(Anti-)Cheating in Baku
The well-documented incident involving Nigel Short (who was asked to be checked while his game was still in progress)showed the main problem we have nowadays with arbiters and enforcing security laws. One of the FIDE Rules says that the arbiter is there to prevent any disturbances that may affect the player during the game. This has gone awfully astray in the last several years and now we have a situation when the arbiter seems to be there only to disturb the player during the game! See the Short interview above for the most recent example. Giving more power to incompetent people is the fastest recipe for disaster and unfortunately the chess train seems to heading in that direction full speed.
The fact that FIDE wants to have security checks during the game implies that it doesn’t trust the security checks before the game begins. And so much importance is placed on those airport-type scans before the game! Let me describe how things looked in Baku. Before entering the playing hall there were security people checking your accreditation and they made sure the players had their green cards (with the word “Player” written on them) that were a proof that the player is playing that day (every team had only 4 green cards and they were given to the players who played on the day). Next there were the aiport scanners. Just like in airports they would often make sounds even if you didn’t have anything on you. I travel a lot and I know what I need to do and I always go through without anything metallic on me – yet the scanners often go off and this prompts a manual search. In Baku there was an additional search with a hand-held scanner. I have spoken to airport-security people and they have told me that scanners often go off at random intervals, even if the person has nothing on them. The point is to keep people alert and to do random checks just in case. I assume the same was in Baku. So I would be checked with the hand-held scanner and then I would be asked a very intelligent question: “Have you brought a phone with you?” Now, after two scans with two types of scanners and nothing discovered, I wonder what answer they expected. After my polite “No” I would be allowed to proceed to the playing hall.
Having gone through this procedure for 11 days in a row I can assure you that, just like in airports, this “security” is one big smokescreen. It is completely inefficient and wouldn’t prevent a cheater in any way. One day I even tested this – before going through the scanner I took off my jacket and left it on the table next to the scanner. I went through the scanner, I took my jacket (which was left unchecked) and continued to the playing hall. How’s that for security?
During the 10 days on which I played I witnessed several serious security breaches. I heard a phone ring 5 (!) times in the playing hall while the games were in progress. I suppose people weren’t as polite and honest as me when they were asked whether they had brought their phones (or the scanners were just a ruse?). But the worst case was on one of the first days when I went to the toilet – in the corridor before the toilet there was a woman visitor who was talking on her phone! On my way out of the toilet that same woman was typing on her phone! And I keep reading that security in Baku was tight and serious!
In Round 3 the teams of Japan and Turkmenistan played. On board 4 GM Odeev (2401) had black against Tang Tang, rated 2108. He was obliterated. You can check the game yourselves with an engine if you wish – white’s play was on a very high level and even though he missed one or two stronger moves it proved enough to kill the GM. And then in the following position, after white’s 41st move, the game ended, but now with the result you would expect:
|0-1, Tang Tang-Odeev|
And no, white didn’t lose on time either. What happened was that white’s player was searched and an iPhone and an iPad were found on him. How on Earth could a player sneak through not one, but two electronic devices after all the apparently (but only apparently) strict security? Are you still thinking security was good in Baku? This story was published on the Russian site Chess News, one or two days after the game but it seems to have disappeared since (at least I didn’t manage to find it). If you manage to find it please let me know as I would like to give the link here.
Cheating is a serious issue in modern chess, but the way it is fought is sloppy and ineffective. In such a big event like an Olympiad the organisers tried to show to the world that they are doing their best and that the players can rest assured that they play in a safe environment. It is not for nothing that I compared the Baku security with airport security – it is there only to make people feel safe, not to actually make them safe. Any intelligent cheater can easily go through such “security” and make fool of everybody by having it his own way. Smokescreen security and molesting the players while they play is not the solution. It achieves nothing and upsets the players. Unfortunately, as things stand with FIDE, I don’t expect things to improve. We will be getting more smokescreen and more player molesting while at the same time the public will be informed how “everything was done to prevent cheating.” When you read such a thing next time, don’t believe it.