20 April 2015

A trap for Dvalishvili

GM Dmitry Kryakvin discusses the controversial rule that gives arbiters too much power.

While the entire chess world was breathlessly following the arduous, uncompromising struggle of the planet's best female players that took place in Russia's Sochi, the venue for the 2014 Winter Olympics, the Aeroflot Open 2015 chess festival finished in Moscow. The tournament resumed its work after a break, and the buzzwords once associated with the event, such as "Alexander Bakh's pet project", "a participation package", "a booking at the Kosmos hotel", "the organizing committee reserves the right to...", and "a ticket to Dortmund", found their way back into chess players' everyday jargon. Aeroflot reopened its doors for players from all over the world, and the first tournament held after the break was quite a success.

Ian Nepomniachtchi, the winner of Aero-2008, won both main tournaments (classical and blitz) with flying colors. Throughout the marathon race, the brilliantly playing Daniil Dubov and Ivan Bukavshin matched him stride for stride. But when the finish line was close, Ian rushed forward so unstoppably that it seemed that even Charle de Gaulle's statue standing near the hotel's entrance bowed a little and raised its famous peaked cap to salute the talented Muscovite. 

Bravo, Ian! 

Your author could only watch the battles that would decide who would play in Dortmund from the depths of the tournament B hall, at times bitterly regretting he had come to Moscow as a player rather than a journalist. Nevertheless, I finally found the occasion to do some journalism: in the eighth round of the side event, a scandal erupted in a very curious context. The parties involved were a legend of Moscow chess, IM Pavel Dvalishvili, and his Azerbaijani colleague IM Orkhan Abdulov.

The game took on a very heated turn from the opening moves: both rivals had a +2 score two rounds before the finish, and the winner in this game had a chance to earn a prize worth several thousand euros, while the loser would be fighting over some crumbs in the European currency. After the game, Dvalishvili would claim that the Azerbaijani had been very cheeky and provocative from the very first moves. Abdulov countered that Pavel did everything he could to disrupt his train of thought, writing moves down on the scoresheet before making them on the board and sliding them across to see the reaction of his opponent. In turn, Dvalishvili took his visual disability certificate out of his pocket and insisted that he had meant nothing of the sort.

The background for this confrontation was as follows. Abdulov's position was hopelessly lost (long before the time control – Black hadn't even made it out of the opening), but the Azerbaijani master appealed to the arbiter several times, saying that Dvalishvili wrote down moves before making them. As the Muscovite kept doing so, the Azerbaijani demanded that his opponent be forfeited. The arbiters rushed to the scene, stopped the game and escorted the players out into the corridor: the other participants could only guess what was happening there from some exclamations. 

Chief Arbiter Geurt Gijssen soon arrived, and a translation from Russian into English had to be provided to explain the problem. Then Gijssen, in full compliance with the rules, forfeited Dvalishvili. As it turned out, if a player keeps writing down moves before making them on the board despite the arbiter's warnings, he may face a tough punishment. Apparently after the third such offense. Are you aware of this rule, my dear reader?

Frankly speaking, I feel really sorry for Pavel, even though it was mostly his own fault because he hadn't corrected his behavior after the first warning. As a result, Abdulov won the last game and came 4th, while Dvalishvili had to content himself with some puny "aero-bonuses." It seems that the rule saying that a move should be written down only after it was made was introduced around 2005. And the only known case when a punitive verdict was applied occurred at the World Youth Championship in the same year. But here, when such an impressive amount was at stake... Just think about it: White lost a won game only because he wrote moves down in advance!! Just like many World Champions had done before him. Mikhail Botvinnik even urged young players to write their moves on the scoresheet in advance to avoid haste and the unfortunate blunders that go along with it.

Of course, I am not casting doubt on the arbiters' decisions in this situation. The law is the law, and a highly professional and very fair team of arbiters was working at Aeroflot. But doesn't it seem to you, dear readers, that quite a number of strange rules has been introduced into the chess world lately, and without any consultation with the chess community? A lot has been said about the "Sofia" rules and zero tolerance, but after all, there are also other rather strange examples.

I recall how Igor Bolotinsky told a story of how at one of the FIDE gatherings in 2008 a delegate from Africa asked: "But why can you only take en passsant with a pawn? Let's allow en passant with a piece!" And that initiative was considered in all seriousness, but fortunately more circumspect delegates didn't let it pass. But tell me what's bad about writing down a move in advance? Should this really be punished with a defeat? So if my opponent came to the tournament drunk or used foul language when playing, there is no clearly written procedure to forfeit him, but if the malefactor wrote down a move in advance, it's zero for the villain! 

Every year the rules on promoting a pawn change. They also suddenly decided that an impossible move in rapid chess has to be punished with a loss. They introduced a 4x multiplier for juniors, which resulted in some very dubious distortions in the junior rating list and opened up countless opportunities for various schemes to falsely boost your Elo rating and gain a title... But who writes these rules? What are the motives for their decisions? I'd like to find it out, but... but it will not help Pavel Dvalishvili. Or, as it turned out, Wesley So.