(Anti-)Cheating in Baku

This is a very important topic that deserves a separate post, that’s why I didn’t include it in my round up, so I will share my views and experiences from Baku here.

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.

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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  • Eric Peterson
    Sep 19,2016 at 2:11 pm

    But GM Stojanovic, why did your player have a phone? You know and he knows, that it is not allowed. Can a player just "forget" that he has a phone in his pocket?

  • Sep 19,2016 at 1:17 pm

    Thank you, thankfully there have been no threats. 🙂

  • Sep 19,2016 at 9:34 am

    Wonderful article, don't let anyone intimidate you from telling it as it is 😉

  • Sep 18,2016 at 4:29 pm


  • Sep 18,2016 at 4:27 pm

    Thanks Mihajlo for your kind words and also for the additional information about the insufficient measures in Baku.

    I hope my article and all this new information in the comments raise the awareness of the public that not all they read in the official statements is true and that something needs to be done.

  • chesscargot
    Sep 18,2016 at 3:00 pm

    there is a very simple way to do this. Chess players must remove all their clothing and put on clothing provided by the host in an empty room. There should be absolutely no electronic devices allowed in the playing area. To further humiliate the players, the clothing could be uncomfortably tight and undersized and made of shiny pink material such as spandex. A large yellow pawn could appear on the crotch area of the tiny shorts the players are provided with. Nigel Short would especially benefit from this indignity – I would recommend a further measure be taken with his uniform, in which the back side of the spandex shorts be removed to reveal his pasty white English bum to all onlookers. This might sound like a joke but if you care about chess, you will agree that this may be the only way to save it.

  • Sep 18,2016 at 10:09 am

    Very similar to the war on terror, taking away our freedoms.

  • Sep 18,2016 at 7:07 am

    Dear Alex,

    Thank you very much for your answer.

    Your article is really good in the point that security at the Olympiad was not serious at all. Unfortunately that is what we have been hearing for many years from the organizer at the Olympiad or the European Championships approximately: "almost perfect against cheating" which is far from true.

    Tang Tang who does not speak English so well, the youngest in Japan men team, was shocked when the arbiter found his phone in the pocket of trousers at control – somehow he did not sense it there at all. Really good that arbiter turned on his phone and found there nothing about cheating. Agony after losing the game because forgeting (in Japan such things very rarely happen) his phone in the pocket continued as peopled were filming him there, even during the matches which aso speaks about the organization…after Tang Tang lost one game against much stronger opponent because of a blunder in better position. For me it is just painful to read something incomplete/wrong interpreted about that accident having on mind suffering of not guilty Tang Tang, and many others although in less extent, from Japan chess.

    Alex is totally right that anti-cheating measures at the Olympiad were not enough although the organizers proudly claimed different. One "funny" detail more from the Olympiad in Baku: electronic devices were stored after passing the scaner entry gate. Anybody could pick them later during the game or even hold after passing that scaner entry gate! In my opinion, like it was done at some competitions, absolutely nothing of devices should be allowed to enter in that space after scaner entry gate where the toilets were too. That will also not completely protects against cheating, but at least stop primitive ways like using mobile phone or I-pad. May be reason of the organizer was: let allow making photos during the matches, why not, then people are happy and like us more! But for the chessplayers and quality of the games that was hardly helpful.

    With Best Wishes to Alex in his work,
    Mihajlo Stojanovic

  • Anonymous
    Sep 18,2016 at 5:23 am

    I think in some ways life imitates chess. Players must give up freedoms to protect the game, however taking this path leads to defeat. There is no more love or joy, just people making moves in an ever more controlled system.

  • Sep 18,2016 at 4:28 am

    That's so ridiculous. I fully support Nigel's outrage over that incident. Good article pointing out the terrible way they handled things in Baku.

  • yw
    Sep 18,2016 at 2:34 am

    I think the thing that is dfficult to understand here is why Tang-Tang has not defended himself publicly or at least given his version of events.

    Is it unreasonable to suggest that FIDE should consult leading players in their search for a solution to anti-cheating rather than enforce their own draconian measures, which are clearly not working.

    Nice post btw.

    Mark McCready

  • Sep 17,2016 at 9:59 pm

    Dear Mihajlo,

    Thank you very much for the detailed clarification of the whole case. That is exactly what I was looking for after failing to find the story on the Chess-news site. I didn't have the facts and I am grateful you provided them.

    If you read carefully my text you will see that I never accuse Tang Tang of cheating – I only say that he played a game on a very high level and he obliterated a GM. Then I say that electronic device was found on him. Again, I never accuse the player – alas, nowadays if these two things (strong play and electronic device) are written together in one sentence people automatically assume there is cheating involved. It was never my intention to accuse or blame anyone. This whole post is about the security at the Olympiad and the Tang Tang episode only showed what I am trying to say – that security was lax and insufficient. Your clarification supports that fact as well.

    In the spirit of goodwill, I apologise if I have caused any harm with my writing, it was never my intention. I wish you, Tang Tang and the whole Japanese team success in the future.

  • Sep 17,2016 at 9:35 pm

    The facts in the game Tang Tang – Odeev are next:

    1. Our young player Tang Tang had a mobile phone with him during the game (not any I-pad)

    2. If one checks the game by engine it is possible to see mistakes by White in simple middlegame, when there was enough time for thinking which made his clearly better position just equal

    3. Arbiter(s) checked Tang Tang's phone after the game and found nothing connected with the game. He lost the game because had the device with him, not because of using it, otherwise he would be suspended from the Olympiad and probably for some years too.

    My opinion: After the game Tang Tang went happily to the control. He was on the list for control that day. He could leave his phone anywhere before the control. Tang Tang was desperate that at the entry of the playing hall they did not register his phone which was in the very down pocket of the trousers. Perhaps GM Colovic, if you write such things which can be very negative for personality of a young player, you could check better at least what the facts are.

    Captain of Japan,
    GM Mihajlo Stojanovic

  • Sep 17,2016 at 8:53 pm

    I assume there were phones allowed, but that makes the whole "security" pretty useless, doesn't it? As you put it yourself, "who knows" whos is using the phone next to you!

    Thanks for your comment, alas, things changing doesn't seem to be on FIDE's agenda any time soon!

  • Sep 17,2016 at 8:51 pm

    Thanks Jonathan!

  • Sep 17,2016 at 7:52 pm

    Good article, Alex, this needs to be on the record.

  • Sep 17,2016 at 1:42 pm

    There were phones allowed in the hall Alex – as captain I saw a list of media/photographers which stated they were allowed to have mobile phones and other electronic devices on them. About 12 people in total I believe.

    I informed an arbiter about someone using a phone right next to a match! I'm assuming now that it was a photographer but who knows?!

    The security was so visually tight but had so many flaws it was actually just amusing in the end. The FIDE trainers seminar had people on laptops watching the games, who were then allowed direct access into the hall. I decided to do things properly by going back outside and re-entering through security and was denied entry for about 20 minutes! :/

    Anyway, good article -but I don't see things changing soon unfortunately 🙂

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