Do chess wizards have to blindly follow rules?

Stephen L. Carter is best known to the chess community as the author of The Emperor of Ocean Park and more recently, Back Channel: A novel. (http://stephencarterbooks.com/) He is also a Bloomberg View columnist and a law professor at Yale.

Do chess wizards have to blindly follow rules?
Stephen L. Carter 12:11 a.m. EDT April 19, 2015

There’s a wonderful old British case involving a farmer named Lawrence Burr, who was stopped while driving a tractor along a public road. The tractor was pulling a chicken coop to town, where it was to be sold. For the purposes of the brief trip, Burr had fixed iron wheels to the underside of the coop.

The trouble was that the Road Traffic Act of 1930 required all “vehicles,” including “trailers,” to ride on pneumatic tires. A lower court held that the chicken coop was not a vehicle within the meaning of the act, but the King’s Bench, in Garner v. Burr, disagreed, holding that a trailer was “anything which will run on wheels which is being drawn by a tractor or another motor vehicle.”

The case comes to mind in the wake of last week’s contretemps over the decision of the arbiter at the U.S. chess championships to forfeit Wesley So, one of the highest-rated players in the world, during his ninth-round game against Varuzhan Akobian.

So’s offense? During the game, he scribbled little encouraging notes to himself on a sheet of paper. According to news reports, he was in the midst of a family crisis, and needed some bucking up. The trouble is that writing anything during the game, other than recording the moves on a score sheet, is forbidden by what are known, a bit pompously, as the Laws of Chess. And he had been warned before about doing so.

Across the Internet, game sites exploded. Fans leaped to the defense of the young genius, arguing that the rule itself was trivial nonsense (this descriptor was more colorfully put in some of the comment threads), or that the prohibition had never been intended to cover the sort of notes So was writing. The official, cried critics, should have let the matter go.

In a world governed by common sense and general standards, So’s defenders might have a point. The rule was adopted to rein in the habit of many players to annotate their scoresheets with reminders about variations they intended to play – a phenomenon at war with the game’s traditional understanding that players rely only on analysis and memory. Once upon a time, chess tutors taught their pupils to write down the move first, then visualize it on the board, and only then play it. This practice, too, the rules no longer permit.

So’s problem was an amalgam of several rules. Rule 12.3(1) provides: “During play the players are forbidden to make use of any notes, sources of information or advice, or analyse on another chessboard.” So had previously written notes to himself on his scoresheet, but Rule 12.4 reads: “The scoresheet shall be used only for recording the moves, the times of the clocks, the offers of a draw, and matters relating to a claim and other relevant data.”

Having been warned he was violating the rule, So switched to writing his notes on a separate piece of paper. But his opponent complained, bringing into play Rule 12.6: “It is forbidden to distract or annoy the opponent in any manner whatsoever.” In the end, Rule 12.8 was decisive: “Persistent refusal by a player to comply with the Laws of Chess shall be penalised by loss of the game.”

One can immediately see the analogy to Garner v. Burr. There the judges had to decide whether a chicken coop being towed behind a tractor was a vehicle within the meaning of the statute. Here the arbiter had to decide whether So’s self- encouraging words constituted “notes” or “advice,” or a distraction to the opponent within the meaning of the rule.

Over the years, the Laws of Chess, like the laws governing so many areas, have grown more complex. Tightly structured rules have replaced discretion. The result can be clarity, but sometimes at the cost of common sense. I’m not defending So’s decision to keep writing himself notes after being warned. My point is that it’s not obvious that we’re always better off when every rule is plainly spelled out and enforced to the letter.

Still, shed no tears for Wesley So, who recovered nicely, winning his next two games and finishing in third place. And even if the arbiter was right, So’s violation needn’t have been the end of the matter; the most tightly worded rule might leave room for discretion about the consequences of breaking it. Lord Chief Justice Goddard recognized this proposition at the end of his opinion in Garner v. Burr. The outcome of the case, he wrote, established the principle that anything traveling on wheels is a vehicle. The justices of the lower court were free to stop there without further burdening Burr: “The question of penalty, or whether they should inflict a penalty at all, is entirely for them: they have an unfettered discretion.”
http://www.delawareonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2015/04/19/chess-wizards-blindly-follow-rules/25963309/

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Back Channel: A Review

One of the essays contained in the book, “Fools Rush Inn: More Detours on the Way to Conventional Wisdom,” by Bill James is titled, “Jumping the Fictional Shark.” It begins, “It is within human nature, I think, to become less interested in fiction as we age.” Bill is not a polished writer, a fact many have pointed out, as can be seen by his use of “I think” above. It is unnecessary for Bill to use “I think” because since he is writing, one assumes he thinks. Bill does this kind of thing often. Since I am writing, it is not necessary that I write, “in my opinion.” Hopefully, a reader will know it is my opinion without my having to inform him of that fact. I, and many others, read Bill for his ideas.
What he thinks about reading less fiction as we age is applicable to me, and, I assume, many other aging readers. The love of my life said to me thirty years ago, “You don’t read fiction.” Gail had a point. I read made up stories when younger and had little interest in them as an adult. I read mostly non-fiction because it was interesting. Even the fiction I read was of the historical fiction variety.

Having read extensively on the subject of the JFK assassination not only have I read about the crime itself, but I have read about the surrounding climate during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. As POTUS, JFK read a book, “The Guns of August,” by Barbara Tuchman, and was so impressed that he ordered many copies and distributed it to those in his administration. The book is about what led to what is now called the “First World War,” and it won a Pulitzer Prize. Immersing oneself in the milieu of that time naturally means reading extensively about what is now called the “Cuban Missile Crisis.” I had just turned eleven during that time and although I, like every other grammar school child in the country, was made to practice a “duck and cover” maneuver, which now seems preposterous, in which we got down on our knees underneath the desk and covered our little noggin’ with our hands. This we would do to “protect” ourselves in the event of a nuclear war. I was not into the “nightly news blues” at that age, but can still recall the gravity of the situation by how the adults reacted. My questions were invariably met with, You are too young” for the answers and to “go out and play.” I loathed being treated in this fashion. Fortunately for me, I lived near a Boys Club, and the adults there would answer the questions left unanswered by the adults in my neighborhood. JFK was reviled by most, if not all, of the adults with whom I had contact and this only worsened the longer he held office. One rarely reads of the depth of how much the POTUS was loathed and detested in the South. I have often wondered if that was the reason so many mediocre Republican’s were installed, or maybe I should say, “selected” to be POTUS. It has also made me wonder how it came about that a fellow Georgian, Jimmy Carter, ever obtained the position of POTUS.

Having read something about a new book by Stephen L. Carter, the author of “The Emperor of Ocean Park,” a novel written about in Chess Life magazine years ago, I was familiar with him, so I decided to check out the book after reading he had used chess as a backdrop. I mean, what could be better than a novel on two of my favorite subjects? When first looking over the book I read this on the back cover, thinking it about the book I was holding in my hands, “There’s a lot going on in this big, smart book…Lofty legal arguments coincide with a grittier plot…What makes this novel so vastly entertaining is the author’s sharp skewering of politicians, lawyers, and the monied social class that runs Washington.” -Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe. That sounded interesting! Unfortunately, Kate was writing about Mr. Carter’s earlier book, “The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln. “ABRAHAM LINCOLN?! OH NO, MR. BILL. NOT ANOTHER BOOK ON THE DEVIL HIMSELF!” I thought.

Even though I purchased a used copy of “The Emperor of Ocean Park,” I never got around to reading it. It is rather humorous that I would look at the book and think, “All those pages,” but when looking at a book like, for example, “Legacy of Secrecy: The Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination,” by Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann, which is even larger and contains even more pages, I would think, “Look at all that meat!”

It being my birthday, I decided to read something different, and “Back Channel” fit the bill. Did it ever…I do not have words to tell you how much I enjoyed the book, so I will use some old cliches. I was “riveted” because it was a “page turner” that I “could not put down.” This after being put off by the use of a 19 year virgin black girl as the protagonist, which I found preposterous in the same way I found Will Smith playing the part of Jim West in the movie “The Wild Wild West.” I mean, come on, Negros were not members of the Secret Service until JFK became POTUS. I usually like my fiction to have some basis in reality. Then I thought, “OK, it is, after all, fiction, and if I had been born a Negro maybe I would write fiction using a Negro character.” Reading on, I came to understand what genius it was for this writer to have used the characters he chose.
I have always detested a reviewer who gives away too much of a book, and for that reason have preferred to read the book before the review. I have chosen only a little of the book to give you an idea of what this wonderful book contains.

“Viktor frowned. Definitely nyekulturny. Uncultured. To speak so casually about violence. Typical of the sort of man who rose to authority in a country that had never faced extermination, as the Motherland had.”

This made me think of Oliver Stone’s TV Series documentary, “The Untold History of the United States,” and how little, most of it wrong, we Americans understand of what is happening in Ukraine today. Often it is better to see things from another perspective, as in the case of a game of chess. Players must try and understand what an opponent wants, and what he is willing to do to obtain what he wants.

“In Russia, we have a proverb,” he said. “If you’re afraid of the wolves, you shouldn’t go into the woods.”

This reminded me of IM Boris Kogan, who was always sharing “Russian proverbs.”
“Few Americans probably realized the extent to which the military had become a law unto itself, in effect a separate branch of government. The Congress controlled its budget but gave the generals whatever they wanted, and the President was the commander in chief when he had time and they had the inclination. the system worked because the American military was run by men of unparalleled integrity.
Most of the time.”

You are probably asking yourself, “This is a novel, right?”

“Because your reporters are like the birds who eat carrion. They produce little of value, and feed off the remains of what others have left. They will destroy the reputation of your President for profit. the First Amendment is the tragedy of your system. In my country, we protect the reputations of our leaders, because in that way we protect the reputation and integrity of the Party, and therefore of the country and the people.”

Bill Clinton would say, “Amen, brother! Right on. Right on. Right on!”

“Bundy recognized the frustration in Bobby’s voice, and knew he had to avoid sounding too professional. The Kennedy’s were an impetuous clan, not thin-skinned, precisely, but quick to detect condescension. He addressed himself to the older brother.”

Sounds like Mr. Carter goes way back with the Kennedy clan, does it not?

“The way your mind works is fascinating,” he said, not turning. When you put the facts together that way, yes, you can reach the conclusion you suggest. But in the analysis of intelligence information, we have a word for people who make up their minds too quickly and then try to make the evidence fit. We call the amateurs.”

Here in America, we call them Bushwhackers, for that is EXACTLY the description of how we got BUSHWHACKED into going to war in Iraq
.
This is a magnificent book written by a brilliant writer. I do not read enough fiction to judge, but it is possible that Stephen Carter could be the best author, or at least one of the best authors currently writing fiction. Read this book and you can leave a comment and thank me later. Send this review to anyone you know who enjoys good fiction. Because every one has heard of the parlor game of “Six Degrees of Bacon,” based on the “six degrees of separation” concept, which posits that any two people on Earth are six or fewer acquaintance links apart, I know some reader either knows Bill James, or knows someone who knows him, so at least send Bill the URL and maybe he will decide to make an exception and read a book of fiction!

Forty seconds into this video you will see these words by the Devil Abraham Lincoln:
“I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.”
The man made an awful lot of “friends” in the South before John Wilkes Booth made the Devil a friend.

Abraham * Martin and John *** Dion