On his scoresheet White wrote down the move 22.Dd2 (i.e. 22.Qd2.) After considering the move for some time, and presumably discovering that it loses on the spot - rook takes on c3 and then knight to e4 forking everything - he erased it, substituted 22.Af4 (22.Bf4) and played that move instead.
I was under the impression that you're not really allowed to do that, so I stopped the clocks and enquired. As it happened there was a FIDE International Arbiter in the room: he indicated that play should continue and so it did. The game ended in an exciting draw, accompanied by power cuts, language difficulties, and drums. I hope to to annotate it here later this week.
I want to stress that there was no deliberate impropriety on the part of my opponent. I don't believe for a moment he was seeking to gain any unfair advantage. However, my understanding is that the change of rule, forbidding the writing down of moves before playing them, came about because it was considered that this constituted the making of notes. As expressed in the current Laws of Chess:
12.2 During play the players are forbidden to make use of any notes, sources of information, advice, or analyse on another chessboard.Now normally I'm sceptical as to whether, say, writing down 1.e4 before playing it is really the sort of note which most chessplayers would consider unfair or unethical - that would more likely be something like carrying your notes on the Tarrasch Defence in your back pocket and consulting them when you forget the theory. So when the rule change was introduced I was sceptical about it, considering it a clumsy means of addressing an unimportant problem and likely to cause more problems than it solved. I think this probably remains my view.
However, it is the rule now, and if writing down the move before playing it may be considered to be making notes, then surely that is clearly so when the move is changed. So what action should be taken? What is the penalty, for infraction of the rules?
After the game I looked up the Laws to see what they specifically said, which is as follows:
Article 8: The recording of the movesNow "forbidden" seems to me quite a strong word. It means that you cannot do it. It appears, as far as I can see, seven times in the Laws: once in this instance, once in 12.2 as shown above, twice in connection with improper use of the clock, twice in connection with mobile phones and once in connection with distracting the opponent.
8.1 In the course of play each player is required to record his own moves and those of his opponent in the correct manner, move after move, as clearly and legibly as possible, in the algebraic notation ... on the "scoresheet" prescribed for the competition. It is forbidden to write the moves in advance, unless the player is claiming a draw according to Article 9.2 or 9.3.(Articles 9.2 and 9.3 refer to threefold repetitions and the 50-move rule respectively - ejh.)
In only one instance - that of a player's mobile ringing - is there any mention of a specific penalty (in that instance, the loss of the game). However, in nearly all cases, the reader is referred to 13.4, which offers the arbiter a range of sanctions, beginning with a warning and ending with a player's expulsion from the event. There are two exceptions. One is the use of mobile phones by non-players, to whom most of the available sanctions could not apply. The other is 8.1, dealing with the writing down of moves before they are played.
Now we can, if you like, infer that 13.4 applies and that an arbiter should take action of some degree against the offender, for engaging in actions that are, after all, "forbidden". But it might be helpful if it actually said so. As for what those sanctions should actually be - the Laws, if you read the Preface, try not to be too prescriptive, quite probably correctly. But this being so, we would perhaps expect to be guided by precedent, and by custom and practice.
So what penalty, or what action, should (and do) infractions of this rule attract? There has to be something, even if it is only a warning. There surely can be nothing more absurd than stating that an action is forbidden - and yet permitting it without penalty or warning when it actually occurs. Forbidden does not mean permitted: they are antonyms if ever I heard them.
I would be interested in readers' experiences of this issue, especially, though not exclusively, readers with experience as arbiters, or with experience of the question arising in international tournaments with experienced arbiters present. What does happen? What should happen? And does the rule have any practical meaning? As far as I'm concerned, I wouldn't be distressed if they abolished it, but while it exists, it seems to be that it should be observed and that players and arbiters both should have some idea as to how this should take place, so that we can have a reasonable expectation of what will happen if there is an infraction.
I don't care very much about what happened in this particular game, in which there was no intention to benefit the player or to distract the opponent, and in which the result of the individual game could not have affected the match. But I do think the issue should be explored, because it has come up before and it is going to come up again. In practice, is the infraction of the rule ignored? It's not the first time I've seen it ignored - in a tournament last year, an opponent did it persistently, after I had asked him not to, and then continued to do so even after I had asked an arbiter to observe - and the arbiter said nothing. Because if it is going to be ignored in practice then the rule should not exist. To me, a rule persistently unenforced brings the whole body of law into disrepute.