An amateur chess player with a national rating of 1512, who had raised suspicion due to strong results at recent tournaments, was caught carrying a phone during a game at the Dutch Open Championship in Dieren, The Netherlands at the end of July.
Using a metal detector, the arbiters discovered that the player was carrying a smartphone during his game. As this is against official regulations, all the player’s results were annulled and he was removed from the tournament.
The incident is being investigated by FIDE and the Dutch federation. Chess.com has decided to not report on the amateur player’s name during the open investigation.
The 19-year-old player from the Utrecht region started playing for a chess club three and a half years ago. He entered the Dutch rating list in May 2018 with a rating of 1425.
He remained roughly at that level in the next lists (1444 in August 2018, 1512 in February 2019 and due to inactivity, also 1512 in May 2019) but started playing at a much higher level early summer:
- 5.5/6 at the Nova College Weekender in Haarlem, winning group B (prize: 250 euros)
- 5/5 and one bye at the Hilversum Open, winning group C (prize: 150 euros)
- 8/9 at the Amsterdam Open, winning group D (prize: 300 euros)
With these results, the player had won 373 rating points in three months. Even with a K-factor as high as 30 (meaning that ratings under 2000 always fluctuate more), this would suggest remarkable progress.
At the Dutch Open, July 23-August 1 in Dieren, the player was in group C. Because of his recent results, and other players sharing their suspicions with them, the arbiters decided to watch him closely. Some of them had also been arbiters at the aforementioned tournaments.
They had checked some recent games of the player, and felt that many moves were too good to be true.
“A Dutch IM who visited the tournament agreed with us, and said that several moves were clearly coming from a chess engine,” said arbiter Joost Jansen.
The arbiters kept track of the player’s activity during games, and noticed he was visiting the toilet a lot—up to 15 times per game, and one time staying away for 12 minutes.
Jansen: “There were three ways to reach the toilets, and he was using all three, which seemed somewhat strange.”
This behavior started in round three, and after round four chief arbiter Koos Stolk decided to talk to the player. He asked him to empty his pockets. Nothing was found.
“I didn’t have a good feeling about this, so I decided to order a metal detector online,” said Jansen. “The FIDE Fair Play Commission recommends using such a device.”
With some delay, the detector arrived before the penultimate round. There was still time to use it.
About an hour into the eighth round, Stolk took the scanner and asked the player to join him, and undergo the scan. He refused, when Stolk told him: “That comes down to being tested positive.”
The threat was stronger than the execution. Before the scanner was actually used on him, the player showed a smartphone that was hidden in a pocket that he was wearing inside his pants. That’s why emptying his pockets after round four hadn’t brought it up.
He allowed Stolk to check the phone, and several chess apps were found as well as all games the player had played in his recent, successful tournaments. What was not found was a chess engine with the current position of his game.
“But carrying a phone, which wasn’t switched off by the way, is enough to be in violation,” said Stolk.
The player was promptly removed from the tournament, and his results declared void. Soon a correction to the Dutch August rating list will be published, with the player’s results in the other tournaments annulled as well.
Chess.com reached out to the player, who was willing to provide comments. “I knew I was not allowed to carry a phone, but I didn’t know it would be so serious,” he said. “I thought I would only get a warning. That was very naive.”
Asked why he kept the phone in a special pocket inside his pants, he replied: “I thought it would disturb people if they would see it.” He denied having carried a phone with him in the other rounds or at earlier tournaments.
He finished by saying: “I apologize for creating so much mayhem.”
The case in Dieren was shared with the FIDE Fair Play Commission, and soon the Disciplinary Committee of the Dutch Chess Federation will decide on a penalty.
The federation intends to always have a metal detector at hand in future tournaments. “We’ll need to have one, to put the pressure on potential cheaters,” said Stolk.
In 2007, a Dutch amateur player was banned for three years after he was caught using Pocket Fritz during his game.
In 2015 a Georgian grandmaster received a three-year ban and lost his GM title after his phone was discovered hidden in a toilet.
A month ago a Latvian-Czech grandmaster was caught using a phone at the toilet during a game. The story went viral in mainstream media when a photo was leaked.