On Saturday Indian grandmaster Baskaran Adhiban forfeited his third-round game in the National Team Open in India for wearing an analog wristwatch. FIDE regulations rule out electronic devices only—but in national events in India, all types of watches are forbidden.
The championship is currently underway in Ahmedabad, the largest city in the Indian state of Gujarat. Unaware of the stricter rules in his home country, the 27-year-old Adhiban was wearing his analog watch during a game for his team PSPB (Petroleum Sports Promotion Board), facing IM C R G Krishna, who was playing for RSPB-B (Railway Sports Promotion Board).
After nine moves, Krishna noticed the watch and informed the arbiter, who declared the game lost for Adhiban.
In order to avoid cheating, the FIDE Laws of Chess include a paragraph that forbids players having smartphones, smartwatches or any other electronic device with them during play:
188.8.131.52 During a game, a player is forbidden to have any electronic device not specifically approved by the arbiter in the playing venue.
In some official events, such as World Cups and Olympiads, a stricter rule has been applied (with e.g. bans on all watches and pens) but in almost any other FIDE-rated tournament wearing an analog watch would be accepted—but not in India. In March 2018, the All India Chess Federation (AICF) banned the use of all wristwatches to simplify matters for arbiters.
Adhiban was very surprised when his opponent claimed a win. He told ESPN: "I had just returned from the Gibraltar Masters where I was wearing the watch throughout the tournament, and everyone else was also wearing all kinds of watches. I was jetlagged and didn't quite realize I was wearing a watch."
Adhiban's forfeit for wearing an analog watch got much criticism on social media. AICF secretary Bharat Singh Chauhan acknowledged that the rule might need a second thought: "[I]f there are enough player voices who come up to us and say they want it changed, we will look into it."
Adhiban wasn't the first victim of a loss for wearing a watch. In May 2018, at the KIIT Open in Orissa (India) GM Martyn Kravtsiv lost to WIM V Varshini, who also claimed a win after spotting her opponent's watch.
Smartphones have been banned from chess tournament halls for almost two decades. At the 2003 European Team Championship, GM Ruslan Ponomariov became the first grandmaster ever to forfeit a game for allowing his mobile phone to ring during his game—which happened to be on his birthday.
Editor's note: this article has been updated to reflect that Adhiban was not the first victim in India to lose by forfeit for wearing a watch.