To protest, or not to protest...

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage
Have you ever had the situation where your opponent broke the rules, you considered calling an arbiter, but you thought it might not be worth it because of the bother and distraction it causes? At the European Championship in Rijeka I had two such cases, which I like to share with you.

Photo & text GM Dimitri Reinderman

If your opponent breaks the rules (to his/her advantage), what should you do? Call an arbiter? At the European Championship I had to answer this question twice.

The first incident happened in my game with Sutovsky in the ninth round.

Sutovsky-Reinderman European Ch (Rijeka) 2010

My opponent had sacrificed a piece for some attacking chances, but around here he found out that the compensation was clearly inadequate and he tried his luck by offering a draw. The problem is that he did it in my time, while I was thinking...

The rules say the following about this:

9.1. b (1) A player wishing to offer a draw shall do so after having made a move on the chessboard and before stopping his clock and starting the opponent’s clock. An offer at any other time during play is still valid but Article 12.6 must be considered.

12.6 It is forbidden to distract or annoy the opponent in any manner whatsoever. This includes unreasonable claims, unreasonable offers of a draw or the introduction of a source of noise into the playing area.

12.7 Infraction of any part of Articles 12.1 to 12.6 shall lead to penalties in accordance with Article 13.4.

13.4 The arbiter can apply one or more of the following penalties: a. warning b. increasing the remaining time of the opponent c. reducing the remaining time of the offending player d. declaring the game to be lost e. reducing the points scored in the game by the offending party f. increasing the points scored in the game by the opponent to the maximum available for that game g. expulsion from the event.

So it's clear that Sutovsky broke the rules, though I don't know if it was a sly trick to distract me or just an honest mistake. Anyway, I had a decision to make now: call an arbiter or not? I decided not to call an arbiter, blundered a rook just before time-control and managed to even lose the game. But what had happened if I called an arbiter?

Most likely I first had to explain the situation to a table arbiter first. Then he probably wouldn't quite understand it, so I would ask for the chief arbiter. He would understand the situation, and decide to apply a penalty: extra time for me. Then we'd continue the game, and I'd need to get my focus on the board position again. So for some extra time I lost my concentration and in the mean time the players on the neighbouring boards won't be happy...

So probably it was the right decision not to call an arbiter and just try to focus on the game. However, just the fact I had to consider this, means the incorrect draw offer was to the advantage of my opponent. (Though I don't think it is the reason I lost the game.)

A webcam still of Sutovsky vs Reinderman in Rijeka

The second incident I had in next game, in the tenth round. It was very similar to the famous Radjabov-Smeets incident. My opponent, a young Russian named Levin, was trying to execute his 31st move, but knocked over some pieces. He first tried to correct it in his own time, then saw he had only two seconds left, and quickly pressed his clock, adding thirty seconds to it. I can't blame him for that: the choice was between following the rules and losing the game on time, or breaking the rules and not lose the game. Like most people would do (and like most football players when having the choice between a goal against or a foul), he went for the second option. The relevant rule in this case is:

7.3 If a player displaces one or more pieces, he shall re-establish the correct position on his own time. If necessary, either the player or his opponent shall stop the clocks and ask for the arbiter’s assistance. The arbiter may penalise the player who displaced the pieces.

This time I did call an arbiter. I tried to explain the situation to him, but no penalty was given, nor even considered. I could have tried to ask for the chief arbiter, but I gave up, and decided just to try to win my advantageous position. I did manage to do that, but while overcoming the technical difficulties the thought "I should already have received the point instead of having to work for it" was not easy to ignore.

As you can imagine, I felt unhappy about the outcome of both incidents. This had to do with the unhappiness of losing a won game of course (and not having +4), but also with the unfairness of the fact that it's beneficial to break the rules. In the first case my opponent more or less had a free shot at trying to break my concentration; in the second case my opponent avoided losing (immediately at least) without any negative consequence.

Does that mean there is something wrong with the rules? No, but I do think rule 13.4 (possible penalties) is often applied very softly. In both the incidents I described, a case can be made for applying penalty d: declaring the game to be lost. If you think it's too strict a penalty, think about this: what is worse, forgetting to turn of your mobile phone, or distracting your opponent on purpose? Being late ten seconds for the game, or breaking the rules, so not to lose on time? (By the way, I do think that the penalties for mobiles phones and being too late in FIDE/ECU tournaments are wrong, but that's another discussion).

So why is it that arbiters, when a penalty has to be applied, almost always choose either 'a. warning b. increasing the remaining time of the opponent a warning' and c/d/e/f or g, unless they do not have a choice? (At least, that is my experience - if readers have different experiences, I'm interested to know. Also I'm speaking about professional level; club games are another matter of course).

So to come back to the the opening question of my article: when having the choice of calling an arbiter or not, often (and especially in the time trouble phase), it's probably better to ignore it and just to focus on the game. But it would be better if this was not the case. P.S. I also play another game at 'pro level', Magic: the Gathering. According to the tournament rules of this game, it is mandatory to call a judge when a (possible) rules infraction happens. Besides, it's quite common to reward a game or match loss for rules infractions. This probably has to do with the fact that cheating in MtG is easier than in chess, so they are more keen on discouraging it. Still, I do think chess arbiters can learn something from MtG judges...
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