First two rounds at Tulsa

by admin on March 28, 2008

The U.S. Championship Qualifier got under way today. The final turnout was 104 people, with 10 grandmasters. The top-rated player in the tournament is Julio Becerra. There were no big surprises yet that I know of, but we did have our first mini-controversy. In the game between Todd Andrews and Alexander Ivanov on board two, Ivanov stopped keeping score during the time scramble. Andrews claimed that he had to keep score because it’s not a sudden-death time control. In a time control like this one, where both players get 30-second time increments every move, the usual rule (which says that you don’t have to keep score when there are less than five minutes on your clock) does not apply.

I had never heard of this new variation on the scorekeeping rules. In fact, in my second-round game I stopped keeping score with less than five minutes left, and thought nothing of it. I didn’t realize I was breaking a rule. My opponent did the same in the first round. My feeling is, what difference does it make? The real reason for requiring people to keep score is to make it possible to prove claims like threefold repetition, the 50-move rule, etc. Once you stop keeping score, you forfeit the right to make that claim. If this is a “crime,” the only victim is yourself.

Nevertheless, Andrews protested to the TD, who told Ivanov that he had to keep score. But he did not forfeit Ivanov, which is apparently what Andrews wanted. Eventually, Ivanov reached a won position in the endgame. Andrews tipped over his king, said “Cheater,” and stomped off in a huff.

Who’s in the right? I don’t know. I overheard Alex Yermolinsky talking about it with a couple other people, and he wasn’t buying Ivanov’s innocent act. ”He’s played in enough international tournaments, he knows the rules.”

As for me, I got off to an 0-2 start. My first-round game was a real see-saw affair. I had White against Jake Kleiman, a 2375 player from Tennessee who nearly won the U.S. Junior Championship a couple years ago. (He was 20 then, so I guess he is 22 now.) I played a rather dubious pawn sac and we reached this position:

Here is where the game started to turn around for me. I figured that the only way I could save this game was to go for maximum activity, so I played 25. Be4. According to the computer, Black’s best is 25. … Bxh3, but Kleiman was reluctant to give away the two bishops. So he played 25. … Bd7?! 26. Bd5! Rxb2. I was glad to see him take a second pawn. That’s one more tempo for my pieces to get into action! After 27. Nhg5 my pieces are really starting to come to life. Now there are threats like Nxf7 for Black to worry about.


According to the computer, Black’s last chance to keep an advantage was 27. … Bxg5. But once again, Kleiman was reluctant to part with the two bishops, and instead played 27. … Nc7. This stops 28. Nxf7, but after 28. Ne4! White threatens to win the bishop with Nf6+. Kleiman defended with 28. … Nxd5 29. cd Nb8 and offered a draw.

Well, naturally I declined — he had only one minute left to my 9 minutes, plus my position is now much superior! After 30. Be7 Rc8 31. Bxc5 Bg7 32. Bxd4 I really thought I was going to win. In fact, Black soon had to give up the exchange for a pawn, and we got to this position:


And now we get to the move I really, really regret. Until now I’ve been doing fine, but at this point the time situation really started to get to me. I was under five minutes. One thing I’ve noticed many times is that when I get into time trouble, I start playing unnecessarily passive moves. Here Black has a weak pawn at f4, so I should attack it with 35. Ng5! As Jesse Kraai would say, “simple chess.” Psychologically, though, I could no longer think aggressively. I was worried that if I moved my knight, his rook would come to d2. But that’s no worry; if 35. … Rd2 I just take on e6 and I’m winning. Remember, he’s got a problem on his back rank!

Instead I played the lame, passive 35. Rac1, and after this the computer shows that most of White’s advantage is gone. Worse, I was now losing psychologically. I was more worried about the clock than the position on the board, and that’s always a recipe for trouble. About twelve moves and a couple of blunders later, I hung a rook and resigned.

This was exactly what I was afraid might happen in this tournament. I’ve never played with this time control before, and I was just a bundle of nerves once I got under five minutes. Even though I was actually ahead on time!

I won’t give a lengthy description of round 2. As Black, I got an isolated queen pawn, gave away the pawn in order to liquidate everything on the queenside, and reached an endgame of R+N+4P versus R+B+3P with all the pawns on the same side of the board. I thought the endgame should be defensible, but my opponent, a master from New Orleans named John Bick, played it very well and won.

So, a disappointing start. Good thing it’s a long tournament, and I still have a chance to conquer my time-pressure demons!

By the way, Andy Hortillosa is here, and I got to meet him. He’s a real nice guy, with a little more gray hair than I expected, but then I probably have a little more gray hair than he expected, too! He went 0-2, too. Oh well, not such a great day for “dana blogs chess” fans. For ChessLecture fans it was a pretty good day, though, as both Eugene Perelshteyn and Jesse Kraai are 2-0. I hope I’ll have a little time to watch them tomorrow.

Stay tuned for more! 

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Dribbling March 30, 2008 at 2:35 am

35 Rac1 was not only lame and passive, it was illegal, there is no rook on the a file. There has to be a way to overcome this time trouble problem, unfortunately I don’t know what it is, but it seems like your results would improve dramatically with better play in time trouble. Maybe if you looked at your games trying to identify moves over which you may have spent an unjustified amount of time….


T. Andrews March 31, 2008 at 5:13 pm

There are no referees in chess. Players must ref. their own games and if your opponent requests to you one time to follow a certain rule and you clearly understand the rule, then why would you not follow it? Should one warning to your opponent to follow the rules be enough? Because I gave the GM four or five warning and he refused to correct his scoresheet. At what point should a guy (who is immorally breaking the rules, because he is aware that if he follows the rules, then he would run out of time) be forfeited? Chess doesn’t have any penalties to assess and its up to the TDs. Alexander Ivanov purposely broke a rule he was fully aware of to save his ass. If that is not blatent cheating, then what is? To quote John Goodman from the Big Lewbowski “This isn’t Nam Smokey, there are rules!”


admin April 1, 2008 at 1:50 pm

Dribbling — Sorry! I meant R5c1.

Todd — Thanks for the clarification about what happened! I didn’t see the whole affair from the beginning.

I’m still completely on the fence about the whole thing. Not sure whether I agree with the rule that you have to keep score. Not sure what you can do to enforce the rule. There aren’t any five-yard or fifteen-yard penalties in chess, and I continue to think that forfeiting the whole game is too extreme for this particular violation. I’d love to see some more debate/discussion on this.

I certainly learned something, personally, from this situation. In both of my first two games I stopped keeping score once I got below five minutes, because I (unlike Ivanov) didn’t know any better. After round two, I kept score even when I got down below a minute. And you know what? 30 seconds is plenty of time to both write a move down and think. Once I started realizing that 30 seconds is plenty of time, I didn’t stress so much over it.

By the way, one thing that really sucks about this, for Todd, is that Ivanov’s … mmm … creative rule-breaking may have cost Todd a place in the U.S. Championship. Todd was one of the people who tied with 5 points but did not qualify because his tiebreaks were not good enough. But suppose he had beaten Ivanov. Then he unquestionably would have gotten stronger pairings. If he could still have scored 5 points, he would have had better tiebreaks.

We’ll never know, will we?


Chris Bird April 2, 2008 at 7:48 am
Andres D. Hortillosa April 2, 2008 at 8:16 am

I had been watching the game for the last 20 minutes when this happens. There is another side to the story that is not told anywhere. Todd was ahead on time even before the first “request” was lodged. The GM was also facing difficult issues on the board. Ivanov’s time slowly got to below 1 minute because he was in dire situation. By him not taking the time to record his moves, he bought precious time in figuring out the right sequence of moves. In other words, if he were playing by the rules (assuming there are any that apply), then for sure he would not have the time to figure out a winning line. But let us not forget also that Ivanov had a draw on demand on the board which he elected not to take while trying to figure out a winning plan. Watching this unfolding sequence, I thought a three-fold was about to occur but it was just a display of another wily GM technique often used by folks who are in time trouble but needed time to figure a win.

The situation got exacerbated because there was no TD around. I had to step out of the room and fetched the TD myself which took another 5 minutes. Todd’s mistake was not stopping the clock much earlier. It is also true that Todd made repeated requests to the GM to obey the rules. The frustration got to the level that these vocal requests began to disturb other players.

There are other issues here that we neglect to include in the debate. For one, while it is true that we are using a FIDE time control and the tournament is FIDE rated, it does not necessarily follow that we are not using USCF tournament rules. It is also correct that under UCSF rules, one does not need to record his moves when his time is less than 5 minutes. The argument Todd was making that because of the increment (not delay), different rules apply. Because of the increment, one must continue to record the moves. However, it is not clear if such rule exists in FIDE because USCF rules do not address the increment time control.

There is a big difference between delay and increment. A delay time control simply allows one to not lose any more time if the move is made during the delay period. For example, if I only have 30 seconds left, and the delay is 30 seconds, as long as I make the move within the 30-second delay period, my time will remain at 30 seconds. There is not time lost but there is no gain either. With the increment time control, however, it is a different story. If you make a move instantly, the remaining seconds gets added to your existing time on the clock. So you can actually gain time under the increment time control. The 30 seconds can grow into a minute. Under this scheme, you cannot lose on time if you are watching the clock carefully. In the delay time control, over time, you will have expended your remaining time if the move is not made within the delay period.

To prevent similar issues from occurring, organizers must specify on the announcement that only USCF rules apply despite the use of FIDE time controls. We say it is a FIDE time control, but any tournament can come up arbitrarily with any time control it desires. Just because the increment time control was a FIDE mainstay, it does not make it automatically a FIDE event. Certainly one can argue by extension that it does not require the tournament to be played under FIDE rules as well.

Now to answer the question whether a forfeit is harsh or not as punishment; the answer is simple. It is harsh for the offending side but not so for the victim side. If the victim side gets zero point, then it becomes a case of double injustice. First, he got no relief to his complaint and second, he got as end result of the absence of some form of penalty a loss. What was his offense? On the other hand, the offending party got his rich rewards. In my view, the offended party should at least get the least possible result, which in this case, half a point. If I were the TD, I would have made this ruling: I would inform the offending party that the infraction has earned the victim at least a draw if play continues. The TD must first ensure the infraction actually occurred as claimed.

This kind of ruling will prevent future infractions by players. Some players (not saying that GM Ivanov is one) knowingly violate rules because they know the first infraction usually gets only a warning. In chess games, sometimes you only need to violate a rule once to get the desired effect – a win. Because of the rich reward, a warning cannot be a just punishment to this type of infraction. The moral hazard theory will tip one’s propensity to always venture towards the offense because in their minds the rich reward negates the hazard of the offense.

In practice, this type of infraction is willful and calculated making the offense even more reprehensible. A simple warning will not deter players from committing the offense.

Andres D. Hortillosa


admin April 2, 2008 at 9:35 am

Thanks, Andres and Chris, for your excellent and informative comments, which brought up even more sides to this issue than I knew existed.

There was never an announcement, to my knowledge, of whether this tournament was following USCF or FIDE rules. But I think that any USCF-rated tournament must be conducted under USCF rules, or at least any difference between USCF rules and tournament rules must be announced publicly. If I remember correctly, this is stated explicitly in the USCF rulebook. (Note: I have not looked at a USCF rulebook in 20 years, so my memory could be wrong or out of date.)

This would definitely appear to be a gray area, where changes in technology have led to discrepancies in the rule. Is there a USCF rules committee that can look into the question?


T. Andrews April 2, 2008 at 9:54 am

Why would you adopt the FIDE time control, but now adopt the FIDE time control rules?


T. Andrews April 2, 2008 at 9:54 am

Sorry, why would you NOT adopt the rules that accompany it?


Andres D. Hortillosa April 2, 2008 at 11:04 am

Well, any organizer can arbitrarily use any time control. It just happens that today the 30-second increment is popularly known as a FIDE time control. It became a popular FIDE time control simply because it solves a lot of practical issues.

The fact that it is not used in most USCF tournaments is the simple fact that we do not have a specific rule covering it. There might be some USCF rule or combination of UCSF rules that can attenuate the crisis. But Dana is correct to intone that our rules are behind the consequences of the technology we employ. Also, TD should defer to the higher body if local rules do not suffice in settling the question. If said ruling was made, it would find your case easy to argue.

When the organizer adopts a particular time control, he does not necessarily obligate himself to a set of rules. Overall, it was a failure of not mitigating for scenarios like the one you were in.


Michael Aigner April 4, 2008 at 10:55 pm

I clearly heard an announcement before round 1 that players had to keep score for ALL moves. The players in the small room (boards 1-8) were asked to come to the main room for these announcements. It is unclear to me whether they all did. Nonetheless, this rule should not be a surprise to those of us who have played under 90+30 in the past.

In a later round, I summoned a TD to my board to warn an opponent about keeping score with a minute on his clock. My opponent was surprised and unhappy, but complied. He lost the game with only a minimal fight.


Stoyan Iordanov June 25, 2008 at 12:04 am

I don’t have a high rating, but I’ve read both FIDE laws and USCF rules, and my take on this is that FIDE laws are above all, on FIDE-rated events.

Here is what FIDE’s Laws of Chess state (, right in the preface:

A member federation is free to introduce more detailed rules provided they:
a. do not conflict in any way with the official FIDE Laws of Chess
b. are limited to the territory of the federation in question; and
c. are not valid for any FIDE match, championship or qualifying event, or for a FIDE title or rating tournament.

My understanding of this is that local rules of member federations (such as USCF) do not apply to FIDE-rated events.


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