Uncovering Cheating in Chess: Signs to Watch Out For

Cheating in chess is a serious offense that undermines the integrity of the game.

There are various ways players can cheat during a match, from using chess engines to seeking outside assistance.

This article explores what is considered cheating in chess, the signs to look out for, and how to catch a chess cheater.

We discuss strategies for preventing cheating in tournaments and promoting fair play and sportsmanship among players.

Let’s dive into the world of chess and learn how to protect the sanctity of the game.

What is Considered Cheating in Chess?

Cheating in chess may be defined as using unfair methods to gain an advantage over one’s opponent or otherwise decreasing the difficulty or uncertainty of a game to achieve a favorable outcome. Other definitions of cheating in chess or determining when it is unethical often include actions that infringe upon tournament regulations, game rules, or good sportsmanship.

Although users registered on chess servers like Lichess are able to network and play with opponents from all over the world, cheating may come in the form of using computers, chess analysis software, or engines, to help them play. While computer assistance during gameplay is the most common cheating method, other kinds of actions beyond the physical game itself, such as claiming to have certain conditions (e.g. inaccessibility to the game log if playing on the Lichess app) then breaching them are also considered unethical.

Using Chess Engines or Software

Using Chess Engines or Software such as Stockfish are sure-fire ways to know if someone is cheating in chess. Cheating in chess by using computers was popularized before the growth of social media. One well-known example of a grandmaster getting caught is Enrico Paolo Vinci who was disqualified from the FIDE World Cup 2009 because a chess engine was transmitting illegal moves to him via wireless communication.

Seeking Outside Assistance

Seeking outside assistance of someone is cheating in chess. Chess players should not allow other people to tell them what moves to make once a game has started. Instead, they must make their moves independently. If a player asks someone what move to make, it would be considered seeking help. This rule is based on the fact that computer analysis is widespread, so circumventing it with advice from other players is now the norm. In natural play, errors typically occur in one player. That player with more errors will need a higher fraction of the correct moves by the partner than the partner’s fraction of the errors by the player. Correcting moves made by the partner is considered equivalent to advising or informing moves.

Collusion with Opponent

This is the illegal cooperation of players with the goal of giving one or both of them an unfair advantage. Not every mutual kindness is collusion. Players are allowed to speak to their opponent during a game, so if they decline such an interaction this does not indicate wrongdoing.

However, an opponent’s behavior may be a clue as to where the suspicion of cheating should land. In a chess game an opponent may be normally relaxed leaving the board for bathroom or soda breaks as they please. But if they suddenly become unnaturally animated, or if the body language and location of their breaks seems more in keeping with meetings with a confederate, then they may be working together to cheat. Notation of a game is very important in cases of suspected collusion. If there is a lot of material or spatial inconsistency in both player’s notation, and if both scored the moves perfectly, this may be an indication.

Breaking Chess Rules

  • En passant: if an opponent fails to carry-out the en passant rule if it is available to them.
  • Castling with illegal moves: the rule of castling states that eight squares where both the king and castling rook are on their Rooks valued positions are not occupied nor under attack by opponent, the squares between the castling king and rook are open, and neither the king nor castling rook have been moved from their original squares. If this situation arises and the opponents makes an illegal move then it is obvious that they intended to break the rules.
  • Legitimate stalemate avoidance: Simply making poor moves constantly is not indicative of cheating. But, what a player intentionally avoids a stalemate, which is a situation where a player has no legal moves and the king is not in check, they are doing so intentionally and likely cheating.

Signs of Cheating in Chess

Any of these factors or behaviors may be signs that someone is cheating in chess. Remember, they are all significantly more likely to indicate honest mistakes or gradual improvement from opponents than actual cheating.

  1. Engine-level accuracy
  2. Opponent mysteriously always goes to the bathroom during games
  3. Opponent discourages stringent adherence to rules
  4. The new FIDE cheating protocol expands long anti-cheating checklists
  5. Sharp improvement in tournament play
  6. Hoodoo hoots, common sense, or anything else. If you believe your opponent is cheating, focus only on the chessboard; if you lose or win, seek opportunities to analyze the game and improve your own skills. Accusing an innocent of cheating can be very hurtful and promote unneeded tension already inherent in competitive sport.

The posting of this article is not a ‘huge problem’; it’s misleading and unsupported. The expansion of 200+ cheats spotted in psychological studies is taken from one report of anti-cheating measures by chess.com, an unauthorized online chess platform. Unauthorized online chess platforms tend to not share much data. As such, these findings are not indicative of anything at all.

FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich has developed the 2021 FIDE anti-cheating guidelines, mandating more frequent anti-cheating inspections and preventing players from having electronic devices on them while in the playing hall.

Strong performances at established tournaments by younger players are usually seen as sure signs of their bonafides, and are usually one of the main reasons to suspect cheating. During this scandal, only one of the players was already performing well in her past tournaments – NousyEnquis. Of course with any attempt to judge cheating, one must be cautious and not expect certain player types to ever cheat.

Unusually High Win Rate

If a player’s win rate is spiking significantly during the games against players with whom they have a positive relationship with outside of the game of chess then this spike in winrate could be perceived as indicative of cheating.

The site www.chess.com computes the Expected Score difference (ESD) between players using a version of Arpad Elo’s rating system. The expected score is the percent chance that a player wins according to ELO scores. If a player’s win rate is significantly higher than the expected score, this sets off a cheating alert to chess.com which may investigate further.

Inconsistent Play Style

Approval specialists suggest inconsistent play styles are one of the parameters to know if someone is cheating in chess. They note how when Shreya Lule, a calm young chess player from India, played her wilder games, she played powerfully from the get-go.

When she played her calmer games, she just played to get a winning position and then waited for mistakes. This eventually led to a fingerfehler zugzwang and Shreya Lule embezzlement.

Suspicious Behavior During Games

Suspicious behavior during games could be a sign that someone might be engaging in cheating in chess. Players who are cheating are sometimes handicapped by their lack of chess skills or the lack of effectiveness of the cheat mechanisms they use, and thus must rely on openly deceptive tactics to frustrate and distract their opponents.

Suspicious behavior in chess could be as simple as repeatedly adjusting position, speaking too much, exhibiting nervousness, or showing surprise at playing a masterful move. Other behaviors may be more advanced and subtle, such as intentionally losing to set up a future win or behaving inconsistently with a player’s style as seen in post-game analysis of key positions or making unsound sacrifices for positions having slim win chances.

Strategies to defeat players who display such character traits include keeping a poker face, acting calm, and politely pointing out differences in their standard behavior before identifying and dismantling suspicious aspects of their game. Only sound tactics and high-quality moves consistently applied from the opening to the endgame are required to finish a game when a mystery opponent suddenly struggles with basic strategies or stumbles into an impossibly strong counterattack. The opponent will likely quickly lose the game for reasons not founded in any cheating.

Refusal to Play in Person

If players openly scorn the tradition of playing live games, it is considered bad sportsmanship. If someone refuses to play in person, there may be a lack of skill that is better masked over the internet than in person; this may be especially true if the player typically performs better online than in-person. To get a read if someone is cheating in chess or lacks chess talent, challenge them to an in-person game or a match.

How to Catch a Chess Cheater?

The first and most efficient way to catch a chess cheater is to make them play in person where both moves and general conduct can be observed. Chess players are masters at following the moves of a game through sets of their fingers.

The registered moves can also be duplicated outside of the game, in electronic form, at the end of the session. Even this way, a player can cheat by bringing a computer or device with them. They can also use online chess playing software to play against each other since spouses or friends might not report each other even if caught cheating.

In case a player is cheating, you might not find very strong proof in the gaming room since competent chess cheaters require only some minor actions that beyond a general feeling that they are cheating, do not prove any infraction. If you have interesting evidence, he simply used to take a lot of time thinking (overthinking), looking at their body language, acting differently in different critical situations.

You should use chess anti-cheating software such as Chess.com and FairChess. FairChess is a log file-based chess anti-cheating system implemented as an anti-cheating plugin on a computer running an online chess client, such as Lichess. Logs are stored on the player’s computer then shared by email to FairChess for scanning to determine whether the player was cheating with the help of an engine during the game.

Making video and audio recordings of individuals playing has even worked too. When players know they are being or may be recorded, they are far less likely to cheat. The second and final way to catch a player from cheating is to establish a pattern of cheating within the history, as more games are analyzed, stronger patterns can emerge.

Use Chess Analysis Software

Chess analysis software will help you know if someone is cheating at chess. Static analysis tools like Chess.com’s Analysis Board, Forward Chess, and Scid vs. PC can be downloaded and used to track opponents’ moves on any chess platform Vasoline (Faucet, Lichess, etc.). The software will determine how often the person moves based on an account’s typical performance and show the potential cheating in percentages.

More sophisticated software tools like ChessBase can scan through historical databases, comparing moves from those playing humans and those made by computers. While these tools are not foolproof, they provide a decent starting point if you feel someone is cheating in a chess game. Use of analysis software by professionals and amateurs has revealed many cheaters over the years.

Observe the Player’s Reactions

These are player reactions that could be signs of dishonest behavior:

  1. When a player avoids physical contact, they may be cheating
  2. When a player frequently uses the washroom to check mobile devices, they may be cheating
  3. When the player shows no care after making a blunder, they may be cheating. Albert Silver observed that, with a computer’s safety net of backing out of an unsound move, the emotional weight of such a blunder is much less, which likely explains why they do not appear to be crying over their spilt milk
  4. When the player suddenly starts to play much slower, they may be cheating
  5. When one player consistently gets up and goes to the bathroom at the same time each game, they may be cheating

The example given by IM Valeri Lilov, who catches a student using his smartphone to cheat, underscores the relevance of the visual inspection of pieces and moves.

It is impossible to judge without further observation if a player is simply uncomfortable with their opponent, has a medical condition that requires regular bathroom breaks, gets up to refill a cup of coffee around the same time each game, is cheating, or genuinely just likes walking around. Keep watching for a pattern to make a better assessment.

Check for Electronic Devices

Possession of electronic devices ranging from smartwatches to modern hearing aids could be a sign of cheating in chess. FIDE gives some restriction on the use of electronics in their chess tournaments including restricting laptops, tablets, and other equipment from entering the playing hall. Such policies are put in place to discourage cheating in chess.

Request a Post-Match Analysis

Players who cheat in chess often receive higher post-game scores than in-game scores. Analysis of post-match scores can be conducted to determine whether either player has been cheating in several types of games including (Croatian Chess Federation, 2014):

  1. Fischer
  2. Blitz
  3. Rapid
  4. Classical

The basic assumption for every fair chess game is that the difference between in-game and post-game scores should not be remarkably different. When there are suddenly improvements in performance, it should trigger an investigation. The difference in scores immediately after a match should not be bigger than the difference in regular games to draw a suspicion of cheating (Sermatevi et al., 2014).

Preventing Chess Cheating

Preventing chess cheating is important both for maintaining the integrity of the game and preserving the competitive advantage of fair players in tournaments. Methods for preventing cheating include written codes of conduct such as the FIDE Code of Ethics, monitoring by arbiters and video cameras during important contests, and cooperation from online chess platforms for detecting and denying play to known or suspected cheaters.

The FIDE Code of Ethics helps to prevent cheating by making real and imagined cheating a violation of the rules of chess. It contains detailed instructions on the behavior of arbiters and players for dealing with anyone suspected of cheating. It lays down rules for tournaments to deal with people caught cheating and explains that an organizer can disqualify a player without refunding entry fees.

Arbiters monitor in-person matches and can prevent cheating in a number of ways. By using their authority to enforce attendee conduct codes, by recommending spot-checks to remove electronic devices that could be used for engine analysis from the vicinity, and by ensuring proper distancing. Arbiters would of course be able to observe players wearing devices such as smart rings, headphones, or colonoscopes, implying they may need to remind players to empty their pockets and inspect for any hidden devices.

Cameraman of technical specialists at high-level events are sometimes employed to spot suspicious behavior.

Online chess platforms have tools that can prevent cheating. Automatic cheat detection algorithms are in place to prevent people using engines. These algorithms monitor mouse movements, query rate, game time, accuracy, and more. The internet chess club, for example, uses a multi-staged process checking 140 different inputs to detect cheaters. Game closures for non-full play are also used by chess websites to prevent players from always having opponents rated lower than them, as this choice is one of the main motivations for cheaters.

Implement Strict Tournament Rules

The best way to know if someone is cheating in chess is to have strict and clear tournament rules as promoted by the US Chess Federation (USCF). To broaden the impact of preventing cheating in chess among amateurs with official tournament rules similar to those of the United States Chess Federation’s, a set of rules have been established by the International Chess Federation (FIDE). These are stipulated in the FIDE Laws of Chess. The FIDE Anti-Cheating Regulations (ACR) are separate documents but represent an important complement to the FIDE Laws of Chess. The easiest method amateur chess players can use for identifying cheating in chess involves reporting highly suspicious behavior at events. Usually, the tournament and local chess organizations can take it from there with investigations. This puts volunteers and organization resources to work preventing cheating at the lowest levels.

Conduct Random Checks

To determine if cheating is occurring in chess, the US Chess Federation recommends that organizers conduct random checks. This means tournament officials will periodically use technology to check whether or not opponents are receiving unexplained moves and/or using assistance like computers, books, and other people to aid their game during a match.

Adopted at the FIDE General Assembly in Antalya 2017, special Anti-Cheating Technology Rules stipulate that any and all anti-cheating devices, protocols or services should not include Network Access Points.

The best anti-cheating device, according to the Georgian Chess Federation, is for players to play under a transparent and video-monitored environment. However, security cameras are not absolute since very modern and sophisticated cheating devices are available that may be undetectable for cameras. And due to the invasion of privacy, the issue of video monitoring is very sensitive. No nefarious activity or cheating in chess can ever be eliminated completely, but computer assistance, random checks, and video monitoring can greatly reduce and curb it at official levels.

Educate Players on the Consequences of Cheating

Do not shout at a player merely suspected of cheating, as happened to Najer at the 2009 Aeroflot Open. Do subject players, particularly when it is a minor, to the appropriate antichess cheating apps. That’s the Lacrima Chess or iChess analytics apps when they are most likely to be using an engine. A Merck’s Morse code bracelet helps prevent cheating at a competitive level by providing audible alerts to the user’s phone if they attempt to access any notifications or apps during a game.

Encourage Fair Play and Sportsmanship

Encourage fair play and sportsmanship from your opponents and team players in all chess games. This will create a good playing atmosphere and positive competitive spirit. If everyone plays fair and reads the rules carefully, there is no room for cheating to be considered. If you happen to find an opponent being cheated or are suspecting cheating, kindly note it and share with other players if needed. Besides, express your suspicions to the opponent to encourage there be improved playing strategy.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to Know if Someone is Cheating in Chess?

1. What are some common signs that someone is cheating in chess?

Some common signs that someone is cheating in chess include consistently making incredible moves, playing at a much higher skill level than usual, and having an unusually high win rate.

2. Are there any specific chess strategies or moves that may indicate cheating?

Yes, there are certain strategies and moves that may indicate cheating, such as always making the same opening moves or using uncommon and unconventional tactics.

3. Is it possible to cheat in chess without using technology?

Yes, it is possible to cheat in chess without using technology. Some common methods include using distracting behavior, hiding pieces on the board, or having a pre-arranged signal with a partner.

4. How can I confront someone if I suspect they are cheating in a chess match?

It is important to approach the situation calmly and gather evidence before confronting someone about cheating in a chess match. Present your findings and give the person a chance to explain their actions.

5. Is there any way to prevent cheating in chess tournaments or matches?

To prevent cheating, chess tournaments often have strict rules in place, such as banning electronic devices, conducting bag checks, or having a designated observer to monitor gameplay.

6. Can cheating in chess have any consequences?

Yes, cheating in chess can have serious consequences, such as being disqualified from a tournament, losing rankings and titles, and damaging one’s reputation in the chess community.

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