No, you're not going to cheat at chess with a buttplug

No, you're not going to cheat at chess with a buttplug
Photo by Buddika Gunathilaka / Unsplash

So in the world of sex tech hacking, it can get pretty weird sometimes. 2023 certainly had on of the odder ones. Never thought I'd be the subject matter expert on a chess cheating allegation.

While it's an issue that has passed, I wanted to finally write up something to address this for posterity (posteriority?) and to point out why you shouldn't believe everything you read on the internet.

Short version; September 4, 2022, chess grandmaster Magnus Carlsen lost to a realitive newcomer Hans Niemann in St. Louis. Accusations of cheating started to fly and theories proposed in the chess world. One of those theories was posted to /r/chess on Reddit by /u/XiTro making a pretty obviously joking theory that Neimann was using vibrating anal beads to recieve move instructions from an outside source. The user admit they are writing it in the shower and was tired and about to pass out.

This would not have been anything more than a throw away joke on a reddit thread except for the fact that Elon Musk tweeted about it on Twitter/X and of course, then it went viral with media picking up the theory and running away with it to an absurd degree. (A timeline of this was assembled by the user who's reddit post Musk retweeted here).

Normally a scandal in chess has the same level of interest to the general public as week old bread sitting on a counter. Throw in the phrase "vibrating anal beads" into the headlines and now you'll get clicks and engagement. A variation on "if it bleeds it leads" and now it was everywhere. Just google "chess cheating anal beads" and you can read them at your leisure.

The whole thing was a farce from the beginning and so I tried to stay out of it despite it being pointed out to me fairly regularly. It came to an absurd head in November 2022 when I was at a conference that had a talk on (non anal bead) chess cheating and the methods used. Mostly it's statistical analysis by professor Ken Regan At the University at Buffalo that was out of my area of expertise, but still interesting how it's not an exact science and more about probability than anything.

Of course at the end of the talk, a question was asked "Do you think that Hans Niemann cheated with vibrating anal beads" (or some such variation, I forget the wording) and the speaker basically said it wasn't their area of expertise and so they couldn't comment. At this point it felt like the entire room turned and looked at me simultaniously (which usually only happens when you let a loud fart rip during a moment of silence or some other inappropriate time) which was one of those moments that exemplifies the absurd things that come along with researching the security of connect adult devices. I was the subject matter expert and I had opinions that they wanted to know, so I went to a microphone to explain why I thought it was complete BS.

  1. The theory was posted by a random user on Reddit with no evidence to back it up who admitted they were in the shower at the time. They were not at the match in question, nor did they have any specific additional knowledge to contribute. So not the most authoratative source for an accusation.
  2. Most, if not all 'smart' connected anal beads or buttplugs on the market are Bluetooth based (2.4ghz). There are some that are simple RF remotes (433 or 900mhz) with simple on/off or cycling through existing built in patterns.

    The basic RF plugs don't generally offer a degree of control of fidelity to pass along any encoded message (generally on/off, not individual control of different vibrating motors) and thus can be removed from suspicion, which leaves Bluetooth based devices.

    A fact of physics is that 2.4Ghz signals are absorbed well by water (which is the principal behind the microwave overn). Humans are made out of meat and somewhere around 70% water. When you use one of these anal beads or buttplugs as per manufacturers instructions, it gets surrounded by a lot of water bearing flesh.

    Through our own real world testing at the IoD we've established that while bluetooth has an advertised range of 10 meters or 30 feet, when you surround it with water or meat, it attenuates the signal a lot. Making this even more problematic is that most bluetooth anal devices are Bluetooth Low Energy, and are made to be low power to run off small batteries for long periods of time, and thus have a limited effective range in the best of circumstances. The realistic range for a connection is about 4 feet, maybe 10 depending on the individual and their meat characteristics and the angle they are standing. Thus making a connection difficult to maintain. Add in attenuation from their position, the chair, clothing or any other obstacles, and it gets even more difficult.
  3. All the Bluetooth anal beads and buttplugs known to the IoD are simple recieve devices, they have no input capability, no controls. This is important because for a player to effectivly cheat, they need to input the moves their opponent makes into whatever chess program or send them to an accomplice to enter into a chess engine and then send back the next move. Players are not allowed to have phones or other such devices are (correct me if I am wrong) during over the board matches. Video of the match in question shows that no one appeared to have a phone or other device or at least was using one.

Since the anal beads or buttplug aren't running the chess engine onboard, they need outside control. This requires that the device be paired with a phone or other device to bridge the bluetooth connection with the outside world over cell network or Wifi or other means. Since the players aren't using or are not allowed to have phones or devices, that would mean that they need an accomplice a short distance away throughout the match, observing the moves, inputting them into the chess engine, then sending back the next move to the cheating player.

As you can see from the video, the room is open and in full view, and no one appears to be standing around within the 4-10 feet connection area, intently staring and typing furiously at their phone. Such behaviour would be suspicious and noticed.

  1. It's not entirely out of the realm of possibility that there could be some other device or phone hidden on their person to enable this, however there is footage after the scandal of Niemann being scanned with a metal detector before a match. While the video above doesn't show their arrival, one can assume that at high level public matches like this, this is standard policy. This makes it difficult to believe that a vibrating device and phone were present and not detected upon entry.

All things being equal and given all these realities, it's highly unlikely that there was any chance this happened according to the Reddit theory. Too many moving pieces to be reliable and surreptitious enough to be effective. Considering the consequences if caught, it's an extremely high risk endevor.

Now, there is some grain of truth to all of this. It is possible to communicate chess moves to a player via smart bluetooth buttplug and several groups like in the video below have proven it possible. Take a watch if you like.

The participants in the video used a We-Vibe ditto in their experiment and a novice player was able to beat a grand master by being fed moves via the buttplug over bluetooth. However there are some major caveats to this from my perspective.

  1. It's unclear if the player had a phone on them or not. As mentioned, players are generlly not allowed phones or other devices during play. So if they did, that would not normally be allowed. Instructions were being sent from a phone so I assume they were using the We-Vibe app to do so which would indicate the player had a phone on them or nearby (under the chair or something)
  2. The environment was staged and controlled. There were no public onlookers to look for anything strange occuring, nor question some of the players rections to the vibrations or any funny sound coming from the chair.
  3. Even if there was no phone on the player to relay the commands for the vibrations, because the environment was controlled, they could have had a large directional antenna or other setup to overcome the attenuation problem that would not be possible in a public setting. Someone would likely notice this kind of setup
  4. In the video of the match above between Niemann and Carlsen, in my sampling of the match (the players are not shown all the time), there's no notable reactions or anything one would expect with buzzing in a rather intrusive area. The above staged test shows that even when trying to hide it, it's difficult to remain composed then there's something vibrating in your butt.

While the above video does prove it can be done (feed instructions to a novice to beat a grand master), it disregards all the circumstances of a real world cheating situation and as such, really proves nothing in regards to this cheating accusation.

Another attempt to prove the concept, but ignored using a purpose built adult device, was done by Adafruit. In their case they built a custom device that could be inserted and used to communicate instructions, however they chose to use Wifi rather than bluetooth, which had advantages for more power to overcome signal attenuation.

I applaud their efforts and the detailed writeup of how they built it, once again it fails to prove much in the cheating accusation.

  1. They used a large pork butt to test if the signal would be blocked. It was not. However looking at their test piece of meat, it does not appear to be big enough an accurate analog of a human abdomen and butt. It also doesn't take into consideration the clothing, chair and positional problems that could make maintaining a connection problematic.
  2. Again, metal detectors may pick this up depending on the sensitivity and the consequences of discovery makes this very risky.
  3. While it proves a DIY solution is possible, it still requires an accomplice within range which would look suspicious (though moves the potential range out further)
  4. Usage of facility provided wifi is extremely risky since it could leave a fingerprint or traffic logs which could expose the plot. A VPN or other encrypted data could be used, but analysis showing that the traffic was only active during that match could be enough to reveal the attempt at cheating.

In conclusion, this whole situation is ridiculous and such a farce I feel like it's a waste of time to even address it at any point, however because it got so much traction and I continue to be asked about it, I had to address it.

In an ideal world, such a silly theory would be dismissed after a very cursory evaluation of the facts, however we live in a world right now where if any theory, no matter how outlandish (Niemann cheated with anal beads), has a grain of truth to it (it is techncially possible to send instructions to a player via buttplug and have them beat a grand master), there will be a certain amount of people that will believe it and spread it around.

A lie will travel half way around the world before the truth even gets it's shoes on.

Hopefully this puts this issue to rest and I can stop being seen as the subject matter expert in this field of butt-chess.