Regium: Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence
The dubious world of Kickstarters and "magical" technology.
If you follow the Internet chess scene closely you will no doubt have noticed the new kid on the block: Regium. Purportedly an e-board that can connect to all the major chess websites and play seamlessly with a real physical board, over the Internet! For chess fans it's a dream, and we shouldn't forget to mention a similar product already on the market: Square Off. However, this Regium product apparently uses a new system, a grid of fixed electromagnets, rather than a mechanical arm and single magnet - making it much thinner and quieter.
As people, we are more likely to believe what we want to be true. In the face of a miraculous product, some skepticism is healthy. While we want to believe as much as any chess lover, we have a few doubts about these claims as well as the conduct of Regium. Here are some reasons for caution.
The first major demo of the board is available on YouTube here and it sparked a lot of interest as well as some major concerns. Analysis of the video shows signs of possible editing, leading to suspicion that this was in fact a video achieved by "stop motion" and then edited. Stop motion video is achieved by taking an individual photo, moving objects by hand, then taking the next frame of the video. As shown in the screenshot below, you can see the outline of the knight appears to change at different points in the video. This is actually an incomplete part of a removed piece that was behind the knight. Another indicator is that the human player in the video is fully out of shot while the board moves - otherwise it is difficult to be consistent between frames of the video. This video editing does not mean that the entire project is not real, it could just be to improve the appearance. However, it does raise doubts over the veracity of this and other videos presented as evidence.
The website basically promises everything we could want from an e-board, and it affirms that all the features already exist.
Regium claims that their "e-Boards are supported by the most important chess platforms" and have listed many "supported" chess servers, including the recently defunct chesscube.com, and chess.com, whose CEO stated "we have not seen the board, nor have we created APIs to support it working on our site". It's also unclear how their boards are supported by chess24.com, in the absence of a public play API.
Their claim to support Lichess is however technically possible, since Lichess supports all e-boards, thanks to our public API that allows bots and e-boards to challenge other players and chess engines. These accounts are necessarily restricted in their play on the site - in order to prevent abuse of the system. As such, any customer of Regium's looking to connect to their normal account and play a few games may be sorely disappointed.
Regium have also claimed "computer analysis whilst playing against a human opponent" as part of the board's function. This is also (of course) not allowed during play on Lichess (or any serious server) unless you're playing an unrated game with explicit consent from the opponent.
Interactions with Lichess
Of course, we have no reason to be shy about voicing our concerns and doubts, and indeed invite more public and live demos of the new technology. Regium are planning a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds, starting February 25th. However, Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites typically do not require any eventual product to be provided and many investors have been burned by this before. Discussion was abundant in the Lichess forums, with some users expressing skepticism.
In response, the marketing manager of Regium contacted us with threats to sue unless we removed these posts from the forum:
We requested clarification of the offending material and the jurisdiction under which these legal measures would be taken, to which Regium responded that they do not wish to sue Lichess, especially because their board "will work for [Lichess]".
In order to build up hype for the new product, Regium have also been busy providing sponsorship, including for chess.com's Speed Chess Championship and chess24's Banter Blitz Cup - even implying that Magnus Carlsen had endorsed Regium - by advertising their sponsorship of the event on their own website.
We have seen many red flags in the conduct of Regium and the promotion of their new e-board. We have our doubts about the veracity of many of the claims made in the promotional material. In order to dispel any concerns about the product, we welcome Regium to provide more open and live demos in order to substantiate these claims. When approached for comment, chess.com stated that they have already made such a request directly to Regium on Thursday of this week but this has yet to receive a response. chess24 has also been approached for comment and we will update when we receive a response.
We have Lichess members in Spain that will gladly attend a live demo of one of the boards displayed in the videos. We'll add their experience report to this blog post as soon as possible.
- 22/02 00:20 UTC
Regium Chess commented on this blog post in the Lichess forums! Using a new, alternate account of @REGIUMCHESS, they passed for an independent photographer to make a false testimony. When asked if they had ties with Regium Chess, they defensively evaded the question. That was rhetorical: after years of running a game server, we know when someone makes sock puppet accounts.
- 23/02 17:40 UTC
Apparently, 4 of the 6 team members of Regium do not exist. Their identities may have been forged from thin air, using common names that yield no relevant results on the Internet. The only pictures we have of them seem to have been generated by https://www.thispersondoesnotexist.com/. Indeed, the files match perfectly: 1024x1024, 96dpi, 24 bit, jfif format, lack of any header information. Of course we don't want to believe that Regium would resort to such deception: please, disprove it by showing more pictures of the team, so we can retract this update.
- 23/02 3:10 UTC
Nick Barton, Director of Business Development at Chess.com, declares that "The boards shown in promotional videos are manufactured by Spanish company Rechapados Ferrer. A representative of the company has indicated that the boards pictured in the videos have not been modified by the manufacturer with any components that would allow for the technology presented in those videos".
- 23/02 14:00 UTC
Regium has recompressed and resized the picture of their team members, so they don't look like they were generated by https://www.thispersondoesnotexist.com/ anymore. Fortunately, destroying proof on the Internet is difficult, since there exists a web archive.
- 02/03 17:25 UTC
The Regium Chess Kickstarter campaign has been suspended.