I feel the need to discuss the events of my game tonight in our match with the Dallas Destiny.
This blog post will be detailed and will interest you if you are a fan of the Cobras, a friend of mine, interested in arcane rules, or, most importantly, are interested in the protection of the importance and integrity of the league, and of good sporting values. I have played tournament chess for 27 years and I have never felt such pain from a game.
As you may know, we lost our match 2.5-1.5. With no games yet finished, I had just completed my 29th move, Bf3. Feeling I had a comfortable position, I took my first look at the other games of my teammates. Since none of them had actual board, I opened three other windows and took a peak at their status. When clicking back to my own game, I selected what I thought was some random negative space on the border of my game's window. The next look I took, the position said White Resigns, 0-1.
Shocked, I ran out of the room and told the TD, Gary Newsom, to call Greg Shahade, the commissioner, right away. There was clearly no way any person rated over 1000 would ever resign, let alone on his opponent's move. I had about a dozen mitigating circumstances and I was expecting some sort of small time penalty. I was told by Greg that in the rules it states that any mouse slip that ends the cannot be overturned.
To say that I was surprised is an understatement. I had no idea such a harsh rule was in place. I did everything to protect against mouse slips. I was using a brick-and-mortar board, the only one of my teammates to do so. The rules say this protects against any mouse slip that does not end the game. Even though I was getting short of time, my board remained in use. I was borrowing the TD's computer, which had Dasher installed, which I was using for the first time in my life (I've always used Blitzin). Greg's position was that he installed the rule because it would take too long to reset the position. This is an untenable position that Greg himself rebuffed 20 minutes later, when he told me that he asked the administrators of ICC and they told him that in fact it did not take very long to reset the game and the clocks. Why then would the commissioner have a rule in place, with the most Draconian penalty possible, if his main support for having it did not exist at all?
I pleaded with Greg to be the intermediary and contact the team captain or TD of the Dallas team (I did not send my opponent a "tell" because I thought telling my TD and telling the commissioner was the proper channel. He skirted the reasons why he refused to do this, basically saying it would make the other team uncomfortable.
In any over-the-board tournament, two players of sporting nature and reasonably constitution could circumvent a referee upon mutual agreement. Indeed, that is the nature of chess and why it is so special. Don't think Greg likes when two players come to an agreement on their own? Let's look at his Facebook posting (via Twitter) from September 5 of this year. After GMs Moiseenko and Navara had a touch-move incident, Navara later offered a draw in a winning position to protect the integrity of how the game should be won (he later won an award for the gesture). Greg's post: "Huge props to these Moisenko (sic) and Navara guys." He replied to his own post: "People accidentally brush against pieces all of the time and no one ever makes a big fuss about it...Nice to see them all sporting and stuff."
So, taking Greg at his own words, he lauds the sportsmanship of top GMs but refuses to contact the other team to see if they will offer a similar gesture. In case you are curious about the game, all computers agree that I am equal or a smidge better. Curiously, my opponent, Conrad Holt, obviously wasn't expecting a resignation because he made a move on the board. I think a drawn game and match was a fair result, but I believe more that Holt should have the chance to continue the game, agree to a draw (the game was not in his favor), or decide to adhere strictly to the rule. If this makes him or the team uncomfortable, as Greg states, I have news - every draw offer puts a player in a moment of individual decision making on behalf of the team.
I was later told by Craig Jones, the longtime manager of the Cobras, that he estimates that on at least six occasions in the history of the league, Greg DID reach out to him to see if he would be amenable to reversing a mouse slip. So why then, if our manager has been so sportsmanly in the six years of the league, would Greg no even try reach out to Dallas, like he had done with us in the past?
I really don't know how this can be referred to as a professional chess league when such Draconian penalties are in place. Think about it, after hours of play, I click OFF of the board, and lose a game. No takebacks even possible, no discussion with the other party, just end of game.
It is hard to reconcile the ruling with Greg as a person. He has been a friend since high school, we just recently collaborated on a US Chess League camp in Charlotte, and I have respected his willingness to organize the chess world in unique ways.
For all these reasons it makes it that much harder to understand why he would not contact the other team (despite my numerous pleas to do so), and thus offer us a gesture that the Carolina Cobras have granted other teams so many times - a gesture of sportsmanship that when made between two top GMs he applauded unequivocally.
The ruling cost us a match win or tie, and may end up reshaping the league playoffs for both East and West Divisions. Is this how you want the champion of a professional league decided? By the few micrometers of a small computer window? I would hope not.