GM Robert Hess says he is concerned with what he describes as an “ongoing and worsening problem in hybrid chess events” and asks FIDE to address the problem.
The US Grandmaster and Chess.com commentator published a long post on Twitter regarding “hybrid” events, a format where games are played online, but the players themselves can be physically playing from a public place such as a club, federation headquarters, or a hotel, but supervised by an arbiter.
My thoughts on the current state of FIDE “hybrid” events
— Robert Hess (@GM_Hess) May 6, 2023
In his post, he wrote:
As someone who fell in love with chess as a kid, I relished the idea that every result was earned through meticulous calculation and strenuous work at the board. At present, I have found this has not universally been the case, and the lack of oversight of governing bodies jeopardizes the legitimacy of ratings, scholarships, titles, national championships, and team qualification spots.
FIDE introduced the format in early 2021 as a result of the pandemic, which put a halt to over-the-board tournaments globally. Hess continued:
Currently, FIDE-rated “hybrid” events see players increasing their ELO at alarming rates. This runs counter to the experience that can be observed from the progress of thousands of players and millions of games. “Hybrid” matches are played online at specific venues while opponents are online at a different location, allowing for more convenient participation in international competitions. Unfortunately, rating manipulation seems to be more commonplace.
Speaking to Chess.com, Hess says he does not want to call out individuals, in many cases minors, but is critical of the lack of oversight and supervision with such events. He points to several examples of players gaining hundreds of rating points by playing in “hybrid” events.
“I think it’s suspicious. It’s rampant and it has significant consequences,” he tells Chess.com.
International Arbiter Chris Bird points to what appears to be a pattern of US players gaining rating, while Serbian players dropped points.
These USA-SRB hybrid events that are being approved by the SRB fed are a gold mine for gaining FIDE rating points. Look at the rating gains for USA players vs losses for SRB players from this event from the March FRL. https://t.co/SlOsy7tjSO @USChess @serbiachess1 @FIDE_chess pic.twitter.com/ZBH9Rlg0Nr
— Chris Bird (@ChrisBirdIA) May 4, 2023
Less than a month after Hess got in contact with the US Chess Federation in October, the Executive Board decided to no longer register hybrid events with FIDE. However, since the practice was banned in November, events have continued in the US as organizers have registered the hybrid events with foreign federations.
By registering the “hybrid” events with foreign federations, they were allowed to be rated by FIDE. Since US Chess has no jurisdiction to prevent this practice, many players—including titled players—have gained an extraordinary number of FIDE rating points via online tournaments. Regrettably, their over-the-board performances do not seem to match this level.
Hess’ post seemed to have an immediate effect as FIDE’s Qualification Commission clarified the regulations for hybrid events one day later, saying that such events require the approval of all federations in which a playing venue is located. It remains unclear how these events could still be rated with FIDE despite this requirement.
Bird pointed to several US arbiters who have been involved with hybrid events since US Chess stopped registering them.
Since @USChess stopped registering hybrid events, these USA FIDE arbiters have been involved in SRB approved hybrid events (# of events). Complicit, or oblivious?
Shi Liang (9)
Randy Hough (7)
Noreen Davisson (6)
Tom Nelson (4)
Tom Langland (3)
Norm May (3)
Tom Brownscombe (2) https://t.co/ntqSFLCV7x
— Chris Bird (@ChrisBirdIA) May 6, 2023
He also noted that while the events are required to be supervised by arbiters on each site with players, some of the ones listed in the registration are not based in the US.
Hess says he has heard from other participants that US players pay entry fees and get to select their opponents, while Serbian and Bulgarian players receive the money. In many cases, the events take place at night. He hopes FIDE will take action.
“The governing body can act very slowly. They need to be proactive with these things.”
The well-known commentator notes that he sees the value in hybrid events, as he loves online chess. But there needs to be proper reviews and proctoring, he says, adding:
“I’m a huge proponent of online chess and would love to see ‘hybrid’ events flourish. The format itself can be great but does need better safeguards and oversight. Who wouldn’t love the thought of an Argentina vs. Croatia or France vs. Morocco chess match before the same countries squared off in the World Cup semis?”
While hybrid events have come under scrutiny lately, there are also advocates of the hybrid system and the flexibility it offers. US National Master Mike Zaloznyy responded to Hess’ post, and says he disagrees with it. He says he benefited greatly from participating in 17 hybrid events that took place in Los Angeles, Seattle, San Jose, and Las Vegas.
Hybrid events were great tournaments, in my humble opinion, they were the best-run events in the USA. You get pairings ahead of time and can prepare, you can play a variety of strong players and get the games FIDE-rated. There are multiple levels of anti-cheating detection which is important to me.
For me personally, who is 43 years old and has a full-time job, playing hybrids allows me to get FIDE-rated games under my belt on a weekend, compete vs. strong players without having to travel, and play chess while sustaining my full-time employment. It was truly a blessing.
Chess.com asked FIDE to comment on Hess’ claims and will update this article when there is an answer.
Hess’ post received support from Fabiano Caruana, who wrote: “The governing body should protect against any possibility of pre-arranged events.”
FIDE is yet to respond to Hess’ post, but its CEO Emil Sutovsky commented on Twitter: “Looks more than suspicious indeed. We will look at it closely and take a prompt action.”.
Another response came from Τheodoros Tsorbatzoglou, Secretary General of the European Chess Union, who wrote:
“The issue is much more serious than only Hybrid events.”