Tata Steel Chess takes several precautions against unfair play


Magnus Carlsen at the Tata Steel Chess Tournament in 2016.Picture Jiri Buller

According to director Jeroen van den Berg, the extra measures at the chess tournament, which starts its 85th edition next Friday, are necessary following accusations by world champion Magnus Carlsen against the American Hans Niemann. Cheating is a threat to the sport. We had to do something. The top players are happy that we are taking this seriously,’ explains Van den Berg. Carlsen is participating in the event he has already won eight times, Niemann is not invited.

Last September, the chess world was rocked when world champion Carlsen left a tournament in Saint Louis after losing to the American and then gave up an online match against the same opponent after one move. He later issued a statement openly accusing Niemann of cheating. The American filed a lawsuit in which he accused the Norwegian of libel and slander and demanded 100 million dollars in damages.

The riot also has consequences for the organization of the prestigious tournament in Wijk aan Zee. From now on, the actions of the Grandmasters in the De Moriaan Assembly Hall will appear on the Internet with a delay of fifteen minutes, meaning that any outside advice will be too late. “We understand from experts that this is a very effective remedy,” says Van den Berg.

Scanners

Before the competitions, the participants will be scanned with scanners for the presence of equipment that emits radiation, such as mobile phones. Metal detection ports are missing, it was too expensive to buy them.

In addition, next week the referees will receive assistance from a Fair Play arbitrator, who is specifically responsible for preventing fraud in the gaming room. Spectators admitted to the competitions for the first time since the corona period are no longer allowed to take pictures with their phones. There are several tweaks to the protocol, but the organization doesn’t want to reveal everything.

According to Van den Berg, the tournament has always been aware of fraud in the past, including by using many arbitrators. It has not been allowed for several years to carry telephones and advanced watches on which computerized movements can be consulted. Chess players are not allowed to use their own pen to write down their moves, but they receive writing implements from the competition management.

Telephone in the toilet

Aside from a speculative allegation in the amateur group that an opponent consulted his phone in the bathroom, the organization has never encountered any foul play. Van den Berg only knows of examples from low-level competitions elsewhere in the Netherlands where cash prizes were played: a phone hidden in the toilet, an extra pocket sewn into clothing to hide the mobile phone.

Although no watertight evidence has been presented in the row between Carlsen and Niemann, Van den Berg is convinced that the policy must be tightened. ‘A lot is technically possible, we don’t want to be naive. We have to keep up with the times’. He considers it unlikely that players from the top of the chessboard dare to risk being discovered. ‘I still assume a certain ethics among the grandmasters. You don’t want to become world champion that way. Also: If you get caught, it’s immediately the end of your career.’

Even before he was accused, the 19-year-old Niemann, who played for Dutch clubs in his youth, has tried several times to penetrate the Tata Steel field. He caught bones.

Van den Berg preferred five even younger chess players from India, Germany and Uzbekistan, who also boast a higher rating. According to the director, the fact that Carlsen has announced that he will never play against the American again has hardly played any role. “At most it made the decision a bit easier.”

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