Lawyers, guns, money, chess and evidence (but with no guns and not much money).

Lawyers like their evidence to be nice and straightforward. Not to statistical. This is a real problem in some negligence cases. A surgeon might be a good surgeon, might have well below average adverse events, but if something screws up, doctrines like res ipsa loquitur – “the thing speaks for itself” – can find the doctor in hot water.  If some fault can be found in their conduct in a particular case (are there doctors or any practitioners for which this isn’t sometimes true?) then they can be found guilty of negligence even if the broader evidence suggests they are the best, least negligent doctor in the country.*

Anyway at the same time as being too quick on the trigger if the thing ‘speaks for itself’ they’re amazingly deaf to statistical evidence, which, one might have thought speaks for itself. Here’s an intriguing story of a chess cheat who used Fritz – a chess engine to go from being a 55 year old who played at a rating strength of 1900 odd to someone who was beating Grandmasters and playing at rating strengths of 2600+. Not only that, but he played a comically engine driven game. A basic rule of good (human) play is to simplify the position when you’ve got it won to minimise the scope for mistakes. A chess engine will rank such moves as bad ones – because there are moves which are better all things considered. But for us poor souls relying on our primary cognitive apparatus and not the secondary cognitive apparatus available to computers – they’re actually the best moves if you want to win the game – they maximise your chance of winning the game.

In a won position the cheat proceeded to play incredibly sharp moves again and again – including approaching a time control.

You can read the story here.  You can also play the game on that page! It’s fun.

Some months after the event the District Attorney’s office began investigating Allwermann for embezzlement of the prize sum of DM 1,660 – (about $850). GM Rainer Knaak was consulted, and the Fritz expert (Knaak works for ChessBase) confirmed that all the games were almost completely reproducible, move for move, with Fritz5.32 and the Fritz Powerbook ’99. Even a small transposition error in the PowerBooks was faithfully reproduced in one of the games. In the meantime Hartmut Metz had located an electronics supplier who had sold Allwermann the equipment he probably used to transmit the computer moves. According to the store owner Allwermann had insisted on a modification that would allow him to enter four-digit codes in the hand-held radio transmitter. He had also purchased the very smallest receiver possible, one that could be completely concealed in his ear and hidden behind his long hair.

However, after many months the DA’s office dismissed the case due to “lack of sufficient proof”. A speaker expressed the view that “moves by good chess players often coincide with those of a computer”, and apart from that there was no direct evidence – nobody had seen or documented the use of electronic devices during the tournament. The Bavarian Chess Federation, on the other hand, took drastic action and barred Allwermann from participation in further tournaments.

Before this was enforced Allwermann had played in one more tournament, closely watched by large numbers of spectators and journalists. He scored exactly what is to be expected of a player who is below the 2000 Elo mark.

* Note: this is based on my LLB which I began over three decades ago. Perhaps we’re in legal nirvana by now.

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11 years ago

Sorry, but I don’t see how negligence is relevant in the way you seem to suggest. If you doctor has a perfect record until the day he operates on you while pissed, the statistics are irrelevant. But maybe you’re trying to say that a process that generally works, but has a statistically signifcant risk of side effects of failure, can lead to a negligence claim from one of the unlucky patients.
I don’t think we’re in legal nirvana. I think its probably worse.

Your chess story is a circumstantial evidence story. You’d think that the probability of chess moves would be part of the circumstantial evidence, but maybe those are anecdotal as compared to real statistics.

Nicholas Gruen
11 years ago

Yes I’m speaking of the latter case. If a very good surgeon really IS negligent the they sd be liable.

And I’d be happy to submit your second para as more evidence for the prosecution. Further, you could simply as any expert (human) chess player if the string of moves the cheat played is in any way explicable as an attempt by a fallible human to maximise their chnces of winning a game of chess.


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11 years ago

The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur indicates that there is no need to provide any further detail — the facts of the case are sufficient to find liability. Generally, because the facts are so obvious, a party does not need to provide further explanation.

I was in a court case where my opponent sought to rely on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur . The judge interrupted and said, “I know that the thing speaks for itself but what the hell is it saying?”

11 years ago

In the case of the Fritz program and radio communication, I’d say that a statistical anomaly is enough to trigger investigation, but there should have been plenty of ways to catch the guy with more direct evidence. There’s huge science in radio detection, jamming, decoding, etc… and plenty of equipment for the purpose. If the guy purchased commercial gear then I would expect that any even moderately competent and well equipped team should have seen the radio carrier.

Then again, for the grand sum of $850 they probably had insider traders and such higher on their lists.