Rules (or not) of the game

APRIL 16 ― The chess world was abuzz all last week with news of Wesley So's disqualification in the ninth round of the US Chess Championship and Gaioz Nigalidze caught cheating at the Dubai Open.

The two incidents seem to foretell what is clearly going to be the defining challenge for the game in the years to come.

Following the FIDE (World Chess Federation) Women's World Championship Knock-Out Match, the attention of chess players worldwide largely shifted to the US Championship.

It has been a long time since this championship has attracted so much attention and I believe a lot of that has to do with the success of the Chess Club and Scholastic Centre of St Louis, the emergence of a young group of Americans who in time have the potential to win Gold at the World Chess Olympiad, and of course, the recent successes of World No. 3 Hikaru Nakamura and current World No. 2 Fabiano Caruana.

Nakamura is on a roll after winning the US Championship ― an event he stopped playing in recently but which he first won at 16 ― but sadly it was So's four losses including a sensational forfeit that took most of the attention.

Very simply, a player cannot make additional notes on the scoresheet used to record the game during play even though they are not actual chess-related notes in the case of So but more “notes to self.”

However, other players had complained and the arbiter had given warnings including that of forfeit should it happen again. So accepted his mistake and did not appeal the decision.

I will not here comment on ― let alone discuss ― the resulting fallout or the many reactions and comments by people who should know better. Some bordered on the absurd.

Whatever needed saying was best explained here and all I would add to this is it has become very clear that many professionals in the game ― not just So ― simply do not know the rules!

It is also a sad indictment of the current state of the game how common sense and simple reasoning has been lost, with so many not only reacting to incomplete or select information but even resorting to personal attacks.

Clearly the FIDE Laws of Chess as it stands need significant improvements but until then one has to live with them. There are intelligent and less intelligent interpretations and perhaps those who were quick to condemn should be clear about who is the victim and what is justice.

As an organiser and arbiter of events at all levels ― which I estimate to be in the region of at least 150 (certainly over 50 in the last 10 years) ― I have become increasingly concerned about cheating in chess and even more so with technology making it much too easy to do so.

While the few steps being taken are reactive and often obsolete by the time they are implemented, much of the problem is the fault of the organisers and the arbiters who take a much too relaxed attitude and tolerate the behaviour of too many chess players who are clearly completely unprofessional.

I therefore congratulate the Dubai Open organisers for their pro-active and firm action.

From what I gather, Nigalidze emerged not so many years ago to be a surprise winner of the Georgia Chess Championship; this is one of the leading chess countries with many strong players.

In a short time, he became a highly rated player and frequent tournament prize winner. Yet it seems all this had been achieved simply because he could go to the toilet during play and check an electronic device hidden in a cubicle.

The Laws of Chess now separate “playing venue” from “playing area”, the first being places players have access to during games and the latter of course where the game actually takes place but effectively they are lumped together for all practical purposes.

In the Wesley So matter, it was about having aids during play.

Very disturbing in chess is that players can make moves and walk around to view other games. Is not seeing what moves others are making, the opening system or variation you play also appearing on someone else's game or a pattern that helps you remember or even trigger something in you, a form of aid and one that is even more significant?

So how then do organisers still criticise zero start regulations when it is now not just about punctuality and respect for the tournament, sponsors, other participants and the game (if you are not present at start of play, you forfeit) but it also means you can have extra and perhaps even crucial time to prepare for your opponent?  

FIDE can't even get something so simple right so what more to address issues of access to technology as an aid?

Until today organisers are fixated only in telling players not to carry mobile phones. I for one have been reminding them for years that they should be referring to electronic devices because iPads and other tablets are being carried around and it is less about disturbing other players than cheating.

What then about even stricter rules being applied to spectators? I'ts hilarious and a mockery to players and the game when organisers are often so blase about spectators walking in with their mobile phones ringing and used to take photos. Nothing is done to stop this, and chasing or barring a visitor from an event post-incident is hardly the ideal solution.

I will end here by pointing out that all too often organisers and arbiters don't enforce these rules either with themselves.  

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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