May 05, 2008

Cheating in

Computer assistance is not allowed in HCL games. For those who didn’t notice, there is an easy to understand sign with a tag “Chess engines are NOT allowed in this game”. However, a lot of members of this site have found a message accompanying their opponent’s move that addresses a cheating accusation. “It's a bit sad ..... it is quite obvious you are using a chess engine to evaluate and choose your moves. You are only fooling yourself my friend.” I have also been accused and as I result I withdrew from for almost a year.

Under my previous blog message, John Findley posted a comment full of complain, anger and this bitter feeling of injustice. After cheating suspicion is thrown over the board both players share a psychological disadvantage. The accuser is unwilling to continue the game: “what’s the use of trying, if I am going to loose anyway?” The accused player falls into discredit sometimes without any proof and certainly in most cases without a chance to defend himself.

In the famous Elista World Championship match Kramnik vs Topalov, the Appeals Committee decided to lock Kramnik’s toilet, a decision that launched one of the most annoying scandals in modern chess history. To my opinion, they did not want to accept that a player of Kramnik kudos could cheat his opponent. They locked the toilet in order to eliminate suspicion and they started a dangerous chain reaction. I must also remind you of a more recent case (here is the chessvibes article) which I have in mind while writing down these lines.

Let’s face the “cheating” problem with maturity. This article does not allow any user comments because a public discussion upon the subject fits better to the forum. There are two topics available and everybody is invited to post his opinion.

The first one (published here) uses John Findley’s comment as a starting point. You are expected to join in and share your point of view about cheating, cheating accusations, psychology of the chess player and the temptation of a chess engine which is just a click away. It is also important to determine the moment that a player feels cheated, which kind of moves look so unrealistic and why.

The second topic goes a step further. It is published here. It proposes a formal procedure regarding how to handle a cheating suspicion. Thomas has already read my proposal and replied with doubt and disagreement in certain points. This is the reason why such a proposal belongs to the forum section and must be discussed in detail with all of members, in order to find (or decide not to find) a proper “cheating accusation” procedure with respect to “fair play”, with respect to both players, without embarrassing comments for anyone (accusers and cheaters).

I must repeat that: Please, post your comments but avoid mentioning any real name or alias of members. We don’t want to discriminate people here. We want to evaluate the “cheating” threat and its consequences.

Posted by Michalis Kaloumenos at 12:45 PM | Comments (0)

February 23, 2004

What makes a good chess community?

A chess community offers one or more products/services to a market (the accessible pool of chess players), via a formal or informal organization (with a governance). We can divide this topic into two: (a) Product development and marketing (products include services for our discussion); (b) Establishing and sustaining the organization

Before we cover the two main topics, let?s convince ourselves of the applicability of this model (product and organization). For large organizations such as US Chess, there is indeed a corporate structure and well defined products. How well they operate is a separate discussion (see But what about very small organizations, such as an informal club run by one person? I will argue that this situation is exactly the same. This person made a decision to start a club because they wanted to reach out to the accessible pool of players, and offer one or more of: (a) a club closer to where they live (accessibility); (b) a club that offers better or a different kind of tournaments (product); (c) a club with different leadership (better governance, organization).

The key point is that the person(s) made a conscious decision to create an entity (organization) that has the responsibility to provide a product. They rely on customers to survive, and the dynamics are similar to the commercial marketplace. The product offered is a venue to play in, at an agreed (hopefully repeatable) time/place, and some structure about the format of play (casual, rated), etc.

Product development and marketing

Chess products ultimately revolve around playing the game. There is certainly a niche market for the aesthetics, such as art, and collectable historical artifacts (see but for our discussion, we can focus on playing the game. I will claim this includes products such as:
(a) Organizing a casual game of chess
(b) Creating/maintaining a rating/ranking service
(c) Organizing a rated game of chess
(d) Organizing a tournament
(e) Organizing a Championship
(f) Creating playing materials, such as sets, chess engines, databases
(g) Creating instructional media, such as books, CDs, DVDs
(h) Creating and distributing news content, analysis, commentary
(i) Delivering instructional services
(j) Delivering coaching
(k) Creating and delivering meta-information (portals, directories)

Any particular chess community can only create, offer and deliver a small subset of possible chess products. Communities that try to offer too much will fail. A spectacular example of this is now defunct. It tried to offer ?world class? playing, instruction, news and more, and then couldn?t deliver on any of it well. First they lost their customer base, then investor base, and then failed. An excellent example of success is which focuses on commentary from leading chess personalities, with an attached store.

So we see that selecting the right product(s) to offer is an important decision. Two key questions are: (a) what is the need for this product in the marketplace? (b) do we have a management team (organization, individual) with a passion for the product, and the ability to deliver? We will consider the second questions below (?Establishing and sustaining the organization?). For now, let?s discuss product need, positioning and marketing in the chess marketplace. The ideas and concepts are adapted from widely used practices in the commercial product world.

Product need ? this is hard. It is a simultaneous exercise of considering the existing chess market, who the big incumbents are that are delivering current functionality; contrasted against the functionality you are considering creating, including quality of service. The picture you will create in this exercise is that of a current need, where customers (chess players) are willing to purchase the product. Remember that you generally can?t displace an incumbent with an identical product, there has to something different about your product. For example, are you an organizer considering creating a new set of regional tournaments? What need is that filling that isn?t already filled? Are you thinking of starting a chess club or an online community? Think very carefully about the specific product(s) you will be offering. Ask yourself why would a chess customer buy my product? Are you the only club in the area or the only club that night? What about the kind of games you will offer? A recipe for disaster is to just say ?I?ll wing it, and see what happens, I?ll build it, and they?ll come?. It is certainly advantageous to be flexible, but you must be aiming for specific products, just like you aim for specific squares in a game of chess.

Product positioning ? this is crucial, and is often ignored. For the product conceived above, who are you selling the product to (what segment of the chess customers), and what makes your product different, and perhaps unique? Product positioning is where you can fine tune the characteristics of your product (including price) to closely match the needs/pain of your paying customers. For example, if you are a club offering tournaments as the product, what is your differentiator? Do you offer fast games, or slow games? Do you have a consistent or variable schedule? Do you allow business travelers to jump in the middle of a tournament? How professional is your level of service? What is your reputation for getting games rated, and paying out prizes? In the crazy world of chess, high integrity and excellent reputation become important differentiators.

Marketing and measuring ?crucial, frequently misunderstood and executed badly. Marketing has three aims: (a) promote the organization; (b) promote the product(s). In addition, you need to (c) record and measure the results.

The first step in promoting anything is to know your audience, and have a channel to reach them. Perhaps through a mailing list of a national chess organization, you can use a piece of. Maybe it is a newspaper advertisement. Maybe it is circulating a flyer at popular tournaments. This must be the same audience that you were assuming when you made important product decisions above. Once you can reach your audience, then you will advertise to them. Usually you will want to promote both your organization, as well as your product(s) in the same advertisement. The tricky thing is that people tend to get the two confused easily. The advantage of keeping these distinct is that you can abandon or change a product, and still keep the organization and its brand.

When you promote your organization, you are really selling your target audience on the fact that they can trust you (the organization) to create a certain range of products that they will like (even though the products can change over time). For example, in the US, if you see an advertisement for a ?CCA? tournament, you immediatly know if this is something you want without looking at the details, because ?CCA? has a strong brand and relatively well defined pool of customers, as well as a streamlined product set.

When you promote a product, you are selling a particular thing, to fill a particular need to a particular customer set, for a particular price. For example ?CCA? has the Foxwoods Open. This replaced the New York Open a few years ago. The CCA brand allowed a product to be replaced with little disruption, because people already had a trust level and an expectation level already set. Then it is simply a matter of judging product accessibility, time, price, etc. for the individual chess customer.

Even if your organization only ?does one thing?, it is still useful to keep the two aspects separate. When you promote the organization, you are promoting a trust level to your customer base. When you promote a product, you are driving sales. You can abandon a product, but it is fatal to abandon the organization.

Finally, you will want to measure your activities, so you can tell how effective your marketing is. At a minimum, you want to record contact info from sales that actually happened. It is usually easier to maintain and grow an existing customer base, than always having to start over. Promotions directly to existing customers are generally very effective.

Establishing and sustaining the organization

Chess communities are commonly wholly or substantially dependent on volunteers (or low wage ?I do it for love? people) for their success. The scourge of chess communities (especially clubs) is burnout due to the person who created the community being overloaded, and/or the volunteers failing. The trick to sustaining the organization is to recruit, build and retain a sufficient pool of volunteers. The key is balancing volunteer value, workload, and commitment.

The person(s) who created the chess community will undoubtedly be the most committed. People, who are just given small tasks to make the operation work, will have a low level of commitment, because the volunteer value to them is low. They will most likely think ?I?ll do this just because I want to play chess here?. These people will be the most likely to be intermittent, or quit altogether.

On the other hand, creating high volunteer value is an approach that lets a volunteer own a piece of the organization. Give the volunteer responsibility to drive that part of the organization, and let them shape it. Put their mark on it, own it. Do not micro-manage them. Then their commitment is high, turnover is lower. This in turn makes recruiting easier, because now you are deliberately looking for people that want to take over, not just do little tasks here or there. They naturally want to make things happen. You just have to let go, which for some is not easy, and can be a fatal flaw.

By recruiting and retaining people that want their big piece of the pie, the creator of the organization can now focus on maintaining a neutral structure for the volunteers to operate. This can be a charter, by-laws, Board of Directors, etc. This is structure that the active volunteer will naturally not be too interested in, but usually will be happy to operate in, mainly because it constrains everyone the same, and in a transparent manner..

Once you have a structure and a volunteer pool that wants their big slice of the pie, you need to keep recruiting. The reason is growth. If you have created a community and organization with a brand that people trust, and products that people buy, then you will be in growth mode. You will need to keep recruiting volunteers. Start looking for volunteers with management skills. Look at the structure of the IECC ( for a good example of an organization that has grown because they put a good structure in place, and let people own pieces of it. [NOTE: Even though IECC offers a ?free? product, I still consider it a ?sale? if a player decides to commit 3 months to playing an email chess game with IECC. Nothing is ?free?]

The last topic is vague, but nevertheless important. It is attitude. Attitude comes from the top, so start when the organization is small. A sustainable attitude is one where everyone can feel powerful, and they are constrained only by neutral structure like policies and procedures and not by arbitrary personalities. Everyone feels powerful, and everyone is in growth mode, so no one feels threatened. If someone wants to make a positive impact, then they can. Once a core group of people are in place, it is easy to recruit more of the same. Communities with positive energy tend to attract more of the same.

Future topics for the entire chess market

There are many topics that I could ?blog? on in the future including:

1. Federations of chess communities
2. Promoting chess
3. Promoting chess players
4. Developing best practices and chess standards

I?d like to get some feedback to help me decide where to go with this.


Posted by Harvey G. Reed at 04:23 AM | Comments (1)

January 16, 2004

Why create chess communities?

Quite simply, humans (including chess players!) are social creatures. Chess players want to be around other chess players. And, interestingly, chess players (like most humans) feel most comfortable in a hierarchical organization.

For a fascinating article on this, look at the March 2003 Harvard Business Review, for the article "Why Hierarchies Thrive", by Harold Leavitt. The description at the bottom of page concludes "...Over the past 50 years, for example, they [hierarchies] have co-opted the three major managerial movements--human relations, analytic management, and communities of practice. Hierarchies also persist because they deliver real practical and psychological value, and they fulfill our deep need for order and security. Despite the good they may do, however, hierarchies are inevitably authoritarian."

Another way to think of these hierarchical communities is like a bee hive (hierarchical, group oriented). Most people like belonging to a good hive, rather than being alone. For example in programming, most programmers would rather work in a good perhaps new and growing hive (pick from JAVA, internet, .NET, etc), rather than work in an old, perhaps decaying hive (pick from ISAM, ASM, VMS, etc), or worse yet, working alone. This psychology relates to the aforementioned "communities of practice", which are mostly hierarchical, and I will claim that chess (like programming) is a community of practice.

So a chess community: (a) is a community of practice (how to do something, get better, etc); (b) provides emotional and psychological security/stability (identity, ratings, awards, titles, etc); (c) is authoritarian (rules, arbitration, etc.).

Creating Chess Communities

Ultimately, most chess communities are created at the grass roots level, and grow & prosper, or die. Someone, an individual, or small group of people, decide they need to start one. Yes, a concious and emotional decision to start a chess community. Very typically, this would be a local club where "the charter" people decide they wnat a community that better serves their interests, than any existing community. The reasons can be varied:

1. A club closer to where you live (want better accessibility)
2. A club that offers the kind of tournaments you want to play (want better service)
3. A club with different leadership (want better authoritarian rule or governance)
And keep in mind that typically a chess community is largely or completely a volunteer organization. We'll cover more on that later.

Grow and Prosper

The three basic dimensions of a chess community are: (a) accessibility; (b) service (includes price); (c) governance. There is no "right" formula, but you can be sure it is a combined effort to balance volunteer effort into the community, versus production of accessible service. The communities that prosper determine a formula that will work (is focused on) only a segment of the population of chess players. That is, the successful communities will (almost by definition) never be attractive or useful to all chess players all of the time. But they will be extremely attractive and useful to some of the players most of the time.

Since different communities will have different offerings, over time a chess community ecosystem will form. That is, a community of communities. Thus we have local clubs that belong to national associations, national associations that belong to international associations. We also have new transnational communities (IECG, IECC,, etc) that are still sorting out how they fit into the big picture. But fit they must, over time. We already see IECG and ICCF forming tighter ties which gives IECG more credibility, ICCF considering a web server and individual membership, etc.

In addition, for new communities to thrive and prosper they must complement, not compete directly with the successful incumbents (for example a new email chess group is not likely to survive against IECG or IECC), or offer services that are new or compelling (such as a web server with a new twist, like with its great interface, and these blogs!). There is still much competition and sorting out happening in the server space. Nonetheless, my opinion is that a new "general purpose" online server like ICC could not survive because we already have ICC, FICS, etc. They are the successful incumbants. However, new national online servers offered as an extension to the already existing national org stand a chance to erode some server market share. One example is the U.S. Chess Federation, and its new online service. However, I don't expect much erosion, because chess loyalty runs deep.

Decay and Death

Chess communities die due to lack of momentum, or disuse. Chess players need a community that feels alive, has a lot of activity, a sense of identity, history, giving meaning to ranking, titles and awards. As long as the governance is providing a structure to channel sufficient volunteer energy to provide valuable services to the community, all is well. If the governance gets distracted, perhaps forgets that it is but one piece of a larger ecosystem, gets arrogant, places its needs above the members or communities interests, then all is lost.

In other words, the governance needs to provide valuable, relevant services to its members. Pretty simple, but easy to forget for some. Consider FIDE. FIDE for a while (perhaps even now?) gave community members, and the public, the impression that they were aloof, and did not care much about the average professional chess player. They were (are?) catering to the sponsors, by forcing faster time controls and perceived silly tournament structures onto the membership (players). And yet, despite catering to the sponsors and ignoring players, FIDE was not even treating sponsors well. You can read all about this in the rec.chess.politics newsgroups.

The point is that a governance such as FIDE may not yet realize or remember that chess communities are usually created spontaneously at the grassroots level. Thus, with all of the disappointment, disdain, and disgust over FIDE in the last few years, who is to say they too won't die and be replaced? Once a community falls into disuse and disrepair, it is dead. No community is immune. Only time will tell.

So Why Create a Chess Community?

A chess community is nominally created by an individual (or a small group of people) who:

1. Are frustrated with existing communities, and personally believe they can provide a more valuable chess service, where one does not exist (either locally or globally); or...
2. Are convinced they can provide a better service than currently exists because they can create and apply better governance.

This last point is particularly important for chess communities because so much of the chess service delivery is volunteer (or "low wage I do it for love") based, and without good governance, you won't have a good volunteer org, which reduces services. This creates a vicious cycle that leads to decay and death. Particularly vulnerable are "one person shops" like Stan's NetChess, that start great, then when the "one person" gets overloaded, the community falls into disrepair, and loses momentum then relevance.

So the bottom line, chess communities are usually created out of a personal and emotional need to offer a new, improved, different service and/or governance. When a chess community is created, you must consider the entire ecosystem that you will fit into, and the kind of governance you are capable of creating and sustaining. Everyone wants to be associated with a winner, no one wants to be associated with a loser.

Next we will examine: "What makes a good chess community?"


Posted by Harvey G. Reed at 10:17 PM | Comments (3)

January 11, 2004

Why do we have chess communities?

When two people play a game of chess with each other, at that moment when they are making moves that is their whole universe. No one may interfere with their play, it is just them, and the chess position.

When the game is done, there is a result. A win/loss/draw. At this point, the completed game must be seen in a larger context. Have you played this opponent before? What is your record so far? Is there a defined group of opponents that you play against? Is there a ranking system? Who maintains rankings? Who maintains the rules? What about titles, awards?

So then, what is a chess community? Why do they exist? What is the minimal description of chess community, and why would people want something more?

Let's assume for the moment that a minimal chess community is a small group of players who play each other for fun, and perhaps informally keep track of wins/losses. You still need the rule book. So at a minimum you need some "institution" that everyone agrees will maintain the rules, and possibly ratings.

So far this is obvious, but think about how these communities have evolved so far. They have evolved along country boundaries, and countries themselves have sponsored the creation of international organizations, such as FIDE for over-the-board, and ICCF for correspondence chess. FIDE and ICCF each have their rulebook, and mercifully ICCF defers to FIDE for the basics, only adding the bits about correspondence play.

Within a country, the country org generally keeps game result records and their own rulebook (usually specifics that override FIDE rules); and clubs and other organizations abide by the country rules, and rating requirements. Thus, when you play rated chess (over-the-board) it is generally at a tournament, operated by an affiliate of the country org (or FIDE).

We should examine the dynamics of why these affiliates are created, and grow and die (regional organizers, clubs, etc.), but first, lets consider the impact of globalization, and the internet.

Globalization and the internet has allowed us (all the people that like to play chess) to ignore country boundaries. We form groups (such as PlayChess, IECC, IECG) that are independent of country boundaries. Why are these organizations created? What is the relationship between these trans-national orgs and country orgs? Why are some free, and others fee-based?

Why create any chess communities or organizations at all?


Posted by Harvey G. Reed at 08:35 PM | Comments (0)

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