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Healthy Cheating Hearts?

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The latest in our Cheating Hearts serial play comes from the fun and fascinating Freakonomics blog at the NY Times site. You may recall that in the eponymous book they used statistical analysis to prove that cheating was taking place in sumo wrestling (thrown matches) and among school teachers (improving students' test results by filling in the answers for them). This entry on cheating is less grounded but it's still an interesting topic. Many of the reader comments are also worth a look.

Is Cheating Good for Sports?

Maybe, however, this is just how we like it. As much as we profess to like the games for the games’ sake, perhaps cheating is part of the appeal, a natural extension of sport that people condemn on moral grounds but secretly embrace as what makes sports most compelling. For all the talk of how cheating “destroys the integrity of the game,” maybe that’s not true at all? Perhaps cheating actually adds a layer of interest — a cat-and-mouse element, a detective-story element — that complements the game?

Also, we love to applaud cheaters who have confessed their ways. Pettitte, for instance, got a hero’s welcome for talking about his HGH mistakes; Clemens, meanwhile, with every further denial seems to be soaking up ill will like a sponge. (Given the reception Pettitte got, I do wonder if Clemens is rethinking his retrenchment strategy; perhaps he will come forward someday and claim that he himself “misremembered” using HGH or steroids.) Just as the theological concept of the Resurrection is so powerful (see Tyler Cowen’s discussion here of the theology behind Freakonomics, a notion I find flattering, if exaggerated), and just as a harsh winter is followed by an insistent spring, I wonder if our interest in sport too springs eternal, not in spite of the cheating scandals, but because of them?

One of the comments points out that chicanery within the rules is often admired for being clever, but breaking the rules should be considered something else entirely. Of course most sports don't have as many possibilities for "off the board" action as chess seems create on a regular basis. You don't hear about many forfeits in pro sports, and those few rarely have anything to do with toilets or handshakes. The part about cheating adding a layer of interest is of course true. I'm just not sure the old maxim about there not being such a thing as bad publicity is true when it comes to these scandals, at least in chess. In baseball you can easily measure attendance and ad revenue to measure the impact.

Chess has no such metrics, but we're usually more concerned about how our little escapades play with the general public -- on those rare occasions when chess is heard about at all. I didn't see anyone worrying about chess fans leaving the game out of disgust when our world championship was almost derailed by a locked water closet. And of course, who would care if they did? There is still almost no direct connection between players and fans and politicians and fans and even the indirect connections like sponsorship have no grasp.


The difference between Clemens (arguably the greatest pitcher of all time) and Pettite (a good pitcher with a long career) is like comparing Kasparov and, say, Jonathan Speelman. I love both GMs, but if both were suspected of cheating, Kasparov has far more to lose with an admission than Speelman. So I think the Freakonomics article just doesn't get that part.

Well I think cheating in sports/games is best defined as an action that breaks the rules and that is never admired when the person is flat out caught. Famous chess examples include Petrosians wife telling Fischers opponent a winning move, the great Garry letting go of a piece and then moving it to a another square, (and the converse as a young fellah screaming he touched it he touched it at another opponent!)selling games, buying FIDE ratings etc. If a person gets caught its thumbs down. Its the difference between Shumacher style gamesmanship on the one hand and Jones/Bonds drug taking on the other.

Mig, no comments about the round five games from Morelia, we were waiting for it.

Laj: "The difference between..."

Yet cheating is still cheating by any other name.

If you cheat at baseball (like say, for instance, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens to name two glaring examples), and you had a historical career, as both of them have, that in itself hurts the game far more than some minor-leaguer caught with the same egg on his face.

You fail to see it from the correct perspective. In your example, Kasparov does not have 'far more to lose with an admission'. He does far more damage to the game by simply cheating in the first place. He has already lost what he had by cheating in the first place. That will never change.

If it smells, looks, and tast like cheating, it probably is.

Clemens will never admit it. His inflated ego is so big his head could not possibly fit in Wembley Stadium. But it smells, looks and sure tastes like he cheated.

I have far more respect for Pettitte admitting a mistake (i.e., cheating) than Clemens holding bull-doggedly on to his egomaniac statements.

Clemens should be worried about serving jail-time and not about whether he is getting into the Hall of Fame.

cheating is all too human, not being caught is divine

Mig, your last sentence is really interesting and important IMHO---perhaps you can elaborate on it? Yes, the camera-work in baseball and tennis, say, gives the watcher an immediate human connection that's hard to duplicate in chess---though e.g. ChessVibes' video of Ivanchuk's blunder http://www.chessvibes.com/videos/morelia-blunder-ivanchuk-chess-video/langswitch_lang/nl/ goes toward that. However, chess players can connect thru books in a deeper way, as you help so well! Moreover, how much do you think chess-player blogs like those of Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura (the latter is http://www.hikarunakamura.com/main/Blog/tabid/57/Default.aspx) will help?

I put my views on the Times article itself as comment #46 there. The only previous reference to chess was comment #37, in a way that sounds ironic.

To Andy, Have never heard about the Petrosian incident!??.....what game was this?...and did Bobby LOSE this game, when his opponent was given the winning move?...what year did this happen??..thanks in advance Bruce

The Ivanchuk video on Chessvibes is great. That's how you can start to tell a story about chess. Anyone connects to raw emotions.

On topic: Cheating is bad for sports, because it spoils the fun for the participants. Maybe it's fun for a spectator, but 99% of sports events happen without spectators. If I take part in a chess tournament, I agree to play by the rules, and I want anyone else to play by the rules, too. That way it is more fun to win, and it is easier to appreciate your opponent's achievement, if you lose. Well, the last part ... not really. But it's definitely more fun to win by fair and equal rules.

The game is Fischer-Kovacevic from 1961 or so, Bruce T. To be fair the move is fairly obvious and it's clear that Kovacevic had seen it since without it his previous play made no sense. According to Tal he told Mrs P where to get off.

Thanks rdh, like these little tidbits;-)

Actually from Rovinj-Zagreb 1970, a win against Fischer at the height of his powers. (RJF had only three losses that year, I think: Kovacevic, Larsen @ Palma, Spassky @ Olympiad).

There's an account of the incident in Russians vs. Fischer.

How about some Morelia tidbits, Mig?

Thanks for the positive words about the Ivanchuk video, but credits should go to ICC's Macauley, who made it.

Oops, forgot to leave a space between the URL for Hikaru's blog and the closing parenthesis. One can also just go to http://www.hikarunakamura.com/ and click "Blog".

The comment Bill Brock is referring to appears on page 3 of the comments section, 2nd from bottom---you can change the URL to end "&kpage=3"

Indeed, ChessVibes sees bringing videos of chessplayers as a main purpose, and the Corus press-conference policy goes right on with that.

I find this article to be fluff.

"Is Cheating Good for Sports?" Obviously not, how can one even contemplate the idea.

"I wonder if our interest in sport too springs eternal, not in spite of the cheating scandals, but because of them?"

Disagreed. I for one would completely lose interest if I knew cheating was rampant.
(At best "in spite", certainly not "because of", that would just not make any sense - in my personal humble opinion.)

And what is the alternative anyway? Turn a blind eye to cheating, let everybody cheat as much as they want? It doesn't take much imagination to realize that would be insane, for any game. So even though cheating scandals are not necessarily immediately harmful for the game, it needs to be controlled or else, in the long run, it _will_ ruin the game.

Just came across this interesting post by Malcolm Gladwell (who writes for the New Yorker) with some interesting points on the issue of performance enhancing drugs in sports.


But again I'm wondering: "what's the alternative?"

1) Are performance enhancing drugs cheating?
2) They can't be stopped so we should just allow everything?
I dunno, but I'm leaning towards 1) yes (in physical sports) & 2) no (for the sake of the athlete & the fan)


I think you failed to understand my comments. I was talking about the difference in incentives between an all-time great player and a very good player. An all-time great player doesn't want to risk his place in history. A very good player might not mind doing so.

Of course I think Clemens cheated. Of course, cheating is damaging to just about any sport. But Clemens's admission would almost certainly leave him outside the Hall of Fame. Pettite has no realistic chance of entering the Hall of Fame. Therefore, his admissions are not as important to his future.


" But Clemens's admission would almost certainly leave him outside the Hall of Fame. Pettite has no realistic chance of entering the Hall of Fame. Therefore, his admissions are not as important to his future."

It's not so clear that Clemens wouldn't get selected for induction into the Hall of Fame. Many of the people who vote have begun to discount the stigma of the use of performance enhancing drugs. There have been some arguments that Clemens had a HoF worthy career BEFORE ever taking the drugs.

And remember--Thanks to the self-serving, but myopic, Players Union, and the deliberately obtuse MLB hierarchy, most of the drugs were not even banned from baseball for most of the period in question.

Obviously, Clemens and Bonds will not get inducted in their first year of eligibility; they'll have to wait a bit. The original basis for HoF eligibilty had included the component of character; a player had to behave with integrity. Some now dismiss that altogether.

Frankly, I can see the case for Clemens and Bonds someday getting into the HoF. But it shouldn't be until after Shoeless Joe Jackson gets inducted. And, both Bonds and Clemens ought to stop insulting everybody's intelligence, and make a full confession, and earnest apology, and perform acts of contrition.

The problem is that Bonds and Clemens are literally worth 100s of Millions of $$, and both have a tremendous sense of entitlement. The percentage play would have been to 'fess up and THEN employ a PR firm to start "spinning" and find a way for the players to rehabilitate their respective images.

Clemens has a lot to lose from a confession that he cheated. But nobody takes seriously the estimation that he was the best pitcher All-Time. I don't even see him in the Top 10. Not when starting pitchers are only expected to pitch for 6y innings before a reliever comes in.

However, he and Bonds stand to lose a lot more than their good reputation, if they are found to be lying. As well they should.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on February 21, 2008 4:32 PM.

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