COVID-19 Is Driving The Uptake Of Chess — And Of Surveillance Tools To Stop Online Players Cheating

from the checking-the-checkmate dept

Techdirt has been noting some interesting tech trends arising out of the increasing number of people who work and study from home because of COVID-19. One that few of us saw coming is a greatly increased enthusiasm for playing chess. That would be a good thing, except that life is never simple, as the Guardian reports:

Chess has enjoyed a huge boom in internet play this year as in-person events have moved online and people stuck at home have sought new hobbies. But with that has come a significant new problem: a rise in the use of powerful chess calculators to cheat on a scale reminiscent of the scandals that have dogged cycling and athletics. One leading ‘chess detective’ said that the pandemic was “without doubt creating a crisis”.

When life moves from in-person to online, there is a loss of many subtle aspects that arise from being in the presence of other people. Back in May we wrote about a problem in the field of education, where some have concerns that students might be cheating when taking exams online, since there is no invigilator around to check on them. This has led to the rise of remote proctoring services that aim to cast a beady virtual eye over students who are sitting exams. According to the Guardian, similar ideas are starting to enter the world of chess:

At the heart of the problem are programmes or apps that can rapidly calculate near-perfect moves in any situation. To counter these engines, players in more and more top matches must agree to be recorded by multiple cameras, be available on Zoom or WhatsApp at any time, and grant remote access to their computers. They may not be allowed to leave their screens, even for toilet breaks.

Other approaches include tracking the movements of players’ eyes, to see if they are looking away with suspicious frequency, and algorithms that are claiming to be able to spot “deviation from the proclivities of an honest human player”. The fact that the once-staid world of chess is resorting to these kinds of advanced surveillance techniques is a further indication of the extent to which COVID-19 is changing the world, and deepening digital technology’s impact on our lives.

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Comments on “COVID-19 Is Driving The Uptake Of Chess — And Of Surveillance Tools To Stop Online Players Cheating”

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Nathan F (profile) says:

Other approaches include tracking the movements of players’ eyes, to see if they are looking away with suspicious frequency, and algorithms that are claiming to be able to spot "deviation from the proclivities of an honest human player".

I just hope they remember that a master of any art shouldn’t fear the master standing before them, but rather the amateur who thinks he knows what he is doing. That algorithm may accuse the weaker player of cheating when they are just simply flailing about with very little clue about what they are doing.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Online gaming

It used to be you could exchange letters and play "postal chess". Now, it’s difficult to trust that the "person" you’re playing is an unaided person.

It used to be you could play online poker. Now it’s difficult to trust that the "person" you’re playing is an unaided person and that their banks of poker chips are real. When they "go all in" [poker] is it the house betting against you — because they know the cards — or a real player somewhere in the world who thinks their cards are better than yours.

You can have multiple cameras, but those won’t detect a background script running an analysis tool "advising" the best strategy.

If you don’t know the people you’re playing don’t wager real money, USCF/FIDE points, etc. Play for fun and enjoy the game. Don’t confuse it with sitting across the table from a real unaided person.

I know people who hid Monopoly money behind the toilet so they could take a bathroom break and stock up on cash. That’s just one example… and that was in person.


PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Online gaming

"It used to be you could exchange letters and play "postal chess". Now, it’s difficult to trust that the "person" you’re playing is an unaided person."

You’ve never been sure of that, it’s just that the type of person interested in playing a game of chess via a method that leaves days between moves with no profit motive is unlikely to be inspired to cheat. You’ve never actually known that the person you think you’re corresponding with is the one answering all the moves, it’s just that to would have been crazy for them to feel compelled to cheat because nobody who doesn’t have a real love for the game would have been playing like that, or so you would assume. You’ve never really known.

Your main point is sound, I just think you need to keep in mind that this is not a new phenomenon that began with online play, not by a long shot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Online gaming

Well, until the last few decades, computer assistance really wasn’t an issue. I mean, in the 1960s, even if you somehow had access to a PDP-6 running the MacHack chess program, it wasn’t even necessarily going to be better than you. The only real way to cheat would be to ask your higher-rated friend.

Now, on the other hand, almost everyone could be beaten by the phone they carry in their pocket.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Online gaming

"Well, until the last few decades, computer assistance really wasn’t an issue"

True, but you still don’t know what human assistance a person would have had. If you know someone who’s a much better chess player than you and you choose to ask the tournament winner down the street who you happen to be friends with, the effect is largely the same as if you ask a computer for most types of game.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Hmmm this sounds like people are working hard to make it non-fun.

More like authoritarians engaging in a holy war to determine the One True Way to do X and using ever increasing levels of surveillance to enforce it.

Meanwhile, everyone has lost any and all levels of faith and trust in everyone else, so everyone gladly goes along with the power grab. After all, if I don’t succeed, surely it must be because the other person cheated or acted maliciously. It can’t be due to my own choices or shortcomings. Nope. It had to be cheating. Cheating they wouldn’t have gotten away with if only we could have manipulated the controls for them.

Seriously, not even being able to use the toilet without accusations of cheating? Banning them over it? Yeah, try that on an actual battlefield. Any idiot throwing down their gun and whining about "fairness" and "banning the opponent" because someone else came up with a counter move for their side’s advance while taking a piss would be shot on sight. (By his own side even.) The current limits on brain activity in a game of wits are ridiculous, and seem to be the kind of arguments that get presented by sore losers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

try that on an actual battlefield.

Your metaphor goes the other way too. Try taking a bathroom break in the middle of a firefight in the first place, and tell me how THAT goes.

In a normal tournament you can take a bathroom break. But even there, people have been caught cheating in the bathroom, and it only gets worse if the tournament is online. The vast majority of players are honest, but the fact is that some DO cheat, and the few who cheat would win everything if we let them, which isn’t fair to the rest of us.

bob says:

shorter games

This is why shorter timers are better to play with. Blitz and bullet games 1 min or 3 min games go so fast you don’t have time to constantly wait for an analysis of the board to complete.

The fact that some people have such low self-esteem that they only feel good by being fake is a bigger problem in my opinion. Because it will extend into other aspects of a person’s life beyond a chess game.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Speed chess (and other variants)

Speed chess is fun if you aren’t taking seriously, play it as a way to spend the five minutes till your RideShare gets there, or as a drinking game. It’s hardly "the game of Kings" if you intend to do more than just outhink, outlast… wait, that’s Survivor.

The article and writeup are really saying "people can now cheat at lots more games." Previous posters have mentioned Go, and of course we know about FPS cheats as well. If the goal is "to win" without regards to having personal ethics and morals then this will go on. Even the top Donkey Kong record holder, Billy Mitchell, was stripped of his "title" for the same.

So if the point is – you can find a variant of the game where it’s "harder to cheat", yes, that’s absolutely right.

If the point is "Damn, it’s now easier to cheat at everything", that too is right.

If the point is "If you give a rat’s *** about ethics and morals and a code of conduct and your goal is to play the game honestly" then a discussion about how to accomplish that would be great by me. I don’t think technical countermeasures will solve this. I think it’s a cultural thing.


Ehud "Yes, I play chess" Gavron
Tucson, Arizona, US

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