October 29, 2012 23:11


Last week, when I read about the recent cheating scandal in the German Bundesliga, GM Falko Bindrich's open letter responding to the accusations and especially the comments below the article, I immediately thought of a book on cheating I happened to be reading: Dan Ariely's The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How we Lie to Everyone - Especially Ourselves.

In his new book, psychologist/economist Dan Ariely (best known from the bestseller Predictably Irrational) demonstrates, using of countless examples and scientific experiments, how practically everyone once in a while 'cheats' to a certain degree. The most obvious example is probably speed driving: almost everybody drives a little too fast from time to time, breaking the law and thus deserving, to a certain degree, to be called a 'cheat'.
Another obvious one is walking through a red light with no (or little) traffic around: though formally forbidden by law, in some countries, such as The Netherlands, this is even considered to 'default' behavior. (But not everywhere: in Berlin, when you walk through a red light, bypassers actually comment on it, which I've experienced myself recently.)
Ariely argues that although most people will cheat when given the opportunity (such as reporting more 'correct' answers in intelligence tests when it is known that the results are not checked by the supervisor and every correctly solved puzzle results in a financial reward), people usually cheat only a little.
For instance, students who participated in Ariely's experiments reported, when given the chance, a few extra solved puzzled, but not all that many. Cheating too much just doesn't feel right for most people, or as Ariely puts it: "Essentially, we cheat up to the level that allows us to retain our self-image as reasonably honest individuals." (We can easily explain our excessive speed driving away by saying we are really good drivers.)
Whilst Ariely’s conclusions are as confronting as they are undeniable - just the other day, I left a public toilet without paying the compulsory 50 cents, just because I didn’t spot any ‘toilet lady’ waiting to collect her money (I justified my behavior by telling myself that paying for public toilets is unfair anyway) - it’s interesting to observe how indignantly people respond to other people cheating (or possibly cheating).
Take the Lance Armstrong doping scandal. Personally, I’ve never trusted any cyclist claiming not to have taken any doping (and sadly, I’m being proven right all the time), so why would Armstrong be any different?
But even if you don’t happen to think, like I do myself, that taking doping isn’t more ‘unfair’ than, say, training just a little bit harder, or having just a little bit more wealthy dad to pay your private teacher, there’s no need to drag the sevenfold Tour de France winner through the mud so radically as some journalists, columnists and sponsors have recently done. Don’t we all know the temptation to bend the law in our advantage a little bit, and haven’t we’ve all succumbed to it from time to time?
Or take, indeed, Falko Bindrich’s case. His open letter, though perhaps not the most shining example of rational eloquence, contains sufficient food for thought to at least give his point of view some credit. His accusation of “invasion of privacy” and his fear that arbiters could “investigate and harass any player who has visited the toilet two times” seem reasonable and realistic, to say the very least. Yet by judging from the comments below the article, most readers hardly agreed with this perspective and call for strong measures in any case.
But in fact, even if Bindrich had, in a weak moment, switched on his phone on the toilet and glanced at the position on his chess app, I’m not sure this would be any worse than discussing the position with friends or colleagues, as I’m sure happens hundreds of times per tournament in both serious and friendly chess competitions (and which I have done myself, I regret to inform you, on numerous occasions – never intending any real harm, needless to say.)
This seems to be the problem with cheating in general, both in chess and elsewhere: it is often considered to be an ‘absolute evil’, justifying any counter measure and punishment. Thus, all attempts to discuss the pros and cons of such measures, or indeed the very nature of cheating itself, are nipped in the bud efficiently.
However, as Dan Ariely shows, this is completely contrary to everyday life, where, in his words, “lots of people cheat, albeit just by a bit.” Yet as far as I know, nobody has so far asked the question: “Even if Bindrich cheated, did he cheat a lot or just a little bit?” (At any rate, this cheating 'scandal' seems much less extreme than the Sebastien Feller case!)
Clearly, any kind of cheating, be it little or big, should be discouraged as much as possible. So far, so good. But at what price? Perhaps, as someone suggested in the comments below Bindrich’s open letter, all phones should be handed in before the game, as is, after all, done in some other sports, too. But what if I hand in one phone but hold on to another? Will arbiters ever be in a position to search players physically? What if someone refuses? What about female players?
Personally, I think the difficulties of preventing cheating are much bigger than the problem of cheating itself. It’s a typical case of the cure being worse than the disease. Although we have no objective way of knowing whether Falko Bindrich cheated in his Bundesliga games, that very fact should make us cautious of accusing him of anything – let alone punishing him.
Actually, the scientific fact that most of us cheat a little from time to time anyway should make us a little more understanding in cases where someone does turn out to have cheated. So let’s give Bindrich a break and let’s not pretend the world's more beautiful than it really is.
Arne Moll's picture
Author: Arne Moll


Konstr's picture

I really think this article is a big load of bollocks.
Cheating should be condemned.
You can give up chess as a game if you act weakly upon cheating.

Anonymous's picture

I agree completely.

Chris's picture

It is not about about cheating but about refusing a handover of the phone and disqualifaction . The title is misleading, unfortunately. Innocent until proven.

Geof's picture

Actually, I think you're overthinking this one and maybe rationalizing your own conduct a bit.

Getting help during a game is cheating, whether you get it by consulting an engine or by talking with a friend who has noticed something you have missed. It's wrong.

I don't think you can justifying cheating in a sporting event by pointing to the fact that we all cut corners now and then in our personal lives. In a sporting event, it's the result that counts. When you cheat, you don't just help yourself, you also hurt your opponent. The only one hurt when you jaywalk is (possibly) you. This makes a big moral difference in my opinion.

I've sped and jaywalked, but I never asked for our received help from anyone or anything during a chess game. I see this as a black or white issue; you either cheat or you don't; you are either honest or you are a cheater.

Cheating appears to becoming more common in our society; in school, in games/sports, in competitive activities of all kinds. This doesn't make it any better; it is still just wrong and reflects poorly on everyone who does it.

Csaba's picture

Yes, it would be much worse to check your phone in the bathroom than to talk to some friend about your position. Those conversations are very rarely helpful, except maybe in some unconscious way such as the positive feeling of sharing an experience. Most of the time you are talking to someone who is 3-4 plies behind and has already seen 4-5 other games. Even supposing that your friend was at the table when you made a move and analysed for a while (say 1 minute), he would never tell you 'If he plays Kh8 I think you have Rh6+!' but maybe 'Your attack looks promising' which you can take or leave, it is probably based on some aesthetic impression. However, even my stupid android phone after less than 1min can tell me the best move of my opp and of me to a high degree of confidence (depth 20+ as opposed to my friend's depth 5, say, with a lot of holes and with some intentional vagueness). So I think it is very very serious if anyone breaks this rule. I do agree with you that it is hard to enforce. One step is to ask players to leave their phones somewhere etc. For what it's worth, I enjoyed reading the open letter or

Csaba's picture

*of Bendrich, in the sense that he was indeed quite eloquent. The case against him seems very weak, even if there are mistorted facts. Of course, maybe organisers could come up with new rules e.g. failure to show your phone could result in disqualification.

redivivo's picture

"he was indeed quite eloquent. The case against him seems very weak"

I thought his defense was laughable, but maybe that's just me. If all players should have free access to chess apps during tournaments without even accepting to show these apps it would be a totally different game.

Soviet School's picture

Strange article, I agree with the other commentators, the point is computer cheating is going to destroy slow chess. why would anyone sit wracking their brains for 4 hours or more when the opponent is certain to win with his silicon help.
To me the uncertainty of computer cheating possibilities makes lots of results suspicious which they would not have been pre computers even though tis may be unfair to honest competitors.

Niima's picture

I do not know about you Arne, but I have no interest in discussing my position with other players during a tournament. It is a personal, private struggle - that is partly what makes it interesting and beautiful. Discussing it with others would reduce the fun.

Anonymous's picture

isn't Arne the guy that wrote chess needs more draw?

Jochem's picture

Good article that provides insight how the human psyche works. This shows that measures should go into preventing cheating, rather than catching or severe punishments.

That is btw the case with all forms of cheating, including breaking the law. Not many people will walk through a red crossing light when a police officer stands at the other side, but putting the death penalty on it might not be enough when the chance of being caught is zero.

Handing in telephones would I think not be a bad measure, as in order to cheat this would already mean careful planning in advance and less coincidental opportunity.

Once, I had a possibility to cheat: I was playing a opening variation that I couldn't remember, but I knew that in my scoresheet book, there was a game of myself playing that variation in an earlier game. I have to say that the temptation to look up that game was quite high.

elgransenor1's picture

why should the temptation be high at all? surely thats an indication that you don't consider cheating a serious matter? most of all when you cheat, you cheat yourself.

elgransenor1's picture

"But in fact, even if Bindrich had, in a weak moment, switched on his phone on the toilet and glanced at the position on his chess app, I’m not sure this would be any worse than discussing the position with friends or colleagues,"

I think discussing the game is wrong to a certain extent but in 99 percent of cases, it's done purely innocently, with no desire to gain an edge, which is completely different from inputting your current position into a computer, which however you like to dress it up is cheating pure and simple.

and as for armstrong are you serious when you say theres no need to drag him through the mud? the guy was a role model for millions, and used that fact to make a fortune for himself, while all along he was cheating on a sophisticated level hardly seen before in sport.

boardgame's picture

Sorry, but the remark that nobody asks how much Bindrich cheated is just nonsense. Everybody knows that a chess game can be decided by one simple idea. So how much is too much can hardly be answered. THAT, would be a total waste of energy, not preventing cheating in the first place.

Our world is based on trust. You don't need to have a contract for everything to enforce an agreement. Trust makes our whole society way more efficient! We need to protect those values.

Since it is totally infeasible to account for the degree of cheating in chess, there is no other way but to discourage people from cheating by punishing them and by stigmatizing cheaters.

PircAlert's picture

I think I know why the author goes a little bit soft on this cheater. It is not that everyone "cheats", that this cheater's cheating is understandable. But I think what he has in mind is the "greater good" cheating that goes on around the world that this "personal good" cheater looks angel in front of them!?? Now how can you throw a stone at him when you can approve the other cheating? But the common denominator in these sorts of cheating is Greed!

Anonymous's picture

Cheating happens in scientific research as well. They call it "fudging data". Global Warming is the best example of this. When the scandal was uncovered, they switched the name to "Climate Change". Everyone in the states laughs at how europeans are being "carbon taxed" based on the cars they drive. Such fools. "Climate Change" was really just a rationale for an air-tax.

boardgame's picture

And your point is... that cheating is taking place? Aha. Thank you for your contribution! USA! USA! ;-)

PircAlert's picture

I know. This is one of the things I had in mind when I said what I said before. But will you say that the spider was a fool to build a web at the bottom of the slide? The europeans probably were thinking of having a king's meal at the end of the day but the increasingly gasoline using poorer developing countries were not fool enough as it turned out to be. And hence the "uncovering" of the "open secret" scandal now? lol.

boardgame's picture

Let's talk about the presidential election or even better... "Sandy"! Oh,... this is a chess site. I almost forgot...

Tom Servo's picture

So there you have it folks, it is OK to cheat because lots of people speed on the highway. So take those steroids, use computers to play chess and do whatever else you have to do to win! Enjoy a life full of cheating without the guilt!

Tom Servo's picture

The author works in the banking industry! No wonder he has no problems with cheating!

barry 's picture

As for all the online 'houdini' cheats online....get a GF ffs and get a life! online chess is now DEAD and a waste of time ....sad times...

Carl's picture

No one thinks harshly about coaching staff and for that matter players who sit, talk through tactics, and revisit strategy sometime to plan a brand new strategy on the go in, say, ice hockey or baseball. This is such a common part of play that it is nothing strange. Are they cheating? If Bindrich was reviewing strategic lessons and so on, why is that so different? If he used a program to help him make a move he couldn't find, fine, he cheated and if this is true, forfeit him. But maybe that is not what happened.

Robin's picture

The author is obviously a troll seeing how preposterous he can be and be taken seriously. A bit of dry humor for the banker peering down his nose at his former serious interest.

AljechinsCat's picture

I would like to write more, but I´m actually preparing my new in-ear-headphones for the next game against Mr. Moll. We all cheat a little bit from time to time, you don´t mind, Arne.. ? :)

Thomas's picture

"nobody has so far asked the question: “Even if Bindrich cheated, did he cheat a lot or just a little bit?” "

I think at least one person (silently) asked that question: the arbiter. That's why Bindrich would have had the chance to continue the game IF the arbiter could have a casual look at his mobile phone and he then gives it to his team captain. After all, if cheating occurred it didn't (yet) influence the result of the game. BTW this assumes that the team captain doesn't cheat - using Bindrich's or his own mobile phone. No reason to suspect this as Hans Dekan reportedly has an excellent reputation (but so did Hauchard before the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk!?).

Arne Moll implicitly suggests to legalize cheating, like others suggested to legalize dopingin cycling and other sports. I would disagree if only (but not only) for a selfish reason: I am one of those persons who just has a simple mobile phone without software and Internet connection, and I tend to forget it at home.
But the criticism of Arne may be too harsh: his column is provocative, and I am not even sure if he really means what he writes.

Chris's picture

that what author is suggesting is to evaluate the prize of such a regulations which allows to interfere with your right to privacy

Guest's picture

I think Arnes column takes a welcome stand against moralizing. Dont get me wrong, I have been at the recieving end in at least 2 cases of cheating at the chess board, and I certainly didnt enjoy it at the time. But its not like the guys (chessplayers or Armstrong or whoever) killed anyone. Relax. Get a bit of perspective. I think thats Arnes point. Best wishes from a fellow (non-cheating) chessplayer.

Grobi's picture

I cannot believe that this ludicrous post made it to the frontpage of chessvibes which I always considered to be a voice of reason in political chess affairs.
What Arne Moll seems to advocate is, in fact, a culture of laissez-faire, of empathetic understanding and charity towards cheating in chess. But look what such a culture (besides corruption) has done to cycling! With respect to electronic cheating we need a policy of "zero tolerance" instead. In my eyes electronic cheating is the greatest threat to competitive chess in its whole history. Csaba is absolutely right: you cannot equate the widespead (but rarely helpful and always unreliable) talking to your teammates about ongoing games with it. Especially BECAUSE people tend to cheat a little if they don't see any risk in doing so we need very strong measures against electronic cheating.

chesshire cat's picture

Cheating stimulates the economy...soon all chess players will be buying the most expensive smartphones available..damn phones...pub table quizzes already dead..

redivivo's picture

I don't think Arne Moll is the only one to side with Bindrich in this case, and ask people to give him a break, but I find the arguments so baffling that they are hard to take serious. Not being allowed free access to engine help during games doesn't equal harassment and invasion of privacy. Why would the arbiters want to "harass" players without reason, and why should players see it as some kind of human right to have free access to engine help during tournament games? If this article isn't some kind of joke it is just an embarrassment to the site.

Stephen's picture

I like the article, it set out to provoke and judging by the comments achieved its aim completely !

In answer to one of Bindrich's specific points about not being aware of the rules etc. How about printing on the bottom of every scoresheet the specific rules about cheating/use of mobiles etc. like a "health warning" ? When you sign the scoresheet you are at the same time signing that you are aware of these rules.

redivivo's picture

It isn't hard to provoke, but imagine if it had been found out that Topalov had access to a chess engine in San Luis, where he had entered moves from the games, and refused to show it since "the rule of law had a higher value to him" and he considered it an invasion of his privacy to do it, and pointed out that not all his moves had been the best move etc.

I'm sure that anyone stating in an article that we should be cautious to accuse Topalov of anything, that we should give him a break, and that even if he cheated he maybe didn't cheat that much, and all people cheat once in a while so he shouldn't be punished etc, would provoke some readers.

Martas's picture

If you accept arguments of GM Bindrich, you would have to accept the same arguments from any other player and you can be sure at least one out of hundred players using these arguments in the same situation will be a cheater.
As the judge reported, he wanted only to check his handy to see if the current game was saved in his application. If GM Bindrich was allowed to assist during this check, then his arguments of being aware of private data are nonsense.
Comparing this to cycling it's the same as declining doping check after competition.

Harry's picture

Speeding is breaking a rule like, say, changing the positions of the chessmen while your opponent has gone to the WC (good luck!) Getting help from man or machine is a moral breach similar to, e.g., plagiarism. I'd say that explains the outrage that flows from the possible use of a Fritzed-smartphone, "backstage".

Robin's picture

I agree with Harry. I would add that it is hard for me to see how A.M.'s post can be seriously intended. It is just not thoughtful enough. There is a reason that doping and getting electronic help have to be done out of the sight of others. Because they are truly immoral in a competitive context where you have agreed to participate under a set of rules that excludes them.

This article is really pitiful.

Frans's picture

I think an important point is missed in this article.
The whole point is that electronic devices are in play (both wit Bindrich and with Feller), that is what the author misses.
The alleged cheating by Bindrich causes harm to the imago of out noble game, because all kind of media immediately jump on the case. Consequently the neutral reader who is not an active player him/herself has yet another proof that chess is dead and cracked. That's what makes these cases like Bindrich and Feller etc. so harmful. That is also why, I think, Bindrich had a moral duty to hand over his handy. (Especially when he was not guilty!)
All this can ofcourse not be compared with talking about the position during a game, because these kinds of actions never will make headlines.
The world outside is waiting for the message that chess is no longer a mystic game, and that it's cracked. Cases like Bindrich and Feller helps them to justify this image.

Sarunas's picture

The core problem with such miserable articles is low author's competence. Why should I, reading his short bio, suggest he loves or cares chess at all? How many years ago has he played his last tournament game with clock and moves recording?
As he feels entitled to recklessly and as has been many times pointed out in posts provocatively advocate cheating in chess, may I suggest that all that stems from his earlier unsuccessful acquaintance with royal game? If I was allowed to carry on, I would speculate that as his past games showed him all his shortcomings of character,ineptitude and general helplessness in chess by his numerous defeats, he hates chess ever since and wishes death to the game by hypocritical articles, defending cheating and turning demons into angels.

Aditya's picture

Usage of an engine in this day is akin to coming to a judo match with a sword. If Bindrich did it, he is guilty as hell. Perhaps the author wants to point out that the audience generalizes rule-breaking in one big evil category. I don't think they do that. Bindrich was clearly told that he would be acquitted if ample evidence was not found on the phone. If he had data he did not want the arbiter to see, they should have agreed upon a common person to examine the phone.

Secondly, the author himself then proceeds to generalize all rules in one big casual category. Not all rules are the same and depend on circumstances. As one person pointed out, the ones that harm others must be taken quite seriously. If one speeds a little, it might be pardonable. If one speeds a little in a residential area and hits someone, it is a big offence. You must be responsible enough to understand when the flouting can be dangerous. If this article was written for the no tolerance rule for delays then it would make sense. Quoting Asimov here "Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right" :)

Axel Müller's picture

Nicely put.

Coco Loco's picture

Wow, I am awed by the great morality of Chessvibes posters! People who never cheat, saints, really... I can only hope to electronically imbibe some of your moral purity! I was also reminded of a study in which the average academic was found to be 90% more successful than his/her peers.
Arne's morally repugnant points:
1. the prevailing holier-than-thou attitude is stupid and not helpful;
2. punishment should be commensurate with the crime.

redivivo's picture

You don't have to be a saint to think that players shouldn't have free access to chess engines during games, I don't even understand how that can be turned into some sort of holier-than-thou attitude discussion.

Bartleby's picture

There's no point to condemn Bindrich as a human being. He may just have checked his preparation on the loo, like so many did since the invention of written notes. But there is a bigger concern: Competitive chess becomes ridiculous when the isolated cases we have now grow into a general perception that ambitious chess players use electronic assistance during the game. When team captains expect from you to do it like everybody else. I would prefer not to let it grow.

Martas's picture

Punishment should be commensurate with crime but it should also depend on possibilities proving the crime.
Income from cheating times probability of catching cheater should be always smaller then potential loss caused by punishment. Otherwise you end up in a system, where cheating pays off.

Matt Phelps's picture

Let's not forget that Bindrich was forfeited for not producing his phone for examination, which is an explicit rule in the Bundesliga (and a good one in my opinion). It doesn't matter if he cheated or not, he broke a rule that had consequences, end of argument.

I personally think anyone who consults a computer during play should be banned for life. Chess is a contest between two people; if you need help from an iPhone, you shouldn't be playing.


RealityCheck's picture

Bindrich, along with Feller, Carlsen, and Kasparov should all be required to watch the entire American Western Series "The Rifleman". The focus being on Luke and Mark's dialog.

This will help 'em clean up their act. If it don't, they should be permantly expelled from the chess fraternity.
I say, zero tolerance for cheating! Help from the side-lines in any shape or form must be punished.

Robin's picture

Bindrich has nothing to complain about. Leave the cell at home or produce it when asked as the rules proscribe. Participation in the event is your option.

Do you really need a mobile for something during your game? I suggest not, but if you do, and if in addition you get the willies when an arbiter opens your phone, then events with these rules are perhaps not for you.

It is ironic that his strict moral compunction has caused Bindrich to appear to be such a cheat.

steve's picture

Seems like the logical consequence of this article that no one can be held accountable for their actions by others, because "others", being human, engage in similar behavior. Fortunately, the world doesn't work this way. Bindrich agreed to play, perhaps implicitly, according to the rules regarding cheating. I.e., fork over cell phone if you are suspected of cheating. If he doesn't like the rule, don't play in the tournament.

PircAlert's picture

What a safe way of cheating! Cheat and when you are about to get caught, take cover under invasion of privacy. Oh, you might even get to enjoy the support from a good number of "law abiding" people of this planet! And may think "Bindrich is Brilliant!". lol

Tom Servo's picture

One of the sad truths of this world is that bad behavior is often rewarded. In business, in politics, in war, in the games we play, and even in our relationships. When I realize this, it makes me want to give up on being a good person. :(


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