A total of 20 participants of the women's fast tournament of the FIDE Online University Chess World Championship were disqualified by the Fair Play Panel of the tournament, although stated that there was no evidence of actual cheating. One player was stripped of her world title, a decision that has been questioned on social media and countered by a separate investigation.
On Thursday March 25, MI Iulija Osmak was world champion. Almost three days later, he was not.
Osmak had won the women's fast title of the FIDE World University Championship, but on Saturday night the 23-year-old international teacher from Kiev, Ukraine, received an email from the tournament's Fair Play Panel. It was stated that there was a suspicion of non-compliance with the fair play regulations, which was disqualified from the tournament and that the decision was final
"It was a huge shock to me," Osmak told Chess.com.
The FIDE Online World University Championship was an open event for students born in 1995 and later. It was played over three weekends: the Lightning Championship from March 13 to 14, the Rapid Championships from March 20 to 21 with finals on March 25, and the Rapid and Lightning Cups for teams from March 27 to 28.
The event was played for the first time under a new formula in which students actually represent their universities, whereas before they represented countries. With more than a thousand participants, participation was greater than ever.
The live broadcast of the finals of the fast tournament.
A tournament Fair Play Panel report (here in PDF) released on March 26 revealed that 20 of the nearly 900 rapid tournament participants were disqualified for breach of fair play. The panel said they needed more than 70 hours to analyze 5,036 games and explained that they based their decision on the following criteria (as stated in the report):
Statistical evidence was provided by Kenneth Regan, associate professor at the Department of Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Buffalo and a FIDE Statistical Expert. Evidence for the host internet platform was provided by Tornelo, on which the tournament was played. The physical evidence was based on Zoom video calls with players (using individual webcams) and referees during games and player screens sharing. The expert opinion was provided by the member of the Fair Play Panel, GM Aleksandar Colovic, and some other great teachers.
The report emphasizes that both FIDE and the hosting platform refrain from claiming that the players actually cheated. The following sentence, along with others, were taken from paragraph 5.20 of the tournament regulations (here in PDF) and copied in the report:
Neither FIDE nor the Internet Hosting Platform asserts that the determination of an alleged fair play infraction is evidence of actual cheating or an admission of guilt by the disqualified player.
Players had no way to question the findings. The report indicates that the Fair Play Panel "was not subject to any appeal, review or other challenge" as had also been stated in the tournament regulations beforehand. The 20 disqualified players were unable to play in the tournament's team events last weekend.
Your disqualifications will have no consequences on your future table play unless the FIDE Fair Play Commission decides to refer the matter to the FIDE Ethics and Discipline Commission. According to the report, this would only happen "in the case of a clear or serious violation, or repeated violations", and could possibly lead to the exclusion of a player from all official chess events for a period of up to 15 years.
The case received more attention because of what happened to Osmak. The 2017 Ukrainian women's champion finished first in the women's section with a score of 4.5 / 5.
However, she was one of 20 disqualified players. He lost his world title and all five of his games turned into losses. Her opponents received half a point for their games against her.
After the preliminary phase of the rapid tournament, several players were disqualified, but Osmak was not one of them. The final consisted of only five rounds. Below you can find the five Osmak games in the final, played 10 minutes into the game and an increment of five seconds:
The International Chess Federation issued the following statement on the case , referring specifically to Osmak:
Regarding the decision of the Fair Play Panel (FPP) of the FIDE Online University World Championship, FIDE confirms that the results of the women's fast final held have been adjusted March 25. All IM Yulia Osmak results are counted as a loss, according to the tournament regulations.
The decision was not based solely on cheat detection algorithms, but was made by FPP after careful examination, which included all available evidence. The decision is final.
"It's been a horrible time for me," Osmak told Chess.com, saying that he couldn't sleep the first two nights after receiving the email from the Fair Play Panel.
Because the email he received mentioned that there was no cheat evidence, Osmak decided to write to the members of the Fair Play Panel. So far, no response has been received; only two arbitrators sent a reply acknowledging having received their message
The case has received a lot of reactions on social media, including from several prominent chess players. Former FIDE World Champion GM Ruslan Ponomariov saw nothing suspicious in Osmak games:
I watched Iulija Osmak's games https://t.co/n9BrG0Y1PS from the World Championship FIDE Online Chess University and I can affirm 110% that I did not find any evidence of cheating. #JusticeForOsmak #FairPlayMatters #WeAreOsmak
– Ruslan Ponomariov ♔ ( @Ponomariov ) March 29, 2021
Another reaction came from the GM Susan Polgar reply to GM Mikhail Golubev), who is confused about the removal of players from the tournament without proof of cheating and no way to appeal:
This is what I really don't understand. So if one "no" is accused of cheating, why is the score erased? And how is it possible that players cannot defend themselves? Very confusing!
– Susan Polgar ( @SusanPolgar ) March 29, 2021
The case has also been widely discussed on Facebook, especially in a thread below a Russian post by FIDE Director General Emil Sutovsky on March 28. Sutovsky says he has faith in the efforts of the Fair Play Panel (English translation by Chess.com):
This is not a decision made by the platform. FIDE assumes responsibility for this decision. I have always emphasized and continue to emphasize that our standards are high. We are not a private platform. If we take responsibility, it means that we are ready to take this case to the CAS and present our evidence there.
The post is still being widely discussed and it was in this thread, on Monday, that GM Bartlomiej Macieja released a statement. The Polish grandmaster co-organized the FIDE World University Championship on behalf of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, where he is a chess coach. This university is also where Osmak studies (from his home in Ukraine, because of the pandemic), and it was the team he played for.
Macieja noted that an "independent investigation" had been conducted because Osmak is a member of the chess team in Texas. He wrote that the i n investigation consisted of:
- meetings with the student
- meetings with all members of the Fair Play Panel
- additional meetings considered useful
- GM analysis of the movements performed by the student (including time spent)
- comparison of the movements performed by the student with the motor recommendations
- platform statistical evidence analysis
- external expert statistical evidence analysis
- video evidence analysis
- audio evidence analysis
Macieja gave the following conclusion of the investigation:
It quickly became obvious that notorious misconduct could be instantly ruled out, so the task focused on finding if there was evidence to prove at least one case of misconduct by our student during the entire competition. After a thorough analysis, not a single violation has been discovered. Therefore, for the purposes of our investigation, the case is closed.
The results of our investigation are not proof that there was no misconduct, but the exact same can be said for more than 1000 students who participated in the First FIDE Online University World Championship, against whom there is no evidence to claim otherwise.
Commenting on Chess.com, Macieja explained that he conducted most of the investigation himself, saying that by "independent" he meant it was a completely different investigation than the Fair Play Panel. Although he admitted that he himself was not independent in the case (as Osmak's coach), he pointed out that by going against the verdict of the Fair Play Panel, the university made a difficult decision:
"The goal of the The research was to establish the future of the student, in this case, Iulia Osmak, within the university's chess program, "said Macieja. "Serious student misconduct has never been and will never be tolerated within the chess program. If she lost her scholarship it was my responsibility and it cannot be based on external investigation."
Macieja received the data of the games and the interpretation of the platform and says that, based solely on that information, Osmak is definitely clean: "There is not the slightest hint of deception to Iulia Osmak in the information of the hosting platform."
In addition to seeing all the information that was available for the Fair Play Panel, Macieja also used additional information: he spoke with Osmak, while the panel did not. He called the decision of the Fair Play Panel "controversial," noting: "I know exactly why they made that disqualification decision, but I have more evidence and whatever the consensus of the Fair Play Panel, it was far insufficient to take any action. by the university with respect to the student ".
The Fair Play Panel consisted of four people: Tomasz Delega, the main referee of the tournament, Bojana Bejatovic, who is also a member of the FIDE Fair Play Commission, GM Aleksandar Colovic and David Cordover de Tornelo. The latter provided his vote electronically from Australia, hours before the vote took place.
Multiple sources told Chess.com that only two panel members voted in favor of disqualification, one voted against and one member abstained. Macieja is not sure that, in Osmak's case, this course of action led to an adequate verdict
"I'm not even sure if they formally made a decision," he said. "If there is a follow-up in the FIDE Ethics Commission, this is probably the first thing to be decided. I know that even the members of the Fair Play Panel are not sure if the decision has been reached."
So why was Osmak disqualified? When asked this question, he mentioned a "high stat" in his games, which refers to Regan's analysis. Regan was unable to comment for this article due to his involvement in the case, but he attests that the main statement and other public comments from the officials involved are accurate to the best of his knowledge.
Osmak speculated that the decision was perhaps related to the fact that in a game he forgot to activate the microphone during the first movements. Another detail that could have raised suspicions was that he had looked away from the screen several times during games, for which he has an explanation: the limited vision of one eye, which provides only 16 percent of normal vision.
"In cases where I am nervous, I have to not focus on the board and try to rest my eyes and look to the sides," said Osmak.
On Sunday, Macieja and Osmak talked about what happened and decided to write an email to the Fair Play Panel suggesting a lie detector test. He has not yet received a response, but Cordover told Osmak that the panel does not plan to address this.
'A fair play process should be fair'
Three members of the Fair Play Panel declined to comment, but one was willing to speak: Cordover, the man behind the hosting platform. He admitted that this "dual role" could have a potential influence on his decision, saying: "If there is any concern, I should not be on a panel. I have no problem with that."
Going deeper into the matter, Cordover explained that the statistical analysis of his website is quite rudimentary: it only involves the percentage of coincidence of movements [to what extent a player’s moves match with those of a chess engine – PD] and the loss of centipawn [the change in evaluation measured in a hundredth of a pawn – PD] tweaked a bit for openings and obvious moves.
One difference from Regan's method is that it does not adjust for rating. "The number should be interpreted based on the player's rating," Cordover explained. "We have some guidelines on how to interpret the number on our website."
Like Macieja, Cordover does not believe that Osmak's statistical analysis shows cheating: "Basically, the number that Tornelo gives is something standard, let's say, for an international teacher. Maybe a little high, like a strong international teacher, but nothing that a teacher. international would normally not be within expectations. "
After the decision was made, Cordover immediately wrote an email to the FIDE Fair Play Commission and Sutovsky, sharing his concerns about the process being used to determine players who are disqualified from certain events. In the subject field of the email, he wrote: "A fair play process should be fair."
"In just a few FIDE tournaments that we have organized in the last four or five months, I know of three blatantly obvious false positives," he tells Chess.com. "If there is a process that allows innocent people to suffer very often, then there is something broken in the system."
While he emphasizes not criticizing any individual panel member, Cordover says he sees problems in different areas, one of which is a lack of accountability.
"The Fair Play Panel has powerful powers but is accountable to no one at all," says Cordover. "There is no right to appeal, I don't know how well the evidence that is collected is documented, I don't know if there is a review process. This way, you can accuse anyone of anything."
Cordover also has problems with the way evidence is collected and presented. It notes that a Fair Play Panel attempts to collect evidence to demonstrate unfair play but does not necessarily make any effort to produce evidence to the contrary, and notes: "In any fair trial, both parties should be able to give their opinion."
Other Cordover's point refers to the burden of proof. It contends that the conclusion of a Fair Play Panel should fall somewhere between the "balance of probabilities", as in a civil case, and "beyond a reasonable doubt", as in a murder case.
He mentions the concept "comfortable satisfaction", which is used by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS): "The intention of this process should be for someone to be innocent until proven guilty and only if a comfortable satisfaction can be achieved that a player had some help, even if it was just one move in a game. "
Cordover also feels that the current process lacks transparency and adequate communication. It maintains that, in the case of a FIDE-governed event, the organization must be completely transparent, which means that all information used by a Fair Play Panel must be shared with the public or at least communicated to the player.
FIDE seems to agree on several points here. Sutovsky has allowed Chess.com to quote his email response to Cordover in its entirety:
Thank you for taking the time to raise these important issues. I really appreciate that you worry so much and that you try to see the situation from various angles.
I fully agree that the procedures need to be improved, and we have a long and very challenging road ahead of us.
I also agree that the subject is very sensitive and a lot of damage can be done if an innocent player is banned.
However, it is important to understand that it will never be perfect, but we approach it with great care, fully aware of the responsibility of FIDE. We realize that no policy would save us from critical arrows, but we can live with it as long as we consider that our approach is not only fair, but based on dedicated team work and properly described. The need for detailed protocols and clear handling of these complex issues is clear, but no less clear is the need to address the cases in question here and now, relying on existing experience.
The Fair Play Commission and the Fair Play Panel are made up of people who have been tackling everything for several years, and yet they are diligently checking all the data and evidence. Of course, FIDE was focusing on OTB, and only last year did we start to draw relevant regulations online. In parallel, work is being done to describe the entire protocol, and the Managing Director of FIDE, Ms. Dana Riezniece-Ozola, is reviewing this work.
I can assure you that we take the matter very seriously and that the issues you raise in the letter are being addressed.
I appreciate your emotional letter, I just want to thank you again for your interest. Rest assured: we don't care less and we will continue to do our best, fully aware that our work can generate criticism from the left and right. .
The nature of the issue is too sensitive – and often the very people who accuse us of a witch hunt claim close our eyes allowing the cheaters to win…
There must be detailed procedures for avoid all that, and I will try to finish this important task for the approval of the General Assembly this summer.
In the meantime, we fully trust our best people who accumulated a wealth of experience and dedicated countless hours to reach a fair trial.
Thanks again for your exciting leadership,
Although Macieja reached a different conclusion, he continues to support the Fair Play Panel: "I want to leave very Of course, in my opinion, the Fair Play Panel acted in good faith and in the best way that they believed they should handle themselves during the event. But this does not mean that they were right in their final conclusion. "
Osmak said he is in contact with his federation, which could help defend it. They are considering writing a letter to FIDE.
For now, Osmak wants to focus his energy on the next over-the-board tournaments in which he will play: the Montenegro Chess Festival in two weeks, and also the FIDE World Cup in July.
"I miss real chess," he said. "I prefer real chess!"