A chess master who coaches at 10 East Valley schools resigned this month from the U.S. Chess Federation executive board following a November reprimand alleging ethics violations.
Robert Tanner, who helped put Gilbert on the map as the federation’s “Best Chess City” in 1999, received the reprimand following allegations that he fabricated or manipulated tournament results in the early 1990s to regain the master title that he first earned at legitimate events in 1987.
“It is apparent from his entire record that Tanner, frustrated with his inability to make master the hard way, decided to do it the easy way,” a written complaint filed July 20 says.
Tanner has denied wrongdoing and referred the Tribune to the written responses he submitted to the federation’s ethics committee.
His Dec. 4 resignation letter indicates he stepped down so the board “could continue its important work without being distracted unduly by this affair.” The longtime coach also said he wanted to focus on reactivating himself as a serious chess player.
“This I consider an important factor in speeding the healing within the chess community and for my own personal reputation and rehabilitation,” Tanner wrote.
Sam Sloan, the U.S. Chess Federation board member who filed the complaint, said Tanner delayed his resignation until other board members threatened to oust him.
“He did hang on to the last minute,” Sloan said.
The accusations come at the end of a year in which scandals have rocked the chess world.
Allegations of cheating marred the World Open over the July 4 weekend in Philadelphia, where two players were accused of receiving help from computers. During World Chess Championship matches this fall in Russia, allegations surfaced that a Russian chess master used frequent bathroom breaks to get illegal assistance.
Sloan’s complaint alleges that Tanner achieved the titles of master and “original life master” by playing repeated games in 1992 and 1993 within a closed group of friends who traveled together and gathered in remote places such as Teton, Wyo., Wendover, Nev., and Ceres, Calif.
Original life masters must hold a master’s rating for at least 300 tournament games.
Sloan said the players in the group shared Tanner’s home address, and none of the nine men except Tanner ever competed outside the group.
“They are quite clearly fake people,” Sloan said from his New York home. “They don’t exist.”
Tanner maintains he did nothing illegal. He said the matches actually occurred, and the ethics committee supported his claim that the opponents were real people.
However, Tanner acknowledges in his Sept. 15 response to the committee that he circumvented the “spirit of the regulations” in the early 1990s while working to regain the master title. He also acknowledges that none of the opponents mentioned in the complaint were legitimate masters or even expert-level players.
Tanner said the opponents were friends he met while serving a church mission in Europe, and the group took remote hikes together when the friends visited the United States. He said the matches he submitted for rating were casual games played “under the stars” against opponents he has lost contact with over the years.
“In retrospect, although nothing illegal was done, it was manipulative,” Tanner wrote.
Manipulating the ratings system can be done when a highly rated player intentionally loses or earns a draw against an inferior opponent, which artificially bolsters the opponent’s rating. Within a closed group, an advanced player can then gain points by sweeping a field that includes several overrated players.
Many in Gilbert have dismissed the reprimand as something minor that happened years ago.
“He’s human,” said Pam Darveaux, mother of two chess players at Gilbert’s Towne Meadows Elementary School. “He made a mistake, and he wants to go forward now. He’s contributed so much to the chess community, in my mind.”
Tanner has directed dozens of tournaments nationwide, including major U.S. championships and scholastic events at Gilbert schools. He has also represented the United States as an international delegate.
He coaches chess at Finley Farms, Greenfield, Harris, Oak Tree, Pioneer, Playa del Rey, Sonoma Ranch and Val Vista Lakes elementary schools in the Gilbert Unified School District. He also coaches at Gilbert’s Edu-Prize charter school and Sirrine Elementary School, a Chandler campus in the Mesa Unified School District.
Gilbert Unified School District spokeswoman Dianne Bowers said Tanner informed the Community Education Department of his national board resignation but did not mention the ethics reprimand. She said the district would determine if the reprimand will affect Tanner’s coaching status.
“The allegations are new information to us,” she said.
As of last week, Bowers said the Gilbert district had paid Tanner $9,590 for coaching in the fall semester. Parents said Tanner has also used his status as a chess master to charge up to $50 per hour for lessons.
Tanner, a full-time chess professional, declined to discuss his sources of income but said he has not taught private lessons for more than a year.
He still belongs to the Arizona Chess Federation executive board, an appointment he received in August.
State board president Will Wharton said he has not had time to review the allegations against Tanner, but the board will look at the situation and decide if action is warranted.
Regardless, Tanner said he plans to stay active in the chess community.
“I will do what I always do,” he said. “I play chess. I teach chess.”