The Open File
by Life Master Mike Petersen (Zug)
Adjournments, An Outdated Practice
FIDE chess games didn’t always play out to a finish in one sitting. There didn’t used to be “sudden death” time controls in all FIDE games. They used to have controls that started with 40 moves in two hours but with no added time per move (there were no digital clocks). The second time control was 20 moves per hour for the rest of the game. Again, no added time, and all subsequent time controls were 20 moves per hour.
Think about it. Some chess games can last up to 100 moves (maybe more). If all the time available was used during a 100-move game, it could last as long as 10 hours! Egad. Something had to be done to ameliorate the fatigue factor, so FIDE came up with the idea of postponing the game to be completed later after 5 hours of play; in others words, just about at the end of the first time control. The question then arose: how the heck can they do that in a fair way?
Here is how it worked. At some point, the arbiter would come up to the players and tell them the next move shall be sealed. Whosever move it was would nod, and keep on thinking. When he decided upon his move, he would NOT play it on the board. He would stop the clock, and call the arbiter over for the “sealed move envelope”. He would then write down his intended move on a piece of paper and seal it in the envelope. Then the game would be stopped until a specified time, usually the next morning, but not always. The net effect was that the player who sealed the move knew his next move, but not what his opponent will play against it. The player who did not seal the move has to wait until the next day to find out his opponent’s next move. Both players were therefore in the same situation. It was a fair as you could get. There was only one problem. How did they prevent someone from analyzing the game during the adjournment period? Well, they didn’t. All Grandmasters at FIDE tournaments had at least one other ranked player with them whose job it was to analyze the adjourned positions and go over them with the player. But that’s cheating, you might say. Yes, today it would be considered that, but not back then. There were no reliable chess engines to analyze the game to death, so a GM’s “second” was a very valuable commodity. Today we look upon this practice as weird, but it was necessary back then.
Once digital clocks were invented, we could alter time controls in chess games so that the whole thing could be completed in, say, six hours at the most, thus eliminating the adjournments, and the outside analysts. But, I’m from the “old school” of chess. You might think I would miss the whole adjournment process, but you’d be wrong. I don’t miss it, not even for one “second.”
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