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Monday, October 24, 2022

Cheating in Chess and in Class

In the 24th move of the second game of the 1978 Chess Championship, a cup of blueberry yogurt was delivered to the defending champion Anatoly Karpov who offered a draw shortly thereafter. The challenger Victor Korchnoi claimed the flavor of yogurt was a coded message to Karpov and later in the tournament all food deliveries had to be decided on in advance. The good old days.

With computer chess programs now far more powerful than humans, chess cheating has become far more common and came to a head last month with the controversy between Magnus Carlsen and Hans Niemann. Did Niemann cheat to win in his win over Carlsen in St. Louis or was it just a rare upset? How can we tell?

This brings up cheating by students in class. Reports and statistics show that cheating has increased over the last few years. The pandemic played a role, but a good rule is that pandemic didn't change behaviors, rather accelerated changes already in progress. Technology has made it easier to cheat. It's difficult to near impossible to create a homework problem where someone couldn't just look up an answer. Sites like Chegg provide solutions to all sorts of problems while there are many sites where you can hire someone to write a paper or do a project for you. Advances in generative AI, like GPT-3 and GitHub co-pilot will soon make cheating as easy as clicking a button.

But it's more than technology. As students view university education less about learning and more about getting the credentials for a job, the inhibitions to cheat disappear. And while the vast majority of students don't significantly cheat, it's hard for anyone to avoid using Google when they get stuck on a problem. 

We can continue to use technology to fight the technology in a every growing arms race to catch cheaters but it can feel like a losing war. We should take solace that the students who work hard solving problems and projects will be the ones who will succeed in life. 


  1. "The pandemic played a role, but a good rule is that pandemic didn't change behaviors, rather accelerated changes already in progress."

    So if something causes the moon to spin off into space it just accelerated changes already in progress?

  2. It was clear that cheating during remote instruction got worse as time went on. Discord became a favorite way to share information away from prying eyes. I think that some of this was the simply the increasing disconnect we had with students.

    We don't have to wait for the long term "succeed in life" as consolation. Now that we are back in person and can provide opportunities for students to perform in controlled environments like in-person exams, relying on shared information/cheating on homework assignments is only going to make students less prepared for those exams.