Chess Scandals

In 1880, the American Chess Congress was held in New York.    First place was $500 (over $11,000 in today’s currency).    One of the players, Preston Ware, was willing to sell one of his chess games for $20 to Grundy, who offered him a bribe in the last round if he would play for a draw.  Ware played the game weakly for a draw, but Grundy changed his mind, played for a win and did win the game.  Ware then became upset about being “cheated” when Grundy won the game and was out of the prize money.  Other players may have been bribed to refrain from winning games in the chess tournament.

In 1932, chess master Norman Whitaker was involved in a confidence trick involving the Lindbergh kidnapping.  He concocted a scheme to swindle $104,000 from a wealthy heiress by claiming to be in contact with the kidnappers.   He was arrested as the bagman to pick up her money.

From 1940 through 1964, it has been alleged that the Soviet chess grandmasters colluded with each other to agree to easy draws amongst themselves to help their chances in tournament play.

In the 1940s, Humphrey Bogart lost a game to a friend, then went home.  He then called up his friend and challenged him to another game, this time for money.  Bogart and the friend played the game over the phone and Bogart won.  He later admitted he cheated because at his house was the former U.S. chess champion Herman Steiner, who helped Bogart make his moves.

In 1954, the Argentine Chess Federation called off its national chess tournament after a chess player punched one of the chess arbiters.

In 1962, chess master Abe Turner was stabbed to death by Theodore Smith at the office of Chess Review magazine.  Smith was a clerk-typist employed by the publication who said he stabbed Turner because Secret Service agents told him to.

In 1966, USSR grandmaster Mikhail Tal was flirting with a woman at a bar in Havana when her jealous boyfriend got into a fight with him and hit him over the head with a beer bottle.  Tal missed the first 5 rounds of the Havan Chess Olympiad because of his injuries in the bar fight.

In 1967, Grandmaster Milan Matulovic played a losing move at the Sousse Interzonal, but then took it back after saying “j’adoube” (I adjust).  His opponent complained to the tournament director, but there was no proof that he took the move back or said “J’adoube” before touching the piece.

In 1971, a chess antique dealer was arrested and charged in court in London for indecent exhibition on display in his window.  Each of the chess pieces showed couples in sexual positions.  He was fined $132 and had to pay court costs.

In the 1970s, the Coles Publishing Company of Canada published several chess books with phony authors that were identical to earlier chess books of known authors, but different titles only.

In 1978, Grandmaster Victor Korchnoi accused the Russian of cheating by sending messages to Karpov in the form of which yoghurt to send Karpov during their world championship match in Baguio, the Philippines. 

In the 1980s, the Soviet Union banned cosmonauts from playing each other in space after a fist fight once broke out between cosmonauts over a chess game during a Soyuz mission.

In 1985, Nick Down, a former British Junior Correspondence champion, entered the British Ladies Correspondence Chess Championship as Miss Leigh Strange.  She (he) won the event.  He was later caught and banned from the British Correspondence Chess Association.

In 1992, a grandmaster was disqualified from an Internet Chess Club tournament, accused of cheating by using a computer.

In 1993, an unrated Black chess player used the name “John von Neumann” (a famous computer science pionner) played in the World Open in Philadelphia.  He wore headphones and was suspected of getting chess moves after he drew a grandmaster and beat an International Master.  When he was quizzed by the tournament director, he was unable to demonstrate a sufficient knowledge of chess of an average chess player and was disqualified from winning any prize money.

In 1994, world champion Garry Kasparov changed his move against woman champion Judit Polgar.  He moved a piece, then took it back and moved another piece, violating the “touch move” rule.  He went on to win the game.  The tournament organizers had video tape proving that his hand left the pieces, but refused to release the video evidence.

In 1994, Rustam Kamsky, Gtat Kamsky’s father, threated to kill grandmaster Nigel Short at a restauraunt during a Kamsky-Short chess match.  Rustam, a former boxer, would often go to chess tournaments with his some and threaten anyone who he perceived was disturbing the concentration of his son.

In 1995, International Master Gilles Andruet, a former French chess champion, was murdered in Paris over gambling debts.

In the 1990s, life prisoner Claude Bloodgood organized chess games in his prison in Virginia, playing fellow inmates.    He rigged the ratings of the players, then beat all these top players in match after match over the years.  By 1996 he had a rating of 2702, the second-highest rated player in the USA.  The U.S. Chess Federation changed its rating system to prevent “closed pool” rating inflation.

In 2001, a grandmaster was accused of faking his chess rating by fixing chess matches for his own benefit and falsifying the chess tournament results.  The rating increase scam allowed him to get ranked as high as number 33 in the world.

In 2003, a player was caught in the bathroom using a handheld PC with a chess program on it.  He wad disqualified and the tournament director  asked his chess federation to ban the player in other tournaments.


In October, 2004, the World Chess Federation vice president was punched, wrestled to the ground and dragged to jail by a group of security agents.  It was during the closing ceremonies of the Chess Olympiad.  He tried to get closer to the stage to make an announcement on an award, but security people stepped in front of him, pushed him back, and assaulted him.

In 2005, one of the grandmaster competitors in the San Luis World Championship accused grandmaster Veselin Topalov of cheating with a computer.  It was alleged that Topalov’s delegation was using a laptop computer in the playing hall to analyze the moves and somehow signaling the moves to Topalov.

In 2005, chess master Robert Snyder, chess author and teacher, was arrested in Colorado on charges of sexual assault on a child and unlawful sexual contact.  He was known as a chess instructor for children and teenagers (chess for Juniors).  He jumped bail (registered sex offender) and was later featured on America’s Most Wanted, and captured a few months later in Belize.  He had started teaching chess to young boys again.

In 2006, a player from India was banned for 10 years for cheating after he was caught using his mobile phone’s wireless device to win his chess games.

In 2006, a chess master resigned from the U.S. Chess Federation executive board after being accused of ethics violations.  He was accused of fabricating or manipulating chess tournament results to keep his master’s rating by playing repeated games within a closed group of friends that either did not exist or never played chess anywhere else.

In 2006, Grandmaster Veselin Topalov accused reigning world chess champion Vladimir Kramnik of making suspicious 50 trips to the bathroom during a single game during their World Chess Championship match.  Topalov implied that Kramnik was secretly consulting chess-playing software or talking on his cellphone to get moves.

At the World Open in July 2006, a player was found to be using a wireless transmitter and receiver called a “Phonito.”  If he had won his final round, he would have won $18,000.  He was caught and was disqualified from the event.  Another player had a wireless device in his ear, claiming it was a hearing aid.

In 2006, during the Turin Chess Olympiad, a British grandmaster punched an Armenian grandmaster at a nightclub.  The two got in a jealous dispute over a 19-year-old chess-playing beauty, who was energetically dancing with the Armenian.

In 2006-2007, many forged email posts were made on the Internet targeting several U.S. Chess Federation members and candidates in the upcoming USCF election.    The fake identities were alleged to come from Suan Polgar, former world women’s chess champion and a board member of the USCF, and her husband, Paul Truong.  In 2009, both were removed from the executive board of the USCF.  Their webmaster, Gregory Alexander, was indicted by a federal grand jury on 34 counts of email haking and one count of aggravated identity theft.

In 2007, a chess team captain was caught outside the playing room using a PDA with a Pocket Fritz chess playing program.  The player was banned to play in any further league matches.

In 2008, an untitled Iranian player was caught receiving suggested moves by text message on his mobile phone.  The game was being relayed live over the Internet and it was alleged that his friends were following it and guiding him using a chess engine.

In November 2008, Grandmaster Vassily Ivanchuk, ranked number three in the world,  refused to submit a urine sample for a drug test at the 38th Chess Olympiad in Dresden.  He was considered guilty of doping and faced a two-year ban in organized chess events.  He had just lost a game on the last day of the Olympiad when a judge asked him to submit to a drug test.  Instead, Ivanchuk stormed out of the room, kicking a concrete pillar on the way.  The drug testing idea in chess is part of the World Chess Federation’s idea of getting chess to be a recognized sport by the International Olympic Committee.

In 2011, three members of France’s chess team were suspended after allegations of an elaborate cheating scheme.  The trio is reported to have used text messaging and computer software to help beat their opponents at a chess tournament in Siberia in 2010.  Phone bill records were examined showing over 150 text messages to one player and another 30 text messages to the other player.  Two players received five year suspensions and the third player was given a lifetime ban.