Archive for the ‘cheating’ Category

George Washinton’s Library Problem

April 18, 2010

When the librarian at Hillspoint Elementary School wanted to know who had crayoned a red smiley face onto Babar’s butt, she stared our class down, demanding to know.  We all fidgeted but no one confessed.  (To me, the drawing on the cover of the library book was not a crime but a plot extension.  I recall that in the story, the elephants cleverly disguised themselves and scared off an enemy by painting large faces on their butts.)  To encourage a confession, the librarian told us the story of how George Washington did not conceal from his father the fact that, in his enthusiasm to test a new hatchet, he had chopped down a prized cherry tree.  “George Washington could not tell a lie,” the librarian intoned, “nor should you.”  Her lesson about lying went past me.  I was more interested in the fate of the cherries.  I was very fond of the sweet red fruit, and I pictured young George axing the tree at the moment of peak ripeness so that he could gather and gobble cherries that would otherwise have been beyond his reach.

The story of the cherry tree is undoubtedly a myth.  But its rendition in a school library is especially amusing in light of this week’s confirmation that Washington was a library-fine scofflaw.  On Oct. 5, 1789, five months after he was sworn in as the first President of the United States, the 57-year-old statesman borrowed two books from the New York Society Library.  (New York City was the nation’s capitol then, and the library, located on Wall St., was the only library in town).  One of the books was “Law of Nations,” about international relations, and the other was the twelfth volume of a fourteen-volume set of transcripts of debates in Britain’s House of Commons.

Washington’s library habits have been known since 1934, when the library came across a quill-penned ledger of the people who had borrowed books between 1789 and 1792.  The ledger shows the dates on which Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay took out books from the New York Society Library and the dates on which the men returned them.  For the two books Washington “borrowed,” no return date is indicated.  All fourteen volumes of the Commons debates had been missing from the library’s shelves until this week, when a staff member stumbled on the set and found all the volumes except the twelfth. The fines for the two books Washington checked out amount to an inflation-adjusted $300,000.


Lip Balm Stains Chess Tourney

January 7, 2008


Anna Rudolf, recent cheating-smear victim (as depicted on Susan Polgar’s blog).

I am back blogging, after a long holiday break.

The latest (false) cheating scandal in international chess soiled the Vandoeuvre Open in France during the last week in December. Latvian grandmasters were fazed by the strong performance of Anna Rudof, who was unexpectedly leading the tournament. The disgruntled GMs accused the Hungarian phenom of cheating.

The pattern of these nebulous accusations is often the same, as in Toiletgate and Toddlergate: a successful player is accused of going to the bathroom too often and having physical or wireless access to a chess-playing computer. In Rudolf’s case, suspicion centered on her lip balm, which was said to be a wireless device for communicating with a remote silicon adviser. To her chagrin, the organizers confiscated her handbag and lip balm before the key round. Her opponent refused to shake her hand before the game and told her she didn’t play fair. Her concentration was rattled and she ultimately blew the game.

The Web site Chessdom has an interview with Rudolf and continuing coverage of the nonsense.

It is now too common in chess for disgruntled losers to raise the specter of cheating without offering a shred of evidence. False allegations, which are maliciously made in order to hurt a player’s reputation and confidence, are as much a threat to tournament chess as are real cases of hidden microcomputers and surreptitious wireless devices. The problem is that FIDE, the international chess federation, has let the false accusers run amok.

Winning by Rook or by Crook

November 18, 2007

I have an op ed piece in today’s Washington Post:

It’s been a banner year for cheating scandals in sports. In baseball, allegations of steroid use and a federal indictment on charges of lying to a grand jury tainted Barry Bonds‘s record-breaking 756 home runs. In football, the New England Patriots got caught videotaping the defensive signals of the New York Jets. In cycling, the Tour de France became the Tour de Pharmacie when officials stripped Floyd Landis of the 2006 title after he tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone. In Formula One racing, the leading team, McLaren Mercedes, was fined a bracing $100 million for stealing confidential technical specifications about rival Ferrari.

I’m not much of a sports fan, so my couch-potato juices started flowing only when the cheating epidemic spread to chess. I’ve been playing since I was 5 years old and have spent untold hours practicing sequences of moves such as the Fried Liver Attack and the King’s Gambit Accepted. Chess, I’d always thought, is an ennobling cerebral contest between two determined players armed only with their intellect and free of all drugs, except perhaps caffeine.

So you can understand my chagrin when Azerbaijani adults attending the European Union children’s championship last month accused the 8-year-old Russian winner of receiving illicit help from a third party during the game. Tournament organizers ultimately rejected the allegations and berated the adults for smearing the child’s good name.

But his was not the only indignity the royal game endured recently. The gentlemen’s-club respectability that chess once enjoyed was flushed away last autumn at the 2006 World Chess Championship when Bulgarian contender Veselin Topalov accused the reigning champion, Vladimir Kramnik, of making a suspicious 50 trips to the bathroom during a single game. The implication: that Kramnik was secretly consulting chess-playing software on a Palm Pilot or talking on his cellphone to a confederate armed with a chess computer. Officials hastily boarded up his private loo. “I had to go to the bathroom urgently,” Kramnik said later. “I asked the arbiter to open my toilet. He just shrugged and offered me an empty coffee cup.”

The charges looked too much like an underhanded attempt by Topalov to rattle the taciturn Kramnik, who was forced to explain his hydration and evacuation habits to a prying press corps, and the International Chess Federation ultimately decided that they were spurious. Nonetheless, organizers of future tournaments are now debating whether they should herd grandmasters — the black belts of the chessboard — through metal detectors and all but strip-search them before a match. Already, playing halls have been bombarded with electromagnetic signals to jam secret wireless communications.

Overkill? Not really. At the 2006 World Open in Philadelphia, the biggest annual amateur chess event in the United States, a player was caught with a concealed wireless earpiece. And the 2007 World Open reportedly had its own problems involving the use of body doubles, when a weaker player entered a competition for players of similar skill but had a much stronger look-alike sit in for him.

Trickery and deception are nothing new in chess. In the 1400s, Luis Ramirez de Lucena recommended positioning the board so that light would shine in the opponent’s eyes. “Also,” de Lucena advised, “try to play your adversary when he has just eaten and drunk freely.”

In the pressure-cooker environment of world championships, where the most prestige (and cash) is at stake, players have done much worse. In 1978, world champion Anatoly Karpov employed a sketchy-looking “parapsychologist” to sit in the audience and “hex” challenger Viktor Korchnoi. Not to be outdone, Korchnoi hired two saffron-robed mystics, Didi and Dada, both convicted of attempted murder, to meditate distractingly in the front row.

Many players routinely use more modest means of unnerving their opponents, from banging the pieces and glaring menacingly to chewing with their mouths open and rocking maniacally in their chairs. It is against the rules to purposely distract an opponent, but who is to say that a coughing player doesn’t really have a cold or a fidgety opponent an uncontrollable nervous tic?

Benjamin Franklin objected to all of this. “If your adversary is long in playing, you ought not to hurry him, or express any uneasiness at his delay; not even by looking at your watch, or taking up a book to read,” he wrote in a classic essay on the morality of chess. “You should not sing, nor whistle, nor make a tapping with your feet on the floor, or with your fingers on the table, nor do anything that may distract his attention.”

Wood-pushers are happy to claim the illustrious Franklin as one of their own, but they almost universally ignore his plea for gentlemanly behavior. In 1972, the Brazilian star Henrique Mecking faced former world champion Tigran Petrosian at a tournament in San Antonio. Mecking said that the Soviet grandmaster “was only quiet when it was his turn to move. All the time I was thinking he was kicking the table and elbowing the board to make it shake. If this was not enough to upset me, Petrosian kept making noises, stirring his cup of coffee, all the time varying the rhythm. And rolling a coin across the table.”

Mecking retaliated by making some noise of his own, but Petrosian calmly turned off his hearing aid and crushed him.

Paul Hoffman is the author of “King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game” and the Web site and blog

Spurious Cheating Charge Against Chess Child

October 29, 2007

In the infamous Toiletgate scandal in last year’s world chess championship, challenger Veselin Topalov insinuated that champion Vladimir Kramnik was somehow cheating during his frequent trips to the restroom. The implication was that, when Kramnik was on the throne, he was consulting a computer or receiving move suggestions through a wireless earpiece.

Now similar vague cheating charges have been made at the European Union championship for young children in Batumi, Georgia. Entry was restricted to the age of eight and below, and Nikita Ayvazyan of Moscow won last week with a score of 8 to 1. Andy Soltis wrote in yesterday’s New York Post (the article is not yet posted online) that the Azerbaijani delegation of parents and chess teachers accused Ayvazyan of receiving secret help during the game. The tournament organizers found no basis to the accusation and blasted the Azerbaijanis for making it.

Bathroom Break

September 24, 2007

The world championship now being conducted in Mexico City is a nice reprieve from last year’s off-the-board shenanigans in Elista, Kalmykia, when the Bulgarian challenger Veselin Topalov insinuated that reigning champion Vladimir Kramnik was cheating on the toilet and the tournament officials responded by locking Kramnik out of his bathroom.

“I was lying on my couch next to my toilet and was furious,” Kramnik recalled. “I did not think about the world championship or the score. And then there was a new problem: I had to go to the bathroom, urgently. I asked the arbiter to open my toilet. He just shrugged and offered me an empty coffee cup.”

Martin Landau Dragged into Chess Cheating Scandal

September 20, 2007

The manager of Veselin Topalov, who forced world chess champion Vladimir Kramnik to defend his hydration and evacuation habits in last year’s Toiletgate cheating scandal, has finally released a video. The manager claims that Kramnik left the video behind in his private restroom at the World Championship and is the blueprint for how he cheated Topalov. (Many thanks to Tom Panelas for posting the video on his own blog.)

Chess Lies

August 23, 2007

Yesterday I watched a loud dispute between two woodpushers in Washington Square Park. Neither in fact was a particularly good player, but each was obnoxiously insisting that he had mastered the deepest secrets of the game. (Which was a ridiculous claim, and would have been unbelievable even if the players had been much more accomplished; Garry Kasparov, the greatest chess talent ever, once told me that there are still things about the game that even he does not understand.)

Why is it that chess players are so prone to exaggerate their prowess at the 64 squares? In my youth, when I frequented the nineteen stone chess tables in Washington Square Park (which would figure in movies like “Searching for Bobby Fischer”), I often faced patzers who fabricated stories about how they’d once trounced the great Bobby Fischer at blitz. They’d even point to the exact table on which the purported victory took place, and some would show me the moves of these alleged miniatures. If Fischer had lost that many games back then, he would have given up chess long before he famously won the world championship from the Russian standout Borris Spassky.

I’ve noticed that when chess amateurs describe their ability, they are prone to add a couple of hundred points to their peak rating. And when they tell you the score of a lengthy blitz match against a stronger player, the score tends to shift in their favor with each telling.

Are chess nuts more likely to bend the truth than people who don’t know how a knight moves? Or is mild résumé inflation part of the human condition?

Topalov on Trial for Toiletgate

July 27, 2007

In year autumn’s world chess championship, reigning champ Vladimir Kramnik had his name dragged through the mudKrapnik, he was dubbedwhen Veselin Topalov’s team accused Kramnik of retreating to his bathroom a suspicious 50 times. (They exaggerated the number.) The implication was that he was somehow cheating in the lieu. Later. Topalov’s team said that it was suspicious that three-quarters of Kramnik’s moves matched what a computer would play in the same position. (That’s hardly surprising, though, because Kramnik and the best computers are of similar playing strength.) All the charges were ultimately dismissed by the tournament organizers as unfounded.

Tomorrow the world chess federation is holding a public hearing into whether Topalov and his manager acted unethically in making the cheating accusations.

More Cheating at Chess

July 5, 2007

The big money World Open Chess tournament in Philadelphia ended yesterday with a nine-way tie for first.  The two players who had the best “tie-breaks” (in other words, the two whose opponents scored the highest), namely Ukrainian émigré  Alexander Stripunsky of Queens and Armenian émigré  Varuzhan Akobian of Los Angeles, came together for a sudden-death playoff.  Akobian, twenty-three, emerged victorious.

Like the 2006 World Open, this year’s event was marred by cheating scandals  In 2006, one player was found to be wearing a concealed wireless earpiece.  He was suspected of receiving suggestions for strong moves from an accomplice equiped with grandmaster-level, chess-playing software.  This year, tournament directors patrolled the playing hall armed with high-tech devices to detect prohibited wireless transmissions.  And yet, as Chess Life Online reports, there was still “a bevy of cheating accusations….  [The] incidents included double identity (two players who look alike and dress alike playing as one player), false identity (a player who entered the tournament under a false name) and thrown games.”  Chess Life Online did not provide any further details.