The Dark Side Of Chess: Match-Fixing

After writing an article on different types of short Grandmaster draws, it is time to zoom in on the saddest category: pre-arranged draws. Yes, there are even cases of match-fixing wins & losses, but they are much less common than pre-arranged draws.

I’m not writing this article to accuse players. That is also why I keep it as anonymous as possible for most cases. My goal is to spread awareness to amateurs & chess fans. We will only see a change if enough spectators know what is happening behind the scenes.

Don’t (only!) blame the players, blame the game (rules).

Here is what I will write about in detail:

  • Rulebook: why pre-arranged draws are NOT allowed
  • Why it still happens (frequently)
  • Match-fixing stories
  • How can we stop pre-arranged draws?


Is It Allowed To Pre-Arrange Draws?


First things first. What does the rulebook say? Is it allowed to pre-arrange draws? There is a very clear answer to this and it is: NO! Pre-arranging a result is forbidden in Chess as it is in any other sport.

As stated in an article on “Prevention of competition manipulation” by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) it is forbidden to fix the result of a game beforehand. The definition of so-called Match-fixing is the following:

“Match fixing is when the result of a tournament or competition is partially or completely decided in advance and the match is played to ensure the pre-determined outcome”

IOC Article on Prevention of competition manipulation

As FIDE is a recognized Sports Federation by the IOC, these rules apply to Chess as well.

In that regard, FIDE always tries to cherry-pick. They want to be part of the IOC & are aiming to become an Olympic sport. On the other hand, they don’t fully follow IOC’s rules & recommendations for various difficult topics, such as Match-fixing & bans on Russian athletes because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.


Where Is The Proof?


Obviously, I would not feel comfortable writing this article without proof. Along with many stories (more to that later), there are some clear proofs that match-fixing in chess is not only a thing of the past.

In 2018, several Italian Players got severe punishments by the federal court of the Italian Chess Federation for Match-fixing & other related shameful behaviors. You can read about the incident here.

In the same year, Mamedyarov said in an interview at the Norway Chess Tournament:

“Sometimes we do it, yes, before the game. It doesn’t happen every time or in every tournament, but sometimes if you are sick or not in a mood, and you play against White, you think it’s fine. But it’s better for the sport and for the spectators to compete.”

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

If anything, pre-arranging a draw is seen as “normal” in the professional Chess scene. From the people I know, Grandmasters who never pre-arranged a draw are the clear minority.


Why Does It Still Happen?


Now you might ask yourself: well but if it is not allowed and you might get banned, why does it still happen so frequently? There are several answers to this question.


1) Nobody Cares


The first answer is: because FIDE, and private organizers, usually don’t do anything against it. The above-mentioned case in Italy is a big exception.

At this specific tournament, things were done so blatantly obvious that there was a big outcry in the Italian Chess scene. Several Grandmasters spoke out against the convicted players & organizers and made pressure on the federation.

As a funny side-note, some of those same Grandmasters happily pre-arranged a Match draw against Hungary in the Mitropa Cup 2019. You can read about that incident in this article.

Sadly, you can even go as far as admitting pre-arranged draws at a Top tournament, with no consequences whatsoever. As seen with the above-mentioned statement of Top Grandmaster Mamedyarov in 2018.

Magnus Carlsen, the World Champion, accused him of pre-arranging draws in front of Norwegian TV cameras. And instead of getting visibly upset, Mamedyarov simply admitted it… Without ANY consequences.

Guess why?

Because everyone in Top-Level Chess knows it is happening. FIDE knows it, national federations know it & organizers know it. A good indication of that is the pairing system at the Candidates’ tournament. Point 4.5.2 of the Rulebook of the FIDE Candidates Tournament in 2020 states:

“Players from the same federation play each other in rounds 1 and 8 (if only two) and if up to four players are from the same federation – in rounds 1, 2, 3 and 8, 9, 10. This rule shows that FIDE knows that the risk of match-fixing is still very real, even in the Candidates’ tournament.


2) It Is Hard To Prove (If Done Right)


The most named reason for not trying to do something against pre-arranged draws is that it is terribly hard to prove. And that is (sadly) right. To the untrained eye, a pre-arranged draw looks the same as a “normal” draw. You can learn about the subtle differences in my previous article.

If you really want to deceive the public, you can play a normal game and just make sure it happens in some kind of a draw (perpetual check, drawish rook ending, opposite-colored bishop ending, etc…).

But just because something is hard to prove, doesn’t mean you should “allow” it. Imagine Law-enforcement giving up on everything that is hard to prove. We would live in total chaos!

Additionally, the reality today looks mostly different. As pre-arranged draws are considered normal, no one makes the effort to hide them. As you know by now, you can even admit doing it publicly and nothing happens.


3) Pre-Arranging Draw Has Some Upsides


What some people don’t understand is that pre-arranging a draw would be a great strategy if it wasn’t forbidden.

  • You avoid playing against players you know well (Coach vs Student, Roommates, etc.)
  • By knowing the result beforehand you don’t have to prepare and thus save energy
  • You can secure Norms and avoid having to show good nerves


As pre-arranged draws sometimes have obvious benefits for both players, they will happen as long as there are no strict rules & punishments.

A good example of a win-win situation is the European Championship. This event mainly serves as a qualification tournament for the prestigious World Cup. In the last round, there are many pairings where both players will clinch that qualification spot with a draw.

From a purely egoistic viewpoint, it would be stupid to risk anything and play a game if you could just text your opponent and agree to a draw beforehand.


Disgrace Of Gijon


I guess most of you have heard of the “Disgrace of Gijon”. In case you haven’t, here is a short recap: West Germany faced Austria in the last game of the Group Matches of the FIFA World Cup 1982. As Chile-Algeria (both other teams in the Group) had already played the day before, both involved teams knew they would qualify if Germany won by 1 or 2 goals.

West Germany scored in the first 10 minutes and then the match became a farce: both teams showed no wish to score. They weren’t far from sitting down on the pitch and waiting for the 90 Minutes to be over.

Again, it was a “smart” move from both teams.

This is why FIFA scheduled both Matches of the Group Stage at the same time ever since. To avoid having such a situation come up again.


Stories Of Pre-Arranged Draws


Now, let’s get into the fun stuff. Since I started playing in international events, pre-arranged draws have always become more of a reality for me.

When I was a kid, I thought these were just some dark rumors in the Chess World. Now I’m sharing some personal stories of how things go behind the scenes. To start off by getting some more credibility, I have to admit something…

I did it once myself.


Let’s Go Play Black-Jack Instead Of Chess


If I could change one thing in my career, it certainly would be the fact that I wasn’t 100% “clean” myself. I’ve pre-arranged a draw once, and I have regretted doing so ever since.

In a round-Robin Tournament in 2018, I performed horribly with 3/8. My opponent, a Swiss friend, had the same score and we were both playing for no prize money and no Norms either (he was only an IM).

After losing Round 8 I was in a pretty bad mood at the dinner with all the other participants. When talking about the pairings for the last round, a Grandmaster looks at me and my friend and says: “so, what are your plans tonight?”. Confused, I ask what he means. Then he continues: “you won’t play tomorrow, right?”.

This is the kind of vibe that is at these Norm Tournaments. Nobody hides the fact that pre-arranged draws happen, and it is nearly expected that friends do not play when there is “nothing on the line”.

Obviously, I should have said no thanks and just played the other day.

But to my tired & sad mind, going to gamble in the nearby Casino seemed a much better option than preparing & then playing a game at 9 AM.

I can still remember having to look in the eyes of the Main Sponsor of the tournament while repeating moves in 5 Minutes the next day. I felt (rightfully so!) ashamed of myself.


We also didn’t make a huge effort to hide the kind of draw that just happened…


There I decided that this was the first and last time I would pre-arrange a draw in my life.

I can’t make it undone, but I can try to be a good example & talk about what is happening nearly on a daily basis.


You Are Crazy Because You DO NOT Pre-Arrange…


In some places, you end up being the crazy person for not pre-arranging a game. I remember a particular episode in 2020. The set-up was similar to the one above; a closed tournament for a GM Norm, with me as Number 1 in the tournament. Again my performance was pretty disappointing.

This time in Round 9 I faced a player I had never talked to before, I had the white pieces, 200 rating points more and my opponent needed a draw for a GM-Norm.

With such a big rating difference and the White pieces, even I did not expect what would happen next.

As soon as I got some food at the buffet, a stranger (not my opponent) came to ask me if I would be ready to draw the last round. He stated that it would be a historic Norm (my opponent was the local player) and that I anyway don’t play for anything.


Pre-arranged draws are so normal that you might end up being the "weird" guy for not doing it...


I shrugged, said no, and went to eat with my friends.

As if that was not already weird enough, my opponent also asked our mutual friends to ask me for a pre-arranged draw. They already knew my answer and also felt this was a pretty aggressive way of trying to force your opponent into match-fixing. With a portion of extra motivation, I won a very smooth game the next day. I hope that was a lesson. Earn your Norms, don’t beg for them.

But the story isn’t over yet.

Not only was my opponent visibly upset, but also the organizers were clearly not happy with my “unsportsmanlike behavior to just beat the local player”. It turns out they decided to never invite me again for not “gifting” a Norm to their local player (I both picked up a conversation & I have several friends that know the organizer who confirmed this to me).

It seems like I missed something in the fine print of the invitation along the lines of “you must pre-arrange draws against local players to help them secure their GM-Norms”…


The Game That Was Never Played


If you think this story was crazy, then how about a game that was never even played? Some years ago, a Swiss Player and their Coach were traveling late to an international tournament. Apparently, they had booked their flight on a wrong day.

Instead of re-booking the flight and arriving on time, a very curious solution was found: both players were paired against each other for Round 1 (a pairing that would never happen, because both are clearly in the first half) and the result was a draw.

If I’m remembering correctly, they were sitting in their plane while a game was “played” between them on another continent. In that case, there is no way the organizers didn’t know: they had to “manipulate” the pairing for the first round to make that possible! This just shows again how “normal” it is to pre-arrange a draw in the Chess World.

First Round Pairing. All is normal until you see the last Board: Number 47 vs 25. Huh?

I really can’t even come up with a comparison to another Sport as this is so outlandish.


Official Suggests Match-Fixing To Players


In the Swiss Championship 2021, a young player decided to secure an IM-Norm in round 8 instead of playing for a win and a possible Swiss Champion Title. Asked by an official of the Swiss Federation what I think about this, I expressed my surprise.

As a 2350-rated player, this might have been his only chance to win a Swiss Champion title. On the other hand, it seems an IM-Norm should be achievable in other tournaments as well. The official agreed but then said something curious:

“Anyway, if he had lost game 8 he could simply ask his opponent of game 9 to make a draw. Or maybe even better, just ask the opponent of game 9 before risking in game 8 to draw in case he loses game 8.”

Official of the Swiss Federation

Not only did he suggest a player should match-fix at the Swiss Championship, but he said it also like it would be SO obvious. Like, how stupid is that player that he didn’t realize this? Once more, not pre-arranging seems like a strange choice. After saying that it isn’t allowed and that I’m against doing it, he just encountered that “everyone does it and it is normal”.

Well, I guess the Swiss Federation knows it as well…


How Can We Stop Match-Fixing In Chess?


The most important question remains: how can we stop match-fixing in Chess? I acknowledge that it isn’t easy. But I do believe we have to do more to at least try to stop it.

Just punishing some players for pre-arranged draws might be a start, but this will not have a lasting effect. Once players understand they can get punished, they cover it up and it will be harder to prove.

What we need is a change of culture. As long as it is normal to pre-arrange draws, many players will do so. As you can see, young players do not really get the best schooling in that regard.

When they attend a Norm tournament and hear GMs talking about it like it is the most normal thing on earth, they will most likely do it themselves in the future. If on the other hand, match-fixing would be looked at as something wrong & shameful, only the craziest few would even think about doing so.

Speaking for myself, I think I would never have thought about pre-arranging a draw without that innocent comment of a seasoned Grandmaster. Surely, everyone should take responsibility for their actions. And I take all the blame for my misstep.

But it is way easier to do the right thing if doing the right thing is the norm, not the exception. If we as a Chess World want to be looked at as a “real” Sport, we need to start behaving like real sportsmen! Not only when it is convenient, but all the time!

I firmly believe that

anyone can improve their chess through the right mindset and training techniques.

I’m here to guide you on your journey to chess mastery.

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