Alleged chess cheat can't be beat

Is it possible for someone's chess ability to leap, suddenly, from mundane mastership to world-beating? Many are convinced that Bulgarian player Ivanov Borislav is cheating—but they cannot figure out how. They can, however, figure out which computer program makes the same moves.


  1. Is it possible he decompiled the code for the program, and figured out how to run it in his head? Maybe with some optimisation thrown in to compensate for the slower hardware?

    1. Probably not.  AI approaches to chess tend to be very different from human approaches to chess, relying upon the ability to map out every possible combination of moves for the next 10+ rounds of the game.  Even a savant couldn’t evaluate that many positions – but the human brain is (for now) better at the kind of pattern recognition that allows us to immediately trim down the possibility tree and rule out certain moves.

      1. I’ve been reading a bunch of linked articles, and the behavior does appear to be linked both to a computer program and the need for an internet connection. He fared poorly in a situation where a computer would, and when they stopped broadcasting live via the Web. Could be a shoe computer he toe-taps moves into and receives responses back. Cellphones on a data plan could power the whole thing.

  2. So they broadcast the games live on the Internet? He wouldn’t even need a computer on site – just a means of receiving Morse code. Visual, tactile, earpiece, whatever. 

    “Everybody wants to know what I’m on. What am I on? I’m on my myke, busting my ass six hours a day. What are YOU on?” ~ Lance Armstrong

    1. “I’m on my myke, busting my [rhymes] six hours a day.”

      Didn’t know Armstrong practiced freestyle.

  3. The only reason the computer was banned from the competition in the first place was the UNFAIR, RACIST and ILLOGICAL  prejudice against non-human players. If the computer is better than a human, let it compete. And that goes for the Olympics and cycling too, drug cheats would be over if the tour de France got with the 20th century and allowed the riders to have motorcycles. Who wants to do all that peddling up and down mountains?

    Chess is obviously over as a competition sport. Its kind of boring anyway. At a certain point the only way to advance is to learn a bazillion openings by heart. Tedious!

    So lets replace them with an international chess cheating championship in which cheating is  allowed but you get disqualified if you are caught. So the competition would become finding the most ingenious ways to hide your computer backup.

    1. and the winner would be the one who figured out how to hack into his opponents machines, disable them, and then just play well enough on his own to win. Or her own.

    2. That could be a really fun game mechanic for a board or card game.  A game where the only way to win is to cheat, and where you get penalized for being caught and rewarded for catching other players.  Yes, you can frame other players for things they didn’t do.  When you catch another player you get to say, “You cheating bastard!”  That’s also the name of the game.

        1. Yes, but the trouble with cycling is that competitors still have the chance to use teamwork and other so-called “legitimate” means to win the race.  This is a distraction from the core gameplay mechanics of bribery and character assassination.

          In, “You cheating bastard!” we have done away with the unnecessary pretense of having a game where players may be able to enact strategies that are not underhanded.

          1. One idea would be to have some cards be contraband. If a player can make it to the end of the game without being caught holding contraband then the contraband is worth points. If a player gets caught with contraband, he is a cheating bastard and he should feel bad.

            Other cards would be action cards. For example: “Expose” could force other players to reveal their hands thereby incriminating them for any contraband they poses, exposing them for the cheating bastards they are. “Frame job” could be used to place a card in another players hand. “Unnamed source” lets one player look at another players hand but that evidence can not be used to incriminate unless it is used in conjunction with the “Blackmail” card.

          2. “the trouble with cycling is that competitors still have the chance to use teamwork and other so-called “legitimate” means to win the race.”

            No, it’s just meta-cheating.  To make it maximally interesting you probably don’t want to rule out any approach.   And in any case, the basic framework is already owned by the IOC, and they’re litigious bastards.

          3. Oh! And a Diplomatic Immunity card to block the Expose card, and a Confescation card, where can take any of a certain number (like two or three) of another player’s card BUT you can’t look at the cards before taking them!

    3. I do not believe that a computer has yet to defeat a human at chess, Jeopardy, etc. until the computer has the same volume and density as a single human brain. I could create a “Watson” using the same room IBM did by filling it with Jeopardy champions.

        1.  I wonder if they would allow competitors to bring a signaling device that signals for them. They press their buzzer as soon as they want and the device listens for the end of the answer and uses thousands of hours of analyzed footage to signal for real.

      1. I’m pretty sure there are chess programs that could run on your laptop that could defeat a world champion. Either way the problem with the room of Jeopardy champions approach is that humans don’t parallelize well.

        1.  I think it could be done with practice which Watson obviously had. Each champion could have a buzzer with no restrictions on when they could press it. Our actual competitor would signal for real at the right time (to the best of their practiced ability) based on the early buzzers. The early buzzers would be aggregated into a single signal. Champions would shout out their answers (not in question form) and I imagine a coordinator/captain in the room would take the consensus answer and relay it. The actual contestant can use the full amount of time to wait for and relay the answer. I think it could work.

          1. I agree jeopardy might be the one problem where human’s would parallelize well but I was thinking about its general application to problems like Chess. A bunch of Grand Masters taking a vote probably isn’t much better than a single Grand Master playing, and if they discuss they’ll be a little better yet. But it’s hard for people to communicate insights or thought processes the way a large computer can as a single reasoning entity.

    4. “Cheating is allowed but you get disqualified if you are caught.”
      I believe this is how all sports work in practice, no?

  4. When a chess player inexplicably gets better, people cry foul and look for a link to a computer.  But if he suddenly got worse, nobody would be looking for the invisible link to a chimpanzee.  Confirmation bias wins another one.

    1. They might not look for a chimp, but they might check out the person’s bank account to see if it recently had a sizable deposit.

    2. are you suggesting that getting better and getting worse are equally beneficial to the individual and thus should be equally suspicious?

  5. His name is Borislav Ivanov, not Ivanov Borislav (I know in some countries people write the family name first in some cases, but that is not so in Bulgaria).

  6. Maybe he has a wireless implant that can vibrate in different patterns. Someone watching the game remotely simulates the match on a computer and sends commands to the implant which causes it to vibrate in the pattern instructing his next move. Or maybe the device is just in his shoe. I wouldn’t put anything past anyone in this day and age.

  7. I recall a story told by a Russian chess master that after a tournament he was approached by an old peasant who wanted to play.  The master tried to brush him off, but the peasant was so insistent that he agreed to one game.  The peasant used an opening he’d never seen and beat him in 10 moves.  So he played again, and again, and again.  The peasant always won with the same opening.  Always in 10 moves or less.  So the chess master ran across the hall and got his lifelong rival and pulled him into the room to show him the peasant.  The peasant and his odd opening beat the other chess master until the wee hours of the night with the same 10 move opening… until they finally realized that the old peasant had somehow discovered an odd but unbeatable set of opening chess moves.  At this point someone asked the old Russian chess master what happened to the peasant and why no one had ever heard of him or his opening.  “Oh,” he said matter-of-factly “When we realized what he’d done we killed him, hid the body, and swore to never use or tell the opening.  If the world knew of his discovery it would have destroyed the game of chess forever.”

  8. Small pressure switch in left shoe used to tap opponents moves (chess as its own convenient shorthand) signals sent remotely via rf or even through wire running up inside of pants. Small solenoid/vibrating device/electrical pulse somewhere else on body acts as a reciever to inform player of moves

    Pulses from left shoe sent to computing device (smart phones have plenty of juice these days, failing that could act as a bridge to wider world), resulting moves sent back to receiver.

    Would be invisible without body search’s and if using common radio frequency’s (bluetooth,wifi) would not stand out and if an audience present very hard to pinpoint (especially if subject knows they are being watched).

    Think i have just worked out what my next project is going to be :)

  9. Maybe he had a female companion IN the hall who was receiving the moves (from a computer at a remote location) by mobile phone. The female companion then stood there in the distance, with her back to him, periodically wiggling her bottom in a specific way to indicate which moves to make. All he had to do was ogle the young lady and note how she wiggled her derriere and this would tell him the right move to play.

  10. So thats where the little kid Fox rescued from the Syndicate is hiding. All grown up I see. 

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