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 JustinpatzerThis came as a shock. A huge shock. Because I have not used outside assistance in my games. Nor thought of doing so.
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).
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:
- all my games on Chess.com since I began to play regularly
- some episodes from some of those games which illustrate what a nonsense this is
- some other aspects of my games which may serve to cast doubt on Chess.com's methods
- a conclusion, if it can be called that.
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.