da teenager cheats to defeat the world chess champion? This question has set the chess universe in turmoil since September 4, when its best player, 31-year-old Magnus Carlsen abruptly retired from the $ 350,000 Sinquefield Cup in St Louis after a stunning defeat to 19-year-old lower-tier Hans. Niemann.
Carlsen did not explicitly accuse Niemann of cheating. But chess watchers picked up Carlsen’s accusation from a cryptic meme he tweeted after the game saying he’d be in “big trouble” if he talked, fueling wild theories, including the one Niemann cheated by receiving messages. through vibrating anal balls.
The hype continued on Monday when Carlsen faced Niemann in an online match and resigned after just one move. On Wednesday, Carlsen gave a short interview in which he refused to explain his actions, but said that “people can draw their own conclusions and they certainly do.” He intoned that he was “impressed with Niemann’s game and I think his mentor Maxim Dlugy is doing a great job” – another apparent accusation, as Dlugy is a chess master who has been accused of cheating himself.
Niemann denied cheating against Carlsen, commenting after the previous match that the world champion must be “embarrassed to lose to an idiot like me”. But he admitted he cheated twice on the Chess.com online platform at the age of 12 and again at 16, which he said kicked him off the website. The controversy deepened when the platform announced that he again banned Niemann, citing “information that contradicts his claims about the extent and severity of his chess on Chess.com”.
But this move contradicts other prominent chess referees, including Sinquefield Cup organizers, who claim to have analyzed Niemann’s games and found no evidence of wrongdoing. So, if neither the tournament nor Magnus explicitly accuses Niemann of cheating, why do many in the chess world think Niemann is a cheat?
Danny Rensch, a chess master and executive at Chess.com, told the Guardian that chess watchers, from authorities to armchair theorists, are not properly analyzing Niemann’s performance. “They are not anal beads. The problem is that our position is so different in terms of how we look at it and measure things. “
Rensch said his platform has developed an industry-leading anti-cheat model trained on an incredible collection of real-world gaming data from the games played on his platform. “What we did is really unlike anything else – and that’s because we were a private company that was making money and could invest – we went out and built what I would call DNA crime scene analysis for every chess player in the world. “said Rensch. This means that Chess.com has a highly detailed model of what legitimate behavior looks like for millions of users across hundreds of millions of games, which it can use to detect discrepancies.
“Anomalies happen from time to time. But if you have a lot of smoke, a lot of evidence and a lot of reasons to believe in someone’s DNA, and you walk into the room and they just say, ‘I just lifted that fridge with one arm’, you’re like, ‘Fuckin’ bullshit, son of a bitch. . ‘”
Rensch refused to elaborate on Niemann. “I’m not going to talk about anything I think about the over-the-board scandal with Hans or Magnus, but you can imply whatever you want based on what I’m saying,” Rensch said. In this week’s forum posts, Chess.com CEO Erik Allebest hinted that his company may soon release more information.
This could help answer one of the central questions of this controversy: What is the best way to detect cheating in chess?
It is important to understand how computers affect the game. The best human chess players are a mix of artists, athletes and scientists – not only do they have the creativity and mental stamina to solve highly intricate problems, but they also spend thousands of hours researching previous chess games and theorising new lines of play. The problem is that modern chess software, called chess engines, has become so powerful and widely available that even the best players in the world stand no chance against the software that anyone can now download for free. For the chess industry, which is enjoying a pandemic-induced explosion of interest in everything from amateur online gaming to top-of-the-line live streams, detecting cheating has become an existential challenge.
Tanya Karali is the chief arbiter, or chess arbiter, of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, the online tournament that saw Carlsen’s dramatic resignation this week. The main way the cup protects against cheating is through surveillance, he said. This includes requiring multiple players to set up multiple cameras that prove they are alone with no other electronic devices. “At random moments, we surprise players by asking them to move with the side camera to show the whole room,” she said. Referees also ask players to share their screens so they can see what programs they are using and point the side camera at their ears to inspect bugs.
But the most important authentication tool Karali uses is a screening program employed by Fide, the international chess governing body. Ken Regan, a chess master and computer scientist, said he began developing the model in 2006 after a high-profile fraud allegation by Bulgarian Veselin Topalov against Russian Vladimir Kramnik in the world championship match. Regan’s model analyzes possible moves in a chess position and projects the probability that a player of a given skill level will make a move that agrees with the best chess engines. “Then, through what is truly a process of human judgment, we arrive at the final odds and decide if they are extreme enough to reject the null hypothesis”, that is, the hypothesis of fair play.
Because the software analyzes the game’s moves, it works on over-the-board and online games, where the cheat rate is “100 to 200 times” higher, Regan said. Sinquefield Cup officials asked Regan to lead the Carlsen and Niemann match program and the results were unequivocal: “I didn’t find anything,” she said. Regan’s model showed that Neimann’s performance “was one more standard deviation” on some metrics, “but by definition the standard deviation occurs normally.”
But this has led to an apparent disagreement between believers in Regan’s model and believers in Chess.com’s model, which doesn’t appear to be resolved without further evidence being made public. “It’s Chess.com’s move,” Regan said. The platform, she suggested, must “disclose or explain the reasons for their further action against Niemann”.
This is just the latest installment in a decade-long drama about the role of machines in one of the oldest board games in the world. Matthew Sadler, a great English master ranked 14th in the world in the “pre-computer” age, left professional gaming in 1999 when he feared the rise of AI would “kill the game.” He now he is a researcher who has written several books on chess engines. Although he occasionally he can overtake computers in a few moves, he says, there is no way to match the consistency of the best engines. “In a 60-move game, the accuracy of the motors is at a level completely impossible for humans to achieve.”
Computers have the ability to perceive the entirety of the game in a way that greatly surpasses humans, Sadler said. “The engines are incredibly good at visualizing the whole board and finding maneuvers that, for example, use three corners of the board to redeploy a piece and get a winning angle of attack. When you see people on a weaker level doing it, well , either they’ve had a moment of inspiration or there might be something a little fun going on. “
Contrary to Sadler’s fears, technology didn’t kill the game, it made it even more popular. Chess engines have become invaluable learning tools for players: they scan game databases and run scenarios through the engines, trying to memorize the most important variations. Since even the best brains can’t memorize everything, the game has evolved into an attempt to throw your opponents off balance with an unexpected play. And for viewers, the engines provide a dramatic way to see who is winning matches in real time.
Could it be possible for a human gamer to detect computer-assisted gaming without sophisticated technological tools? Sadler says being able to smell the cheat comes with experience. “If an opponent has made a very complicated decision and is only taking a minute, while you would expect, well, any regular top player would take 15 or 20, then that is a little out of place.” Other red flags: if your opponent seems “unnaturally calm when the position is very tense” or “if someone moves away from the board suspiciously”. But these statements are not foolproof: “I once had a case like this, and it was just that the poor fellow suffered from prolonged nosebleeds, having to run to the bathroom all the time.”
As for Carlsen’s accusation? Sadler says his experience leaves him in disbelief. Although Carlsen is still clearly the best player in the world, “my position is still that cheating at the highest level doesn’t really happen,” he said. “There is a lot to lose. And chess is one of those games where you dedicate your life to it and it’s a little hard to imagine the best players throwing all that away. “