Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Playing by the Rules

From the sights to the sounds to the smells,
outdoor chess (even under a covered shelter) is nothing like playing indoors.

  On May 18th I held my first outdoor tournament of the summer. The morning session only had 15 players in attendance (not helped by six no-shows) but everyone had a good time playing and with so few players I was able to talk with the parents and help show the unrated players how they could turn their stalemates into checkmates and develop their pieces towards the middle instead of the edges. If I had to pinpoint a reason for the poor attendance I’d have to say that having six weeks between tournaments gave enough people enough time to get out of the tournament habit but it could also have been a random occurrence.

  Once the morning tournament was over, it was time for my afternoon Time Odds Blitz tournament. I’ve wanted to have a tournament where everyone could play on a more or less equal footing for quite some time and when the outdoor shelter I use was only available until 3pm I decided to have a clock tournament where the higher rated player would have less time than their lower rated opponents and the greater the difference in rating, the less time the higher rated player would have.

  I’ve never held or played in a time odds tournament but having played all comers at the Marshalltown Mall at time odds of one minute to ten the past two years, I knew that one minute was not quite enough time to play a full game of chess against an experienced but lower rated player so I decided to set the minimum amount of time a player could have as two minutes. The tournament was set to take two hours and I wanted to try to get anywhere from five to eight games so I set the maximum amount of time a player could have as eight minutes so if two equally rated players met they would have eight minutes apiece and the longest a game could take would be 16 minutes.

  I had to have the time odds set when I announced the tournament but I didn’t decide on the other tournament rules until a couple of weeks before the actual date. My main considerations were 1) I was going to have a mixture of experienced and beginning players and I wanted them all to have a good time so they would play in future tournaments and 2) I wanted to play in the tournament so I wanted to minimize the number of times that I would be interrupted while playing. Since the tournament was not going to be USCF rated, I had the freedom to have any rules I wanted.

  The most common reason I am called over to resolve a dispute in my youth chess tournaments is when one player claims their opponent touched a piece and the opponent says they didn’t (in USCF tournaments a player must move the piece they touch or take the opponent’s piece they touch). Normally I resolve these problems by saying since I didn’t see the player touch the piece I won’t make them move or take it and closely observe the game from that point on. Since I wouldn’t be able to observe a game AND play I decided on doing away with the touch move rule and instead ending the move when the clock was pressed. This is called ‘clock-move’ and was the unwritten rule in force when I played speed chess for money in New York 30 years ago.

A tournament where everyone can play on equal terms.
Possibly a Quixotic quest but one well worth persuing.

  The most common reason I need to intervene in adult tournaments is when one player makes an illegal move. The penalty for making an illegal move in blitz tournaments is the loss of the game while in longer games the penalty is to add two minutes to the opponent’s time. Neither of these rules was suitable for my tournament. I didn’t want a beginning player (who would no doubt be nervous anyway) to lose a bunch of games because they made an illegal move in the opening. I also didn’t want two beginning players playing each other, making a lot of illegal moves, and then each having 30 minutes to play because of the added time while everyone else just watched. So my penalty for an illegal move was to subtract a minute from the offending player’s time and if they had a minute or less left they’d lose the game.

  There was one problem with this rule. Suppose I had a losing position with 3 minutes left while my opponent had a few seconds left. I could make two or three illegal moves in a row and press the clock. My opponent would lose precious seconds each time they stopped the clock to subtract a minute from my time and may lose the game because of it. If you think that is far-fetched you haven’t seen the depths some will sink to in order to win a chess game. This led me to make an addendum to the time rule that the penalty for an illegal move when the opponent had less than 30 seconds left to be the loss of the game.

  The only other non-standard rule I had was that a checkmate only ended the game if the player had pressed the clock with at least one second left. Normally checkmate ends the game, but I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be called over after the fact to decide whether the checkmate came before the player’s time ran out or vice versa.

  I had a nice mix of 15 players for the tournament. There were some holdovers from the morning youth tournament, some parents, Mathew Jacob and Eddie Divanovic (who I played against in the Big Money Blitz tournament two years ago), me, and a few other assorted players. I had just paired the first round and was going to post them when I saw a group of people in cowboy hats heading over to the shelter. I immediately recognized them as the chess-playing Carson family including Bethany Carson, the five time Iowa Girls champion and fellow blogger who helps at my chess camp (you can read her account of the tournament here). Also along were Daniel and Sarah Faith who I hadn’t seen in almost three years (and were both taller than me now), Charity (who has beat me in two of our last three encounters in Marshalltown), father Tim (who beat me for the first time ever at our last chess meeting in September of 2012), and mother Betty (who wasn’t going to play). The family was on a day trip to museums in Des Moines and decided to spend a couple of hours playing chess. I repaired the first round, made a quick announcement to make sure everyone understood the rules and we were underway just a few minutes late.

  I had written the time odds on the pairing sheets and had all my clocks set at 8 minutes to 8 minutes, but I still had to set the clocks for each game individually. It only took a few minutes before the first round and even less when one of the players helped me set the clocks before each round. I got interrupted a couple of times when I had to take away a minute from a player who made an illegal move but other than that I was able to concentrate on my games. I played really well in my first two games and torched my opponents (chess parent Jason and Charity Carson) despite having two minutes vs. their eight. In round three it was my turn to have eight minutes against Eddie’s seven. Eddie won a pawn, I gave him another pawn for threats that made him use up some time, and the game boiled down to an opposite colored bishop ending where Eddie had three pawns to my two, but I had three minutes to his 90 seconds. I could have aimlessly moved my bishop around to win on time but instead offered Eddie a draw which he accepted. In the fourth round I played Daniel Carson at six vs. eight minutes. I won a pawn and boiled the game down to a double rook ending, but I remained two minutes behind and couldn’t make any progress. I tried to conjure up some checkmate threats, but Daniel managed a quicker attack and checkmated my king for my first loss of the day. Next I played my third two vs. eight game vs. Justin, an adult first time tournament player. I again won another pawn but got down to less than a minute. I launched a desperate attack which Justin repulsed with a nice tactic and was going to either win a piece or my queen. I went for a cheapo and made a move that threatened checkmate but allowed Justin to take my bishop and remove the mate threat or take my queen. Justin took the Queen and I got the lucky checkmate.

Why didn't I notice that Mathew Jacob and Daniel Carson had played (like in the picture on the left) before the final round? Because I was three feet away concentrating on my battle with top seed Eddie (right). One more example of why directing and playing at the same time is so hard to do. It is impossible to concentrate on my own game AND everything (or anything) else.

  In the last round Daniel Carson and Mathew Jacob were the co-leaders with 4.5 out of 5, but the computer had Daniel playing his dad Tim and Mathew playing me. I changed the pairings to let the co-leaders play each other, BUT since I was so busy playing I didn’t realize that they had already played and drew each other. Having them play each other again for the championship seems logical but it wouldn’t have been fair to the loser of the match since he would have lost out on second place money primarily because of having to play the champion twice. I let the original pairings stand. I played really well against Mathew and had a Knight and three pawns to his Bishop and one pawn when with a 1:17 on the clock I made an illegal move! I had to play by the rules I made, so I took a minute off my clock and just like that I only had 17 seconds left. I didn’t panic and quickly traded off Mathew’s bishop and pawn and stalemated his king with just a few seconds left on my clock for the draw. It was a lucky draw because Mathew could have kept his bishop or pawn to run me out of time and win the game. Because of my draw with Mathew, Daniel won first place and $42 and Mathew second place and $21. Eddie finished third and I was tied for fourth with a couple of other players.

  I had an awesome time playing and everyone seemed to have a lot of fun with the tournament format. There weren’t nearly as many upsets as I thought there would be and almost all of those were scored by tournament winner (Daniel Carson), a rapidly improving scholastic player whose rating hasn’t caught up with her ability (Ana Denison), and a first time tournament player who I gave too low of a rating to (Justin). The younger players generally had trouble giving time odds but also did not take their time when they were getting the odds. The result say the time odds could use a little tweaking, but I disagree. I don’t believe giving the lower rated players more time will help if they don’t use their time and while a higher rated player could conduct a game in 90 seconds, it would make setting the clocks more difficult and two minutes seemed about right since I saw more than a few games where the higher rated players beat their opponent with only a few seconds on their clock.

  If the lower rated players will learn to make use of their time there will be many more upsets in future tournaments. Regardless of how the attendance goes at the future time odds tournaments (I don’t expect the Carson family driving 100 miles for two hours of chess every month!), I think a tournament where the winning chances are somewhat equalized turned out to be a keeper of an idea and one that was well worth trying.

  Speaking of playing by the rules, on May 24th, the Chess Journalists of America posted on their website that the entries for the annual CJA awards are due by June 15th and referred the readers of the post to p.41 of the May 2013 Chess Life Magazine. The magazine gave information on what awards entries are being accepted for, how much the entries cost and the email address of the Awards Chairman in case of any questions. There was also a link to the 2012 awards announcement on the CJA website.

  Aside from the oddity of not having the awards announcement posted on the CJA's own website for nearly a month after being announced in the Chess Life magazine, for the second year in a row there are no guidelines on what should be included with an entry (except that six copies of the Best Book is required) or where they should be sent. Last year I submitted 3 links from Broken Pawn for the best blog award because with no guidelines to follow I went by the 2011 guidelines only to be told four days (and only then after I asked if my entry was received because I had gotten no acknowledgement) before the deadline that the judges were only going to consider one post for the best blog award.

  I would like to submit either of my four part Jackson Open or Okoboji Open posts for the best blog award, but with no guidelines for the submission, I have no idea if blogs will be judged on the submitted posts, the blog as a whole, or last year’s silliness of judging a year-long body of work by a single blog post (I wonder if the entries for the Best Book award will bave only a single chapter or page considered?).

  I’ve submitted entries for the last three CJA awards and was rewarded with the material for many blog posts about the process. My favorite part of the process was to see how my posts compared against the other entries in the voting but last year’s committee did not see fit to release the results of the voting. Last year the awards chairman resigned suddenly in April so it would be marginally understandable not to have any printed guidelines in 2012. With a whole year to prepare there should be no reason to not having the entry rules set before the awards announcement. There isn’t even any address listed for where to send an entry. In my Time Odds Blitz tournament I had the rules listed before the tournament started so everyone could play by them, but the CJA makes it impossible to play by the rules since the rules are unknown.

  When I pointed out the inconsistencies in the awards process last year, an awards committee ‘insider’ found the time to post an ‘anonymous’ comment on my blog to chastise me for criticizing the awards process while whining what a ‘onerous, time consuming, thankless and unpaid responsibility’ being on the committee was. It is telling that while time was found to complain about valid criticisms, there was no time available (with an entire year to prepare) to provide a set of guidelines for the awards submissions, release the results of the prior year’s voting, or even provide an address where the entries should be sent to. Maybe when time is found for these responsibilities to be fulfilled, I will find time to submit an award entry.