Similar To The Transwomen Sports Scam, But Not Really: Cheating, But It Shouldn’t Be

That photo above makes me laugh. It shows 25-year-old Stanley Omondi dressed in a burka as he attempted to win the $3,000 grand prize in a Kenyan women’s chess tournament by posing as female. He looks like Cousin It from “The Addams Family.” See?

Stanley’s black burka left only his feet visible, and he registered under the fake name of “Millicent Awour.” Nobody suspected anything, and the organizers didn’t want to challenge a player for wearing Muslim garb. But his victories against notable female players eventually raised suspicions. “It would be unlikely to have a new person who has never played a tournament to be this strong,” an official told reporters. It also seemed odd that “Millicent” never spoke, either to members of the tournament staff or other players. Eventually, after beating a very strong opponent in the fourth round, Stanley was confronted by officials. He quickly admitted his deception, saying that he was just trying to solve his financial woes.

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A Chess Ethics Controversy!

And it’s a chess ethics controversy that I don’t understand, despite a relatively secure knowledge of chess. Here’s what happened:

World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen quit the annual, invite-only Sinquefield Cup chess tournament in St. Louis, Missouri, United States, a stop on the Grand Chess Tour, mid-match. His unprecedented exit sparked speculation that he was engaged in a silent protest after losing to Hans Niemann, regarded as an inferior player. Niemann was accused of cheating earlier in his career.

Opined,  “Carlsen likely walked out because he felt that the organizers could not ensure fair play procedures.” This was the consensus of many chess fans and commentators as well. Chess Grand Master Hikaru Nakamura also theorized that Carlsen withdrew because he suspected Niemann of cheating in their game, saying: “I think that Magnus believes that Hans probably is cheating.”

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Chess Board Ethics: A Popeye

I know: it’s doubtful that Popeye even knows how to play chess. But it’s Saturday night, as usual only the hard core is visiting Ethics Alarms, and this particular blot of laziness and incompetence has been driving me bananas for decades. Today was the final straw.

On a new Amazon Prime BBC documentary series “A Very British Murder with Lucy Worsely,” the final episode had Lucy talking about the gamesmanship going on in “Golden Age” British murder mysteries. As she rattled on, we saw a mid-game chessboard, and a hand was seen moving a piece. The chess board was set up incorrectly. The board, which we were shown from the White player’s perspective, had the black square in the right-hand corner. Continue reading

Ethics Warm-Up, 12/8/2020: Yet Another Date That Lives in Infamy

It’s not Pearl Harbor, but the assassination of John Lennon in Central Park 40 years ago today by a deranged fan is one of the saddest days in popular music history, on the level of the premature deaths of George Gershwin and Buddy Holly.

I really don’t want to talk about it.

1. Scary. The New Yorker’s Steve Coll wrote that”Those of us in journalism have to come to terms with the fact that free speech, a principle that we hold sacred, is being weaponized against the principles of journalism.” David Harsanyi writes at The National Review,

If you believe Americans are too stupid to hear wrongthink, transgressive ideas, and, yes, fake news, you’re not a fan of the small-l liberal conception of free expression. That’s fine. Those ideas seem to be falling into disfavor with many. But the sanctity of free speech isn’t predicated on making sure people hear the right things, it’s predicated on letting everyone have their say. Because as always, the question becomes who decides what expression is acceptable. I’m not keen on having the fatuous media reporters at CNN or activist “fact-checkers” at the Washington Post adjudicating what is and isn’t permissible for mass consumption…this kind of selective esteem for sacred ideals is becoming popular on the contemporary Left. Religious freedom is wonderful when the government protects Native Americans who want to smoke peyote, but it is “weaponized” when an order of nuns decides it’s not interested in chipping in for condoms or an Evangelical business owner decides he’d rather not participate in a gay marriage. Due-process rights are foundational to American life, unless they are being “weaponized” by college students accused of sexual assault….For four years, journalists acted as if Donald Trump was an existential threat to free expression because he berated and insulted reporters. Trump’s tone was certainly unpresidential, but it needs to be said that he did absolutely nothing to hinder anyone from criticizing him or reporting about him. Contra the self-canonized Jim Acosta, it was not a particularly dangerous time to tell the truth. Indeed, reporters were not only free to accuse the president of being a fascist, they could concoct entire fake scandals surrounding the Russians, and Trump was powerless to stop them….

As I will be saying for the next four years as often as possible: This is what those who voted for Joe Biden have endorsed in their determination to express their tantrum over a President whose style they found obnoxious. I really don’t know how they will be able to live with themselves.

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A Favorite Personal Ethics Story From The Past, Revived By “The Queen’s Gambit”


The Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit” isn’t exactly an ethics film. However, it did trigger a memory from high school of an episode in my life that I cherish, when a group of callow teenage chess-players, led by me, repeatedly made the admirable choice, and left the scene as heroes, even though we lost.

It was my junior year, and approximately the same period in which the heroine of “The Queen’s Gambit” finds herself discriminated against for being a rare young woman in the male-dominated world of competitive chess. Arlington High School had a chess club, and I was president of the club and captain of the team. We had a girl on the team: my sister Edith, who was a freshman that year. She was undefeated in our league in ten competitions with other schools, first because she was very good, if ruthless, second because everyone she played under-estimated her, and third because I “stacked” her in our ten board line-up. Edith always played 9th or 10th board, which means she was facing inferior players, giving the AHS team a guaranteed win every time.

That year we decided to enter the Metropolitan Boston High School Team Championship tournament, a five player-team affair routinely won by Sharon (Mass.)High School’s team. It featured the highest ranking junior player in the state, and the state Junior Champion, as well as a third player of similar caliber. I brought Edith as our fifth board, and sure enough, she was the only girl in the tournament. She also did very well, though she lost one game early on: the competition was much stronger than what she was used to.

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Ethics Quiz: The Purloined Championship Team

Within hours of winning a Final Four national championship, a triumphant college coach not only jumped ship and went to another university, the coach took the entire championship squad.

Nobody went nuts about this over at ESPN, however, because the championship was in chess.

Texas Tech chess coach Susan Polgar took her entire all-star squad of seven chess grandmasters from Texas Tech to private Webster University in suburban St. Louis, home to the World Chess Hall of Fame and the U.S. national championships. Polgar is unapologetic for gutting the Texas Tech elite chess program that she built there beginning in 2007 . “The program grew rapidly, and Texas Tech wasn’t ready to grow with the speed of the program. St. Louis today is the center of chess in America. It just seemed like a perfect fit.”

I’m sure it is, but that leads to your Ethics Quiz: Is it ethical for a coach to take a school’s championship team with her when she accepts a position elsewhere? Continue reading

Chess Learns to Cheat

The French chess federation has suspended three of its best chess players for cheating in a tournament last Fall. Sébastien Feller, a 20 years old grandmaster, Cyril Marzolo, and Arnaud Hauchard, who is the French team captain, secretly used a computer to feed them moves during their matches. The games were broadcast over the Internet, and a confederate fed the game positions into a computer with a sophisticated chess-playing program (computers beat the world’s best human player very regularly now).  Once the computer made its move, the confederate sent it to the human grandmaster using a text message. The three French chess whizzes matched the  computer almost move for move.

Amazing. Continue reading