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LA STAMPA

Italy's Unlikely Chess Superstar Exposed As Webcam Cheat

Arcangelo Ricciardi's rise in the world of chess seemed too sudden. And it was. Caught using hidden mini webcams to defeat international chess masters, his board is tipped.

Checkmate
Checkmate
Maurizio Vezzaro

IMPERIA — Arcangelo Ricciardi was a rising star among Italy's chess players after a string of victories. The 37-year-old had gone from obscure amateur to defeating renowned opponents. But Ricciardi, a former beekeeper with a passion for chess, has been exposed as a fraud for cheating during the 56th International Chess Festival in Imperia, which he had been dominating.

Tournament organizers expelled him Sunday after a referee found a tiny webcam under his shirt connected to a receiver and other cables.

Ricciardi had been playing suspiciously well day after day. After seven days, he achieved five victories and two ties against players far more experienced and successful than he, a low-ranked player who seldom participated in tournaments until a few years ago. His rise was too sudden — in the first round in Imperia, he defeated a French grand master and an international master from Slovakia, both among the world's top 3,000 players.

So for a player ranked No. 51,366 in the world, Ricciardi's exploits seemed improbable. He had attracted curiosity from chess specialists in previous tournaments too, playing masterfully for a few matches before falling into carelessness and losing. The Italian chess federation had identified him as a player under observation, and the events in Imperia sparked an official investigation.

He was caught when he was asked at one point to pass through a metal detector at the arena where the tournament was being held. He initially refused but ultimately complied and set off the machine. Ricciardi told the festival referee Jean Coqueraut that a good-luck charm was to blame, but after being asked to remove his shirt, the camera, cables and other contraptions were exposed.

Arcangelo Ricciardi — Photo: La Stampa

He was promptly expelled. "They didn't let me play," he mumbled as he left the arena, again claiming the camera was just for luck.

Fraud is not a new phenomenon in the world of chess, so much so that one of Edgar Allen Poe's essays is dedicated to the topic. In 1770 Wolfgang von Kempelen, an inventor counselor to the Austrian empress, created an automaton chess player called "The Turk" that managed to defeat even Napoleon Bonaparte. The elaborate hoax was a team operation, and the identity of the person who actually controlled the automaton from below — a dwarf? a legless soldier? — remains unknown.

More recently, Georgian champion Gaioz Nigalidze was expelled from the Dubai Open Chess tournament after being caught cheating on his smartphone in the toilet.

One question that remains from this latest case in Imperia: What grandmaster would join Ricciardi in this daring imposture and suggest the right moves?

M. Tagliano contributed to this report

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