How People Cheat at Chess (Signs of Cheating)

Chess, a game celebrated for its demand of intellectual skill and strategic thinking, has not been immune to the scourge of cheating.

While the game itself is a pure battle of wits, some players succumb to the temptation of securing a win through dishonest means.

This not only undermines the integrity of the game but also disrespects the rich history and tradition of chess.

We explain how people cheat at chess and how to recognize the signs of cheating.

Chess Engines

Electronic Assistance

One of the most prevalent methods of cheating in modern chess involves the use of technology.

Players, both in online and over-the-board formats, have been caught utilizing chess engines – software that calculates optimal moves.

This can be done through discreet earpieces, hidden devices, or even by quickly consulting a smartphone during a bathroom break.

The chess engines, such as Stockfish (by far the most common), Leela, Komodo, provide a significant and illicit edge, making even an average player seemingly formidable.

Online Anonymity Exploits

Sandbagging refers to the deliberate act of playing below one’s actual skill level or intentionally losing games to achieve a lower rating.

This deceptive practice allows the player to compete in lower-rated tournaments or matches, giving them an unfair advantage over genuinely lower-rated opponents.

Human Manipulation: Collusion and Signaling

Beyond technology, human-based cheating also finds its way onto the chessboard.

Collusion between players can take many forms, such as pre-arranging game outcomes or using signals during play.

In some instances, players have developed intricate systems of hand gestures or coded language to communicate moves or strategies to their accomplices during a game.

This form of cheating is particularly insidious as it exploits the trust that is foundational to fair competition.

The Impact on the Chess Community

Eroding Trust

Cheating not only impacts individual games but also erodes the trust within the chess community.

Players begin to second-guess the legitimacy of their opponents’ moves and victories, leading to a toxic environment where accusations may fly, and genuine skill is overshadowed by skepticism.

Implementing Preventative Measures

Anti-Cheating Technologies

In response to the rise of cheating, chess platforms and tournament organizers have implemented robust anti-cheating measures.

Sophisticated algorithms detect irregularities in a player’s move patterns, identifying potential engine use.

Additionally, during over-the-board tournaments, stringent checks of players (metal wand) and their belongings are conducted to prevent electronic assistance.

Educational Initiatives

Educating players about the consequences of cheating and promoting a culture of integrity is equally crucial.

Initiatives that emphasize the value of fair play, respect for opponents, and the intrinsic rewards of honest competition serve to fortify the chess community against dishonest tactics.

Signs of Cheating in Chess

Here are the signs that someone might be cheating in a chess game:

  1. Unnatural Move Patterns: Consistently making moves that align with top recommendations of chess engines.
  2. Inconsistent Skill Levels: Displaying both novice mistakes and grandmaster-level moves in the same game.
  3. Rapid Perfect Moves: Responding quickly with perfect moves in complex positions.
  4. History of Suspicious Play: A track record of games where their moves consistently match those of chess engines.
  5. Unusual Time Management: Using almost the same amount of time for both simple and complex positions, indicating possible external consultation. For example, a cheater might consistently spend 8-12 seconds per move no matter if it’s a complex position or if it’s a simple take-back or forced move with one option.
  6. Consistent Performance Spikes: Sudden and unexplained improvements in performance, especially against stronger opponents.

It’s essential to approach accusations of cheating with caution and evidence, as false accusations can harm a player’s reputation and the integrity of the game.

How Does Detect Cheating?

How finds cheaters:

  1. Checking Player’s Skill Level: looks at a player’s average move score. This is like checking how good a player’s moves are on average.
  2. Watching How Player’s Skill Changes: Everyone gets better at chess with practice. So, checks if a player’s skill is improving in a natural way.
  3. Looking for Unusual Patterns: If a player’s moves are too perfect and don’t vary much, and don’t fit a natural distribution of what might be expected, it could be an indication of cheating.
  4. Checking for Consistently Good Moves: If a player is always making the best moves and never making bad ones, it’s also suspicious. In other words, their moves fit into a thin slice of the expected distribution rather than representing one that humans will naturally fall into.

So basically, keeps a distribution of players’ moves and looks at how “good” or “bad” they are and whether they fit a human-like distribution.

So, uses these methods to see if someone might be getting help from a computer to play their games.

Q&A – How People Cheat at Chess

How do players cheat in online chess?

In online chess, players often cheat by using chess engines or software that can analyze the current position and suggest the best moves.

They might run this software in the background while playing or on a separate device.

Some players also use multiple accounts, where they play against themselves to artificially boost their ratings.

What are the common methods used for cheating in over-the-board chess tournaments?

In over-the-board tournaments, cheating methods can be more sophisticated due to the physical presence of players.

Common methods include:

  1. Electronic Devices: Players might hide electronic devices, such as smartphones or small earpieces, to receive moves from a remote helper or a chess engine.
  2. Signals: A player might have an accomplice in the audience who signals the best moves using pre-arranged signs.
  3. Pre-arranged games: Opponents might agree on the outcome of a game beforehand, or play out a pre-memorized series of moves.
  4. Notes: Some players might bring hidden notes or notations to help them during the game.

How do chess engines aid in cheating?

Chess engines, like Stockfish or Komodo, are highly advanced software that can analyze chess positions in real-time and suggest the best possible moves.

When used during a game, they give the player an unfair advantage as they can outperform even the best human players in most positions.

By consulting with a chess engine, a player can ensure they’re making the strongest moves in any given situation.

What are the signs that someone might be cheating in a chess game?

Detecting a cheater can be challenging, but there are some telltale signs:

  1. Unnatural Move Patterns: If a player consistently makes moves that are top recommendations of chess engines, it might be suspicious.
  2. Inconsistent Skill Levels: A player who makes both novice mistakes and grandmaster-level moves in the same game might be cheating.
  3. Frequent Breaks: Taking regular breaks, especially during critical positions, might indicate that a player is consulting with an engine or an accomplice.
  4. Avoiding Eye Contact: Players who avoid eye contact or appear nervous might be hiding something.
  5. Physical Clues: Wearing earpieces, frequently checking pockets, or having hidden electronic devices can be red flags.

How do chess platforms detect and prevent cheating?

Online chess platforms employ various methods to detect and prevent cheating:

  1. Engine Matching: Platforms analyze players’ moves and compare them with top chess engine recommendations. If there’s a high match percentage, it raises a flag.
  2. Play Style Analysis: Platforms analyze the consistency in a player’s style. Sudden spikes in performance or deviations from their usual style can be suspicious.
  3. Multiple Accounts Detection: Platforms use IP addresses, device information, and other data to detect and prevent players from using multiple accounts.
  4. Time Analysis: Rapid responses with perfect moves, especially in complex positions, can be a sign of engine use.
  5. Player Reports: Platforms often allow players to report suspicious behavior, which they then investigate.

What are the consequences for players caught cheating in chess?

Consequences for cheating vary based on the platform or tournament:

  1. Online Platforms: Players might get their accounts banned or suspended. Their ratings might also be reset.
  2. Tournaments: Players can be disqualified from the tournament, banned from future events, and might have to return any prizes or earnings.
  3. Reputation Damage: Being caught cheating can severely damage a player’s reputation in the chess community, making it hard for them to participate in future events or find sponsors.

How has technology influenced cheating in chess?

Technology has been a double-edged sword in chess.

While it has democratized learning and made high-quality resources available to everyone, it has also introduced new ways to cheat.

The availability of powerful chess engines and electronic devices has made it easier for players to cheat, both online and in over-the-board tournaments.

However, technology also aids in detecting cheaters, with advanced algorithms and surveillance methods being used to maintain the integrity of the game.

Are there any famous incidents of grandmasters cheating in chess?

Yes, there have been several incidents where even grandmasters were caught cheating.

One notable case is that of Bulgarian Grandmaster Igors Rausis, who was caught using a smartphone in a bathroom during a tournament in 2019.

Hans Niemann has cheated in online chess and was suspected of cheating by Magnus Carlsen at the 2022 Sinquefield Cup, which set off a firestorm in the chess community at the time.

At the 2023 Qatar Master Open, Magnus Carlsen lost a game and blamed his inability to concentrate on his opponent, Alisher Suleymenov, wearing an analog watch, which is against FIDE rules.

Such incidents have led to increased scrutiny and stricter anti-cheating measures in tournaments.

How can players protect themselves from accusations of cheating?

To avoid accusations of cheating, players can:

  1. Avoid Electronic Devices: During over-the-board tournaments, leave electronic devices outside the playing area.
  2. Be Transparent: If playing online, consider streaming your games to show you’re playing fairly.
  3. Understand the Rules: Be aware of the tournament or platform’s rules regarding fair play and adhere to them.
  4. Maintain Consistency: Sudden spikes in performance can raise suspicions, so it’s essential to maintain a consistent playing style.

What measures are in place at major chess tournaments to prevent cheating?

Major chess tournaments take cheating very seriously and have implemented various measures:

  1. Electronic Device Bans: Players are often not allowed to bring phones or other electronic devices into the playing area.
  2. Metal Detectors: Some tournaments use metal detectors to ensure no electronic devices are brought in.
  3. Surveillance Cameras: Cameras monitor players to detect any suspicious behavior.
  4. Random Checks: Players might be subjected to random checks during or after their games.
  5. Strict Monitoring: Arbiters and officials closely monitor games and players to ensure fair play.


The battle against cheating in chess is ongoing, marrying technological and educational approaches to safeguard the game’s integrity.

While cheaters seek to undermine the intellectual purity of chess, the collective efforts of the global chess community continue to fortify the game against dishonesty, ensuring that it remains a true test of strategy, skill, and mental acuity.

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