Thursday, June 07, 2007

Posthumous First

Readers with high boredom thresholds may recall this somewhat theological discussion (continued in the comments) which touched on many matters of small importance, including the question as to whether a chess game could be declared a win for one party or the other after the two players had actually agreed a draw. Apparently, it can, since I have just been the beneficiary of precisely such a decision.

I have been playing in the preliminary round of the IECG Cup 2006, a correspondence tournament. I've done well: despite being ranked only third in the group I've finished joint first with one other player and qualified for the next round. I beat the second-ranked player in the game mentioned here: I drew with the top-ranked player after a long defence on the black side of an Exchange Slav. Correspondence chess is so exciting.

The lower-ranked players either dropped out - there were several withdrawals - or lost to me, with one exception. Or one apparent exception. One of my opponents was Mark Mills, a professional pool player, ranked several hundred points below me, a fact which possibly caused me to underestimate him. After mishandling the opening I found myself in a position with no possibilities for active play save those which opened the position for my opponent's benefit.

So I was contemplating another arduous defence, but, given that Mills had no obvious threats - simply much better placed pieces - and there was that huge rating gap, I thought I'd try my luck with a draw offer and see if he either jumped at the chance to take a half-point off an apaprently better player, or, maybe, might even fail to appreciate the depth of his advantage.

Either or both applied, as he accepted the draw, to my relief and we wished each other the best of luck in the future. Subsequently I secured my other draw, completed my games and assured myself of a place in the next round.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I received a message from the tournament secretary saying that Mark Mills had sadly died. As his games were the only ones outstanding, this brought the group to a close and we were sent the tournament table. Much to my surprise it recorded only one draw on my part - since all of Mills' opponents had been awarded a win in their individual games. Including me, despite the fact that I had agreed a draw with him (and considered myself fortunate to get it) some months before.

Can this be right? I know that the practice in OTB all-play-all tournaments is to award wins to the opponents of a player who has withdrawn - unless they withdraw before halfway, in which case (as with, for instance, Bobby Fischer at Sousse in 1967) their record is expunged. In neither of these instances, though, does this entail awarding wins to players who have already drawn (or even lost).

It's an odd business all round, to tell the truth, for reasons I may go into in the comments. Actually it reminds me that when I was at university, it was popularly supposed to be the case that if one died before one's Finals, one would be awarded a posthumous First. Here, though, it's more like the other way round - everybody else is awarded it. There is, I believe (though I have forgotten the title) a Hollywood film based on the similar - and more relevant - story that if one's room-mate dies before the course is completed, one is awarded the top grade in compensation.

Anyway, I've agreed a draw and yet been awarded a win in the tournament table. I've never seen that done before.


Tom Chivers said...

There are correspondence players who will slowly play out a lost game, in the hope their opponent before winning will die. I suppose this rule is to level things for the other players who don't do this?

Robert Pearson said...

I seem to recall Larry Evans accusing Prins of adjourning a hopeless position and making some comment about how the opponent might die...ah, here we are; luckily Ed. Winter is around to destroy this particualr scurrility:


Well, never let the truth ruin a colorful story.