Players protest “zero tolerance” rule

An interesting development is taking place at the European Individual Championships in Rijeka, Croatia. Participants in the tournament have shown their aversion to the “zero tolerance” rule which states that a player must be present when the round starts or suffer a forfeit. It was a matter of time before a protest would challenge the policy. There would be nothing else to do if players held fast to the protest.

Jean-Pierre Moulain of Gabon discussing forfeiture with arbiter at 2008 Olympiad in Dresden. The decision stood. Photo courtesy of Barthelemy Ndjila.

This issue became the focal point of a controversy at the 2008 Olympiad where FIDE instituted the rule change without testing it. There were about 20 forfeitures at the Olympiad and inconsistent rulings on the matter. A good percentage of the forfeits involved African and Caribbean teams.

There have been other high profile cases such as the Chinese Championship where Zhou Jianchao forfeited to Ding Liren, the eventual champion. Hou Yifan also forfeited despite being in the hall, but not at the board. Ironically, both Wang Yue and Li Chao forfeited in the World Cup while taking a cigarette break during the tiebreak sessions. While distraught, they duly accepted the ruling.

Discussion on this issue has not abated since it had been imposed at the 2008 Olympiad. The other rule getting a lot of attention was the policy on cell phones ringing. That rule has been widely accepted as an automatic infraction and loss of game. However, a petition was circulated and 110 players (more than 25% of total) signed in support of a 30-minute grace period. Organizer Damir Vrhovnik had this to say,

The organizers are trying to do their best for the sake of our players. In accordance to that, on the behalf of Organizing committee and myself, I support the participants’ request. However, this question is under the European Chess Union’s jurisdiction and therefore, they are the ones who must make the decision.

What does this mean? It probably means that the organizers will capitulate and make the allowance. FIDE rules do allow for flexibility and leave it to the discretion of the organizers. However, this is the first protest of the rule which is said to be draconian. At the 2008 Olympiad, there was a vote and the players voted overwhelmingly for a grace period.

One of the main problems with imposing this rule in Dresden, Germany was the fact that all federations were not housed in a village. In some cases, teams had to take an hour tram ride while others were within walking distance. Of course, there may be no such exception made at the 2010 Olympiad. However, the following regulation is still in the rulebook,

7.4 Start and finish of the session

Five minutes before play commences, the Tournament Director must announce the approaching start of the session by a double acoustic signal.

The beginning of the playing session shall be announced by a single acoustic signal. Once the signal for the start of the round has been given, the clock of the player with the white pieces shall be started by his opponent. If the player of the black pieces is not present at the appointed time, his clock shall be started by the player with white, but without any move being made by the latter. Then, when the player of the black pieces arrives, he shall start his opponents clock and the latter shall make his first move. If both players are absent, whites clock shall be started by the Match Arbiter. Any player arriving at the chessboard more than one hour late shall forfeit the game. If both players arrive more than one hour late, the game shall be declared lost for both of them.

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