Player Caught Cheating Over-The-Board At Chicago Open 2024


A player was caught red-handed at the Chicago Open 2024, using a phone to win chess games over the board. Unlike other offline cheating cases, the player didn’t use a device outside the playing hall; instead, he used his phone in his lap, right at the chessboard. He gained over 1,000 rating points in the last year before he was caught.

In round four of the u2100 section, the cheater played FIDE National Arbiter Dane Zagar and was caught using his phone in round six. Zagar describes the experience of playing and being part of the effort to catch a cheater on the No Pawn Intended podcast below. This article covers the highlights. 

The Game: 10…b5! ‘Really Rang Alarm Bells’

Zagar was suspicious shortly after the opening moves had been played: “The bizarre thing was he spent only about 15 minutes on the entire game,” Zagar said about the cheater, whom he didn’t identify. “He was, besides looking down every once in a while, playing extremely fast and played one move in particular where he just hung a pawn, it looked like, just to gain a square.”

Zagar had played against a confirmed cheater before, and he said 10…b5! “really rang alarm bells” and reminded him of that game. Zagar annotated the game below, where his opponent played a nearly perfect game on the light squares.

After “one of the worst beatings of my life,” Zagar hoped that talking to his opponent would ease his suspicion, but it only made things worse. “He mentioned a Chessable course that’s basically for 800-1200 players, he didn’t know what a hole in the position was, which was really weird, for someone who plays a hypermodern opening.” Additionally, the player was “annoyed” that the game took so long, with most of his other games lasting 20-30 moves.

Zagar’s suspicions weren’t assuaged, and another player would later contact him with his own suspicions.

Round 6: Player Caught With Phone In His Lap

The most high-profile case of over-the-board cheating in recent times involved the late IM Isa Kasimi (Igors Rausis), who had his GM title revoked after using his phone to cheat in the bathroom. There have been smaller cases, like in the Romanian Championship last year when a player also used a phone in the bathroom. What’s remarkable about this case is that the player didn’t even go that far—he used his phone right in the playing hall.

Zagar said: “I would really credit my round-six opponent, Anuj. I don’t think I would’ve pursued it without him actually contacting me through Facebook.” The night before their game, Anuj Dahiya sent Zagar a private message saying he suspected the opponent they both played. They agreed to both watch that player in round six while they played their own game.

The player, whom they closely observed, started playing at a much weaker level than in his previous rounds. “Since we started watching him, he actually dropped a piece and started playing pretty poorly because I think he was nervous to pull it out and look at the phone. He went from 11-centipawn loss, a perfect game, to ‘whoops I lost a piece.'”

He went from 11-centipawn loss, a perfect game, to ‘whoops I lost a piece.’

—Dane Zagar

“He started losing and then he had to pull out the phone and that’s where he got busted. Because he wanted to save himself.” Zagar said it looked like a slightly more sophisticated operation than just looking at a phone under the table: “It looked like he had something else potentially attached to it as well, so it sounded like he had some way of strapping it under the table.”

As for his game against Dahiya, “It was not the best game by either of us because we were both so distracted.” Zagar ended up finishing clear first in the section and winning $5,000, along with another $1,000 with his mixed doubles team.

1 Year Of Cheating; How Could It Have Been Prevented?

It wasn’t a one-off for the player caught cheating. His incredible climb started in January 2023; he jumped from a rating of 1132 to 2086 after eight tournaments. He won two of them outright, earning over $4,000 in prizes. As his rating increased over 1800, he took byes or withdrew in the middle of open tournaments.

His first five games at the Chicago Open were rated, even after he was caught cheating. Only game six was left out, the round he was caught. Zagar said, “It was very likely this guy was cheating in every event for a year.”

It was very likely this guy was cheating in every event for a year.

—Dane Zagar

Zagar said that the tournament directors were initially dismissive of his complaint and that they’re often too busy at large tournaments to take a deep look. “One of the tournament directors mentioned the main reason they didn’t believe me or didn’t want to waste time on it, basically, was that they get so many people saying, ‘My opponent’s cheating!'” The organizer, Continental Chess Association, declined to comment.

He asked them to look at all the cheater’s games after his loss, but “unfortunately, I get it, there’s the tournament going on, so they might’ve been too busy and they didn’t take it too seriously, so they did refuse to do that.” His suggestion is to have a designated person, not a tournament director, whose role is to handle all fair play concerns. “The tournament director, I don’t think, is capable of catching the person during the event. If Anuj and I hadn’t harassed the tournament director so much, I don’t think it would’ve happened during the event. Maybe afterward.”

The tournament director, I don’t think, is capable of catching the person during the event.

—Dane Zagar

While technology and chess engines have become exponentially stronger over the last two decades, Zagar pointed out that anti-cheating measures haven’t evolved at the same pace. “Besides making sure people don’t bring cell phones to the bathroom, they haven’t really changed anything from, say, 2005.” They did wand players outside the bathroom, but that method let slip the player who potentially used his phone right at the table for over a year.

“All the money he’s earned, I don’t think he’s gonna have to pay that back,” said Zagar.

According to Zagar, the ideal procedure for handling a cheating claim would be:

  1. A player has to fill out a form to officially accuse someone of cheating.
  2. The accuser would input their game into chess software and point out suspicious moves.
  3. If there is merit to the claim, a committee of experts and masters should convene.
  4. Approach the person suspected of cheating.

US Chess said they cannot comment on current or potential ethics cases and possible penalties, but they responded with documents outlining how to file a rules complaint, how to file an ethics complaint, and a list of sanctioned members. In minor news at the same tournament, there was a dispute over salmon jerky on one of the boards.





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