Diary from the Tromso Olympiad – Rest Day

Zero tolerance for stupid arbiters

As anyone will know, when you play an international tournament and a mobile phone rings, it is at least 90% certain that it belongs to an arbiter. They also frequently hush on people loudly, not so much because they think it disturbs the players, just because they cannot hear what each other are saying. I am of course being unfair, but to be honest, at times arbiters don’t understand what they have signed up for – which is to make sure the game is decided on the board and the game of chess is held in high regard.

At times our governing body also does not understand this. Actually, it is no coincidence that when I visited a friend who lives in the hotel where all the delegates are staying, we could not find a chess board.

In five games here I have had four excellent and pleasant arbiters and one nut job. I had two minor incidents, as most people will have in such a tournament from time to time.

In the first I had just lost in 92 moves and the team had lost 2.5-1.5. Very disappointing. I signed the score sheets and was ready to go. But the arbiter wanted us to fill out the names on the second score sheet. I did it (poorly). Then the arbiter got distracted and forgot about handing out the copies to us. I got impatient and told him I wanted to leave. He got offended and crumbled up my score sheet a bit before handing it to me.

Yes, I was not perfectly polite and patient, but my words were “I would like to leave, please”. Hardly justification for his behaviour.

The second case was typical. My opponent was playing a tempo and I was thinking. I needed to go to the toilet. After my opponent made another move immediately, I asked the arbiter if I could please go to the toilet. My opponent nodded an “ok”, but the arbiter looked confused on my clock and said “move”. To me this is much worse than the damage done to my ego or score sheet. But obviously the arbiter only wanted to uphold the rules and in doing so, but did not fully understand his function.

Zero brain power leads to zero tolerance

One of the worst rules in chess is the so-called Zero Tolerance Rule, which insists that a player has to sit at his board at the start of the game. We had a few cases of it here in Tromso, not all of them flattering to the guys that are supposed to make sure our games progress without incidents.

A young girl was forfeited, standing only a few meters from her board. What is the point of that? I heard she was 11, but I am not sure.

In another incidence a player felt unwell and talked to the arbiter, explaining this and was allowed to go to the bathroom (OK, caravan shithole – literally) only to return to find himself defaulted. How does this hold the game of chess in high regard?

What a proper Zero Tolerance Rule would look like

I agree that it is not correct for a player not to be present at the start of the game. Consider this in another sport. At top level. Can’t be done. On the other hand, if Andy Murray needs the toilet 2 minutes before a Wimbledon match because he is unwell, they start five minutes later.

So I propose that it should be considered as fulfillment of the Zero Tolerance Rule that the player would have to fill out the score sheet before start of play and be ready to play. The definition of ready to play should be vague so that the organisers could enforce it with warnings, announcements and common sense. But the big point is that if the player is late, he should immediately get a time penalty of 30 minutes. If he has not arrived after 10 minutes, the game has been forfeited.

Here is to hoping…

A few good words about arbiters

There are some funny and good stories here about arbiters as well.

One arbiter put up the players pieces with the wrong colour. No one noticed till after the match! Not two teams big on opening preparation.

A friend of mine prevented a young girl from castling with the rook and queen.

Another friend could not read the score sheets of two female players and decided the only reasonable action was to go check with the website and provide them with reasonable score sheets, at least showing how many moves had been played.

Once, years ago, an opponent, after losing a drawn ending on time, informed me that my mother has an extra job I did not know about. I looked at the arbiter and asked if this was appropriate. He answered: “You won this ending! You have nothing to complain about.” He was right. Thank God for good arbiters!

Meanwhile, on the free day

I went to visit a few friends on the Clarion Edge Hotel; the official hotel. It is where all the delegates stay. What can you deduce from this? No chess sets! So I asked Nikos to bring one…

IMG_0337Nice to know that people are listening to what you are saying! (Nikos took 111 photos. We need one for the foreword of Boris’ book. It won’t be this one.)

14 thoughts on “Diary from the Tromso Olympiad – Rest Day”

  1. Regarding zero tolerance –

    At a tournament I was at, two GMs were playing. Both were at their boards at the start of the game. However, the player with White was thinking over a long time on his first move (If memory serves, he told me beforehand he wasn’t totally sure which move to play). Well, after a couple of minutes, the player with black got up and started walking around. The arbiter comes by, sees Black NOT at the board, and all heck proceeded to break loose.

    At the end of the day though, the correct decision was made and everyone was happy. I think!

  2. Yes. Arbiters in chess are a species of their own. There must be a certain logic in their thinking, I’m sure it is. But I never got it. And yes, there are some very good arbiters, who do a great job. I know some. But most of them are trying to sort out problems that wouldn’t have existed without their interference.

  3. @Thomas
    Obviously arbiters are neither better nor worse people than the rest of us. I just think it is a job that is quite demanding of your personality. You need to be a bit “large”. The way the arbiter reacted when I was unhappy after losing did not show these qualities. I know I do not look “large” in that situation, but I wanted to portray it as it happened, rather than to make myself look innocent and glorious. On the other hand it is hardly a big crime to be disappointed after causing the defeat of your team…
    Also, I think a lot of arbiters do not understand their job. It is to secure a fair game. A lot of them think it is to be an active participant in the game somehow :-). It is a difficult balance. We saw this in Brazil in the FIFA World Cup recently. In order to avoid interfering in the game, the referees interfered too little, especially towards Brazil’s dirty play against Colombia – and it almost cost Neymar his legs, as the tension escalated.
    To walk this line you need to be above average, I think. Which is why it does not always happen. FIDE of course do not provide serious support to educate arbiters and the Olympiad is always where this is exposed.

  4. @Jacob Aagaard
    I find it hard to accept that for some people the rules seem to be more important than the game itself. Just can’t wait for the day when we need a referee and two linesmen for every single game of blitz. Not without drug testing before and afterwards.

  5. As an arbiter in the Dresden 2008 Olympiad, the following funny incident occured to me: Switzerland, with Artur Yusupov as captain, was playing some team from Latin America (don’t remember which one now). Right before the start, a Swiss player asked permission to visit the bathroom. I of course assured him he will not be defaulted, and promptly proceeded to inform the opponents’ captain, so that no misunderstandings occur. And that captain smilingly stated he will not object on this matter, under the proviso that the Swiss captain (Artur!) agrees to give autographs to all his players! 🙂

  6. Dear Jacob, I fully agree with you. An arbiter should only need to intervene if it is required to have a fair game between players and to ensure good playing conditions.

    I have been an arbiter for twenty years now and I think it is essential that an arbiter understands (i.e. has experienced it himself) what goes through a player’s mind. An arbiter should remain considerate to players at all times, but may be more considerate after mentally though moments.

    Please note that a hush is sometimes required, otherwise it will get loud eventually. 🙂

    1. I am clearly talking about arbiters hushing out of boredom more than protecting the players best interests!

  7. Dimitri Reinderman

    The Fide rules say: 6.7 The rules of a competition shall specify in advance a default time. Any player who arrives at the chessboard after the default time shall lose the game unless the arbiter decides otherwise.
    The Tromso rules say: At the start of the round the players shall be seated in their places,
    in front of the chessboard, according to their team composition. Any player who will not be in his/her place at the start of the round will be forfeited, thus losing his/her game. So the Zero Tolerance Rule shall be in effect.

    Those are different rules. It is even legal to change the rules like that for a tournament?

  8. There was a few funny incidents here as well. One guy was thinking a lot over his first move, as White, and the opponent got up after waiting for a few minutes to look at other games. The arbiter had not paid full attention and suddenly realised that a Black player had not made a move and was not there. It took a bit of explaining before he decided not to default him.

  9. @Niall

    Sadly, US tourneys are almost always understaffed with arbiters. It was basically just one or two covering 30, 40 boards.

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