An Open Letter to 4NCL Captains: 24th June 2020
You may have been surprised to learn today that Anglia Avengers has withdrawn from the eagerly awaited 1st Division Semi-Final clash against Guildford Young Guns.
This is the first time in my chess-playing career that I have taken such an extraordinary step. I felt that I owed you all the courtesy of an explanation.
As you are all doubtless aware, the LiChess platform uses a proprietary and undisclosed algorithm to identify players using “engine assistance”. The 4NCL online rules (for the 1st season) regard such a designation as veridical evidence of cheating, and imposes a mandatory ban. A number of player have been banned from the competition in consequence. Some captains have accepted the ban. Others have vigorously challenged it, including Tim Wall (Northumbria Vikings) and Tim Seymour (Surbiton) who have withdrawn their squads in protest.
One of our players was banned in such a fashion after a few rounds. I examined his games in detail but found no conclusive evidence of engine assistance. A senior member of the Essex Chess Association (unconnected with Anglia Avengers) reviewed the games and confirmed my findings.
I tested the LiChess appeal process for removing the “engine assistance” flag, but the appeal process was slow, opaque and ultimately unsuccessful. Nothing in my (limited) observation of how this process operates gives me confidence that it is feasible to rectify an incorrect allegation of engine assistance.
In consequence, I am sceptical as to the reliability of both the LiChess methodology for identifying engine assistance and their appeal process. LiChess regard both the above as commercially sensitive and release only minimal details into the public domain. It is simply impractical for a 3rd party to reach an informed, balanced and objective view of this aspect of the LiChess service.
However, I accepted the fact of the ban and continued to run 2 teams in the competition. I wanted to support the 4NCL efforts to run a novel type of chess tournament against the background of extremely unsettling world events. Indeed, the controversial “Anti-Cheating” rules aside, the 4NCL Online has seemed an enjoyable and noticeably well-run competition.
This Monday afternoon (22nd June) just 3 hours before the team-lists were due for finalization for the semi-final, the 4NCL Chief Arbiter let me know that he had banned another of my players, also for “engine assistance”. This player was a pivotal member of our squad, and, of course, included in our team-list. An appeal was impractical due to the late timing of the ban (and in any case, based upon my earlier experience, hardly likely to lead to a satisfactory outcome).
I discussed this unfortunate development with the 1st team members. We all had the same perspective. The idea that our player had systemically cheated throughout all of our matches was just ludicrous. To persist with the match in the face of the ban would be tantamount to accepting the justice of this allegation. We therefore refused to play the Semi-Final under these egregious conditions.
This was disappointing for us because we were very much looking forward to a challenging encounter with the excellent Guildford Young Guns team. Nonetheless, I hope you understand our situation, and can respect our decision.
Those who have read thus far may conclude that the 4NCL Online has been a negative experience for Anglia Avengers. Far from it. Almost all squad members have told me that they have found the tournament rewarding and enjoyable. My own overall impression is that the 4NCL has done a remarkable job in establish a novel type of tournament in record time, getting very little wrong and much right.
Equally, I continue to hold a general high regard for the LiChess service, which proved its value as a robust, user-friendly and flexible platform throughout the tournament. LiChess remains my platform of choice for on-line Chess.
I hope and trust that both 4NCL & LiChess are willing to learn from the controversy sparked by the “Anti-Cheating” rules. I am encouraged by the fact that these have already been revised for season 2. I have reviewed these, and can indeed confirm that these are superior (although I still see room for further improvements).
Anglia Avengers considers itself a firm member of the 4NCL community and is more than open to taking part in future 4NCL online tournaments. We hope that other squads will continue to support this tournament.
(Anglia Avengers Online Captain)