Saturday coffee

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Besides being the second most traded commodity in the world, coffee is also the second most popular drink after water.  It is estimated that daily worldwide consumption is of the order of 1.5 billion cups (!), and not less than 100 million people are employed, full-time, in the production, distribution and marketing of the drink.  Those are big numbers!

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StarBucks started in 1971 in Seattle and has since grown into a   multi-national with more than 22,000 locations world wide, having more than 149,000 employees and yearly revenue in excess of 13 billion dollars.  When ever I travel I like to find out where is the closest Starbucks and hang out for a while, usually doing some internetting enpassant.  

Curiously, I only started to get into coffee at age 35, soon after moving to Portugal.  Coming from North America, I had the usual sugar addiction: I drank up to 2 litres of Pepsi/Coke a day (!).  My wife convinced me that this was unhealthy–which it certain is–and  so I decided to trade one addiction for another (minus the sugar).  Now I drink up to 2 litres of coffee a day–sugarless and black.   My favourite coffee: café americano!

You can usually find me chain-drinking coffee while I play in chess tournaments.  My opponents don’t seem to mind it, though once I played an opponent who told me that he was alergic to the smell of coffee!  I did not really believe him, but out of respect for the game and not wanting to get an unfair advantage over him, I drank my coffee away from the board…we later became friends when we played on the same team!

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COMPUTER CHEATING : IS THE CURE WORSE THAN THE DISEASE?

The recent media focus on the 26-year old Bulgarian fm  Borislav Ivanov  poignantly underscores the international chess community’s unpreparedness to deal with computer-cheating issues.  Up until just recently, FIDE had exclusively  attended to the issue of doping in chess (ie, the typical WADA list of prohibited substances), leaving it to individual federations and organizers to fend for themselves with respect to  other cases/forms of cheating. 

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In an effort to gain recognition –as a sport–from the IOC, FIDE has been encouraging random drug-testing at important national and international events, even though everybody in the chess community  acknowledges that this is a non-issue.  Nobody takes drugs  to play better chess.  These past 15 years or so, FIDE has  buried  its head in the sand with respect to the  REAL  cheating issues facing the chess community: computer assistance during tournament play.  This might  soon change  now that  the ACP is getting involved.

ONE need only read the non-chess community’s media reports on  Ivanov’s recent declarations and feats  to realize how silly we in the chess community  look to the outside world. Common sense has NOT prevailed and  Borislav Ivanov has almost been elevated to the status of superstar!  

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The confused, often amateurish,  reactions of chess organizers and players—including forcing Ivanov to be strip-searched on one occasion; others have forfeited , refusing to play against him–has been made worse by sensationalist reporting by   respected  news media sources.  Today Ivanov has  undeservedly earned an  image  as the ‘‘James Bond” of chess. 

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People strongly suspect that Ivanov has been receiving computer-assistance during play; they even know with a good degree of certainty WHAT  chess engine he is getting assistance from–Houdini 3; BUT they don’t know HOW he is getting this help during his games!  And this  LACK of fundamental proof —the organizers in Zadar did not know what they were looking for when they strip-searched Ivanov— underscores the chess community’s  IMPOTENCE  to act : Ivanov  will be  allowed to continue to participate in international events for the forseeable future.

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The ACP just recently published the list of individuals to fill the joint  Anti-Cheating Committee.  Though this is an excellent initiative, and all those named are well respected professionals, I believe that they are heading off in the wrong  direction  by not including IT people who would know what to look for in cases of hi-tech cheating.  Hardware and transmission.  The committee is formed only from people within the chess community: for this kind of cheating it is necessary to look elsewhere for expertise. 

Possibly even from within special hi-tech government projects  and/or from  private industry dealing with advanced technologies; especially R&D.  Ofcourse, these kind of experts rarely volunteer to be on committees such as what the ACP is putting together: they have to be INVITED to take part.

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Professor Kenneth Regan  (who is also an IM in chess) is well known within the chess community for his pioneer work in investigating whether it is possible to detect computer assistance just from looking at the moves played.  Statistical research.  You might want to read more here.  Fundamental to his thesis is the question: What constitutes evidence of cheating? 

I don’t have a problem with Regan’s thesis, but when it comes to cheating the issue is NOT if a player MIGHT have cheated, but whether the player CHEATED OR NOT.  There should be nothing uncertain about finding a player guilty of cheating.  It is not at all similar to the situation in legal court cases where the element of reasonable doubt comes up:  often crimes are committed out of sight.  In cases of cheating in chess, the cheating –if it does indeed take place–takes place in the open in full view of everyone.  There is no ”Maybe he cheated”.  He either cheated or he did NOT cheat!

For this reason, I think it is necessary to find out HOW said cheating took place.  I feel it is necessary to be concrete here.   In this case of Ivanov, we need IT experts to explain to us how he got away with the cheating, undetected.  And then–and only then–the Anti-Cheating Committee has to investigate how to detect future instances of cheating in tournaments.  Up to now,  in none of the numerous articles published on the Ivanov cheating scandal , has any IT-expert stepped forward and try to explain how Ivanov got away with it.

Hopefully this information will soon come forward.   Until it does, we will likely miss the mark.  It is one thing to be well intentioned…but it is a lot better to be right.

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