GM Solozhenkin Suspended For Making Cheating Accusations; Fellow GMs Protest
Evgeny Solozhenkin and Bibisara Assaubayeva. | Photos: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

GM Solozhenkin Suspended For Making Cheating Accusations; Fellow GMs Protest

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
Apr 13, 2018, 2:01 AM |
1,273 | Chess Politics

The FIDE ethics commission has suspended GM Evgeniy Solozhenkin for making unsubstantiated allegations of cheating, published in different articles on the internet. A group of grandmasters has written an open letter in support of Solozhenkin.

It's an incident that shocked the Russian chess scene, and even months later, things haven't calmed down. A 13-year-old girl, whose rating had reached that of IM level, was accused of cheating by a well-known Russian coach during the World Youth U14 last September in Uruguay.

It all started on September 26, when Solozhenkin posted a lengthy comment on a Russian forum. He started by describing a scene, told by his daughter Elizaveta (Liza) Solozhenkina, which happened during the second round of the World Youth Championship on September 18 in Montevideo, Uruguay.

"I would not write this text if it were not for the episode that took place in the second match of the Youth World Championship in Uruguay. At one point, Bibisara Assaubayeva went to the ladies room. Elizaveta Solozhenkina, at a certain distance, went after her. Elizaveta was able to notice which stall Assaubayeva came in (it was the farthest stall) and sneaked into the next one. After a while, Elizaveta heard Assaubayeva asking very quietly: 'How's the evaluation?' Apparently, after receiving the answer, she also said "good" and left the ladies room."

Elisaveta Solozhenkina

Elisaveta Solozhenkina, daughter of Solozhenkin. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Solozhenkin continues his post by noting Assaubayeva's sharp rating increase—it was 2177 in February and up to 2420 in September. He also tells a story he heard about a player who claimed to have seen a device hidden by Assaubayeva, although that player apparently didn't go to the arbiter and Solozhenkin did not reveal his name.

Then he gives several chess positions from some of her recent games, and argues that she is making moves that normally are not being played by someone of her level. Here's the first example, and Solozhenkin's notes taken from the forum post (originally in Russian).

Solozhenkin gives a few more games and expresses his doubts, showing that he has made serious study of her games, and that he was serious in making these allegations. He mentions that during the tournament he wrote a statement for the FIDE anti-cheating committee, and handed it over personally to the chief arbiter. He ends his post with:

"That's the end of the story. For me, the value of sports achievements of Bibisara Assaubayeva is zero. No information on the substance of my statement is available.
Do I understand that there is the risk of getting in troubles by placing this text? I understand this clearly. But I also realize that I have no right to ask my daughter for explanations regarding chess if, in such a situation, I would pretend that nothing terrible is happening and that I would later justify my silence with some imaginary 'noble' cause. Only after the publication of this text I have the right to look in my daughter’s eyes and not to look away shyly.
What else can I do?"

Assaubayeva, Bibisara

Bibisara Assaubayeva in 2015. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The debate starts

Solozhenkin's story quickly became known in the whole Russian chess community when it was cross-posted three days later on the popular Russian news website Chess-News. A big debate started, with for example the famous Russian grandmaster and commentator Sergey Shipov chipping in on Facebook the next day. He didn't take sides, and called it a "disgusting story."

Among the people commenting on Shipov's post was former European champion and coach of the Russian Chess Federation, GM Vladimir Potkin. He wrote:

"My opinion is that this is absolutely out of the question. The article gives examples of games, in which Bibisara is playing strong moves, which is met with great surprise. I can say that, during our joint training, such decisions are not supernatural, but, on the contrary, are given to Bibisara with enviable ease. After her games, she shows great imagination, showing a large number of interesting options, which she sincerely and openly shares with her rivals."

GM Sergey Zagrebelny of Uzbekistan, another well-known writer and commentator, shared his thoughts on Facebook and then on Chess-News as well, demanding a reply from Assaubayeva's mother, Liana Tanzharikova. It came on  October 9, 13 days after Solozhenkin's original post.

The mother replies

Tanzharikova started by describing the setup of the playing hall in Montevideo (she provided a hand drawing) and argued that, unless she was actively following her, Solozhenkina could not easily have seen Assaubayeva leaving as she was playing with her back towards the exit where the toiles were. But, since Solozhenkina's game was over 1.5 to two hours before Assaubayeva's, it was possible she was actively following her to the toilet more than once.

Liana Tanzharikova

Liana Tanzharikova. | Photo from Facebook with permission.

She also said that her daughter Bibisara does not talk to herself in toilets and questioned the story about someone seeing Bibisara with a device, and then not calling the arbiter. Tanzharikova also questioned the reasoning of Solozhenking regarding his chess analysis, and responded to Shipov and Zagrebelny.

Assaubayeva-Solozhenkina match?

The next thing that happened was the somewhat comical suggestion, posted on Facebook by journalist and organizer Evgeny Atarov, to hold a match between Assaubayeva and Solozhenkina. "How did aristocrats act in such a situation? Correctly. They called the opponent to a duel!" GM Sergey Beshukov, the president of the Krasnodar chess federation, offered 200,000 rubles ($3,468 at the time) for this match, which was never organized. 

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Even a match poster was created.

Since Solozhenkin is one of the official coaches of the Russian Chess Federation, it was about time that a statement from the federation would appear. This statement, by Executive Director Mark Gluhovsky, was posted on October 14 on the federation's website.

Russian Chess Federation

Gluhovsky noted that Solozhenkin had not offered clear proof, and so Assaubayeva did not need to "prove her innocence." And while disapproving of Solozhenkin's forum post ("the Russian Chess Federation does not consider it ethical to publish suspicions of unfair play, not supported by evidence") there was no intention to act upon it since it was "written in the correct form, and the publication of the article is an expression of his personal position."

A day after this, Solozhenkin posted a second text on Chess-News which included screen shots of a phone chat between his daughter and his wife from the day of the second round in Montevideo, in which his daughter tells the episode about the toilet scene, and calls Assaubayeva a cheater. This way, Solozhenkin pointed out that it was not a story he had made up himself. He also accused Tanzharikova of creating fake accounts on Facebook and forums and telling "lies and slander."

Assaubayeva's play

Then, for a couple of months, things remained silent. Assaubayeva played a few tournaments, and scored rather inconsistently. First, at the World Juniors U20 in Tarvisio, Italy, she scored a 2297 performance. Her next event was the World Rapid Championship in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where she scored a 2511 performance. Then, in the blitz, her performance was only 2037.

Bibisara Assaubayeva

Assaubayeva, here drawing her game with GM Kateryna Lagno at the World Rapid. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Before the Solozhenkin accusations, Assaubayeva (now 14 years old, and holding the FM title) scored a number of notable achievements. For instance, she won the U8 girls' world championship in 2011 (Caldas Novas, Brazil), and the U9 girls' world championships in both 2012 (Iasi, Romlania) and 2013 (Porto Carras, Greece). She finished second at the U10 girls' world championship in 2014 (Durban, South Africa).

Court case

Meawhile, her mother had gotten in touch with a famous lawyer who decided to take the case pro deo. Together they prepared a lawsuit against Solozhenkin, demanding three million roubles (close to $50,000) for psychological and reputational damage. This process started in February; the verdict of the court case is now scheduled for April 20.

Bibisara Assaubayeva and Liana Tanzharikova

Bibisara Assaubayeva and Liana Tanzharikova. | Photo from Facebook with permission.

Tanzharikova told Chess.com why she went to court:

"The goal is to protect the honor and dignity of a minor daughter in this legal field. Unfortunately, there are not many precedents. In chess, they don't exist at all, and this is nothing more than moral violence against a person. Especially when children become participants. Violence must be punished. And everyone can know that the law works and nobody is allowed to violate it."

They also sent an official complaint to the FIDE ethics commission, which subsequently received defensive statements from Solozhenkin.

In February, the story was extensively covered on Russian TV.

In the report, Solozhenkin repeats his point of view, while Tanzharikova mentions that her daughter was searched a few times by arbiters during the championship at the request of Solozhenkin. It is also mentioned that Assaubayeva has trained with famous coaches such as Elmar Magerramov and Sergey Dolmatov.

At some point in the video, former elite player Alexei Shirov is quoted from a phone call. (It is worth noting that Shirov is a close friend of Solozhenkin):

"I saw some of Bibisara's games, which was a very difficult fight, but she was, and this can be proven with a computer, not making any mistakes. And when a chess player who is not very famous yet and hasn't achieved much yet suddenly starts to demonstrate such infallible play, this looks a little bit strange."

FIDE Ethics Commission

Meanwhile, the FIDE ethics commission reached a verdict (here in PDF) on March 19.

The commission noted that, besides having received documents from Solozhenkin and Tanzharikova, it had also looked at a report of an investigatory chamber (which investigated Solozhenkin’s in-tournament cheating complaint) and reports by the tournament arbiter and professor Kenneth Regan, who, at request from FIDE, can provide a detailed analysis of possible use of engines during chess games. He wrote:

"The main indication from my review of these arguments is that the complainers have not attempted to give any analysis that could support their allegations [italics by Regan]. Instead, my analysis using a neutral and automated scientic proceduremostly argues against them. To the extent that it is any evidence at all, what it exposes is that the complainers have failed to give due diligence in backing up their assertions."

In a reaction to Chess.com, Solozhenkin said:

"I don't believe that any analysis can be a proof of cheating or not cheating. Neither mine nor made by professor Regan for example. I think that the method of Mr. Regan cannot reveal instances of so-called 'smart cheating' and should not be used as the official instrument to declare a suspect player guilty or innocent.

"An analysis can merely give rise to a suspiсion. The proof should be only material evidence: electronic devices found on the body of a player, a conversation recorded during the game or an intercepted signal between a player and his accomplice operator."

The verdict of the ethics commission was that Solozhenkin did violate the FIDE code of ethics. He was not found guilty of publishing unfounded accusations relating to the toilet incident at the 2017 World Youth in Uruguay, but "rather for the unsubstantiated allegations of cheating in general (relating to other tournaments) made in his published articles," Francois Strydom, the chairman of the ethics commission, told Chess.com.

He was given an 18-month ban meaning he cannot be present "at any official tournament appearing on the FIDE calendar and/or attending any FIDE meeting, whether as an organizer, player, trainer, manager, arbiter, accompanying person, delegate, representative or in any other capacity." He also cannot participate as a player in any FIDE event.

Half of the sanction period (nine months) was suspended for a period of 24 months on the condition that Solozhenkin was "not found guilty of making unjustified accusations of cheating against, or otherwise unjustly injure the reputation of, any person committed during the period of suspension."

According to Tanzharikova the punishment of the FIDE ethics commission is not strong enough. She told Chess.com:

"I would have deprived such a coach of working with children, since Solozhenkin does not have the concept of pedagogy. The penalty does not fit the deed, taking into account the fact that Bibisara is a minor and Solozhenkin used his title as coach of the Russian national team for personal purposes.

I'm for fighting against cheating, but this does not give reason to use and blame a child, not just as a father, but as a grandmaster. Moreover, he filed a formal complaint, to which the arbiter responded. First, the arbiter and other arbiters began to observe, then they sent all games to the anti-cheating commission. Then one needs to wait for the conclusion instead of exposing accusations to the whole world and send them to many personally.

Unfortunately, with the current state of things, this punishment is not so severe. It has a lot of loopholes. That is, the instructions against him are not being implemented, and little has affected the current activities of Mr. Solozhenkin. He still moves both around the country and to tournaments abroad and continues his coaching work."

Evgeniy Solozhenkin

Evgeniy Solozhenkin. | Photo: Russian Chess Federation.

A day after the verdict was published, Solozhenkin posted his comments in another lengthy article on Chess-News, and also provided lots of relevant documents for download. In the article, Solozhenkin gives a list of what he calls "lies" by Tanzharikova. 

For instance, he points out the following sentence by her:

"Solozhenkin with his daughter wrote the complaint to the chief arbitrator according to rules of anticheating committee of FIDE before the fourth tour on the 19th of September that my daughter Assaubayeva Bibisara used electronic hints."

Solozhenkin points out that his daughter was not present when he delivered the complaint, that it was his personal decision and that it doesn't make sense for Tanzharikova to ask the ethics commission to disqualify, besides himself, also his daughter from participation in tournaments.

He also notes that players were not checked with metal detectors until the fifth round (and not the fourth, as Tanzharikova claimed), while the incident took place (if it took place) in the second round. (Solozhenkin told Chess.com that this was contrary to what was announced at the tournament's technical meeting, where the chief arbiter said that all anti-cheating measures had been fully taken.)

Reacting to this last article by Solozhenkin, Tanzharikova told Chess.com: 

"The best defense is an attack. It is much easier to blame the alleged enemy for all sins, including lies and cheating, than to present real evidence. And since initially the whole story arises only from his words, it is easier for him to manipulate the public consciousness. Many read Chess-News, where he painted the image of a lying enemy and an unhappy victim in color. But that's strange, for some reason no one thought about why to conduct these Internet wars with accusations, if it was possible to catch the cheater by hand red-handed, having such an excellent opportunity? Two hours was more than enough to check three toilets. The question is, was there any cheating? But the public is already indignant, and therefore its goal of discrediting has been achieved, alas. Rumors, like metastases, destroy the consciousness of even the most sensible."

Open letter by grandmasters

Meanwhile, a group of grandmasters (some well known) have published an open letter in which they express their support for Solozhenkin:

To FIDE Top Management
From International Grandmasters

5th of April, 2018

We, the undersigned grandmasters, are outraged by the decision of the FIDE Ethics Commission to disqualify our colleague GM Evgeniy Solozhenkin.

Case no. 5/2017:
GM Evgeniy Solozhenkin is sanctioned as follows:

A ban of 18-months, with effect from the date of this decision, is imposed disqualifying GM Solozhenkin from:

(a) being present at any official tournament appearing on the FIDE calendar (including Youth and Junior events) and/or attending any FIDE meeting anywhere in the world (including Russia), whether as an organizer, player, trainer, manager, arbiter, accompanying person, delegate, representative or in any other capacity, and from
(b) participating as a player in any FIDE-registered tournament outside of Russia.

At present, Evgeniy Solozhenkin is the world senior champion as a member of the Russian national team, coach of the Northwestern Federal District of Russia, coach of the Russian national youth chess team and a father of a talented young chess player.

Evgeniy has dedicated his whole life to chess. Chess is not merely a game for him, but also his only profession. Evgeniy has got two minor children, who will be left unprovided by the FIDE’s decision (to suspend Evgeniy from work).

Solozhenkin had expressed his opinion and produced arguments, but FIDE Ethics Commission deprived him of playing, coaching, working and being occupied with his favourite employment because of it.

We, grandmasters and coaches, get in touch with spectators, parents, and chess lovers every day. Our life and all our statements are discussed publicly by everybody. If your decision remains in effect, we, grandmasters, will interpret it as a signal to keep silence and sit on the fence instead of actively participating in the chess life. Chess will suffer from it most of all.

In this connection, we ask you to cancel your decision to disqualify GM Solozhenkin.

Respectfully yours, international grandmasters:

J.Aagaard, K. Alekseenko, B. Annakov, F. Amonatov, A. Barsov, S. Beshukov, M. Chigaev, A. Deviatkin, P. Genov, B. Grachev, S. Ionov, A.Ismagambetov, M. Ivanov, S. Ivanov, A.Kalinin, S. Kasparov, M. Kazhgaleyev, A. Khalifman, I. Khenkin, S. Klimov, D. Kokarev, O. Korneev, M. Krasenkov, A. Kuzmin, B.Lalic, N. Legky, V. Malakhatko, N. Matinian, V. Moiseenko, M. Mozharov, R. Ovetchkin, R. Pogorelov, I. Popov, I. Rausis, I. Rozum, S. Shipov, A. Shirov, S. Vysochin, S. Zagrebelny, E. Gleizerov, A. Sumets, M. Ulybin

P.S. Initially, we had decided to write this letter in defense of Evgeniy Solozhenkin exclusively on behalf of grandmasters, in order to make it more serious and powerful. However, we had clearly underestimated the social support we would get: a great number of non-GM chess players and fans have desired to join us. We are really grateful to each of you!
Gens Una Sumus!

Solozhenkin expressed a lack of trust towards the ethics commission. He said:

"In my opinion, the decision of the Ethics Commission is the revenge executed through the EthicsCommission, and an act of intimidation. And this is not only my opinion. I appreciate all people who signed the “Letter of GMs”. Apart from the 41 GMs who sighed this letter, there are many IMs and untitled players who wished to sign it as well.

"What can be the true attitude towards the Ethics Commission after its decision concerning the Kovalyov case? A "takeback" player, a person who had been involved in Strumica '95, who himself should be a client of the Ethics Commission [Solozhenkin is refering to Zurab Azmaiparashvili - PD], provoked a young player to withdraw from the World Cup. No remorse, no responsibility..."

Tanzharikova is worried about her daughter. She said:

"It's difficult for Bibisara going through this situation. For her, this means a lot of stress. It's hard to imagine that children can be used as a bargaining chip in dishonest games between adults. This, of course, affected her perception of chess in general, she wanted to quit. There are possible long-term consequences, it is unknown what it can bring in the future; the mental state of a teenage is unstable."

She feels the Russian Chess Federation should have handled the case differently:

"I think that if the reaction of the Russian Chess Federation was timely and decisive, then perhaps the conflict could be settled without bringing the matter to such decisive measures. It is necessary to fight cheating, but it needs to be done in a civilized manner, we need an algorithm of actions that must be followed, and, of course, suppress any attempts to use our own internal arguments as evidence. This too serious an accusation, and reputation can be irreparably damaged. That is why it is necessary to approach delicate issues carefully, especially since it is forbidden to make your own suspicion for general discussion. Human beings are the participants in any such conflict."

Solozhenkin does not intend to fight the ethics commission's decision. He says he does not regret posting the original article on the internet forum.

"Let me emphasize that I never told any lie in this story. I trust my daughter; she heard the conversation about the evaluation of the actual game position. I am sure it has really happened. And my conscience is clean."


Update: In the mean time, FIDE has replied to the concerned grandmasters and pointed out that their concern rests on a possible misunderstanding, namely that Solozhenkin was banned from carrying on his training activities in Russia. This is not true; he is only banned from attendance at international tournaments on the official FIDE calendar for the period of suspension.


Correction: an earlier version of this article erroneously stated that the FIDE ethics commission suspended Solozhenkin for publishing unfounded accusations of cheating against Assaubayeva during the 2017 World Youth in Uruguay. He was not punished for publishing these specific accusations, but for the unsubstantiated allegations of cheating in general (relating to other tournaments) made in his published articles.

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