Monday, February 23, 2009

Rybkagate in Aeroflot

Well, in case you've not heard it, we have yet another case of "Toiletgate". I'll have to come up with a new name for this one! How about Rybkagate? Yes, OK, that will do.

ChessVibes were the first to report that the Aeroflot 2009 top seed, GM Shakhryiar Mamedyarov withdrew from the event as a protest against what he alleges to be cheating by his last opponent GM Igor Kurnosov. Mamedyarov lost the game in a quick-fire 21 moves! The Azeri wrote a letter to the organisers in which he said:

During the game my opponent went out of the playing hall after each move, took his coat and withdrew himself [to] the toilet. After suspicion of unfair play on move 14 I offered a draw, he refused. We quickly played 11 moves, [and] on the 12th move I played a move which confused my opponent. The next moves from him were given as first choice by Rybka, which quickly allowed him to win the game.

What is strange is that if Shakhryiar already suspected cheating as early as move 14, then why in hec didn't he do something about it right there and then? After all, at that stage Kurnosov had gone to the toilet no less than 14 times! And another question: how was Kurnosov supposed to have carried out the cheating? Use of a hand-held device? My imagination is thinking that it was carried out by phone, with a distant friend examining the position with a computer then relaying the recommended move either verbally or by text. There's only one problem with this. In the same ChessVibes report, our Dutch reporter quotes arbiter Geurt Gijssen as saying, "After the game I asked him [Kurnosov] to show the contents of his pockets, but all that we found was a pack of sigarets (sic), a lighter and a pen."

This is all more than a tad unfortunate, but mostly, in my view, for Kurnosov. The poor guy now stands accused of cheating in front of the whole chess world. For the time being, he has my sympathies. If there's one important thing that can be surely learned, it is that matters like this one ought to be first and foremost handled discreetly. Only when there is maximum certainty should anything be allowed out in the public domain.


Fairplay said...

Now I know why other players have been able to beat me in tournament games, they all cheating with Computers !

Clearly its unfair to accuse someone without proof, very bad sportmanship.

On the other hand, rules need to be tighten to avoid this type of problem.

Interestly I did play in one nationally rated event last year, where the top seed (also he was the offical running the event) was reading an opening book, anaysising on other board, using cellphone all during the games ! Needless to say I withdraw from the event (and other player did as well), but it didnt stop this person sending in results for rating.

Anonymous said...

Who was this person/official?

M. Thomas Southerland said...

Dear CG and Fellow readers,

Clearly a solution is needed. -Without giving up our rights to move about freely during a tournament game. As some of the world's best problem solvers, We Chess players have much practice in embracing imbalances and finding ways to even things out.
Though this is the last thing that Shakh needed to be concerned with during such an important game. (Beyond distracting.) And if it is true that he was violated... Well, we all know what that feels like.

There must be a solution to this puzzle, and whoever finds it should be rewarded very highly, as they will serve to replace the simple confidence needed by our sport of intellect, Our sport of thought which requires unencumbered concentration. If we are distracted by such concerns, it is literally impossible to compete, let alone enjoy the experience.

Of course there is no rule about hitting the can after every move, though it does appear very odd indeed, and one can only speculate as to the purpose or need. Though there is no rule against it, and if there were it would be wholly unenforceable.

Throughout the world we create laws for public safety where the "Deterrent" of a harsh penalty is expected to force proper behavior. (And we see how well that works.) Even with the threat of a lifetime ban, there are those who will still take the risk for a big payday.

There must be a way to eliminate the threat of cheating, so that we can all get back to focusing on the game, and so that even if our opponents take their walk-about, we have no concern that they are up to something nefarious. Or in turn, if we walk about considering the position and calculating in our heads, we should not be accused of cheating, or worry that we will be if we come up with a brilliancy.

Though this is one puzzle, that I personally have not the faintest clue as to where to even begin to look for a solution.

However, surviellance cameras following our every move, metal detectors at entry points, dogs sniffing our crotches, TDs looking over the top of the stall at a kid with his pants down (Shame on that TD)... These are gestapo tactics and have no place in our honorable sport or a world that is supposed to have learned those lessons in the last century.

One thing I have found over a life spent studying puzzles is that there is ALWAYS a good solution, and more often than not there are multiple (Good) solutions. And while the solution(s) often involve compromise, (Eg. Sacing a piece for position) In this case, we simply cannot afford to compromise any more of our rights or dignity for a few cheaters out of a very large group of honest people.

If any have an idea for a solution, please share it with us.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with M. Thomas Southerland on this one, and ask what the heck the solution is to a problem that is surely going to get worse. I have felt for quite some time now that the implementation of these strong programs was going to find its way to OTB tournament chess. My suspicions were not unwarranted, but I do find something quite interesting.

I can understand the frustrated C player who desperately wants to move into the 1800s breaking out a program for a little boost (NOTE: I do not condone this behavior, but I would understand it, I guess), but the chess players who have been making news for this activity are very strong players! I was honestly surprised to hear that chess grandmasters were progging and/or cheating by other means, as well as experts and regular masters.

I currently work for one of the more prominent Internet chess-playing sites, and using engines to cheat has been a concern for quite some time in that venue. I knew, however, that it was only a matter of time before these powerful programs made their way to OTB tournaments – especially with 2200+ strength computers coming in smaller and smaller packages.

Where will it end? It probably won’t, chess friends. It’s all uphill from here, and I believe that now it is a battle of good vs. evil (which is how some see a chess game, anyhow). Just as on the Internet, the best we can do is play an honest game, play our best, and hope that our opponents do the same. There will always be someone who breaks the rules to achieve their shallow goals in any competition, chess included.

The biggest problem is that there are cash prizes in these chess competitions, and the thought of someone becoming unjustly enriched because they have the newest computer program really steams me up. I believe they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent that the law allows, including, but not limited to, larceny and fraud. The dishonest party should also be required to pay a hefty fine if caught, as well as being banned from tournament play. Cheating on the net for rating points is one thing, but cheating for greenbacks is a whole different ballgame.