A Rule that Grinds my Gears

Jul 30, 2014, 9:49 AM |

"Hey," shouted my opponent with a rating advantage of 500 points, "you can't write down variations." The tournament director is summoned and he, too, agrees. "You cannot write anything but your move." On my notation sheet, beside the game notation, were a few scribbles, 'A', 'B', and 'C'. Each letter stood for a variation I felt needed attention. One may have been a pawn sacrifice, while the others could have been safer alternatives. In any case I wasn't poised to win this game, as my opponent, who adored the Pirc defense, was smashing my attempt to use it on him. At this time, several years ago, he was rated 1950 and I only sub 1500. I had yet to pick an opening system that i understood. All i knew was that this guy was stronger than me and I wanted to beat him with his own medicine.

The rule states that players may only write down their moves, not variations, notes or thoughts on the score sheet. Still a rebellious teenager, I felt this as a personal attack against my style of THINKING, not playing. I think in a very visual way; it helps me to use notes and doodles and what have you. In any case, the letters A, B, C have little to say about what i was planning. Regardless of referring to files or Bishops, these letters were ultimately codes for my line of thought. Now, nearly ten years later, I don't regard the rule as something personal. I think it is a fair rule, but one which is unnecessary and a little discriminating against those who need to have a physical manifestation of thought. 

"Chess is to be played over the board, and neither player may have outside assistance or outside means of gaining an edge over the opponent." That would suggest that my scribbles have somehow come from the exterior, that my letters A,B and C are not my own, that they somehow create an advantage for me that doesn't exist for the opponent. How awfully wrong that is. What's the difference between my playing 21... f6?? with or without a symbol designating that variation? As the move was a blunder in any case, it seems my move and note were of no consequence to the opponent. Somehow this is still a disturbance. 

In college I wrote a term paper for a philosophy class. The assignment was to persuade a person, company or family member to change a law or rule that they hold to be absolutely good for their family or company, or event. Then explain why the rule is to be changed. My topic was the rule stating you cannot write down anything but your move during a chess game. I argued that the rule was discriminating against those who use visual and physical means of sorting their ideas. More importantly, however, I stated that the rule is unnecessary as the moves played over the board have not come from outside assistance, but from the own player's mind. 

Now, I still do not do what I called 'pre-notation', which is basically writing things down before you make a move: variations, traps, key squares, etc. I have made amends with the rule and I play just like everyone else. But I wish that we could be allowed to make notes during the game. If the game is to be played between two individuals, then what do notes change about that? It isn't as if I'm writing notes from a bluetooth device in my ear, receiving aid from someone with an engine in a distant room. No, that's not it. And, if I were receiving assistance, why would I write that down anyway? The rule, it seems, is meant to benefit the kinds of thinkers that do not require notes, scribbles, and symbols to aid their processes. I do not think it was set in place to discriminate against other kinds of thinkers, but it definitely protects certain individuals. This kind of phenomena is omni-present in the world of capitalism, which arises with the possession of money. If you have money, you can do things that others can't. Be it fair or not is of no concern; what's important is that the tokens (dollars) grant access to ones in possession.

The same applies to this rule and others like it. To protect the interests of the strongest players, the Swiss tournament system is implemented. The lowest and highest are paired together right off the bat in order to avoid 'drawish tournament conditions'. People want to see a winner, and not necessarily great chess. Does this Swiss system not totally undermine the novice's or intermediate player's chances to have a fair stake? I mean, if you are a 2500 rated player, then you should be able to hold your own no matter who you play. And if you are a 1300 rated player then you should have no forced obligation to play someone double your rating, simply so that that opponent can save his energy for someone else later on, only after squashing you, of course. I feel the rule is discriminatory in nature, not intent. I think it needs to be changed, so that chess can one again become intimate and real... not so cold and black and white as it seems to be now. There are so many rules in place that a tournament feels more like a funeral than an experience. You can't eat, you can't smoke, you can't have coffee here, you can't have soda there, you can't this , and you can't that. PLAY CHESS! The Wild West days of chess are long gone, when players would erupt, scream, shout, and even fight over their matches. That's good that we have eliminated violence, but for heaven's sake, please let us scribble a few notes so that we don't have to play like everyone else. 

It's enough that lower rated players are neglected anyway, for the sake of preserving the glory of the higher-rated players.