Approximately one month ago, teams trekked across the globe to attend the premier team event in chess… the biennial Chess Olympiad. Many federations make plans to attend well in advance and the nationalistic fervor heightens as the date approaches. However, the Dresden Olympiad had a number of rule changes. Some were mentioned in GM Bartlomiej Macieja’s piece on ChessBase. Two of the biggest rule changes had to do with time forfeit and medal criteria. The time forfeiture came from the Rules and Tournament Regulations Committee stating,
Any player who arrives at the chessboard after the start of the session shall lose the game, unless the arbiter decides otherwise. Thus the default time is 0 minutes. The rules of a competition may specify a different default time.
The Executive Board accepted this and presented to the General Assembly. The arbiters were supportive of the rule, but it was met with opposition in the Assembly. There was a suggestion to include player input and a survey was taken. An overwhelming response was against the new rule. A final decision will be made at the next Presidential Board Meeting.
The pretext of these changes is an initiative for FIDE to present their case to the International Olympic Committee for inclusion into the Olympic Games. President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov stated in his address at the FIDE General Assembly that more professionalism was needed to appeal to the IOC and sponsors. He cited the case of Anatoly Karpov arriving late at the demonstration match with Viswanathan Anand as an example that rules must be enforced. Should the Olympiad be the place for the trial of this new rule?
The time forfeitures created a lot of angst throughout the tournament and several rulings were made without taking into consideration a number of extenuating circumstances. Notwithstanding the rule was implemented without a “pilot-test” at another venue, but enforced at one of the world’s most important chess celebrations.
One case occurred in Zambia-Suriname when Roger Matoewi arrived seconds late. His opponent Amon Simutowe urged Matoewi to play, but the arbiter stood firm. There were other matches were players were seen sprinting for the board in a massive crowd.
Amon Simutowe of Zambia (left) questioning the forfeit of Suriname’s Roger Matoewi (far right) who was seconds late. Simutowe wanted to play the game. The arbiter stood firm on the policy. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
Yet other cases occurred such as Palestine-Jamaica and Gabon-USVI where players had arrived prior to the match, but stepped away from the board. In the first case, Evgeny Ermenkov stated that he has stepped away to get a pen for 30 seconds at the arbiter’s table. Jomo Pitterson of Jamaica disputes this and stated that he was gone for as long as five minutes. Nevertheless, when Ermenkov returned, he had forfeited. The match arbiter was summoned and he allowed Ermenkov to play. Jamaica launched an appeal and Ignatius Leong ruled it an immediate forfeiture. The Elliott-Ermenkov game was abandoned after 12 moves.
Palestine-Jamaica. Board #1 vacated by GM Evgeny Ermekov and FM Warren Elliott. Ermenkov had initially forfeited, but the match arbiter allowed him to play. Jamaica launched an appeal with the Chief Arbiter who immediately granted Jamaica the forfeit victory. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
In the Gabon-USVI match, Jean-Pierre Moulain was on 8.5/10 and sat to play Michael Smith who was on a winless score of 0.5/10. Moulain had arrived early and apparently greeted Smith, but went to the bathroom minutes prior to round starting. When he returned, he had forfeited and Smith insisted on the ruling despite acknowledging his earlier presence. The Gabonese players decided to abandon their games.
Controversy erupts in the Gabon vs. U.S. Virgin Islands match as Jean-Pierre Moulain (tan suit) protests the decision by arbiter. Michael Smith insisted on forfeit despite the fact he greeted Moulain at the board prior to round starting. Moulain was on 8.5/10 and Smith was on 0.5/10. Photo courtesy of Barthelemy Ndjila.
In the last round Malawi forfeited because there were tram problems. Most of the forfeitures occurred on the lower boards, but there was the Ukraine-Mongolia case where Mongolia had forfeited two boards, but was allowed to play despite protests from the Ukrainian delegation. Mongolia won a game on board #1. There were other forfeits, but many were related to visa problems and this also caused the ire of not only the affected team, but the opponents. Bill Hook of the British Virgin Islands received four forfeit victories!
Does the new time rule ruin the spirit of the Olympiad? One hour is the normal rule, but should there be another designated time? Fifteen minutes grace before forfeiture? monetary fine? reprimand and warning?