice, once 3rd choice, all the other times 1st choice until the position was -5.

Guilty After two hours of deliberation, the committee decided that Feller, Hauchard and Marzolo are "guilty of a violation of sporting ethics". The Committee concluded that there was enough proof that the three players cheated during the Olympiad. Marzolo was sentenced to a 5-year suspension from play. Feller received a 3-year ban followed by 2 years of community service with the federation or another association. If he refuses, the 2 years will be added to the suspension period. Hauchard was condemned to a lifetime ban from the duties of captain. The Committee said it had considered the age of Sebastian Feller in its verdict - Feller was 19 during the Olympiad. The ruling of the Disciplinary Committee is not the end of the story. It's a first verdict, and the players have the right to fight the decision. The lawyer of Sebastien Feller, Charles Morel, has already announced that he will address the Appeals Committee. Update 2: Gérard Demuydt of Europe-Echecs sent us some more information. He mentioned a regulation that says that 'when an accused player appeals, the penalty imposed at first instance can't be aggravated'. This probably means that if the appeal arrives in time, Sebastien Feller can still participate in the European Championship in Aix les Bains, which begins Monday, March 21st and has the first round on Tuesday, March 22nd. Besides, according to Jean-Claude Moingt the cheat the system went as follows: Cyril Marzolo sent SMS text messages with phone numbers which functioned as code. The first two digits were always 06, the following two were the number the move, the 5th and 6th figures would refer to the starting square, the 7th and 8th to the ending square, and finally, two counts of no importance. For example: 06 01 52 54 37, 06 01 57 55 99, 06 02 71 63 84, 06 02 67 65 43 are the codes for the moves constituting the Latvian Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 f5). This is actually the international notation of correspondence chess. Arnaud Hauchard kept the two phones with him: his own and that of Sebastien Feller. He consulted and then returned to the bar at the venue. The way to indicate moves to Feller was as follows: the opponent of Vachier-Lagrave: A and 1, the opponent of Fressinet: B and 2, the opponent of Tkachiev: C and 3, the opponent of Feller: D and 4, Feller: E and 5, Tkachiev: F and 6, Fressinet: G and 7 and finally Vachier Lagrave: H and 8. For example if Arnaud Hauchard revolved around the table and stopped some time behind the opponent Tkachiev, and then behind that of Fressinet, he was signalling square c2.

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