Un December XNUMX article appeared in the Wall Street Journal explains how chess sites and online tournaments dealt with cheaters. The problem suddenly became serious after the spike in users due to the pandemic and the Netflix series The Chess Queen. 

Chess is a board game with a thousand-year history. They have crossed the centuries and experienced unprecedented fame in the second half of the last century, during the cold war. The arrival of the new millennium seemed to have marked its decline, but a recent combination of events has changed the fortunes of the entire chess movement.

The new life of chess

At first it was streaming, which initiated the transformation of the board game into a real esport. Then came the pandemic, which gave a lot of people time to start or restart playing thanks to sites like Chess.com. And finally Netflix also contributed, with the series The Queen Of Chess, which has rekindled interest in chess globally.

However, this combination of events has confronted the movement a new problem for chess, but very common in video games: the cheaters. Cheating in front of a "real" chessboard is difficult. There had been some suspicious behavior in the past, even at high levels, but never anything systematic.

The tide of cheaters

With the transition from the physical to the digital chessboard, however, a world of software has opened up to players ready to do the calculations for them. Since the inception of computers, programmers have developed systems that can beat even the best chess players in the world, and now those codes are available to everyone on the internet.

Since this autumn, therefore, an unprecedented tide of users has invaded the chess sites, and each of them was just a few clicks away from being able to use a software capable of beating even the world champion. The obvious consequence was a surge in accounts banned from Chess.com and other sites. The most curious thing is that this increase is not in line with that of the players, especially if you look at the last few months. It is the cheater rate that has increased. 

Rate of accounts banned by number of users on Chess.com until August 2020


To address this problem, Chess.com has decided to fight fire with fire. A team of two dozen people developed several software that controls all the games played on the site. The programs perform both simple checks to see which players copy the moves that the most common software dictates to them, and complex analysis of the behaviors of the most advanced players to find suspicious variations. 

The results were astounding: 18.000 accounts banned from the site in November alone, and very important players, even in the world top 100, who have confessed to using irregular software.

The effort of Chess.com and other sites has allowed FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs) to organize safe tournaments, with great champions who would never have agreed to participate before due to the high risk of cheating.