Player Expelled From Romanian Championship After Alleged Phone Cheating
Photos: Romanian Chess Federation/Twitter.

Player Expelled From Romanian Championship After Alleged Phone Cheating

| 98 | Chess Event Coverage

A chess player was expelled from the Romanian Chess Championship after a phone was found in the restroom with a chess app showing his game's position after move 15. Although certain information on the phone strongly suggested it was his, the player denied this.

The incident occurred during the fifth round of the Romanian Championship, a nine-round Swiss tournament currently underway in Sebes, Romania. Paul-Stelian Mihalache, a player with a FIDE rating of 1698, showed suspicious behavior that included frequent visits to the restroom.

After one of those visits, an arbiter decided to check one of the toilet cubicles and found a smartphone. As the phone didn't have a pin code, he could open it and noticed that it had three chess apps on it. One showed the position of Mihalache's game after 15 moves, with the engine Stockfish 15 running. A Google account was active with Mihalache's name and email address.

The tournament has a special anti-cheating officer, and before as well as during rounds, random checks are performed with players using a metal detector. It was decided to check Mihalache in a separate room, but no devices were found. Confronted with the information about the chess app and the Google account, the player denied the phone was his but did sign the score sheet after the game was declared lost for him.

Up to that point, he had scored 0.5/4. The final game in question was against a player rated 1200.

 Mihalache's pairings in the tournament. Image: chess-results.

Chief arbiter Dinu-Ioan Nicula and tournament director George Necula then decided to expel Mihalache from the tournament. A report has been sent to the FIDE Ethics and Disciplinary Commission, which may ban the player for a certain period from playing FIDE-rated events.

The incident in Romania is very similar to earlier cheating scandals in chess. In 2015, an arbiter of the Dubai Open found an iPod hidden behind the cistern and covered with toilet paper during one of the rounds. The Georgian grandmaster Gaioz Nigalidze denied he owned the device, even though it was logged into a social network site under Nigalidze’s account and that his game was being analyzed in one of the chess applications. Nigalidze was expelled from the tournament and eventually banned from competitive play for three years, and his grandmaster title was revoked.

Another case was at the 2018 European Youth Chess Championships, where a participant in the Under-14 section admitted to cheating after the arbiter found the phone in the men’s restroom. 

The now 61-year-old Latvian-Czech grandmaster Igors Rausis got caught cheating in July 2019 at a tournament in Strasbourg, France, as he used a phone in the restroom. A photo surfaced and subsequently went viral on the internet and in mainstream media. Later that year, FIDE banned him for six years and stripped him of the GM title.

While the scandal involving GM Magnus Carlsen and GM Hans Niemann remains unresolved, many chess tournaments are stepping up their anti-cheating measures. At the Tata Steel Chess Tournament last month Wijk aan Zee, this involved transmitting the moves to the internet with a 15-minute delay and checking the players with metal detectors. At the WR Chess Masters, which is currently underway in Dusseldorf, Germany, there is also a 15-minute delay and players are checked with a metal detector, but also a magnet is pointed at their ears to check for tiny hidden devices.

Peter Doggers

Peter Doggers joined a chess club a month before turning 15 and still plays for it. He used to be an active tournament player and holds two IM norms.

Peter has a Master of Arts degree in Dutch Language & Literature. He briefly worked at New in Chess, then as a Dutch teacher and then in a project for improving safety and security in Amsterdam schools.

Between 2007 and 2013 Peter was running ChessVibes, a major source for chess news and videos acquired by in October 2013.

As our Director News & Events, Peter writes many of our news reports. In the summer of 2022, The Guardian’s Leonard Barden described him as “widely regarded as the world’s best chess journalist.”

In October, Peter's first book The Chess Revolution will be published!

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