The world of chess is still going through a bit of a rough moment this month, with speculation about cheating against the world champion, offers to play in the nude, and now the world champion again resigning a game – this time after just one move.
Let's recap. At the beginning of September, 19-year-old Hans Niemann took on world champion Magnus Carlsen at the Sinquefield Cup, and won using black pieces. The win was a surprise, but the real shock came a day later when the two were set to play again. Before that could happen, the world champ pulled out of the competition.
In his announcement on Twitter, he confirmed that he had withdrawn from the competition, adding a link to a video of former Chelsea manager José Mourinho saying "If I speak I am in big trouble".
Since then, there has been speculation that Carlsen believes Niemann could be cheating, and far wilder (and unevidenced) speculation that Niemann could be cheating using high-tech anal beads. Niemann has since said that he has never cheated in over-the-board games, though he had previously cheated in online games, most recently in unrated games during the pandemic. He added that he had been working non-stop on his game after he "decided the only way to make up for my mistake was to prove that I could win over the board events".
Whatever problem Carlsen has in games with Niemann (he has remained tight-lipped on the matter) appears to have continued. In a rematch yesterday via video link, Carlsen played one move before resigning.
With this high-profile flounce, it's unlikely accusations will go away any time soon. However, there is support for Niemann, with an analysis from cheating detection expert Professor Ken Regan finding that Niemann has been playing pretty much as expected of someone of his ranking, while several of his opponents under-performed against him, missing advantageous moves.
How can you even cheat at chess?
To state the obvious, you can only cheat by being given better moves that you yourself could not have come up with. The difficulty is getting these moves – whether figured out by a computer or a friend of yours who happens to be a grandmaster – relayed to you during a tournament.
Another problem you face is playing too well. With the gap widening between computers and players, using too many computer moves would be an immediate red flag. Chess games and players can be analyzed to hell, especially when there are accusations of cheating. Use too many perfect moves or stray from your style of play by using others, and computer analysis (or other players) will notice.
Nevertheless, there have been players that have attempted to cheat using high tech, low tech, and times when players have (repeatedly) cheated by use of a mobile phone in the toilet.
Option one: Suspicious vibrating trousers
The first known incident of cheating using technology at a chess tournament took place at the 1993 World Open. In the competition, one entrant took the name "John von Neumann", likely after the mathematician and computer scientist of the same name. "Neumann", an unrated and unknown player, surprised his fellow players with his ability (scoring 4.5/9 in the Open Section, even drawing to a grandmaster) and his quirk of wearing headphones the whole game while a suspicious bulge in his trousers vibrated enthusiastically at important points during the games.
Unfortunately, the ruse fell apart when he was asked about the basics of chess.
"When quizzed by the tournament director, the ‘lesser’ von Neumann was unable to demonstrate even a rudimentary knowledge of some simple chess concepts, and he was disqualified," as National TD Steve Immitt told Chess Base.
Option 2: trips to the toilet
This option is surprisingly popular among (caught) cheats. In one game in 2003, one player alerted an official after they suspected their opponent was taking drugs in the bathroom, especially during their turn. The player's downfall, in this case, was not making realistic toilet noise.
"I followed him and could hear no sound coming from the stall," the official told Chess Base. "I looked under the door and saw that his feet were pointing sideways, so that he could not have been using the toilet."
Fairly confident he was not about to see a chess prodigy make number 2, the official went into the adjacent stall and took a look over the top.
"I saw [the player]. standing there with a handheld PC which displayed a running chess program. He was using a stylus to operate it."
Option 3: wear a suspicious hat
In a competition in New Delhi, one chess cheat was caught after playing suspiciously well. The player had risen in rank surprisingly quickly ahead of the competition, while an analysis of one of his games showed that a sequence of moves closely matched those suggested by a popular piece of chess software.
The man's woolen hat was taken and investigated during a body search of all of the top eight players at the competition. A Bluetooth device was found within the hat.