Thursday, 4 June 2015

We are doing too much and yet not enough about cheating

During my time on the FIDE Anti-Cheating Committee I discovered that the rules we proposed didn't go far enough to eliminate cheating, and at the same time went too far in an attempt to eliminate cheating. For some, any imposition on players and organisers to prevent cheating (metal detectors, storage areas for phones, or the searching of players) would stop events being organised and result in the death of chess itself. On the other hand, by not insisting on stringent requirements, and preventing even the slightest chance of cheating, would result in events not being organised and the death of chess itself.
But in what might come as a shock to almost everyone who plays chess, there needed to be a middle ground, where organisers had the power to act against potential cheats, but do so in a sensible and affordable manner. There also needed to be penalties for those caught cheating, but at the same time, a method to prevent players from being accused of cheating,without any consequences if the claim was false.
This was brought into focus by the recent happenings at the European Women's Championship. WGM Mihaela Sandu got off to a flying start, at which point a number of other competitors asked the organisers to delay the live broadcast of her games. This was done via the rather crass tactic of putting up a petition on the notice board at the hotel where the players were staying.The organiser in fact did accept this request for a round, before the blow back  made him reconsider. The upshot was that Sandu lost her last 4 games, a whole lot of people have had their reputations damaged, and further action may be on the cards.
The real problem though was that the Chief Arbiter blundered right at the start of the process. One of the things the FIDE Anti-Cheating Regulations was sure to include was a process for handling accusations. If any of the players had a suspicion that a player was cheating then they needed to make a formal complaint to the Chief Arbiter. This cannot be done anonymously, and for anything further to happen the player has to put their name to the complaint. If they don't, then that is the end of the matter. If they do, the arbiter is obliged to investigate and report to the FIDE Anti-Cheating Commission. Importantly, if a complaint is made privately, then the process remains confidential.
Then the case can either go three ways. A breach of the anti-cheating regulations is found, and the player is sanctioned; or insufficient proof is found, and there is no sanction on the player; or no breach is found and the Anti-Cheating Commission decide the initial complaint was unfounded. In the final case, there can be sanctions against the player(s) making the complaint.
Now this may seem a little harsh, but the issue of false complaints was a real concern. It was felt that this was the best way of balancing the competing issues, without deterring well founded complaints.
In the Sandu case, a bad move by the Arbiter/Organisers not only affected the performance of one of the players, but has also opened up the possibility of sanctions against a number of other participants.


Anonymous said...

The organisers did not agree to stop the Sandu broadcast in round 6 as you state. The broadcast was 'accidentally' cut, by persons unknown.

Anonymous said...

The quality of the games she won is strong indication of 'intelligent cheating'. You don't need to play "the first line" often, but only 2-3 times. It's enough to win against 250 rating points stronger opponents.

Escallion said...

The post has a number of notable errors, that were trumpeted by Western media and amplified over again. The reason for Round 6 has been commented above. But also in how the whole shebang became public. This was not the intent of the women, contrary to your presumption that they used 'the rather crass tactic of putting up a petition on the notice board at the hotel where the players were staying.' Zhukova sent the letters to their recipients, the arbiter, organizer, and ECU president. The latter guys responded on the women's hotel bulletin board to make publicity. Sandu's letter was the only public one, where she first wanted to know 'the official reason' her Round 6 communication was stopped, lambasted Zhukova for being the culprit of psychological warfare, and threatened legal action against the women even though her (open) letter ostensibly was addressed to the organizers. I doubt she will see sanctions though, or those who made the womens' letters public.

You also get the 'real problem' wrong. None of the women had sufficiently strong sense to accuse Sandu through an official process, but on the other hand they were upset at the *organizers* for not taking what they felt was a simple measure (not really a 'counter'measure) of broadcast delay, equally applied to all if possible technologically. The ACC regulations I guess don't consider that, but it's really a 'middle ground' as your words say, calming suspicions before they spiral out of control. All the other technogeek stuff in the ACC is really worthless IMO if you aren't applying the first line of defense, namely making it difficult for information to get *out* of the playing area. Closing the barn door afterward is almost impossible, as it is *way* too easy to signal, even with all the whimsies of metal detectors and signal jamming.

Moreover, at a pre-tournament briefing, the Chakvi arbiter actually wanted to delay the broadcasts from the start, but the ECU organizers declined! Perhaps theoretically this arbiter would be in charge of an investigation after a formal complaint, but his true authority was unclear, and given certain people involved, still not everyone could be confident it would not be shipped to a rubber stamp factory. There was also poor tensions from many women at the organizers for the hotel environment quality, and that exacerbated the situation again.

So in the end, we get stories about 'false accusations' or 'baseless accusations' or 'witch hunts', when none of these accurately reflect the happenings in Chakvi. I don't expect the Western journalists to have their reputations damaged, though. Move along, nothing to see here...

StanleyO said...

As much I appreciate your ACC work Shaun, I think they got a couple of things wrong.

The first is that the ACC was set up in wake of Ivanov, and Feller to lesser extent. I don't know whether it is just perception, but the regulations largely orient at stopping those kind of cases. Again I have high regard for Regan's work, but it often doesn't address the question of how cheats operate in reality. Two months with the Dubai Open, I saw a great comment on EC Forum.
"You can't really hope to catch an otherwise competent player who is only cheating about every few moves/specific events with game screening. Its such a small signal. Game screening is more there to stop outright cheating by 'random' people." "That is exactly my point; game screening would only catch a small number of clumsy cheaters; if you add to that the risk of false positives and the cost of running such a system, the spontaneous question is "why bother at all with game screening?"
The EWCC organizers used the same argument, that they had "grandmasters" (unspecified) check the games and say they was no sign of cheating. But with so little data (4-5 games) how can they be sure? Did they give the complainers a chance to bring forth their own "grandmasters" (Krasenkow and Kryakvin) to opine otherwise? The system is asymmetrical if the organizers can choose how to proceed. Maybe time will give TDs more experience with how to use Regan's technology, but for my money today it is more likely to be misused than anything else.

The second is that, due to human nature, arbiters will now hide behind the ACC regs. I already gave an example above, but at the lower levels I think it will be worse. Say I am a 1800 player and a Open division (2400) player whose game is complete is spending a bit too much too time glancing at games in the lower divisions for my liking. It used to be that TDs would police this themselves, and remind the higher rated (2400) player of the proper etiquette, to squelch any problems before they start. Nowdays, perhaps the TD is sitting behind a computer, but a few words to him will still get a response, and some random guy from the street (not 2400) shuffling around a lower section will still be noticed too. But soon I will need to fill out a official ACC form just to get the arbiter to do anything? This is going to be a law of unintended consequences, unless the ACC adds some "mandatory" active policing to overcome human nature.

Societal commentators often talk about how reliance on "technology" adapts human behavior and the ACC rules aren't going to be any exception. I saw an article about how modern casino cheats are really not "modern" at all, they are going back to tricks of the 70s and 80s because the high-tech surveillance is looking for something else.

Anonymous said...

#3 Both Alina Kashlinskaya and Natalia Zhukova gave interviews where they confirm what you said, that the letters were not made public, and they have no idea how they ended up on the Internet. Unfortunately, the witchhunt against these 15 women continues, both before and after the facts have come to light. I guess the chess media needs to talk about something, until Norway Chess starts.

Shaun Press said...

Thank you Escallion and StanleyO for your feedback. The issue of broadcast delay was considered by the ACC when putting the regulations together, but was not included for a couple of reasons. One was of course commercial, in that event organisers wish to have their games live, and we received comments from organisers that argued this position. (That is not to say they are unable to delay moves, but it is their choice). The second part was of course, would it make a difference? While it may help, the ACC regarded the "on the ground" work of arbiters far more important. If it is believed a player is receiving outside help (with the live game broadcast being part of the process), then dealing with the transference of information (rather than the source) is far more important, both for establishing guilt and innocence.
The reasons behind why the ACC was established is also important. Certainly a couple of high profile cases (especially the Ivanov case) was a driver, but it wasn't the only reason. It was also felt that regulations were needed not just to deal with cheating, but to reassure the chessplaying public that they were playing in a "non-cheating" environment. This philosophy extended to the issue of false accusations, as there also some high profile cases of players being falsely accused by bitter GM's after upset losses. Getting the player to sign off on their accusations isn't necessarily about making it harder to accuse someone (although I accept that it does), but to raise the bar in terms of why you would accuse someone (ie losing to someone 200 points lower than you should not be the only reason).
As for smart cheating, while the method is valid, the unanswered question is how would you catch them? If anyone can play one or two good moves that wins a game of chess (which is certainly possible), then without physical evidence, you would never know whether they received assistance or not. So the current regulations do deal with clumsy cheaters, and try and provide a framework that allow organisers to deal with other forms of cheating. But I would be horrified if we ended up in an environment where only certain players are allowed to do well in events, which to me seems to be the unintentional consequence of some of the arguments I have seen.
A final point (to this post). I am no longer a member of the FIDE ACC, so I am not privy to any details of this case, apart from what I have read through other sources. If my information is incorrect or incomplete, then I am happy to be corrected.

Anonymous said...

Although it came slowly, here is what I think the facts are.

First preliminary problems.

1) The hotel venue was surrounded by a building site. Of course, the players were upset (no tennis/swimming, hard to access the "private beach" advertized on the website), there were noise/distractions, but overall I don't think this was a major factor in the later dispute. The organizers did try to do what was possible as remedy.

2) One of the press officers was the head of the appeals committee (the ECU pres appoints this directly), a position for which she was underqualified (no arbiter experience). I guess it was a money-saver by the ECU, and probably has precedent. Perhaps no biggie, but when controversy erupts, such a decision can butterfly. Furthermore, even with this official capacity she left the tourney early for another event. Finally and most relevantly, she spent much of the off day with Sandu and posted a whole bunch of pictures from the outing on Facebook, though it seems this was more likely a "sisterly commiseration" move to cheer her up than anything sinister.

Next the direct incidents about the delaying of broadcasts and letters to the organizers.

3) At the pre-event technical meeting, the arbiter (Delega, Poland) raised having a 15-minute broadcast delay. The organizers said it was unneeded. Personally I disagree, as large opens are almost exactly the events it should be useful.

4) Zhukova and others asked the arbiter and organizers in the early rounds about delaying the broadcast. The organizers again declined, saying it was technically difficult or some other excuse, and asked for a petition in writing.

4b) The reason behind a delay was not only the performance of Sandu (or others), but also there was a certain easyness in passing in/out the playing area to places with Internet access (press room for instance). After all, they are trying to adapt a hotel conference hall(s). Furthermore, it was not clear that the arbiters were taking this mode of communication seriously. When questioned about the Sandu situation, Delega only said that she wasn't visiting the toilet a lot, there was an arbiter for every 6 boards, they used metal detectors and toilet inspections, etc. The letter from the organizers similarly spoke of GMs who had analyzed Sandu's games and concluded there was no computer help, which really misses the point.

5) No one has clarified the Round 6 Sandu-Batsiashvili game being removed/delayed, though Sandu makes a point of inquiring about the reason in her letter. Zhukova just says that the organizers later argued it was due to a technical problem, "but we know for sure that is not the case." Supposedly the Round 7 Sandu-Stefanova game was also going to be removed/delayed, but then someone in the hierarchy decided against this.

6) Zhukova organized the letters on the off day. She contends the organizers figured it would be too much work for her, and so they could continue twiddling their thumbs. In any case, first she asked various players whether they would sign a letter, then she drafted two letters, showed them to the arbiter to see if they were OK, and finally went about obtaining signatures. Her story is that the 2nd letter (with Sandu by name) was a backup in case the organizers continued to insist that delaying the games was technically hard.

7) Zhukova gave to the letters to their addressees, the chief arbiter, the tournament director (main organizer), and the ECU president. It seems the organizers then went and posted these letters and their response. The media misinterpreted the events, and was quick to blame Zhukova for making the letters public, when the opposite appears to be the case. She herself said the publicity was unethical.

I don't think it's necessary to go into Sandu's response here, though some of the women involved are quite critical of it. She was in a difficult state given the circumstances, particularly if thinking it was Zhukova who made the letters public.

Anonymous said...

One more thing with my (4b) above, take this as hypothetical if you wish.

Suppose that you think (rightly or wrongly) someone on the tournament staff is in cahoots with a participant. What should you do? Obviously the arbiter is going to bristle at the idea if you raise it (how could you accuse one of us!? - perhaps exaggerated, but typical first reaction). On the other hand, if you are actually playing in games you yourself are going to be much too busy to notice and collect enough evidence to be convincing.

Given that the "easy" way for information to be passed from the games was the Internet broadcast, this would make sense to be the cut point. The situation is often asymmetrical, being more difficult to send than to receive (from the player's standpoint).

I also think the ACC conclusion on the delayed broadcast was too much aimed at "catching them in the act" and not enough of deterring people in the first place. With tournament staff not trained for detecting communication beyond the easiest things in the first place, and furthermore busy with other duties on site, reasonable skill in execution should make careful signalling essentially impossible to catch. Also, it would often be possible to notice "increased chatter among agents" (namely the tournament staff) and know when to stop before being caught. Poker tournaments had "fake bloggers" involved in a couple of scandals, and in the end they had to replay the surveillance tapes to be sure, even with the players/staff being much more attuned to the possibility than would be the case in chess.

Anoymous said...

No one has said it yet, but the same photographer was under thought in Iceland earlier this year. The tournament winner's wife dabbles in photography, and that's where a connection could be made. In one round, Mamedyarov (no stranger to cheating hints) resigned at move 21 in ostensibly equal position, though the computers said +2 with a long endgame to come. Everyone said he wanted to conserve strength. But he also perhaps considered what was amiss, and figured no one would listen given past history, and figured getting out quick was best.

Autobohn said...

Sandu has filed an official Post Tournament Complaint (PTC), according to the ACC. This is strange, as the ACC regulations do not mention the capacity of a person to file a Complaint against 'witch hunting' (their term), only against cheating (the ACC determines witch hunting itself, and directly it should be Ethics Commission who handles witch hunting a la Topalov). Undoubtedly FIDE will react though, and banish the women, and to me this will be the end of cheating accusations for a LONG time.

Think of it:

a) At the pre-tournament meeting, the arbiter suggests a broadcast delay, the players are generally supportive, but the organizers preemptively abort the issue by declaring "there is no need"...
b) After some rounds (and there's always someone who does well early), some players again ask the organizers, and are given a bogus excuse about DGT not allowing delay without special software, that can only (possibly) be obtained on the rest day... Hello? This is completely standard, and one email to tech support would solve it, even if it were a problem to begin at.
c) The organizers request a letter from the participants in order to take action, a second letter being subjected because of the excuse in (b), and the content of this is checked before signatures are solicited -- but then the organizers turn around and make the petitions public, and strongly castigate those who sign it (with a boldface warning about penalties to them).
d) The organizers "investigation" consists of noting that some GMs don't find the moves anomalous (though others, particularly those who have coached women in the 2200-2500 level, have different opinions), and that the accused does not use the restroom a lot (which was never an issue).
e) The accused is mad at the petitioners (particularly the instigator), declaring they "have committed a serious crime", even though the organizers were the ones who made it public.
f) The ACC perhaps annoyed at being out of the loop ("we are following the situation closely") practically begs someone to make a complaint, then publicly announces "an investigatory chamber" (even though such things are to be private), with its conclusion all but a foregone conclusion ("we seem to have witnessed such a case of unsubstantiated accusations").

Now who is at fault? The players? Well, FIDE never punishes organizers... As I say, if they get punished, I don't think anyone will ever make a cheating complaint again without 100% evidence, which is almost impossible to get, particularly when you are busy playing in a tournament. Maybe instead of hiring Trent as a manager, Caruana should hire a detective to monitor his opponents?

About the best that can happen is that the case is dropped due some technical defect, like the women not being warned about the consequences, and so given a wrist-slapping warning.

Anonymous said...

Autobohn, you might be joking about Caruana getting a detective, but it is that serious at highest level.

Back when playing Topalov in Sofia 2010, Anand hired Mark Lefler, an accomplished amateur magician and security analyst with the USA State Department, to ensure fair play. The Bulgarian organizers obviously weren't seen as neutral, and FIDE largely lacks the skills to detect suitably, so Anand had to bring his own sleuth. Topalov himself was well known for having "experts" on site (cf. Toiletgate in Elista) in case there were suspicions. You either have to trust your opponent(s), or take sufficient precautions.