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Controversial Finish To Canadian Championship -- Update

Controversial Finish To Canadian Championship -- Update

Update July 11, 2017 --

The National Appeals Committee (NAC) of the Canadian Chess Federation (CFC) has denied the appeal by IM Nikolay Noritsyn. According to CFC President Vladimir Drkulec, the vote was 3-1 to reject Noritsyn's appeal.

"It was deemed in the best interest of chess in Canada that we end the uncertainty," Drkulec said in the statement. He explained that they were coming up against an "extended deadline" to inform FIDE of who the World Cup qualifier would be (only the first place finisher gets an automatic ticket, and that now seems to be GM Bator Sambuev).

After the ruling, Noritsyn wrote a statement of his own, saying he was told by several members of CFC that he would have a chance to present a statement or evidence before the NAC met to decide his case. He said that he was told he should wait to be contacted.

According to Noritsyn, neither the CFC nor any member of the NAC did so. Nortisyn said that during an explanation of the ruling in an email from Drkulec, he was told, "The place in the world cup would have been lost if we had not submitted a decision by Monday. We have already burned up a great deal of political capital with FIDE as a result of these delays."

Drkulec provides more reasoning for the ruling in the comments section below, claiming the rule for Nortisyn stopping the clock took precedence over other factors, and that Sambuev holding a piece is not in violation of any specific rule. He also hints that litigation was feared: "Bator Sambuev's lawyer would have had a field day."

"If the NAC had ruled differently we would have been the laughingstock of the world and the competency of the arbiters on the NAC would have been called into question," Drkulec wrote in an online chess forum. He added that video replay after the fact is essentially too late, citing the infamous Kasparov-Polgar touch-move incident.

Drkulec also gave some insight into who was the lone dissenting voice in the ruling. He said in the comments to this report that "I don't believe that the member that dissented is an International Arbiter as the other three gentlemen are."

This forum from 2016 seems to show that the five members are IA Pierre Dénommée, IA Mark Dutton, IA Aris Marghetis, IA Lyle Craver, and Ilia Bluvshtein (the only non-IA). Dénommée recused himself since he made the original ruling. (There's no mention of FA Simon Ong; presumably the CFC's web site is outdated.)

"From what I've seen his [likely Bluvshtein, father of GM Mark Bluvshtein] response was emotional and the others went by a logical process," Drkulec wrote.

In response to the suggestion that the CFC Board of Directors has the power to overrule a decision of the appeals committee, Drkulec told Chess.com, "There is probably a way that the directors could overturn the decision since such committees report to the board. Overturning the decision of the National Appeals Committee seems a dubious idea to me. If they could look forward to their decisions being overturned it would be difficult to get people to serve on the NAC or any other committee for that matter. Its hard enough getting people to volunteer now." 

What kind of argument did Noritsyn wish to make? He wanted to make many points to the NAC, including one opinion from another IA who claimed that upon careful review of the video (which is still embedded below), Sambuev may have obstructed Noritsyn by already reaching for his own queen, which could have prevented Noritsyn from being able to stop the clock. You can watch the video once again to see if this argument has merit. If you are watching in the Chrome browser, one helpful hint is to click the "cog wheel" in the lower right corner, select "speed," and change to 0.25 to watch in slow motion.

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The 2017 Canadian Chess Championship was turned upside down this weekend, literally. 

Taking place in Montreal from June 27-July 1, two players ended tied with 8.0/9 and headed to a playoff, where most chess fans prefer titles to be settled. But this one had a dramatic and controversial ending, where an upside-down rook was not, in fact, a queen. What is it with North American blitz playoffs?

IM Nikolay Noritsyn (left) and GM Bator Sambuev during their classical encounter in round four, which Noritsyn won. Photo: John Upper.

GM Bator Sambuev and IM Nikolay Noritsyn, both former Canadian champions, tied the four rapid playoff games (15+10) at two points each. With additional titles still hanging in the balance (Sambuev had already won twice; Noritsyn once), they also then drew game one of the blitz (5+3). Nothing was amiss, until the concluding second blitz game.

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Noritsyn (left) and Sambuev (right) in a post-mortem after their classical game. A third past champion, GM Alexander Lesiège, looks on. Photo: John Upper.

Noritsyn, playing Black, advanced several passed pawns in the game's waning moments and was the first to promote. Note that he was not first to "queen" despite that being his intention. With six seconds remaining, Noritsyn played ...d1, scrambled to find a Black queen, and with none in sight, grabbed a captured rook. He announced "queen" and turned it upside down on d1 before pressing his clock with four seconds remaining.

That's when the onlooking Chief Arbiter IA Pierre Dénommée intervened by waving his hands and stopping the clock. He declared the move to be legal, but for the piece to be played as a rook.

Before moving on into the intricacies of the rules, here's the video of the entire game, but we pick it up with the most relevant portion:

As you can see and hear, the arbiter makes mention that a queen was available. Two arbiters point to the Black queen, sitting in plain view.

"Il y en avait," meaning, "There was one [queen] there," was said by one of the arbiters.

But was there one there? The arbiters didn't have the benefit of the video, but go back and watch the climactic moments again. The Black queen was not in the captured pieces pile when Noritsyn played ...d1. She came from Sambuev's left hand after the move was completed. Sambuev does not appear to have taken her in the final moments; she had been cradled in his left hand for more than three minutes and well before any pawns were close to promotion.

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Sambuev (left) plays IM Thanh Nha Duong in round three as IM Aman Hambleton watches. Photo: John Upper.

Several arbiters watched the concluding game and the rule cited seemed to be rule 4.4(d) from the FIDE Laws of Chess:

"If a player having the move...promoted a pawn, the choice of the piece is finalised (sic), when the piece has touched the square of promotion."

According to rule 6.11.2, Black was permitted to stop the clock to "seek the arbiter's assistance, for example when promotion has taken place and the piece required is not available."

The game continued. Black's new piece was a rook, and after White's promotion, Sambuev converted the win. Not only did he win his third Canadian Championship, but the title also conveyed the only automatic spot at the next World Cup since the event doubled as Zonal 2.2.

For completeness, here's that final game, which was fascinating in its own right. Yes, Sambuev could have nullified all of this with the "Searching for Bobby Fischer" ending since 49. a7 h1=Q (even ...h1=N+ doesn't help!) 50. a8=Q+ skewers the Black king and queen.

Noritsyn told Chess.com that he played in the Toronto Blitz Championship a few weeks prior and learned blitz rules he was previously unaware of, but did not remember anything regarding inverted rooks. 

"During the tiebreak game, I did not know that the punishment for promoting an upside-down rook would be having to promote to a rook," he said. "I only used the rook because I did not spot a queen on the table...There was no intention of promoting a rook."

He said that grabbing the rook was "instinct."

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Noritsyn, 2017 Canadian Championship runner-up. Photo: John Upper, who published his own account of the final playoff game here.

"I felt a degree of unfairness after the tiebreak," Noritsyn told Chess.com. "I felt cheated and robbed after seeing the video."

In addition to the hidden queen, there were no extra queens placed on the table for instances of double queen positions.

"Comical that our national championship didn't have arbiters who would think to place extra Queens on the table," IM Aman Hambleton wrote in an online forum.

Noritsyn disagrees with the punishment, and instead told Chess.com that he thinks more fair would have been to award Sambuev extra time, as in the case of an illegal move. 

Curiously, rule 7.5.2 suggests that if Noritsyn had played ...d1 and left the pawn there and hit his clock, that's exactly what would have happened. The arbiter would have likely added two minutes to Sambuev's clock, and Black could have had a second chance to promote to a queen properly.

Nortisyn wrote in an online chess forum that he does not blame Sambuev for any subterfuge. In the video, Sambuev appeared to say nothing as the incident unfolded. After the game, Noritsyn said he congratulated his opponent in Russian but wanted to "disappear" from the embarrassment. Noritsyn said that by chance he rode back to Toronto on the same bus as Sambuev, who wished him "udachi" (good luck).

Despite having better tiebreaks and winning their head-to-head classical game, Noritsyn said that "there is nothing more fair that proving your superiority over the board instead of tiebreak numbers."

Here is their classical encounter from early in the tournament.

Dénommée responded only by saying that due to contractual obligations, he cannot comment on the specifics of the incident. He also said that no appeals may be made on site during a playoff, as per FIDE rule.

Noritsyn confirmed to Chess.com that he has filed an appeal to the Chess Federation of Canada, which has a National Appeals Committee for such cases. He referenced his queen being hidden and said FIDE rule 12.1 is a bit of a "catchall" and states: "The players shall take no action that will bring the game of chess into disrepute."

He said he is "agnostic" as to whether he thinks Sambuev was hiding the queen deliberately. 

2017 Canadian Championship, Final Results (Top 10)

Rk. Name Rtg FED TB1 TB2 TB3
1 IM Noritsyn, Nikolay 2473 8,0 26,5 44,50
2 GM Sambuev, Bator* 2539 8,0 26,5 40,00
3 FM Thavandiran, Shiyam 2363 6,0 25,5 28,00
4 FM Yu Zong Yang 2393 6,0 23,5 29,25
5 Itkin, David 2147 5,5 25,5 24,00
6 IM Hambleton, Aman 2471 5,0 25,0 23,75
7 Clyde, Jordan 2173 5,0 23,5 21,75
8 FM Plotkin, Victor 2265 5,0 22,0 21,00
9 FM Sohal, Tanraj S. 2319 5,0 22,0 19,75
10 Huang Qiuyu 2034 4,5 24,0 20,00

*winner in playoff

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UPDATE - July 5, 2017.

Sambuev responded to Chess.com that he thought the upside-down rook would be ruled an illegal move. "Since the arbiter was there I let him do his job," Sambuev told Chess.com.

When asked if he would have stopped the game and declared the piece a rook himself (had there been no arbiter), Sambuev responded that the game was only stopped as he was promoting his own queen on a8, thus inferring that he would not have declared the piece a rook without the arbiter's interjection.

He also reminded, as Chess.com did in the report, that he was holding the Black queen for many minutes before the incident, as well as other pieces. 

"I didn't know that I was holding a queen in my hand," Sambuev said. "There were some pieces but I was focused on the game and had no idea what exactly was there. I learned there was a queen only from the video."

"The title is definitely important," he said. "I played in a World Cup in Norway four years ago after winning my second title. This is the third one."

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