Can we have better arbiters, please?

JANUARY 14 — During the time when Hamid Majid was the Secretary of the Malaysian Chess Federation (MCF) — two decades if I count right — many international tournaments were held in Malaysia thanks to the direct patronage of Datuk Tan Chin Nam.

This partnership continued for another decade with the IGB Open held as part of the Malaysian Chess Festival.

Now there are also the Penang and Johor Opens which are organised as international tournaments. Hamid is their Chief Arbiter and I think there is no doubt that he has succeeded in developing an organising template which all have largely adopted.

I am not going to say if this is good or bad -- the KL Open from 2006-2014 was very successful -- but I will say that how Hamid does things is the only way most in the local chess fraternity know.

There is no doubt the standard of arbiters in Malaysia is still appallingly low but to be fair, this is also true in most other places that I have been to and the reasons are easy to understand:

1. Arbiter training through seminars assumes prior knowledge and experience and strict passing marks but this has been abused by lecturers. I was disgusted at how the last FIDE (World Chess Federation) Arbiter Seminar held in Malaysia saw so many with hardly a 50 per cent score (and likely none who made the 80 per cent passing mark) given FIDE Arbiter norms. 

I understand that MCF is now organising one more seminar from January 22-24, 2016 so let's hope that this time around the participants will be both properly instructed and correctly assessed.

2. Chess is played at many levels and today with different types and forms of the game, a strong and experienced player can understand and interpret situations that give cause to disputes during the game. 

Of course not every player can be an arbiter unless he or she can take away personal interest and be completely dispassionate and it is particularly horrific when an arbiter who can hardly play chess shouts down player objections. Yes, using force based on position of authority when unsure (less polite is to say: don't know) is really their only way out and this I saw repeatedly at the Malaysian Chess Festival last September!

3. The awards of FIDE Arbiter titles is based on the collection of norms from being an arbiter at specific events but collecting score sheets and setting clocks is not the same as someone who can control an event, successfully resolve disputes, and be up to speed and as necessary also be familiar with all technical aspects such as computer pairings, interpretation of regulations and rules, etc.

It is simply not good enough for an arbiter to panic and then to just fall back on quoting decisions made by well-known arbiters because the context are usually different. 

4. On the management of the FIDE Arbiter system, I think FIDE has failed badly and worst, their solution lacks courage and purpose because their system of dividing arbiters into categories A, B, C or D has just become for too many a reward.

Too often I have seen serious mistakes made by Chief Arbiters who have high FIDE rankings but because in almost every case others will step up and help out for the sake of the game and the event, these incompetents escape blame while enjoying the tournaments' success. They do not seem to care that they are a joke among fellow arbiters and the players.

Let me end here by giving some examples of serious shortcomings of arbiters I have seen myself.

Just last month the recent Asean Championships did not have parings among players from the same country protected to avoid the possibility of fixing the result in the last round and twice players played games with the wrong colour! It was lucky indeed that the players conducted themselves with the utmost respect for the event and showed outstanding sportsmanship.

Then at the Asian Youth Championships held in Suwon last year, at a meeting of arbiters, there was an arbiter who admitted that she did not know how to do pairings at all, saying her Federation always found someone else to help her back home and that was on top of ignoring the Chief Arbiter's instructions for the Blitz tournament. 

Going back to 2014, at several Opens including those in KL, Bangkok and Johor, it was shocking to see a local arbiter who now is flagged under a different country unable to resolve simple disputes between players because not only did he lack common sense, he clearly also had no real understanding of the Laws of Chess. When not intervening to the point of disrupting play, he was reduced to desperately referring to the rule book and still getting it all wrong!

So what is the solution? Well, to start with we have to accept the fact that not all can be arbiters. The Arbiters Commission then has to ensure proper training and the award of titles together with annual recertification. Most important, FIDE has to understand arbiters cannot be part of its patronage system. 

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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