chess cheating

Stopping Cheating From Impacting the Great Game of Chess

Play any sort of game or sport for long enough and you’ll naturally come up against someone who is trying to bend the rules to give themselves a better chance of winning. However if you’re new to the game, you might not be able to spot the signs when your chess set is being used in a way that contravenes the official guidelines of chess.

Chess is unavoidably affected by cheating, as it’s a pastime that offers fame and fortune to winners at the elite level, so the motivation is certainly there. The governing body of the game - the International Federation of Chess (FIDE) - has done much to stop cheating that can and has happened in a variety of ways over the years.

Whether using a wooden chess set or a luxury marble chess set, a level playing field is the minimum you should expect. Here we look at a couple of ways that players have attempted to tip the balance in their favour over the years and the measures that were implemented to stop them.

Group Cheating i.e. Match Fixing & Collusion

Whether conducted due to a lack of skill or a burning desire to be the best there is, cheaters have certainly left their mark on chess over the years. Perhaps the most notable example of this occurred during the 1960s when the cold war was at its height. Whilst denied at the time, allegations of match fixing and ‘group cheating’ by ex Soviet players were later found to be most likely true.

Researchers from Saint Louis-based Washington University (A prominent hub of the chess community) carried out a study that discovered that a number of Russian chess masters did in fact use their chess sets to collude with each other over a period of almost 25 years. This ‘cheating’ was hard to spot, however, as it involved players agreeing to draw with each other to improve their overall rankings.

It’s not immediately apparent how successful pre-arranging a chess set up that led to a draw was in terms of strategies, but the consensus was that Soviet players would have a rest when playing other whilst preserving their mental freshness for games against non-Soviet players. It was a tactic that sought to enhance the status of all Russian players, rather than just one individual.

What the FIDE Did In Response

In an attempt to prevent this kind of collusion, the FIDE totally reorganised the way in which chess tournaments were conducted. Previously, they were carried out in a round-robin format whereby everyone ends up playing everyone, but this was changed to a straight knock-out style.

This removed the advantage gained by using a chess set up designed to have the game result in a draw and players could not simply allow the stalemate to occur. This one change effectively eliminated collusion of this type in one fell swoop.

Touch-Move Rule Violations

Perhaps the most well-known and common chess rule violation is that of the touch-move rule. The rule dictates that whether using a Harry Potter Chess Set or a Lego Chess Set, the rule is the same - once your hand leaves the chess piece, the move is final. It’s the most difficult of rules to enforce, but it is a rule that must be adhered to - particularly in competitive chess.

In addition to this, if at any point you touch any of your chess set pieces, your next move must be with that piece if a legal move exists. The same applies to your opponent’s pieces, meaning that if you touch any of theirs, you must take that piece if you’re able to legally. That’s why it’s advisable to keep your hands by your side until you’re certain of your intended move.

Regardless of this fact, there have been some high-profile cases where elite players have touched a piece, let go of it and then made a different move instead. This is effectively cheating, but it’s often not penalised by tournament officials.


The FIDE didn’t really get involved in this one, as on most occasions, players are often reluctant to call out the other player for a touch-move violation. It’s usually considered as an oversight, rather than an attempt to cheat. However, some people are sticklers for the rules and if you feel so inclined, you can have your opponent disqualified on a technicality.

In practice, this doesn’t happen very often, as most people just want to have a good, friendly and competitive game. This overriding attitude to the rule could see it disappear completely over time.

Enjoying the Game is the Only Real Important Factor

Thankfully, there aren’t too many ways to cheat in chess and the methods that have existed have been largely eliminated by the governing body. That’s great news for chess players around the world, as it means that the time and effort it takes to learn how to set up a chess board and win games is less likely to be subverted by underhanded tactics! Sure, there are probably people out there looking to get ahead by exploiting loopholes, but as most just want to enjoy the game for what it is, these attempts will likely be highlighted and dealt with in due course. Let’s be honest - enjoying the game is the only real important factor in this equation.

At the Official Staunton Chess Company, we offer the finest chess sets you will find anywhere in the world. This is illustrated by the fact that we have supplied chess equipment to highly prestigious customers like the Savoy Hotel in London and Linley at Belgravia to name but two. When our name is attached to a product, it is a mark of quality.

If you would like to see our products for yourself, please take a look around our website www.officialstaunton.com or give us a call on 01948 880 060 and we’ll answer any questions you might have. We hope you enjoyed reading our blog and that it has shown that whilst cheating exists in chess, it’s not something that prevents millions of people appreciating and enjoying what will always be an eternal and noble pastime
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