Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jarmany In My Head

Horton-Jarmany, round 3, British Championship (Aberystwyth) 2014
Position after 27...Rf8-h8. White to play and to be disturbed.

I'm on nought out of three. I'm not happy. I messed up a super game: I'm not at all happy. But in fact I'm much unhappier than that.

White is winning, in the above position. (You might like to check that, because it's pertinent. It's not the whole point of the story, but it's pertinent.) He's winning, but he has just four to five minutes, plus thirty-second increments, to play the next fifteen moves. He has lost the thread a little - hence the time shortage - and has already missed at least one of the clear wins which he has used his time up looking for. But he is still winning.

But while he is thinking, his opponent suddenly addresses him: "you still have to keep score even if there's less than five minutes". This is, as most readers will know, completely against the rules, since it is forbidden to talk to an opponent. [Edit: but see comments.]

It is, moreover, particularly wrong to talk to an opponent when it is his move. And more than particularly wrong to talk to him while he is in time trouble.

As it happens, the only move White had not written down was the last move on the board - 27...Rh8 - and again, as readers probably know, you're not actually obliged to write down your opponent's move before you've played your reply. Even if you were, even if White were breaking the rules, that's what arbiters are for. But I mention it for the record.

Now of course, I can't be sure that the interruption played any part in what happened next. I can be sure that I was shocked, both at being addressed at such a crucial stage and at being addressed for a completely wrong reason. It certainly broke my concentration: I can't be similarly certain that it changed the result. But what happened next, on the board at any rate, was 28. Re7??

and now Black whipped out 28...Nc6!

and, out of the blue, won the game, which concluded shortly.

Who knows? I might have blundered anyway, particularly under such time pressure. I can't prove otherwise and don't seek to do so. Quite likely nothing would have changed. God knows I have mucked up enough similar games and positions without any verbal help from the opponent.

But I did make a serious complaint to the arbiters, during the course of which my opponent (who apologised at length) claimed not to have known either that the opponent's last move doesn't have to be written down before the player plays his own, or that it's forbidden to speak to an opponent.

Tha arbiters discussed the matter and while they issued my opponent with a warning, they neither reversed the result - which I wasn't expecting them to do - nor applied any penalty, which, whether I was expecting them to or not, I would have liked them to do. Because as it stands, the player who disturbed the opponent lost nothing, and the player who was disturbed lost eveything.

Anyway, I didn't pay my fifty quid to take the decision to the Appeals Committee and you're entitled to draw your own conclusions from that. But it isn't really about that. It isn't about the complaint or its outcome.

Nor is it about cheating. I don't believe it was cheating and I don't believe it was gamesmanship as such.

What it's about is really bad chess etiquette at a point where chess etiquette really mattered.

And what it's also about is - look, this is the British Championship. Either we are serious about this or we are not, but if we are, then let us be serious. Wasn't it just a little thing, a few words from an opponent? No, because this is the British Championship, for which I have never qualified before and may never do again, for which I've spent weeks preparing and much longer looking forward to. If I screw up I screw up - and I expect to. But what I don't expect, what I'm entitled not to expect, is some clown behaving like that.

You lose a game of chess, it can ruin your whole day. That's OK. But you lose like this, it ruins a whole lot more.

I came here to play chess. That's what I did. And then I saw it ruined, not in circumstances where the only fault was mine, but after an interruption from an opponent who claimed he never knew you shouldn't speak to your opponent.

An experienced tournament player, who claimed he never knew you shouldn't speak to an opponent.

You can believe that if you want.


Anonymous said...

In a 30 second increment game, you are supposed to keep score and it isn't not keeping score until a pair of moves had been played. But if that had happened, what would you have the opponent do? It's his right to summon an arbiter to tell you to keep score, but well within his rights to stop the clocks to do so. If the clocks are being stopped, he will have to say why, else it be assumed he is resigning.

I would suspect writing moves in pairs gains marginal time on the clock. Personally I find writing the opponent's move forces you to check why it was played.


John Cox said...

Very difficult one for the arbiters. It's not easy to say what they should have done. Maybe a player in your situation ought to stop the clocks, call the arbiter and demand an extra two minutes. Easier said than done. I'm not sure anyway what the Laws say about stopping clocks.

Your opponent's a peasant, of course, and without knowing him it's difficult to say, but I wouldn't be inclined to dismiss out of hand his protestations that he didn't know he was doing anything wrong. It's surprising in my experience how some people think things ought to work, and a lot commoner for people to be ignorant than crooked. In your position I'd certainly try and believe in his innocence from the point of view of recovering from the episode.

One might think the fellow should have accompanied 28...Nc6 with a draw offer, but I'd imagine that at that point - quite wrongly of course - he still felt more sinned against than sinning.

ejh said...

I wouldn't be inclined to dismiss out of hand his protestations that he didn't know he was doing anything wrong.

I didn't, at the time, and that's one reason why I didn't go to the Appeals Committee. It wasn't really until I was walking down the hill towards the town that it occurred to me that this was absurd, there was no way an experienced player could never have heard that you're not supposed to speak to an opponent.

(This is why I say that I don't believe it was gamesmanship, i.e. I don't think he spoke to me in order to disturb, but he must surely have known it was not proper practice, even if, of course, people in chess tournaments do in fact infringe this rule quite frequently.)

Mind you, if I had realised this I still don't think it would have changed anything. It's just that I had the feeling afterwards, as one often does, that I hadn't made my case as effectively as I ought to have done.

As far as claiming the two minutes is concerned - yes, maybe I should have done this. I think it would also have given me more time to recover from the shock. Then again it's not uncommon for the player short of time to be unsure what to do and not to wish to expend more time considering the question of whether to stop the clocks. (I'm sure this came up recently, and wasn't it also the case in Polgar-Kasparov, or am I misremembering?) You're trying to think about the out-of-control position o nthe board, you're worrying about why your opponenyt just breached the rules, and you don't then want to think whether you should stop the clocks or whether you'll be penalised about it, not when you have less than five minutes left.

Jonathan B said...

The trouble is - and this applies to an awful lot of cases where you might claim two minutes (perhaps even most) - the two minutes you gain will probably be more than offset by the disturbance of the process of claiming.

And that’s assuming you actually get the two minutes which is far from guaranteed, regardless of what might have occurred.

As for claims of ignorance, I once had an opponent in the London League who said he didn’t know that he was supposed to press the clock with the same hand that moved the piece. I found that difficult to believe. Partly because I knew that he had been planning for decades, but mostly because he’d said exactly the same thing when I’d called him on it the previous season.

On the whole, though, I would agree that ignorance is more common than crookedness. Even if the ignorance can be rather wilful at times.

Anonymous said...

Well count me as "ignorant" then - I always thought you *were* entitled to speak to your opponent if you thought they were contravening the Laws of Chess?

I say this as somebody who started serious chess 33 years ago (!) and has btw played both Jarmany brothers (which one was it?)

ejh said...

It was John.

Sean Hewitt kindly contacts me to point out, quite reasonably, that there's nothing in the Laws to specifically outlaw speaking to an opponent. I stand corrected on this but Sean also draws to my attention that distracting an opponent is indeed forbideen and I think we do all understand that in normal circumstances speaking to an opponent does indeed constitute a distraction, which is why we don't do it. (Jumping up and down in front of the board isn't specifically forbidden either, if you see what I mean.) Doing so in the opponent's time trouble is plainly as distracting as can be.

Anonymous - if I think my opponent is contravening the Laws of Chess and we're playing in a tournament with an arbiter, I'd contact the arbiter. Isn't that what they're for?

Anonymous said...

Well, when you put it like that it sounds obvious doesn't it?

I suppose the thing is that a lot of people play mostly club/league chess - where arbiters aren't exactly two a penny.

One reason why I am inclined to believe your opponent's claims that he didn't know (that and being vaguely acquainted with him personally)

ejh said...

Yeah. But it's a bit odd to know something arcane (about the last five minutes under thirty-second increments) and not something obvious (don't speak to your opponent in his own time-trouble) do you not think?

Anonymous said...

Continuing to score with less than five minutes whilst using a 30 second increment has been a "world" standard for perhaps fifteen years at least. You would expect competitors in the British Championships to know these things.


Anonymous said...

The penalty for distraction is at the arbiter's discretion but two minutes is probably the minimum. The problem is that it cannot be applied after the game. I had something similar in the Central London League and stopped the clock and demanded two minutes which I eventually got. - JS

Daniel O'Dowd said...

I find your experience quite appalling - this same player used to represent a club in Cumbria though since has thankfully moved on. I find it more appalling that the 'arbiters' of this supposed prestige national tournament failed to notice this infraction and deal with it independently. Such noise in a playing hall is hardly difficult to notice or isolate. I myself tried to ask for help with noise last year - I have Asperger's and misophonia so certain noise is intolerable for me. The Chief Arbiter of the ECF damn near triggered an anxiety attack in me not 5 minutes before one of my games, and despite repeated requests for help, another did precisely nothing to help me. When will arbiters learn to do their job? I hope the rest of your championship is as enjoyable as it can be - it sounds as if you deserve it having made the event for the first time.

Anonymous said...

Would you have made such a big fuss if you had won the game?

Anyway, you are right when you say arbiters are there to be summoned when your opponent is breaking the rules. Your opponent did not, but you did not either. You had called the arbiter as soon as you were so shocked by the behavior of your opponent, then you might have had the right to some "compensation" on the clock. If you wait and complain after you blundered your case is so much weaker.

ejh said...

That doesn't make any sense as I didn't ask for any compensation on the clock after the blunder, did I?

For the avoidance of confusion, I don't have any particular problem with the arbiters. I don't think the decision they made was irrational, i.e. that it was not one reasonable people could have made given the information at their disposal. I don't think it was necessarily right (because essentially no meaningful penalty was applied to the offending party) but that's not the same thing at all. My view is that really the damage was done when somebody chose to behave inappropriately at a crucial moment in a national championship. That's it really.

Anonymous said...

I have a lot of sympathy for you Justin, but in general I find this story symptomatic of the declining standards of behaviour on the congress circuit. Jangling of coins in pockets, people coming up and whispering in your opponents ear when you have 5'seconds to make your final move before the time control, obsessive compulsive clicking of pens, repeated offers of draws, covering up of score sheets in time trouble so there was no angle an arbiter could see it, I've seen (and experienced) them all. In this case I understand your opponent is an RE teacher, so as you surmise very likely done out of ignorance than malice.

Anonymous said...

I know of the Mr Jarmany in this story. He is well known for distracting opponents at critical points during the game. He then boasts on social media about his victories in chess congresses. He knows the rules well so his feigned ignorance does not fool me.

ejh said...

That's an interesting comment but some examples would be helpful to back it up.

John McKenna said...

Shouldn't we always expect the unexpected and steel ourselves like the Portuguese Commandos?

"They would always (for 3 or 4 times) make the same mountain run and about the same duration, so that you would start to expect what was coming and gain confidence, but at the 4th or 5th time, all changed and you were in total conflict about what was happening, putting questions in your mind like "What is going on here, we were supposed to have finished already", then one thinks "Ok, I can do one more run, no problem"...but, when you were sure that this was it or this was just another game from the instructors to put you down for one more run, then... when you least expected, you don´t do one... but... two or three more runs. Now this is called psychological training and at the same time physical training and that is why we are so strong, we always expect the unexpected and even that just gives us more resolve."
[The Commandos are a special forces unit in the Portuguese Army. Their motto is "Audaces Fortuna Juvat" (Luck Protects the Bold) and their war cry is "MAMA SUMAE" (it can be translated as "here we are, ready for the sacrifice" – taken from a Bantu tribe of southern Africa).]

Anonymous said...

If your phone goes off mid- game you're defaulted for disturbing your opponent, right?