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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ferreting Out Engine Users on ChessCube

I just read a forum post on cheating detection at ChessCube. I’m not familiar with the site so checked it out.

They have this warning posted on the site:
…if you use other applications (for example, chess software, messaging programs, browsers, and email clients) excessively during your games you may be warned and then forced to resign the game. We cannot tell if you are getting assistance from these applications (e.g. receiving moves from a chess engine, a friend is sending you moves or you are browsing through an opening database), so we limit how often you can interact with non-ChessCube software. ChessCube monitors the use of other software in this manner and can only assume you are cheating if you do this often enough….

…we compare a cheater's move with engine moves from various engines. If there is a high correlation across games (we understand that people can sometimes play like an engine, but doing so across many games raises suspicions) we assume cheating.

We monitor everything from your rating progress, to who you beat (beating an engine is a good sign that you are an engine!), to all ways in which you interact with our system.

So one thing they are doing is monitoring your task switching in Windows to see if you're minimizing the ChessCube window. One guy posted this comment: I was just playing a ranked game and after about 19 moves it warns me that I am 'using applications', .. (I was) going to web browser and such. Then a couple of moves later it resigns the game for me, under the suspicion of cheating. I'm not cheating, I don't cheat, I don't see the point in cheating on internet chess just to gain a few ratings points. Not only is this annoying, it raises another issue of what exactly is it scanning for?? This seems to take it more into the realms of spyware.

Apparently opening a browser during a game or starting up iTunes, etc. will get you branded as a cheat. Some people play chess while listening to music or doing other things. Personally I can’t multitask while playing chess, but I'm sure many people can. Their policy is to not allow frequent task switching and a lot of people call it unfair. Maybe it is, but at tournaments players can’t use mobile phones. As one poster pointed out, you might say "phoning my mother is not cheating" but to make cheating harder they have to compromise other innocent activities. No argument there, I guess, but somehow having my computer activity monitored while playing chess scares me.

Checking rating progress makes some sense to me. If I am a very strong player just joining a site and starting at 1200 it’s to be expected that I’m going to win a lot of games without loss. But if somebody has been rated 1400 for their last several hundred games on the site then suddenly starts beating everybody, including 2200’s, it’s a sure sign their rating increase is not from newly developed skills, but rather from a newly purchased engine.

Checking a person’s match up against engines is the most reliable way, but then again a lot depends on which engine you are using and how long you allow it to ponder a position. Top level CC players always advocate using two engines, preferably with different playing styles, when examining moves. I’ve played at Lechenicher SchachServer which allows engine use and have followed this advice. It’s not unusual to get different move suggestions from several different engines, or even if it’s the same move, widely different evaluations. When that happens, deciding what’s the best move is what separates titled correspondence players from the rest of us. Still, I suppose this is the most reliable method.

While I can appreciate sites' efforts to ferret out engine users, it seems like an enormous effort and more than a few innocent players will get caught in the dragnet. The truth is though, most of the people complaining about engine users are the players who will never face one unless they are unfortunate enough to play one on his way up the rating ladder.

On most sites I’ve played on, there is a logjam of engine users once you reach a certain level. They’ve pushed past everybody and then gotten stuck playing each others engines. Above that level, most of them are likely using engines, but they are strong enough to know how to defeat one, so they eventually rise to the top.

I’ve played on several sites and won pretty steadily until reaching the level where engine users lurk; then I start losing a lot. I’m not saying they all use engines because I know for a fact there are a lot of players out there who are better than me, so every time I lose it’s not to an engine! When I play opponents with elevated ratings, I just assume they are using any and all help that is available.

When that happens, I admit to having been tempted to fire up Fritz myself, but my experience on Lechincher SchachServer has made me realize my old Fritz and even older computer is no match for them. What happens is that it becomes a challenge of a different nature…one of trying to beat the engine. I have to admit I haven’t been very successful, but as they say, even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while.

Final thought: When correspondence chess began, people realized you couldn’t stop anybody from consulting chess books, so the use of literature was allowed. Sidebar: I don’t think the rule against getting help from another player was ever a problem. Have you ever tried to get a really strong player to give you advice? It looks like it’s the same situation with engines as with using books. Even if you allow engine use (and if both players are using one), it seems like the good players win anyway. That’s why my LSS rating is barely 1800 and one of my current opponents, who’s about 150 points higher, is actually a Ukrainian Master!


  1. dear master i dont advice to use that site. for example the first warning is a mock. I am chess player and developer and DONT EXIST I REPEAT DONT EXIST A MONITOR SOFTWARE THAT DO THAT. You cant monitor an account by a c***y flash browser game. So is only a useless warnin that probably write for the some foolish that believe that. Is no why to check if a player using engine or not. So if you want to find real player stay away from chesscube this is my advice also

  2. Hi, talligalli. Surely it's true that chesscube is using to check the activity on your computer trough the flash application. I found that you can't play on chesscube deactivating the p2p from the online control panel of macromedia flash. It means clearly that they use your application as server = share your bandwith. Try to launch a little standalone program as CurrPorts. You'll see how high is the outgoing level of bandwith connection when you're playing on chesscube. Definitely, a scaring website where to play, because you surely know better than me that flash and java are affecting your privacy and can be really dangerous accepting incoming connections from untrusted applications. Regards.

  3. dear "anonymous" you can cheat in anyway for example using two computers at same time so blah blah blah...so your anticheat system can check that? No i dont really think.
    And Now for play you must buy cubits ($$$) and the situation became worst and worst (confirmed by my friend there any 2 mins on general chat somebody is banned for cheating)
    so please no chesscube evangelists!

  4. anonymous i tested myself fritz on chesscube your anticheat system? EPIC fail!
    fritz 5 the poor online player 0.
    i launched fritz on a game so... i continue to use fritz for 5 match (testing only) up and running in my computer and chesscube dont kick me out or do some warnings. this is the famous anti-cheat system???