Image Credits: REUTERS/Paul Childs.
As my son and I have embraced chess over the last three years, I’ve also learned about the history of the game, the tendencies of the great grandmasters, and come to know the current crop of brilliant players which is undoubtedly the most talented bunch ever seen. The World Champion, Magnus Carlson of Norway, is a fantastic ambassador for the game. He gracious, young and handsome, and he’s immensely generous with his time and committed to helping the sport grow. In America, Hikaru Nakamura is about the best spokesman you could imagine, and he’s mastered the streaming aspect which has boomed during the COVID-19 epidemic. These aren’t stereotypical socially awkward nerds even if they’re some of the smartest people who have ever lived.
But online chess has its downsides, as it’s very hard to prevent cheating. Anyone with a phone can use a chess engine to assist them and play better than any grandmaster. That’s what led to the most-streamed chess match in history, which occurred this past week in Indonesia.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about how it turned out.
Here’s the basics.
An International Master named Levy Rozman has a streaming show on Twitch where he plays all comers, and on March 2, 2021, he lost a match to some dude pseudonymously named Dewa Kipas. But he could tell his opponent was cheating and he reported them to Chess.com, which after analyzing his games decided to ban his account.
That’s when things got ugly. It turns out that Dewa Kipas is really Dadang Subur and lives in Indonesia.
Soon after, the son of @Dewa_Kipas, the 24-year-old Ali Akbar, started a protest. Wired reports that Akbar posted a message on Facebook, where he has 3,500 followers, saying that his father, Dadang Subur, is a strong player and that the account was unfairly blocked. Akbar also suggested that Rozman’s fans had mass-reported his father’s account.
The post went viral. Over the following weeks, Rozman started to receive unfriendly messages on his Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube accounts. The messages were mostly coming from Indonesia in support of Subur, and some of them even included death threats.
Rozman tried to explain that he has no real influence over Chess.com’s process of banning accounts but as the aggressive messages continued coming in, he was temporarily forced to lock his social media accounts.
Passions got aroused and suddenly the incident was big news, especially in Indonesia. Mr. Subur was challenged by some of the country’s strongest players but he declined even while insisting he had been wrongly accused.
But then he got a challenge he didn’t refuse. Indonesian International Master Irene Sukandar went on television to explain why he was suspected of cheating and said he should play her, presumably to prove his innocence. When he accepted, she felt like she had to follow through and have a match.
But the match was no small event.
The match between Sukandar and Subur (the latter being promoted with his online moniker of Dewa Kipas) peaked at 1.25 million concurrent spectators on YouTube, about 10 times that of the most-watched live-streamed chess events in history such as the classical world championship and Pogchamps.
The match was organized by Deddy Corbuzier, an Indonesian actor, television presenter, and YouTuber, who runs the popular #CloseTheDoor Corbuzier podcast on YouTube that has 13.8 million subscribers. The games were played in Corbuzier’s studio in Jakarta.
The broadcast, which had commentary by GM Susanto Megaranto and WIM Chelsie Monica, lasted an hour and 21 minutes and has collected 8.7 million views so far.
Importantly, there was prize money.
The Indonesian technology and e-commerce company Tokopedia appeared to be the main sponsor, providing the equivalent of $10,500 that was then doubled by Indra Kesuma, an Indonesian businessman and YouTuber.
Two-thirds would go to the winner and one-third to the loser.
Of course, Subur was exposed as a cheater, as his level of play (as assessed by computers) was not quite at the level of my son, while his games on Chess.com had rated higher than even world champion Magnus Carlson can manage.
But he walked away with $7,000.
Obviously, this is a great example of things getting out of hand. A dude decided to cheat against an International Master on a popular chess streaming show and then his son defended his honor to his sizable online following, and the next thing you know you have a global incident and millions of people watching chess.
As for the victim, Mr. Rozman is looking on the bright side.
Rozman is now focusing on turning the whole episode into something positive. For instance, he plans to organize a charity stream with Indonesian players.
In a tweet, he expressed his joy about the high view numbers of the Sukandar-Subur match and that it has led to higher interest in chess in Indonesia. Similarly, Chess.com on Monday experienced about 40 times the normal number of registrations from Indonesia in only a few hours.
If this whole spectacle got more people interested in chess, I’m happy it happened. I just wish one of the lessons wasn’t that cheating doesn’t pay except when it does.