Exactly one day after the “Titled Tuesday” concluded on April 17, I found myself unable to log into my Chess.com account. I tried many times to reset the password, but I never received the confirmation email. Without really thinking too much about it, I fired off an email asking how can I resolve this issue, as I figured it must be another of the many glitches and bugs Chess.com has. The response I received a few days later was unexpected, to say the least. It was a mail from Chess.com VP of Content & PR, IM Danny Rensch, saying that my account had been suspended for “Fair Play Policy” violations.
“Fair Play Policy” violation is their way of saying cheating.
In this email, I was told by Danny that,
“…we would not be acting here or making this communication if we were not 100% sure that you did indeed use engine assistance at some point in your games on Chess.com.”
He talked about a cheating detection system they had which is,
“designed to detect patterns of in-human approaches to chess games and effectively determine, beyond reasonable doubt and regardless of a player’s “chess strength”, that a game or series of games were played using engine assistance. Our systems have been tested thoroughly by numerous leading statisticians in the field (see one such testimonial from Harvard) and we are prepared to stand by them…”
Okay, so you make a serious accusation, close my account, and don’t even offer any concrete evidence, instead stating that you aren’t required to disclose anything. Furthermore, the testimonial of their cheating detection system from the Harvard professor only speaks of a “high probability” of being right. Nowhere did it say that the Chess.com’s system detects the issues with 100% accuracy. Such 100% predictive chess systems do not exist. So I have no idea where they got the “100%” part from.
Heck, Danny himself says in this old Chess.com article about cheating,
“And we don’t need to engage in legality debates that deny a simple truth: Short of confession, etc., there can never be 100% proof of cheating in online chess.”
So to get that confession, Chess.com does some arm-twisting.
I was told that I’d not be allowed back on the site “without an acknowledgement that what we are saying is true.“
In other words, confess to something which I have no details about, even when I know I’m innocent. Thereafter, they’ll allow me to make a new account where I’ll have to start fresh with no history of prior games. I’ll also be banned from playing Titled Tuesday and other cash prize events for a certain duration.
I replied to this email stating my shock at the accusation, the autocratic manner in which they were approaching the entire situation with no regard to due process, and how I perceived the entire tone of the email to be condescending and coercive by forcing me to admit to their conclusions.
When Danny wrote back, he continued to reiterate that Chess.com is not going to budge on their stance, and expanded slightly on his earlier comments, saying
“To clarify the semantics again, I want to note that I was never calling any particular performances outside of the *single set of games from 2015* into question.”
Wait, what? 2015!
That was ~3 years ago.
This was nothing to do with the Titled Tuesday, immediately after which I was locked out.
How could it have taken 3 years to verify something which, according to them, is “beyond any reasonable doubt?”
Why wait till now to bring it up? Bizarre.
As I noted in my response,
“… I can’t remember the games I played on Chess.com during 2015 when I was around age 15, but what I can unequivocally recall is that I never used any “outside assistance” then, now, and ever.”
The one time I got accused of cheating online is by Chess.com’s brand ambassador, Hikaru Nakamura. In 2016, shortly after we drew OTB at the US Championship, he accused me of cheating in the Chess.com game chat after I beat him in a blitz game. Of course, Chess.com players immediately set up a Reddit thread and dismissed the allegations as being vintage Nakamura. A couple of months ago, he even blocked me on Chess.com.
This appears to be a witchhunt which took Chess.com back 3 years to find something and ban me from the site.
As an example of further arm-twisting, I was informed that I won’t be able to play in the ProChessLeague.
Now, this was a jarring piece of news.
It was jarring for they presumptuously assumed that the league Commissioner Greg Shahade will blindly follow Chess.com’s instructions and ban me from the League because of some games from 2015, which I have no idea about, and that have nothing to do with the ProChess League.
Would the PCL also become a party to such autocratic action?
Not having access to Chess.com hurts my chess training, as they have the strongest player base presently and, due to my high blitz rating of ~2800, I am able to play many world-class players on a regular basis.
But I’ll bear the cost because I don’t use unfair means and will not be coerced into admitting to something I didn’t do.
There are bigger questions which arise here, though.
Have we chess players made the Chess.com platform so big and powerful that it can dismiss a Grandmaster with impunity without any due process, and are answerable to no one?
Does life just go on for Chess.com without any meaningful consequences?
As players have we become powerless against an online regime?
Also, I wonder how many times this may have happened before, where a GM or titled player capitulated and was forced into a confession despite believing they’re innocent.
With Chess.com, it’s Their Way or the Highway!
So to summarize: I’m now locked-out from Chess.com as of April 18, 2018, because they discovered anomalies in a set of games from 2015, which they will not share any information about, and I won’t offer the confession they seek as a precondition to reusing their site.
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You will be seeing a lot of me now on LiChess, where I’ve started streaming as well through my Twitch channel.
I leave you with a few of my recent memorable games on Chess.com, one of the last ones being in the April 3 Titled Tuesday against none other than Nakamura himself. That game was drawn after I blundered into a repetition in a completely winning position.
(Full text of email exchange with Chess.com can be read here.)
A further update to this article is the next one and can be read here.