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License to Cheat?

ByABC News
August 9, 2006, 11:52 AM

Park City, Utah, Aug. 9, 2006 — -- Seems as if every occupation has been tarnished of late by accusations of cheating. Corporate America (the list is too long to cite specific individuals), the news industry (that Reuter's photographer who manipulated pictures of Qana, Lebanon, under attack), and steroid-obsessed professional sports (Floyd Landis, Rafael Palmeiro, et al). All have had their share of notorious, high profile accused cheats.

Now comes word that the so-called gentleman's game -- chess -- has been caught in allegations of improper play.

Two players reportedly received help from computers or from friends using computers during the biggest chess tournament of the year, the World Open, in Philadelphia, over the Fourth of July weekend. Steve Rosenberg was expelled from the tournament and Eugene Varshavsky was searched before each round, although Varshavsky was allowed to finish the tournament.

In Rosenberg's case, a small, wireless earpiece was found.

Bill Goichberg, director of the World Open and the Continental Chess Association, told, "A tournament official noticed something in [Rosenberg's] ear and asked what it was. He was told it was a hearing aid."

That device turned out to be something called a Phonito. An Internet Web site describes it as a "wireless earphone" that "goes in the ear, providing clear and discrete audio," with no wires protruding "above the user's neck." The implication was that Rosenberg had received wireless advice on various chess moves, possibly with the help of a computer.

Rosenberg was "expelled under suspicion" from the competition, said Goichberg, "because of the wireless earpiece and because he wouldn't allow us to search him."

In Varshavsky's case, his nearly flawless moves were run through a computerized chess-playing program called Shredder. The last 25 moves of Varshavsky's win against the grandmaster matched the moves generated by the computer. Coincidence? Perhaps, though previously, Varshavsky had played disappointing chess and was among the lowest-ranked in his division.

Goichberg suggests that cheating at chess is not new. "It's quite disturbing that this goes on, and I suspect it has been more extensive than a lot of people wanted to believe."