Promoting fair play among child chess players

The abyss of cheating

“If a player is determined to cheat, it will happen,” said chess organizer Walter High. Apparently players cheat on a regular basis. ChessBase articles on cheating are cataloged here. the New York Times ran a story on cheating in baseball and chess. Because children imitate adult behavior, they can also cheat at chess.

In addition to cheating by imitation, children can cheat to win for their own happiness. A study of 87 six-year-old children found that 40% said winning at chess makes them happy. Another 10% said playing with their queen or cheating at chess makes them happy because these strategies help them win.

Apply school advice

Four tips from an article on children cheat at school could transfer to chess. First, let the consequences ensue. Now that most chess games are played online, if a child cheats, they will be penalized. National Master Jeff Ashton, featured in this previous article, said a child playing in a Panda Chess Academy online tournament “was automatically detected in the middle of the tournament and lost points.”

Second, tell the children to be honest. The article on cheating in school recommends telling a child, “I expect you to be honest. This positive wording resonates with my lifeguard training. I was advised to yell “Walk” if a child needed to slow down next to the pool. If instead a rescuer yells, “Don’t run!” the child hears “Run” and then continues to run. In other words, “don’t cheat” may be less effective than “play fair”.

Third, the school article asks parents to “consider how much you talk to your children about the importance of good grades versus how much you discuss the importance of being an honest person.” Translated for parents and chess coaches, “consider how much you talk to your children or students about the importance of a good chess ranking compared to how much you discuss the importance of playing chess honestly. ”

Finally, praise the efforts of the children. In chess, an example might be praising children who take appropriate time on each move during their games. Praise their hard work over game results.

These four tips are my school chess tips app. I also asked two prominent chess figures, Dr. Judit Sztaray and Jay Stallings, about their techniques for promoting fair play.

Mechanical Institute Chess Club

Dr. Judit Sztaray is the Executive Director of Youth Outreach and Events at Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club. Sztaray advises children:

institute of mechanics1. Cheating has serious consequences. Cheaters will be found, if not after their first cheating, then later, but they are found. Being caught cheating means having their reputation ruined, and they often end up blacklisted as a gamer. A cheater is a liability to an organization, and the player will be left with nowhere to play competitive chess. Who would want to play against a known cheater?

2. Chess tournaments measure your ability to play chess. After cheating, your rating will no longer reflect your ability to play chess, but rather the fact that you cheated. Sure, you can have a high rating, but you’re not good at playing chess, you’re just cheating, and that makes all the difference. You will always know that you are not as good as people think.

3. Cheating is addictive. It’s like cigarettes or drugs. If you cheat once, it will be easy to continue and very hard to stop. Don’t be tempted!

Sztaray added, “We teach our children to say no to drugs. Likewise, we must remind them never to cheat and to always respect fair play. Despite the temptations, children should always say no to infidelity, just like they say no to drugs. If a child is discovered cheating, we notify their parents and discuss possible actions. We then work with them to ensure that the child’s actions and behavior can be corrected and guided towards fair play.

Before the coronavirus, the Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club hosted in-person chess games. Currently, the building of the Institute of Mechanics is closed”during the extension of the Shelter in Place order.” The Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club moved to online tournaments, overseen by Sztaray and Mechanics’ Institute Chess Room Manager Abel Talamantez. Some cases of fair play violations have been found, even though the club’s online tournaments do not have cash prizes. The Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club is prepared to institute additional precautionary measures to ensure fair play, such as requiring each player’s real name and/or requiring them to record their face during play (via Skype or Zoom and webcam) .

California Youth Chess League

Jay Stallings is the director of California Youth Chess League. His nickname is “Coach Jay”. Instead of focusing on the ramifications if caught cheating, Coach Jay often tells a story to illustrate the feeling of empowerment you gain by playing your best, winning or losing.

In 1972, after Bobby Fischer played a great game to beat Boris Spassky in Game 6 of their World Championship match, the fans cheered, and then something incredible happened. Boris Spassky joined them, applauding his opponent’s incredible masterpiece. It may have been the one move Spassky made the entire game that surprised Fischer. “Can you believe this sportsmanship?” Fischer exclaimed frantically to his manager. In the end, Bobby Fischer won the match, but it was Spassky who would forever be associated with the ultimate show of sportsmanship.

Sportsmanship begins with a greater appreciation of effort than victory. In other words – Do you enthusiastically embrace the epic strategy, calculation and creativity of chess? Or do you play the game primarily to earn trophies, recognition, and leaderboard points? For me, I’d rather have an amazing battle against a tough player and lose, than checkmate my little brother in 4 moves. And you?

Two books written by Coach Jay include a section on sportsmanship. Fried liver and burning pants (2013) shares stories of famous poor sports from chess history, while Coach Jay’s Chess Academy Orange Belt Course Book (2018) introduces the young player to sportsmanship and how to properly manage conflicts in ranked tournaments.

Coach Jay's books

Coach Jay’s books

Confessions of a touch-move cheater

The very first time I won a game against an expert, when I was a teenager and had odds over 200 points below my opponent, I remember hitting a miss when this expert was not on the board. No one saw me touch this chess set, and I moved another piece. So my first win against an expert is still tainted for me, since I didn’t follow the touch-and-move rule.

The shame I felt because of this touch violation was enough to keep me from cheating for over 30 years, until 2015. I wrote about my 2015 touch violation in my 2016 book . Get ready with chess strategy. In a situation similar to when I was in my teens, I was ranked over 200 points below my opponent and really wanted to win. The excerpt below is from Get ready with chess strategy:

I was paired with FIDE Master (FM) Keith Hayward. In previous tournaments, I’ve drawn once with Hayward and lost to him four times. At move 43, this game looked like loss number five to me. Then, at move 44, Hayward made a mistake, giving up a bishop for free. I was back in the game. Unfortunately, I also had time issues. Time control was played in 60 minutes without delay. I had less than five minutes for the rest of my moves. As I took the bishop, I offered a draw. Hayward refused. Six moves later we reached the position included in this article, move 50 with me as Black to move.

I picked up my rook on b7, hitting the white pawn on b6 with it. I said, “I adapt” when I realized that 50…Rxb6 had lost to 51. Rh6+, skewering my king on my rook. I started moving my rook to b8 instead. Hayward said I hit his pawn. The tournament director, my son William, asked me if I had touched the white pawn. I said I had. William said, “Then you have to take it. This is the same rule you teach your students. I took the pawn and resigned four moves later. After the tournament, I felt worse about my bad sportsmanship than about my tower suspension.

In addition to apologizing in person after our game, I sent an apology to Hayward that night. Hayward directs the Lewisville Chess Club which I witnessed, both before and after my touch-motion violation. We remain friends, but I’m still bothered by my touch-movement violation. As Sztaray pointed out, cheaters never forget they cheated.

Keith Hayward, Alexey Root

Keith Hayward vs. Alexey Root (2007) | Photo: Richard Herrington

The next time I’m paired with 200 points or more, if a situation like a missing opponent or a time problem arises, I have to sublimate my burning desire to win for the longer lasting pleasure of playing fair. I hope that sharing my experiences and telling my students and readers to “play fair” will save them from the abyss of cheating.


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