How do you even cheat at chess? Artificial Intelligence and Morse Code


It is the story that has turned chess upside down and shows no sign of abating.

Everyone is talking about the cheating scandal sweeping the sport, involving five-time world champion Magnus Carlsen.

On Monday, Carlsen explicitly accused fellow grandmaster and rival Hans Niemann of cheating in a lengthy statement on Twitter.

The accusation comes weeks after the Norwegian withdrew from the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, Missouri, on September 19 following his surprise defeat to the American.

“When Niemann was invited to the 2022 Sinquefield Cup at the last minute, I strongly considered withdrawing ahead of the event. I ultimately chose to play,” Carlsen wrote.

“I believe Niemann has cheated more – and more recently – than he has publicly admitted. His progress across the board was unusual, and during our play in the Sinquefield Cup I had the impression that he was not tense or even fully focused on play in critical positions, while he outplayed me as black in a way that I think that only a handful of players can do.

“This game helped change my perspective.”

Niemann, for his part, admitted to cheating when he was 12 and 16 years old and said he was forbidden from participating in, but said in an interview with the St. Louis Chess Club that he never cheated excessively. had played. the board games.

But for a game that seems so simple in structure – one chessboard, two players, a total of 32 pieces and, theoretically, a lot of creativity – the question many people ask is, “How does one even cheat at chess?”

Niemann considers moving during the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis.

Despite being an ancient sport, chess has been dragged into modern times in recent years.

Computers and the internet have made competition more accessible and connected players around the world, and artificial intelligence now gives players the tools to map out their moves before the match even starts.

It all really started in 1996 when Grandmaster Garry Kasparov, widely recognized as one of the greatest players ever, took on an IBM supercomputer called ‘Deep Blue’ in a series of matches.

Although Kasparov won the first game, “Deep Blue” won two games, becoming the first computer program to beat a world champion in a classic game according to the tournament rules.

A year later, the two faced each other in a rematch where “Deep Blue” defeated Kasparov, becoming the first computer program to defeat a world champion in a full match.

While Kasparov’s performance against ‘Deep Blue’ has been re-evaluated over time, the importance of the results cannot be overstated. It was a totemic moment in the advancement of technology’s ability to play the “perfect” chess match and signaled the emergence of the effect of artificial intelligence on chess.

Kasparov looks to the chessboard for his next move early in the fifth game against the IBM 'Deep Blue' computer.

Since then, with improvements to computer hardware and software, chess engines have made the sport a 21st century game.

As defined by, a chess engine is a program that “analyzes chess positions and returns what it calculates as the best move options.”

Chess engines have become much stronger than humans in recent years, with far more than 3,000 Elo ratings – the Elo rating system measures a chess player’s strength relative to his opponents. For context, Carlsen holds the record for the highest Elo rating ever achieved by a human player when he reached 2,882 in 2014.

Stockfish is one of the most advanced chess engines with a score of over 3,500 meaning it has a 98% chance of beating Carlsen in a match – and a 2% chance of drawing the five-time world champion, which is essentially yields a Carlsen. victory impossible.

While chess engines have helped players hone their craft – training against the perfect moves to prepare for any eventuality – they have also allowed some players to cheat more easily.

As a result, online chess sites, such as, have developed anti-cheating technology to detect when players use remote computer software during games in an effort to curb cheating.

While anti-cheating technology has improved, Emil Sutovsky — director general of chess governing body FIDE — says chess needs to develop a “social contract” with online players to stop cheating.

“What happened in the past was that the culture of online cheating was seen as much less of a crime compared to trying to cheat across the board,” says Sutovsky, who says cheating in online chess is a “massive problem” – told CNN Sport. “It was like playing a computer game, online game, online chess, so it wasn’t taken so seriously.

“And a lot of players suspected that other players were cheating and then of course they were more driven to try it for themselves. That’s something that doesn’t happen in over-the-board chess. Now this culture or this heritage really has to change and people have to adapt. realize that whether it is online cheating or outrageous cheating, it is cheating.

“Especially now that the situation has changed as serious prizes are at stake, tours like Magnus . organized [Carlsen who] has done its own tour, so of course this whole perception needs to be replaced by understanding that cheating online is a very serious sin and the punishment for it should be very serious as well.

As FIDE fights to fight online cheating, there has been a level of purity in over-the-board chess where cheating proves to be much more difficult.

Andy Howie, arbitrator and member of FIDE’s anti-cheating Fair Play Commission, outlined some of the measures in place to prevent excessive cheating, such as metal detectors, signal scanners, non-linear scanners and thermal imagers.

But security measures have not stopped people from cheating and the game’s history is full of scandal.

Carlsen ponders a move during his round 8 match against the Slovakian team at the 44th Chess Olympiad.

Accusations of cheating and cheating flew back and forth during the 1978 World Chess Championship final, which one grandmaster in attendance described as “the most mind-boggling and sordid world championship game in the history of chess.”

At one point, young Soviet champion Anatoly Karpov claimed that Russian exile Viktor Korchnoi was trying to blind him with his mirrored sunglasses, El País reports.

Later, waiters served Karpov a blueberry yogurt, and Korchnoi suggested it could be used for encrypted communications from his opponent’s analysts.

Karpov eventually won the competition, which is recreated in a 2021 Russian film called “The World Champion.”

More recently, FIDE stripped Georgian Gaioz Nigalidze of his grandmaster title and banned him from competitive chess for three years in 2015 because he repeatedly went to the toilet during a match to check his phone to find the best move.

Also in 2015, an arbitrator caught Italian amateur Arcangelo Riccicardi using Morse code and a camera to cheat in a match.

Ricciardi reportedly hid a video camera in a pendant around his neck, wires attached to his body and a small box under his armpit.

“I kept looking at him. He always sat, never got up,” chief referee Jean Coqueraut told La Stampa. “Very strange, we are talking about hours and hours of play. Most of all, he always had his arms folded with his thumb under his armpit. He never made it out.

And he blinked in an unnatural way, as if concentrated on the board, but lost in another thought. Then I realized: He was deciphering the signals in Morse code. Point line point line. That was it.”

Riccicardi denied cheating.

It is uncertain whether Niemann actually committed fraud against Carlsen – the American vehemently denies the charges.

In any case, in theory, if someone entered Carlsen’s moves into a chess engine like Stockfish, he or she could beat or tie Carlsen with a near 100% probability.

Either way, there’s no conclusive evidence, but the five-time world champion seems convinced foul play was involved during the Sinquefield Cup.

It’s much harder to cheat when you’re sitting right in front of your opponent, staring into your eyes and having an official over your shoulder, but that doesn’t stop players from trying through history.

Howie says top players who depend on their chess career are less likely to cheat with more losses at stake.

Carlsen competes in his round 10 match against Moldova's team at the 44th Chess Olympiad, in Mahabalipuram on August 8.

“You have someone like Hikaru Nakamura or Magnus Carlsen or Levon Aronian or Ian Nepomniatchtchi. If they were caught cheating it would be devastating for them, for the careers,” he told CNN Sport. “This is their career. They cannot afford to do that as it would be utterly devastating to them.

“They would lose all credibility, all sponsorship. They just have too much to lose. That doesn’t mean we treat it like they never cheat, far from it. When we’re dealing with their tournaments, we’re actually very, very strict about making sure there’s no… I never expect to see any of this cheating.

“I would be really shocked if I cheated on any of these guys. But when you get to the lower ranks, people are more likely to cheat, your weaker players. People who see it as, it’s not important to them, get banned for a few years. ‘And then? I’ll be playing in a few years. I’m not too concerned about it.’ It doesn’t have the same impact on them as it does on the top players. It’s not their livelihood.”

And as the Carlsen-Niemann controversy continues to dominate the sport, who knows what truth the events will bring out.

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