Can You Really Cheat At Online Chess?

Thinking about taking up online chess to improve your game but worried that you might just end up playing against a computer? Is it possible to cheat in online chess at all or have the big players in the online chess market managed to prevent cheating using clever technology? We’ve investigated this issue in detail and this is what we found.

Can you cheat at online chess? The answer is an unfortunate yes, you can cheat at online chess. While many of the online chess sites do have anti-cheat measures in place, it’s impossible for them to police and prevent all forms of cheating.

It’s good to be aware of how people can cheat and then decide whether it matters to you in the context of the game you are playing. Here’s all you need to know about cheating at online chess.

Can you cheat at online chess? - ChessPulse.com
Can you cheat at online chess? – ChessPulse.com

Is Cheating In Online Chess A Problem?

It depends on how you define “problem”. There is absolutely no doubt that cheating takes place in online chess and that it happens at all levels of the game. It is impossible to eliminate and it’s also true that the vast majority of cheating involves the use of chess programs to “suggest” moves to the cheating player – enabling them to make a better move than they otherwise would.

But is this a problem? For some people it is. They will feel that every match is a real competition and that their opponent ought to approach the game honestly and with their own skills on display. Others will consider a workout against a chess computer (which is what this is) as good as playing a human being and thus, it’s not such a big issue.

It is worth noting that bullet, blitz, speed, fast, etc. versions of chess tend to suffer from less cheating because the speed and intensity of play makes it harder to incorporate computer assistance but they are, by no means “cheating free” either.


The Chess Networks And Cheating

There are many online chess networks and most of them charge a fee for membership. But do they allow cheats and if not, how can they tackle them?

Well, no network officially allows cheating in games, but the problem is that none of them can really stop cheating either.

One easy to implement measure is the removal of the Winboard extension but while this extension does enable cheating – it also allows you to set up hotkeys and even automate certain moves if you have particular early game routines you always play as well as enabling much nicer board layouts.

None of them can prevent you from setting up another laptop with a chess computer on it, either. Many of them do provide some sort of scanning to compare low ranking player’s games to chess computer “perfect games” that can help identify rookie cheats but by the time you get higher up the rankings? Many players ought to be playing to a similar standard, at least some of the time, as a chess computer would.

So, it’s simply impossible for the chess networks to eliminate all cheating and in fact, for every “sign of a cheat” there’s a workaround for a dedicated cheat to employ. However, there are some tips you can use to try and spot cheats in your online games.


10 Warning Signs Of An Online Chess Cheat

  • The play like a computer over multiple games. If someone with a supposedly similar rank to you is crushing you over and over again with near perfect play? They may well be cheating. If you then run your game through a chess computer and find that their play corresponds to the moves? There are almost certainly cheating.
  • They show a level of near inhuman tactical understanding. We all have our tactics but there is a limit to human cognition and if you find suggestion that there is a deep but incomprehensible tactical understanding in your opponent – they might be a computer.
  • They don’t relax when they get ahead. Human beings tend to become more and more confident when they are in a winning position and this leads to carelessness and mistakes, computers? They don’t get confident; they just keep playing like the robots that they are.
  • They often use a terrible opening and then trounce you anyway. Now, this isn’t always a sign of a computer (the author prefers a fianchetto for its “shock value” in tournament play, the loss of a tempo is worth the psychological advantage it brings) but it can be. This is because the human “player” is getting bored with easy wins and is looking to mix things up with a bit more variety.
  • Their game has a regular rhythm. There is nothing more obvious than someone playing their moves after almost exactly the same amount of thinking time every time. That’s because this is the time it takes to give their computer set up the move, for it to think and for them to return to the board and input that move.
  • They take a lot of time over very obvious moves. If they’re running back and forth between the screen and another machine, they do this even when the right move is clear even to the most junior of players. Their “thinking time” doesn’t decrease because they’re not thinking, their computer is.
  • Their game starts to collapse if they find themselves with little time left on the clock. When they have to make moves quickly or concede, they can’t cheat any more and thus, their “natural ability” comes to the fore and they start to play at about 1/10th the level that they’ve been playing at.
  • They love to stay anonymous. Not all anonymous accounts are cheats, but all cheating accounts are anonymous. This is because if they get caught, they get banned and they don’t want their “real” account banned – so, they create fakes to cheat behind. This also prevents you from getting any picture of the player behind the screen (most online profiles link to real life FIDE, ELO, etc. profiles to help you better understand your opponent).
  • The account they play on is very new. Cheats get caught. Always. This means that they open a new account play for a few weeks, get caught and then get banned and then they’re back opening a new account again. It is also harder for any kind of cheat analysis software to identify patterns of play in new accounts.
  • They don’t play short time control games. You can’t cheat easily if the moves must be played quickly and many cheats don’t play these games or if they do, they really suck at them compared to games with much longer time controls.

What To Do If You Think Your Opponent Is A Cheat?

Well, if it doesn’t bother you – you can keep playing them. Practice is practice after all. But if it does bother you then you should know that all the major chess playing engines online have a reporting tool for cheats – don’t be afraid to hit the “report” button and let them know.

They will then investigate that account and if they agree with you, the cheat will get banned and then they will probably pay again and open up another account but some discouragement is better than nothing at all, right?


Is This Why FIDE Has Separate Rankings For Online Chess?

We wrote about the FIDE online chess ranking system in detail here but in a very brief summary – FIDE does rank online players but it doesn’t use the same system as it does for players who attend tournaments in real life and yes, one of the considerations for this is almost certainly the ability of online players to cheat.

The My FIDE Arena program does have a battery of anti-cheat measures in place, mind you, that ought to deter the casual cheat from even trying to cheat but it’s impossible to be 100% certain that someone isn’t cheating without a human arbiter to keep an eye on things.


Conclusion

Can you cheat at online chess? Yes, though it’s fair to say that the techniques used to cheat are different from those used in face-to-face games. For example, your opponent is never going to reach over the board when you’re not looking to switch the square that one of your pieces is on (though this can be prevented in real life by annotating your games properly).

The big problem with online chess cheating is the use of computer programs to “suggest” moves to the player. Computing power is so formidable in today’s world that even in a few seconds a laptop or desktop computer can rival a grandmaster at play. There are, however, plenty of warning signs to look out for regarding cheats and then only you can decide what you’re going to do about it.

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