Cheating is an unavoidable part of any sport or game, but chess does its best to prevent cheating and oust cheaters however it can.
In any activity that involves praise and prizes for the winners, there are bound to be those who try to cheat. There is no denying that it’s good to be the best in the world of chess. Champions are showered with fame and notoriety that even the second-best players simply don’t have access to. Aside from the social benefits, there are often monetary prizes that come along with winning such a prestigious title, so the motivation for cheating can be strong.
Whether they simply don’t have the skill to compete at the highest levels, or have succumbed to the pressure of being the best – at any cost, cheaters have left their mark on chess history.
Collusion, Match Fixing, and Other Types of Group Cheating
Possibly the most famous instance of widespread cheating in chess was the collusion between Soviet players that eccentric chess star Bobby Fischer pointed out in the 1960’s. While the allegations were shocking to the general public at the time that they were made, and Fischer didn’t personally have the evidence necessary to prove them, later research has shown that it was likely true.
A study conducted by researchers at Washington University in Saint Louis, a major chess hub, have concluded that several Soviet chess masters did collude with each other in championship matches spanning several years, from 1940 to 1964. The research conclusively shows that many of these players did agree to cheat using a draw-by-agreement scheme that was thought to improve the standings of Soviet players as a whole.
It’s unclear exactly how effective this strategy was, though. The thought behind it was that Soviet players would agree to a draw when they were playing each other, thereby saving their mental strength and energy for defeating foreign opponents. However, if a leading player willingly draws his game, it may give his rivals a chance to gain ground on him by winning theirs. The system was very much devised to move the entire Soviet bloc of players up in the ranks, rather than specifically benefiting one player.
FIDE Response to Collusion
In response to the revelation that this type of match fixing was possible, FIDE completely reorganized its tournaments. Whereas before they were conducted in a round-robin style in which each player faced off against each other player, they moved instead to a knockout elimination format. This would ensure that players had to win their games to advance and could not just coast by on drawn games. Since that simple change was instated, collusion has not been a known issue in competitive play. Now, it’s every man for himself.
Touch-Move Rule Violations
One of the most well known nitpicky rules of chess is also one of the most difficult to enforce. Even someone who has not memorized all of the movement rules of chess will have likely heard that once your hand leaves a chess piece, the move you have just made is final, if it is legal. In addition, if you touch any of your pieces currently on the chessboard, you must make a move with that piece, if a legal move is available, and , if you touch an opponent’s piece, you must capture that piece, if you legally can. In the game of chess, it’s best to keep your hands away from the chess pieces until you’re entirely sure of the move you want to make.
Nevertheless, some players have not learned this lesson. There have been certain high-profile incidents in which a player makes a move, lets go of the piece, then suddenly realizes it was a bad one and makes a different move instead. This is cheating, but it often goes unpunished by officials.
In 1994, Garry Kasparov changed his move in a game against Judit Polgar. Tapes of the match show that he let go of his piece for about a quarter of a second before changing his mind. Kasparov went on to win that match. Polgar complained to officials the next day, but the result stood.
In another instance, Milan Matulović changed his move during a match against István Bilek at the 1967 Sousse Interzonal. Matulović played a move that would have lost him the game, then quickly took it back, saying, “J’adoube” which is a phrase meaning “I adjust” meant to be declared before adjusting the pieces on their square, not changing your move entirely! Bilek objected to the arbiter immediately, but the new move was allowed to stand.
The arbiter may not have cared that Matulović cheated, but the fans never forgot. This incident earned him the not-so-affectionate nickname, “J’adoubović.”
FIDE Response to Touch-Move Rule Violations
Unfortunately, there has been very little response to this type of cheating in competitive play. It can be difficult to catch, since the majority of times it happens, no one is around to witness it except the two players themselves. Even when a player objects, not much is usually done about the violation. More often than not, officials have all the evidence that they need to make a decision on tape, but they are not inclined to review it.
Some players seem to be uninclined to report this type of violation, saying that this type of mistake is one of forgetfulness and really nothing to do with chess, therefore it shouldn’t be punished. Others are annoyed by the rule, thinking it can ruin a perfectly good game by having an opponent be disqualified on a technicality. This shift in attitude may precede a removal of the rule from competitive play, since it’s certainly not being enforced now.
There have been many methods for improving your own standing in chess with a bit of rule-fudging throughout the history of chess. As rules are being changed to discourage certain methods, new methods are always being developed to take advantage of loopholes in the new rules. There probably won’t ever be a time without any cheating in a chess tournament!