The Wesley So Forfeit

The St. Louis Chess Club AND Scholastic Center was in its infancy when I played in the St. Louis Open there in the spring of 2009. In the second round I faced a young boy, Kevin Cao, who was an expert at the start of the tourney. Playing my favorite Bishop’s opening the boy did not take advantage of the opportunities my play afforded, putting him in a difficult position. My opponent had been keeping score on a gizmo called “Monroi.” When the going got tough my opponent pulled the hood of his jacket over his head and placed his gizmo on the table, eschewing the actual chessboard in order to focus only on the chessboard on his gizmo. Since this violated the rules of chess, I lodged a protest with the TD’s. The rule is simple and clear: 11.3 a) During play the players are forbidden to use any notes, sources of information or advice, or analyse any game on another chessboard. (https://chess24.com/en/read/news/us-champs-r9-so-forfeited-amid-family-turmoil)

The tournament director’s did not see it that way. Since the Monroi was a USCF “approved” gizmo they had trouble ruling the only way they should under rule 11.3. They decided to “compromise” by asking my opponents father have his son not use the gizmo as a chessboard the rest of the game. I agreed to this, and so did the father, albeit reluctantly. This was done because I was playing a child. If my opponent had been an adult I would not have agreed, but insisted he be forfeited because the rule is clear. Things change dramatically when a child is involved.

After a few more moves my opponent’s position deteriorated, and he was in also in time pressure which happens with a G/2 time control. His father, seeing this while constantly hovering over the board, told his son to do go back to using his gizmo. The boy then pulled his hood over his head and placed his gizmo on the table and again eschewed the actual chessboard. I protested, the clocks were stopped and into the TD room we went. This time things became, shall we say, heated. Actually, the father went ballistic. Some time later the USCF issued a ruling castigating the father for “reprehensible behaviour.” The father took his son home and when his time ran out, I was declared the “winner.” The young boy dropped back into the “A” class because of the loss. He is now rated 2300+.

This was written about and discussed on the forum of the St. Louis Chess Club AND Scholastic Center, which no longer exists, and some have said it is no longer in existence was because of what was written on it, none of it positive toward me. Simply put, I was vilified. Much was written on the USCF forum at the time, where I was also excoriated unmercifully.

I closely followed the recent US Championship tournament, the one now called the “Open” tournament, as opposed to the one called the “Women’s” tournament. GM Wesley So is obviously a supremely talented chess player. I found the interviews with him intriguing, to say the least. After the interview early in the tournament,maybe the very first round, the one in which he mentions playing weakly in the middle game after not seeing his foster mother for some time, (She had been with Jeanne Sinquefield he said) I told the Legendary Georgia Ironman something was obviously “not right” about Mr. So. I could not put my finger on it, but knew something was wrong.

Much has been written about Wesley being forfeited, and I have read everything found on the interweb. I would like to share some of it with you, then share a few comments of my own.

“Akobian complained that this distracted him”!? What is the motive behind this statement? To me it looks like a “sucker punch” from Akopian to get an easy win. Chess referees should according to the rules always apply common sense. And the nature of this incident considering the actual writing of So does not by any means amount to such a serious offence that So should forfeit his game against Akopian.” – thomas.dyhr (Thomas Dyhr, Denmark)

“This decision is absolutely ridiculous I take it So has been writing on his scoresheet sometimes which would show on his copy handed in and is against Fide rules ok and Rich told him this.
He gets a blank piece of paper instead to write some thought positives and Akobian complains to Rich who forfeits So.
Akobian if he was distracted by So’s actions should have asked him to stop first.
Rich should have seen that this was not writing on a scoresheet which he warned him about and if he was not allowing So to write on blank paper as well told him to stop immediately and if So complied let the game continue.
Akobian and Rich do not come out of this with any credit and Akobian should be ashamed of himself as a man of integrity.” – Gilshie (Thomas Gilmore, United Kingdom)

“I guess they wanted to guarantee that an American wins the US Championship…” – Shtick (Nick Daniels, Canada)
(All of the about quotes from: https://chess24.com/en/read/news/us-champs-r9-so-forfeited-amid-family-turmoil)

“PS: editorial comment to myself

Many chess writers and commentators seem to have little better to do this weekend than to talk about a silly forfeit incident in the US championship, so I will throw in a few of my own observations.
The first is that even though some tournament rule might give the tournament arbiter, Tony Rich, the POWER or the AUTHORITY to forfeit Wesley So , no rule –just because it is written–gave Tony Rich the RIGHT to forfeit Wesley So for doing what he did. So offended no one nor did he disrespect his opponent; he caused no disturbence, nor did he cheat. Wesley So’s actions were not designed to give him anything other than peace of mind and a calm spirit.
Please understand that I am not saying that Akobian–who is a perfect gentleman– acted wrongly when he drew to the arbiter’s attention So’s actions. Nor am I saying that Tony Rich acted incorrectly when he decided to act according to the written rules. And especially I am not saying that So was right when he lashed out when interviewed afterwards…there were CLEARLY better ways to have handled the situation.
What I am trying to say is that once more the game of chess DESERVES to be belittled because of this incident. ONCE MORE, mainstream media will target and make fun of us. Chess LOST some prestige on that day. When Jon Stewart recently did a humorous skit on the USCF trying to recruit F.Caruana for the national team, many–including ChessBase–thought it was also a bit insulting to the game of chess. Perhaps it was a bit insulting, even though it might not have been intended to be insulting…
But until the day we (the chess community) STOP allowing silly and poorly written rules to hurt and denigrate the noble game of chess in the eyes of normal and intelligent onlookers (and let us not forget about potential sponsors and patrons), then we deserve to be insulted a little bit more each time…” – Grandmaster Kevin Spraggett
(https://kevinspraggettonchess.wordpress.com/2015/04/12/it-took-a-really-long-time-but/)

“Guess my point is – even if he warned So, forfeiting is a staggering over-reaction. Threaten with forfeit = fine. Actually doing it = insane” – GM Jon Ludvig Hammer (Also from the aforementioned chess24 article, and if you click on this, you will find more comments, including this one by IM Mark Ginsburg, “Correct. Time penalty first. This action was wildly disproportionate as GM Hammer points out. Bad call.”)

GM Emil Sutovsky, President at Association of Chess Professionals, wrote this on his Facebook page (taken from the aforementioned chess24 article) “The arbiter’s decision to forfeit Wesley So for writing down irrelevant notes on his scoresheet during the game seems weird to me. Indeed, that can be seen as a violation of rules: ” 8.1 b. The scoresheet shall be used only for recording the moves, the times of the clocks, offers of a draw, matters relating to a claim and other relevant data.” And arbiter has repeatedly urged Wesley to stop it. But awarding a loss is way too harsh a punishment for such a minor sin. Yes, it can be disturbing for the opponent, and the arbiter could and should have deducted the time on Wesley’s clock for disturbing the opponent. And to keep deducting it (2 minutes each time), if needed after each move (warning Wesley, that a forfeit will come after 2nd or 3rd deduction). That was the most painless and logical decision. Unfortunately, the arbiter has preferred the most brutal solution. These things should not happen.”

It should be obvious from the above that the TD, Tony Rich, and the St. Louis Chess Club AND Scholastic Center have not come out of this sordid incident in a favorable light. As GM Spraggett says, once again chess has suffered a black eye. I agree with Kevin when he writes, “…no rule –just because it is written–gave Tony Rich the RIGHT to forfeit Wesley So for doing what he did.” The reputation of the St. Louis Chess Club AND Scholastic Center has been sullied.

The punishment should fit the crime. As GM Kevin Spraggett writes, “So offended no one nor did he disrespect his opponent; he caused no disturbence, nor did he cheat. Wesley So’s actions were not designed to give him anything other than peace of mind and a calm spirit.”

Contrast this with how I was treated at the St. Louis Chess Club AND Scholastic Center. My opponent violated the rule in order to gain an ADVANTAGE! GM Wesley So did no such thing. He is one of the elite chess players in the world and has no need to gain an advantage against any other player in the world.

If one closely examines the rule, “11.3 a) During play the players are forbidden to use any notes, sources of information or advice, or analyse any game on another chessboard,” it is clear the meaning is that a player cannot use any “NOTES, sources of information or advice,” to help, or assist him in regard to making his MOVES. A player cannot utilize a book, or gizmo containing chess information, or any “advice” from another person. There is no ambiguity here.

I was not there and do not know EXACTLY what Tony Rich said to Wesley, but from what I heard on the broadcast, and have now read, GM So was under the impression he could not write on his scoresheet, so he wrote on another piece of paper. How culpable is Tony Rich in this matter? Did he make himself COMPLETELY understood? Besides, as “Najdork” (Miguel Najdork, from Nepal) commented, “Also I would like to point out how from rule 8.1 you are allowed to write on the scoresheet any “relevant data”, and that is so vague that I guess you could write almost anything.” Who defines what is “relevant?” Your relevant may differ from what I consider “relevant.” For example, what if your opponent in a Senior event wrote on his scoresheet, “Take heart medication at 3 PM.” Who, other than GM Varuzhan Akobian, would complain? And who, other than Tony Rich would forfeit the man? I know Tony Rich. As Tony reminded me in 2009, I won our game at the Missouri State Championship in 2002 in Rollo. He was nice to me then, and has been every time I have encountered him, such as at the US Open in Indiana a few years ago. I liked Tony until he lost his mind. What could possibly have motivated the man to issue this stupid ruling, which will have lasting repercussions? If you were Wesley So would you join the American team at the Olympiad?

“In love with this rule: “12.2 The arbiter shall: b. act in the best interest of the competition.” Common sense.” – GM Jon Ludvig Hammer.

The forfeit defies common sense. “Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rule; they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire.” – John Roberts, Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court to the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2005. (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/10/when-the-umpire-is-playing-for-the-other-team/262429/)
No one watches a chess tournament to see the TD. In lieu of watching Wesley So play GM Akobian, the world was instead subjected to a TD try and explain his “logic.” As many a TD has proven over the years, the less involved they are, the better the outcome.

None of this made any sense to me until reading this, “In the final reckoning Wesley So’s forfeit had no effect on the top three standings. Even a win against Akobian would only have tied So with Ray Robson on 7.5/11, and since he lost against Robson he would still have finished third. The person who has a real cause for complaint seems to be Gata Kamsky, who was edged out of 5th place – his goal in order to qualify for the World Cup later this year – by Akobian.” (https://chess24.com/en/read/news/nakamura-and-krush-are-2015-us-champions)

There it is, the reason for this whole debacle. It always comes down to “Who profits?”

The whole affair is disgusting, and sickening. It proves only that a TD has only one rule by witch to abide: Do What Thy Wilt! There should be some kind of punishment for a TD who oversteps his bounds. I have seen far too many tournament director’s puff out their chest while strutting around singing, “I’ve got the power,” such as Richard Crespo, the former TD spending his days in prison after abducting a woman and shooting it out with police in San Antonio, Texas a decade ago.
I am embarrassed, and ashamed, to be an American involved with chess. This putrid affair rivals anything I have written about FIDE and the nefarious Russians. United States chess has reached a new low. Tony Rich has now made everyone forget about L. Walter Stephens, the TD who awarded Sammy Reshevsky a win against Arnold Denker in the 1942 US Championship even though it was Sammy who lost on time. The game will die before the shock waves emanating from this debacle subside. The St. Louis Chess Club AND Scholastic Center touts itself as the US Capital of Chess. Knowledgable players and fans know that three of the players in the Championship, Sam Shankland, Sam Sevian, and Daniel Naroditsky, cut their chess teeth in the San Francisco Bay area, home of the oldest chess club in America, the venerable Mechanic’s Insitute Chess Room. If any area should be acknowledged as the “Capital of US Chess,” it is San Francisco, in lieu of the neuveau rich, faux chess club AND scholastic center in St. Louis, which has now been tarnished. No longer can it be considered a “leading light,” or “shining example.”

I can only hope this affair does not dessiccate Wesley So’s desire. If one watches the interviews with Mr. So during the US Chess Championship he will see a dramatic change in Wesley as the tournament progressed. Hopefully, this will fire him up and prod Wesley to play the kind of chess of which he is capable culminating in a match for the World Chess Championship.

Advertisements

Classical Chess

“Bill James is the best known baseball analyst in the world” (http://sabr.org/about/bill-james). Bill began his writing career by questioning the assumptions in baseball, something commonly called, “The Book.” For questioning some of the commonly held beliefs in baseball Bill was excoriated by the MLB establishment. His books, and the thinking contained therein, caught on with many and his books became very successful. Many other baseball fans began to question things like the sacrifice bunt, held dear by the MLB establishment. Decades later Bill was hired by the Boston Red Sox as an analyst and the Red Sox became the World Champions. Now every MLB team has an analyst, or team of analysts.

Bill’s latest book is, “Fools Rush Inn: More Detours on the Way to Conventional Wisdom.” One of the essays is, “Classical Sport.” As is often the case, while reading the essay my thoughts would drift to chess and I would substitute the word “chess” for “classical music.” Read on and you will understand why.

Bill writes, “Classical music has very, very serious problems as an industry. The number of people who enjoy classical music is small compared to the market for other kinds of music and the market is composed primarily of old people.

“Classical music survives, or has survived so far, because it has advantages over the marketplace, rather than advantage in the marketplace. Classical music is perceived by a very large cadre of musical professionals as the highest form of music, and these people have integrated themselves and their music into the society in ways that insulate it from extinction by economic forces. High schools do not teach young musicians to play rock and roll, as a rule; they teach them to play “instruments,” which are in truth the instruments of classical music. Millions of small children take violin lessons, which their parents get for them because this is how music is taught. The perception that this form of music is “classy” -widely accepted in our culture- keeps the form alive by giving it these advantages, and many similar and related advantages. At the symphony I am below the median age and, I suspect, well below the median income. Those old people who go to the symphony have more-than proportional power because they have more-than proportional wealth. There is something much more than that going on here. It has to do with the perception of rectitude, of value and of virtue.”

“Music, like sport, is instinctive to us, exists in all cultures, and will never disappear. There are primal and sophisticated forms of music and of sport, which could also be called vibrant and calcified, or youthful and moribund. There is a spectrum in these activities that runs from vibrant, primal and youthful to sophisticated, calcified and moribund. All sports and all forms of music move across that spectrum, crawling toward obsolescence.”

I have always thought of chess as a form of the “Glass Bead Game,” made popular by the greatest novel ever written, “The Glass Bead Game,” also published as “Magister Ludi,” Latin for “Master of the Game,” by Hermann Hesse, who won a Nobel Prize in Literature for the book. The Glass Bead Game takes place centuries into the future. It concerns the place the game occupies in the culture. “As the novel progresses, Knecht begins to question his loyalty to the order; he gradually comes to doubt that the intellectually gifted have a right to withdraw from life’s big problems. Knecht comes to see Castalia as a kind of ivory tower, an ethereal and protected community, devoted to pure intellectual pursuits but oblivious to the problems posed by life outside its borders.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Glass_Bead_Game)

The game of chess can be thought of in the way Bill James writes of classical music. Chess has always been thought of as important because it requires thought, something some very wealthy people have valued highly enough to become patrons of the game. I am thinking of Gregor Piatigorsky and his wife, Jacqueline, and the famous tournaments they funded in Los Angeles in 1963 and 1966, called the Piatigorsky Cup. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piatigorsky_Cup) Every chess player knows of these tournaments, and if you encounter anyone involved with chess who has never heard of the Piatigorsky tournaments the question becomes, “What is this person doing in chess?” In 1961 the Piatigorsky’s sponsored a match between Bobby Fischer and Sammy Reshevsky. It ended prematurely when the wealthy couple wanted to change the scheduled time of one of the games because of a conflict Gregor had with a musical performance. Bobby refused because he had signed a contract that specified the round time of each game. The wealthy couple must have felt like Ronald Raygun, when running for POTUS, and he was heckled from the audience. Ronnie famously yelled, “I am paying for this microphone!” In actuality he was not paying. The people contributing money toward his campaign were paying, but why quibble? It was a great sound bite for the Gypper. The Piatigorsky’s were paying and thought Bobby should jump through any hoop provided. Bobby provided them with what is called a “rude awakening” when he “just said no.” Extraordinarily wealthy people are not used to being refused. They are also not used to being told “no” because they surround themselves with “yes men.”
I mention this because without the patronage of very wealthy people there may not be future chess as we have known it until now. Consider for a moment the state of chess without the largess provided by the latest patron, billionaire Rex Sinquefield. Rather than being held in the state of the art St. Louis Chess Club & Scholastic Center the US Championships may have been held in some room in a college, as has been the case previously. The STLCC&SC is an artificial construct. I mean that because St. Louis was never known as a hot-bed of chess in the way New York city was known to be a hot-bed of chess. The game of chess developed naturally in New York, San Francisco, and other cities without some fantastically wealthy individual building it so they would come. Please do not take me wrong; I am not saying this is a bad thing, just that it is a “thing.”

Chess is in a fight for its life in the marketplace. The common perception among adults is that chess is dead, and that it died when the computer program “defeated” human World Chess Champ Garry Kasparov. In order to survive chess has been “sold” as a wonderful game to help children “think.” Chess is a wonderful tool to help children learn how to think, but so are literature and math The game of Wei-Chi, popularly known as “Go” in the west, is also a wonderful game and in many ways it is better than chess because a computer program is not yet as strong as the best human players (I will discuss this in a planned future post). Go is exponentially more complicated than chess and it is much simpler to learn, with no “weird” moves such as castling or en passant. A draw in go is about as common as leap year. One of the major problems afflicting chess is non-serious games. It will be terribly difficult to explain the worth of a game in which he is asked to contribute after being shown a game such as the one played today in the British Championship:

Pert, Richard G – Pert, Nicholas
101st ch-GBR 2014 Aberystwyth WLS (8.2), 2014.07.27
1.e4 e5 ½-½

To those who may say they are related I say, “Go talk to Venus and Serena Williams.” To those who may say it is near the end of the Championship and they were tired I say, “It is only one game per day and the previous day was an OFF DAY!”

In reply to the post “Has Cheating Affected Chess?” my friend the Discman sent me an email in which he wrote, “Interesting discussion and on point. However, cheating isn’t the biggest problem facing chess. Computers have taken the mystery out of the game. GM’s used to be gods with almost super-natural powers. Now any schmo with a smartphone can figure out the best move. Technology and the public’s need for instant gratification have left chess behind. It is no longer relevant in the public consciousness. Yes, cheating and the potential of cheating are contributing factors, but not the root cause.”

Chris has hit the nail on the head. The Royal game no longer has mystique. Most adults without children consider chess an anachronism, much in the same way they think of the game of checkers, a hugely popular game once upon a time. Consider these comments, first from Ron Suarez on the USCF forum: “We have seen a big drop in adult participation and membership.” (http://www.uschess.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=23&t=20209&sid=98f50abff42e50fe2fc1e9553255a7cd)
Gary Maltzman wrote this on the NCAA forum: “Seems like some of the big NC Tournaments are on an attendance downswing.” (http://www.ncchess.org/Discussion/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=856&sid=4d93659f883d9f10934dba14bd4e056b)

These kinds of comments proliferate on the web these days.

I have no solution to offer other than those previously written. The chess world has to look toward those in positions of power, for better or worse. A quote attributed to Albert Einstein to mind: “The thinking it took to get us into this mess is not the same thinking that is going to get us out of it.”