Forum Archive : Cheating

Using computer to aid online play

From:   Ken Arnold
Date:   4 March 2006
Subject:   How GamesGrid Deals With Cheating in Online Backgammon

While there is no perfect solution, there is a lot that a responsible
site operator can do to protect players. GamesGrid has run online
backgammon with wagers for ten years. Over the years many players have
come forward with accusations that some player was playing at world
class or extra-terrestrial levels.

In such cases site management reviewed the match records and if the
level of play was judged to be suspiciously strong, we would get
involved.  Site staff would contact the strong player via email or
telephone and explain that their online play was sufficiently strong
that it placed them in the top ten or twenty players in the world and
was arousing attention and suspicion from their opponents. Then we
would ask them to play a few 7 point matches in front of a recorder, so
that a live witness would be able to confirm that their level of play
was very strong over a board as well as online. It was easy to make
this offer without accusing anyone; we'd just congratulate them them
on their talent and offer to provide bona fides provided that a
suitable performance could be demonstrated in a monitored setting.

This has been done many dozens of times over the years. Not
surprisingly, most players declined the offer and were never heard from
again. Any player who declined the opportunity to play in a monitored
setting was no longer allowed to play for money on GamesGrid.

One interesting case was that of Sergei Kurilenko, aka 'wasp' who
was at that time a brand new player living in Siberia. His 2.5 scores
were deemed suspicious and maybe impossible for an honest newbie.
Generally, GamesGrid had access to bg players all over the world that
would assist us in arranging for the monitored match but Siberia was a
problem. Wasp told me that he was an honest player who trained with gnu
bg and earned his skill legitimately. He said that he was going to the
European championships and would be happy to play a live match. At the
tournament he played several matches with a few of the top pros. David
Wells reported back that "This guy is the real thing", and that was
good enough for me. Sergei has been a bg friend for about five years
now, though we've never met.

Though it takes time and effort, and offers no financial reward,
responsible site operators can make a huge contribution to keeping
online bg clean and honest. Unfortunately, most don't care to do so.
There is one well-documented case where the reigning Nordic champion
was actually caught cheating by a leading bg site..... but they chose
not to stop him from playing because of the likely scandal. In fact the
player eventually went public on his own with an apology on the
bulletin boards of the DBGF. The DBGF suspended him from play but the
online site did nothing.

Raccoon  writes:

Ken contrasts GamesGrid and TMG's handling of possible cheating. I
would like instead to compare them. But first I would like to correct
Ken's recounting of the incident on TMG. It was discussed at length in
the DBgF forum.

(1) Although TMG claims to run all games through Snowie and various
other procedures that make it impossible to cheat undetected, TMG did
not catch the player. He was reported to TMG by his opponent.

(2) TMG did not do nothing. TMG suspended his account for four days,
reviewed his play, and then reinstated his account. Since TMG never
made a public announcement it is not clear what, exactly, TMG's finding
was, or what else, exactly, TMG did. The player and his opponent stated
publicly that TMG had reinstated the account but that future play would
be subject to some sort of monitoring. Ken states that TMG "chose not
to stop him from playing because of the likely scandal." Maybe; TMG
never made their finding or motivation public. It is not clear whether
the player actually continued playing money games on TMG. Whatever it
was, exactly, that TMG decided and did, the opponent stated publicly
that he was satisfied with TMG's action.

(3) The player did not go public on his own. The matter was revealed
publicly in the DBgF forum by an anonymous poster who was apparently
dissatisfied with TMG's handling of the matter. Following TMG's
decision to reinstate the player's account, DBgF's governing board
initially considered the matter closed. However, the matter was then
reported officially to DBgF's sportsmanship committee by several DBgF
members including the player's opponent. That committee then took up
the case. The player acknowledged to the committe that he had used
Snowie during online money play. The committee then suspended the
player from DBgF for two months.

As to the comparison:

Offering as Ken says GamesGrid does to verify skill in person is
commendable. TMG should do the same. But cheating online is difficult
to prove whether on GamesGrid or TMG. Understandably, both sites handle
accusations and investigations quietly. Neither site publicly denounces
cheaters. GamesGrid rarely bans players from their site. Ken wrote that
"many dozens of times" players suspected of possible cheating were "no
longer allowed to play for money." But their accounts were not closed.
They were allowed to keep their accounts and play nonmoney games. They
were not suddenly "disappeared" from GamesGrid. Other users of the site
were not made aware of the cheating or suspected cheating. Were any
ill-gotten gains confiscated or returned to cheated opponents? Does
either site do anything to stop suspected cheaters from simply moving
to another site where they can continue cheating a new group of
unsuspecting opponents?

Indeed, both sites are circumspect in dealing with possible cheating.
It seems reasonable that a shared motivations is, in Ken's phrase,
"because of the likely scandal." Publicizing a single cheating incident
scares away customers, let alone, over the years, "many dozens" of
possible incidents. Both sides would have users believe that cheating
is both rare and rarely goes undetected. My own view is that although
cheating is relatively rare, neither site is active or public enough in
identifying and preventing cheating, and neither site is appreciative
enough of the many, many backgammon players who long ago gave up on
online money play for that reason.

Ken Arnold  writes:

Raccoon, I was clearly told by an authoritative source that TMG "knew
with great confidence that the player was in fact cheating, but decided
not to bar him from money play because of 'the political

Specifically, the player in question had a good history of live
recorded matches in the 5+ range and a long history of online matches
at a level around 2. For a site operator to know what is going on and
to allow it to continue swamps all other considerations, now doesn't

GamesGrid decided that we would handle cheaters in the method similar
to how a blackjack pit handles counters:  "You're a mighty fine player.
Please don't play here again", followed by a disabling of their
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Advantages of online play  (Donald Kahn, Nov 1999) 
Avoiding loaded dice  (Gregg Cattanach, June 2000) 
Collusion in Monte Carlo  (Kit Woolsey, Aug 1995)  [Recommended reading]
Dealing with live-play cheating  (Gregg Cattanach+, May 2006) 
Dice magicians  (Paul Weaver, July 2010) 
Dice manipulation  (Paul Epstein, Nov 2005) 
Dice manipulation  (Kit Woolsey, Jan 1995)  [Recommended reading]
Gamesmanship vs. cheating  (Albert Steg+, May 1994) 
How to tell when somebody's cheating  (Michael Halpenny+, Feb 2001) 
How to tell you're playing a computer  (Douglas Zare, Dec 2003) 
Premature roll and late pick-up  (Ian Shaw, Feb 2002) 
Taking advantage of computer players  (Matthew J. Reklaitis, July 1997) 
Using computer to aid online play  (Paul Weaver, July 2006) 
Using computer to aid online play  (Ken Arnold+, Mar 2006) 
Using computer to aid online play  (Patti Beadles+, Jan 2003) 
With a baffle box  (Joe Russell, Aug 2009) 

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