Do rule changes ruin Olympiad spirit?

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?

Daaim Shabazz

Daaim Shabazz is the founder of The Chess Drum, while serving as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds a B.S. Computer Science from Chicago State University, an MBA in Marketing and a Ph.D. in International Affairs & Development, both from Clark Atlanta University. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

11 Comments

  1. Our little chess doesn’t want to grow up. Organized sports that are serious about building fans and sponsorship, stage events that prioritize on entertainment value, and not on the convenience of the players. Showing up on time, ready to play at the start of the round, has everything to do with respect for the game, the event, your opponent and the fans. The zero minutes rule is a good one, and should be kept. Can you imagine such a scene at the Olympics? “We are ready to start the next 100 meter heat, as soon as the Russian entry shows up — he has a 10 minute grace period before he is forfeited” Ridiculous!

  2. I agree with it in some respect, but let’s us realize that chess is different from other sports. In chess, you can start the clock before something happens. In most sports, it’s the reverse, so you need everybody present. Starting the clock and losing time in 40/90 is quite a penalty. Malawi got on a tram that broke down and was forfeited despite the story being verified. This decision was not well-conceived or thought-out and there were many inconsistencies in the rulings. Losing fans… imagine if in a Championship match is decided because a player is seconds late for the last game. Chess will never get another sponsor… ever.

  3. Daaim – I wish I had a dollar for every time someone explained away an idiosyncrasy of chess with a phrase similar to your “..but let’s us realize that chess is different from other sports.” 🙂

    We can reliably trace the evolution of chess back at least 14 centuries. And during that time there have been many changes. Some trivial (2 color squares), some monumental (expanding the moves of the Queen, Bishop and Pawn). There is nothing sacred about the 1 hour grace period that players have for being present at the start of the game. If eliminating the grace period is part of a well thought out plan to improve the staging of tournaments, then we should do it and not cling to customs that may have long ago lost their relevance.

  4. You’d be rich, but we’d still be right! 😉 Chess is very different.

    I’m more concerned about using such a rule at the Olympiad, a tournament with so many logistical challenges. You were in Turin, so you know. Unlike Turin, teams were spread out all over Dresden… some as far as an hour tram ride away. There was no Olympiad village where players were a 10-minute walk from the venue.

    The issue is how this thing was thrown into the Olympiad which is a festive and celebratory tournament. Why didn’t they choose Corus, Dortmund, Linares or a top tournament? Simply put… they were chicken. Will this new rule help sponsorship or hurt? This rule may bring more risk than reward. Think about a top player forfeiting with major sponsors watching. Some players even used the late arrival as a stage (Kasparov) while others are just chronically late. Let’s see if they are serious about this when top tournaments come around next season.

    Maybe some type of gradualism or middle ground. A player survey at the Olympiad showed a favortism toward the 15-minute grace. However, the issue remains… lateness.

  5. I talked with Albert Vasse of DGT (maker of the interactive boards) at the Olympiad. He showed me a clock that produces the 960 positions of Fischer Random. Yep… we are only playing one starting position of chess. Maybe that will prevent it from being solved.

    However, I think they’d better make some changes to the Olympiad. I just talked to a high-ranking FIDE official. He told me when he inspected the site in Dresden, he told the site managers that people would have trouble seeing the lower boards. They responded (paraphrase), “Who wants to see them anyway!?”

    We have lots of elitism in chess and some of these rules are indicative of this. Actually Kirsan Ilyumzhinov stated in his address at the General Assembly that he is trying to appeal to the International Olympiad Committee and international sponsors. Is the Olympiad the place to do it?

  6. The only positive changes that have been happening in past 2 or 3 months are to do with an improved Chess Drum look .Well done Daaim,the site is excellently maintained.

    With computers around the future of Chess is threatened,it will not be suprising if the game is played out soon i.e solved .

  7. Jean-Pierre’s situation causes more sadness than outrage .. he was there on time, ready to play. Why didn’t he just postpone the trip to the restroom for a few minutes ??

    Regarding the zero grace period, remember, I said that it should be part of a well thought out plan. So I’ll agree that it was a bad idea if it was sprung as a surprise on the participants, and due consideration was not given to the difficult travel logistics in Dresden. Perhaps a team warning could have been given for the first offense, and forfeiture only on any subsequent infractions.

  8. I didn’t interview him, but I interviewed his teammate. In his halting English, he didn’t mention specifics. However, I would imagine Jean-Pierre Moulain of Gabon may have thought he had enough time and underestimated the huge crush of people he had to knife through. He had been at the board the previous ten rounds. I read a blog and someone reported seeing a Nigerian sprinting to his board to beat the clock… he didn’t make it.

    Malawi, who forfeited in the last round, was one of the teams staying about an 40-60 minutes away. Malawi delegate told me that his team was forfeited because they arrived late. What he didn’t tell me was that their tram had broken down. The arbiters didn’t accept the argument. These are very young federations and it is doubtful that they will have good memories of their first Olympiads.

  9. Of course there are basic chess rules that cannot be changed. But there are also standard practices that are unwise to mess with. This happens to be one of them. If a player does not show up, their time should simply ebb away. Yes, it could make for a boring game, but it also gives a bit of leeway to a late player. It also punishes lateness appropriately.

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