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Friday, January 4, 2013

What is chess coming to?

     Everybody knows these days that engines have invaded correspondence play, but what about OTB tournaments?  Are they suffering the same invasion?
     During the Zadar open, held 16-22 December last year, a player was searched after being suspected of cheating.  Borislav Ivanov, a 25-year-old Bulgarian who works as a programmer and has a rating of 2227, scored 6-3 with a 2697 performance rating.   The tournament also included GMs Bojan Kurajica, Robert Zelcic, Zdenko Kozul and Ivan Saric.  Ivanov’s results got the TDs suspicious so they decided to search him.  According to newspaper reports, Ivanov voluntarily took off his shirt, emptied his pockets and let them inspect his pen; nothing was found. Nevertheless, most people on the forums I have read think he is guilty.     
     One ‘fact’ that he cheated is that Ivanov was ranked no. 114 in Bulgaria and in playing over 400 FIDE rated games his rating was never over his current 2227.  So a 2697 performance rating is positive ‘proof’ he cheated.
     Others have cheated in OTB events. Clemens Allwermann cheated with an earpiece linked to Fritz at the Bobingen Open 1999 and was awarded first prize, but he got caught.  Sebastien Feller and his two accomplices cheated with the aid of a long-distance computer link at the 2010 Olympiad; they got caught. Umakant Sharma cheated at a 2006 Indian tournament with a device sewn into his cap; he got caught, too. Other lower rated players have unsuccessfully tried cheating using cellphones.
     Ivanov’s alleged cheating is remarkable because nobody can figure out how he did it...  One forum discussion had someone offering up a pretty clever way he could have done it with the help of an accomplice using hand signals.  One person subjected his moves to analysis with Houdini and came to the conclusion that Ivanov had a high match rate with. Another stated that Ivanov’s previous games were boring affairs and he was routinely whipped by stronger opponents, but in this tournament some of his wins against GMs were the result of sharp tactics. Another point some people made was that at his age of 25, he is simply too old to make such a drastic and sudden improvement. All ‘proof’ of cheating.
     Maybe it is just a sign of the times.  We have athletes cheating by using performance enhancing drugs in just about all sports so these days when somebody performs well you just don’t know. When a low rated chess player performs well everybody is suspect of his performance. It’s almost as if cheating has become the norm that we expect from anybody who performs well or has been successful.
     Ivanov’s results at Zadar had to be exciting for him…but then when a lot of people started saying he cheated, it had to destroy the moment and that is sad. If his next tournament is anything less than stellar many people will offer that as more ‘proof’ that his Zadar result was the result of cheating.  I guess he is guilty until proven innocent.
     I don’t know about Ivanov. For all I know the guy had the performance of his life and I for one, hope this is the case.  In fact I hope the guy has many, many more 2600 performance ratings and gets his GM title. 

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