Wesley So sensationally lost by forfeit after 6 moves of his game versus Varuzhan Akobian, utterly overshadowing the rest of the Round 9 action in the US Chess Championships. So had been writing motivational advice to himself first on his scoresheet and then on a separate piece of paper, later revealing that family issues had “caused a lot of stress and tension” during the tournament. The chief arbiter was within his rights to make the decision, though opinion is split over whether he went too far.
Few chess incidents in recent years can match the shock that reverberated around the chess world when the score switched to Wesley So 0-1 Varuzhan Akobian after only 6 moves had been made:
At first Maurice Ashley reported that Wesley So had resigned, but shortly afterwards Chief Arbiter Tony Rich appeared on the live broadcast to explain that Akobian had complained that his opponent was making notes. Since So had previously been warned not to do that twice Rich felt he had to forfeit him after a third offence:
So himself revealed what the notes were:
So has appealed against the loss of rating points, with the case perhaps revolving over whether he had previously been warned only about writing on the scoresheet and had mistakenly thought it was ok to write elsewhere.
The FIDE Laws of Chess are fairly clear on the matter, however. For instance:
8.1 b) The scoresheet shall be used only for recording the moves, the times of the clocks, offers of a draw, matters relating to a claim and other relevant data.
11.3 a) During play the players are forbidden to use any notes, sources of information or advice, or analyse any game on another chessboard.
From earlier in the competition it’s been clear that the rules of chess will be very strictly applied. For instance: watch below from about 18:50 onwards as Tony Rich explains to the players that no talking is allowed and how exactly a 3-fold repetition should be claimed. This was before the start of Easter Sunday's Round 5:
Norwegian GM Jon Ludvig Hammer, though, appealed to another one of the rules of chess:
And he summed up:
His view was also supported by Association of Chess Professionals President Emil Sutovksy, who wrote on Facebook:
The general opinion, though, appeared to be in support of the arbiter’s decision, since what So was doing was clearly against the rules of chess, he’d been advised against doing it by his colleagues and the arbiter had, apparently, clearly warned him that a forfeit would be the outcome of another offence.
Some tournaments aren't too concerned about what players do on their scoresheets:
And some players just took it as a general wake-up call:
If we get away from the immediate controversy, though, the
question remains of why a Top 10 player, Wesley So, had been talking about “a
time of desperation” even after Round 7, when despite losing two games he was
still on +2 and only half a point off the lead. Why did he feel the need to have
motivational tips with him at the board?
Well, some of the background was revealed in an article in
the Star Tribune, where Wesley So is quoted as saying after the forfeit:
There are personal problems in my family. Trying to fix them during this tournament caused a lot of stress and tension. It diverted a lot of energy from the board when I should be focusing on my game.
As we mentioned in our Round 1 report, since dropping out of university Wesley So has been living with a family in the small town of Minnetonka, 8.5 hours’ drive north of St. Louis. Wesley’s mother, Leny So, has previously gone on record to express dismay at her son's choice:
Unfortunately, there were poor advices given to Wesley which is not to our liking. I have a negative feeling as a mother that this is a very huge mistake on Wesley. It hurts me terribly.
It seems she now came to St. Louis to try and change Wesley’s mind, with the Star Tribune citing Lotis Key, the mother of the family that took him in:
So’s mother and aunt came to St. Louis and contacted So minutes after his arrival at a hotel. Key said they began, in strident encounters over the course of several days, to insist that he return to college or face losing complete contact with his family, including his sisters. At one point, So’s mother and aunt confronted him outside the chess club after his game, trying to grab his arm and yelling at him when he wouldn’t go with them to talk, according to Key and So. That led to an apology by So to the club for the scene, and a request that the mother and aunt be banned from the tournament site.
Key also suggests tension with Paul Truong, Susan Polgar’s husband and the Marketing and PR Director of the Webster University chess program, after So believed Truong had helped reserve a hotel room for his mother:
Key and So said the former coach, Paul Truong, was angry over losing one of the world’s top players from his team when So left Webster. “Wesley fell apart after that, knowing that his own biological family was working with his worst enemy,” Key said. “Paul will never forgive Wesley for leaving Webster.”
Truong denied any active role in the appearance of Wesley’s mother at the tournament:
Truong acknowledged that he had e-mail contact with So’s mother about a month before the tournament in which “she asked me if she could come down.” He said he replied that the tournament was open to anyone to watch. But he denied reserving a room or otherwise engineering their trip, saying that Key’s allegations are “absolutely 100 percent false” and that Key is manufacturing excuses for So’s losses.
In the context of the above it's no surprise to find So himself commenting:
Nothing is going right for me in this tournament. I’ll be glad when it’s over… There’ll be other U.S. championships. My goal for next year will be to win it.
This year So now finds himself in joint 5th place, a full two points off the leader Hikaru Nakamura, who picked up two pawns but settled for a 24-move draw by repetition against Timur Gareev. Ray Robson and Gata Kamsky also drew to leave the standings at the top essentially unchanged:
The only decisive result was a consolation win for Daniel Naroditsky against Conrad Holt. It was Holt’s turn to walk into some deep home preparation, after playing his pet line of the Winawer French once too often!
You know things are going badly when you feel impelled to sacrifice an exchange for no particular compensation, as Holt did here with 23…Rxf4!?
Important moves were made in the women’s section, though. Katerina Nemcova failed to exploit an edge against Viktorija Ni, allowing Nazi Paikidze to close to within a point with a convincing win over Jennifer Yu. Irina Krush actually managed to join Nemcova in the lead, when Tatev Abrahamyan went astray in a very sharp position with 34…b3?
She had to play either 34…Qc1!, so she had Qh6+, or 34…h6! so Irina couldn’t play Qg5+. The game instead went 35.Nxf6+ Kg7 36.Nd7! and the threat of Qg5+ means there's no way of both defending the bishop and preventing mate.
It’s still all in Katerina Nemcova’s hands, but you wouldn’t exactly envy her having to face Paikidze and Krush in the final two rounds!
The biggest game on Saturday, though, will be Robson – Nakamura, since So’s defeat means that Nakamura can seal victory in the tournament if he beats Ray. Of course if Ray managed to win with the white pieces all bets on the 2015 US Championships would be off!
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