Banned chess cheater makes comeback under alias

Banned Latvian former grandmaster Igors Rausis made a comeback to chess on Saturday as he appeared in a tournament in Valka, Latvia. The 59-year-old was playing under an alias and the current situation with mask wearing made it easier to keep a low profile. He was only asked to leave after he had won two games on the lower boards, when a grandmaster complained.

In 2019, Igors Rausis was caught red-handed using a mobile phone in a toilet during a tournament game in Strasbourg, France. The Ukrainian-born grandmaster, who has represented the Czech Republic and Bangladesh, had been the subject of widespread speculation since he made a sensational climb of 200 rating points towards 2700 in just six years.

That raised suspicions and Rausis had been under investigation for months when he was caught with a mobile phone in Strasbourg and the chess world had yet another scandal appearing in mainstream newspapers globally.

In December, the Latvian was handed a 6-year ban from FIDE rated events and stripped of his GM title by FIDE’s Ethics Commission, the most severe punishment ever given for chess cheating by the governing body of chess.

While Rausis stated he had played the last game of his chess career, it seems his career is not yet done.

On Saturday the disgraced former grandmaster returned to chess as he appeared in the Vsevoloda Dudzinska Memorial, an 8-round rapid event in Valka, Latvia, with a total prize fund of €1000 (€140 for 1st place in the rapid). The tournament had 37 players, but was rather weak, with only three players rated above 2000.

One of them was Latvian grandmaster Arturs Neikšāns, who eventually went on to win the event. He tells chess24 that he was approached by one player after the 2nd round saying there was an anonymous, unrated player who just crushed his opposition.

He said, he sort of looks like Rausis, but is not sure. I said – that’s hardly possible, I looked from afar but couldn’t tell as he was avoiding everybody. When the 3rd round was about to start, I decided to investigate and came closer.

Some of the players in the event wore a mask due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Neikšāns says. One of them turned out to be a player banned for chess cheating.

And there he was, Rausis in person, hiding behind a mask and additionally wearing a crutch. I immediately established eye contact and asked directly: What are you doing here?

It turns out the player in question was no longer named Igor Rausis, but Isa Kasimi. Neiksans says he was shown what he thinks was a driver’s license under a new name, but did not check which country it was.

However, Rausis was not always wearing a mask during the games. Asked why the former grandmaster was not recognized by the players, Neiksans says he thinks that amateur players are less familiar with him.

Neiksans says he was infuriated and immediately contacted the chief arbiter, who eventually reached out to the top arbiter of Latvia to ask for advice on how to solve the situation. 

I immediately protested that allowing Rausis to continue to play taints the memory of my coach. The tournament director kindly asked Rausis to leave the tournament, and he luckily complied without further incident.

Maris Koops, one of the arbiters of the event, tells chess24 that Neiksans describes the situation correctly. Rausis wore a mask from the second round and showed a document that proved he had officially changed his name, he says:

As players protested Isa Kassimi, or Igor Rausis, left the tournament voluntary and we didn’t need to use any force.

The participation of Rausis has already provoked a reaction among players and fans on social media.

FIDE’s General Director Emil Sutovsky tells chess24 that the rapid tournament was not a FIDE-rated event, which meant that Rausis was able to take part.

FIDE does not own chess. We can’t decide that Rausis has no right to play the game, as long as the tournament has nothing to do with FIDE, is not submitted to us and is not rated. However, I’d expect organizers and indeed players to manifest their attitude towards the participation of a convicted cheater in tournaments they stage/participate in.

Speaking to chess24, the 59-year-old said he had checked whether he could play in advance.

I went to a tournament I am allowed to play. Before I took the train I double-checked my participation with the [Latvian Chess] Federation and also called the organizers. I played under a new name already small events at home in Riga, but I guess my face is kind of recognizable after so many articles in the media. 

Does he understand the anger at his playing again?

I understand indeed mostly those angry people are my GM colleagues, well, former colleagues, plus it’s a difficult situation for them at the moment. I already read on Facebook several posts from GMs where I must be banned lifelong or jailed. Some accused me of lying, mentioning my own words that I played my last game in Strasbourg, and now why do I continue? 

I guess no-one spent time reading the FIDE verdict but everyone saw those criminal toilet photos and made his own verdict. That’s sad.

The FIDE verdict includes an admission from Igors that he did cheat by using a mobile phone during the Strasbourg tournament and that he cheated in two games from earlier tournaments, though he denied cheating on other occasions. 

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