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Chess Fraud

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Cheating’s not just for cyclists:

An announcement on Friday on the French Chess Federation’s Web site accuses three of its own players of cheating during last year’s Chess Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.

The players accused of cheating are grandmasters Sébastien Feller, France’s fifth-ranked player, Arnaud Hauchard, No. 16 in the country, and Cyril Marzolo, an international master, ranked No. 46.

The announcement does not provide any details about what it is they are said to have done, but it is extraordinary for a national federation to accuse its own players in this way. Usually, accusations of cheating involve getting the help of chess computers during games as computers have surpassed people as chess players. Such aid is illegal under the rules.

France is the No. 3 ranked country in chess, and Feller, 19, is one of its most promising young talents.

He was actually the only one who played on the national team during the Olympiad, so perhaps the federation was accusing the other two of helping him. He started out with two wins, two losses and a draw in his first five games before winning three games and drawing his last. His record is on the Olympic Web site.

The allegations of computer cheating strike me as rather more severe than similar allegations in other sports. Steroids and other performance enhancing drugs simply increase the ability of the elite athlete to perform; if every athlete were held to the same standard, competition would presumably (allowing that different bodies react differently to certain training methods) remain the same. As the most advanced chess computers now exceed the capabilities of the best players, using them to cheat (as opposed to training) actually replaces the individual human contribution with something else. This strikes me as problematic.

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