On March 2, prominent chess streamer and YouTuber Levy Rozman (a.k.a. GothamChess) was matched for a game on Chess.com with an Indonesian player with the username Dewa_Kipas. Rozman poked around the player’s profile and noticed something suspicious: In the past 30 days their ELO rating had increased by 1,000 points, to 2300, the level of a national master. That sort of sudden rating jump for an unknown player is typically a sign that the player has racked up wins by cheating, and Rozman’s suspicions only deepened as his opponent took exactly 10 seconds to make both simple and elegant moves. Rozman lost.
Rozman noticed that Dewa_Kipas had an accuracy score of 94 percent, which meant that his game almost perfectly lined up with the moves a chess engine would make. Over the account’s last 10 games, they never dipped below 80 and reached 99 percent twice. Rozman reported the account for cheating, and it was banned within hours. Chess.com COO Danny Rensch later told Wired that it was an “absolute, absolute certain case” of cheating, with a consistency “not reasonably possible for a human player.” It’s pretty easy to cheat in online chess. If you log into a chess engine like Stockfish, it’ll spit out the best moves you could make in any situation.
In most cases, the story would end here. The player would be banned, Rozman would keep streaming, and Chess.com’s online community would be slightly more secure. This time, however, Dewa_Kipas’s 24-year-old son Ali Akbar hopped on Facebook and laid out a version of events that differed from Rozman’s account. Akbar wrote that his 60-year-old father Dadang Subur, a bird-feed salesman, recently had created a Chess.com account and had been working his way up the ranks. Akbar claimed that his father had won his game legitimately, only to be persecuted and hounded off the platform because of Rozman’s outsized public persona. “I swear I don’t accept it,” he wrote, per Wired‘s translation, “because public figures can block people’s accounts at will.” Akbar’s Facebook post went viral, and the story was picked up and boosted by the Indonesian media. Rozman was inundated with harassing messages and death threats, and he briefly locked his accounts. Akbar even closed his Facebook account too, per Rozman.
Two weeks later, famous Indonesian actor, magician, and YouTuber Deddy Corbuzier had Rozman on his show to walk through the controversy and the aftermath. “To be honest, I don’t blame them,” Rozman said of those who harassed him. “Because when I look at everything that happened from the first post on Facebook until now, the reason I think a lot of people saw the story is because of the way the news showed it. They showed that first story, which was not fully accurate, and they just pushed it everywhere.”
International master Irene Sukandar, the fifth-ranked player in Indonesia, also appeared on the show to explain the scandal and break down data released by the Indonesian Chess Federation on Subur’s games. During the show, Corbuzier suggested that Sukandar have a match with Subur. At this point, per Chess.com, Subur had already declined two public challenges from top-ranked Indonesian players, saying that he’d stopped playing chess. However, he accepted Corbuzier’s challenge, and Sukandar agreed to play him shortly afterward.
Leading into the game, Subur had consistently denied cheating, to both the Indonesian press and Wired. Akbar and Rozman connected the day after Rozman’s initial match with Subur, and Akbar apologized for the harassment his post had inadvertently sparked. He also tried to answer some of Rozman’s questions: Subur didn’t play Blitz games because he couldn’t move that quickly on an old Android phone, and he had leveled up so fast while playing like a bot because he’d been training against bots, allegedly defeating the engine Shredder four times in a row on a grandmaster setting.
Subur and Sukandar met in Corbuzier’s Jakarta studio on Monday to play. The matches turned into a real spectacle, with over 1.25 million people watching the stream at one point. That many concurrent viewers is an order of magnitude more than what chess championships draw. Chess.com reported that it was easily the most-watched chess stream of all time. An Indonesian company put up $10,500 in prize money, and a businessman doubled it. Despite sporting a rating similar to Sukandar’s (2413), Subur got owned. He comfortably lost all three games, made a bunch of pretty simple mistakes, and operated like a player with a much lower ELO.
Sukandar said there was probably no way Subur could have beaten Rozman without cheating, and Rozman reopened his YouTube channel. He also announced plans to host a charity tournament with Indonesian players, who reportedly flocked to Chess.com to open new accounts.
As for Subur, he’s now etched his name into the history books for his role in the most popular chess stream of all time, which is something, I guess. He also walked away with about $7,000 in prize money. That’s a lot of bird seed.