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scumbag tricks

If you play a lot of chess there's a good chance you've played someone who's never been told the golden rule 'Play the position, not the opponent'. This is a list of the lowest ways to cheat or annoy during a game of chess.

The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing 10/10

skullpawnA brilliant sacrifice disguised as a lob (where the brilliancy requires the opponent to gobble the piece). The procedure is to play the move, wait for a couple of seconds then swear under your breath, drop your shoulders and sink back into your chair, throw down your pen and anything else that gives the impression of total self-disgust. This performance, as well as setting the trap, also makes certain that your opponent has seen the piece on offer.

The success of this devious trick depends in part on how cynical your opponent is. Works best in time scrambles.

Eugene Quah e-mailed me with this variation on the WISC, which he has used:
"Touch the piece that you are going to sacrifice. Then move it. Now ask your opponent whether you can take back the move. He will then say no because it is a touch move. Sit back and act as if you have made a great blunder. Your opponent 9/10 times (from my experience) will take the piece without thinking because he thinks that your move is a touch move blunder and not a sacrifice. Boy is he wrong!"

Graham Moore of Liverpool sent this spine-chilling example:
"I read about an incident not so long ago in a junior tournament in the States. A young girl apparently blundered in a crucial game and ran to her mother wailing. Her opponent was not to be fazed though and he took the proffered piece only for the girl to return, make a move and declare mate!"

Richard D. Boltuck pointed out a 200 year old perspective on this trick:
"You ought not to endeavour to amuse and deceive your adversary, by pretending to have made bad moves, and saying you have now lost the game, in order to make him secure and careless, and inattentive to your schemes; for this is fraud, and deceit, not skill in the game." - Benjamin Franklin, 'The Morals of Chess'

The Confidence Trick

Pretending not to know the opening when you know it like the back of your hand, or feigning disatisfaction with a position when you actually love it. A close relative of the wolf in sheep's clothing, but not quite as shameless.

The Whopper

fist logoSimply an outright lie, such as "you just touched your queen, so you have to move it" when you never did, but there are no direct witnesses. Quite rare, for obvious reasons.

Here's a good example, as related by Neil Coward of AXA:
"Hows this for a scumbag trick, witnessed at a recent Macclesfield club match.
The opponent checks this guy five consecutive times with the queen, king moves back and forward, then the guy who kept getting checked claims repetition. The guy checking him says not, (must have been last five minutes so they're not writing their moves down), first guy insists it was repetition, second guy denies it. One team crowd round their guy, the other team crowd round their guy. The team with the home venue have another team there and they add their weight to the group, so it's 12 guys vs 6. Now the guy who gave all the checks suddenly says, "well it doesn't matter anyway because your flag has just fallen" - they were arguing on the other guys time!"

...a sickener from Kevin Monte de Ramos:
"I was playing a nine year-old boy when I first started playing at age 30. He obviously had played in tournaments prior to this large regional tournament. He was a piece ahead and confidently munched his crackers and juice provided by his second ... his Mom of course.
" I managed to complicate the middlegame and arrived at the endgame where I won the piece and established a winning position. He was quite flustered by this long game, but offered his congratulations and offered to post the result. I saw he and his mother post the score so I went to dinner with my fiancée.
" When I returned for the last round. I couldn't find my pairing as it was in the middle of the board. But wait, I had only one draw in four rounds ... the rest wins. After talking with the Tournament Director, the kid had posted the result as win ... for him ... and with his mother by his side. The TD corrected the result but failed to take action against the kid, believing it must have been an honest mistake.

" If so, why was he setting his pieces up at board 3?"

...and another from Darryl Alleyne:
"While playing an opponent in a league match this occurred. My opponent and I were playing on 4 man teams, all the games had finished except ours and all the others had left or gone to another room to skittle and blitz, while waiting for the out come of our game. If I draw or win we win the match if I lose. We had gotten to an rook & pawn endgame, he up a blockaded pawn and in serious time trouble, and I offered my opponent a draw. He accepted and I asked him are you sure and he said yes. I begin packing up my board he goes get the arbiter and says he didn't accept the draw. Since there are no witnesses, they rule game must continue. They of course stop the clocks, take both score sheets and go through the moves to get to the final position, meanwhile my opponent has taken out a pocket set and is studying the final position. The game eventually ended in a draw but he got away with this trick."

Pulling Rank 6 out of 10
Exerting pressure on an arbiter by virtue of your high grade.

"S**** H**** was clearly winning with a pawn on h7, he picked it up and put it on h8. Before he can replace it with a queen and press his clock, his opponent took it with his rook on h1. S**** then picked up his rook on a8 and placed it on c8. His opponent then played rook takes rook. S**** called the arbiter over and bamboozled him with an argument which combined:

1) I thought I had taken the rook
2) He didn't let me complete my move, thats what confused me
and an implied
3) I'm 206 BCF (2248 ELO) - you don't want a scene now do you? After all I'm 206 so I must be right.

The arbiter decided that S****'s opponent could either have a draw, or they could put the position back to S**** about to queen a pawn and play it from there. The guy took the draw."

Suggested by Neil Coward

Team Cheat

"I was playing this guy once and he kept getting up and walking off, mid-game. I knew who he was and didnt trust him, so got up and followed him. Where did he go?? Only to the analysis room where our position was set up on the board and he had a couple of friends analysing it whilst we were still playing!!

A variation is the ordinary, average player you get drawn against but who has a friend in the open. Your average player then proceeds to 'consult' with this friend on a regular basis, throughout your game.
Thanks to Steve Ormerod

Physical Tricks

The Smell of Brute

bzzzzzOpponents who literally stink. Not so much a tactic as a way of life. A reeking opponent can be fatal for your game. Get a wash!

The Irritant

This takes many forms and we've all come across it. Opponents who tap the table constantly during your move, munch food unfeasibly loudly and slowly, write down moves - cross them out - write another....., blow garlic breath at you etc. My own personal favourite is a guy who turns up at tournaments with a big bottle of water and a cup. Throughout the game he constantly unscrews the bottle very slowly, pours out a microscopic bit of water, rescrews the bottle, slurps the water, unscrews the bottle very slowly, pours out a tiny bit of water...............

"Chess Leg - A variation of The Irritant. It's basically a jumpy leg which is caused by the tension of the game at hand. The player will place a foot or both feet on tip-toes and bounce his leg(s) rapidly; sometimes gently, sometimes vigorously. At worst it can vibrate the table and all of it's contents and yet the culprit is oblivious to it. It is extremely irritating to his opponent, however, and very distracting." - Graham Moore. Not really a trick, but definitely an irritant.

Another variation courtesy of Bart Van Hoorebeeck
"In a Belgian club league match, our first board encountered an over-acting version of The Irritant, The Rainman. While moving legs only provides minor visual distraction, this guy sat bending forward and back again incessantly with his upper body. I saw this and feared the worst immediately. My team mate is the kind of which-piece-isn't-hanging-yet attacker who prefers blitz games over regular ones. He indeed managed to win a rook through a spectacular attack, but the Rainman didn't resign. He sat there thinking, building a fortress while never stopping his act. My team mate got nervous to the point of shivering, and went to the bar, only returning for doing quick moves. Needless to say, after a big error (returned rook) and a smaller one later on, he got beaten."

...and back to Benjamin Franklin:
"If your adversary is long in playing, you ought not to hurry him, or express any uneasiness at his delay. You should not sing, nor whistle, nor look at your watch, nor take up a book to read, nor make a tapping with your feet on the floor, or with your fingers on the table, nor do any thing that may disturb his attention. For all these things displease ; and they do not shew your skill in playing, but your craftiness or rudeness." - Benjamin Franklin, 'The Morals of Chess'

The standing army 9 out of 10
"This is a junior chess one which is becoming rife, but our school experienced it in a bad way: Stand up when it is your opponents move. Just stand up - don't walk away, or even stand behind your chair. Stand right as close to the board as you can, and look down on it. It is claimed to give you a different view of the board. Of course it also puts your opponent off. Particularly in a match where three adjacent boards do it simultaneously. Unfortunately the tournament controller said it was OK as long as they did not lean over the board."
Suggested by Neill Cooper

The Honey Trap 1 out of 10

I get sent this one on a regular basis, but I'm not sure if it really qualifies. The usual tale is that a girl in a very revealing outfit turns up at a tournament and wins lots of games. This is put down to the physical distraction for her male opponents.

I think this probably translates as 'a female player dared to turn up not dressed like a muslim'.

If someone loses a game of chess due to leering at some girl's cleavage, well, he deserves to lose in my opinion. No sympathy here, sucker!


The Fag

Making a move as soon as your smoker opponent to goes out for a cigarette. Too well known to do much damage. A great selling point for nicotine patches.

The Missing Move

When your opponent is in time trouble, miss out writing a move down, so that the opponent loses on time despite making the required number of moves. People have been chucked out of tournaments for this. An incomplete scorecard officially makes a game void, but this isn't likely to be enforced outside of open tournaments.

Neil Irving of Edinburgh sends this variation...
"Our board 1 was a piece up with a winning position, but as usual had about 15 moves to make in 5 minutes, 14 of which he duly made. His opponent, a fairly strong Scottish junior, then assured him he had made the time control. Our player then relaxed and tried to find the winning move.... whereupon his flag fell and his opponent claimed the game!"

The Mysterious Move

Playing a pointless move that looks meaningful when your opponent is in time trouble. The most effective being a piece sacrifice.

Graham Moore sent me his variation on this:
"The psychological trick I like to play, especially when my opponent is in time trouble, is to bang out a move and then quickly and confidently stand up and walk away. The implication being that I have found a great winning move of Alekhine-est proportions and my opponent has no chance. It is guaranteed to make him worry - even more so when he fails to see the killer combination which he is now convinced is there."

The Time Lord

The guy who keeps checking his watch and sighing deeply. This might be to make you play fast and miss the cracking combination he's just lined up for you. The most annoying variant of this is when the guy is a single pawn up and it's as if you're wasting his time by playing on.

Hide & Seek 7 out of 10

"Some years ago I arrived at a county match. I had arrived first, playing black, & my opponent was late. I pressed the clock then hid behind a pillar nearby waiting for him to arrive.

On arrival my opponent found his clock ticking with myself nowhere in view. He made the move e4 pressed the clock then disappeared to purchase a coffee, and so I dashed back to the board saw he had played e4 then quickly replied g6 pressed my clock and hid behind the pillar again.

A few minutes later my opponent appeared at the entrance to the hall, looked over to our board, saw I wasn't there, then went away again. After this he came back four times to the entrance and still believed that I hadn't yet arrived for the match. After about 15 minutes had passed he finally aproached the board and let out a gasp of horror, when he realised that I had moved and his clock had been ticking away all that time!! He left the board quickly to bring this to the attention of the arbiter but as he came back with him he was again horrified to find that I was sat at the board with my second move played and his clock ticking away, 20 minutes played for his first two moves and myself with less than one minute played. I won very quickly as my opponent was not in the right frame of mind to concentrate and blundered very early in the game.
Suggested by Robert Radford

Clock Wrestling 6 out of 10

Making a move, pressing down the button on the clock, and keeping your hand on it, so that your opponent can't press his down. Result - opponent loses on time!
Suggested by Graham Clayton

One and a Half Moves 8 out of 10

"This trick works best in a time scramble where both players are quickly pushing pawns forward. The pawn on h2 is pushed very quickly to h4 and the clock banged, now return your hand over the same pawn, next move push the pawn forward again but this time leave it half on the sixth and the fifth ranks, bang the clock and return you hand over the pawn, on the next move the pawn is advanced to the seventh rank and a new queen next. I have seen this trick played by an old member of the Hull Chess Club many years ago to win the annual blitz tourney."
Suggested by Jim (Hull24)

Water Torture 9 out of 10

Intro - 'T', our narrator here, was playing a much higher rated player (an IM), an arrogant, unpleasant character who wasn't spending much time at the board and had drifted a long way behind on the clock...

"I managed to complicate the game quite a bit, and it became a very computationally intensive tactical battle. When he realised this, and actually sat down to think, he had 20 minutes to my one hour at move 25 to reach time control of 40/2. I had set up one of the best tactics in my life, with many branches, and the guy started to really think. There was one way out to take it into an even endgame, but it was subtle. I had the whole thing worked out to an even endgame.

Now, I should add that he had been drinking two 7-11 Super-Gulps of coke (each one litre). He thought for three minutes, all the while squirming in his seat, fired off the first (correct) move of the sequence, got up to go to the can, when I replied. He sat down and thought for a minute, moved and again I replied. Now the tactic gets complicated and he thought for eight more minutes, for my reply was unexpected, leaving him with 8 minutes. My reply was ready, but given his attitude, I decided to let bladder argue with him. I sat for 20 minutes looking at the board with a vacant mind, for while he was thinking, I had already worked out the endgame into a dead draw. Meanwhile IM boy was gritting his teeth and holding his nuts, probably dripping into his gitch. Finally, he jumped up, knocking over his chair and dashed to the can, and I played my move. He ran back 5 minutes later (and two litres of coke lighter), glared angrily at me, thought for two minutes, and moved. He played three blitz moves correctly but walked into a queen trap on the fourth, and resigned. He then berated me for my behaviour, and accused me of unethical conduct. I merely smiled and walked away to report the result to the arbiter.

Now normally I wouldn't have done this sort of thing, but his attitude was really bothering me.
Would any of you have done the same?
or would you have let him take a wiz and then sportingly made the move?"
Thanks to 'T' on the rec.games.chess.misc newsgroup

Mr X: A Case Study

thanks to R. Wright for this chronicle of bad sportsmanship - (subject name changed)

"Here are three stories about a certain Mr X who plays for a side in London.

"In the first game, played against the IM Danny Gormally, Gormally arrived at the board slightly late, adjusted his pieces without saying adjust, and was told by Mr X that since he'd touched the F-pawn (he'd touched all his pawns at this point) he had to move it. Furiously Danny Gormally moved it and X replied with d6. Several moves later Mr X plays a pawn sacrifice but doesn't press his clock. Time ticks on and finally Mr X takes back the move and plays something else. IM Gormally insists that he make the previous pawn move. Mr X complains but doesn't really have a leg to stand on, so he makes the move and IM Gormally wins the pawn. But the whole thing is a prepared variation and Mr X has a won position which he polishes off faultlessly."

"Whilst playing in a London based tournament I also witnessed an X game. His opponent was of a similar nature and kept adjusting X's pieces on X's move. So, in his opponents move, X started adjusting his pieces for him. His opponent, taking advantage of this, called over the arbiter, who was not impressed and told them both to get on with it. No sooner had the arbiter turned his back when X's opponent adjusted again and looked up to smile at X, but instead of his face saw only his fist briefly before it hit him. X later commented, after having being tossed out of the tournament hall, that he'd sacced the game."

"Mr X was picked for a strong London side to play against Newcastle, the venue being somewhere in Manchester
(Ed's note for non-Brits: these three cities are several hours drive from each other). After the first session the players seal moves (X, cursing his opponent, sealed his move in his usual magnanimous way) and the players travelled the long journey home to return for an adjourned session in two weeks. Two weeks later Mr X's opponent has returned to Manchester, the clocks are ticking, he has the sealed envelope in his hand but no Mr X. Finally X runs out of time, his opponent opens the envelope and X's sealed move is 'Resigns'"


The Gay Gambit (suggested by "BC & KM")
"I didn't do this scumbag trick myself <yeah, right - ed.>; it was one that I remember a friend doing. This friend is openly gay, and an openly gay chessplayer is an unusual thing. Especially in Miami, Florida, in the 1970s and early 1980s.
If my friend was in a losing position, he'd look over at his opponent, gaze into his eyes, and say:
"Kiss me. Kiss me! I love to be kissed as I'm getting f****d."
Without exception, it messed with the opponent's psyche. And he actually ended up winning several of those games."

The Flasher Gambit (suggested by P. Banks)
"I was at a computer fair a few years ago, and got a pen as a free gift. It has a light that flashes when it detects a mobile phone. I sometimes use this to score my chess games. I leave it by my scoresheet, and then reach into a pocket and switch my mobile phone on and off. This makes the light on the end of the pen flash. I never comment on it, and even write moves while it is flashing. I very rarely lose using this tactic."

Click below to visit....
Scumbag Alcatraz

If I've missed any really dirty tricks, email me or post them on the 'Scumbag Tricks' forum and I'll add them to this rogues gallery. C'mon, confess and become an honorary scumbag.

see ya next tournament, suckers!!
A scumbag, yesterday

Home Time Trouble Tournament Player Types Scumbag Tricks A Guide To Axa-Speak Scotch Gambit The Grob, The Bad & The Ugly Amazing & Untrue Facts T-Shirts King's Gambit 3.Bc4 Pipe & Slippers Notes from a small tournament Chess Accessories Links The Nursery chess metaphor liberation organization chess lookalikes chess clubs in the British Isles Who's The Greatest? Beast-o-Meter