Friday, April 08, 2011

Strike two

Name Withheld v Horton, Benasque, July 2010. Position after 18...fxe4

White wrote down the move 19.fxe4, which loses swiftly. He did not play it. He then thought about it, crossed it out and wrote down the move 19.Re3*, which he subsequently played.

This is illegal.

In fact, simply writing the move down before playing it is illegal. The possibility that one might then change it is the whole reason for the law.

Name Withheld v Horton, club match, March 2011. Position after 32...Rc4-c5.

White wrote down the move 33.Rb4, which loses swiftly. He did not play it. He then thought about it, crossed it out and wrote down the move 33.h4, which he subsequently played.

This is illegal.

In fact, simply writing the move down before playing it is illegal. The possibility that one might then change it is the whole reason for the law.

As it happens, the first game was won by Black: the second ended in a draw which did not affect the match result. But let's have a look at the Laws Of Chess: specifically, at article 8, "The recording of the moves".

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 legibily as possible, in the algebraic notation (See Appendix C), 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 or adjourning a game according to the Guidelines of Adjourned Games point 1.a.
This is plain enough: "forbidden", save for some clearly-defined exceptions. It should not happen. It is not permitted.

Except that it does happen, and is permitted. Because there is nothing in the rules to say what penalty is applied to those who transgress that rule.

At least, this is true at club level, though it can work differently in tournaments. In the first of the two instances cited above, which took place in an international tournament, I called an arbiter, who applied no penalty but did inform the other player that the action was illegal, which I understand is a generally applied procedure (a second infraction resulting in, I think, a warning, and a third in loss of the game).

Which is OK as far as it goes, though it is at very least strange to have an infracton of the rules for which there is no penalty. But in the second instance, there was no arbiter to whom I could appeal, and had to point out the infraction to my team captain - who was unaware the rule existed. My opponent, who said he was aware, was apologetic, though he continued to do the same thing, to transgress the same rule, until the end of the game.

As you may gather, I am not entirely happy about this. I don't like being in a position where I am playing to one version of the rules and my opponent is playing to another. I also don't like being in a position where drawing attention to those rules is not effective, and hence causes more inconvenience to the player who complains about a breach of the rules than is caused to the player who commits it.

It's a relatively new rule, of course, and one that goes directly against what many of us learned and practised, which was to write down the move first and play it only after some further thought. I learned that from Simon Webb, and also, I think, from Kotov, and followed their advice for perhaps twenty years.

So when the rule was made, on the grounds that writing the move in advance constituted the making and consulting of notes, it required took a certain amount of unlearning of well-establish habits, a process a lot of players have never undergone. Which may explain why, in my experience, it's one of the most-ignored rules in the book (along with, for instance, adjusting the pieces with the opponent's clock running and not recording draw offers). It's difficult for people to change. I appreciate that. But it is either a rule or it is not. And if there is no penalty for breaking that rule and doing the very thing the rule is supposed to prevent, what purpose has the rule?

I think there are two issues here. One is that the Laws of Chess make great deal of reference to arbiters, and yet are meant to apply in many situations where there are no arbiters present. This renders a little problematic the preamble, in the Laws, which states:
the Laws of Chess cannot cover all possible situations that may arise during a game, nor can they regulate all administrative questions. Where cases are not precisely regulated by an Article of the Laws, it should be possible to reach a correct decision by studying analogous situations which are discussed in the Laws. The Laws assume that arbiters have the necessary competence, sound judgement and absolute objectivity. Too detailed a rule might deprive the arbiter of his freedom of judgement and thus prevent him from finding the solution to a problem dictated by fairness, logic and special factors.
Perfectly reasonable, but the problem is that the Laws frequently need to be interpreted and applied by people who do not "have the necessary competence, sound judgement and absolute objectivity". And this seems to me to require a slightly different, tighter approach.

The second is the rule itself. I've never liked it much. When it was introduced I thought it an over-pedantic interpretation of what constituted a note, although there are many others who think it a good rule and a necessary one. Either way, if you're going to have a rule, then players should abide by it, and if they don't, then either set out clearly what should happen, or don't have the rule at all.

As it goes, there's a very close analogy elsewhere in the Laws, and one with which we're all familiar, in which the player who has clearly made a selection is prevented from changing it. It's in Article 4, "The act of moving the pieces".

Except as provided in Article 4.2, if the player having the move deliberately touches on the chessboard:

one or more of his own pieces, he must move the first piece touched which can be moved.
It's analogous to touching a piece. Everybody knows that if you touch a piece, you have to move it: it requires no arbiter to say so.

So all right. Suppose we looked at 8.1 the same way? We might amend it as follows:
It is forbidden to write the moves in advance, unless the player is claiming a draw according to Article 9.2, or 9.3 or adjourning a game according to the Guidelines of Adjourned Games point 1.a. If a move is written in advance, the player who has done so shall be obliged to play it.
Too draconian? Probably. All right, how about this?
It is forbidden to write the moves in advance, unless the player is claiming a draw according to Article 9.2, or 9.3 or adjourning a game according to the Guidelines of Adjourned Games point 1.a. If a player does write a move in advance of playing it, and subsequently plays another, they should be warned on the first occasion, and on the second, required to play the move originally written.
Or similar. I'm up for alternative suggestions. What I'm not up for is playing to rules that other people aren't expected to play to.

Yes, of course I can see objections to this - suppose for instance that the original move has been scrubbed out so thoroughly as to be impossible to reconstruct? - and yes, of course I can see how people might feel it's taking a small point too seriously. (Then again, I thought that when the rule was created.) But people playing by different rules is something to take seriously. As is having rules which you don't enforce.

If this was just a one-off, it'd be a different story. But that's twice in less than a year, and only the two most recent occurrences of several in my games: and if it's repeatedly happening to me, my guess is that it is happening all the time. I think it's stupid to have rules that in practice are not applied, and wrong to put players in the position where they can't expect them to apply. So let us either enforce it, or let us not have the rule at all. For having laws which are not enforced brings the law itself into disrepute.

[* actually 19.Te3, the Spanish for rook being torre.]


Mark Crowther said...

It is incredibly hard to change the habits of a lifetime. I'm aware of the rule, try not to write down my moves in advance but ingrained habits die hard.

I don't play at any level above Saturday League Chess and my score sheets have almost always been terrible, doing things the new way almost always results in me leaving moves out, as opposed to lots of crossings out which also happens, and is the real reason the rule was introduced. The note-taking excuse that arbiters had for bringing in this rule is their arbitrary excuse for bringing it in. This was not brought in because of any players movement to do so.

I do have a joke that everything in "Chess for Tigers" is now illegal! I think the common player would be shocked at some of the rule changes which all seem designed to make life easier for the arbiters and have not had any input from players. This rule about score-sheets should only be applied to international competition.

The real shocker for me is that in a game of blitz if your opponent leaves his king en-prise you now lose if you take it, taking away one of the real pleasures of blitz!

The game of chess should ideally be conducted without arbiters. At every level, yet new rules seem to increase their role and participation, which of course is because arbiters wrote them.

Yet, when they're really required to make difficult decisions, such as in blitz games where pieces go flying they invariably bottle it ( no way should Zatonskih have won this game against Krush).

In fact the rules at every time control when presented with a position with knocked over pieces are a mess right now. You can't press the clock back anymore and demand to be presented with a legal which is the only ideal solution. I have never heard of a player who knocks over pieces and wouldn't have made time control but presses the clock anyhow being defaulted by an arbiter.

davee said...

Interesting. I think the major point here is - as you mention - that the rule was not only (comparitively) recently introduced, but also the rule was in direct conflict with what many people were giving out as good advice, especially for players who play too fast. "Think about your move. Write it down. Double check. All OK? Play it..."

Just out of interest, do you know which year the rule was introduced?

Jonathan B said...

Apologies for the delay in publishing your comment Mark. It got into blogspot's over-enthusiastic spam-filter and I only just noticed it.

Davee, EJH is away from his keyboard just now. He'll get back to you as and when he can, no doubt.

Leicester Chesster said...

Maybe FIDE should introduce a document accompanying the rules of chess similar to the 'Decisions on the Rules of Golf' that is provided by the R&A/USGA.

For those unfamiliar with it, it provides clarification on situations where the Rules do not give an answer - for example, regarding instances where players disagree on a specific rule and so do not agree on the correct course of action.

Usually the Decisions give the relevant authority (i.e. an arbiter, league secretary, etc) the right to make a judgement after the event and alter the result of a game or penalty imposed on the transgressor.

Jack Rudd said...

If a Law of Chess has no prescribed penalty for transgression, there are a number of penalties the arbiter may apply. The first three are relatively mild - warning, addition of time to the opponent's clock, removal of time from one's own clock - and the others are very severe ones, all things like "loss of the game".

Anonymous said...

In reply to davee, the rule was introduced to follow the Olympiad in Majorca 2004 - so July 2005.

By a curious coincidence, the Monroi device for electronic recording was made legal at the same time. With an electronic device, you see the exact position after the move, rather than have to imagine it. So not pre-recording the move makes sense when using a device.

Far be it from me to suggest that FIDE changes rules to support particular manufacturers, I do however think that one of my pet hates, namely clocks that add time at the expiry of the previous time rather than the move count, only went into the rules when DGTs became available that were programmed this way.

Jack Rudd said...

For what it's worth, ejh, David Welch has expressed his support for an amendment to the Laws of Chess such that the act of writing down a move is a contract to make that move.

ejh said...

Evening all. Sorry to not reply sooner (and I may not see a computer again until Sunday morning).

I think it's also a situation whether the fact that all levels of chess now play in FIDE-rated tournaments causes problems which, in the days of a more obvious professional/amateur split, were perhaps not so glaring.

It would be interesting to see who thinks it was a good change and who doesn't - my guess is that among professionals it would be generally or even overwhelmingly approved, whereas among amateurs, quite likely the opposite would be the case.

Now I tend to think that if, as amateurs, we want to have FIDE ratings and stuff for our club and tournament games, we need to accept the discpline that goes with that - but I can perfectly see Mark's point that at our level, we didn't ask for it, didn't want it and don't find it appropriate.

I think it's a mess at the moment, a mess caused by the mixing of what are not entirely compatible forms of competition, and while I appreciate that there's always problems with rules, there's always blurred lines, I think maybe more thought should be given to the general and particular problems caused by the mixing of professional and amateur.

Anonymous said...

There was strong opposition among strong players to the rule change about not writing down moves before you play them, but FIDE ignored them. In fact the main reason for the rule change was that Rules chief Guert Gijssen lost an argument at an Olympiad with Mark Heidenfeld. (Heidenfeld had been chastised by Gijssen for writing down one move and playing another. Heidenfeld proved to Gijssen that this was allowed so Gijssen changed the rules to confirm his original opinion.)
That rule change was solving a problem that did not exist - there were already sanctions for taking notes during a game.
The 'you lose if you take the king in blitz' rule was another Gijssen pet project; so illogical and such a cheat's charter that it was treated with derision and not argued against seriously. Noone believed it would become law, until Gijssen convinced his FIDE committee to do it.

Chris Morgan said...

I used to follow Simon Webb's advice in 'Chess for Tigers' and write down my moves in advance. Actually I have a tendency to overly check and double check my moves before I feel safe to play them, which is a problem that loses me time on the clock. Writing down my moves in advance made this problem worse so I stopped doing it.

Jack Rudd said...

We had an interesting postscript to this one at the Barnstaple club tonight, in the game between Richard Smith and John Howard. The game went:

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Qf6 3.d4 d6 4.Bg5 Qe6 5.dxe5 f6 6.Bh4 dxe5 7.b3 Nh6 8.Bc4 Qb6

Richard wrote down 9.Nc3, thought for a little while, changed his mind and played 9.Nxe5?? instead - a case of making things worse rather than better by failing to observe the rule. (John didn't find the winning response, so Richard got away with his blunder.)

Jake said...

I used to find the Webb/Kotov procedure quite helpful, and would like to be able to go on using it without breaking the rules. On the other hand I agree that it's illogical to allow the prior writing down of moves if you don't allow the making of notes; indeed this anomaly bothered me even when I used to take advantage of it. What I don't really understand is why the making of notes is not allowed. In what way would the game be a worse game if both players could make as many notes as they like?