Before ‘Anal Beads’ Drama, There Were Other Ludicrous Computer Chess Cheating Scandals

Before ‘Anal Beads’ Drama, There Were Other Ludicrous Computer Chess Cheating Scandals

The chess world remains aflame over allegations of cheating from the scene’s best players against one of its strongest up-and-comers. As serious as this recent spat between renowned chess grandmaster Magnus Carlsen and fellow chess master Hans Niemann has become, there’s one very silly throughline that runs through the very serious scandal, an absurd focus on vibrating anal beads that some suggest have allowed the younger Niemann to cheat his way to chess stardom.

Of course, most people think it’s a joke, especially since it was propagated by a tweet from renowned shitposter and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Still, there is a serious element to the recent scandal, and a recent investigation by shows there’s a real element of worry to the story that Niemann has used computer programs to help him cheat at chess, as he had done in the past over 100 times. Though digital chess programs have promoted they have sophisticated systems to detect players using outside programs to determine their next move, it hasn’t stopped speculation and condemnation that the state of chess, both digitally and in-person, is irrevocably marred.

But this current conflagration of the chess world has been a long time coming. Chess programs have effectively become so sophisticated no human can beat them. Some chess experts have determined that computers have changed the way chess is played, as more players focus on memorising board states than actually thinking through the game’s puzzle.

As the years go on, there have been more and more situations where cheaters have tried to rely on AI to determine the next move. Throughout the past decade there have been numerous reports of chess cheats caught hiding in a bathroom stall to see what kind of move a chess bot would make in their place.

But that’s really the tip of the iceberg. Running through the list of past chess cheats is like witnessing the eclipse of current technology, from PDAs to smartphones hidden among rolls of toilet paper, to glasses with hidden cameras.

The “chess Turing test”

Photo: Daniel Schweinert, Shutterstock
Photo: Daniel Schweinert, Shutterstock

According to ChessBase, a German company that sells chess software including the classic Fritz chess engine, some of their founding members were the first ones to try using computers to cheat at chess, “for science” as they say. During the 1980 Hamburg Chess festival, some computer engineers and media from a German TV station tried to perform what the team called a “chess Turing test” on an unsuspecting player, meant to test the capabilities of an AI player against a human if the human didn’t know they were competing against a computer.

According to ChessBase’s own recounting of events, their team set up their game against German grandmaster Dr. Helmut Pfleger. They hid a radio receiver under the hair of one of their comrades with the capacity to talk to the player as the game progressed, with one of their crew calling out moves from a vantage point. They entered every one of Pfleger’s moves into the computer and then respond with the AI’s moves.

Pfleger was still winning the majority of his games including the one played strictly against the computer’s moves. While this was ostensibly an experiment, it might be the earliest example of an attempt to use a computer to “cheat” against a grandmaster. The fact that AI has progressed so much since Deep Blue’s win against Garry Kasparov in 1997 makes this early “Turing test” feel all the more like a canary in the coal mine for the wider chess world.

The strange, strange story of John von Neumann

Photo: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP, Getty Images
Photo: ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP, Getty Images

One of the earliest mentions of using technology to cheat at chess occurred in 1993 during the World Open hosted in Philadelphia. A man described as having dreadlocks and wearing headphones waltzed into the arena and said his name was John von Neumann, which is also the name of a famed computer scientist and game theorist from the early to mid 20th century. Von Neumann was reportedly unrated in the chess world, but he still won more than half his initial nine games in the open section, even drawing against a grandmaster. Players reported he had a bulge in his pocket that buzzed at certain moments in the game.

During a chess cheating conference held in New York back in 2007, former U.S. Chess Federation director Steve Immitt said that the tournament director at the time quizzed von Neumann on basic chess concepts and the rogue player apparently failed to give knowledgeable answers. He was kicked out of the tournament.

The story has taken on a near-apocryphal air, especially since the real name behind von Neumann’s moniker was never identified.

Finding this cheater required a less-than-subtle stall peak

Photo: Noel V. Baebler, Shutterstock
Photo: Noel V. Baebler, Shutterstock

ChessBase again reported on a cheater from 2002 about a young chess cheat who was found out in probably the weirdest way, before of course we started to see chess moderators literally checking rectums for any hidden device.

During the 2002 Lampertheim Open players began suspecting their opponent, a man who has only been identified as W.S. from L, of cheating as he would leave the board multiple times to go to the bathroom. According to the tournament arbiter’s account, he watched W.S. play very rapidly before going to the bathroom.

“I followed him and could hear no sound coming from the stall,” the arbiter reportedly said. “I looked under the door and saw that his feet were pointing sideways, so that he could not have been using the toilet. So I entered the neighbouring stall, stood on the toilet bowl and looked over the dividing wall. I saw W.S. standing there with a handheld PC which displayed a running chess program. He was using a stylus to operate it.”

There are even pictures of W.S. sitting on the closed toilet. When the cheat noticed he was spotted he then picked up an umbrella, opened it and tried to hide himself. Of course, it didn’t work.

The chess world’s triple French threat

Photo: ARUN SANKAR/AFP, Getty Images
Photo: ARUN SANKAR/AFP, Getty Images

During the 2010 FIDE (International Chess Federation) Olympiad Tournament held in Russia, chess officials alleged that a trio of Frenchmen were involved in a chess cheating scheme. According to reports from that time, the French Chess Federation alleged that grandmaster Sebastien Feller, alongside compatriots Cyril Marzolo and Arnaud Hauchard were all involved in a rube goldberg-esque operation to help the chess master cheat during his games.

The French federation alleged Marzolo would watch the games online and use chess software to give Feller the next best possible move. Marzolo would then send “coded” texts to Hauchard. Then, this third accomplice would sit at a specific table in the competition hall, where each individual table represented a square on the board, indicating where Feller should put his next piece.

All three were suspended by the International Chess Federation. Although the trio originally denied the allegations, Marzolo eventually confirmed he was party to the scheme.

A young player went to the trouble of disguising his chess cheating program on a PDA

We don't know what kind of device the young chess player used, but anything describing a Dell-brand PDA is a real blast from the past. (Photo: Andrey Blumenfeld, Shutterstock)
We don’t know what kind of device the young chess player used, but anything describing a Dell-brand PDA is a real blast from the past. (Photo: Andrey Blumenfeld, Shutterstock)

One player went beyond squirrelling their phone away while on the toilet to cheat at chess. As detailed by a report by the online magazine Grantland, a player disguised his chess cheating program during a 2012 Virginia Scholastic and Collegiate Chess Tournament. During a weekend of games, a young man named Clark Smiley was winning game after game, but during one of the later games a scorekeeper noticed something strange about Smiley’s between move behaviour.

Players were allowed to use a device and the eNotate app to keep track of their score and positions. Smiley had reportedly been using a handheld Dell PDA, but when the scorekeeper asked to see the device the young player quickly turned it off, but did finally hand it over. On the device were a list of Fritz brand computer chess engines. Smiley was suspended from the Virginia Chess Federation. It’s unclear if he was ever handed a lifetime ban from the U.S. Chess Federation, but the fact that it was ever considered points to just how seriously major chess organisations have had to take cheating using technology, and how far these programs have come in the decade since Smiley’s denouncement.

An ex-Italian mayor was accused of using a hidden sunglass camera to cheat

These Ray-Ban Smart Glasses were revealed in May this year, but an old accusation against an Italian ex-mayor absurdly proposes he used glasses with an attached camera to cheat at chess. (Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)
These Ray-Ban Smart Glasses were revealed in May this year, but an old accusation against an Italian ex-mayor absurdly proposes he used glasses with an attached camera to cheat at chess. (Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)

One former Italian politician thought the best way to cheat at chess was using Bond-esque technology to give him hints on the correct move. Loris Cereda, who had once lorded over the Italian town of Buccinasco, had allegedly used dark-tinted glasses fitted with a miniature camera to send live images of his opponents moves to a chess program during a tournament in 2012.

Though the story gets even stranger. According to a 2013 article from The Independent, the Italian Chess Federation said the program dictated the correct move to an earpiece. The federation suspended Cereda, though the former mayor told a local paper “I’ve never been less than a good sport–and as someone who loves this sport, I could not, or even imagine doing such a thing.”

The accusation is pretty hard to believe for a number of reasons, not the least because such technology seems limited by a figure of Cereda’s means. That doesn’t mean people didn’t have reason to suspect the ex-mayor. At the time, Cereda was being investigated for allegations he had taken €10,000 ($US9,775 ($13,570) in today’s money) in exchange for a shopping centre contract. Reports from the time allege had been caught on CCTV being presented with a bag of money from the construction company in question then walking off with it.

One player dragged an accused cheater out of the bathroom

Photo: JMorenaS, Shutterstock
Photo: JMorenaS, Shutterstock

Chess players shouldn’t have any more interaction between each other than the pre-and-post game handshake and them touching the same pieces, but a reported 2013 situation between one Irish player and his young opponent accused of cheating got very physical. According to reports from Irish newspapers, during the Cork Congress Chess Open one moderator learned a 16-year-old player had been cheating using an Android device to figure out their next move while sitting on the toilet.

Gabriel Mirza, a Romanian chess player who had played against the teen, then allegedly kicked in the stall door and dragged the young player out into the hotel where the event was taking place until organisers from the Irish Chess Union stopped him. The Irish national police service known as Garai were called in to intervene. The teen, who has remained unnamed to this day, was banned from the Irish chess scene for four months. The then-48-year-old Mirza was banned for 10 months. A separate disciplinary committee confirmed the teen had been cheating using an “electronic device.”

A grandmaster allegedly hid his phone in toilet paper

Tigran Petrosian alleged his opponent Gaioz Nigalidze had been acting suspiciously by repeatedly going to the bathroom during games. (Photo: Salah Malkawi, Getty Images)
Tigran Petrosian alleged his opponent Gaioz Nigalidze had been acting suspiciously by repeatedly going to the bathroom during games. (Photo: Salah Malkawi, Getty Images)

During the 2015 Dubai Open Chess Tournament, grandmaster Tigran Petrosian (check out the next slide, it gets very weird) noticed his opponent, fellow grandmaster Gaioz Nigalidze of Georgia, was repeatedly going to the bathroom.

According to a CNN report from the time, tournament officials had originally found no electronic device on Nigalidze, but when they looked into the bathroom the Georgian grandmaster kept dashing off to, they found a smartphone hidden amongst some toilet paper. They found the phone had been logged into his Nigalidze’s social media accounts. The Dubai Chess and Culture Club told CNN that he had been accessing a chess program on the phone.

The player was reported to the International Chess Federation and the tournament suspended him for three years.

Grandmaster calls out fellow chess player, says he “was doing PIPI in your pampers”

The 2020 PRO Chess League finals involved some Wrestlemania-level drama that most people would never consider could come out of the starched and cerebral world of chess. Two teams faced off against each other in the semi-finals and finals of the series. The Saint Louis Arch Bishops team counted Wesley So among their number. So is a three-time U.S. and Philippine chess champion. They faced off against the Armenian Eagles which included Igran Petrosian, a grandmaster and two-time national champion. When the Eagles eventually took home the top prize, So alleged that Petrosian had cheated during his games.

Not likely to take such an allegation lying down, Petrosian went online and posted some of the most infantile responses possible.

“You was doing PIPI in your pampers when I was being players much more stronger then [sic] you!” Petrosian wrote.

Petrosian invited So to a winner-take-all blitz match, and So responded that he’d take him on.

Yet before that rematch got involved, and after an investigation concluded Petrosian “violated fair play regulations” during games in both the semifinal and final matches. and the PRO Chess League handed a lifetime ban to Petrosian, though neither organisation ever clarified what exactly the player had done to earn his ban.

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