Litigation Opinion Personal

What to do about cheaters?

How should you handle it when someone cheats in any game?

There is a performance psychology to cheating, and this is a question that people face in sports, on the battlefield, and in litigation.  You will find cheating in taxes and the corporate board room.  Cheating is something that people will do.

Should you get mad?  Should you get even?  Should you take names and fight another day?  What if you’re wrong?  What kind of damage could it cause?

What is cheating?  Insofar as it relates to games, cheating is a strategic act of dishonesty or unfairness in order to gain an advantage.

There is a saying I am fond of repeating and my wife rolls her eyes to each time I say it.  “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying!”  A less pithy and morally vacuous version would be to say you need to always be searching for the strategic advantage in any situation.  Often, there is strategic advantage to be had by unfair acts or dishonesty and it is important that you have regard to these.  You must know when you are trusting someone.  If you cannot spot these opportunities, then you aren’t pushing the boundaries hard enough.

If someone were to cheat you, how are they going to go about doing that?

Note that I am most definitely not advocating dishonesty or dishonest acts.  I am doing the opposite.  I am saying there is more accountability than the cheater realizes.

If you cannot see the advantage that would be provided by acts of dishonesty, then you are not looking deeply enough into the situation.  Spotting opportunities for dishonesty is important.

So what do you do when you detect or suspect cheating?  Well, it depends.  Experience tells me that anyone who interrupts a game/case/war to make allegations of cheating, even when they are right, immediately subject themselves to added scrutiny and a measure of humiliation.

Once uncovered, handling accusations of cheating or dishonesty can be a very delicate task.  Why?  Because, yeah, I am calling you a liar.  Often cheaters will rely upon this instinct – to avoid conflict – in order to achieve their unfair advantage.  There are universally repercussions to calling out a cheater in the midst of an ongoing contest.  They know that.  They know how uncomfortable it will be.  They are going to call you a sore loser, right?

Take cheating in chess.  There is a certain personality type out there who cheat at online chess.  Much has been written about it, but very little can be done.  At least during the game that is.

You want to know what is truly surprising is that because of fairly accurate statistical techniques, quite a few “titled players” have confessed to cheating.

Using statistical methodology, you can basically prove someone was receiving assistance.  You can show that they were playing at one skill level, and then suddenly and mysteriously their level of play improved by statistically improbable amounts.

Not all cheaters work the same way, but generally it looks something like this.  They begin playing the game honestly.  Then they begin to lose.  They can take a loss but they won’t take a loss.  That is when they begin asking for analytical advice from a chess engine, and suddenly if by magic they begin to absolutely crush their opponents.  Using a computer for advice is cheating.

It is, of course, not lost on me while I am playing the game.  It is not that the opponent’s style of play has become “more computer like”.  Rather, it is my opponent suddenly can play when before they were only amateurish.  Now, I’m getting comically crushed.  Yes, I know what getting murdered by the computer feels like.  That is why I am trying to play a human being.

The cheaters know that chess engines are supreme beings in the chess world, but what they do not seem to grasp is that the average human being is so far removed in ability from a computer that it is pretty obvious for a computer to spot this cheating behavior.

In other words, computers can spot other computers.  That is what happened in the game above.  Look at the statistics of this game.  What that number represents is that 96.6% of the moves matched the moves the chess engine would have made or predicted.  In other words, nearly every single move this player made is the move the computer would have made.  96.6% accuracy in a game at this level is possible, and I have done it myself a few times.  It is a pretty amazing feat though.  It is not a performance you would expect a player – at this level – to be able to replicate.

The technique here is to know what cheating looks like.  If you know what temptations may exist to lie and cheat in the courtroom, then it behooves you to look out for these opportunities in your opponents.  They are going to try it.  It is what some people do when they begin to lose.  It is what nearly everyone will do when they begin to lose everything.

Often the very idea of them losing does not begin to dawn on a litigant until you are going to trial or have been somehow unmasked in deposition.  That is when the desperation sets in.  That is when people begin to cheat.  Alarm bells ring and plots begin to hatch.  Morals loosen when under threat.  Just like in the game of chess – the player was trying to play honestly until they felt things slipping . . . .

A general conclusion

Good litigators should be limping in to each and every case.  Each case must start with an imperfect party and an imperfect cause of action.  Therefore, it must have its weakness and those weaknesses must be on display.  Litigators can never and should never conceal facts.  Litigators interpret those facts in an adversarial fashion.  We put lipstick on the pig.