Cheating in Correspondence Chess

Five big questions about cheating in correspondence game, are:

 

 
(1) Why this sudden interest in cheating in correspondence chess?
(2) What is cheating?
(3) How does one cheat in correspondence?
(4) How can cheaters be caught?
(5) What is are the penalties for getting caught?

 

 

But first, let us define the difference between OTB chess and correspondence chess.

 

 
Over The Board (OTB): Chess played between two players, in which both players can see each other across a board. This form of chess uses a chess clock, individual sheets of paper where players write down their moves, and Tournament Director (TD) the help with any disputes. The OTB players are not allowed to consult any notes and games normally finish in a few hours.

 

 
This is the usual image when the public think of chess.

 

 
Correspondence Chess: A game played where reflection time (the time allotted for a player to research, analyze, and play a move) exceeds one day. In addition, players are allowed, with some restrictions, access to printed material, databases, and their own notes.

 

The game can played via postcards, email, and Internet servers. Organizations that feature correspondence chess events include ICCF, USCF, CCLA, and chess.com.

 
Here is a correspondence game from the dawn of the Internet.

 

Escalante-“The Thinker”
Chess Palace BBS, 1990
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Nxd5 6.Nxf7 Kxf7 7.Qf3+ Ke6 8.Nc3 Nb4 9.d4 Nxc2+ 10.Kd1 Nxd4 11.Bxd5+ Kd6 12.Qf7 Be7? 13.Ne4+ Kd7 14.Qxg7 (with the idea of Qxe5.  14.Nc5+ is just as good.) and White duly won.

 

Now, let’s now answer the questions!

 

(1) Why this sudden interest in cheating in correspondence chess?

 
The cheating, and the interest in cheating, is not sudden onslaught, but rather part of continuing problem of correspondence chess. With the corona virus epidemic still rampant, many OTB players who would normally prefer to play chess facing their opponents in real life, now must get their study, play, and enjoyment, from correspondence chess or the Internet.

 

This increases the number of players who play on the Internet, where apparently more cheating occurs than anywhere else. Interesting enough, having more OTB players are not the problem. It’s still the people who would still cheat in OTB and correspondence play.

 

Personally, last year I had played one cheater in a speed game on chess.com and two correspondence cheaters the year on the same website. One game is presented at the end.

 

So yeah, cheating is a real thing.

 

 

(2) What is cheating?

 

Cheating: Influencing the game or tournament by illegal means. This can take various forms.

 

 
(3) How does one cheat in correspondence?

 
A caveat here. This list is not exhaustive as no single list of cheating can ever be complete. Cheaters are apt in finding new ways circumvent the rules and ethics. And while this list is meant for correspondence play, many of these items are also directly applicable to OTB chess.

 
(a) Using active help rather than passive help.

 

A player may consult publicly available books, magazines, newspaper articles, opening databases, most web sites, and videos (such as YouTube.com) for help on his move. He may also use his own notes. This is passive help.

 

This type of help is allowable in correspondence chess only. OTB players must not use any type of notes, including a player’s thoughts during the game nor may he write down any inspirational thoughts, as GM Wesley So found out (2015 US Men’s Championship, against GM Varuzhan Akobian).

 
Active help is using a computer, an engine, an endgame table base, a cellphone, or any other electronic device, generate moves for the player. He is also not allowed to ask for help from a friend, a GM, or any other person, for help on his moves. Nor is he allowed to “show off” his game to other players, where they might be tempted to comment on the game. It’s quite a list!

 
However, it must be mentioned that ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation) does allow computers for help. This list is meant for mostly domestic play and not international. And even then, some international organizations and events prohibit computer assistance. Please check if you intend to play in an international correspondence tournament.

 

And, yes, players are allowed to use chess engines and computers to study their game after the end of their game. Just like the game below.

 

 

(b) Impersonating a player, real or fictional, to play in tournament which is impersonator is not normally prohibited.

 

Examples of this type of cheating are:

 

Assuming the role of a woman in game if one is a man. This is probably impossible in OTB, but several cases have existed in correspondence play.
Perhaps the most (in)famous case is that of Miss Leigh Strange. You can look it up in the Internet.

 

Assuming the part of a younger person to partake in a junior contest. No known examples exist. But it is possible.

 

Playing in a lower section that is beneath a players rating. A Master, hiding the fact he is a Master, and playing an unrated tournament, is a supreme example of this form of cheating. Unfortunately, it has happened. More than once.

 

 

(c) Throwing a game so as to lower one’s rating so he can play in a tournament with lower rated players (see above). It is informally known as “sandbagging”.

 

 

(d) Convincing other players to lose or draw their games so that a player may place higher in the standings that he would not otherwise reach.

 

 

(e) Deciding the outcome of a game before starting the game. Known as collusion.

 

 
(4) How can cheaters be caught?

 
The most obvious example is a player who would be normally be playing at 1200 (beginner) Elo, suddenly plays at 2000 (Expert) level. Players do not normally jump 800 Elo points in a short time. This raises a red flag.

 

The more complex a position, or the longer sequence of moves necessary to reach a goal, the more likely a player is to error, even if it such error is minor. The same goes for many types of endgames. Being suddenly proficient in these areas again raises red flags.

 

Chess.com has adapted a policy that if they feel they can accuse a suspected cheater and win a in court of law, where the level of evidence needs to be high for a conviction, they can ban the player. It is this player’s opinion that this standard should be applied in in all correspondence play.

 

 

(5) What is are the penalties for getting caught?

 

They range for immediate forfeiture of the game and all games in a tournament (if the offender is lucky), to being barred for life for that organization.

 

 

A lawsuit is possible to recover any prizes awarded, as well criminal charges that might be filed (depending on circumstances, the nature of the offensive, and other factors).

 

 
It is just not worth it!

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Escalante-“Zorrito65”
Thematic Tournament, Round 2
Chess.com, 2020
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bc4 e6 7.Bb3 b5 8.O-O Be7 9.Qf3 Qb6 10.Be3 Qb7 11.Qg3 b4 12.Na4 Nbd7 13.f3 O-O 14.Rfd1 Nc5

2020_07_23

15.Bh6!? (This idea was mentioned by GM Golubev in one of his books on the Sozin, and as such, we are still in theory. Chess.com list of Master games also gives 15.Nxc5 dxc5 16.Ne2, but Black wins both games. And who wants to play a losing game? Finally, Stockfish considers 15.Bh6 an error.) 15…Ne8 (Pretty much forced and a move I expected.) 16.Nxc5!? [Only now do we leave theory. The idea is to preserve the bishop (Black threatens …Nxb3) and perhaps allow him back into the game via c2 so he can apply pressure on Black’s kingside.] 16…dxc5 17.Ne2!? (Where else could the knight go?) 17…Kh8! (Black gets out of trouble and threatens the other bishop.) 18.Be3 Bd7 19.Qf2 Rc8 20.c4 Qc7!? (Black’s move seems very strong. I didn’t know it at the time, but this move is almost certain to be engine-generated. After the game Stockfish gave 20…bxc3 21.bxc3 Nf6 22.c4 Bc6 23.Nf4 Nd7 24.Nd3 f5 25.e5 Qc7 26.Rab1 a5 27.Qg3 Rfd8 28.a4, evaluating the position as +.81. But Black’s move seems stronger. Was my opponent really playing stronger than Stockfish?) 21.Bf4 e5 22.Be3 a5 23.Bc2 Be6 24.b3 a4 25.Ng3 (The idea of Nf5 makes sense as White has to generate counterplay before he gets squeezed to death.) 25…Nd6 26.Rd2 Rfd8 27.Rad1 Nb7 28.f4 Rxd2 29.Bxd2 f6 30.Bc1 Na5 [Here as where my opponent was forfeited as he was caught cheating in this game and others. Not only did he lose an enormous large amount of games this year (2020) but he is now banned from the website. And as chess.com announced earlier this year; it is for life.) 31.Nf5 (Only played so the players in the round two, including me, can advance to the next round.) 1-0

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