"We will improve our software", says CEO of DGT

0 | Chess Event Coverage
DGTThis week three major chess tournaments had problems with the live broadcast of the games on their websites. Is it the fault of the organizers, or should we blame DGT, the company that produces the hardware and software? Albert Vasse, CEO of DGT, thinks the truth lies somewhere in between.

Last week at the President's Cup in Baku, the rapid games of the world's best players couldn't be broadcast on the official website because of technical problems. Almost simultaneously, the organizers of the US Championship experienced problems and decided to switch from the DGT boards to the Monroi system for their live coverage. And Tuesday the M-Tel Masters in Sofia followed suit: the live broadcast of the games failed throughout the day. A trend or just coincidence?

In our last report on the President's Cup we hinted that it might be the material. Almost all chess tournaments these days use electronical boards provided by DGT (originally standing for Digital Game Timer, but these days for Digital Game Technology), a Dutch company that already developed an electronical chess clock back in the eighties of the last century. In the early nineties DGT convinced FIDE about their product and since May 1994 they are the official provider of the chess clock that is recognized by the World Chess Federation.

Old DGT clock

The first DGT clock was built in the mid-'80s by Ben Bulsink. At that time, he was a student at the Technical University Twente in Enschede, the Netherlands; now he is R&D manager of DGT Projects.

Soon DGT started developing more chess related products and at the Olympiad in Elista in 1998, their electronical boards were used for the first time. Back then still with Tasc software; in 2001 DGT launched the first version of their own software called TOMA. While there's nothing wrong with the nice, wooden boards and well-designed pieces, the software is known to be of lesser quality. It's difficult to use, especially when something unexpected happens.

We asked Albert Vasse, who is one of the two CEOs of DGT and responsible for marketing and sales, to comment one the recent problems tournaments are having with their software. Vasse: "We know that it's not the easiest software around, and we're working on a new version of TOMA, which should be ready this summer. It will be more user-friendly."

Tuesday the live broadcast of the first round of M-Tel failed completely. According to Chessdom, the problems arose when the mayor of Sofia, Boiko Borisov, who was supposed to make the first move in the game Carlsen-Topalov, made a joke and played 1.b3 and then put the queen's bishop on b2, creating an illegal move. What's your comment on this? "It's a pity that they didn't have someone around who could solve the problems immediately. There's always the possibility to contact us, 24/7, but we didn't receive a phone call. We always say two things: firstly, the person who operates the system should be of the level of a system controller, and secondly, it's important to test in advance – setting up everything on the day of the first round might be too late."

DGT board

An electronic chess board by DGT

But we can assume that it's been tested; it's the tournament's 5th edition. "Yes. But it's always bit different with such a ritual at the start of a first round, at World Championships and other big events. It's a certain cycle of acts, and there should be a clear communication between the arbiter and the operator. It's the operator who should give the signal that the round can start."

Why do you think they couldn't solve the problem for the whole day? "That's truly surprising to me. Very strange. We hope to hear from the people in Sofia what was going on. Normally when something goes wrong, an illegal move, or a move that was missed by the board, it's not too difficult to solve. The boards have an internal memory and can save up to 500 moves so restarting TOMA and entering one or two moves manually should do the trick. However, the fact that all three boards were not working indicates that the joke of the mayor had nothing to do with it, and that there was something wrong with the basic connection between TOMA and the boards."

How do you explain the recent problems at three top tournaments? "I cannot comment on the President's Cup and Sofia, but I know that at the US Championship there are people looking after the live games who have never worked with our material before. Weeks ago already I strongly urged the organizers to hire an experienced operator, since we're talking about a very prestigeous event. Instead they preferred to work with their own people. Then, when problems popped up, they only decided to call us when the second round had already started. Why not test, and give us a call, beforehand?"

DGT logoBut isn't the DGT material a bit counterintuitive sometimes? For instance, many wrong PGN files appear on websites because arbiters make mistakes at the end of the game. We're talking about wrong results or last moves, not unimportant details. "Yes, I admit that our boards and software contain a number of pitfalls. That's why big events should work with experienced people. For instance there's the famous kings problem. A 1-0 result is entered by putting the two kings on the squares e4 and d5, a 0-1 by putting them on d4 and e5 while in the case of a draw the kings should be put on e4 and e5. But many arbiters don't check whether putting a king on e4 might be a legal move. For instance, when the White king was on f3, and the arbiter starts with the white king, the board will registrate the legal move Kf3-e4 as the last move of the game. To prevent this, it's enough to execute any illegal move first, and only then put the kings. It's one example why the PGN files that are created by the boards should always be checked by humans afterwards, before they're put on a website. At Corus, after each round the arbiter and the webmaster check the results and last moves for all 42 games played in the A, B and C groups."

What's the status of Foidos, the software system that was used during the Anand-Kramnik match, with live commentary, videos, and game analysis? "We didn't make profit with it in Bonn, to put it mildly. If you cannot even earn back the investment at a World Championship, than it's clear that going to be very difficult. So we decided to put the project on hold for the moment. Although we still like it, and want to continue tweaking and improving its technology. In general we try to utilize and further improve the available technology, and by doing that we try to improve and modernize the game of chess."
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