Thursday 13 January 2022

The Unmasked Chessplayer

 The days of trying to disguise who you are online may be over, at least for chessplayers. A new research paper reveals that it is possible to identify players based on their distinctive playing style. To do this they processed at least 1000 games per player, and then tried to identify anonymous players based on a smaller (100) number of games. Expecting a fairly low hit rate, the researchers were surprised to find that it identified the unknown player 86% of the time.

The results were reported in this article, which also raises questions about privacy. If your chess style can be reduced to a small set of identifiers, then this can be used to discover who you are, even if you have tried to cover your tracks. The other implication of work like this is in the area of online cheating, where such a tool could be used to identify whether a player is no longer playing like themselves, but like an entirely different chess player. 

Identifying mystery chess players isn't a new thing of course. I half remember a story about a very strong player (Alekhine?) giving a blindfold simul, and then halfway through identifying his opponent (a strong master) by name, based on the players style. And quite often historical game scores are attributed to the wrong players, and corrections can be based on who was the 'likely' player.

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