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Chess grandmaster accused of using smartphone to cheat during contest

Sneaking off to the bathroom with your smartphone to check the best way to beat your opponent is probably the worst move you can make in a game of chess, but that’s the accusation being leveled at grandmaster Igors Rausis after he was allegedly caught in the act on Friday, July 12.

Rausis was playing in a tournament in Strasbourg, France, when he headed to the bathroom for a break. A short while later, a smartphone was found in the cubicle, with the chess player subsequently signing a declaration confirming that the device was his.

Pressure on the player grew when social media users started circulating a photo — also published by The Times — purporting to show Rausis during Friday’s bathroom break. In the image, he can be seen checking his phone while sitting on the closed lid of the toilet.

The Latvian-Czech player later appeared to admit having used his phone during the bathroom break, telling Chess.com, “I simply lost my mind yesterday,” and adding, “I played my last game of chess already.” However, the publication noted that at this stage it’s still not clear if he was receiving assistance from software or perhaps other means.

While there’s no proven evidence suggesting 58-year-old Rausis used a smartphone to aid his chess performances prior to Friday, chess fans have long suspected his behavior after noticing his player rating improving at an unusually fast speed.

In fact, Yuri Garrett of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) revealed on Friday that officials had been closely following “a player” for months after using software designed to alert them to unusual performances and trends among players.

Phones have been banned at chess tournaments for several years now, with some high-profile events requiring players to pass through metal detectors before a game begins. However, this doesn’t prevent a phone from being hidden in a bathroom before a game begins.

FIDE’s ethics committee is now examining Rausis’ case to decide how to proceed.

Commenting on the issue of cheating in competitive chess — whether with a smartphone or by some other means — David Llada, FIDE’s chief communications officer, told Digital Trends: “Looking at the big picture, I am relieved to say that the number of cases is minimal,” adding, “It is, by far, a much smaller issue than doping is in other sports.”

Indeed, the last high-profile case of a top chess player using a smartphone to gain advantage in a tournament occurred in 2015. Georgian grandmaster Gaioz Nigalidze was stripped of his title and given a three-year ban after he was found to have used a chess app during a game at an international tournament in Dubai. Following multiple trips to the bathroom during the game, officials checked the cubicle and found a phone hidden inside. The device had a chess app mirroring the setup of the current board. Officials were able to confirm the phone belonged to Nigalidze as it was also logged into his Facebook account.

Updated on July 15, 2019: Added comment from David Llada

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