Remember the anal bead cheating controversy? As much as I’d like to forget, it turns out a lot of people still think about it. Some chess players have reported an increase in computer-aided cheating Chess.com matches since the Hans Niemann story broke. One player referred to the recent increase in cheaters as the “Hans Effect”.
Two weeks ago, there was a high profile controversy that shook the chess world. World champion Magnus Carlsen unexpectedly lost to grandmaster Hans Niemann, and Carlsen later withdrew from the tournament. Both his sudden exit and the difference in level were so drastic that viewers began to accuse Niemann of cheating. Chess streamer Hikaru “GMHikaru” Nakamura pointed out that Niemann previously admitted to cheating chess.com as a youngster, hence the current controversy.
Since the competitors played live, it is difficult to pinpoint a possible cheating method (One extraordinary theory involves anal beads). But you don’t require any… uh… special equipment to cheat online chess matches, and Chess.com players who participate in online matchmaking are increasingly convinced that more and more people are cheating.
If you are looking for interest in “how to cheat at chess”. Google Trends, you will see a significant increase in interest in the weeks following the famous chess match, the number of searches doubling during the month compared to the rest of the year. Clearly, whatever really happens during matches, the topic is on people’s minds.
This is somewhat consequential for Chess.com users because they can lose more points for losing matches against an inferior player (in one case, Chess.com redeemed points to a player who lost in a suspicious match). my box reached Chess.com to ask if there is a noticeable increase in cheating, and what measures their monitors are taking to ensure fair games.
How do chess players tell when someone is cheating? Several players posted to Reddit saying that their opponent suddenly improved dramatically in the middle of a game.
Said Kajo_Z, “I’ve had so many games recently in blitz online where the opponent is obviously cheating because the Hans stuff has caught on. I have been banned like 3 people in the last 2 days. Ridiculous.”
i_chose_name discussed how players would do poorly, then come back for a perfect win, adding, “And 3 days later you get that email from chess.com and you get your points back.”
“What hurts the most,” says soghff“it’s when you have a better position or your opponent makes a pawn or piece mistake, then proceeds to take 2-4 minutes “thinking”, then suddenly starts playing perfect motor moves after 5 seconds of thinking about each move. Like are you really that undisciplined and helpless?”
Another felt it was suspicious if someone took the same amount of time at every move. But the vast majority of victims checked their opponent’s game history. Several perfect matches in a row was enough to trigger red flags for one player. Another noticed that their opponent was only losing against new accounts.
On the other hand, some players say they have been unfairly accused of cheating. One Reddit user was accused of cheating because their opponent made an early move wrong. Another mentioned that people had accused them in other games after they have reached a “flow state”.
Several cheaters were just upset that the newbies were cheating so badly. “Everyone cheats online,” said one player. “The only difference is that some are smart tricksters and some are dumb tricksters.”
Are they just imagining it or is it actually happening? While every instance may not be an actual hoaxer, there is plenty of evidence that hoaxes do happen. Scroll.in reported this morning on the rise in apparent cheating, speaking to Grandmaster RB Ramesh. “It’s widely accepted that many indulge in online cheating,” he told the outlet, “especially at the younger level where the stakes aren’t high.” He goes on to say that during the Covid lockdowns, online gaming has become more common, with large cash prizes, adding, “As a result, what’s happening is even some professional players, not many, some professional players are indulging in it. So this is becoming a big deal .”
Chess.com himself tackled cheating yesterday, starting with the statement, “Cheating is the dirty not-so-secret of chess.” They go on to explain that they close an extraordinary 800 accounts a day for cheating, and that six percent of support tickets are related to the issue.
We contacted world-renowned expert on cheating at chess, Dr. Kenneth Regan of University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, to ask if he has observed a recent increase in allegations of cheating. “I haven’t heard of a spike among the general ranks of players,” he said my box, “but it doesn’t surprise me.” Apparently doubting the veracity of such a sting, he adds, “One thing that has been reinforced is all the pseudoscientific ways of doing fraud detection.”
In live play, cheating is still exceptionally marginal, explains the professor. “The previous player-in-tournament odds are variously quoted between 1-in-10,000 and 1-in-5,000 and that’s consistent with what I feel.” But he adds that this is dramatically higher online. “The former rate is 100x—200x higher, one percent to two percent, less in highly controlled high-level events but higher in scholastic events—for the latter, note Sarah Longson’s figure two years ago.”
Amazingly, Dr. Regan also linked us to a TEDx talk he gave in 2014, during which he “put the ways people have cheated up to that date in a personal chess set to a Dr. Seuss rhyme.” He then adds, “and actually forgot to deliver the couplet “Some had computers in their shoes / or hid them, in the loos”.
If nothing else, the wider chess scandal is undoubtedly bringing more high-profile cheaters to light, with Niemann’s Grandmaster trainer now also being accused of admitting that he once used AI to help him choose moves. And if the professionals probably do itpossibility is good average people could be tempted to cheattoo.
Additional reporting by John Walker.