Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Erasure

Javier Martínez Catalan (2247) v Justin Horton, Aragón Team Championship 2008, position after Black's twenty-first move:


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 moves

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.)
Now "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.

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.

21 comments:

Tom Chivers said...

I tell my opponents not to do this if they try to, even if it's just with an innocuous move like 1.Nf3. I consider it basically cheating, because (1) it helps you remember which move you are analyzing, and (2) crossings out remind you which candidate moves you have already dismissed. As for penalties - if the player repeatedly does this, or does it at critical junctures, I think a strong penalty should apply (eg, time loss on the clock at the first infringement, and forfeiture for repeated infringements and ignored warnings.)

Jonathan B said...

I certainly agree with your last sentence.

In my experience this is a common problem in chess. While most players observe the rules I've frequently seen people continuously act as they see fit (pressing the clock with the wrong hand, not recording the moves etc etc) with no specific penalty ever being applied.

Jonathan B said...

From the London League website:-
(except the quote is underlined not in italics)

"It is forbidden to write your move in advance on your scoresheet." Repeated transgessors must be reported in writing to the League Secretary.

Funnily enough I found this recently when I was looking up the rules for adjournment sessions. I remember thinking at the time ... 'and the League Secretary will do what?'

No penalty it seems to me. As you say, it's forbidden but not forbidden.

ejh said...

Yeah, that's the problem.

I don't want to call it "cheating", because many people do it out of longstanding habit - after all, for years, we were taught to do it! It took me quite a while to break the habit, and even now I'm sure I do it sometimes myself. I'm sure this was the position of my opponent on Saturday.

I've mentioned before on here that I think it's a real problem if rules are not applied and that it causes more conflict if they are not than if they are. We need to know what rules we're playing by. There's no need to enforce them in a draconian manner, but I don't think we can just shrug our shoulders when somebody points to an infringement, because then nobody knows what rules apply and what rules do not.

RileyD, nwJ said...

This is also becoming a problem in the U.S.A. where it was not illegal to write down your move before moving. Now it is - especially if using an electronic recording device for moves that shows a chessboard.

However, at tournaments I have directed I always state it is a rule I permit players to violate. Except for those using the electronic recording device as mentioned above.

I compare this change in USCF rules requiring one to move prior to writing it down akin to requiring one to move before thinking about your move. Of course that is said very much tongue in cheek, but it is said to make a point.

I remember very clearly there was an attempt to make this the rule during the years Fischer was playing because the great Fischer objected to his opponents writing down moves before making them.

The attempt to enforce this rule failed even then. The current rule should also be scrapped - FIDE as well as USCF - as it is somewhat silly. No one is using the writing down of a move to 'cheat'. No one.

Still, it is different if your method of recording results in your having sight of a chess board with the move shown on the board. That is clearly a violation of the rules about not using another board for analysis. There the move must be recorded only after it is made.

Cheers!

RileyD, nwJ
DytnTD - USCF 10227640

Ed-T said...

I think it is cheating and the rule should be enforced.

Your opponent could write down a move and look around at the reaction from onlookers. One of the observers might be much stronger and might be helping your opponent using secret signals!

A few months ago, I think one of my own team members inadvertently helped my opponent when I blundered -the look on his face said everything!

Jonathan B said...

Surely the use of an electronic recording device is illegal?

If not it should be - just too many opportunities for abuse.

ejh said...

1. "Cheating" implies intent.

2. "Could be" is not always a good basis for legislation.

Tom Chivers said...

Does cheating imply intent? Is that the case with the touch-move rule?

Chris Morgan said...

Writing down the move might have been an advantage to your opponent Justin. He might not have seen the forks after Qd2 if he hadn't written down the move.
As there is no definite penalty written down in the laws of chess, I suppose the only thing you could do if your opponent repeatedly flouted this rule would be to continue to report this to the arbiter, and to claim the game if it continued. I once told my opponent about this rule when he was writing down moves before he played them, but he continued to do so and I really couldn't be bothered to pull him up on it again, and I won the game anyway. Actually, having to continue to argue with your opponent might distract yourself from your own game.
I used to practice this method myself when taught to do so from books, but stopped doing it as I found I waste to much time double and triple checking things anyway.
I was interested to hear of Fischer's objection to this rule, as I once read a story, I think recounted by Tal, when playing Fischer, Fischer wrote down a move before playing it and then placed his scoresheet in full view of his opponent to see what his reaction would be. (Tal) then got up and shared a joke with another player in the room. This however was just a smoke-screen, and the perturbed Fischer changed what was actually the winning move.

Ed-T said...

Well, you could cause an accident if you ignore red traffic lights. You could hurt someone if you drink-drive. I think laws are introduced as result of something bad happening. My guess is that someone was found cheating this way, in a tournament with a big cash prize.

What I find appalling about this, is that a FIDE arbiter ignored FIDE rules. I'd be tempted to complain to FIDE about the arbiter failing in their duty -needs to be sent on a course something. I wonder if arbiters need to pass an exam.

As with most of the chess laws, the penalties are too fluffy. I'd like to see the consequences nailed down a bit.

ejh said...

Writing down the move might have been an advantage to your opponent Justin. He might not have seen the forks after Qd2 if he hadn't written down the move.

Oh, I agree. But I don't really mind people doing that as such. What I mind is their doing that when it's against the rules!

Well, you could cause an accident if you ignore red traffic lights. You could hurt someone if you drink-drive. I think laws are introduced as result of something bad happening.

Well yes, but we don't, for instance, ban driving because somebody could have an accident. Sometimes "could" is an argument, sometimes it's not.

My guess is that someone was found cheating this way, in a tournament with a big cash prize.

Do we have any reason to think that, beyond a guess?

a FIDE arbiter ignored FIDE rules

I should say that the individual concerned wasn't actually present in his capacity as a FIDE arbiter - he was playing in the match. (This of course is an often-overlooked problem in the Laws of Chess, that they generally assume arbiters are present when they frequently are not.) He was therefore turned to as the best-informed individual present, which would be normal procedure and is fair enough.

My view is, though, that he should have told the player that he should stop writing the moves down in advance, which he did not. Mind you, the player did know the rule - he just found it really hard to remember, and I have sympathy with him.

Jonathan B said...

"This of course is an often-overlooked problem in the Laws of Chess, that they generally assume arbiters are present when they frequently are not"

Oh yes - this is certainly a problem for quickplay finishes during club matches.

Disputes are rare even in these circumstances but invariably in my experience they are caused by one or both players not knowing the rules and lack of arbiter to turn to.

Actually, players not knowing the rules (which often, I suspect, is really a case of not caring what the rules are) is the most frequent cause of disputes in club matches in my experience.

I played for Other Club last night. On neither of the boards next to me did the players seem to know what the rules were to decide how to finish the game.

Ed-T said...

>> Well, you could cause an accident if
>> you ignore red traffic lights.
>> You could hurt someone if you
>> drink-drive.
>> I think laws are introduced as result
>> of something bad happening.

> Well yes, but we don't, for instance,
> ban driving because somebody could
> have an accident. Sometimes "could"
> is an argument, sometimes it's not.

Likewise, we don't ban playing chess just because a few people cheat.

>> My guess is that someone was found
>> cheating this way, in a tournament
>> with a big cash prize.

> Do we have any reason to think that,
> beyond a guess?

Plenty of cheating cases:
http://www.chessbase.com/newsdetail.asp?newsid=3605

See the supplemental information at the bottom. Most of these relate to the use of electronic aids.

I do not have evidence of a case where someone was caught cheating by writing their moves down first. I imagine it would make things easier though.

ejh said...

Oh yes - this is certainly a problem for quickplay finishes during club matches.

But see D.

In some ways the problem isn't always the absence of arbiters - it's the absence of the rules, of which there should surely always be a copy present.

Anonymous said...

Blogger Jonathan B said...

Surely the use of an electronic recording device is illegal?

If not it should be - just too many opportunities for abuse.

Tue Feb 12, 12:33:00 PM 2008


This is from the ECF website

Monroi Personal Chess Manager - Electronic Notation Device
It is my view that the Monroi system is a direct substitution for a scorebook, with the advantage that pages cannot accidentally be turned over during a game to reveal a previous game. The Monroi system is endorsed by FIDE and the Monroi devices are used at many prestigious international tournaments.
It is my recommendation that they should be permitted to be used in any event where scorebooks are allowed or where the controller does not need a paper copy of the game score. I would discourage arbiters from preventing a player using a Monroi device, however, it remains the Arbiter's right to request/insist that the official tournament scoresheets are used.
David Welch
English Chess Federation Chief Arbiter [31/1/08]


There are some events where Monroi devices are provided by the organisers. I don't think one can object to this. However Monroi would like to sell their device for personal use. If an opponent were using one, I would insist that it stayed in view at all times. This might be a problem for the owner since the cost of these toys is rather higher than the average score-book.

ejh said...

There's a demonstration here.

I'm not sure what David means about having an advantage over a scorebook, since in most tournaments one would be using a scoresheet rather than inscribing directly into a scorebook. Other than that they seem fine to me, except that as far as the topic of this debate is concerned, you'd have to implement 8.1 very firmly indeed as writing down the move before playing it really would be unacceptable.

Jonathan B said...

*JUSTIN*
That FIDE rule D simply never happens during the club disputes I've witnessed (never been directly involved with one thankfully)

*ANONYMOUS*
Thanks for that.

I think it's different where the tournament supply the recording device.

If it's private use how do I know what's a Monroi (i've never seen one) and what's some other device that has a chess engine inside it?


As for the advantages over a scorebook ... well I've observed a past S&BCC player refuse to play somebody who wanted to use a scorebook.

I'm not sure I'd take it that far (in a club game) but during a tournament I'd expect everybody to use standard scoresheets (or whatever the standard is I suppose).

J

Jonathan B said...

I've just checked the demo ... at least I know what one of these things looks like now.

So, if I understand correctly this programme allows speedy recall of all games contained in its database? Isn't it madness to allow them to be an approved method of entering the moves? Seems so to me.

Anonymous said...

In reply to Jonathon B

The most popular use of the Monroi is where they are supplied by the tournament organization. This enables live coverage or automatic game input without having to cable the entire room with DGT sensory boards. I'd suppose the machines are clean in this application - in other words the database isn't present. The FIDE rule change about writing moves down was included with the Monroi in mind.

I suppose that Monroi would like to sell these devices to wealthy amateurs as an alternative to scorebooks (USD 369 according to www.monroi.com ). Certainly it isn't always possible to take a laptop to matches or weekend tournaments so it could be useful to check out your opponent's openings in the few minutes before play starts.

I agree that it shouldn't be used during play and I think that leagues and congresses may have to outlaw the use of scorebooks as hinted by the ECF note.

Jonathan B said...

Thanks again anonymous...

I agree that in a tournament situation as you describe this is much less of a concern (although is it totally unlikely that an unscrupulous player could switch in his own dodgy monroi device with a database/engine?).

I wonder what the case is in the London League? Are they banned there? Does anybody know?