Wesley So’s forfeit in the US Championship has suddenly turned the focus onto the rules of chess. In an interview after beating Gata Kamsky in Round 10 he explained why he’d thought he was breaking no rule and made it clear he was unhappy with his opponent’s behaviour. Meanwhile a player was forfeited in the Aeroflot Open for writing down his moves before making them and, finally, two-time Georgian Champion and winner of the Al Ain Classic GM Gaioz Nigalidze has been thrown out of the Dubai Open for cheating.
Let’s start with So. His victory over Gata Kamsky in the US Championship was smooth and powerful, but in the post-game interview with Maurice Ashley we saw his stress and frustration for the first time – almost gone was the witty and charming Wesley So of his earlier interviews at the Championship:
The relevant part of the interview makes it clear that although Wesley grudgingly accepts the arbiter’s decision he felt he hadn’t been warned not to do what he actually did in the Round 9 game - write on a piece of paper that wasn’t the scoresheet:
What happened yesterday?
I wrote something beside my scoresheet on a piece of paper – just to focus during the game, which was a reminder for me to play hard – but apparently the rules don't allow it so I lost the game yesterday.
According to the arbiter he had warned you about it before...
I wrote it on my scoresheet before. He told me you can only write draw offers or the times or the results on the scoresheet, so I brought a piece of paper with me this time, but my logic didn't work out.
Is that a normal habit of yours?
Yes, unfortunately it has been a habit for me for a long time - for years actually - and I did it a lot in the past, in Tata Steel, almost all my tournaments. Nothing was working for me in this tournament, so I thought I'd go back to my old habit. This tournament has been a nightmare for me, so I just want it to be finished.
This moment, when it happened and you realised it was a forfeit, what were your thoughts as you left the playing hall?
Well, one less game to play! But it's unfortunate. Actually, I wasn't sure about the rules. For example, if you forfeit a game, if it's FIDE-rated or not. Like, for example, when your phone rings. I'm not completely sure about the rules.
Did you actually appeal the result of the game, or appeal getting the game rated?
I appealed mostly about the game - whether it's rated or not, but I'm not completely sure.
So you stand by the arbiter's decision on the result of the game?
So you have one more game to play. What do you have to play for now in the last round?
To try to win. I can understand Var [Varuzhan Akobian] for not wanting to play against me, but tomorrow one more game against Kayden Troff and try to win and give my best.
You mentioned Var. He says you guys are friends and the opportunity to play you doesn't come every day. Do you think he didn't want to play you?
Well obviously he wanted a free point.
You think he just wanted the free point?
Wow, that's a big claim. He said you guys are teammates and friends.
Well we were. But yes, I guess you've just got to abide by the rules.
Hikaru Nakamura hit back immediately on Twitter:
There were also more details of the events off the board that have left Wesley So fighting on numerous fronts in St. Louis. Paul Truong, who had been described in a newspaper article as So’s “worst enemy”, hit back on The Chess Drum to point out that Wesley’s scholarship to Webster University had been rescinded and that it wasn’t a case of Wesley deciding to go professional after winning the Millionaire Open:
Wesley So did not quit school after winning Millionaire Chess to turn professional. Wesley So’s SPICE chess scholarship was fully revoked on October 28, 2014 at 12:02 am for multiple team rule violations.
It should be noted that Millionaire Chess finished on October 13 and we don’t know if So wanted to continue as a student at that point or not.
A new article in the Star Tribune added new details of incidents in St. Louis, explaining how it was affecting So:
He became afraid to walk through the hotel lobby for fear that his mother would accost him. The two blocks from the hotel to the chess tournament site became a wary walk, and he would arrive in the playing hall rattled. In matches, he missed key moves and the losses mounted, dashing his hopes of winning the U.S. Chess Championship.
Paul Truong sent ChessBase photos that were clearly supposed to counter such suggestions, although of course the fact that someone is smiling in a photo is thin as evidence of mood goes, and things may well have deteriorated:
For now, though, the most salient point from Wesley's interview is that one of the world's best players can be unsure about the rules of chess. As we’ll discover, So isn't alone.
Russian Grandmaster Dmitry Kryakvin was second seed in the B section of the Aeroflot Open, where he witnessed a player fall foul of almost the same rules as Wesley So. Apart from skipping the introduction we’ve translated his blog on the Russian Chess Federation website in full below:
Your author watched the battles that would decide the fate of the trip to Dortmund from the depths of the “B” tournament hall, at times bitterly regretting travelling to Moscow as a player rather than a journalist. Nevertheless, I also found some work to do there: in the eighth round of the side event there was a scandal with a very curious pretext. It took place in the encounter between a legend of Moscow chess, IM Pavel Dvalishvili (2439) and his Azerbaijan colleague IM Orkhan Abdulov (2337).
1. e4 c6 2. d4 g6 3. ♗d3 ♗g7 4. ♘f3 d5 5. ♘bd2 dxe4 6. ♘xe4 ♘d7 7. ♕e2 ♘df6 8. ♘c5 ♘d5 9. O-O ♘gf6 10. ♖e1 O-O 11. c3 b6 12. ♘e4 ♕c7 13. ♘xf6+ ♗xf6 14. ♘e5 ♗g7 15. c4 ♘f6 16. ♗f4 ♘h5 17. ♗d2 ♗b7 18. ♗e4 ♖ad8 19. ♗c3 ♖d6 20. ♗f3 ♘f6 21. ♖ad1 ♖fd8 22. ♖d3 ♘d7 23. ♘xf7 ♔xf7 24. ♕xe7+ ♔g8 25. ♗g4 ♕b8 26. c5 ♖d5 27. ♗e6+ ♔h8 28. ♗xd5 cxd5 29. ♕f7 ♗c6 30. ♖de3 ♘f6 31. ♖e7
The game was very tense from the opening moves – with two rounds to go the players had +2 and the encounter would mean the winner had chances of taking one of the main prizes worth a few thousand euro, while the loser would be fighting over crumbs in a foreign currency. Later Dvalishvili would claim that from the very first moves the Azerbaijan player acted arrogantly and provocatively. Abdulov countered by saying that Pavel did everything he could to interrupt his thought processes, writing his move down on the scoresheet in advance and sliding it across to try and gauge the reaction of his opponent. Dvalishvili, meanwhile, took his visually impaired certificate out of his pocket and claimed that he’d had nothing of the sort in mind.
Pavel Dvalishvili with his Round 8 scoresheet
The essence of the confrontation was as follows. Abdulov’s position became absolutely lost (moreover, there was a still a long way until the time control – Black hadn’t made it out of the opening), but at the same time the Azerbaijan master appealed to the arbiter on a number of occasions, since Dvalishvili was writing down his move on the scoresheet before he made it. And after another such episode he demanded that his opponent be forfeited. The arbiters rushed to the scene, the game was stopped and the players were taken out into the corridor – what happened there could only be guessed at from some exclamations. Soon the Chief Arbiter Geurt Gijssen also arrived, and they translated from Russian to English to explain the problem that had arisen. And Gijssen, in full accordance with the rules, gave Dvalishvili a zero. It turns out that if a player, despite a warning from the arbiter, continues to write down his moves before he makes them on the board then he can face a tough punishment. Apparently the third time it happens. But did you know about that rule?
I’ll be honest. I felt really sorry for Pasha, although in the bigger picture he’s only got himself to blame for not correcting his behaviour after the first warning. In the end Abdulov won the last game and came 4th, while Dvalishvili only managed to make it into the last “aero-bonuses”.
It seems that the rule demanding you only write a move down after it’s been made was introduced in around 2005. And the only well-known case of a punitive verdict was an episode at the World Youth Championship in the same year. But here, when such a significant sum was at stake… Just think about it, White lost a won game because of writing a move down in advance! The way many World Champions did. Mikhail Botvinnik even urged young players to write their move on the scoresheet in advance in order to avoid rushing and the annoying mistakes that accompany it.
Of course in the given situation I’m not casting doubt on the behaviour of the arbiters. The law is the law, and a highly-qualified and very fair team of arbiters was working at Aeroflot. But doesn’t it seem to you, dear readers, that lately there’s been no shortage of strange rules introduced into the chess world, and without any consultation with chess society? A lot’s been said about the “Sofia” rules and zero tolerance, but after all, there are also other pretty strange examples.
I recall how Igor Bolotinsky told a story of how at one of the FIDE gatherings in 2008 a delegate from Africa posed a problem: “But why can you only take en passant with a pawn? Let’s allow en passant with a piece!” And that initiative was looked at in all seriousness, though fortunately the more circumspect delegates wouldn’t let it pass. But tell me what’s bad about writing down a move in advance? Should that really be punished by a defeat? So if my opponent came to the board drunk or kept swearing there’s no clearly written procedure to forfeit him, but if that criminal wrote down a move in advance then it’s zero for the villain!
Each year the rules on how to promote a pawn change. They suddenly decided that an impossible move in rapid chess has to be punished by a loss. For juniors they brought in a 4x multiplier, which introduced some very dubious distortion of the junior rating list and opened up countless possibilities for various schemes to falsely boost your Elo and gain a title…
Or see, for instance: From 1949 to 2517 in 3 months
But who writes the laws? What are the motives for their decisions? I’d like to find out, although… although it will no longer help Pavel Dvalishvili. Or, as it turned out, Wesley So.
There is, of course, room for debate over a law like the one
on writing down moves before making them. Benefits include not only preventing
a player from trying to gauge his opponent’s reaction but also, for instance,
stopping players from listing candidate moves to help them calculate.
If there’s one area there’s little controversy, though, it’s when players use computer or other outside assistance to win games and tournaments. The only argument is over how severe the penalty should be.
It’s a familiar story – a chess player makes repeated trips to a toilet during a game to check a mobile phone – but this looks like being one of the biggest cheating scandals in recent years, and one that impacts upon a number of other tournaments.
After six rounds of the Dubai Open David Howell and Vladimir Fedoseev are among seven leaders on 5/6. If GM Gaioz Nigalidze had won his game against Tigran Petrosian he would have joined them, but instead he lost after his opponent played 23.Rf4:
It wasn’t because of anything on the board, though. The official website explained what happened:
International Arbiter (IA) Mahdi Abdul Rahim, the tournament’s chief arbiter, said Petrosian had earlier informed tournament officials of his suspicion that Nigalidze was getting help from a chess computer through a portable electronic device during the game, as the Armenian noticed the Georgian was oddly frequenting the toilet after each move during a crucial part of the game.
When the officials initially checked Nigalidze, they did not find any device with him. Tournament Director and Chief Arbiter suspected he is using the same cubicle . When they checked the cubicle in question, they found a mobile phone and a headset hidden behind the pan and covered with toilet paper. When confronted, Nigalidze denied he owned the device, but officials opened the smart phone and found it was logged into a social networking site under Nigalidze’s account. They also found his game being analyzed in one of the chess applications.
His opponent, Tigran Petrosian, added some details on Chess-News:
We both were sitting at the board, when the chief arbiter came up to Nigalidze and showed him the mobile phone, asking: "Is this yours?" Nigalidze blushed, got confused and couldn't say anything.
The arbiter forfeited him in the game. I went outdoors, and Gaioz approached me. I thought he was going to apologize, but he only asked me what was going to happen to him as a result.
Petrosian also commented that he was suspicious of Nigalidze’s behaviour in the Al Ain Open last December, where the Georgian was the
surprise winner. Questions also now remain over Nigalidze’s two victories in
the Georgian Championship, in 2013 and 2014.
You can play through all of Nigalidze’s games in Dubai with computer analysis and, for some of the games (those which were broadcast live) you can see the exact time usage. It’s notable, perhaps, that he ended the game he lost with only 35 seconds on his clock after having made bad moves with little time for thought (and none to visit the toilet):
It’s hard to imagine anyone will mount a defence of Nigalidze if he’s proven to have done what he’s accused of, meaning that the question is simply what punishment applies.
The arbiter in Dubai, who has reported the events to FIDE, actually pointed out that the standard punishment is more severe:
He said players proven to have committed such an offence will be suspended for three years from all sanctioned tournaments, and up to 15 years in case of a repeat offence.
The other, much tougher, question, is what to do to prevent cheating in the first place, especially in big opens:
But that's a whole new can of worms!
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