That Time A Billionaire Got Banned For Cheating At Charity Chess
Nikhil Kamath founded Zerodha, an Indian platform for online trading—think of it as something like the app Robinhood. Letting people trade without charging them commissions on every single move sounds like a great service. That’s until you learn that virtually all new traders to these platforms lose money to experienced traders who actually know what they’re doing. Kamath became a billionaire (a dollar billionaire, not just a rupee billionaire) by collecting fees on all this less-than-zero-sum trading.
Last year, Kamath took part in a charity chess tournament to raise money for coronavirus relief. The online tournament also featured athletes, actors, other celebs ... and several chess grandmasters. Kamath soon found himself facing Vishwanathan Anand, a five-time world champion.
It was a real David and Goliath match-up. Or, to use Zerodha lingo, it was like a first-time trader pouring his life savings into out-of-the-money options 15 minutes before closing, against a hedge fund who can afford to confidently short those options and just sit back till they expire worthless. Then, shocking all spectators, Kamath actually beat Anand.
“This shows Kamath is a genius!” said Kamath fans, probably. But chess enthusiasts took a close look at Kamath’s games, many of which were recorded for all to see. Kamath hadn’t just played well during this match. He’d played amazingly. He’d chosen his moves with a 98.9 percent accuracy, measured against a chess-playing computer. Then if you flipped over to practice match he’d played a couple days earlier, you’d see he played with 0.6 percent accuracy, losing in just a handful of moves against a novice.
Confronted, Kamath admitted the truth. He’d taken help from “people analyzing the game” and from software. Of course he had—really, he said, y'all were the dumb ones for ever thinking he could beat a grandmaster without cheating, ha ha! Kamath also implied that Anand was in on this arrangement. Anand responded that, no, he’d assumed everyone was playing legitimately, and please leave his name out of any future non-apologies.
For his transgressions against the noble sport of chess in a tournament lacking real stakes, Kamath received the most severe punishment possible: Chess.com banned his player account. Temporarily. They later restored it (not because he was exonerated, just because it was time to move on). He hasn’t logged in and played another game since then, though, making us slightly suspect that maybe Kamath was never really interested in chess after all.
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