McShane wins poll for Tal Memorial invitation | UPDATE: Le Quang Liem's reaction

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Luke McShane won the poll on the website of the Russian Chess Federation, which was to decide which tenth player would be invited for this year's Tal Memorial. The English grandmaster received 3860 votes, 128 more than runner-up Alexei Shirov. This was reported by the Russian Chess Federation.

In early March we reported that the Russian Chess Federation opened a poll to decide on the invitation of one player for this year's Tal Memorial. Visitors to the RCF website could cast their vote and pick one from thirteen pre-selected players. The player with the most votes would be invited. Last Thursday, the RCF brought the news that English grandmaster Luke McShane won the poll.

The fight was very hard, and until the end the three leaders went head to head. In the end, Luke McShane (England) won, receiving 3860 votes. Second place went to the Latvian grandmaster Alexei Shirov - 3732 votes, while third came Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) - 3682 votes. They left behind the Women's World Champion, Chinese Hou Yifan, who was supported by 1646 people, and the leader of the Georgian team Baadur Jobava, who got 720 votes.

As we wrote earlier, online voting often leads to problems. We mentioned several potential issues, one being that many online polls lack good security to avoid people voting more than once. Usually polls are secured by either cookies (small bits of information stored at the voter's computer) or the registration of IP addresses, but a decent hacker will find his way around this. In the case of the vote at the RCF website, we quickly discovered that it was possible to vote several times, simply by using different browsers.

And indeed, the poll encountered such problems. After a few days, the Russian Chess Federation decided to remove Le Quang Liem from the poll,

as his supporters have violated the rules of fair play and used computer generated votes.

As mishanp commented on our site, 

(...) Le Quang Liem voters got a little over "enthusiastic" and he seems to have been dropped from the race. I don't know... on the one hand, people definitely were voting multiple times (techniques for how to do it were being discussed on at least one Vietnamese forum), but on the other hand, it's just the nature of such votes.

And so against his will Le Quang Liem was punished for his popularity in his home country, and the many votes had the opposite effect.

We contacted Luke McShane and asked him whether he would consider playing, and if he would be able to take off time from work. Unfortunately, at this point he couldn't comment yet.

Update March 18, 12:52 CET - On his personal blog, Le Quang Liem has now reacted to what happened with the poll on the RCF website. He writes:

To be honest, I didn’t have time to follow the voting because I had been concentrating on my own tournament, the HD Bank Open Chess tournament in Vietnam. My friends told me that they voted for me, as well as informed and persuaded others to vote for me. I was very grateful for that.

However, I soon found out that my name had been excluded from the list for some unknown reasons. Only until March 15th, which was the voting’s deadline, RCF announced that the top spot went to the English player with 3,860 votes. At the end of the announcement I found an explanation for my case.

They said I was excluded from the list because my supporters had voted unfairly by using computers to vote automatically. This might happen due to a technical problem of the website, or an over-zealous attempt from a fan. In either case, it was unfortunate.

Yet, I was really surprised by RCF’s decision. Obviously they have all the rights to set up a voting-list or nominate a player. But when they run such voting, they must have clear regulations and execute them strictly. If, for example, they find a number of illegitimate votes, they should eliminate them but still have to count the remaining legitimate ones. In my case, they simply removed the candidate who didn’t commit any fault at all.

To me, this is clearly an unfair and disrespectful decision. That I didn’t hear any word of explanation from RCF for more than 10 days afterwards is also strange. The whole thing is even stranger considering the fact that Vietnamese chess fans later could not vote for any other chess players in the list (RCF possibly used an IP-blocking for all computers in Vietnam).

From this experience, there are two important issues we need to think about. First, when voting for such events, fans should vote honestly and seriously and organizers need to have explicit and fair rules which show respect for candidates, especially when organizers themselves set up a list of candidates. Second, it may not be appropriate to have such voting for such a prestigious chess tournament when there aren’t clear rules or effective ways to control the voting.

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