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Probabilities, Natural Justice, and Chess.com: Part 1

Do you play the National Lottery? Do you know what the odds are of you winning Lotto with all 6 numbers correct? It is 1 in 45,057,474 [1]. And how about being struck by lightning? What are the odds of that happening to you? It is surprisingly difficult to get a clear answer to this question as various sources differ, but the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents say 30-60 people are struck by lightning in the UK each year [2]. The latest figure for the population of the UK produced by the Office of National Statistics is 66,435,600 [3], so assuming it is a year when 30 people are struck by lightning then there is a 1 in about 2,000,000 chance of it being you.

Now, what are the odds that an amateur chess player, the author Geoff Moore, could play an almost perfect chess game? Impossible to determine I would say.  Though before dismissing it as impossible, remember that despite the odds people do win the lottery and others do get struck by lightning: some more than once, like Roy Sullivan who was struck by lightning on seven occasions [4]. I have been reflecting on this since being told by the online chess site Chess.com that they have suspended my account because I broke their fair-play rules.

The email Chess.com sent me suspending my account was within minutes of the end of my game, which I won, in round 3 of the Norfolk Live Classic tournament, and it irritated me hugely. Trying to understand what had happened I looked at the Chess.com site and found that they claimed I had played the game with 98.3% accuracy whilst my opponents moves were 63.3% accurate.

As you will see later in this article, my opponent blundered early on and I had the kind of dream position one wants as an attacking player: more space, an unsafe enemy king in the centre of the board, active pieces, a pawn up! Moves came easy to me and none of the variations were more than three or four moves deep or complicated, but was I really that accurate?

I immediately contacted Chess.com asking for clarification of their decision. I didn’t get an answer and 48 hours later I still had no reply but by now I had calmed down, analysed my game with Fritz16, and had composed what I thought was a reasonable message appealing to Chess.com to reinstate my account. I did get a reply this time. Unfortunately, it was a standard message that did not address any of the points I had raised. But this message from them irritated me as much as the original email suspending my account had. Here is the main point that annoyed me:

‘ – – I’m unable to provide the exact methods we used, nor the games involved =/ but you can find more information on our Fair Play, click here:- – ‘

So, I am condemned as a cheat but not allowed to know any of the ‘evidence’ for such an allegation, not even what games are involved.

Is this fair play by Chess.com? Manifestly, it is not. The principles of natural justice should apply and do so in English Law, and the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the UK is currently a signatory.

But you may say, Chess.com is an American company and operates by the laws of the USA, and I would reply that as it operates in the UK I think it should follow our law in this country. However, to test this out would likely be expensive, time-consuming and stressful, all to unacceptable degrees.

Nevertheless, it is worth stating here that the principles of natural justice should allow me to know the evidence on which I have been condemned and to challenge it if I see fit at a fair hearing.  So, I condemn Chess.com for unfair treatment.

[to be continued]

(c) Geoffrey Moore 2020.  Originally published by “En Passant” (vol 25: July 2020).

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