The Fabulous 00’s: The Headache of Dos Hermanas Online Blitz

ICC is hosting every year a relatively big money (2,000 Euros [$3,400] first) online blitz (3 0 time control) event named Dos Hermanas. For the second year running, an untitled player won in what must be considered a gigantic upset against numerous GMs.

Here is Chess.FM’s John Henderson reporting in an official ICC email marketing/promotion blurb:

“Jorge Sammour-Hasbun: The ICC’s Cinderella Man
Who says lightening doesn’t strike twice? Last year’s Cinderella-story winner of the Internet Chess Club’s annual Dos Hermanas blitz tournament, Jorge Sammour-Hasbun (ICC NECF-InSchools), proved that lightening does indeed strike twice as he retained his title.
Sammour-Hasbun, 28, who lives in Massachusetts, was the only untitled player among the seven-strong grandmasters in the eight-player final, yet he defied the odds again to win the title and $3,4000 (approx. €2,000) first prize.
En route to the title, he beat IM Anton Kovalyov, GMs Timur Gareev, Jobava Baadur and Dmitry Kononenko, before defeating his good friend, GM Ronen Har-Zvi, by a score of 4-1, to take the top prize and online blitz bragging rights for another year.
Ronen Har-Zvi was the first to congratulate Sammour-Hasbun in yet another stylish performance, and was even magnanimous enough to interview the 2008 Dos Hermanas champion for Chess.FM. Recorded LIVE, just minutes after the match, you can listen (free to non-members) to the two finalists’ thoughts on Dos Hermanas (including some amazing analysis of their games) in this exclusive, 36 minute video from Chess.FM. To view the video, click here.
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Given the nature and magnitude of the repeat upset, many people were upset.

But as I understand it, the matches are not proctored. Last year (2007) proctors were present for the finals in selected cases (as a hubbub over the impending upset grew – GM Ian Nepomniatchi was screaming foul), but not in 2008. Wouldn’t it be better to either proctor the match or use webcams? This to me in any event marketed so heavily should be absolutely required. Otherwise there will always be a cloud over the ‘winners’. There are so many easy ways to cheat in this event.

For example, in previous DH events, people on the prize list in the final rounds have been summarily disqualified, including some big names in chess. Among the infractions there have been: a) having a team logon as the player from IP addresses separated by thousands of kilometers, b) obvious engine usage (every move matching and Blitzin ICC client also reporting an engine), and so on. The cheaters have been women’s world championship contenders, top Chinese GMs, and so on. Naturally ICC is loath to keep records – they are fearful probably of a lawsuit, because online cheating is easy to suspect strongly and hard to prove. But ICC really needs to get a handle on this and get audit controls in place. In the past, there have been blunders. ICC has accused Alex Lenderman (“Manest” on ICC) and it took quite some time for Lenderman to successfully clear his name. He is now a successful vendor and lecturer on ICC. In addition, Sammour-Hasbun was awarded a (C) as well (meaning he was computer-assisted) in the past when he used a different handle. He quit ICC in a huff and was absent for a long time. ICC’s client software, “Blitzin”, has process monitoring that has evolved over the years. Naturally these techniques are proprietary – but clearly not enough. We need stronger controls in the finals.

For a person motivated to win the event, can’t they simply have a friend over to assist? (if there is no proctor or webcam).

The event seems to be a mockery in its current state. Ronen Har-Zvi’s rather sycophantic interview of the tournament winner did little to allay my fears. Instead of Har-Zvi speculating on how strong this player is or that player is, it would be better to get proctors in place to make sure all the players are playing by themselves, alone. Then we can judge how strong everyone really is.

When this discussion was brought up in Channel 2, one of ICC’s communication areas, an admin Albi(*) expressed doubts that an honest proctor could be located for a remote location. This may well be the case, but a little pain is a lot of gain in terms of Dos Hermanas peace of mind, fairness, level playing field, and all those good things. Even a cheap webcam would be better than nothing – and the audience might have good fun scrutinizing players’ facial expressions as their precious seconds tick down!

I look forward to ICC’s revisions to the current format.


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