Sunday, 11 February 2007

Lies, Damned Lies and Chess Accusations

Chess websites across the internet are abuzz again with the latest cheating accusations. The Russian newspaper, Kommersant has published a video from an anonymous Dutch chess fan recorded at the recent Wijk Aan Zee tournament.

It purports to show Veselin Topalov's manager Silvio Danailov signalling to him during a game at the tournament. Danailov then exits the room, taking his mobile phone out of his pocket whilst leaving. The full video is shown below.

What you see when watching the video depends on your point of view. If you are suspicious and believe that Topalov may be cheating it is easy to imagine that Danailov's movements with his hand against his face and neck are signals which Topalov can decode and use to help him at critical stages of the game. Otherwise, there is nothing inherently suspicious about his gestures, although his haste to use his mobile phone (which he takes out of his jacket as he leaves), if repeated frequently, certainly would be cause for concern.

Some people seem to regard this as the smoking gun which shows that Topalov is cheating. Others that it is simply a smear campaign by Kramnik's Russian comrades. Both sides are becoming increasingly vocal and dirty with their off-board tactics as they try to persuade the chess world of their case, but the truth is unlikely to ever be clear since the evidence from both sides is circumstantial.

The real lesson from the recent allegations against Kramnik and Topalov, apart from the fact that all people, great chessplayers included, can be a paranoid bunch is that the chess authorities have to take urgent steps to ensure that big-money chess events are secure enough to ensure that cheating is not possible. Another necessary step, as noted by John Saunders at his British Chess Magazine Blog is the creation of a strong disciplinary system which will be an effective deterrent to anyone foolish enough to want to try to use a computer to assist them during a game.

I can't watch any great performance in track and field athletics these days without being suspicious that the athlete involved may have used drugs to enhance his or her performance. Let's grab the chess computer cheating issue by the scruff of the neck and ensure that computers don't ruin chess in a similar way.


Tom said...

Judging from page 17 of the latest 'New In Chess', in Topalov's opinion the person who filmed this is in fact Frederic Friedel.

SonofPearl said...

Interesting opinion! :)