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/)

ACP Anti-cheating Committee Proposals

The headline is, “ACP proposals anti-cheating committee.” I thought that meant the ACP, the Association of Chess Professionals, had proposed a committee, but upon reading it became obvious the ACP already has a committee, and it met Oct 2-3. The article, written by Yuri Gelfer, is dated Oct. 7, 2013. It begins, “On Oct. 2 and 3, the ACP Anti-Cheating delegation composed of ACP Board Director IO Yuri Garrett (ITA), IA Laurent Freyd (FRA), GM Konstantin Landa (RUS) and IM Prof. Kenneth Regan (USA) joined FIDE Vice President Mr. Israel Gelfer, Chairman of the joint ACP/FIDE Anti-Cheating Committee, for what proved to be two very successful days of meetings in the premises of the French Federation at Elancourt.”
The article states, “The ACP proposals include, among other things: – a very sophisticated and scientifically verified statistical tool elaborated by Prof. Kenneth Regan for detecting suspicious play.” This caught my attention. I thought of a recent letter to Chessbase in response to the article, “Ivanov ends his chess career.”
Helmut Grass, Frankfurt
“Tal, Karpov and Anand managed to win games against GMs using almost no time on the clock. Most probably this Ivanov is not one of them. But I want real evidence, no statistics or Houdini bs, please! If you think it’s in his shoes then go for them – even if they’re smelly!” http://www.chessbase.com/Home/TabId/211/PostId/4011410/ivanov-ends-his-chess-career-051013.aspx
Professor Regan stopped playing chess for a career working with computers. It is in his interest to advocate using a computer program to detect alleged cheating in chess by utilizing a computer chess program. Am I the only one who has a problem with using the cause of the problem to allegedly detect said problem? Who watches the watchers?
Chessbase has printed other responses, including these two, with which I wholeheartedly agree:
Max, Hawaii
“Wow. Are you guys serious? This article is kind of irresponsible. You proved nothing and acted as if you caught the guy red-handed. It is interesting he won’t take his shoes off, and you are free to speculate. But please don’t act like you busted him. Also the concept that he can control chess software with his feet is laughable. I am wondering about the sanity and morality of a lot of involved parties, and Ivanov is not at the top of the list. How awful if he is just some innocent kid sick of being harassed by paranoid grandmasters. I don’t know the truth, but either catch him the act or quiet down and let him play. Please no more published articles on this with zero proof.”
Inda Anebira, Abuja, Nigeria
“I could only sigh in disappointment at ChessBase after reading this article. This is irresponsible journalism! You even went to great lengths to stick a phone in a shoe just to make your case creating, instead, a ridiculous conclusion to a rambling, speculative, and verbose article. As a chess player, do I feel Ivanov is cheating? Yes. But as a scientist, have I seen any definitive proof that he is? No, I have not. So until someone can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he is indeed cheating, we need to refrain from publicly slandering him. His grandmaster detractors can either choose to play him or avoid him. As with ‘The Turk’ in the 18th Century, some had their doubts. But they played against it anyway, at least until the secret was unraveled. GM Dlugy is entitled to his own set of opinions but not to his own set of facts.”

O. Al Hamilton once told me he was filled with fear any time he had to face a much lower rated player. I wondered why and, naturally, had to ask. “Because I am afraid they may play the game of their life!” Why would anyone choose to participate in a chess tournament knowing that if they happened to play the game of their life they may be subjected to the command of, “Bend over and spread ‘em?”

The word committee invariably makes me think of a couple of quotes by Fred Allen. “A committee is a group of the unprepared, appointed by the unwilling to do the unnecessary.” And, “Committee – a group of men who individually can do nothing but as a group decide that nothing can be done.”

I urge you to read the entire article, with its myriad proposals, including this one for lesser players, “By way of example, the ACP proposed that all electronic devices should be banned in top level tournaments, whereas in amateur/professional tournaments they should only be away from the player’s reach. This means that, in minor tournament, electronic devices can be taken into the playing hall and separately stored (e.g. in a bag), but no player will be allowed to carry them with him (in a pocket, in a jacket, in a bag etc.) during play, even if turned off.”
http://www.chessprofessionals.org/content/acp-proposals-anti-cheating-committee#sthash.eqkm2Z8K.dpuf