Electronic Shoe Explores Alleged Chess Misbehavior

A few months ago, a scandal erupted in the chess world which led to some pretty wild speculation around a specific chess player. We won’t go into any of the details except to say that there is virtually no physical evidence of any method this player allegedly used to cheat in a specific in-person chess match. But [Teddy Warner] and partner [Jack Hollingsworth] were interested in at least providing a proof-of-concept for how this cheating could have been done, though, and came up with this device which signals a chess player through a shoe.

The compact device is small enough to fit in the sole of one of the player’s shoes, and is powered by an ATtiny412 microcontroller paired with a HC-06 Bluetooth module. The electronics are fitted into a 3D printed case along with a small battery which can then be placed into the sole of a shoe, allowing the wearer to feel the vibrations from a small offset-weight motor. With a second person behind a laptop and armed with a chess engine, the opponent’s moves can be fed into the computer and the appropriate response telegraphed through the shoe to the player.

While [Teddy] and [Jack] considers the prototype a success in demonstrating the ease at which a device like this could be used, and have made everything related to this build open source, this iteration did have a number of issues including that the motor buzzing was noticeable during play, and that his chess engine made some bizarre choices in the end game. It also requires the complicity of a second person, which is something this other chess cheating machine does away with. They also note that it’s unlikely that any chess players at the highest levels use devices like these, and that other chess experts have found no evidence of any wrongdoing in this specific scandal.

20 thoughts on “Electronic Shoe Explores Alleged Chess Misbehavior

  1. Thanks for ignoring the stupid vibrating butt plug “theory” that was so popular in the press.

    I think you’d have to be in the room to use a bluetooth based cheat. Do they allow a people with laptops running chess engines to be in the room at a chess tournament? That would be inviting people to cheat.

    1. Chess computers already consistently beat humans and have for years now. This is not exactly news.

      Chess is a complex game in terms of potential number of steps involved but it’s not exactly like there are a lot of things you need to actually do. Move to a defined spot then rinse and repeat. It has a huge number of moves sure but it’s a very straightforward game.

      It’s not like you are doing something super complex like playing Starcraft with mouse clicks or something more difficult let alone something actually 3D. There is a reason why you don’t see AI robotic surgeons operating on things they just found seconds before. Not even close to being the same complexity.

    2. You could easily swap it out for some other longer-range transceiver. Another possibility would be to have an app on your smartphone that converts incoming texts from a specific number to BT messages.

  2. Instead of a vibrating motor, you could use something like a small heating element under the foot. Maybe even a few of them in different locations.

    When used carefully, it would not be obvious from the move analysis. A simple way to get some help would be just to receive current evaluation score of the position without any move suggestions. This could even be done without an accomplice.

    1. Or just very low voltage/amperage shocks. Nothing to make you twitch, but enough to feel it tingle.
      Chess tournaments will just have to be held in huge Faraday cages from now on I guess.

  3. If they’re not feeding the moves into something like DeepMind, how powerful is a chess engine running on a laptop? Enough to beat a world grand master? Call the dude out for a rematch inside a Faraday cage naked! And be done with this stupid nonsense! I bet Bobby Fischer could beat both them losers!

    1. Hey, I wrote the code for the device. On the laptop that I developed it on we were able to consistently play at about ~3200 FIDE level, which is comfortably above Magnus Carlsen’s peak rating.

    1. I am not sure what it is inside but a LED touch lamp I have “thunks” when the limit of brightness or cold/warm is hit. It’s a little prism of metal with 2 wires on it, not a wafer. This much feels like what tablets do as well to have tactile response to “clicking” on something. I assume it’s a barium titanate electromotive?

      Any old school Morse operator could copy the clicks from one of these in hand. Foot?

  4. In terms of signalling the player, all that need be done is to tell them that “this position is critical” so that they then spend more time on analysis. This is enough to give them an edge, apparently.

  5. People presume that the wand they get tested with before the game is a metal detector, but actually it is a commercial electronic bug detection system.

    The pictured device would set off the detector instantly.

    Furthermore, we’re talking about a real person, who was obviously victim of an unfounded accusation, completely void of evidence, and has had his entire career irretrievably damaged by it. It seems exceptionally irresponsible to imply that some sort of cheating happened that you want to explain, when there is *no reason* to believe that any cheating happened. This is a real person’s life, and you’re tossing wood on the fire at a witch hunt. Disgusting.

    1. Oh? Casually beating the world champion without paying much attention to the game, then addressing the accusations with the story that he’d only cheated a couple of times online, then being found out that it was actually a hundred(s?) of times, some of which were games in tournaments with prize money IIRC… All of that doesn’t seem suspect to you in the least? He’s certainly not the martyr some people are making him out to be.

    2. That ignores that he has admitted to cheating in the past. It also misses that chess.com has banned him for cheating. It also ignores the victims of his cheating in money-prize tournaments, and his completely abnormal ratings rise.

      It ignores too, that Magnus Carlsen is the highest rated player ever, who has only lost a very few games – especially as white. It further ignores that Carlsen is a player of known integrity, who has never made a similar accusation, and that the moves made in the relevant game were extremely “engine- like”, and unlikely to be found by a human player.

      Then there’s the thought that the device could be switched off until past the electronic checking.

      Frankly, I find his behaviour disgusting. He is a self- admitted cheat.

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