India’s stock markets are often viewed with suspicion over allegations of manipulation and fraud, and when the co-founder of the country’s largest brokerage is caught cheating, reactions end up being particularly sharp.
Zerodha co-founder Nithin Kamath is at the receiving end of some unsparing criticism after he was caught cheating in a charity chess match against Vishwanathan Anand. Yesterday, Kamath had managed to beat Anand in an exhibition chess match to raise money for Covid victims, and had later said that he simply got ‘lucky’. But people had wondered how an amateur had managed to beat a former world champion, and had marveled at his accuracy of 99%, which meant that 99% of his moves were ‘perfect’ as per a chess computer. As rumours around his incredible victory swirled, Chess.com, which had hosted the match, banned his profile over “Fair Play”, hinting that he’d used a computer to beat Anand.
Kamath later admitted that he’d used a computer to beat Anand, but that didn’t placate angry netizens, who piled upon the billionaire. Vishwanathan Anand himself tweeted that he hadn’t expected Kamath to cheat in a charity match. “It was a fun experience upholding the ethics of the game. I just played the position on the board and expected the same from everyone,” he tweeted.
Vishwanathan Anand’s wife also tore into Nikhil Kamath, calling the incident “disrespectful”. “Well, Nikhil contacted Anand today and explained this tweet. Anand replied to say that he can’t deny the (Chess.com) algorithm and personally wouldn’t comment on the issue. He requested Mr. Kamath not to involve Anand’s name in his tweets or in his course of action. That he went ahead and did it and allege something is disrespectful,” she added.
All India Chess Federation (AICF) Secretary Bharat Chauhan also condemned the cheating. “It is very unfortunate it was a charity match. We don’t expect anybody to get help from computers, at the national and state level we are following the protocols. We are putting cameras where players are playing and there is a fair play committee which includes three grandmasters and two players. He is not a regular player or our member we don’t have jurisdiction, he was doing it for charity he shouldn’t have done. This is really bad,” he added.
But it wasn’t only chess enthusiasts who were aghast. The founder of Upstox, which competes with Zerodha, also took the opportunity to rub in Nithin Kamath’s cheating. “As the Founder of Upstox (Zerodha’s largest competitor) & a huge chess fan myself, today was a sad day for chess in India. It’s sad that he tried to cheat against Anand, someone who has dedicated his entire life to chess. We need to come together & start asking tough questions,” he tweeted.
Zerodha’s own customers were even more brutal. “Now I want to manually check the calculations of the brokerage charges I paid at Zerodha,” wrote a user.
Others said that the incident was a matter for shame for Zerodha.
Some other users said they’d stay away from Zerodha’s services. “I am glad I never invested money from Zerodha and will never do in future. In an exhibition match the CEO of this company has cheated by using a chess engine that too against non other than Vishy Anand! How can I trust this company with my money?” a Twitter user wrote.
Some chess enthusiasts even said they wanted chess cheating videos to be tagged with “Zerodha gambit”.
While Nikhil Kamath has now apologized for using a computer to beat Vishwanathan Anand, the whole saga has snowballed into a major controversy, with all manner of stakeholders, including Zerodha’s customers and rivals chiming in. And this whole episode could be quite damaging for both Nikhil Kamath and Zerodha — for a company that manages people’s money, any mention of cheating, even in a charity chess match, is bound to send alarm bells ringing.