16 figures, 64 fields and several hundred million players who can carry out 10120 games. Chess, contrary to stereotypes, is an exciting sport. They require outstanding intellectual ability and cunning, so fighting unfair competition is a difficult challenge. Tournaments are sometimes better secured than airports, and participants are subjected to meticulous scrutiny. How do chess players cheat? Discover the spy accessories they use!
Electronic doping in chess
Even the best player does not analyze chess positions as quickly as artificial intelligence algorithms. Back in 1996, Deep Blue’s computer system defeated world champion Garry Kasparov. Since then, we have made a technological milestone in the field of IT. Chess software and miniaturized power tools are widely available, and cheating is easier than ever. The average iPhone can accomplish what Deep Blue can.
Spy accessories to cheat in chess
Cheating in chess is as old a practice as the game itself. Its forms, however, are changing. Until recently, collusion, that is, intentionally drawing or losing during a tournament to help other team members, prevailed.
With the dawn of the smartphone era, or even a while before, texting and sending coded moves in the form of phone numbers came into practice. Over time, players also implemented other technological solutions, including modern spy gadgets.
Bluetooth transmitter in a cap
In 2006, Indian chess player Umakanth Sharma was disqualified for 10 years for unfair competition. The mediocre player, who had so far maintained a steady ranking, had been gaining ranking points in no time for several months. A series of spectacular victories and promotion to the national championship aroused the suspicions of his rivals.
The climax came at the Air Marshal Subroto Fide ranking tournament in Delhi, when Umakanth was inspected with a hand-held metal detector. A search revealed a miniature device that connected via Bluetooth to the computer program Pocet Fritz. Interestingly, the transmitter was sewn into a cap. The man always pulled it over his ears while playing.
Mini camera in a pendant
In 2015, Italian chess player Arcangelo Ricciardi, improved a 19th century invention technologically. He used the Morse alphabet and a spy pendant with a hidden mini-camera to communicate with an accomplice during the Imperia chess festival.
This, as in the previous case, the arbiter discovered the device, thanks to a metal detector, and excluded the participant from further participation in the games. Ricciardi himself did not admit to the fraud, and called his pendant a mere good luck charm.
Dictaphone in earplugs
A year later, Stein Tholo Bjørnsen, 52, was caught cheating while playing with a 9-year-old girl. The girl’s father became suspicious of his opponent’s honesty when he noticed that the man often put his left hand to his ear.
The rivalry was stopped after 15 moves. As it turned out, the man was using a Bluetooth micro handset to receive and transmit signals. He tried to hide his device, but it was too late.
The Norwegian Chess Federation did not remain passive. Bjørnsen, as its first ever, was banned from the national competition for life. After all, it’s worth mentioning that just two months earlier he had finished serving a two-year disqualification sentence for other chess offenses.
Radio transmitter in anal beads
The most famous affair, however, was caused by Hans Niemann in 2022. The 19-year-old, who defeated five-time world champion Magnus Carlsen, moved up the rankings faster than anyone else. A display of genius or brilliant cheating?
Chess.com took a look at the teenager and questioned his integrity in more than 100 games. Elon Musk, on the other hand, accused Hans of using vibrating anal beads while playing. These, with the cooperation of a third party, would send signals to the player suggesting his next moves.
Niemann denied it and declared the possibility of playing another game naked (as Robert Bellin did in 1976). The referee also did not confirm the reports, but the organizers said they would introduce additional preventive measures, including RF frequency scanners.
International Chess Commission position
The International Chess Commission (FIDE) constantly monitors the behavior of chess players. It includes the FIDE/AKP Anti-Fraud Committee and the FIDE Fair Play Commission. Both organizations aim to prevent fraud, violations of ethical standards and unfair competition.
They create a safe environment for players, focusing primarily on effective preventive measures. Each subsequent scandal or legal proceeding causes image damage and obscures the essence of chess competition.
Moreover, seeking justice itself is not the easiest thing to do. In the words of referee David Hayter, “there must be a 99.998% probability that [a player – editor’s note] cheated in order for FIDE to consider that a fair play violation has occurred.”
Ways to prevent and detect cheating in chess
So how are chess tournaments secured? FIDE’s president declares that the organization is strengthening analytical tools, checking participants with scanners and spy device detectors at official events, and training referees.
After the Carlsen and Niemann chess scandal, additional security measures began to be applied, broadcasting games on a 15-minute delay and playing without an audience.
For example, at the WR Chess Masters in Dusseldorf, Germany, organizers additionally introduced a magnet inspection of participants’ ears. This one was supposed to reveal hidden miniature devices for communicating with accomplices.
Those involved in the subject themselves also suggest electromagnetic signal interference within the game room, although this is not legal in every country, medical examinations and personal checks. In other sports checks, organizers test players for doping, so why not apply such measures to chess players?
Chess anti-cheating tools on offer
Detective Store offers professional tools for detecting spy devices, which will prove useful in securing chess tournaments against cheating.
One of them is the Garrett Super Scanner V handheld metal detector – a product of a renowned manufacturer (its offerings are used by controllers at official FIDE tournaments). This model is distinguished by unrivaled sensitivity. It detects a gun from 25 cm, a knife from 15 cm, and a razor blade from 7.5 cm. It eliminates interference from other devices and self-calibrates.
Also from Garret, our store offers a professional metal detection gate. The device offers up to 33 detection zones. It eliminates neutral objects (e.g. keys), making it possible to scan many people in a short time. So, while a handheld detector will work well for controlling tournament participants, the gate will take care of the integrity of spectators and guests.
And for major chess competitions, including the Olympics and individual championships, Spy Shop offers the CELLSENSE® ULTRA with XACT ID™ technology. The intelligent detection system analyzes data from millions of screenings. It detects dangerous items and electronic devices, of any size, hidden under clothing or in body cavities.
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Chess players’ scams and how to fight them – FAQ
Learn the answers to the most frequently asked questions!
What is cheating in chess?
Initially, players resorted to colluding before the tournament and communicating via Morse code already during the competition. Chess cheating methods, however, have evolved with advances in technology. Today, dishonest players use professional spy devices such as mini-dictaphones, transmitters or cameras hidden in everyday objects. These allow them to stay in touch with an accomplice or connect to computer chess programs.
Who has been caught cheating at chess?
Among those who have been caught cheating in chess are Umakanth Sharma, Arcangelo Ricciardi, Stein Tholo Bjørnsen and Hans Niemann.
How does Niemann cheat?
Niemann has been accused by Musk of cheating at chess using anal balls, but there is no evidence of this.
How do you detect cheating while playing chess?
Chess cheaters are deconfirmed by metal detectors, electrical devices and radio signals. In the case of online games, fair competition is supervised by analytical programs that compare players’ moves with suggestions from chess programs.