In this article, the fourth part of my "A Pawn Up" series, we will be seeing a game that I played myself. This was the first round of the Eastern Open, which was held in Potomac, Maryland. This tournament always takes place in the time between Christmas and the New Year.
In the first round, as is usual I played a rather lower rated player. My opponent was a player rated in the 2000's named Vinay Doma. A central pawn was dropped early in the game, and quickly it became a question of technique. But I believe the game was instructive, a pure complex (i.e. multiple pieces) ending with an extra pawn. The question was: what's the proper way to consolidate and make progress.
But the biggest obstacle had already been surmounted! And that obstacle was - getting to the tournament. Yes, it did take a full five hours to get from Philadelphia to this suburb north of Washington D.C. So the first - and important - lesson is to leave early, and leaving in the afternoon is not early enough. They do construction on the highway even at high traffic times. Leave in the morning, even for what should be a two-hour drive.
Thus I walked in fifteen minutes after the game was supposed to start, and here is how it began:
Here we have reached our subject matter (the queens have been traded). Black is up a healthy central pawn, with plenty of space and active pieces. But how to guide the game to a win? How to make progress? Of course this ending is winning. But are you confident of winning it against a strong computer program? Maybe try it out?
First think about what you would do here before looking at the continuation. What immediate maneuver would you undertake, and what about the general outline of Black's future play?
Although I ended up winning the tournament, I was very depressed afterwards. The reason - a young player in the open section was under suspicion of cheating with electronic help. I played nearby during the game in question and his behavior was indeed very suspicious.
While I want to make it clear that there is no proof that the player was cheating - and I am far from convinced that he was - that is not the point. It is clear that others have and will continue to do so if nothing is changed.
I think that the potential for electronic cheating is able to destroy chess, and already this danger throws me (and doubtless many others) into despair. It makes me think constantly if I should quit the game I have spent so much of my life in altogether.
I simply want to use this position to advocate for the first step that must be taken to deal with this problem - banning all electronic devices in the tournament hall. While this would not prevent all cheating, it would make a huge difference in the danger of 'casual cheating'. I am talking about players who would not go to the trouble of creating an elaborate cheating system, but would succumb to the temptation to use their device which they already carry. I believe most of those players who have had complex systems began 'casually', and eventually moved on to more high-tech methods.
A complete ban on electronic devices would not only prevent most of 'casual cheating', but also make it possible to stop anyone who would continue to do that. For instance, the organizers of the above tournament were not likely to search the young player's iPad, looking for evidence. However, if devices were not allowed at all, then they could simply find the device itself, which would already be enough proof. Additionally, such a ban would create an atmosphere where it is clear that electronics and chess do not mix.
As it is, it is a short step for a young player, practically born with an iPad in his hand, to go from studying with a computer, preparing with a computer, carrying a computer to the game, and analyzing afterwards with a computer - to pulling out the computer during the game.
I have heard some say that such a ban would drive away amateurs who need to be connected to their phone at all times. Well, humanity has existed for a very long time, and cell phones - not so long. I think you can manage. I have never played in a tournament where there was not some place for me to put my phone (car, hotel room, hotel concierge, etc). What will really drive away chess players is the loss of integrity of chess. The loss of chess as an activity where you are in charge of your own fate. The paranoia. These things will not only drive away those amateurs who are apparently not devoted enough to put down their smartphone for a few hours, but also destroy the image of chess to the world.
So I ask chess officials worldwide - you are presiding over the potential death of chess, something which has existed for thousands of years and which many people love. Please ban all electronic devices from tournaments. Do not try to make some arbitrary distinction between "amateur" and "professional" tournaments. Most tournaments the world over - such as that one, which contained four GMs but also players under 2000 - contain both "amateurs" and "professionals", and indeed it is hard to define those terms in the chess world.
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