The Dark Side Of Chess

Dark side of Chess

Chess, in all its broadness, is a game that unites people from the ends of the earth. People find solace in the checkered squares of the Royalty Game. Despite the significant level of honour attached to chess, several elements threaten to plague its honour. These elements could be in various forms. We take a look at the Outlands(dark side) of Chess’ Pride Lands.

1. Cheating

This heinous act that harms the beautiful game of chess can happen both online and offline. Awareness about them ought to bring about more ways to combat them. Ways of cheating in chess include:

A. Sandbagging

This is an act where an online chess player deliberately reduces his rating to swindle unsuspecting opponents. The human mind tends to relax when faced with no threat.
This mentality also applies to chess. When an opponent has a rating that is significantly higher than his opponent’s, they tend to be more relaxed and confident to grab the win.
This mentality is explored by sandbaggers who disguise as comparatively weaker players to upset their opponents. The Wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing tactics have plagued the online chess world, and the only known means of curbing this act is punishment for offenders through bans.

B. Piece displacement

Some of us with more playing experience might have noticed this trick over the board. Those that are yet to notice it should pay more attention to it when playing OTB in a non-professional setting, especially in fast time controls.
Some chess players cheat by displacing certain pieces from their original square to another square that favours them. People go as far as cunningly removing pieces from the board, or adding them to the board.

Some players tend to be quite quick with this trick.

One way to curb this menace is to record one’s games, play in a standard setting often, and play speed chess less often, especially sudden death time controls.

C. Engine usage

On May 11, 1997, the advent of the chess computer age came into the limelight. A chess engine called Deep Blue defeated the sitting World Champion, Garry Kasparov. This landmark event ushered the world of chess into a new era—one with its merits and demerits.
Some players cheat with these chess engines, especially in online chess. They have the engine show them brilliant moves in certain positions that are crucial to winning the game.
This form of cheating is not restricted to the online domain alone as there have been cases of chess engine usage in offline tournaments as in the case of GM Igors Rausis in 2019.

Igor Rausis caught cheating with chess engine in the toilet.

Chess players that competitively make use of engines to play should be banned. This act would aim to discourage players from this form and other forms of cheating.

2. Corruption

Corruption has been a plague in society since the dawn of time. Through the following ways, we look at how corruption dips its proboscis in chess’ essence;

A. Funds embezzlement

Funds for chess tournaments can be raised through sponsorships from various chess-loving organizations. Many organizers of chess tournaments do not make judicious use of these funds. The prize structure of the tournament would be poor, and the tournament setting would be poorly organized with materials of low convenience. Most of the allocation of the funds would go into the cost of organizing the tournament which is a clear show of corruption.

Winners from tournaments are paid less than they ought to receive.

In other cases, some chess federations embezzle funds meant to sponsor promising players to tournaments where their experience would soar. This dark side brings down the growth of the game and must be tackled with severe scrutiny.

B. Manipulation/match-fixing

The act of manipulating the results of a tournament is no newcomer to the world of chess. This act berates all that chess stands for. The battles that take place on the sacred chess boards become meaningless. Players that spend time studying the game and get improved might lose faith due to this act of corruption. In truth, match-fixing is a difficult act to subdue—probably the most difficult in chess.

Many top chess tournaments have received allegations of match-fixing, and there’s only little investigation can do to prove otherwise. Similarly, the youngest Grandmaster in history, Ahbimanyu Mishra of the United States, who recently gulped the record held by Sergey Karjakin for 19 years, was involved in match-fixing allegations as published by New York Times also about The Dark Side Of Chess.

Abhimanyu Mishra David Llada SA40A 2000x1333
Ahbimanyu Mishra, world’s youngest ever grandmaster. Image: David Llada

C. Controversial president

The reputation of leadership in chess plunged after the levels of controversy surrounding former FIDE president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Amongst his many controversies, the most prominent one is his blacklist from the US due to assistance and affiliation with the Syrian government.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, President of FIDE(1995-2018). Photo:

Furthermore, he once claimed that chess is a game invented by aliens and that he, himself, was an alien.

3. Addiction

“I’ll just play one game real quick, and I’ll move on with what I have to do for today”, said a chess player who spent hours playing chess when he had a coding project to finish. Chess is dynamic. This is one reason why many compare it to life itself. Its fascinating complexity makes curious minds fond of it.
Being a good chess player means being able to balance the aspects of one’s life. A major, and sometimes, overlooked dark side in chess is players’ tendency to get addicted to the game. The negative effects of addiction to chess are stated as follows;

A. Truancy to school/work

One’s affinity for chess could, sometimes, prove costly as a player could sacrifice activities in school or work, for chess. Their interest would almost totally shift from their academics or work to chess, and this would create negative effects.
As a student, academics retain their relevance in society. As a worker, money is needed to live comfortably in society. The ability to create a balance between chess and school or work is what makes up a solid chess player.

Playing chess all day is not an effective way to improve and play better. Image:

Many great chess players in history found a balance between chess and their professional careers. Emanuel Lasker was a great mathematician, friends with Albert Einstein. Mikhail Botvinnik was a successful electrical engineer and computer scientist. He not only balanced his careers and chess, but he also merged them! He was a pioneer of the computerization of chess.

B. Social awkwardness

The age of computers might have brought about substantial growth of chess, but it also has a dark side. Playing chess has never been easier, and this fact stirs conflict when chess players neglect their friends and family.
Because of a chess tournament, some players might pass on major family gatherings and important friendly outings. Improving a chess player involves taking time to relax and engage in other physical activities. The World Champion, Magnus Carlsen exercises his mind and body by playing football from time to time.

It’s practically impossible for anything to be 100% devoid of impurity. However, there are a lot of actions to be taken to increase the purity level significantly. Although it will be extremely difficult and would take quite some time. Every chess player must not just steer clear of activities that harm the game of chess but also play their part in the purification and exorcism of the dark side of chess.

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    1 comment

    • john wright

      Two problems not addressed:
      1. Players aborting when they draw black against white.
      2. Players aborting when their proposed opponent is perceived to have too high a rating.
      Both of these are difficult to combat, and constitute grade manipulation.

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