Rybka, a four-time world computer chess champion, has been branded a cheater by the sport's governing body.  (Source: Vasik Rajlich)

Author Vasik Rajlich and his teammates allegedly enhanced the engine's performance by injecting it with uncredited source code from other engines. The cheating was reportedly noticed when Rybka began making similar moves to the other engines.  (Source: Vasik Rajlich)

Vasik Rajlich currently resides with his wife Iweta, a female chess Grandmaster, in Poland.  (Source: Vasik Rajlich)
Code theft -- the performance enhancing drug of the future?

From Barry Bonds to Lance Armstrong, many of the sporting world's legendary figures have been discolored by "cheating" scandals, in which they were accused of taking performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).  The typical response has always been the same -- deny, deny, deny.  

Now one of the world's first computer athletes is facing a scandal that is unfolding in a very similar fashion.

An organization known as the International Computer Games Association (ICGA), which pits computers against each other in tournaments of Chess, Go, and other games, has found [press release] by a 5-0 vote that one of its grand champions was a cheater.  The vote follows a lengthy investigation that included reverse-engineering of source code, to prove the digital "doping".  

Much as the NCAA has continually waged a war against cheaters in the world of United States collegiate sports or Major League Baseball has been forced to contend with its own cheating scandal, the ICGA wiped the record books clean for the World Computer Chess Championship from 2007 to 2010, bumping the runner-up(s) to first place.

The decision came after it was found that the winning engine, Rybka, illegally enhanced its performance by using code from two other engines -- Crafty and Fruit -- without permission.

Fruit was the runner up for the title in 2005 and its code was published under the Gnu Public License.  The panel presiding over the case concluded that Rybka could legally have made use of the code in question given the GPL, but would have had to have credited it -- which it did not.  Thus, it was Rybka's refusal to share the spotlight that proved its downfall.

The copied code was first noticed when some noted that Rybka's was performing a series of moves eerily similar to the Crafty and Fruit.

As a result of the code lifting, Rybka is "banned for life" from the tournament, as is its creator Vasik Rajlich, as per a sentence passed down by a 34-member arbitration panel.

Worse yet, Mr. Rajlich -- an international master level human chess player -- is expected to give back his prize money.  From this source [PDF] we know that he won €1,000 ($1,593 USD) for his 2010 victory -- it is unclear how much his winnings from the other three titles total.

Mr. Rajlich denied the charges, but refused to fully participate or defend himself in the investigation.  He merely wrote in a short email:

Rybkahas does not "include game-playing code written by others", aside from standard exceptions which wouldn't count as 'game-playing'.

The vague phrase "derived from game-playing code written by others" also does not in my view apply to Rybka.

Mr. Rajlich is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and currently resides in Warsaw, Poland.  Iweta Rajlich, Mr. Rajlich's wife, is regarded as one of the world's top female chess players, to this day.

It is unclear how the decision will effect other non-ICGA victories of Rybka.  For example in 2007 in a match entitled "Everything but a pawn", Rybka took home €11,000 ($15,930 USD) in a fan-sponsored prize for defeating human chess grand master Jaan Ehlvest. 

Rybka is driven by a cluster of computers that contains "one w5580, two Skulltrails, another Harpertown oct, and five i7-920s, for a total of 52 cores" in 2009.  More details on the engine and its 2009 victory can be read here.

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