Friday, May 5, 2017

Denials and Admissions

  People who suddenly change their minds or admit to actions that they repeatedly and vehemently denied in the past have always held a special fascination for me. I say held because eventually I realized that the ‘about-face’ is almost always part of a plan to attain a goal that was not successfully obtained by the previous position. Lance Armstrong consistently denied using steroids during his record setting bicycling career and would sue journalists and authors that dared to accuse him in print. After Armstrong’s career ended the steroid rumors and denials persisted until evidence from the U.S. Ant-Doping Agency led to his being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and his having to leave his Lance Armstrong Foundation (which rebranded itself as LiveStrong). At that point Armstrong admitted on an Oprah Winfrey special that he was using performance enhancing drugs during his amazing climb to the heights of the cycling world after beating cancer. Why did Armstrong finally come clean? I don’t know but I have to think it was an attempt to try to get sympathy from the American public since he had become such a pariah that his own foundation had to run away from his name.

  Pete Rose made an about face on his repeated denials that he never bet on sports during baseball season, never bet on baseball, and never bet for or against the Cincinnati Reds baseball team he managed but not as sudden a turnaround as Lance Armstrong. After accepting a lifetime ban from baseball without an acknowledgement of his gambling on baseball, Rose admitted to betting on football and horse racing in season. In 2004 Rose admitted to betting on baseball and even betting on the Reds ‘to win every night’. Why did Rose finally admit to gambling on sports, baseball, and the Reds? Because he was promoting his new book and finally realized that there was no way he was ever going to live to see himself inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Rose is in his mid-70’s and is enjoying a renaissance of sorts as a talking head on Fox Sports. I have no doubt that if Rose finds himself in need of cash in the future there will be yet another book and round of media interviews detailing the ins and outs of how Rose bet against the team he was managing and how he rigged the odds in his favor.

  A recent about face happened in the chess world regarding Grandmaster Tal Baron of Israel. A couple of years ago Baron started a YouTube channel and Twitch stream and has about 6,500 subscribers. Just as playing well-to-do patrons in coffeehouses was the way many chess professionals made a living 150 years ago, live streaming chess channels are rapidly becoming a way for today’s chess professionals to make extra money via donations from patrons and well-wishers.

  Having a chess stream isn’t Baron’s only claim to fame. Baron won $1200 in chess.com’s monthly ‘Titled Tuesday’ tournament in August of 2015, starting with seven straight wins before finishing with two draws. Baron’s amazing result came with many accusations that he was cheating and his account was indeed suspended by chess.com shortly after the tournament. You can see a video of his last five games here and judge for yourself.

The games...

  I’d been watching some of Baron’s videos and never heard of these accusations until I saw an interview with Baron on the Astaneh chess channel where Baron vehemently denied all accusations that he cheated on the chess.com tournament and accused his accusers of “spreading hate” and being “not the most moral people ever created”. This got me to research the accusations. I didn’t find too much except for the KchessK video and the comments in the chess.com article.

...the denial...

  Did I think Tal Baron was cheating? I had no idea and I didn’t really care either. I just wanted to see the accusations. Judging from the number of outright blunders in his over the board blitz games and online blitz matches that he has posted on his channel I wouldn’t find it hard to believe that he had computer assistance in the Titled Tuesday tournament but I also wouldn’t find it hard to believe that he had his best day ever because we all have to have a best day ever, don’t we?

...and the admission

  I didn’t give the matter another thought until Baron posted this video on his YouTube channel in April 9th where he admitted to cheating in the last game of the tournament against a player who he considered to be a computer cheater also. The last player Baron played in the tournament was top 10 player and multiple time US champ Hikaru Nakamura who is widely considered to be the best 1 minute player in the world. Baron said he admitted to chess.com that he cheated and agreed to a lifetime ban from all chess.com money tournament and special events. Baron said “other than this game I did not use any chess engine assistance and for the haters and non-believers of you – you can cite statistics all you want but this is the truth”.

  Is Baron telling the truth about only cheating during the one game? I don’t know but it sure sounds a lot like a Pete Rose piecemeal confessions and his confession on his YouTube channel seemed as honest as his denials in the interview with Astaneh. To me the entire incident is a curiosity rather than a source of moral outrage. The biggest question on my mind is what baron expects to get out of his admission? Maybe he hopes to be reinstated on chess.com or be invited to play in future big money online tournaments. I don’t know but time should give me the answer to that question.

  I’m not a hater or a non-believer (although I wonder what Baron’s ‘believers’ from before his confession think now) but I think Baron should have taken his cue from the greatest cheater of all time and admitted nothing. Barry Bonds is baseball’s home run king and was widely accused of using performance enhancing drugs during the latter half of his career and even admitted to a grand jury in 2003 to using ‘cream and clear’ steroids once and only then by accident. In his first three tries at the Hall of Fame, Bonds received less than 40% of the votes cast (75% is needed to get in the hall). But Bonds has never admitted to any steroid use beyond his grand jury testimony. Bonds received over 40% of the vote last year and over 50% this year. At this pace Bonds will end up being inducted in the Hall of Fame and his detractors can never point to any admission on his part that he used steroids except for his one admission to the federal grand jury. If Pete Rose had foregone his book deal money and never admitted to betting on baseball he may have eventually received a similar turnaround in sentiment. I think Baron would have been better served by following Bonds’ example of admitting nothing instead of embarking down the road of what I think will be continuing piecemeal confessions.

  I could have been accused of cheating or using performance enhancing drugs after this three minute game I played on the Internet Chess Club last week. The way I smoothly headed to a superior endgame and kept a grip of the center may get me in the Hall Of Fame before Barry Bonds!


pgn4web chessboards courtesy of pgn4web.casaschi.net

  I considered this one of the best games I ever played and denied all contrary points of view as those of 'haters and non-believers'. Well, OK. I have to admit it. I did use computer assistance but only AFTER I played the game and unfortunately after subjecting the game to the cold eye of Mr. Fritz it turns out I missed just as many ideas as I do in most of my games. Let's take another look...



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