Monday, April 13, 2015

We Need to Talk About Wesley

Black to play
Giri - So, Biel 2010

A few years ago I was playing this game during which my opponent started moving his pieces with one hand and pressing the clock with the other. The first time I let it go in case it was a one off. The second time I asked him not to do it again.

On being challenged the guy said that he didn’t know that he wasn’t allowed to use both of his hands. Frankly, I found that rather hard to believe. Partly because I knew for a fact that he’d been playing for years, but mostly because he’d said exactly the same thing when exactly the same thing happened when we'd played before.

Which brings us to Wesley So.

Wesley So has family problems. Wesley So was defaulted at the start of Friday’s game in the US Championships. This much you already know.

I dare say you’ve also seen the image above which shows the Facebook status update in which So made his "I didn’t know it was against the rules" claim. A statement that was so absurd that the first time I saw it I felt the post might well be a fake. It turns out it was not. 

If there was a giggle to be squeezed out of this whole sad affair it was quoting Paul Truong saying,
It's our duty to make sure all our players do everything properly.

Still, even if we are not entirely accustomed to associating the name "Truong" with the concept of "doing things properly", and even if we choose to discount his claim that,
We told him this is against FIDE rules...We discussed this issue at least a dozen times. He had a smile and thought nobody's going to complain about it.
(also from the article)

it doesn’t really matter. It’s of no consequence because, whether Truong was motivated by malice or otherwise, it beggars belief that So could have got to his early twenties, let alone the world's top 10, and not know he shouldn’t be making notes. On a scoresheet, on a separate piece of paper, or any other way.

It’s also impossible to understand why he didn’t check with the arbiter or his tournament colleagues  as to whether switching his jottings to a blank scoresheet rather than the one on which he was recording the moves would be OK. Unless you start with the proposition that he just didn’t give a fuck. Then it makes perfect sense.

Nakamura responds to Wesley So’s, "There is no doubt that Akobian just wanted a gift point"

The problem with Wesley So, then, is exactly the same as the one I had with my erstwhile London League opponent. It has nothing to do with them not knowing the rules and everything to do with them not caring what the rules were.

Without So’s family problems, his behaviour and subsequent comments are simply arrogant dickery. With his difficulties? Well it’s exactly the same thing, it’s just that many of us will have some sympathy for him too.

It’s not difficult to see how the current crisis and long-term estrangement from his family might have had an impact on his attitudes and behaviour. Not just right now, this tournament or that game, but over the long term.

While none of his off-the-board issues makes So giving it the big I Am appealing, if we are going to condemn his behaviour - and I’m totally with Nakamura on that one - we can and should also acknowledge the context in which a young man finds himself. It is to be hoped that one day he will be able to put his difficulties behind him, mature a bit and come to interact with the world rather differently.

Which is not something that I could say in the case of  the fellow I played in those games all those years ago.  He was close to retirement age if not actually over it. He wasn’t experiencing growing pains. He was just a self-centred prick.


Black to play

Black, Wesley So, to play. Swap queens and head into a pawn endgame or not?

King and pawn Index

With thanks to Matt Fletcher for the tip about Giri-So


Anonymous said...

I think that the decision was correct, but at the same time something about it just didn't sit right. How did it come to pass that you can lose a game of chess by writing down on a piece of paper a phrase such as "Don't lose the game." It made me think of the whole faux yogurt pot scandal. In this particular case, you can't have much sympathy with the player, since he was clearly warned about what was going to happen to him, but he just did it anyway. Taking a step back, two things annoy me about the rules culture here. Notes should be something along the lines of tactical sequences, or opening preparation. Something which could not be used to analyse the game is not a note. Allowing yourself to be distracted by what is on your opponent's scoresheet is generally just going out of your own way to be distracted. The action is on the chessboard. If you want to study body language, fine, but don't pretend that it is an integral part of the game anymore than certain world champions decided that turning up 5 minutes later than your opponent to gain a psychological advantage was. -the blue weasel-

Jonathan B said...

How did it come to pass that you can lose a game of chess by writing down on a piece of paper a phrase such as "Don't lose the game."

Good question Weasel. I’m not saying I’m entirely joyous about what happened. Personally, I’d have gone from warning to small penalty (time deduction perhaps) to the ultimate sanction. Warning - Warning -Warning - Get the Fuck Out seems a little odd to say the least.

That said, So was still acting like a dick.

And, yes I think I would find somebody writing on their scoresheet distracting.. What would they be writing? Should I complain? Those thoughts would distract me.

So if it happened to me - it never has in nigh on 30 years of chess - I absolutely would call it out.

Anonymous said...

In a London League game I saw a player on the next board to me (from the opposition) take out his mobile and start tapping on it. I said you are not allowed to use a phone and he said "Why not!" He did put it away before I had a chance to show him where it should go.

an ordinary chessplayer said...

Rules culture? Rules are cool. Rules rule!

Many players have the notion that "as long as I am not cheating, I should be able to do whatever I want". They see most rules as an infringement on their liberties. Never mind that to take away a clearly written standard and substitute instead their fuzzy idea of cheating would place an impossible burden of proof on the opponent and the arbiter. Luckily the rules (clearly written **in theory**.) are not written according to their tastes.

Other players see the rules as a weapon for bending the playing environment to their will. "The rule says there has to be adequate lighting", etc. Or worse, as a convenient way of messing with the opponent. Sometimes it can be hard to tell these motivations apart.

My own attitude is that rules are for defense only. I tend to complain in two cases: (1) when my opponent "cheats", e.g. touch move or the like; (2) when a player is sufficiently distracting to be a bother to neighboring boards, e.g. eating a full breakfast from a styrofoam container. In case 2 I go out of my way to complain if it's not my own opponent, as a general duty to the tournament.

As for Wesley, I'm not sure I would have been bothered by his writings, but I might have been. It would depend on how ostentatious (or how surreptitious) the act, how frequent, etc. I do think warning, warning, forfeit was appropriate. The penultimate warning was, "If you do that again, you will be forfeited."

Anonymous said...

In a junior tournament, while I was thinking, my opponent emblazoned his scoresheet with
'Iron Maiden' 'Motorhead' 'Saxon' 'Def Leppard' etc. Should I have claimed a win on default?

an ordinary chessplayer said...

Okay, just analysing from your diagram so I will probably need AdamFF to bail me out again, but it looks like an easy win: 1...Qxh4 2.gxh4 Kf6 3.Kf3 Kf5 4.h5 h6 5.d5 cxd5 6.Ke2 Ke6 7.Kd3 Kd8 8.Kd4 Kc6 9.f3 f6 -+. N'est-ce pas?

John Cox said...

Personally I don't find it at all hard to believe that So didn't in the beginning know this was illegal (ie before the first seven or eight warnings by arbiters). It's a feature of this blog generally that its writers struggle to believe that others don't take half so much interest in rules and procedures as they do themselves. I myself have been playing a lot longer than So, and I wouldn't have known it was illegal before the present episode. I wouldn't have known even if I had bothered to read the rules, since to my mind such naff airport-literature self-help messages as So apparently goes in for are not 'notes' and making them is not 'using notes'; to me 'notes' connotes records of something, such as opening variations prepared or variations calculated during a game. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been alone either - indeed I've discussed it with one player a lot more eminent than me who said he would have thought the same as me.

Still, if arbiters agree the rules are intended to outlaw this practice - and they seem to - then so be it. Whether it should be illegal is another question - I rather struggle to see why; are we saying that wearing a T-shirt bearing the slogan 'use your time wisely' would be illegal, for instance?

In any case, if So had been told by the present arbiters several times that they thought it was illegal perhaps one shouldn't have too much sympathy, although if this is part of his usual modus operandi then it's psychologically difficult for him to change, perhaps. If it hasn't bothered the likes of Carlsen and Giri then one might think the delicate flowers to be found in the US Championships ought to have been able to put up with it as well. I've very little sympathy with the notion that it's going to distract the opponent because it looks a bit lke practices that are illegal; players who reason like this have psychological issues of their own they need to tackle rather than running to the authorities.

As to the social media aspect, it's a curious convention Naka is applying by which So shouldn't be allowed to tweet that Akobian was after a free point (manifestly true, I should have thought) because Respect demands that he not say what we all know to be the case.

On the other hand So's tweet that he didn't know it was illegal is hard to reconcile with the evidence which appears to show that he was directly warned that if he did this again he'd be disqualified. It's curious how simple minds tend to turn to the Big Lie when faced with such little reputational difficulties as this, even in circumstances where a moment's reflection would surely show them that the BL is not likely to be believed.

John Cox said...

Incidentally, in reply to JS, some bloke in our London League match the other night was reading his phone quite extensively between moves. Doesn't bother me, I must say - local league chess is for fun, and the gentleman certainly enlivened my evening. I'm pretty much with JS' anonymous interlocutor, why not? It's not terribly good manners, of course - or it used not to be; these days as far as I can see the young think nothing of going on dates where they and the adored object sit on opposite sides of the table each reading their respective phones -, but that's a different issue. Anyway, no-one said anything, plenty of covert smiles.

FlipOne said...

John, from all indications, it appears that Wesley So was warned not to write those personal notes on the OFFICIAL SCORESHEET and not on ANY SHEET OR PIECE OF PAPER.

In other words, the CLARITY and QUALITY of the tournament director's warning also had something to do with it.

Given that the warning appeared NOT to exclude writing on a SEPARATE SHEET OR PIECE OF PAPER, that Wesley So has practised this personal note-taking FOR YEARS without much trouble in the way of warnings or penalties from tournament directors, that he found this habit to be helpful to him to focus, and that he was aware he needed to do well and had to win the game to catch up with the tourney leaders Nakamura and Robson, Wesley So may have thought that ALL these considerations pointed him in the direction he took.

Plus, the dude just turned into an adult a few months ago. Maybe we should give the 21-year-old some slack and not be too harsh on him over this persona note-wrting.

Niall said...

Hi John,
You say that you don’t find it hard to believe that So wasn’t aware of the fact that note-taking isn’t allowed. While I agree that not everyone is obsessed with rules and procedures, in this case I would have thought that anyone with a bit of chess culture would be aware of the rule.

Why? Simply because the old rules allowed the player to write down their move before playing it, and this rule was changed because it was considered a form of note-taking. Ergo note-taking is not allowed.

If I, as a mere amateur who has been playing chess for a few hours a week for about 15 years, am aware of this, then it seems almost impossible to me that So, who has been living and breathing the game for roughly the same length of time, should be unaware of it.

Anonymous said...

I read first that So was to file a substantive appeal, but later that his appeal was confined to the issue of whether the game should be graded. I heard that the appeals panel was to consist of two players from the tournament and one non-participating GM. I was surprised to hear one of the panel give their opinion of whether the arbiter's decision was correct before it could have been known that So was not to appeal against the forfeit. FIDE's guidance appears to be that appeals from a tournament arbiter's decision should be heard by a panel drawn up from players participating in the tournament. Frankly, to a club player, this procedure resembles one that might have been adopted by a Victorian gentlemen's club rather than one that meets the needs of an elite chess tournament in the 21st century. Should FIDE and Elite tournament controllers do more to ensure that appeals panels consist of disinterested members, at least one of whom is legally qualified?

Mike W

Anonymous said...

What's the basis for the assumption made by some people, that So writes down such notes during every game? Has this habit been observed before (i. e. prior to the US Championships)?

Even So, in the twitter statement quoted in the article, writes "I have been having trouble concentrating so I wrote a note to myself..." This seems to indicate, that his behaviour was caused by special circumstances only.

- the yellow mushroom -

AdamFF said...

Thanks for the shout-out AOC! I can't see much more than what you've put down; it looks a winning swap to me too. I also tried chasing Black's h7 pawn with h5, Kh3 etc, but this didn't seem to work either.

Agere with some of the comments that a small official penalty (maybe two minutes' docked) instead of the last warning might have "shocked" So into not doing it any more. I think it's such an easy rule to comply with (once a player is aware of it) that these sorts of transgressions really shouldn't happen at that level.