Tuesday 29 October 2019

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated - there's nothing there

Banned from the Roxy, OK
I never much liked playing there anyway
- Crass

I've been playing competitive chess for more than forty years, over the board, by correspondence and on the internet. This is, by a margin, the most disgusting thing - and the most upsetting thing - that has ever happened to me in all that time.

As you might surmise, I don't really give a damn whether I ever play another game on Chess.com. There are other places.

What I do give a damn about is my good name, and the willingness of Chess.com to dirty my name, just as they have dirtied other people's names, without having to justify themselves in any way, without having to put forward even the smallest scrap of evidence.

It's not just the principle of the thing, that the process is plainly contrary to natural justice. It's the effect of being accused, without being able to see, let alone challenge, what is alleged against you. That's psychologically distressing in a way that I don't think I can describe. So I won't attempt to, except to observe that it's cost me an awful lot by way of stress and disturbed sleep.

Of course Chess.com are a private company. They have the right, within the law, to have who they want on their site and to ban who they want from their site.

What they don't have the right to do is to call somebody a cheat without backing it up.

But that is what they have done.

And that's disgusting, when you're on the receiving end. That's mud, and mud sticks.

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated - wrong in fact, wrong in theory?

So how does Chess.com's system work anyway?

I don't really know, and I don't particularly want to speculate, not more than I'm obliged to. It ought to be up to them to explain themselves, not up to me.

But I also don't know
  • whether that system has been assessed independently, and even if so, how thoroughly and how expertly
  • how much it risks (and is understood to risk) catching the wrong people as well as the right ones
  • how much its reliability may vary (and is understood to vary) according to the sample size of games
  • how much it may depend (and is understood to depend) on fallible human inputs, human judgments and so on.
I don't know. But I do know that Chess.com aren't in possession of a foolproof system. Of course they aren't, because there's no such thing as a foolproof system. And I do know that they are wrong in this particular instance. Spectacularly wrong.

What I think, however, is that their method to some degree involves looking at the moves you have played, and seeing how many match with the preferred choice of a computer program. Whether they do anything else, or what precisely their criteria are, who knows. (But how reliable those criteria are - on that, I do have a well-informed opinion.)

One question this raises is - since there is such a thing as theory in chess, when in the game do they start scrutinising? Presumably not on move one. But if not, at what point does the matching begin? If they start too early, when in fact you're still in book (because book use is permitted in these games) isn't that a point where errors can be committed? Because moves which you're finding from a printed source are being marked down as moves you're finding with a program?

Let me give you an example. Let me give you several examples.

When you finish a game on Chess.com, you get a little game report, which includes some basic computer analysis, and a chart that looks like this.

What it means precisely, I couldn't say, but I can guess what Best Move means, and what Book means. And I can guess that 99.3 is a high figure, whatever it means precisely and however they're calculating it. The game it refers to is this one.

[Site "Chess.com"]
[Date "2019.07.01"]
[White "passy234"]
[Black "Justinpatzer"]
[Result "0-1"]
[WhiteElo "2055"]
[BlackElo "2149"]
[EndDate "2019.07.05"]
[Termination "Justinpatzer won by resignation"]
1. Nf3 d5 2. g3 Bg4 3. Bg2 c6 4. c4 e6 5. O-O Nf6 6. Qb3 Qb6 7. Qc2 Nbd7 8. cxd5 exd5 9. d3 Qc5 10. Qb3 Qb6 11. Qc2 Qc5 12. Qd1 Bd6 13. Nc3 O-O 14. Be3 Qa5 15. a3 Rfe8 16. b4 Qd8 17. Rc1 a5 18. Qb3 Qe7 19. Rb1 axb4 20. axb4 Ne5 21. Nxe5 Bxe5 22. Rfe1 d4 0-1

So we've got a twenty-two move minature, in which Black plays five moves of theory, and then turns over White in short order with an extremely high Accuracy rate. Which is pretty suspicious, isn't it?

Except it isn't. Because this, which suggests that theory ends after five moves on each side

and which would mean that the players were playing their own moves from this position

is wrong. Very wrong.

In fact Black was playing published theory until move sixteen.

Specifically, he was following Petrosian v Vovhannisyan, Lake Sevan 2015, which you can see below (to move 14, but as there was a repetition, we had played two more moves apiece) as it appears on page 202

of Delchev and Semkov, Attacking the English/Reti, Chess Stars, 2016

which I have on my bookshelves.

Which is how I came to be in the position below, after Black's 16...Qd8, before I had to play any moves of my own.

White then varied with 17 Rc1. So my original contribution consisted of five moves - five very ordinary moves - and then, after a simple blunder by White

a very obvious pawn fork to win the game.

Suddenly the game looks very different, doesn't it? Suddenly it's perfectly normal, unexceptional. Suddenly there's nothing odd about it at all.

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated - what would be the point?

I'd like to look at a few positions from some of the games I played on Chess.com.

I've not been through all the games I played on that site. Nor do I intend to: I shouldn't have to and I haven't got the energy.

So why these games and why these positions? Because when Chess.com said I was banned, several games immediately came to mind, in which I remembered (having analysed tham after they were over) having made blunders of one kind or another. Missed wins, missed draws, other weak moves.

Which makes Chess.com's claim all the more incomprehensible. There may be no such thing as computer moves - but there may be such a thing as moves you don't play, if you're seeking to win games with the help of a program. And below, you can see some of them.

Analysis is pretty perfunctory where it's provided at all, because I assume readers have access to computers, and probably better ones than mine. I looked at these with DroidFish running on an Android phone and rarely getting much above 20-ply. So I'm not vouching for everything it claims, and once again, if your view differs from the one given here, that's what the comments box is for.

All of what follows has been put to Chess.com. (In fact, rather more than this: when emailing them I drew attention to quite a few manifestly inferior moves, ones where the computer sees many superior alternatives. I've omitted them here for the sake of relative brevity, but they are there to be found, if it should please you to look for them.)

I've not received an answer to any of them.
- - -

Here, as an aperitif, is a quick game, but not one so brief that it doesn't contain a remarkable miss by the winning side.

[Site "Chess.com"]
[Date "2019.02.27"]
[White "Justinpatzer"]
[Black "FathiAli77"]
[Result "1-0"]
[WhiteElo "2124"]
[BlackElo "1976"]
[EndDate "2019.03.04"]
[Termination "Justinpatzer won by resignation"]
1. Nf3 Nc6 2. d4 d5 3. g3 Nf6 4. Bg2 Bg4 5. Ne5 Nxe5 6. dxe5 Nd7 7. Qxd5 c6 8. Qe4 Qa5+ 9. Nc3 Nxe5 10. Bf4 Ng6 11. O-O-O e6 12. Qc4 Rc8 13. Bd6 Ne5 14. Bxe5 1-0

White played 12 Qc4 here, a perfectly good move, and for that matter one after which White may well be winning.

However, there is something stronger. See if you can spot it.

Or if you can't, ask your program, which will point it out immediately.

Position after 11....e7-e6

Did you see the spectacular win? I didn't. It's 12 Qxc6+.

DroidFish did.

But I didn't ask DroidFish, did I? Not until after the game had finished.

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated - my 22 unmemorable games

Attached, at the foot of this piece, are the scores of all the games I played on Chess.com since I began to play regularly. There's only twenty-two of them, which isn't many.

Prior to that I think I only played casual games with friends, although, not having access to my account to check, I can't be sure. On completion of a game, players receive an email with, among other things, the score of the game. I have listed every game of which I had an email in the appropriate file. If anybody has access to earlier games, please let me know and I'll add them.

All games were played at the rate of one day per move. I preferred opponents with ratings relatively close to mine (150 or 200 points) and ones who had already played a lot of games on Chess.com. I tried not to be playing more than two games at any time (occasionally three if one were already all but over). They were played in two periods within the last twelve months: from 19 November 2018 to 4 March 2019 and from 1 July 2019 to 10 August 2019.

My overall results in these games were 15 wins, 4 draws and 3 losses (though one loss and one win were on time, and one loss was against a player subsequently disqualified, for what it's worth). These won't be unusual statistics at all for a player who is basically working their way up, given that most of my opponents - early on, especially - must have been rather weaker in playing strength than I am.

In fact nothing about the games, their course or their outcome seems to me at all out of the ordinary. But if you think differently, or have any other comment to make, go ahead. That's what the comments box is for. (Comments with consistent names, handles or initials only, please.)

For your convenience a file of these games is available by request in the comments box - please leave your email address or other contact details - or via my Twitter account (either tweet or send a Direct Message) or via the English Chess Forum where I am JustinHorton or via my Facebook account. It may be shared as you see fit.

[Site "Chess.com"]
[Date "2019.07.22"]
[White "3foldcountergambit"]
[Black "Justinpatzer"]
[Result "0-1"]
[WhiteElo "2125"]
[BlackElo "2210"]
[EndDate "2019.08.10"]
[Termination "Justinpatzer won by resignation"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 d6 5. c3 Bd7 6. Nbd2 g6 7. Nf1 Bg7 8. Bg5 h6 9. Bh4 O-O 10. Ne3 Qe8 11. a4 a6 12. Bc4 Be6 13. Bxf6 Bxf6 14. Nd5 Bxd5 15. Bxd5 Nd8 16. O-O c6 17. Bc4 Ne6 18. a5 Rd8 19. Qb3 Nc5 20. Qb6 Rd7 21. b4 Bd8 22. Qa7 Ne6 23. Bxe6 Qxe6 24. Qe3 f5 25. Qxh6 f4 26. Ng5 Bxg5 27. Qxg5 f3 28. Rae1 Rf4 29. gxf3 Rh7 30. Re3 Rh5 31. Qg3 g5 32. c4 Kh8 33. Rb1 g4 34. Kf1 Rh3 35. Qg1 gxf3 36. Ke1 Rg4 37. Qf1 Qh6 38. Kd2 Rg2 39. Kc3 Rgxh2 40. Qd1 Rxf2 41. Re1 Rhh2 42. b5 cxb5 43. cxb5 Qe6 44. Rh1 Qc8+ 45. Kb3 Qc5 46. Rxh2+ Rxh2 47. bxa6 Qb5+ 48. Kc3 Qxa5+ 49. Kb3 Qxa6 50. Kc3 Qc6+ 51. Kb3 Qb5+ 52. Kc3 Qa5+ 53. Kb3 Qa2+ 54. Kc3 Rh7 55. Rb4 Qa3+ 56. Rb3 Qc5+ 57. Kb2 Rh2+ 58. Kb1 Qf2 59. Rxb7 Qa2+ 0-1

Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

I hadn't expected to be posting here again, not really. But something came up, something important - important to me, because I'm involved, but also potentially important for other people.

I had a good summer, on the chessboard: placed second in Paignton, qualifying for the British Championship. And then, a few days after I got home, I received an email which began like this....
Hello Justinpatzer

Unfortunately your Chess.com account has been closed because we have determined it to be in violation of our Fair Play Policy.

We are always sad when we close any account. We want everyone to be able to enjoy chess. However, we must protect the integrity of the game and cannot allow players to use outside assistance in their games (advice from other players, chess engines/computers, etc).
This came as a shock. A huge shock. Because I have not used outside assistance in my games. Nor thought of doing so.