Everyone who follows international chess will have heard the controversy surrounding Wesley So’s forfeiture in the ninth round of the 2015 U.S. Championships. One of the pre-tournament favorites, this tournament has turned into quite a nightmare for the Filipino star and has put a damper on the entire tournament.
After changing his federation, he was making his debut in competing for the U.S. title and there was a lot of excitement about the pending battle with Hikaru Nakamura. This all turned sour on Friday after the So disqualification. Here is what happened:
During the ninth round of the U.S. Championship, Wesley So was paired with Varuzhan Akobian. Akobian was having a poor tournament losing a couple of tough games. So’s tournament was going south as well having already lost three games and valuable ELO points. According to Tony Rich, Wesley So had been warned twice previously for “note taking” on his scoresheet.
At or around the sixth move of the game, Akobian had informed the Chief Arbiter that So’s note-taking was “distracting”. Chess.com also verified that So had repeated this practice in the first three rounds. This included a complaint by Sam Shankland in round two. The notes were not chess-related. Following is an explanation by Tony Rich, Chief Arbiter.
Video by CCSCSL.
How is this behavior warrant a forfeiture? The rule is cited by FIDE states:
11.3 During play the players are forbidden to use any notes, sources of information or advice, or analyse any game on another chessboard. (…) The rules of a competition may specify a different, less severe, penalty.
11.5 It is forbidden to distract or annoy the opponent in any manner whatsoever.
11.7 Persistent refusal by a player to comply with the Laws of Chess shall be penalised by loss of the game.
It was the contention that after So was warned he felt that such a rule did not preclude him from taking notes on a separate sheet of paper. It turns out that Alejandro Ramirez saw So’s idiosyncrasy of writing notes on his scoresheet at the Millionaire Chess Open (which So won). Before making the decision, Rich contacted International Arbiter Francisco Guadalupe for verification of the rules.
In the background Tony Rich is seen explaining his ruling to the players. GM Timur Gareev is trying to figure out what has happened. Truly epic! Photo by Lennart Ootes.
It was quite a shock that has rocked the chess world and has ignited a debate on this particular rule. What was discovered during the debate was that many strong players did not know of the “note-taking” rule. It should not be assumed that even the strongest players know all of the FIDE tournament rules. There was even a famous case of Yury Averbakh being unaware that while a king cannot cross an attacked square while castling, the rook can.
So posted the following message on Facebook:
I have been having trouble concentrating so I wrote a note to myself on a piece of paper (not my score sheet) …it said: double check triple check use your time. Akobian saw it and complained to the arbiter and a forfeit was declared. I’m sorry I did not know it was against the rules.
So has actually launched an appeal. This appeal will not be on the decision to forfeit, but for the loss of rating points. There would be a question of whether a forfeit or adjudication by the Arbiter would simply nullify the game while recording the result.
There seems to be other issues surrounding the controversy. According to an article run in the Star Tribune (Minnesota), the family that So has been living with since leaving Webster University has been embroiled in a dispute with So’s biological family.
“There are personal problems in my family,” So said after the forfeit. “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.”
~GM Wesley So
The crux of the drama has to do with Wesley So leaving Webster to pursue a professional career in chess. This angered his family and according to the article, So’s mother (Elenanor So) and aunt came to the site of the U.S. Championships to demand that he return to school or lose contact with the family. There was commotion outside the club after his game which included yelling. So apologized to the club for the commotion. Loftis Key, So’s host mother, accused Webster coach Paul Truong for orchestrating the visit. Truong has acknowledged contact with the mother, but denied any involvement in her trip.
So will be able to play his last two games without any penalties. However, the rules stand against note-taking and apply to all players. This is a very unfortunate incident and while the pain was subside over time, it has put a damper on what was to be his inauguration as a national player for the U.S.
So is optimistic about his future and has no intention on leaving his new federation. “Nothing is going right for me in this tournament,” he said. “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.”
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