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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Blitz Chess

I’ve never been a fan of blitz…back in the old days we called them 5-minute games. I was never very quick on my mental feet I guess because as a postal player (i.e. correspondence chess these days) I’ve always needed 3 days for a move, not 3 seconds. I’ve tried my hand at online games at chess.com and have discovered one’s ability to play blitz does not improve with age; I’m just as bad as I ever was.

I’m not sure what exactly constitutes “blitz” as opposed to “standard” on Chess.com, but my blitz results there is +28 -6 =4. The highest rated player I’ve beaten was 1780. I lost a one minute game to some guy rated over 2500 where I managed to bash out all of about 25 moves in 60 seconds before losing on time. Rating= 1863. My results in “standard” chess, which I think are 15-20 minute games, is +9 -1 =2, so I’ve done a little better but against weaker opponents. Rating = 1759.

Like all sites, there have been accusations of rampant cheating at Chess.com. One guy wrote a forum post last month where he referred to Chess.com as a "cheater-friendly" site. According to the site’s owner their policy is to ban engine users only if they are 100 % sure. He went on to say below the level of 2200, the percentage of cheaters on his site is below 1 %. How he arrived at that 1% figure, who knows? Chess.com publishes a list of caught cheaters and the majority of them are rated below 2000 but I seriously wonder how closely they actually check their top players.

One site that prides itself on its success in banning engine users was offered positive proof that their number one player had a 100% matchup rate against Rybka and the six piece endgame tablebase. Now this guy has been a CC IM since way before computers so there’s no doubt he’s good. But good enough to win hundreds of CC games on a couple of different sites while playing dozens of games at a time with only a couple of losses? Not likely. So far as I know the site did not ban him for engine use. Probably because, as a “name” player, he adds prestige to their site.

But I think there’s another factor at play in a situation like this. Sort of a mental agreement if you will. It is an established fact that at top levels of CC play everybody, and I mean everybody, uses an engine. Of course the best players don’t use them to actually select their move, but they do use them. If we are going to say that at the top level of CC play, because you can’t stop engine us and everybody does it, then it’s OK, where do you draw the line? Players rated 1200-2400 get banned for using engines but 2500’s and up don’t. Titled players can use them but untitled players can’t. Again, where do you draw the line? I don’t have an answer.

To continue:
The forum poster didn’t believe it so he actually went to the trouble of conducting an experiment. Some people have nothing better to do, I guess. He registered a new account built up a profile with a correspondence chess rating of around 1900 and then started to cheat.

He used Pocket Fritz which supposedly has reached an ELO performance of 2900 meaning that it plays better than any GM. He allowed Pocket Fritz a few seconds to ponder its moves and played 50 correspondence games on Chess.com. He sometimes used the second best move instead of the best one against opponents rated from 1700 to 1900. He believed he should have won all 50 games but 7 games were either drawn or lost. He claimed that against opponents rated 1700 to 1900 that’s a pretty high percentage.

I’m sure there are many engine users on Chess.com just like every other site you can name, but the fact that a 1700-1900 rated player occasionally draws (or wins) a game against Pocket Fritz which was making the 2nd best move at only seconds per move should not be too shocking.

Looking back over my CC career I’ve had some pretty good results against very strong players in both CC and OTB play…wins and draws that if I played them in today’s computer era, would raise suspicions. Of course if those games were checked with an engine our matchup rate would have been nowhere near suspicious. I’m not really sure how to use a program like Fritz to compare matchup rates nor am I interested. I have better things to do than determine if someone with a 1200-2400 server rating is using an engine.

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