Thursday, April 12, 2018

Cheating at the National Junior High

Last weekend, at the National Junior High School Chess 
Championship, Henderson Middle School from El Paso 
Texas "won" the under 750 and Under 1000 sections
 with teams of obviously sandbagged players. This 
was brought to the attention of Chief TD David Hater 
by many coaches, but he felt it was not his
 responsibility to act. 

Let's examine the evidence. 
The Under 1000 team members are
Ra***ez, Saul (7.0, 899)
Ra***ez, Juan (6.5, 867)
Pal***no, Carlos (6.0, 760)
Ar**jo, Carlos (4.5, 884)

Why are their ratings under 900, you are thinking? 
Because that allowed them to play in and win the 
Texas Under 900 championship. 

To get their ratings under 900 for these events, 
they claim to have played a two round match in
 Las Cruces, NM, where they lost 26-0, most of 
which were 400+ point upsets. 
This was rated as a tournament, rather than a match;
 perhaps accidentally or perhaps because there's an 
anti-sandbagging rule that says you can only lose 50
 points in a match. 

My assistant principal, John Galvin, reported this at 
7 pm Saturday. At the 2:30 meeting the next day, there
 was some disagreement about whether these results
 were spectacularly unlikely or actually impossible
A parent from my team who is also a mathematician 
was kind enough to run some numbers for me (results 
have been reviewed by a few of his colleagues and 
detailed discussion is in the comments. )
His analysis showed the odds of losing 26-0 with the 
rating differentials is 1 in 3x 10^21 
Without considering ratings, it's 1 in 263,000,000. 

When asked, the Henderson coach attributed his team's
 poor performance to "being kids" and coming from 
underprivileged homes.  

The Under 750 team is 

R**z, Alessandra (7.0, 734)
Arga***na, Aime (6.0, 585)
Ag***re, Devante (5.0, 632)
Ji***ez, Jose Luis (5.0, 654)
Valadez, Angelica (5.0, 683) 

On Jan 19, 2019, they held another tournmanent / 
match in New Mexico in which the Texas players 
again did very very poorly. This time their under 
750 team goes under. Notice how the MSA report lists 
the players' states in the left hand corner so you can 
easily see how badly Texas fared. 

The TD supervising these tournaments, Will Barela, 
 is also the President of the New Mexico Chess Association.
Looking through his directing history reveals some, 
lets' say ... "purposeful" events. Between Dec 28 and
 Jan 5 of 2017/2018, he rated a series of 15 multi 
section tournaments, in which a master who was 
dropping dangerously close to 2200, beat kids rated
 100-1000 in hundreds of games, thereby obtaining 
his life master title.
Congratulations to Life Master Benjamin Corarreti, 

I have never seen more obvious evident of sandbagging.
 There is no attempt to hide the thrown games, not a 
single draw. 
USCF officials could have moved their sections and saved
the integrity and reputation of their tournament; they 
were told at the beginning of round 5. Instead, they 
insist it needs to be handled by the Ethics Committee.

Handing it off to the Ethics Committee has enormous
costs. The entire credibility of the tournament 
experience is ruined for everyone. A confidential 
committee decision six months later does nothing 
to fix this. The cheated teams will never get to walk
 across the stage; they'll never get the newspaper 
articles, or the homecoming celebration, or the 
exhilaration of that night. 

I know there will be cases where the evidence is not
 clear and the TDs can't, in good conscience, act. But
 this is not that situation. This is the clearest, most 
unambiguous case of cheating POSSIBLE. 

If you aren't going to act on this, you can't claim to 
be enforcing the rules. 

It's unfortunate it wasn't handled well at the time, 
and more unfortunate (see next post) that the 
USCF is doubling down on their new stated policy of
 not interfering in cheating in progress.  
The USCF ought now to announce the cheating 
publicly and congratulate Metcalf and Thomas 
Edison on their wins in the U750 and U1000 
sections, and Scotty Gordon and Sameris Desvignes 
on the individual triumphs. 

In future, under sections should use peak rating.  


Unknown said...

Outrageous! USCF Exec Director should have to answer.

Bayside Admiral said...

How about also awarding my player, David Klimjack, an individual national title who lost to the top Henderson player in the final round of the U1000?

Anonymous said...

I'm a little confused... you're upset that a master and a class A player were assisting a scholastic program?

The statistics also seem a little off to me, so I did a little analysis of my own and (unlike you) will share the math used for my numbers:

Assuming a pure random chance, we're talking 3 possible outcomes per game times 26 games is 3^26. This value is dramatically different than what you've suggested: That's 1 in 2,541,865,828,329 Possible combinations. This means that the rating variation your "statistical parent" used was based on the idea that at master level play a 100 point difference means the higher rated player will win 99% of the games with an average 300 point rating difference. The fact that the "non-rated" value is so far off makes me question the accuracy of that statement. If I do this analysis based off the "non-rated" value then we're talking about a 700 point difference at grandmaster level play.

I'm not sure about the players on your team, but in general I don't expect grandmaster level performance from novice chess players. At this level of play you'll see dramatic swings and fluctuations. A player with more experience and/or quality coaching will be more consistent in a stressful tournament.

Some anomalies to be looked into to be sure, but when looked at objectively, most of these complaints look fairly biased. When looking into Will's tournament directory history I see many scholastic events including closed events for other schools in the area. Have these schools demonstrated a similar performance? Or are you only concerned about this because they won a tournament that your team participated in?

Anonymous said...


Actually, I was the one that did the math, and I am not that good at math or statistics so there could be an error in my approach to be sure. One flaw with the analysis is that I used the expected score (as calculated using the USCF ELO model) as the odds of winning or losing, which it really isn't. An expected score is an expected score. 1200 versus 1200 gives an expected score of 0.5, but that doesn't mean 50% chance of winning, 50% chance of losing, as there are draws. But I figured it's good enough for a quick analysis of the above tournament.

The first analysis I did (which is not in the blog post) is that I used the binomial distribution and estimated variance and standard deviation, z-score and calculated the odds against a cumulative normal distribution.

The way I did this was, for example, if a 1200 played another 1200, the expected score is 0.5. I summed up all the expected scores and compared it to the actual score. Most cases, it worked out to an expected score of 3 or more, with an actual score of 0.

The standard deviation of this is simply sqrt(n*p*q) where n is number of games, p is odds of winning and q is odds of losing.

The result of this analysis showed even more extreme unlikelihood of the said tournament.

But since I was unsure of the estimated standard deviation, the sanity check analysis was to simply calculate the odds of losing, and we just said 50%. So 0.5^28 gives the odds of a team losing every single game in the whole tournament. And this does, in fact, come out to 1 in 268 million or some such astronomically unlikely number.

Now, one can argue this is incorrect as the odds of losing is not really 50% as it doesn't take into account draws. I don't know what the odds of a draw are, but some use 20%.

This would mean the odds of winning/losing between two equal players would be 40% (40% chance of win, 40% chance of loss, 20% chance of draw).

So it may be more accurate to say 0.4^28 is the odds of losing all 28 games (I thought it was 7 players, 4 games each). That would mean the chance of that is even more astronomically unlikely as 0.4^28 is one in 138 billion.

There may be a flaw in all of this somewhere, but whatever adjustment you make, I think the odds of the above tournament happening is extremely unlikely.

The even odds calculation was done as people might just say ratings are not accurate/relevant at that level.

But even evening it out, the numbers are staggering.

Anonymous said...

By the way, it's me again, the one that did the math. My numbers don't match your 3^26 because my odds of losing was either 50% or 40%. If I used 1/3, then it would match.

I understand you were pointing out the sample space, and the suspicious result was one of the possible outcomes (3^26). But if 3 events don't have equal chance of occuring, the figures won't match.

Thanks for the discussion...

ejh said...

There was a sandbagging scandal in English chess not long ago. It had been going on for years, because there was a distinct reluctance on anybody's part to act, and in practice everybody in a position to act took the view that they wouldn't do anything until somebody else did. As a result, there was never any official enquiry, or any official statement, no results were ever annulled and nobody got the prizes and titles that they should properly have won.

Different countries organise their chess in different ways, so the English experience may or may not be applicable, and I don't want to comment directly on the details of this event or what happened before it, but I will say that it would plainly be best if the leaving-it-to-everybody-else part were not repeated here.

ejh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ejh said...

(Scandal details here.)

ejh said...

(Scandal details here.)

Elizabeth Vicary said...

I am not claiming that a master helped scholastic players. My point in including the example of Coraretti is to establish that Will Barela (president of the NM chess association!) is a shameless cheater.

I have been coaching for 18 years; my team won the k-9 open by 4 points -- I don't care in the slightest who wins the under 750 section. But I hate cheaters and I would like this tournament to retain its meaning.

Anonymous said...

Math parent again; actually there was 3 analylses done: first is the binomial one (where std was sqrt(npq) etc., second uses the odds of losing (1 - expected score) which admittedly overestimates the odds of loss (as odds of loss should be (1-odds of draw) * (1 - expected score) but this only makes the tournament more likely to have happened, not less. Including the odds of a draw would make this tournament even MORE unlikely to have occured. So this just a simple calculation of ( x*=x for x in y) where y is odds of losing each of the games (to express it pythonically).

And the last one was simply to assume equal odds (use odds of losing of 50% and 40% as in my initial response post).

Just to clarify as I forgot to mention the second analysis in my response...

Anonymous said...

Wow that's crazy. It's clearly obvious that those tournaments were held so they could lose points. And really ? What are you teaching kids ? And also going to those extremes to win an U900 and U750 section ??? REALLY ??!!??

Anonymous said...

U1000 *

Anonymous said...

I like how shameless these TD's are. They don't even bother to throw in an occasional draw at least. It's like they want the biggest possible drop in the smallest number of games. Ridiculous. I especially like the tournament where the middle schoolers all lost all their games to provisionally-rated elementary school kids.

Anonymous said...

Let's see what the USCF does. If this TD is not banned (after complaints are filed and investigated), the chess community will probably have to take action and call for a wholesale change in the leadership there. Too much corruption in chess... I understand the USCF needs money so may actually love these fake tournaments to be submitted. but come on, there has to be SOME decency. It shouldn't be all that hard to screen these obviously suspicious events.

Anonymous said...

Even using the "confused" poster's (high) estimates for the odds, "That's 1 in 2,541,865,828,329", such a tournament will occur approximately once for every 2 trillion tournaments held. Perhaps the USCF can chime in with the exact number of tournaments held so far in its history. At a rate of, say, 20,000 tournaments per year, the above would translate to once every more than 100 million years. However, the laws of mathematics apparently do not hold for Mr. Barela, as such tournaments occur on a weekly basis for him!

Jim Hollingsworth said...

Elizabeth, how did you get 26 games for EP VS EG (201801156312)?

I count 28.

Anonymous said...

Probably just a typo; I think all the math is based on 28.

Anonymous said...

Speechless. I presume all the events you mention were USCF rated, therefore the records are freely accessible to the public via the USChess rating website (formerly called “MSA”).

That makes the behavior a direct challenge to the TDs you mentioned, as well as USChess itself: the folks who ran those obviously fake sandbag-matches right before the Nationals, are saying flat-out to chess officialdom: We know you have no integrity, no one will stand up for honest competition or the laws of chess... so we will post fake results and boast about it right under your nose, and laugh! (Not too different from saying, when you’re a celebrity, you can grab them by the p****.)

That said, I can see the argument for requiring some formal due process before rescinding titles, and the like. But in view of the extraordinary nature of the behavior, and the high stakes involved (it was a National event, with much prestige and publicity at stake, as Liz pointed out), if it’s going to take months to get a final ruling, then USChess and/or the organizer of the Nationals should take an extraordinary action to protect their own reputation and their own commercial interests in being able to continue to run this tournament successfully in future years.

For example, They could announce that the published results are suspended pending investigation, and find some formula for tentatively recognizing the achievements of the nominally second place teams, so they won’t be denied the recognition and publicity they apparently earned as the top finishers legitimately eligible for the U-1000 and U750 rating categories.

FM Jon Jacobs
Former anti-cheating movement organizer

Anonymous said...

Regarding the USChess statement that “all cheating accusations” must go through the Ethics Committee, that is clearly a misstatement unless things have changed since I was active in these matters a little over a decade ago. I’m guessing what they mean is, any punishment of suspected cheaters applicable to FUTURE events, and/or to matters under direct control of USChess, such as ratings, eligibility to play in rated tournaments, and (rating-based) titles, is the sole purview of the Ethics Committee.

On the other hand, as you pointed out, accusations of cheating at particular events, and the awarding or withdrawal of prizes from a particular event where cheating was alleged, are and always have been handled by the organizer or TD of the event at issue

FM Jon Jacobs

Anonymous said...

I'm a TD and Math expert. In the closed tournament the probability of the higher rated players losing a game seems to be about 0.1 or less (500 rating point difference). Losing all 28 games like that has probability 0.0000000000000000000000000001, i.e., NOT going to happen.
So that tournament should not be rated due to cheating.
The "Master v. Fish" tournament is quite different. First of all, "Life Master" is no longer 300 games at that level, one could get the new title while dipping below 2200. The Master could get a Norm by beating fish, but it would take a large number of games - seems to be what happened. This was a case where both sides got what they wanted = Master takes rating points from fish.
In both cases, the TD could possibly make a weak claim that he knew nothing of the plan - you would have to review the detailed tourney results.
Sandbagging is usually done for cash. Going for low rated trophies seems like a waste of time, but I can see cheaters wanting to do that - at the cost of ruining the event for many others.

Stephen Chase

Anonymous said...

How much is the ethics committee fee? The outraged should start a go fund me page to raise the required funds.

Unknown said...

How did you discover the false tournament results of this team?

Kevin Bachler said...

There have been issues with US Chess enforcing rules at Nationals at all levels for decades. There has always been an argument promoted by US Chess officials of not wanting to harm the kids - and somehow not seeing that by bending over backwards for a small group "pushing" the rules, that there was harm being done to a large group of kids.

I would encourage you to bring this up in the various US Chess Facebook forums, and also in the US Chess Issues forum on their website.

There have been many incidents over the years. Here is one that impacted my team.

In 1998 home-schools were not allowed at Nationals. (Please do not take away from this that I am against home-school participation - in fact, I helped include home schools in my state of Illinois.)

A private "school" won nationals that year in one of the open sections. The school was not recognized or approved by their state, or any accrediting agency. In fact, it had been denied status by their state. Nor was it related to any recognized religious body. The "teachers" were all related to the students. Some students lived 60 miles away from the "school." (We know this because the top player/student was observed posting his address as a possible prize winner at the World Open that year.) The "school" consisted of one building (I've heard it described as one room) with approximately 60-80 students. On some websites posted by the "school" it appears that the "headmaster" was a 15th century Englishman being channeled by one of the "school" founders.

In other words, there was no proof that it was a "school", nor that it was operating in any "normal" way. What are the odds that a 70 person K-8 school could produce a dominating national championship team? Yet it won several national championships in a few years. How do we know that these students were spending a balanced amount of time studying 'traditional subjects' as opposed to little time on reading, writing and arithmetic, and a lot of time on chess?

If a player in a tournament competes for a Junior Prize, or a Senior Prize, or a Rating Class prize, they need to be able to show that they are a junior, or a senior, or are within that rating class.

But here we have a "school" competing for a scholastic national championship that cannot show that it is in fact, a school, since it had no credentials as such. When the issue was raised with the TD, the NTD who was the head TD of the event felt it was not his issue. The Ethics Committee declined to hear the case, and it was passed to the Scholastic Committee. The Scholastic Committee argued that there was no proof that it was a home school, and that it therefore was a school! (The argument was never that it was a home school - the argument was that it couldn't show that it was a school.)

When appealed to the (then) Policy Board (the forerunner of the current Executive Board) several of the Board members argued that we should just "let the kids play." The argument was never that they shouldn't play, the argument was that there were not a valid team.

This school and its sister private high school had continued rules issues, including trying to sneak players from other schools onto their roster for Nationals. To my knowledge, they have never been punished for any violation.

For some reason, when it comes to the National Scholastics events, US Chess seems to lower its standards in ways that it would never do so for other championship events.

I encourage those who have a complaint to raise this issue with US Chess, and to receive assurances that US Chess will more vigorously enforce standards in the future. This should change for the benefit of all and for fairness of all.

Anonymous said...

I read on that one of the player shows on the Henderson team (rated 800+) lost to this person rated 102 twice. If that’s not suspicious, I don’t know what is.

Jim Hollingsworth said...

The Golden Database and monthly ratings downloads should be modified with an additional column: Peak Rating.

Jeff said...

I hear kids say "I'm letting you win" and I tell them that it's 100% cheating to lose on purpose, and it's a ridiculous excuse. Sometimes a kid will blunder a Rook, claim to be losing on purpose, and then sacrifice a Knight and more to prove it. I have cited Olympic badminton scandals, where players/teams were accused/proven to lose on purpose. I will continue to emphasize that losing on purpose is cheating, and I hope other teachers do the same.

Anonymous said...

I want to add something to this. I also had students compete in this tournament, and it was brought to one of our player's attention during the final round that a particular team went to the bathroom frequently. We did not know this until the final round, and there was nothing that we could do. Our player should have voiced his concern about the four bathroom breaks one of their top players took during the final round.

How do you come back to board during the final round and make a move on board one in less than a minute each time you return. It would have been very easy to conceal carrying a cell phone to the restroom when wearing bulky sweatshirts. My player lost during the final round and said his opponent made some really good moves each time he came back.

I will make sure next time that I prepare my students for players who might be cheating and what to look for. We are new on the chess scene, but we are learning a lot about the good and the bad that takes place. So sad.

Anonymous said...

One of my players had the same experience (one of his opponents left for a bathroom break a suspicious number of times). I wasn't able to make the trip with the team, so I only heard about it later from the teacher sponsors who went with them. If I had been there and been made aware of it during the game, maybe I could have ensured that nothing fishy was going on.

I am the coach of a middle school team that participated in this tournament. When I began coaching this team in the last month of last school year, the kids didn't know how to castle, had never heard of en passant, and didn't even agree on what to call all the pieces. They've come a long way in a short time and I'm very proud of their performance and their conduct in Atlanta.

I live in an area with almost no chess activity, scholastic or otherwise. There is a local chess club that meets at a bookstore, but it seems to consist of about 5 or 6 gentlemen who play a couple of games on Sunday afternoons. My players have ratings only because a school in a neighboring state holds a small tournament each year. All of my players are provisionally rated, even after 7 rounds in Atlanta. For several, the 7 games in Atlanta gave them 11 overall.

I obtained my TD certificate for the sole purpose of organizing competitions locally to give my players more experience. Our club has an annual due out of which each player receives a club t-shirt and a youth membership in the USCF. The teacher sponsor has suggested that we do away with the dues and let the kids who want to get USCF memberships on an individual basis. After this Henderson episode in Atlanta, I'm inclined to agree with her. If the USCF does nothing about the most blatant case of sandbagging any of us have ever seen, then I can't in good conscience ask my players to get USCF memberships. If a few of them still want to compete in the one or two tournaments a year in driving distance, I'll tell them how to do so and help prepare them. As for this year it's in Texas, I believe, and that would be quite an expense for my team, especially if the USCF demonstrates in the Henderson case that cheaters have nothing to fear and that honest players will just have to suck it up. Too bad, kids. Ya gotta cheat if you wanna compete!

Yeah, I don't think so.