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The two-ply Charmin gambit | Marcel Strigberger

Friday, September 30, 2022 @ 2:41 PM | By Marcel Strigberger

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Marcel Strigberger %>
Marcel Strigberger
This is as good a time as any to talk about cheating.   

The chess world has been rocked these days by the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, accusing fellow grandmaster, 19-year-old Hans Niemann, of cheating after Niemann recently beat him in a game. Interestingly Carlsen has not at all magnified his allegations. He has not provided any details of this alleged chicanery. He only says that during the game, Niemann displayed no tension or the amount of concentration one would expect when playing against the world champ. 

The Norwegian grandmaster added that while he could offer more, “I am limited in what I can say without explicit permission from Niemann to speak openly.”

Some analysts suggest that Carlsen is not saying more because he does not want to get sued for defamation. I don’t know about that. I would say he has already spoken openly enough. In my decades of practice I personally never handled a defamation case, but it does not take the chief justice of the Supreme Court to find that there is something defamatory per se about the words, “You’re a cheater.”

Maybe there is some defence in the chess world allowing a player to make these types of bald crass allegations. Can it be that in this noble royal game there are some rules which allow players slack in accusing their opponents of fraudulent conduct? I looked into some chess literature, Googling, “chess…hey…I saw that.” The closest I got to my desired answer was a comment that said, “Are you playing Bernie Madoff?”

And what if on the flip side, Carlsen sues Niemann for cheating? How far would that claim go? Then again, maybe he might land a jury that admires his chess prowess and says, “Niemann did not display any tension nor concentration and yet he clobbered the plaintiff. That’s good enough for us. We find that this is a crystal-clear case of deception.”

Actually, I wonder how someone can cheat in an over-the-board, non-online game. It’s not as if suddenly out of the blue, the rogue’s pieces sprout a third bishop.

Some officials talk of cases where players take a washroom break and there is an accomplice waiting in the can who coaches the culprit on suggested strategy. Possible, I suppose, though I never witnessed it during my McGill University team chess tournament days. I will say I once entered the men’s room at the University of Toronto’s Hart House during a match and I heard a voice coming from one of the stalls, saying, “We’re about out of toilet paper here. Can you please pass me a roll?” 

Maybe the guy sitting there was an accomplice, and he thought I was his contact. Perhaps his comment about the toilet paper was really a cryptic message? A code? What he was really saying was, “Your next move should be queen takes knight.”  

I never thought about that.  

Actually, chess is a great game which helps develop one’s analytic mind. I say there should be a mandatory chess course in law school. It teaches you how to be methodical, to think before you act. With e-mail and text options at their fingertips, many lawyers rush to respond, doing their thinking with their thumbs. And they mess up. It was not unusual while in practice for me, Marcel, to get e-mails intended for a ‘Marc’.”

In tournament chess the rule is once you touch a piece, you have to move it. To me this translated into the habit of never getting my fingers close to the “send” key without carefully thinking about the wisdom of the intended message. I always looked a few moves ahead. (OK, almost always).

Which brings me to the question, do lawyers cheat? I am not talking about those who fall off the wagon and pilfer their trust accounts. I refer to day-to-day practice. We do come across cases where colleagues do not make proper documentary or other disclosure. Hopefully this practice is not common.

Nor have I experienced cheating during a trial where opposing counsel breached the ethical code and tried to communicate with his client in the midst of the witness’s cross-examination.  I, in fact, once did visit the washroom during a break and did hear my opponent in a stall asking for more toilet paper. Was his comment actually about the toilet paper? Or did he think his client was standing there, and maybe he was he really saying something else, like “Remember, if Strigberger asks you, tell him you only had one beer.”

I never thought about that one further. The old toilet paper gambit. Ah, huh!

I suppose in similar circumstances Magnus Carlsen might have said, “Whoa. I know what you’re doing.”

Who knows?

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. His book Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging is now available in paper and e-book versions where books are sold. Visit Follow him @MarcelsHumour.

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