Rules, Codes, Deceptions

For a few days there were heated discussions on the internet about Wesley So’s forfeit against Varuzhan Akobian at the U.S. championship in St. Louis. Had the arbiter been too strict? During my active chess career I always had sympathy for gentle arbiters who peacefully fell asleep after they had started the clocks, only to wake up when a player asked for a cup of coffee. But in this case I cannot really say that the wakeful arbiter in St. Louis was too severe.

So had been warned twice when he was caught writing comments on his score sheet, innocent comments on the order of “note to self: concentrate” or “check and double-check.”

It seems he was also told that the third time he would be forfeited. When that happened, So’s defense was that he thought that he wouldn’t be breaking a law if he were writing his notes on a separate piece of paper. What else could the arbiter have done, except forfeit him? Three strikes and you’re out is not barbaric when the penalty is only the loss of a game.

Maybe So really didn’t know FIDE’s rules of chess, which might be understandable, as these rules have become more and more intricate, to the point that players might well consult a lawyer before they go sit at the board. Garry Kasparov proved to be not quite up to date when he wrote that with modern FIDE rules he would forfeit all his games, because he would always write down the clock times on his scoresheet. But he was wrong, as in fact this is still allowed.

Writing down your move before you actually play it, a sensible practice advocated by Botvinnik, is not allowed anymore. Sitting on your hands for a short while after you have decided on a move, which I think had been advocated by Lasker, is still legal. 

I don’t think it should have been banned, but writing down a move before it is played can be used as a kind of psychological warfare. 

Recently I read that Tony Miles would have turned 60 on April 23, had he not died in 2001. So early, so sad. We should have enjoyed his original play and his wit as a writer so much longer.

Tony would always write down his moves in advance. Naturally, as an opponent, you were curious, but when you tried to have a glance at his scoresheet, with a smile he would quickly cover the move with a watch.

Sometimes you could catch him out, when on a stroll in the tournament hall you attacked him from behind and he was too late to cover his move before you had read it.

But then, he didn’t always play the move he had written. Had he tricked me then? I imagined so. After a few games against Tony I protected myself with the firm decision not to believe the move he had written. But then, when he really executed that move, you might say that he had double-crossed me.

During the discussions about So’s default, some people mentioned the Spanish GM Juan Bellon, the husband of Pia Cramling, who during his long chess career would always write down his moves with a diverse set of color crayons. It made for beautiful score sheets, but couldn’t it be a code? Red for: “note to self, the guy wants to make trouble.” Blue for: “keep calm, you’re winning.”
Soon the hounds of the law may be on him. And speaking about colors, I was reminded of the yogurt incident during the world championship match in 1978 between Kortchnoi and Karpov, when Kortchnoi’s team protested against the yogurt cup that was given to Karpov during a game, as the color of the yogurt might be a code to inform Karpov of the analyses of his seconds.

That protest was turned down and in fact handled as a bad joke, which it probably was.
The U.S. championship was a bad tournament for Wesley So, but at the Vugar Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Azerbaijan, he recovered nicely, taking the lead at the start and finally reaching a good third place, shared with Caruana, behind Carlsen and Anand.

“How did you recover so quickly after the U.S. championship?” asked a journalist. So had a simple and dignified answer: “Hard work.”

On the live rating list, Anand came in second place after the Shamkir tournament. I thought of a novel by the Nobel Prize winner Vargas Llosa, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwiter. One of the characters in that that novel, a writer of soap operas for Peruvian radio, always inserted a sentence like: “He was in the prime of the life of a man, his fifties.” Well, who knows what Anand will still show?

The game in the game viewer has a truly brilliant theoretical novelty, 10.Ng5. It was shown to Anand the day before the game by his second, the Polish GM Grzegorz Gajewski. At first glance it looks silly. What does White want? The primitive sacrifice on f7? In fact it commits White to the sacrifice of a piece, or in some variations, of an important pawn. “We found compensation everywhere,” said Anand after the game. We’ll see more of it in future events.

Click to play through the annotated game:

Gashimov Memorial 2015