Feedback and facts on FIDE's 'zero tolerance' rule

by ChessBase
6/11/2009 – Last week the Chinese Championship was decided, amongst other things, by a winner getting a full point when his last-round opponent did not appear at his board in time for the start. A lot of readers have commented, some eloquently, some stridently, some tongue-in-cheek, on FIDE's "zero tolerance" rule. We, on the other hand, were hard put to find the exact wording. Who can help clear this up?

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Readers' Feedback

Note that if you wish to see your letters quoted in our periodic feedback section it is advisable to supply your correct name and place of residence. Obviously anonymous or flippant names ensure that the feedback will not appear, or even be read. Rude and gratuitously insulting language will also preclude letters from publication, as will adventurous orthography, even if this is becoming the norm in some parts of the Internet.

Joshua Franz, USA
Whatever happened to sportsman ship? I find this pretty ridiculous. If your opponent is late start their clock but a forfeit for only five seconds late? What kind of sportsmanship is that? I consider this only a paper championship. A real championship is won over the board! The organizers have deprived the players of a large amount of legitimacy and prestige because of the way they had to win his title!

Soren Riis, Oxford, England
The party solder knows the rules, but the wise knows the exceptions. The players CLEARLY have not been properly informed about the very strict interpretation of the rules. The spirit of the rules is that players should be present at the start of the game. It seems that the players have not been given a correct definition of what it means to be present. Had the players been told they would lose the game if they were not seated when game were to begin I cannot imagine any player would have be late at the board for such important games.

Dr Alexander Jablánczy, Canada
The rule is simply not congruent with the real world, for in the real world being a few seconds or minutes late is inconsequential. I used to refree soccer (or if you will football) and the default time was 15 minutes. The other team had to field eight players within fifteen minutes or they lost by default. We are all humans, we have bowels and bladders, which might necessitate the use of bathrooms at inopportune time. Anything might go wrong, including the alarm clock or the lift or elevator, the bus, the taxi, the rickshaw. It is possible to be late for any appointment. So the zero time is absolutely absurd and inhuman – something between five, fifteen or thirty minutes seems sensible. One hour or more is excessive and unreasonable.

Charles Hall, Orlando, FL, USA
This is an absurdly stupid rule, up on par with its "Zero Tolerance" on cell phone ringing. Games of chess should not be decided in such manner. It is incredibly out of proportion that someone can be forfeited for not being actually seated, or for forgetting to turn the ringer off on their cell phone, but receive warnings or time penalties for much more egregious acts, such as intentionally disturbing one's opponent. For example, when Cheparinov refused Short's handshake, why is it that he was given another chance, after being warned? Why is a mistaken draw claim even not forfeited? Like being late, or forgetting the cell phone, it's against the rules, but not ill-intentioned.

Iman Khandaker, Watford
FIDE's 'rules' show nothing but contempt for the players it claims to preside over. What exactly is the offence caused by the player who is a minute late at the board? Players are allowed to wander off during a game, despite the fact that they may get outside help ... yet they are not allowed to be late, even though they can get no possible advantage from this.

Luis Fiori, Porto Velho, Brazil
Reading about the Chinese Championship final results I got astonished two times. Firstly, by the insane means of punishing professional players for nothing at all. A player who gets late to a game, whatever his reason is, is already punished by having to play with less time than his opponent. It is not disrespectful at all to be late. One just has to pay the time tribute, and that’s all. What happened to Yifan Hou is the kind of thing that uses to make people abandon chess forever. In her place, I would feel really in mood for going for another sport to practice. Chess is not supposed to be a concentration camp, just the opposite, it's supposed to be a con-fraternization camp, a space where the human spirit is to show its best.

Another thing that disturbed me when I read the report was the way someone who seems to be the new Magnus Carlsen, a 2800-rating-performance 16-year-old-boy, was referred to. "Congratulations (we suppose)". I think he is not to blame, he made it, in a very impressive way. When he was awarded the unfought point, he had beaten quite strong players, without a single loss. I think he was the praiseworthy, undisputable, meritorious and therefore, legitimate Chinese Champion, and this prestigious site that Chess Base is, is supposed to give the young Chinese talent the deserved headlight his achievement is entitled to.

John Crooks, Stillwell, KS, USA
FIDE's zero tolerance rule is absurd! Players are given a set time to make a set number of moves. If a player wants to spot his or her opponent time by showing up late who cares?! The penalty is built in – you have a set amount of time to reach time control. To artificially impose the penalty of forfeit if the player is not there right on time is silly and it leads to situations like the one that just transpired in the Chinese championships.

Besides just the issue that it is absolutely unneeded, you can add in the additional risk of collusion between players. No longer do I need to throw a game to an opponent – I can simply show up a few seconds late and I am automatically forfeited. I can even jump up and down and make a show of being disappointed while taking my payoff for putting my opponent in the money.

If I was the female player who was forfeited I would be livid. She was in the playing room, with her scoresheet filled out waiting for play to begin, but wasn't seated when the time came for all of the games to begin?! Isn't the fact that she filled out her scoresheet alone an indication that she was there ready for play?! What if she was seated when the time came to start clocks, but then as soon as the game started she got up and decided to wander around for half an hour? This would be perfectly legal, and it points out the absurdity of the new FIDE rule.

Rich Diaz, Minnetonka, MN, USA
Your report on the Chinese Championships attempts to diminish what was an outstanding achievement and deserving win for young Ding Liren. Ding had already had a great tournament through round 9, and was undefeated at +4, despite being the second-lowest rated player in the event. He then legitimately defeated Wang over the board to close to within a half-point of the lead. Wang, with inferior tie-breaks, evidently succumbed to the pressure and lost again, to a tail-ender, which means that Ding would have only needed a final-round draw to clinch the championship (a not-unlikely prospect, given that his opponent had only two wins over tail-enders, and a -1 score through round 10.

Your choices of words ("decision by default," "overshadowed," "we suppose") indicate a clear bias against young Ding, and an attempt to diminish his well-deserved championship. This is particularly evident by your account of Ding's victory over Wang, which simply says "the two faced each other and Ding won," as though this was incidental compared with the great injustice (as you imply) that occurred in the final round. Had it been Wang Hao who received a forfeit victory over a player in the lower half of the standings, I doubt very much if you would have implied that his victory was somehow tainted.

Please explain why your article failed to give Ding any credit for his great tournament, nor any blame to Wang for blowing the tournament by losing two games in the final two rounds. Frankly, I think this is an embarrassing piece of chess journalism, and I truly hope it is an aberration from what I have always considered to be an excellent source of chess news.

Kajetan Wandowicz, Wroclaw, Poland
This is insane. What exactly is FIDE's "zero tolerance" against? You'd think that in chess, the noblest of all games, if there's zero tolerance against anything, then it's against discourteous behaviour in the first place. Yet, you don't forfeit a game even if you deliberately insult your opponent by ostentatiously refusing to shake their hand! You only forfeit after rejecting the arbiter's explicit request to do so, as if you were not a gentleman contending against another gentleman in a game of gentlemen, but a three-year old obnoxious kid refusing to follow it's mother's commands. You even don't forfeit a World Championship match when you hurl public, unproven cheating accusations at your opponent when trailing by two points to nil, just to throw them off the emotional balance in the hope to get back in the match. No, "zero tolerance" clearly is not against being the antithesis of a man of honour you should be when playing chess.

Why on Earth then can being late for a game result in a forfeit? Isn't it just another kind of disrespect for your opponent, the gravity of which is clearly not anywhere near demonstratively shrugging your shoulders when a fellow grandmaster stands in front of you with his hand stretched? Oh, and there already is a penalty for being late: your clock is running. And of course the players' opinions on the rule are not to be taken into consideration, are they? Nah, why should they. All the best to FIDE in their future endeavours of trying to show that they, not the players, are the most important people in the sport. Too bad Kasparov and Short's PCA didn't really make it.

Side-note: I'm not sure the tone of the article when referring to Ding Liren is really appropriate, though. After all, he won five games on the board and did not lose a single one – it's not like he won because he got one of the points without playing. Or is it just me?

Alain Dekker, Woking, UK
Is there really a FIDE "zero tolerance" rule that insists on players' actually being seated when the game starts? This is crazy! Does FIDE want non-professional players to play in FIDE events? What was wrong with the old "after one hour you get defaulted" rule? The case of Hou Yifan is even more ridiculous. She was in the hall and had actually filled out her form. What would happen if a player was, say, in the toilet or was physically prevented from reaching the table in time (perhaps by a crowd round the podium)? Madness. The recent rule insisting players shake each others’ hands is equally stupid.

Michael X Tractor, Staffordshire, UK
I have read with increasing distress the complaints from your various correspondents, concerning the new FIDE rule of zero default time. I cannot help but feel that the critics of the new rule have overlooked the interests of a key section of chess players, namely those who rely for a living on throwing games for money. This section of players, hereafter referred to as Matulovics (in tribute to the legendary Yugoslav GM Milan Matulovic, who famously threw his last round game against Taimanov at the 1970 Palma Interzonal), have long been the poor relations of international chess. In order to feed their families by losing games of chess, they have been forced to waste countless hours at the chessboard, desperately cudgelling their brains to find ever-more ingenious and convincing ways to lose perfectly tenable positions. In addition to this back-breaking labour, they have had to suffer the indignity of watching their FIDE ratings drop by a precious 5 or 10 points each time, whilst incurring the odium of their fellow professionals and chess fans alike.

It is in this light that the new FIDE rule on default times should be viewed. It is in fact a long overdue humanitarian gesture by the game’s governing body, which will henceforth enable the Matulovics of the world to practice their trade in dignity and comfort. In future, the would-be Matulovic will be spared the need to spend hours at the board, and can earn his money simply by ensuring that he arrives in the hall a few seconds after the start time. Not only that, he will also save his rating points, since games won by default do not count for rating purposes.

In short, the new FIDE rule should be welcomed not only by Matulovics themselves, but by all those of us whose humanity has so long been affronted by the plight of these poor chessplayers. One can only lament that this long-overdue reform should have been delayed for so long, that Milan Matulovic himself can no longer benefit from it. It is a sad fact, but a fact nevertheless, that he appears to have been born 40 years too soon.

Editorial addendum

It is surely just incompetence on our part, but we have been unable to locate – in a couple of hours of research – the place where the zero tolerance rule is explicitly formulated. The official FIDE handbook, on the FIDE web site, where you would expect to find it, still allows a player to appear an hour late for the game:

E.I.01A. Laws of Chess

6.5 At the time determined for the start of the game the clock of the player who has the white pieces is started.

6.6 If neither player is present initially, the player who has the white pieces shall lose all the time that elapses until he arrives; unless the rules of the competition specify or the arbiter decides otherwise.

6.7 Any player who arrives at the chessboard more than one hour after the scheduled start of the session shall lose the game unless the rules of the competition specify or the arbiter decides otherwise.

However, in the PDF version of the FIDE Laws of Chess we found the following addendum to the above text:

Proposed change
6.7 Any player who arrives at the chessboard after the start of the session shall lose the game, unless the arbiter decides otherwise. Thus the default time is 0 minutes. The rules of a competition may specify a different default time.

The British Chess Arbiters' Association has a different text in their version of the FIDE Laws of Chess (PDF):

6.6 a. Any player who arrives at the chessboard after the start of the sesswion shall lose the game. Thus the default time is 0 minutes. The rules of a competition my specify otherwise.

b. In case the rules of a competition specify otherwise, if neither players is present initially, the player who has the white pieces shall lose all the time that elapses until he arrives; unless the rules of the competition specify or the arbiter decides otherwise.

In general it would appear that the zero tolerance rule is not already in effect, but a proposal that still needs to be passed and/or implemented. In various references to the rule the date July 1, 2009 is mentioned as the day on which it becomes law. This is obviously not the case, as various forfeits have documented. However it was approved by the FIDE General Assembly at the 79th FIDE Congress, 23-25 November 2008 in Dresden, Germany:

4.1 Rules and Tournaments Regulations Committee. Annex 59.

Mr. Gijssen reported (2008 General Assembly Minutes – page 9 to 10)

Many months of work had gone into the preparation of the final draft of the new Laws of Chess and he thanked those that had contributed. The one major point still to be decided was article 6.7, regarding the default time.

Mr. Makropoulos said that the Executive Board had made a recommendation that we should have zero time before default, without exceptions, for all tournaments. However, this is a serious issue and he proposed to authorise the Presidential Board to make a final decision on this after a proper discussion. If we go for zero, we go without exception. The captains at the Olympiad were to be surveyed and their opinions will be given to the Presidential Board.

The President said he felt strongly about the issue, if FIDE is to be a serious and strong organisation and wants to be included into the Olympic Games, we have to show respect and have zero default time. It is impossible in other sports to be late for competitions. It should apply from school to world championship events. He gave examples where the image of FIDE had suffered because of the late arrival of the players at the board.

Mr. Makropoulos said arbiters are in favour. We should respect the players also. Mr. President has his opinion, but we should wait for opinions of the players and then in the Board the President will present his proposal and will seek the Board’s approval.

General Assembly approved the proposal of Mr. Makropoulos.

The minutes of the 79th FIDE Congress, November 2008 in Dresden, are in this PDF document.

The rule, as formulated in the British version above, allows the arbiter to overrule a forfeit. Organisers of an event, too, can specify any delay time they like. Stewart Reuben, Secretary FIDE Rules Committee seems to disagree with this. In the English Chess Forum he wrote:

The actual Law has yet to appear. Then we will formulate a recommended appropriate local law. I do not know whether there is written in arbiter's discretion, as currently. It is difficult to see how this can apply for zero default time. I do not see how zero default time can apply to any event where the arbiter is in charge of more than about five games. Just imagine it for the 4NCL or British! I don't see how there can be arbiter's discretion for zero default time. A player knows he has won. Now the arbiter says, 'Oh, no. Your opponent had a good reason. He has just saved the life of the FIDE President and is now one minute late.' It would be psychologically very disturbing to know you have won by default and then be told you have to play.

By the way the Commonwealth Championship in Malaysia 14-21 July has announced zero tolerance. But I would actually support zero-tolerance for the new eight player super-tournament in London in December. I wish I had thought of that in 1983 when Zoltan Ribli was discourteously late every round. Note, events which are not FIDE Rated do not have precisely to follow the FIDE Laws.

I am on record as stating that zero tolerance without the organiser being able to choose differently would have resulted in a 10-20% reduction in the amount of FIDE Rated chess. We are being spared that. I guess the zero tolerance with organizers being allowed to choose differently will result in 5% loss of FIDE Rated activity due to confusion.

With regard to the question of whether the rule is already in effect we note that in the special rules that are defined for events like the Chess Olymipiad the old version is still in place. FIDE's "Actual Handbook" still specifies (in Regulations for the Chess Olympiad):

7.4 Start and finish of the session

Five minutes before play commences, the Tournament Director must announce the approaching start of the session by a double acoustic signal.

The beginning of the playing session shall be announced by a single acoustic signal. Once the signal for the start of the round has been given, the clock of the player with the white pieces shall be started by his opponent. If the player of the black pieces is not present at the appointed time, his clock shall be started by the player with white, but without any move being made by the latter. Then, when the player of the black pieces arrives, he shall start his opponents clock and the latter shall make his first move. If both players are absent, whites clock shall be started by the Match Arbiter. Any player arriving at the chessboard more than one hour late shall forfeit the game. If both players arrive more than one hour late, the game shall be declared lost for both of them.

However, during the 2008 Chess Olympiad in Dresden about 20 players were forfeited for being late, including Ermenkov, who, we are told, left the board for 20 seconds to get a new pen from the arbiters' table when the gong was sounded [see report].

One wonders what the future will bring to tournament chess players. Will recommendations soon become rules and carry stiff penalties? Here's one that can cause quiet a few players some sleepless nights:

01. Recommendations for Organization of Top-level Tournaments

8.1 The Commission on Chess Publication, Information and Statistics (CHIPS) stresses the need for all chess players to take more care in their personal appearance. The image of the chess player should be a dignified one, and dressing properly would not only show respect for the game, but also to sponsors, potential or otherwise, to make it worth their while to spend their money.

For example, some federations have barred slippers, sleeveless T-shirts and vests in their tournaments. Those with unkempt and greasy hair should be admonished, as well as those wearing old or torn jeans and battered attire generally.

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