This Chess-Cheating Wearable Aims to Investigate the Accusations Against Grandmaster Hans Neimann

Inspired by salacious accusations of high-tech trickery, this smart shoe insole communicates winning moves via Morse code.

Teddy Warner and Jack Hollingsworth have created a Bluetooth-based insole which serves but a single purpose: to allow the wearer to cheat at chess, inspired by accusations against Hans Neimann — and dubbed the Von Neimann Probe.

Hans Neimann is a chess grandmaster best known for streaming games via Twitch and for accusations of cheating — that Neimann has strongly denied, bar two admissions of cheating in online games while 12 and 16 years old respectively — in which he was claimed to use technological means: a rumored but unproven wearable, the precise nature of which is perhaps best left uninvestigated, which was able to surreptitiously transmit winning moves from an accomplice using a chess engine.

A clever 3D-printed insole with a Bluetooth module hidden inside lets you cheat like a grandmaster — allegedly. (📹: Teddy Warner and Jack Hollingsworth)

Hollingsworth and Warner's equivalent takes the core concept and houses the cheating device in an insole — designed to be inserted into the user's shoe. Hidden in the 3D-printed insole is a battery driving a custom circuit board which hosts a Bluecore4-Ext module with Bluetooth radio and Microchip ATtiny412 microcontroller. When switched on, using a power switch next to a USB Type-C connector for charging, the insole makes a Bluetooth link to a chess engine program and vibrates a Morse code signal detailing the best move available.

"I decided to build the brains around Stockfish," Hollingsworth explains, "a famous chess engine that already has a functioning Python integration and also happens to be the highest-rated engine at the time of writing. For reference, the engine plays at a 4000 level, while the current highest-rated player, Magnus Carlsen, is currently sitting at about 3200. Safe to say, Stockfish is more than sufficient for the players our insole will encounter who are obviously considerably worse than Carlsen.

"Once a formatted move is sent to the shoe insole," Hollingsworth continues, "it needs to use its vibrating motor to discretely tell its wearer what the best move is. As all of the major processing and translation is done in Python, all the ATtiny412 microcontroller in the insole does is receive a move via Bluetooth, parse it, and buzz it to the user, making its job considerably simpler."

Hollingsworth and Warner have documented the project, including a detailed look at the accusations against Neimann, on Warner's blog; a guide to building your own is available on Instructables, with design files and source code available on GitHub under the permissive MIT license.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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