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Open Letter to 4NCL Teams

It is with great sadness and disappointment that I am withdrawing Northumbria Vikings and junior teams Forest Hall Daemons and Forest Hall Chimaeras from the 4NCL Online league.

Our players believe that one of us has been unjustly banned by Lichess.org and also unjustly banned by 4NCL Online.

It is claimed this player used computer assistance, which this player strenuously denies.

The games in question were quite unremarkable in the opinion of our team members, except that this player’s results were fractionally higher than their published FIDE standard play rating. As anyone who is familiar with today’s professional chess scene knows, it is entirely possible to play a “computer-like” game where the position is quite normal and straightforward – and it is quite different in a complicated tactical melee or messy strategic position.

No evidence whatsoever of computer assistance has been offered by either Lichess or the 4NCL, and the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” has been stood on its head. In this competition, some members of the 4NCL Management Board have effectively decided that players are “guilty until proven innocent.”

We appealed this decision to Lichess, but they said they would not provide any evidence. They refused to show any evidence to the 4NCL, despite the 4NCL agreeing it would be shown to an appeals panel sworn to confidentiality.

Lichess prevented anyone scrutinising their evidence by insisting on a punitive Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) with “unlimited financial liability” – a draconian condition which was understandably unacceptable to the 4NCL.

The 4NCL Management Board responded to our player’s appeal, which maintained their innocence, by admitting it did not have “evidence…beyond all reasonable doubt that [the player] was using computer assistance.” 

Yet in a phone call today, May 4, 4NCL Finance Director Mike Truran refused to consider reinstating the player anytime this season, despite the Board’s finding that it was not proven that computer assistance was used.

Further, Mike Truran admitted that the Board did not even consider the possibility that the player was not guilty of cheating – only whether the player’s game results would stand. It decided they would stand – clearly a ‘not guilty’ verdict – yet also banned the player, effectively saying the player was guilty.

We believe this contradictory situation reveals a bigger problem in online chess competitions – that without webcams it is impossible to claim with any certainty if a player is cheating or not. Webcams, as used in the Magnus Carlsen Invitational, would be a big step forward to ensuring Fair Play online.

And in fact, this is not difficult to arrange via Zoom or other video conference facilities, as the period of the entire game could be recorded.

We believe that Mike Truran has mistakenly formed a judgement of “guilty until proven innocent,” despite the 4NCL Board clearly stating that there is not sufficient proof of guilt to annul the games.

This goes against all principles of natural justice – and leaves us with no alternative but to withdraw from the League.

I cannot in all conscience allow our players to play in a competition where they could be found guilty without evidence being provided, and they face a situation with no proper appeals procedure.

For online competitions to work, event organisers need confidential access to servers’ evidence, and organisers also need to respect the important legal principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”

This is a short statement of protest. I intend to analyse further in the coming days the situation surrounding online chess competitions in these difficult times.

Tim Wall

Manager

Northumbria Vikings, Forest Hall Daemons & Forest Hall Chimaeras

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