Chess Pro Explains How to Spot Cheaters

"Only a bot would play that!" Sacrificing a Queen in chess is a move you're much more likely to see a bot make as opposed to a human, as humans want to protect the game's most valuable piece. In the wake of the recent chess cheating scandal, Levy Rozman from GothamChess explains how you actually cheat at chess. Using artificial intelligence, see how people use everything from bathroom cell phones to ear pieces to try to skirt the rules and gain an edge.

Video Transcript

- That move is so ridiculous.

Only a bot would play that.

A human would never play the move queen to D5.

- [Narrator] Because that move would be totally risky and counterintuitive.

- A computer, they will sacrifice a queen, something that traditionally humans don't do because they're risk averse.

- [Narrator] But since Levy's opponent is using AI to cheat, it's all part of a trap that leads to checkmate.

- Guys playing like Magnus Carlson on Adderall.

- [Narrator] In the wake of the recent chess cheating scandal, Wired asked chess YouTuber, Levy Rozman the question.

- How in earth do you actually cheat at chess?

- [Narrator] And how can you actually spot a chess cheater?

- If I had to describe cheating in chess in one sentence, it would be the act of receiving external assistance most often in the form of a chess computer to tell you all the best moves in the game that you're playing.

- [Narrator] During the more than 25 years since Deep Blue Beat Gary Kasparov, AI chess engines have evolved to be way better than humans at the Royal game.

- I once lost to a treadmill at a hotel because the chess computer they programmed was so good.

- [Narrator] Top chess engines like Houdini, Revenge or Stockfish can run on an iPhone.

- If you let Stockfish, the best chess computer in the world analyze a game from start to finish, we can trust it to say what the best moves are throughout the game.

Far more accurately than any human could ever come up with.

- [Narrator] So basically all chess cheaters today are somehow accessing an AI analysis board during a game and therefore know all the best moves to make in each position.

But how can you tell if someone is cheating in person at a chess tournament?

- Now, I've played hundreds of chess tournaments in my life only been suspicious of a handful of players and generally it's a mix of a few things.

You have an opponent that seems extremely distracted, maybe a little bit too jittery, looking around a lot, or leaving the board when it's their move.

- [Narrator] With all eyes on them, how do cheaters access an analysis board?

- One of the most common methods to do this is to go to the bathroom but our cheater has left a cell somewhere hidden in the stall, and during their game, they will go input the same exact moves of the game that they were playing into that smartphone and the smartphone will tell them the answer.

Then they will go back to the game and repeat this process multiple times until they win.

- [Narrator] In 2019, Latvian Grandmaster, Igors Rausis, was caught red-handed on the toilet studying an iPhone he had secretly stashed behind a bathroom tile.

But there are other examples of cheaters that use accomplices to relay the best moves to them.

- Most elite chess tournaments have a board called a DGT, where every single piece is connected to a magnetic field, and every time a move is made, let's say like this, the board itself is connected to a computer.

So that move will now register on the DGT and go out to a live broadcast.

- [Narrator] So in this scenario, one of the spectators, miles away in the comfort of home is accomplice number one, who plugs the game into their engine and sends a text with one to three characters to someone at the tournament.

In fact, that's what happened in 2010.

First, there was 20 year old Sebastian Feller playing the game.

- Then there was the person watching the game and using the computer.

There was also a middle man.

That middle man would stand in the tournament hall, in a certain location depending on what the person watching the game would say.

- [Narrator] The middle man might go stand in the northwest corner of the room or the left side of the stage, depending on the suggestions he was being relayed.

- They basically had a pre-programmed compass of the room where one side meant one thing and maybe a certain position meant what square, what piece and so on.

- [Narrator] But what if spectators aren't allowed at a tournament?

- A chess player could theoretically bring a vibrating device in their shoe, under their arm, attached to their chest into the playing hall.

Now, some tournaments have metal detectors and scanners, but if you walk in through an airport style metal detector in a chest tournament playing hall, there isn't a guarantee that it'll pick up on a small transmittable device that you're hiding under your armpit.

- [Narrator] In 2013, Borislav Ivanov was disqualified under the suspicion of using a device in a shoe that received vibrations, either in Morse code or some sort of coded sequence.

But what about other vibrating devices?

- One of the biggest memes to hit the internet as it pertains to chess over the last few weeks has been anal beads.

It became a copy pasta on Reddit.

Then Elon Musk retweeted it, and it got way too big, to the point that people actually think it happened.

Now, theoretically, if we are talking about a device that can relay chest moves to you by vibration, I'm sure if it can go into your shoe, it can go into other places, but I don't think that's what was happening in this case.

- [Narrator] But what if you're using a simple board, not a DTG board and the game is not being streamed or simulcast anywhere online?

- Well, some folks have shown up to games with little watches that have a camera inside of them, so they hover the camera over the board but they still need to have somebody relaying the moves into their ear or maybe some sort of other device.

Well, those people might have tried to wear an earpiece, which is another common method, especially one that you can dig deep into your ear canal.

- [Narrator] Sounds like cheating over the board at a tournament is hard and rare, but cheating in chess online is rampant, and the first place to spot a cheater, say on, is by studying their online profile.

- Look at the age of the account, a lot of cheaters have an account that's maybe a couple of weeks or a month old.

So here's a profile with a couple of red flags already.

It was created 48 hours ago.

So the biggest red flag in my eyes is the win rate.

Most people win about 45 to 55% of the games that they play.

I myself win about 60% of my games.

So if someone's winning 75, 80, 90%, something's not right.

- [Narrator] The next red flag is that cheaters have a high accuracy score, a metric calculated by the website you're playing on that compares your play to the best chess computer.

- I'm looking at an account right now that was made literally yesterday, got to play only six games, but because the average accuracy of their game was 97, 98, 99, 93, 95, 96, even the best chess players in the world can't do that consistently.

- [Narrator] Another red flag is that a suspected cheater might be beating players with a higher ELO score, a metric from 100 to 3000 or so used to determine your ranking in chess.

- It's like if they're rating or their ELO is 1000, they're just clobbering people who are 2000, might have been playing the game for decades.

How many rating points have they gained over the last seven days?

Oh wow, they've gained 900.

Oh, that seems a little bit suspicious.

That's just really not how people grow at the game.

- [Narrator] When Levy suspects someone's cheating online, he'll watch them play a game, turning on his own local chess engine, which will evaluate the current position and tell him what the best moves are.

- When you watch someone who you suspect of cheating, they will most likely make moves that match that first and second line, sometimes the third line as well, of your local chess computer.

It doesn't matter what engine they use and what engine you use, 95% of the time the moves will match up.

Another giveaway sign that somebody is cheating while they play a game is the fact that they take a consistent amount of time on every single move.

You might say, well, they're just thinking about their moves.

But no, it always falls into a range.

Let's say a person makes their move between five and eight seconds every single time.

That's strange, why?

Because if you think about it, that is the process of watching the move happen on the board, relaying it to an analysis board, seeing what that computer tells you and then coming back and where this looks really funny is when cheaters don't realize that they have one legal move.

Let's say their king is in danger, they're in a check, they can just block the check, they have no other option, but they don't know that 'cause they don't know how to play chess.

- [Narrator] But apart from these red flags, is it possible to tell if someone is cheating from the unusual or bot like moves they make?

- Sometimes the dumbest move in a position is actually the top computer move.

[dramatic music] Some moves are human moves and some moves are AI moves.

I would consider a move not human and something that only a bot would play if it breaks principles of chess entirely.

They will sacrifice a pawn, a knight, a bishop, a rook, a queen, something that traditionally humans don't do because they're risk averse.

Computers will because they do see the future better than any human and they don't have any emotions.

A computer just finds the best plans.

The best grand masters in the world only evaluate the position about two or three moves in, but the computer finds that final act and I can show you exactly what I'm talking about.

So take this position for example.

Here, a cheater was playing with the white pieces.

A human here might retreat the queen.

A computer instead finds this move, knight to G5, check.

If the queen goes to either of these two squares, the queen will get captured.

Here, white plays the move queen to D5.

Yes, you can take the queen but if you take the queen, it's basically checkmate because these two bishops laser beamed the king in the corner.

So here the cheater with white sacrificed a knight to lead the attack forward once again and then white sacrificed a queen for basically nothing.

White gave away a queen for one pawn, and that led to the devastation of the black king.

White sacrificed multiple pieces to even get to this point with no guarantee of victory at all.

But when you're in AI, the victory is guaranteed because you have seen the future to that extent.

- [Narrator] That was an example of a sacrifice that to a human mind felt like a mistake, a seemingly counterintuitive idea, but not to a chess computer running tons of outcomes and finding a way to get the king.

- No human in history has ever played a sequence of moves like that.

- [Narrator] So why do people cheat at chess?

- People cheat in chess for a variety of different reasons.

Obviously, if there's prizes involved, that's extremely incentivizing.

When you're sitting in the comfort of your own home, and it's just you and a screen, it's much more impersonal and the cloak of anonymity makes people empowered to sometimes do bad things.

You might literally be playing a chess prodigy from halfway across the world who nobody's ever heard of, but the chance of that happening is very, very unlikely.