Bird food vendor beat online chess master. Then it got ugly
March 2, Levy Rozman, wearing a pink sweater and round glasses, was broadcasting his matches on Chess.com to 12,000 viewers on Twitch. “Alright, that looks like a cheater,” he said without pause, clicking on the pigeon icon of his opponent, Dewa_Kipas. Rozman, an international chess master, scrolled down in disbelief. His opponent had climbed nearly a thousand points in the space of a month, ranking 2,300 points against 2,431 for Rozman. And his profile did not include the kind of title – “FIDE master”, “national master” – that the ranking implied. In fact, Rozman would later find out that Dewa_Kipas, or “fan god”, was a vendor of bird food in Indonesia.
The cat echoed: “LMAOOOO”, “CHEATER”. “Let’s see if we can get some content here,” Rozman said.
Rozman has been playing chess tournaments since the age of seven. In 2011, he obtained the status of National Master, and in 2018, of International Master. Now 25 years old, he is not only known on the chess circuit; Like other top players, he has built a large following on Twitch, YouTube and Twitter. High-level chess has experienced an unprecedented online boom due to the pandemic. On average, 895 people watched chess streamers on Twitch on March 1, 2020; a year later, this cumulative audience rose to 21,491.
In this predominantly digital world for the 1,500-year-old game, it’s tempting to believe that every top player would now be a known amount, whether through International Chess Federation rankings or social media. No one can come out of nowhere and dethrone a chess king, can they?
Rozman knew that if his opponent cheated it would be a strange game; algorithms often make choices that most humans simply wouldn’t. Still, little things baffled him. At Rozman’s level, the obvious movements usually take place within seconds. Dewa_Kipas regularly took between seven and 10 seconds to make any move against the chess master, even if he only had one or two options. Highlighting the Knight of Dewa_Kipas on his stream, Rozman said he was concerned his opponent would move him to A5. “I would expect this, although it is a computer, so I would also expect some weird pawn play,” he said. The knight switched to A5.
In their attempts to climb the competitive ladder, cheaters refer to AI-powered chess engines to inform their moves. And as chess has moved more and more online, allegations of cheating have skyrocketed, according to leading online chess site Chess.com. Rozman himself turned the hunt for cheaters into a bit. On YouTube, where his thumbnails are full of silly faces and chess boards, Rozman aired a ‘catch the cheaters’ series, which he turned into a similarly themed Discord channel. It’s an entertaining break between big-brained chess games and long, thoughtful matches, light pieces in the burgeoning content economy of online chess.
Twelve thousand viewers cheered on Rozman as he played against Dewa_Kipas. About 10 minutes later, his opponent’s tower had blocked the King of Rozman. Black won. “REPORT IT!” ” “POLICE!” cried the cat.
Rozman went through his opponent’s stats again. The accuracy of Dewa_Kipas, or the similarity to how a chess engine would play, during the match was 94%; Rozman’s was 76. In his last 10 games, the count’s accuracy has never fallen below 80. It hit over 99% in two of them. Rozman reported it that day. A few hours later, Chess.com banned the account.
That hateful night the posts, many written in Indonesian, began to fill Rozman’s social feeds. Threats, even. His girlfriend got the same: “Hey bitch, we’re gonna kill you soon haha, from Indonesia :).” Rozman was tagged on Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, with accusations he used his notoriety to ban a legitimate player. What sparked the assault, he would learn, was a post on an anime superfan’s Facebook page.