Tuesday 29 October 2019

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.

What shocked me particularly is that I couldn't understand where they might be getting this from. I still can't.

- I hadn't beaten anybody much better than me. I hadn't even played anybody much better than me.
- I hadn't won lots of games in a streak. I hadn't even played lots of games. I hadn't won any more than I would expect to.
- I hadn't won games in spectacular style, with tactically brilliant moves. The most obvious thing about my games, to me at least, was how many good moves I'd missed.

I couldn't even see the point. I mean, I understand that people cheat - but I couldn't see how, or where, I was supposed to have done this. Or why, what I was supposed to have got out of it, how I was supposed to have benefitted.

So, assuming that some kind of mistake had indeed been made - and that mistakes will be put right - I got in touch with Chess.com as fast as I could, asking what this was about. They wouldn't say.

It turns out that they don't give any explanations. None. You don't get to see anything which might constitute a case against you. No specifics, no reasoning, nothing.

All they do is invite you to appeal, which is quite a hard thing to do since you have no idea what you are appealing against. Though they do suggest you give some details of your playing strength, which of course I did - and assumed that shortly this would all be put right. It wasn't.

And at that point, I ran out of goodwill towards Chess.com, and I got angry. And angry is what I have remained. I sent them some more emails, listing, in detail, a large number of mistakes in my games which simply weren't compatible with the claim they were making.

They had no interest in hearing it.

So I was put in the position in which Chess.com had put me - and a nasty position it is. I could just accept it, let them call me a cheat, and hope nobody noticed or nobody cared. Or I could put all this in the public domain.

Who wants to do that? Who wants to have to discuss something like this in public?

Nevertheless, what I chose was to put it all in the public domain.

Partly, because I don't want to have to explain, some time down the track, how come this happened and I didn't make any fuss about it.

But mostly because - why should I just accept it? I've done nothing wrong. There is nothing for me to be ashamed of. I have nothing to hide.

So, I won't hide.

This isn't, by the way, the first time (nor the only time) Chess.com have pulled a stunt like this, libelling one of their users. You may perhaps wonder whether in this instance, somebody who lives in Europe is in a position to take legal action against a company based in Palo Alto, and you may have good cause to wonder.

But I am in a position to refer this to the court of public opinion. So in the next few posts, which will be published today, and linked to here, you can see:

Have a look at the games, if you would. See what there is to be found.

But you won't find anything. Because there's nothing there.


ejh said...

(Comments are welcomed, but only with consistent names, handles or initials, please. Anything else is very likely to be deleted.)

Anonymous said...

Some online servers attempt to identify cheating by detecting ‘task switching’ (not sure if that’s the correct technical term), when a player switches to a different application during play. So if you check your e-mails, for example, or glance at the news headlines while an opponent is thinking for a long time, the server makes the assumption that you’re switching to an engine to cheat rather than doing something innocuous. I don’t know if Chess.com employs this method, but it seems that at least one other online server does. If, as you say, you’ve played a number of opponents much weaker than yourself, you might well have found yourself on occasion in an easily winning position with nothing much to think about. It can then be tempting to look at something else more interesting when it’s your opponent’s move, without realising that this is considered by the server to be evidence of cheating. I wonder if this might have contributed to what’s happened.

Anonymous said...

Having read in another of your posts that your games were played at the rate of one move a day, I realise that my attempted explanation concerning task switching (above) makes no sense. Apologies.

ejh said...

No problem. I did see "task switching" referred to somewhere, but you're right, it's probably nothing to do with anything.

Daniel O'Dowd said...

I had a similar experience years back on another server after 4 games, in one of which I hung a clear piece to someone barely pushing 1500. The resulting brouhaha, conducted during christmas of all times, was like a Cardassian show trial, pitiful in its one-sided hilarity. It did give me a laugh though since the sheer stubbornness of the person I was 'speaking' to rivalled the most inept political non-answers I have heard, and even came close to topping those horrible online customer service moments you get when someone is clearly reading from a script. Having also played scrabble online, all I can say is that the detection algorithms there would flare up if I had opened the client before closing other relevant program windows first, even if they were subsequently closed before a game was sought and played. So in the end all I could do was close them all down before opening the client at all.

ejh said...

the sheer stubbornness of the person I was 'speaking' to rivalled the most inept political non-answers I have heard

Yes, this sounds very familiar, with the addition that they were all delivered in a bizarrely enthisiastic style with assurances about how much they were on my side. It was like being fobbed off by Eddie the shipboard computer.

Anonymous said...

How beastly! Seriously, how can you apply analysis engines, designed for otb settings, to a correspondence game. What idiot would really do that?

--theBlueWeasel , bigger brighter bluer