The Chess Cheating Scandal and Technology’s Impact
By: Harshil Yerrabelli
It all started when Niemann beat Carlsen on September 4th at the Sinquefield Cup, a Grand Chess Tour tournament in St. Louis. Even though Carlsen could have continued in the competition, he withdrew immediately after the loss, and through a cryptic statement on Twitter, he implied that Niemann had cheated. In interviews, Carlsen elaborated on why he thought Niemann cheated, including that Niemann’s moves were suspicious and unorthodox, and he has refused to play him in future tournaments. The latest news in this scandal that has injected unprecedented levels of drama into the chess world was Niemann filing a lawsuit against Carlsen along with other chess figures, including U.S. Grandmaster Hikaru Nakumura and Chess.com’s Danny Resch, for maliciously colluding to defame him and his career. This situation might seem simple, until you know that Niemann has admitted to having cheated before, and that he might have done so in more than 100 online chess games on Chess.com. Due to this fact, and Niemann stating that Carlsen is notorious for his inability to cope with defeat, this scandal has become a major controversy in the mainstream media of sports and has also brought attention to artificial intelligence’s impact on chess.
Magnus Carlsen (left) and Hans Niemann face off at the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis on Sept. 4.
The pandemic increased the popularity and financial viability of online chess games and competitions, while also making cheating more likely. In this form of chess, one can cheat by using software like Stockfish, AlphaZero, or DeepMind that analyzes the position of the pieces and suggests the best possible move, and in over-the-board games, players can hide their smartphones in the bathroom. If Niemann did indeed cheat, it would be likely that he would have something that was attached to him and that it would vibrate when another person who would be watching the broadcast of the game tried to communicate with Niemann the best move.
While machines can be used to cheat, they can also be used to catch cheaters as investigators can look for and discern patterns that suggest cheating. For example, they may compare a player’s past performance and known strength profile, their moves to engine-recommended moves, and also look at behavioral factors like browser behavior. With all these ways to cheat both in-person and online, and with this recent controversy, tournaments have been prompted to increase security, as seen in the World Fischer Random Chess Championship. The new measures that the championship has taken include having a doctor that inspects the players’ ears for any transmitters; a five-minute broadcast delay of the games to prevent any communication with outside sources; and increased security personnel to look for non-verbal communication cues.
Stockfish: Open Source Chess Engine
For 1,500 years, people have been enthralled by chess and have embraced it for the skills needed to succeed in the game and the life lessons that it teaches. However, it faces its biggest challenge in this age of artificial intelligence, where an app can not only beat the best player in the world but can also enable opportunities to cheat. Will this development in chess change society’s respect for the game and its players’ intelligence?
(1) Crystal Fuller/Grand Chess Tour