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With the advent of smart phones, cheating in chess tournaments has become rife to the extent that if unguarded it will kill the spirit of competitiveness. There has been several such cases, accussations and allegations including the infamous Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov toiletgate. In some cases a player can make perpetual toilet visits; move-after-move which might seem suspicious. This is partly due to unlimited "freedom of movement" during the game.

For instance in other sports like soccer - even though there's no computer cheating - halftime breaks are timed and controlled. Should chess adopt a limit to a number of toilet breaks per game per player, say in a standard game, a player can only go to the bathroom after making a certain number of moves 10, 20, 40?

What would be the advantages or setbacks to this limited breaks?

  • 5
    If we're looking at other sports like soccer, it's worth noting that a player is generally allowed to leave the field and take a toilet break or fix shoes/clothing/etc outside the timed/controlled breaks; just as in chess they may need to get appropriate confirmation with the referee/arbiter, and they generally avoid doing it for all kinds of teamplay reasons. Some games have a limit of the total number of toilet breaks; e.g. men's tennis has a maximum of three toilet breaks allowed per game. – Peteris Jul 29 at 21:34
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    @Peteris: I think you must mean three toilet breaks allowed per match :-) – TonyK Jul 30 at 12:44
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    What if we just put a Faraday cage around the bathroom/toilet/port-a-pottie? – BruceWayne Jul 30 at 20:06
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    This seems to me like the perfect place to have a cell phone jammer. Just have a few land lines available for emergencies and the like, and jam cell phones inside the venue. But of course the FCC wouldn't like that... – Drunken Code Monkey Jul 30 at 20:06
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    A jammer or Faraday cage would be somewhat ineffective, as you can run an engine on the phone itself without going on the Internet. – D M Jul 31 at 8:54
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No, there shouldn't and if you live to be 80 you will probably understand why.

A few years ago in a tournament where I was one of the arbiters a 16 year old boy was playing an old guy in his 80's in round 2, both of them were rated about 1950. There had recently been the case of the Bulgarian phone cheat who had consulted a phone hidden behind one of the toilets.

The 16 year old came up to me and said "Can I have a word with you outside?" It sounded very serious so I agreed. He then explained that his opponent was getting up regularly to go to the toilet even once doing it when it was his turn to move. The boy was worried his opponent was a phone cheat.

Had I been the boy's coach and not the arbiter I would have been able to explain the reasons. The old guy had just recently come out of hospital where he had had prostate surgery. The truth was he should really have been at home recovering with his feet up not playing chess but who is going to tell an 80 year-old how to live his life? In the previous round he had blundered his queen against a player rated about 1750. I would have told the boy to just keep playing good moves and the old guy was sure to blunder sooner or later. That is what happened in the game, by the way.

Of course as the arbiter I couldn't give him helpful information like that. Instead I told him I would check the toilets for mobile phones and keep an eye on the old guy for the rest of the round, which I did.

Note that the toilets are generally in the bounds of the playing venue but not in the playing area so going to the toilet when it is your turn is not allowed unless you get the permission of the arbiter. If you have a medical condition which makes this likely then you can speak to the arbiter before play to explain to the arbiter and get this permission.

If you are a woman then you can't have prostate problems but if you have children you may experience similar problems with needing to make regular visits to the toilet for some time after giving birth.

In short imposing limits on toilet breaks would be inhumane.

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    You could have told the boy that many old people have a medical need to go to the toilet a lot, without needing to breach any confidences about this particular man. – David Richerby Jul 29 at 21:59
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    @DavidRicherby You don't even need to say "old people", or mention "medical". Some people just need to go to the toilet a lot. If applicable, as an arbiter, you could probably say you're aware of the issue and the player has justified his frequent breaks, without going into any more detail than that. Reassuring a player their opponent (probably) isn't cheating seems reasonable for an arbiter to do. – NotThatGuy Jul 30 at 10:11
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    @carrizal Why does there need to be a general limit? People shouldn't have to justify their biological needs. It must be bad enough having urinary problems without needing to ask permission to go to the toilet. – David Richerby Jul 30 at 16:26
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    In duplicate bridge tournaments we don't allow cellphones to be turned on, but we make exceptions for medically-required devices. Why should this be different. Conversely, a few years ago we had a cheating incident where the players used coughs as signals, but we're not about to ban all players who cough or sneeze. – Barmar Jul 30 at 19:13
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    I am dieting and drinking more water than usual, I need to pee at least every hour. When I need it, I do need it – Rui F Ribeiro Jul 30 at 20:03
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I fully agree with Brian Towers' answer, but want to point out an alternative to having a limit: ask for an upfront estimate. Before the game starts, ask each participant to estimate how many toilet breaks he/she estimates will be needed. This number is communicated to the opponent1.

People that needs to go often will have no problems in justify a higher number, while people that go to the bathroom to cheat will not. Some of the cheaters might not have planned to cheat beforehand, but will just take the opportunity when feeling the need to during the game, and having given an estimate beforehand will create some accountability that most likely will deter some cheating.


1 Probably after the game is over. Otherwise it might result in "oh, my opponent has double my number, well then I can throw in a couple extra visits" thinking.

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