Hoogeveen controversy on final ratings

by ChessBase
10/28/2016 – The Hoogeveen match between Nigel Short and Hou Yifan ended in a victory for the former World Championship challenger, who decided it after five of six games when he led 3.5-1.5. The sixth game was a contractual obligation, which Short played and lost. The organizers submitted all six games for rating, although the FIDE rules say that the last game should not count. That has led to a furious controversy, very aptly described in MalayMail by Peter Long.

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This article by Peter Long begins with a roundup of the Hoogeveen tournament, which you can read in full in MalayMail Online. It is the second part that is of special interest, and we reproduce it with the kind permission of the web site and the author.

Nigel Short had told me before his match that he expected it to be very difficult but it certainly did not seem that way as he cleverly used his experience to blunt Hou's play and by the time he drew his fifth round game, the match was already won on the back of two fine wins.

But that's where the controversy that eventually followed began with a requirement to play the sixth and meaningless game.

In most matches, once won, it is usually halted and if there is a requirement to continue play for some reason i.e. because tickets were sold, then it switches to exhibition mode and often rapid games are played instead.

But today's chess is all about ratings and that is calculated based on a formula which shows the likely outcome and after comparing that to the actual result, the rating change is given.

Winning two games against an opponent with a similar rating means a big gain for Short and so he checked what the FIDE rating regulations were to confirm if indeed he had to take it seriously. The FIDE Rating Regulations read in paragraph 6.5 that: “Where a match is over a specific number of games, those played after one player has won shall not be rated.”

To be sure, Short checked with Tournament Director Loek van Wely, who as a former Netherlands No. 1, has vast experience in top level chess. After some email exchanges and a talk over breakfast, van Wely said he would refer it to the arbiters at a meeting that same morning for a decision.

Worst was to follow as Short went into the sixth game with no reply from van Wely despite repeatedly asking. Hou, meanwhile, was blissfully unaware of what was going on but soon there was more for Short to be upset about as one arbiter felt it appropriate to tell Short, during actual play, that he was a chicken!

Hou salvaged some pride with a fine win to reduce the final score to just 3.5-2.5 in Short's favour. Without taking anything away from the excellent play of the Women's World Champion in that game, it is hard to believe that the Englishman was as focused as he normally would have been.

The arbiters had illegally decided to ignore this FIDE regulation by arguing there was a precedent two years ago when the organisers had faced this exact same issue and had successfully ignored it! It is clear that they have submitted all games for ratings but very sensibly FIDE has rejected it as can be seen here.

Maybe it is best to let Short provide context through the series of Twitter replies below:

What was even more shocking has been the reaction of Loek who has been actively making statements while going on social media to essentially troll and attack Short's airing of his unhappiness, and a lot of what he is saying is rather ill-advised and quite unbecoming for the organisers as can be seen from just this one example.

This unnecessary incident and subsequent reaction – a major mistake by either arrogant or incompetent arbiters – is just one of too many recently in the news and reflects the challenges that chess is facing today in the way arbiters are trained, certified and awarded titles (and even re-certified) has not kept up with the explosion of chess worldwide.

Firstly, too many arbiters are not professional in that it is not their main job or vocation.

I have already said before that whether we like it or not, a minimum playing strength with requisitive tournament practice has to be one prerequisite to be an arbiter at top level events but it seems this is not always enough as in this case where a Tournament Director is either badly advised or unable to keep his personal feelings in check.

Secondly, the whole FIDE Arbiter System needs a rethink and then possibly a serious revamp because to start with, after passing a seminar with minimum marks, one can become an International Arbiter quickly by getting norms from just attending tournaments where basically all one did was pick up scoresheets and adjust clocks.

All too often, the wannabe arbiter is not getting any real practical training but it is rare a Chief Arbiter will not sign off a title norm of someone who has helped out with this grunt work!

The division of arbiters into various categories from A to D is also flawed in that it is based on participation in FIDE events where too often the appointments are political.

Thirdly, while the quality of arbiters has dropped and with that also their quality of interpretation, the FIDE Laws of Chess being applied has at the same time become unnecessarily complex so as to compensate for a lack of logic together with a real understanding of the underlying and basic principles.

And it becomes even worst when one appreciates that there are also rules regulating various competitions, numerous tournament systems and tie-breaks, and ratings and titles. Even when it is a matter of pressing importance such as the challenge of cheating using electronic devices, measures taken are ad-hoc and not well thought through.

Rules are rules; if they are bad or not working well, then they need to be changed.

But when the rules in place are ignored, and not because it is a matter of a conflict with that of natural justice or even if simply to ensure fair play, but just because you can, then I think we have a very serious problem on our hands.

Original source: MalayMail Online. Peter Long is a Project Manager at the Kasparov Chess Foundation Asia-Pacific which advocates the use of chess in education and facilitates regional chess development. He is a FIDE (World Chess Federation) Trainer and International Arbiter.


Frederic Friedel spoke with Nigel Short, for almost an hour, on Skype. He reports that the former World Championship Challenger was extremely distraught about the waves this controversy had generated in the press and in social media. For instance there are pages on the Polgar chess news blog entitled "Ultimate Shameful Unsportsmanlike Conduct In Chess" where Short is soundly criticized. But especiall the comments in the various chess blogs are often extremely hostile, to the point where Nigel feels personally threatened.

On Facebook the President of the Association of Chess Professional (ACP), Emil Sutovsky, wrote:

There is a lively discussion below Emil's post

In the end FIDE overruled the rating submission of the Hoogeveen organisers and rated only five games. Nigel gained 8.5 rating points, Hou Yifan lost the same number.

Nigel commented on Facebook:

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