The Chess Detective

The US Open begins in a few days, which means the chess politicos are packing their bags, getting prepared to travel to Orlando to do their “moving” & “shaking.” For that reason I have decided to post some thoughts, and pose some questions, for the “pooh-bahs” and I need to do it now because once they arrive there will be no time for them to read and thoughtfully consider anything because they will be busy “schmoozing.”
Like many others I read with interest the June “Chess Life” cover article by Howard Goldowsky, “How To Catch A Chess Cheater.” I clicked on the links provided and read everything on the blog IM Ken Regan shares with R. J. Lipton, a Professor of Computer Science at Georgia Tech. Since the article appeared I have invested a considerable amount of time reading, and cogitating, about the issue of cheating at chess by using a program. Most people will not do this, and most readers may not have the time to read all of this long post, so I will give my conclusions up front in the hope it will spur some, especially those people in power who must confront one of the major issues facing the Royal game, to read on and learn what brought me to my conclusions.
The article was published in order to allay the fears and suspicions of the chess playing public. I am reminded here of the infamous statement by Secretary of State Al Haig following the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan.
Al Haig asserted before reporters “I am in control here” as a result of Reagan’s hospitalization. The trouble was that he was not in control, according to the line of succession in the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAhNzUbGVAA).

The incorrect statement was made to reassure We The People, as was the “official” announcement that Ronald Raygun had removed his oxygen mask and quipped to his doctors, “I hope you are all Republicans.” This is now written as “history.” The thing is that “Rawhide,” the name given to RR by the SS, had suffered a “sucking chest wound,” and no one, not even the “Gipper,” is able to talk after suffering a such a wound. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attempted_assassination_of_Ronald_Reagan)

Like the handlers of the wounded POTUS, the Chess Life article is an attempt by the powers that be to tell chess players the Chess Detective is on hand, so, “Don’t worry Be happy.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-diB65scQU)

How can one be happy, and not worry when the Chess Detective, IM Ken Regan, says this, “An isolated move is almost un­catchable using my regular methods.”

The man with whom the Chess Dectective shares a blog, Richard J. Lipton writes, “How should we rate how well a player matches the chess engine as a method to detect cheating?
The short answer is very carefully.
Ken has spend (sic) years working on the right scoring method given these issues and others. I believe that his method of scoring is powerful, but is probably not the final answer to this vexing question.”

The only problem is that the Chess Detective has spent years using what is now obviously antiquated programs. Sorry Fritz, but your program was passed by those of Houdini, Komodo, and Stockfish, the top three chess programs in reverse order, quite some time ago. How is it possible for even the Chess Detective to discern possible program generated moves while using an inferior program?

Mr. Lipton continues, “The problem is what strategy might a cheater use? A naïve strategy is to always select the top ranked move, i.e. the move with the largest value. This strategy would be easy for Ken to detect. A superior strategy might be to select moves based on their values: higher values are selected more frequently. This clearly would be more difficult for Ken to detect, since it is randomized.”
“Another twist is the cheater could use a cutoff method. If several moves are above a value, then these could be selected with equal probability.”
“I could go on, but the key is that Ken is not able to assume that the cheater is using a known strategy. This makes the detection of cheating much harder, more interesting, and a still open problem. It is essentially a kind of two player game. Not a game of chess, but a game of the cheater against the detector; some player against Ken’s program.”

There you have it, the man with whom the Chess Detective shares a blog has no faith in the methods used by the Chess Detective. What follows is the post that has consumed much of my time for the last month or so.

The Chess Detective

An interview between Scott Simon of NPR and IM Ken Regan begans, “Ken Regan is a kind of chess detective. He’s a computer scientist and an international chess master, who played with the likes of Bobby Fischer as a kid. Which gives him particular skills to help recognize cheating in chess, which, he says, is becoming more common. Ken Regan has created a new algorithm to help detect test cheating. He’s profiled this month in “U.S. Chess” magazine and joins us now from Buffalo. Thanks for much for being with us.” (http://www.npr.org/2014/06/21/324222845/how-to-catch-a-chess-cheater)

“SIMON: So how does somebody cheat in chess?
REGAN: The most common way is having the game on your smart phone or handheld device and going into the bathroom surreptitiously to check it.
SIMON: So people are consulting their smart phones, because there are algorithms that will tell them what the propitious next move is?
REGAN: Yes. There are chess engines that are very strong – stronger than any human player, apparently even running on the reduced hardware of smart phone.
SIMON: Well, what are the odds of somebody being falsely accused?
REGAN: I deal with accusations, whispers, public statements, grouses that people make. And, usually, my model shows, no, this play really was within expectation. The other side is, yes, it’s a great danger that the statistics might falsely accuse someone. As a failsafe, I have taken data – many millions of pages of data from the entire history of chess, including all the performances by Bobby Fischer and Gary Kasparov. So I have an idea of the distribution of what happens by nature.”

An article about a name from the past, “Seven things you should know about Alan Trefler” By Michael B. Farrell (http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2014/07/05/seven-things-you-should-know-about-alan-trefler-founder-pegasystems/ZQULf5r9uUFkZZytsQB3WP/story.html), brought back memories of the man, now a billionaire, who, as an expert, was co-champion of the 1975 World Open. What would happen today if an expert did the same?

The cover story of the June 2014 Chess Life, “How To Catch A Chess Cheater: Ken Regan Finds Moves Out of Mind,” by Howard Goldowsky, was deemed so important one finds this preface, “The following is our June 2014 Chess Life cover story. Normally this would be behind our pay wall, but we feel this article about combating cheating in chess carries international importance.
This subject has profound implications for the tournament scene so we are making it available to all who are interested in fighting the good fight.”

~Daniel Lucas, Chess Life editor (http://www.uschess.org/content/view/12677/422/).

From the article, “According to Regan, since 2006 there has been a dramatic increase in the number of world­wide cheating cases. Today the incident rate approaches roughly one case per month, in which usually half involve teenagers. The current anti-cheating regulations of the world chess federation (FIDE) are too outdated to include guidance about disciplining illegal computer assistance, so Regan himself monitors most major events in real-time, including open events, and when a tournament director becomes suspicious for one reason or another and wants to take action, Regan is the first man to get a call.”
Dr. Regan, a deeply religious man, says, “Social networking theory is interesting,” he says. “Cheating is about how often coincidence arises in the chess world.”
“Regan clicks a few times on his mouse and then turns his monitor so I can view his test results from the German Bundesliga. His face turns to disgust. “Again, there’s no physical evidence, no behavioral evidence,” he says. “I’m just seeing the numbers. I’ll tell you, people are doing it.”
Goldowsky writes, “Statistical evidence is immune to con­ceal­ment. No matter how clever a cheater is in communicating with collaborators, no mat­ter how small the wireless communications device, the actual moves produced by a cheater cannot be hidden.”

This is where Alan Trefler enters the conversation. Goldowsky goes on to write, “Nevertheless, non-cheating outliers happen from time to time, the inevitable false positives.”

“Outliers happen…” How would you like to tie for first as an expert today and have your integrity questioned in addition to having to strip naked and “bend over and spread ’em?”
The article moves on to a detailed analysis of how the “Chess Detective” determines whether or not cheating has occurred.

“Faced with a complex calculation, a player could sneak their smartphone into the bathroom for one move and cheat for only a single critical position. Former World Champion Viswanathan Anand said that one bit per game, one yes-no answer about whether a sacrifice is sound, could be worth 150 rating points.
“I think this is a reliable estimate,” says Regan. “An isolated move is almost un­catchable using my regular methods.”
But selective-move cheaters would be doing it on critical moves, and Regan has untested tricks for these cases. “If you’re given even just a few moves, where each time there are, say, four equal choices, then the probabilities of matching these moves become statistically significant. Another way is for an arbiter to give me a game and tell me how many suspect moves, and then I’ll try to tell him which moves, like a police lineup. We have to know which moves to look at, however, and, importantly—this is the vital part— there has to be a criterion for identifying these moves independent of the fact they match.”

What is the “criterion”? It is not mentioned.

Dr. Regan is co-author,with Richard J. Lipton, of the blog, “Godel’s Lost Letter and P=NP.” I went to the blog and found this recent post by “rjlipton” (http://rjlipton.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/the-problem-of-catching-chess-cheaters/).

R.J. writes, “The easy (sic) of cheating is a major issue for organized chess. The number of cases in professional tournament play is, according to Ken, roughly one per month—one case happen at a tournament in Romania just last month. Ken knows this because he routinely runs his detection methods, more on those shortly, on most major tournaments.”
“How should we rate how well a player matches the chess engine as a method to detect cheating?
The short answer is very carefully.
Ken has spend (sic) years working on the right scoring method given these issues and others. I believe that his method of scoring is powerful, but is probably not the final answer to this vexing question.”
“The problem is what strategy might a cheater use? A naïve strategy is to always select the top ranked move, i.e. the move with the largest value. This strategy would be easy for Ken to detect. A superior strategy might be to select moves based on their values: higher values are selected more frequently. This clearly would be more difficult for Ken to detect, since it is randomized.”
“Another twist is the cheater could use a cutoff method. If several moves are above a value, then these could be selected with equal probability.”
“I could go on, but the key is that Ken is not able to assume that the cheater is using a known strategy. This makes the detection of cheating much harder, more interesting, and a still open problem. It is essentially a kind of two player game. Not a game of chess, but a game of the cheater against the detector; some player against Ken’s program.”

This article provides links to several other posts concerning the subject of cheating at chess and I read each and every one. Here are a few excerpts:

“Chess is a game of complete information. There are no cards to hide that might be palmed, switched, or played illegally, no dice that could be loaded. So how is it possible to cheat at chess? Alas the complete information can be conveyed to a computer, and thanks to the exponential increase in computer power and smarter chess-playing algorithms, consumer hardware can play better than any human. Hence cheating in chess in possible, and unfortunately this year it has seemed to become common.” (http://rjlipton.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/littlewoods-law)

“The fear of players being fingered this way is remarked by Dylan McClain in today’s New York Times column:
“If every out-of-the-ordinary performance is questioned, bad feelings could permanently mar the way professional players approach chess.”

The threat can be stronger than its execution.

A question was posed to Dr. Regan:
“I think there is a bigger picture here. Why even play a strategy game that a computer, without any information or connectivity advantage, will win.”
IM Regan answered:
“Because it’s still fun, has a great history, and has more public participation all over the world than any time previously. Computers are still a step behind the best humans at the Japanese form of chess (Shogi), and human supremacy at Go is apparently not threatened in the near future. My best effort at a more computer-resistant “evolution” of Western chess is here.”
From: “The Crown Game Affair” by KWRegan January 13, 2013 (http://rjlipton.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/the-crown-game-affair/)

“I have, however, been even busier with a welter of actual cases, reporting on four to the full committee on Thursday. One concerned accusations made in public last week by Uzbek grandmaster Anton Filippov about the second-place finisher in a World Cup regional qualifier he won in Kyrgyzstan last month. My results do not support his allegations. Our committee is equally concerned about due-diligence requirements for complaints and curbing careless allegations, such as two against Austrian players in May’s European Individual Championship. A second connects to our deliberations on the highly sensitive matter of searching players, as was done also to Borislav Ivanov during the Zadar Open tournament last December. A third is a private case where I find similar odds as with Ivanov, but the fourth raises the fixing of an entire tournament, and I report it here.
Add to this a teen caught consulting an Android chess app in a toilet cubicle in April and a 12-year-old caught reading his phone in June, plus some cases I’ve heard only second-hand, and it is all scary and sad.
The Don Cup 2010 International was held three years ago in Azov, Russia, as a 12-player round-robin. The average Elo rating of 2395 made it a “Category 6″ event with 7 points from 11 games needed for the IM norm, 8.5 for the GM norm. It was prominent enough to have its 66 games published in the weekly TWIC roundup, and they are also downloadable from FIDE’s own website. Half the field scored 7 or higher, while two tailenders lost all their games except for drawing each other and one other draw, while another beat only them and had another draw, losing eight games.
My informant suspected various kinds of “sandbagging”: throwing games in the current event, or having an artifically-inflated Elo rating from previous fixed events, so as to bring up the category. He noted some of the tailenders now have ratings 300 points below what they were then.
In this case I did not have to wait long for more-than-probability. Another member of our committee noticed by searching his million-game database that:
Six of the sixty-six games are move-by-move identical with games played in the 2008 World Computer Chess Championship.
For example, three games given as won by one player are identical with Rybka’s 28-move win over the program Jonny and two losses in 50 and 44 moves by the program Falcon to Sjeng and HIARCS, except one move is missing from the last. One of his victims has three lost games, while another player has two wins and another two losses. Indeed the six games are curiously close to an all-play-all cluster.”
From: “Thirteen Sigma” by KWRegan, July 27, 2013 (http://rjlipton.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/thirteen-sigma/)

Major Issues Killing Chess

I received several emails in response to the previous post from friends who have played chess for decades, and for whom I have a great deal of respect. The first one is from the Discman:
“I don’t know man…If a player makes the exact same moves throughout a game/tournament as a GM+-calibre computer program, that is enough evidence for me that he is being fed moves somehow. No human can play a tactically perfect game without the aid of a computer. It would be relatively easy to do – simply have some device that pulsates. Tape that device to your skin under your clothes. Have a partner generate the correct move using the computer program and send coded pulses to the player at the board. This device could probably be created using only plastics so it could get through a metal detector. Just like Brady Anderson’s 51-homer year after demonstrating that he was a 15-homer/year player for the rest of his career – I am almost as certain that he was juicing that year (although I’m not as certain as I am in the chess example). I agree with the concept of innocent until proven guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt, but playing tactically perfect chess removes this shadow in my opinion. I don’t have a solution – clearly strip searching chess players is ridiculous. The ease of using computer programs to generate chess moves is one of several major issues killing chess.”
The next one is from Big Mac:
http://now.msn.com/rich-lee-does-diy-headphone-implant

“It still requires a loop antenna but there is another person who did it for medical reasons, he is going blind.
This will be hard to catch. Implants are here.”
This could possibly mean the end of tournament chess as we have known it. If you go to the Chessbase website (http://www.chessbase.com) and enter the word “cheating” into the search box you will find page after page of article after endless article on cheating, and more cheating. Proving that the threat is indeed stronger than the execution is an article from 19/12/2006 entitled, “Topalov: Kramnik will never admit that he cheated…” Then there is the article from1/2/2007, “Nigel Short pushes for cheating enquiry,” which concerns cheating allegations leveled at Veselin Topalov and Silvio Danailov during the Wijk aan Zee tournament. The sad fact is that computer chess programs have become so powerful that no one will ever know for certain whether or not one of the top players in the world, the so-called “Super Grandmasters,” cogitated the outstanding move, or if it came from an algorithm in some machine somewhere, maybe even in the “cloud.”
I shudder to think what would happen today if a player happened to have the tournament of his life, as did Expert Alan Trefler at the World Open in 1975. From Wikipedia: In the open section of the 1975 World Open chess tournament, played in New York, expert Alan Trefler (Elo rating 2075, 125 points below the lowest master rating), and ranked 115th in the tournament, scores 8-1 to tie for first with International Grandmaster Pal Benko, rated 2504, ahead of Grandmasters Nicolas Rossolimo and Walter Browne.[8] • 8) ^ Chess Life & Review, September 1975 (available on DVD), pp. 586-87. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Trefler) If this happened in the climate of today Chessbase would no doubt lead the charge against such an occurrence being legitimate because the odds of an Expert winning the World Open would certainly be prohibitive. It is a good thing Alan Trefler did what he did “back in the day,” because if he had just won this year’s World Open, he would be hounded to the point of contemplating suicide!
It has gotten to the point where there are so many articles on the chess websites that I can no longer read them all due to a lack of time. Here are two on my roundtoit list: http://www.chessbase.com/Home/TabId/211/PostId/4010353/irina-lymar-fide-must-develop-anti-cheating-rules-030713.aspx & http://www.chessvibes.com/macieja-on-fighting-cheating-in-chess
Then there is the GM who gets down to brass tacks (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=get%20down%20to%20brass%20tacks) better than anyone on the web, the irrepressible Kevin Spraggett. I refer you to “Spraggett on Chess” for his inimitable take on the matter: http://kevinspraggettonchess.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/friday-coffee-8/