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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IM Colin Crouch on The So – Rich – Akobian dispute

The news was announced on the English Chess Forum by Nevil Chan, Sat Apr 18, 2015 8:34 am:

“Harrow Chess Club deeply regret to announce that Colin Crouch has passed away. Colin was 58 years old and a member of the club since 1970.” (http://www.ecforum.org.uk/viewtopic.php?t=7336)

Dr. Crouch was Professor Emeritus, University of Warwick; External Scientific Member, Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung, Cologne. (http://www.britac.ac.uk/fellowship/elections/index.cfm?member=4526)

His Principal publications were:
Making Capitalism Fit for Society, 2013
The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism, 2011
Capitalist Diversity and Change, 2005
Post-Democracy, 2004
Social Change in Western Europe, 1999
Industrial Relations and European State Traditions, 1993

IM Crouch published a chess book, one of many, How to Defend in Chess, in 2007. It became one of my favorite chess books. “Many books discuss how to attack in chess, but resourceful defensive play is also a vital ingredient in competitive success. This is an area largely neglected in the literature of the game. This book fills the gap admirably. Following a survey of general defensive methods in chess, Dr Colin Crouch investigates the techniques of World Champions Emanuel Lasker and Tigran Petrosian, both highly effective defenders. Lasker would place myriad practical obstacles in the opponent’s way, and was a master of the counterattack. Petrosian developed Nimzowitsch’s theories of prophylaxis to a new level. His opponents would find that somehow their attacking chances had been nullified long before they could become reality.” (http://www.amazon.com/How-Defend-Chess-Colin-Crouch/dp/1904600832/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1429714416&sr=1-1&keywords=colin+crouch+chess)

I enjoyed the blog written by IM Colin Crouch. This is an excerpt from his last post:

The So – Rich – Akobian dispute

“Sadly, the news at St Louis dominates all discussion in the US Championships. The forfeit of Wesley So’s game against Varuzhan Akobian is deeply controversial, and no doubt will have long term implications.

The situation was, at its most basic, that Akobian had made a complaint against So, after move 6. There was no indication that there was any cheating by So, of, for example, using the computer of finding the very best moves in a particular position (the main reason for barring electronic devices).

What then was Akobian complaining about? The answer was that he had been scribbling a few notes, while the game was being started, mainly as motivation techniques. It was along the lines of thinking before you make a move, slow down, don’t hurry. It is more a case of getting more relaxed, for what is likely to be a tense game.

I have heard recently of this type of technique, used in political speaking. At a recent Seven-ways Leader debate (hes, these days there were seven parties, plus minor groupings), just before the British General Election, there were notes placed before the podium, for many of the leaders. With seven players battling it out, there were never going to be long set-piece speeches. It was much more the case of the speakers having written down in advance something like, calm down, don’t get wound up, that sort of thing. It does not even involve the speakers having written notes, and loads of statistical facts and figures o be wheeled out. That would have caused unconvincing lack of spontaneity.

It is in many ways what Wesley So has been doing in the last few months, and maybe before. Maybe it can be claimed that what he was doing was technically in breach of the chess laws, although it is, it can be regarded, as only a slight technically breach. Presumably something will need to be clarified at some later FIDE congress. Again though, such a writing down in such notes is, it seems, acceptable in politics, and in other fields. Is there is no totally clear rule that this should be forbidden during a game of chess? And what happens if, for example a couple of players agree to meet up for a meal after the game, and write down where they should meet up at a restaurant?

The simple point is that unless there is absolute clarity in the regulations, there should be no reason for a player being given the drastic punishment of a loss – after six moves of play!

Akobian claimed that he was distracted by So’s play. Really? It is surely much more of a question of how much Wesley So was distracted by Akobin’s play, and in particular in trying to make a formal complaint. It is of course just about possible that Akobian had only made a casual note to the chief arbiter, and that the Chief Arbiter, Tony Rich jumped the gun. I do not know, and without much clearer information, I cannot be certain.

My suspicions are however that Akobian was at least as guilty as distracting So, than So is of distracting Akobian. It is an unfortunate aspects of chess that one way of “cheating” is by accusing the opponent of cheating. Akobian was clearly able to take full advantage of Tony Rich’s actions. Even so, without 100% knowledge of what was going on, I am reluctant to say whether this was what in fact happened.

The next question is how Tony Rich handled things. We must too remember that unfortunately he would have had his clashes with chess authority. We was, for example, not given the expected payment for his contributions for Chess for the Philippines, in a bib Asian sports event, as the excuse was made that chess does not count. He moved to the USA, but it took time to play for the team in the Olympiad in Tromso, while various players originally from Ukraine were given the chance to change qualifications to Russia almost instantly. Where is the justice in that? I do not want to attempt to write about what was happening during his time at St Louis. There were some complications. He did not however complete his university degree there, which is totally understandable, as, unlike the vast majority of even top grandmasters, he is capable of playing at fully equal terms against Carlsen, given time. He also had problems with his mother, on his future in chess and study. There was an unexpected encounter with her at the beginning of the US Championship.

My instincts here is that quite probably he felt that he was being hassled by Tony Rich, and his continuous complaints that Wesley was doing such-and-such a thing, and that quite simply he merely wanted to play chess, concentrate on chess, and try to become the top player from the USA. He could easily be thinking that why does this arbiter keep whinging? It is not as if he is a strong player anyway.

There is an indication that probably Tony Rich is not quite as clued up as one would like. To make things easier, it is simplest that when strong players, including super-strong players, are under the control of the arbiters, the convention is that the arbiters have full knowledge and understanding of what is going on, during the game, and elsewhere in the tournament and surrounds. It is only when suspicions arise, that players have doubts about the arbiters.

A final point. I would hope that the game between Akobian and So is to be expunged from the points gained and lost in their game. Akobian did not win any points through his superior chess knowledge.” (http://crouchnotes.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/the-so-rich-akobian-hispute.html)

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.

Tony Rich is The Arbiter

Tony Rich is the Chief Arbiter of the 2015 US Championships. Wesley So was until this tournament, one of the top ten highest rated chess players in the world. Mr. Rich had previously warned Mr. So about taking notes during the game, which is a violation of the rules of FIDE, the governing body of world chess. During the game between Wesley So and Varuzhan Akobian in today’s ninth round the latter brought it to the attention of the Chief Arbiter that Mr. So was violating the rules of chess. The Chief Arbiter, Tony Rich, then forfeited Wesley So.

As I watched the live coverage today my thoughts drifted back to last decade when I, too, had to go into the back room with of the St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center with the arbiter during a tournament. Fortunately I was not the one forfeited. Until today the incident in which I was involved at the relatively new St. Louis Chess Club and Scholastic Center with a young boys father in which the latter told his son to violate a rule by continuing to look at the chessboard on his Monroi gizmo in lieu of the actual chessboard, even though the father had promised to not advise his son to do so, was the most egregious incident to ever occur at the Scholastic Center and Chess Club. The incident is still brought up and discussed. Thanks to Wesley So, it may well forgotten.

Congratulations to ALL the Winners!

I would like to extend my congratulations to the three men who tied for first in the US Chess Championship, and to the three women who tied for first in the chess championship for the weaker sex. As far as I am concerned they can all justifiably claim to be Co-Champions. The souped-up heebe-jeeb games used to “settle” the tie meant absolutely nothing. The fast games allowing no time to think were silly and shameful. There is a picture on Chessbase (http://en.chessbase.com/) of the “champions” Gata Kamsky and Irina Krush standing back to back, both with a supercilious grin on their face, looking as if they are about to break into a rendition of the song “We Are The Champions” by Queen.
“We are the champions, my friends,
And we’ll keep on fighting ’til the end.
We are the champions.
We are the champions.
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions…”
In one of the biggest upsets in the history of the US Chess Championships, IM Stuart Rachels, from the Great State of Alabama, tied for first in the 1989 US Championship. Check out his Wikipedia page (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuart_Rachels) and you will find: United States Chess Champion
1989 (with Roman Dzindzichashvili and Yasser Seirawan)
What a pity it would be if insanity prevailed back then and the players were forced to play speed chess to decide the “winner.”
I would like to congratulate the worthy 2014 US Chess Champions GM Varuzhan Akobian and GM Aleksandr Lenderman, and the US Women Champions WGM Tatev Abrahamyan and IM Anna Zatonskih. As far as I am concerned they each have the right to be called a US Champion.
Before you inundate the AW with comments I would like you to consider these quotes:
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”-Marcus Aurelius
“Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.”-Mahatma Gandhi
“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”-Arthur Schopenhauer

GM Panchanathan Storms the Castle!

After winning his first four games versus NM Toby Boas, NM Chris Mabe, GM Julio Becerra, and IM Irina Krush, GM Magesh Panchanathan offered an early draw to his last round opponent, GM Varuzhan Akobian, which was accepted. That gave clear first to Magesh, with Varuzhan a half-point back in clear second. When interviewed after the tournament, Var, as he was called by the staff, said he decided to accept because he had the black pieces, saying, “You know how big an advantage having white is. Besides, I was very tired from the camp and Magesh deserved to win the tournament.” Akobian beat NM Nicholas Rosenthal in the first round, drew with GM John Fedorowicz in round two, beat GM Alonso Zapata in the third round, and GM Julio Becerra in the fourth round, which caused the most successful player in the history of the Castle to withdraw. Four players tied for third with three and a half points, GM Zapata; IM Krush; NM Mabe; and the story of the tournament, Expert William Coe. The latter two garnered the Under 2400 prize money.
I interviewed many of the players after their games had ended. Because of the short draw I was able to conduct much longer interviews with the board one players. Everyone asked consented to an interview and all were gracious. I can tell you I enjoyed the experience immensely. I have been around chess many decades and will tell you this was one of the best chess days I have ever had, and it is all because of these wonderful people sharing some of their time and thoughts with me. I would like to thank each one of them.
This was the second year the winner, GM Panchanathan, was an instructor at the Castle Chess Camp, but this was the first year he played in the tournament. Most of the teachers who played looked tired, but not Magesh. Winning may have had something to do with that fact. He looked like he could go another round! He is originally from India, but now lives in New Jersey. He attended U.T. Dallas on a chess scholarship where he earned a Masters in computer science. He has worked at many camps and said this was the best! “It was fun, and very well organized. The campers come back, and the coaches, too.” When pressed on what makes the Castle Chess Camp the best, he said, “There is concentrated teaching, and the campers do other things, like play soccer. There were maybe seven coaches against maybe fifty students kicking the ball around, having the best time.” He has been in the US for a decade now and is a permanent resident. When asked if he would be back next year, he said he would come if invited. “I thought there was a rule that the tournament winner received an automatic invitation,” I said. He noticed my smile, and he, too, smiled, saying, “I wish that were so.”
This is the fourth year for the runner-up finisher, GM Varuzhan Akobian. He won the tournament outright in 2010. Although he does several camps each summer, he said this was his favorite. When asked why, he responded, “It is the atmosphere. It is very well organized. All of the people behind the scenes deserve all the credit because they make it easy for us to concentrate on teaching. This camp is different because it is not crowded. There are small groups of no more than twelve students.”
I enjoyed interviewing with IM Irina Krush because I have followed her career and know she has elevated her game to a much higher level recently. I would have liked to ask her some questions about those things, but she had just ended a long talk with someone else, and looked tired. She was, though, extremely gracious, smiling when seeing the name of my blog. She said the name, “Armchair Warrior,” as if she got a kick out of it, while smiling. I considered telling her how I came upon the name, but thought better of it. This is her third time here and she mentioned the last may have been 2004, so I said, “Maybe when you played LM David Vest?” I intentionally did not use the word, “lost.” She looked me in the eye and said, “Maybe so…” She told me the reason for taking the half point bye was because she was tired, as she had come here directly from another camp and “I will be sooooo glad to catch my flight home tonight.” She did say that if she had it to do over again, “I would force myself to play the Saturday night round and take the bye in the fourth round Sunday morning.” When asked about the camp Irina said it was, “Awesome.” She went on to say, “The staff is GREAT, and so are the instructors. It was an intense week.”
I talked with several other instructors and they all, each and every one, echoed the above, with some mentioning some of the staff by name. I covered some of the staff in my previous report, so I would like to acknowledge Debbie Torrance, the treasurer, participating in her sixth camp. Although she said, “I am not a chess person,” it is obvious she has made a place for her non-chess persona at the Castle. She is a charming woman. Susan Justice, whom I was not able to talk with, unfortunately, is in her first year. It is difficult to talk with someone who is always on the move.
I managed to talk with Reese Thompson, who has become a force to be reckoned with in Georgia chess. He said the instructors were, “Perfect.” You cannot get any better than that! He said, “I played up (a section) because I wanted to challenge expert level opponents, but many others also played up, so it was like I was playing in a class ‘A’ section.” When I asked him if he had profited from the week he looked puzzled, thinking I meant profit as in money, saying,“I am not sure how much I will win.” When I told him I meant profit as in benefiting from the camp, he said, “Oh yeah!” Debbie delivered his check as our interview ended and I said, “It looks like you also profited in another way.” He and his mother grinned as the talk turned to how the money would be spent.
I talked with Carter Peatman who said he has, “Grown up at the Castle Chess Camp.” He said that he had “learned a lot,” and “profited from it.” He also said it had been “tiring, but worth it.” Everyone with whom I talked said things like this, so for me to continue would only be redundant. It is obvious to me the Castle Camp deserves all the accolades it receives. Those responsible have done something very special and unique for our city and state.
I mentioned earlier that the story of the tournament was William Coe. Although he was rated as an expert for this tournament, he is a former NM. This was his first tournament in a quarter of a century! I had to interview a fellow Senior, especially one who garnered a decent prize in his return to the board in twenty five years. The first question I asked was why he had decided to come back to the arena. His response was that he told himself he would come back when his daughter was grown, as she is now, and, “My wife was out of town.” While the wife is away the husband will play…CHESS! Don’t you love it? He said he was from San Antonio I told him about my trip there in 1972 for the Church’s tournaments and he said he, too, had played in those events while in high school. Since I was twenty two then, it was obvious I am a few years older than William. I mentioned two players who put me up in the house they shared, Michael Moore and NM John Dunning, whom William said he knew well. “That Dunning was quite a character.” He did tell me that he has played speed chess in ICC, “Sometimes beating IM’s and GM’s.” He lives in Marietta and knows Justin Morrison, and has “Played in his Tuesday thing.” He said that although he enjoyed playing on the computer he missed the “Human touch.” I was amazed that he has been in Atlanta for a quarter of a century without playing. He said, “I had a great time because the tournament was so well organized. He informed me that when he decided to come back to tournament chess he had gone by the North Dekalb Mall to check out the site, going so far as to take pictures. He determined he would not play there because, “I had no desire to spend my weekend in that room.” William seemed somewhat disappointed even though he had won a chunk of change. William decried receiving a full point bye. He also mentioned the short time between the penultimate round and the final round was simply not enough. “All I had time for was some crackers. It should be one hour,” he stated. William lamented not having played the strongest possible competition. NM Michael Corallo, happened to walk up at that moment and said, “I would take the money!” He had a chance to do just that as he had three points going into the last round before losing to Irina Krush. Michael has moved here from Florida and lives near Mr. Coe in Kid Chess land.
I would like to mention one other player new to Atlanta. Her name is Elena Gratskya and I believe she tied for first in the class ‘B’ section. I do not know for sure because as I punch & poke this report the crosstables are still not up on the USCF website. After printing out a copy of the Open section for me, Jim Mundy was asked to assist the chief TD, so he said, “The tournament will be up as soon as possible because that’s the way they want it.” I decided to leave at that time without waiting for results of the lower sections. I first noticed Elena at the now infamous Atlanta Chess Championship. No one with whom I spoke seemed to know who she was or where she came from, so I decided to ask her for an interview. The pretty young woman seemed flattered, asking me to walk outside with her to ask my questions because she had become chilled in the playing hall. “That will sometimes happen when the air conditioning is turned down and the crowd begins to thin out,” I said. “It is much better than the horrible heat of the previous tournament,” she said, meaning the ACC. I learned she is from St. Petersburg, Russia, and moved to Atlanta recently because she has friends here. She played chess when much younger in Russia, “Because it is mandatory in schools.” She did not play for eight years, but enjoys playing. This was only her third tournament here and she said it was, “Well organized!” She works for Kid Chess. If a chess league ever develops Justin Morrison will be able to field a strong team!
I regret having no further details at this time, ten o’clock on the morning of the Monday following the tournament. My apologies for the delay. It was ready. All I needed was the crosstables. I received this from Scott Parker this morning in reply to my query concerning the crosstables not being posted by one am this morning:
“Fun Fong will be the one sending the report in to USCF. Jim Mundy has another camp at Pace Academy that he and Carlos Perdomo are doing that begins today (Monday) at 9:00 am and lasts all week, so he doesn’t have the time to take care of this.”
Best Wishes,
Scott
In closing I would like to say that this is the tournament Atlanta deserves. It is simply not possible for me to say enough about the strong group of wonderful people responsible for putting this event together. Atlanta is considered the capital of the South, yet the tournament conditions here have been abysmal. I would say the conditions in most tournaments have been “third world” like, except I have seen much better conditions in third world countries online. It should be known that Atlanta has a huge base of potential players, and organizers around the country should take note of that fact. Chess tournaments are held in nice hotels all over the country but not Atlanta. It is time for that to change. Atlanta should take its rightful place with other cities of comparable size. It has been, and still is, a shame that the Southern Open is not held in the capital of the South! Atlanta is a magnet for drawing Southern people, and those from other areas as well. It is way past time my home city enter a new age and the new century.

Castling Queenside

I just returned from Emory University, site of the 13th edition of the Castle Chess Grand Prix. 217 players are participating this year, the same number as last year. Since there were fewer chess campers this year that means there are more players who were not involved with the camp this year. Five of those players are Grandmasters, with an additional two International Masters. There are eight National Masters, led by Georgia’s own Damir Studen, the State Champ, along with five experts to round out the twenty player field. Form held down the line in the first round, which included games played Friday night and Saturday morning. The second round is underway as I write. The top players are already meeting in round two, as long time camper GM John Fedorowicz was paired with Varuzhan Akobian on board one. Meanwhile, the home town hope, NM Studen was playing his beloved Scandinavian, or as we called it “back in the day” the Center-Counter, versus the GM Scott Parker calls, “The most successful, by far…,” of the twelve previous Castle tournaments, Julio Becerra, on second board.
This is the first time there have been five GM’s playing in the tournament, and it could have been more. GM Jesse Kraai could not play for personal reasons. Mrs. Christianson, president of the Castle Chess Camp, informs Jesse has taken a year off from chess to write a novel based on chess and had to deal with the publication, which was delayed. He had hoped to have copies at the camp, but it was not to be. Another GM had a family emergency to attend, unfortunately. I had an opportunity to talk with Jennifer Christiansen, whom I recall from my days at the House of Pain. I mentioned how much I liked an article she penned for the Georgia Chess magazine, telling her it touched me, making me think of my mother. She wrote about how much she had learned from her sons. As far as I am concerned her short essay should win an award, hands-down! She told me it had been written upon the request of the editor, Mark Taylor, because he needed to fill space. I could relate to that because I have previously done the same thing, taking heat for the article I had thrown together from a particularly acerbic critic. During our discussion she mentioned something about “nearing the end,” and I assumed she meant that because her sons are now grown and will be going to college, and would be out of scholastic chess she would no longer be involved. Au contraire! She let me know she has told others that when her sons left for college she intended on becoming a player. She did admit to playing at home and on the internet now. She also told me a wonderful story about one time when she did try to play in a tournament at the ACC, as she called the Atlanta Chess & Game Center. “I was upstairs playing and happened to look out of the open window-it was summer and you know how hot the place could be, especially upstairs-and I saw my boys playing tag and running out into the street and I had to ask myself what I was doing up there.” The woman is a dedicated chess mom and obviously a wonderful mother. Check out the article about her son, Ryan, on page 33 of the June issue of Chess Life magazine. I must admit the picture of Ryan floored me, since it has been some years since I have seen the little fellow.
The tournament is taking place in Cox Hall, a spacious, well air-conditioned, room, with plenty of room for everyone. There are other chess moms to assist, and one can tell they are operating as a team. The tournament is being directed with military precision by the chief TD, Mr. David Hater, assisted by Jim Mundy, one of the nicest people you will ever meet in chess. It was a real treat to see, and talk, albeit briefly, with the man known as the Sheriff. Mayberry had Andy, while Atlanta had the irrepressible Mr. Scott Parker, who managed to take time away from his family obligations to visit the Castle. These people are the reason the Castle Chess Grand Prix exudes class.
The top two boards are displayed on the wall by an overhead projector, with the first board on the far left side of the room, and the second board on the other. I was not the only spectator as I talked with Jim Lawhon and Larry Bolton, who, like me, were not playing. Thank you Larry for the kind words about the blog, and I would also like to thank Gary Newsome, a visitor, who told his wife that I wrote a very popular blog read all over the world. “Everyone reads his blog,” Gary said, “I bet Anand even reads his blog!” I do not know about Anand, but I do know for a fact that several GM’s read the Armchair Warrior. I would like to thank them, and all of you in the fifty countries, and counting, that have surfed on over to read the blog.
One of the things about trying to write about a tournament is it is difficult to interview anyone while they are playing. For example, IM Irina Krush walked right by me, lost in thought. I had been watching her game with Anuprita Patil, the only other female in the top section. What are the odds of that happening? I can recall the time when it was extremely rare to see even one female in the whole tournament. I noticed several more playing on the lower boards. The times they are a-changing. I wanted to introduce myself and ask her a question or two, but I refrained because I have played in tournaments and know some consider it nothing but a distraction. I admit considering the odds Irina would smile and say, “OK,” as opposed to, “Buzz off, Buster!” Not that I have not heard the latter previously in various, non-chess situations…When one plays in a tournament there is little time for anything other than playing, or getting ready to play. When the tournament is over the players want to just get on down the road, as I know only too well. But I will be at the tournament tomorrow afternoon during the last round, trying my best to obtain a quote or two. I mentioned to Jim Mundy that I was looking forward to the last round tomorrow because it should be exciting. “I know,” he said. “It’s exciting right now!” he said with a smile, sending me off on a good note.