A Pawn Up, Part 4

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | Feb 20, 2014

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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  • 6 weeks ago



    I disagree w/ your disagreement.  Just be prepared for the whole duration of the match, period.  Also, if they must take an emergency/washrm break, then it should be supervised.  Unfortunately, too many unscrupulous ppl playing w/o honor.

  • 8 months ago


    electronic cheating, while a valid point of discussion, should have been in a separate article

  • 24 months ago


    Nice 'pawn up' game again :-) thanks!

    About the cheating issue - I agree it's sad, but at least most of them will get caught easily when their games are checked. A ban on electronic devices is not waterproof, but someone who makes computer-moves every time he returns from the toilet, will get caught too, eventually.

    People who desperately want to be connected rather than play chess - please don't take them too seriously! They are the ones who ruin the game. If chess is not fun enough to replace a couple of hours of facebook time in your life, then search another hobby..

  • 2 years ago


  • 2 years ago


    I don't get cheating. How can that be any fun? You're literally just doing moves that a computer tells you to do. Why bother?

  • 2 years ago


    @tranquility completely disagree people should be allowed to use the bathroom or take a emergency call or even stretch to lossen up ones body. There's a lot of reasons why someone would get up from there seat.

  • 2 years ago


    Nice article GM SmithSmile

  • 2 years ago


    The ban f devices could be very hard on organizers. I would mean that organizer must provide some safe keeping for mobile phones. Many of the smaller tournamens -at least in finland- can take place for instance in schools. How you would arrange phone storage there?

    On bigger tournaments I guess it doable but not on every tournament.

  • 2 years ago


    Complete ban on electronics is a good start.  Also, any vacating of one's seat is an automatic forfeit.  That way, the cheater can't sneak out to access something outside of the regulated playing area.  There's no reason why one cannot stay in the seat during a game, period.

  • 2 years ago


    @BuddyThompson slightly disagree it should be allowed to go out in the hall to take a call but perhaps a TD standing by to watch the phone call (invasion of privacy yes but best to not take privacy calls in the first place) but im not sure maybe a time limit itself should be put on players when leaving the tournament hall (5min,10min etc. or 10min the first time leaving then 5min etc.) someone to stand near the bathroom entrance with a medal detector to check players leaving and to randomly check the bathroom with medal detector. it all sounds a bit much but it may be nessecarry


    @Coleman doesn't have to be part of the budget maybe Federations can make it mandatory for all TDs to own a medal detector or TDs can start asking players to temporarily donate their medal detectors if they have one or donate money to getting some. (players who are all for anti cheats will be happy to agree to this if their able to).

  • 2 years ago


    I was a bit confused. Is electronic cheating the topic or is the method of converting a pawn advantage into a win the topic? I would make it clear what the theme of the article is.


    Interesting discussion about electronic cheating though.

  • 2 years ago


    True GM ,about what you say about cheating ! Btw congrats with the GM title !

  • 2 years ago


    Excellent, instructive article. Its great to be able to peer into the mind of a GM, thank you Bryan for sharing your thought processes and rationale.

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  • 2 years ago


    Very nice endgame.

    One of the themes I always take away from your games is your constant eye for ongoing ``small tactics'' -- Capa's `Petit Combinationes'; you really are thinking positionally, and enabling tactically.  It is really nice to see.

    Also, the consciousness of thoughts about `Volatility' is very instructive.  Before this article, I would probably not have liked to trade my B for a N in such a position (OK< I would to avoid losing exchange, of course!). 

    Cheating IS heartwrenching.  I like your suggested ban, and agree that it is a very good first step.  More importantly, though, we need to solve the issue of motivation for cheaters/cheating.

    Thank you!

  • 2 years ago

    CM JamesColeman

    I agree with you in principle but you're back to the eternal problem of how such a 'ban' would be enforced. Let's say you say "no electronic devices in the playing hall" - fine. Suppose someone then takes a device with them anyway (eg for use in a toilet). What to do about it? Metal detectors are not practical for many small opens on a tight budget. Searching players has its own obvious problems. I agree the situation is a problem but the solution is not that clear cut.

  • 2 years ago


    Hey Bryan, are you going to play in the DE state championship this weekend? It's right off of 95 in northern DE. Maybe 30 minutes from Philly. 

  • 2 years ago


    True GM ,about what you say about cheating ! Btw congrats with the GM title ! I never thought I had the chance (or honor should I say !) to meet you in the philly open last year ! Laughing

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