Boardgames in the News: The Evils of Cheating

Amongst gamers and friends, intentional cheating is a heinous crime—it is totally unacceptable.  But why?  On the face of things it is very simple, cheating is a betrayal of the contract, it is against the rules of the game, and without rules, there is no point, no game.  It runs deeper than that, however:  cheating violates our fundamental sense of fairness.  Everyone understands that life isn’t fair, but games are an abstracted version of life, where players can, for example, experience the thrill of taking chances, engage in complex plans, even take on a different persona and characteristics, or perhaps even Cheat.  With other things shifting, a key part of this gaming world is its fairness.

– Image from adapted by boardGOATS

Amongst friends, it is usually well understood that people are fallible and make mistakes, so when errors are noticed, the culprit is usually highly embarrassed and typically tries to rectify things in everyone else’s favour.  Intentional cheating is something else though and is seen as a violation of trust that can cause a deep, never to be healed, rift between erstwhile friends.  Added to this, amongst friends, there is little to be gained by cheating and so much to lose that it is remarkably rare.  It is perhaps largely because of this, that the current Chess cheating scandal is making headline news.

– Image by Unsplash contributor sk

The current furore surrounds a third round match between the Norwegian Magnus Carlsen and American Hans Niemann in the invitation only event, the Sinquefield Cup.  In the case of the Grand Tour Chess events (of which the Sinquefield Cup is one), while there is still much to lose, there is also a lot to gain, both financially and in reputation—reputation is currency as it gives access to invitation only events.  In the match in question, the Norwegian, Carlsen, world champion since 2013, who had been unbeaten in his previous fifty-three matches and with the advantage of playing white was beaten by the nineteen year-old American, Niemann, who was the lowest-ranked player in the tournament.

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Despite having another six rounds left to play, Carlsen then withdrew from the tournament.  Although a Tweet raised suspicions of cheating, Carlsen made no substantive allegation or presented any evidence.  However, a couple of days later, (one of the largest online chess sites) confirmed that Niemann had been removed from their site for cheating.  While Niemann himself admitted cheating during online games by using computer assistance, he denied cheating when playing face to face.  Opinions seem to be split, with analysis of the game by Chess Grand Masters showing no evidence of cheating, while circumstantial evidence suggesting Niemann was not able to analyse his own moves without electronic assistance.

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This is not the only instance of accusations of cheating at Chess—nearly twenty years ago Veselin Topalov‘s manager accused then world champion Vladimir Kramnik of cheating during his allegedly “strange, if not suspicious” trips to the toilet, and in the late 1970s Viktor Korchnoi’s team alleged world champion Anatoly Karpov’s team were cheating by sending their player a fruit yoghurt with carefully arranged blueberries.  The current outcry from both sides, some supporting Carlsen in his actions and others accusing him of making unsubstantiated allegations, show how divisive cheating can be, even amongst professional circles.  Amongst friends, though less public, cheating can be even more destructive ending long-held friendships, and this is why intentional cheating is such a crime and considered totally unacceptable by gamers.

– Image by Unsplash contributor Felix Mittermeier