Trevor Noah, the host of Daily Show included it in his routine, this business of cheating at chess. World champion Magnus Carlsen pulled out of a tournament after losing and later in another he resigned after just one move. The conclusion was (although he didn’t say it, tweeting instead a clip of Jose Mourinho saying “If I speak I am in big trouble”): he thought his opponent on both occasions, the American Hans Niemann, 19, was cheating.
What caught Noah’s attention was the manner in which Niemann apparently did so: by using anal beads. No, I don’t know either. No one has got to the bottom of the matter yet.
In the first instance, Carlsen pulled out after losing and refused to accept the explanation you or I would have arrived at: that Niemann played better. It is a bit unfair on the teenager, although he has admitted to cheating when very young. But he is clean now, he says, even offering to play naked to prove his point (and doubtless giving Noah more material for future shows). The anal beads theory, by the way, was put out by Elon Musk, so you can take it or leave it.
I can understand cheating when playing online (players have been caught using computers to help), but over the board? It can happen, insist experts, pointing out that three French players were found cheating — involving the Internet and a system of signals — at the 2010 Chess Olympiad. A Latvian player was banned after being caught in the toilet looking up moves in a phone he had hidden in the toilet rather in the manner that Michael Carleone had hidden the gun used to kill the police chief in The Godfather, one presumes.
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Cheating in sport is not unusual. The most common form it takes is in the use of drugs. Occasionally it involves rigged equipment. And of course there is Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal where the great footballer scored a goal in the World Cup with his hand as seen by millions across the world on TV, but out of the visual range of the man who mattered — the referee.
But cheating in chess is rarer. In the Michael Caine film Funeral in Berlin, Col. Stok asks Harry Palmer, the character played by Caine: “Do you play chess?” and receives the reply, “Yes, but I prefer a game with a better chance of cheating.”
A man who will take back a move at chess will pick a pocket. I can’t remember who said that, but there is something here akin to cheating at golf, which for some reason is seen as the most heinous of crimes. Bill Clinton was forgiven because he merely cheated on his wife; had he cheated in golf, there would have been no forgiveness.
With computers getting more sophisticated, cheating in chess will get more sophisticated too. FIDE will have to fight with sophisticated detection. There’s nothing like a good scandal to create greater awareness for a sport!