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Blockade Chess Cheaters:
USCF Petition

The following petition, endorsed by a select group of U.S. tournament players and chess-world personalities (see names at the bottom of this page), was sent to the U.S. Chess Federation in late November, 2005. 

The federation never replied, although a two-paragraph synopsis of the petition that was sent separately to Chess Life was published as a Letter to the Editor in January, 2006.

Immediately below the Petition is an Appendix containing the complete text of two important policy documents issued by the now-defunct HB Foundation.  Those documents set forth playing-hall security and rating verification procedures employed at the 2005 HB Global Chess Challenge, which paid out $500,000 in prizes, a record for an open, public tournament.

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To whom it may concern:

Explicit cheating during chess games represents an emerging threat to the viability of mass-participation tournaments with large cash prizes. We believe it is imperative that the USCF, tournament organizers, and the chess world as a whole, start drawing up anti-cheating policies that will become widely accepted and can be put in place on a broad scale, before chess suffers its equivalent of baseball’s steroids scandal.

Recent incidents at two major US tournaments raise an alarm that chess authorities cannot afford to ignore. Even though the vast majority of players are honest, and cheating (defined here as a player receiving external help during a game) does not appear rampant in over-the-board competition as yet, there is little reason for comfort, as explained below.

At the HB Global Chess Challenge, a player in the Under-2000 section exited the event under suspicion of cheating, while his final-round game was under way. According to tournament officials, he was caught repeatedly talking on his cell phone during his game – which the published rules for that event expressly prohibited. Directors suspected that he was receiving moves over the phone from an accomplice elsewhere in the building. His results were expunged from the tournament and an ethics complaint lodged. (More details, including comments attributed to HB Global Chief TD Carol Jarecki, are available at: http://www.chessninja.com/dailydirt/2005/07/u2000_intrigue_at_hb.htm )

Six weeks later, the same player entered the World Open and tied for 1st-3rd in the Under-2200 section, pocketing a cool $5,833. An attempt was made to eject him midway through that event, when the organizers belatedly learned about the earlier incident in Minnesota. But, lacking any specific allegation that he was cheating in the World Open, they backtracked and re-admitted him after he threatened legal action.

It is absurd that someone who stands officially accused of violating the integrity of one major chess tournament, can simply try his luck again at the next big-money event. Even informal communication among tournament directors could prevent this kind of thing, by making it possible to turn away a problem entrant before a tournament begins. But apparently it’s every TD for himself or herself, when it comes to identifying a possible serial cheater and barring the door.

These events demonstrate a need for the tournament community to build defenses against cheating. Without coordinated action by organizers and the USCF leadership, we fear that dishonest individuals and groups within the chess world -- and perhaps even organized, professional criminals from outside the chess world -- will recognize the current system’s utter vulnerability as an invitation to swoop in and grab the low-hanging fruit of big-money class prizes. Even open section prizes may be on the hook, given the awesome strength of the latest chess-playing software.

To be sure, most tournament players do not cheat, and most prizes are won through honest effort. But such warm-and-fuzzy thoughts pale next to two economic realities: 1) Incentives drive behavior, and 2) In organized competitions, whether on Wall Street, spectator sports, or chess, the perception of a fair and level playing field is absolutely critical. If a sizable fraction of the chess-playing public begins to think cheaters have a leg up on winning top prize money, many participants will vote with their feet. If that happens, the big-time tournament scene will be finished, for honest players, prize-thieves, and TDs alike.

Which way do the incentives point at major chess competitions? A successful cheater can walk away from a single event with $10,000 or more. Under current conditions, the odds of being caught are near zero. Worse yet, when a cheater is caught, there are no consequences, as the HB incident demonstrates. This balance between rewards and risks is tailor-made to motivate more people to cheat.

To head off the danger, organizers of large-scale tournaments need to join forces by:

  • Agreeing on and publishing strong rules (discussed below) and penalties for violators;
  • Enforcing such rules and penalties systematically and consistently,
  • Sharing information about documented cheating incidents, and
  • Pooling resources for self-defense when cheaters counterattack using lawsuits or other means.

Most important of all, the USCF needs to be in the organizers' corner, to spearhead the development and implementation of a nationwide (and worldwide) anti-cheating program. The USCF is the main resource that individual directors look to for policy guidance, practical assistance, and moral support, when grappling with issues that affect the chess world at large.

Solutions won’t be easy. For one thing, it is costly to hire a large directing staff to monitor all players at a mass event. Without adequate monitoring, there can be no meaningful enforcement, and having rules that aren’t consistently enforced is worse than having no rules at all.

We believe that by bringing the problem out in the open and airing a range of possible remedies, the best answers will ultimately emerge.

A good start is the rules that were announced for the HB Global Chess Challenge – the richest and best-publicized chess tournament ever held in this country. Those rules included an absolute ban on players or spectators talking to anyone during play, and a ban on using cell phones or any other electronic device during play without the expressed permission of a TD.

To deter violations, the HB event had an impressively large squad of TDs scattered throughout the huge playing hall; even keeping an eye on bathrooms situated within and just outside the playing hall. (For the complete HB policies, see the "Appendix" on this page, below.)

Many organizers may find it impractical to saturate playing areas with paid TDs to discourage cheating. A less costly alternative might utilize volunteer monitors recruited through local chess clubs, who could perhaps be awarded merchandise credits or other soft-money compensation.

Also, TDs could take steps to encourage tournament participants to be their eyes and ears. Although participants obviously will focus on their own games, their role as potential witnesses is already well recognized in current directing practice, which relies almost exclusively on player complaints and player witnesses to resolve disputes over such things as time forfeit claims, touch-move violations, and consultation accusations.

Whatever rules may be in force at a particular event, the consequences for egregious violations must be made severe enough to be a credible deterrent. It is easy to imagine situations where forfeiting a game or being tossed out of a tournament does not meet this test. Efforts should be made to encourage TDs to share information so they can lock out repeat cheaters. The USCF would be the logical clearinghouse for this.

Yet in some instances, even the risk of being banned from future tournaments might not be enough of a deterrent. In those cases, criminal prosecution may be the only answer. Criminal fraud or grand larceny statutes would very likely apply when someone is caught trying to appropriate a $20,000 class prize by fraudulent means.

Some have suggested that large class prizes are part of the problem, and should be scaled back or eliminated. We believe that such proposals are unrealistic. Without the lure of big class prizes, tournaments would attract far fewer entries, which means more risk for the organizer who foots the bill, and ironically, smaller prizes for even the pros, since amateurs’ entry fees make up the bulk of overall prize funds at non-invitational events.

There is much to be considered and debated about rules and penalties to deter cheating, enforcement costs and how they are best apportioned, and how much reliance should be placed on technical means (such as metal detectors to keep out cell phones).

We hope this letter will initiate a public dialogue, and thus start the ball rolling toward an eventual solution.

Sincerely,

Craig Gross (amateur competitor)

Jon Jacobs (amateur competitor)

Dr. Danny Kopec (chess educator, author, IM)

Peter Minear (amateur competitor)

Travis Patay (amateur competitor)

Andy Soltis (author, Chess Life columnist, GM)

___________________________________________________________

APPENDIX:   Policies used at the                                HB GLOBAL CHESS CHALLENGE   (Minneapolis, May 2005)

(The text that follows was copied from cached versions of two separate documents published by the HB Foundation for the HB Global Chess Challenge. The first document is labeled "1. Tournament Policies".  The second document is labeled "2. Security & Ratings Policy".  

Those policies were published continuously on the HB Foundation's Web site from early 2005 through late November, 2005, when the site shut down. Since the URLs for all HB Foundation pages have become inactive, the cached documents are provided here in lieu of a link to the HB Foundation page that appeared within our "Blockade Chess Cheaters" petition sent to the USCF in 2005. Every effort has been made to assure that the documents stored here match the actual policies in place at the time the HB Global Chess Challenge took place in May, 2005.)

 1. TOURNAMENT POLICIES

OVERALL MISSION: To provide for the highest quality chess tournament that is orderly and enjoyable for all, one that creates a playing atmosphere which allows the players to concentrate without distraction and that places a high premium on preventing cheating.

PLAYING ROOMS:

  • There will be a rule of Silence in the playing hall
  • No food or opening of food wrappings allowed at the tables. No alcoholic beverages will be allowed in the tournament room.
  • Players must adjourn to skittles rooms immediately after the game is completed. No post mortems in playing hall
  • Spectators in playing rooms must be silent and will to be monitored by the tournament staff..
  •  

NO ELECTRONIC DEVICES OF ANY KIND:

  • No player may use or wear any type of electronic or digital device, phone, blackberry, PDA, computer, ear-piece, headset, communications device, microphone, speaker or the like while playing without the expressed permission of a TD (doctors on call included). The penalty for such use is forfeiture of the round, and an immediate investigation into the nature of the use will be done to determine if dismissal from the tournament is warranted.
  • If a player’s cell phone goes off during the round, that player will lose ten minutes off his/her clock. If it occurs again, the game will be forfeited.

SPECTATOR RULES

  • Spectators will be allowed only in a specially cordoned off area running down the middle of the tournament room. No spectators will be allowed inside the area where players are competing.
  • Spectators are not allowed to speak to players, or vice versa, while games are in progress.
  • There will be clear signs warning spectators to turn off their cell phone ringers. Any spectator whose phone goes off in the playing hall will be obliged to leave immediately.
  • Spectators are not allowed to bring beverages into the playing area.
  • Spectators are not allowed in the "player’s only" bathroom.

The tournament staff retains the right to expel from the tournament room any spectator who does not comply with the rules or is disturbing the tournament in any way.

CHECK-IN PROCEDURES:

  • Before the beginning of the tournament, all players should check in at the registration desk to confirm their arrival at the event. Players will receive a packet with information relevant to the tournament.
  • All players must bring a copy of proof of ID to personally present at the tournament registration desk. This should occur before the beginning of the first round but, in any case, must be done during the first day of the tournament. This may be a copy of a driver’s license, passport, student ID or birth certificate (in case of a minor). This record is to assure other players and the staff of the identity of all players.

BATHROOM PROCEDURES:

  • Monitors will be stationed in the players' bathrooms as well as outside the entrance to each bathroom.
  • There will be one bathroom for male players and one for female players in the playing hall. No spectators will be permitted into these bathrooms.
  • All non-player bathrooms in the close vicinity of the tournament hall will be monitored by the tournament staff.

PLAYER BEHAVIOR:

  • Players are not allowed to talk to spectators or other players during tournament play

PLAYER ATTIRE

In the interest of presenting the best possible image of chess to the public, the organizers strongly request that players dress in casual business attire at a minimum (slacks, shirt, and jacket). For those choosing not to do so for the entire tournament, then we ask that they wear a collared shirt (polo shirts allowed). We strongly urge players not to wear tank tops, shorts, or old T-shirts while playing. We wish players to be as comfortable as possible while still presenting a proper face to the public.

NO EARLY DRAW RULE

The No Early Draw Rule implemented in the Open section of the HB Global Chess Challenge is based on a simple concept: fans wish to see real chess games. We, the organizers, believe that the true spirit of chess competition is well served when this principle is adhered to. Anything else makes a travesty of our wonderful game, and completely disrespects the viewing public. With those considerations in mind, we require that players sign off on the following rules in order to play in this event. Our promise is that these dictums will be applied in a fair and consistent manner, with the stamp of the leadership of Generation Chess as well as the three decades of experience of the head tournament director, Carol Jarecki.

The penalties for breaking the following rules may be:

  1. Forfeiture of game
  2. Offending player will be ineligible to win a prize
  3. Players may be banned from playing in future events

THE RULES

  1. No game in the Open Section of the HB Global Chess Challenge may be agreed drawn by the two players prior to Black having completed his/her 30th move. This means that the players must play to at least the end of the first time control, which is 30 moves in 90 minutes.
  2. If there is a situation where the two players believe that a draw must be agreed to, then only the player who wishes to accept the draw may stop clocks and request the assistance of the tournament director. The TD will then objectively decide whether or not it is appropriate to agree to a draw or whether the players must play on until move 30.
  3. Having an "objectively" drawn or equal position does NOT allow you to agree to a draw. If this is the case, then you must play until at least move 30.
  4. The TD can deem that players are not making a serious effort to play a real game. For example, some unacceptable situations would be:
    1. If two players on the top boards make a quick draw using some well known theoretical opening that forces a three-fold repetition.
    2. If the two players play an intentionally lifeless opening with the object of steering the game towards a dead draw as soon as possible. For example, playing the exchange French defense and immediately trading off all the pieces is not acceptable
    3. Continuous repetitions in order to get to the time control will be considered an infraction of the rules.
  5. If the TD is unable to decide if a given situation clearly breaks the rules, he/she will consult with the chief organizer (GM Maurice Ashley) or a qualified representative. The decision reached by this body will be final.
  6. The organizers understand that there are situations that occur in which a draw has to be agreed to before move 30. These situations are rare but they do occur, and if we determine that a serious effort was made in playing the game, we do have the authority to allow a draw. We will not be forcing a player to walk into checkmate or lose a pawn to avoid a draw. However understand that these situations are very rare, and should not occur often.
  7. In situations where an infraction is strongly suspected but impossible to penalize, the organizers reserve the right to prevent the players from playing in the future events. This decision is subject to written appeal.
  8. Irregular pairings may be used if the Chief Tournament Director believes they are warranted

The organizers wish to express our appreciation for players agreeing and accepting these rules. Understand that we are not asking players to go all out to win and thereby risk losing. Our sole intention is to respect our sponsor, fans and chess by attempting to get rid of early agreed draws. It is our privileged intention to make the event as enjoyable and as rewarding experience as possible for all the participants as well as for the thousands of fans who will be following the event. Your signature establishes your full understanding of these rules and your agreement to comply with them in play and in spirit.

2. Ratings & Security Policy

The organizers of the HB Global Chess Challenge wish to ensure, to the maximum level we are capable, that this historic tournament is handled in a way that guarantees the maximum fairness to all participants. While we believe that 99% of all chess players are honorable competitors, we are well aware there is a small minority who do not put a premium on fair play. Because of this unfortunate reality, we are instituting a strong ratings policy to counter sandbaggers and cheaters. This will work in concert with our Security Policy, which together should cover most of the circumstances that may arise.

Cheating: Zero Tolerance Policy

On-site security will be very tight at the tournament. Any player who is proven to be cheating by using electronic devices or computers, talking to anyone without permission from a TD, speaking in a different language to anyone while that person's game is in progress, making unusually frequent or lengthy trips away from the board or any method of illegally exploiting the system will be kicked out of the tournament and no longer allowed to play in any future HB or Generation Chess events. There will be no refund of entry fees.

USCF Ratings Alert:

To prevent sandbagging, the tournament will use each players' highest published rating between October 1, 2004 and April 2005. Also, the Tournament Director reserves the right to use CCA ratings, which are fair assessments based on Continental Chess Tournaments held by premier organizer Bill Goichberg over the last 30 years.

Players With Multiple Ratings:

The tournament will use players' highest rating on any official rating list, including any added-on points, for pairing and prize purposes. This includes FIDE, USCF, BCF, CFC etc.

For Players With:

„h FIDE ratings -100 points will be added

„h Bermuda, Canada (other than Quebec), Jamaica - no change

„h Quebec (FQE) -100 points added

„h England - x8 + 700

„h German Ingo - x8, that result subtracted from 2940 (the lower the Ingo the stronger the player)

„h Other national ratings with confirmation from national website or official federation - 200 points added

„h Non-verified foreign ratings- director will assign a rating that, in most cases, will not be less than 2200

Important Rating Policy Update

Players who have an established USCF rating, or comparable, i.e. those for which no points are added, may be allowed to use that rating, even if they have a FIDE rating as well. For instance, there are many players who have an active national rating (especially USCF players, where the rating history can be checked easily) and also a FIDE rating earned through primarily US tournaments. The FIDE rating is often a bit lower, or nearly the same as the USCF rating. Often the FIDE rating is outdated or based on a few games which would not reflect a player¡¦s true rating strength if the standard USCF formula of FIDE rating + 100 points were used. In the spirit of fairness and to remain consistent with the principle at the heart of the HB Global Chess Challenge¡¦s policy, the Chief TD reserves the right to make a final decision regarding which rating will be used. This decision will be made after a complete and thorough check of the player¡¦s rating history has been done. If there is any doubt or lack of information, the standard formula will apply.

Foreign Players:

Foreign players must provide proof of their rating in the last year in order to play in sections other than the Open or Unrated. No player will be allowed to play in any class section without a rating (provisional ratings do not count). Rating equivalents will be used.

Players should confirm their section before committing their travel plans. No refunds (other than entry fees) will be given to players who disagree with the Chief Tournament Director's decision as to which section they will be assigned. Traveling players who plan to register at the tournament should be forewarned that they may end up playing a section that they did not anticipate. The best policy is to register well in advance so that you may be notified very early on of the Chief TD's decision.

Provisional Ratings:

Players with Provisional Ratings will have to play in either the Open or Unrated section (no exceptions).

In order to be considered as having a standard USCF non-provisional rating, you must show proof to the Tournament Director of having played 25 USCF Rated Tournament games. This applies in cases where a player has played the required number of games before April 1, can show the cross tables, but the USCF has not yet managed to rate the games.


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