Online gaming is predicted to draw 1 billion users globally and produce USD 18 billion in revenue, making it one of the greatest sectors in IT. Not just in video games, also in mobile games and turn-based games, such as chess.
The popular Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit recently received 18 Emmy nominations and aided chess websites such as Chess.com in experiencing massive increases in user account signups. With that, however, also came a spike in cheating. Last year, Chess.com was said to have closed more accounts for irregularities in one month than ever before.
What do online chess players gain by cheating? First of all, there are substantial prizes for tournament winners and runner-ups. Second, there is something perhaps more valuable than money: fame. Inspired by the series The Queen’s Gambit, the title of Grandmaster becomes a powerful motivator. Last year, five of the six players who took the first six places in the 1400–1700 category of the European Online Championship were later disqualified. In March this year, the Fair Play Panel (FPP) of the FIDE World University Chess Championships disqualified 20 players from the World University Individual Online Rapid Championship for breach of Fair Play.
Players need to rely on a central chess platform for a fair game. The most popular chess platforms have advanced algorithms to determine who is cheating and when a player deviates from their normal practices, for example by using a chess bot. The platform estimates the probability of cheating but their exact data, criteria and evidence are not visible to the players. This leads to a lot of speculation by the players and the community: when two jury members are from the same country with a potential winning candidate in the championship and they disqualify an opponent, does that seem like a fair verdict? Based on what data? What facts? Accused players get notified to see a closed account, without the platform offering them concrete evidence. Some community members who are discussing these disqualifications don’t want to critique the platform for their undisclosed criteria, out of fear of being banned from the platform.
Games, in this case chess, can therefore be seen as one of the most promising blockchain applications: no central platform that can withhold information but a decentralised game with the necessary guarantees for individuals to place their trust in it.
There’s good news for transparency in verification. A new technology created by Cartesi can verify the entire application execution. The correct result is enforced, on-chain. Cartesi’s technology can work with the advanced anti-cheating algorithms of the platform but it will make the results fully transparent. All of this while keeping the application completely decentralised.
A decentralised, verifiable game of chess for all players involved. This could very well mean a new move in the future of online chess.