Not perfect, but cheating can be tracked in online chess meets: GM Barua

While over-the-board contests have established supervision rules and the presence of arbiters in the tournament hall, how are participants monitored when they play remotely?
An Indian billionaire admitted to using outside "help" to inflict a shock defeat during an online charity match on June 13 over Viswanathan Anand. (AFP) PREMIUM
An Indian billionaire admitted to using outside "help" to inflict a shock defeat during an online charity match on June 13 over Viswanathan Anand. (AFP)
Updated on Jun 15, 2021 07:09 PM IST
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ByDhiman Sarkar, Kolkata

Chess is one sport that has checkmated the pandemic. In-person contests are still difficult but by moving online, chess has not only survived but thrived. “There are around 100 online competitions every month in India and I am possibly being conservative here,” said Dibyendu Barua, India’s second Grandmaster after Viswanathan Anand became the first.

Grandmasters—India now has 67 and 20 Women Grandmasters--too join in such competitions, said Barua on Tuesday. “Added to the thrill of playing without having to step out, there is the possibility of making a quick buck,” said Barua. Most online chess competitions have games that last three to 10 minutes meaning you can finish a tournament in two hours, he said.

But while over-the-board contests have established supervision rules and the presence of arbiters in the tournament hall, how are participants monitored when they play remotely? “Usually, open competitions are held on established chess platforms such as chess.com. These platforms have an expert team who fire up chess engines (softwares that analyse positions) and monitor moves,” said Barua.

Also read | Zerodha co-founder ‘beats’ Anand in charity game, then admits he cheated

“Openings are usually not scrutinised because anyone who knows an opening will play the first 12-15 or 20 moves like any engine would recommend. It is the middle games that are scrutinised because that is where you need to apply your mind. That phase determines outcomes. The odd brilliant move is often ignored as it could be due to a stroke of luck. But when a player consistently moves pieces like they would be recommended by engines, they are tracked. An engine can in a minute scan all the possible moves and list the best three or four.

“Once it is established the moves are too sophisticated for the player’s rating, the participant account is blocked and their result nullified,” said Barua. “Of course, the decision can be challenged but most people don’t because they won’t be able to explain how they consistently played, say, 50 moves with such accuracy.”

“When amateurs are using, say, Stockfish (a popular engine), it is easy to track them. But sometimes in open tournaments, help from coaches and parents too are sought and then it gets difficult to detect. Also, when established players cheat, they will often not take the best option recommended by the engine and may then get the benefit of the doubt,” said Barua.

Also read | Zerodha’s Kamath admits to cheating after ‘beating’ Anand in charity chess

When national and international tournaments are held online, players are instructed to install cameras in the room which need to be turned on when they are playing. No other device that can access the internet is allowed in the room, said Barua. “At the highest level, they may even be asked to share their screens.”

On Monday, Telangana’s G Keerthi and Riya Mishra of Uttar Pradesh, who had finished first and second respectively in the national under-18 rapid online tournament, were found to have used unfair means by a fairplay committee comprising three GMs and two International Masters. Two other participants in the junior women’s competition too were barred on Saturday.

After it was found that he had violated its “the Fair Play policy” while playing Anand in an online event, chess.com shut the account of businessman Nikhil Kamat. Kamat had got Anand to resign in a simultaneous event and later tweeted that he had sought expert advice.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Dhiman Sarkar is based in Kolkata with over two decades as a sports journalist. He writes mainly on football.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2021