Nepomniachtchi cries foul on Armageddon

by Albert Silver
9/19/2015 – It was the final match of the day, and the cliffhanger of cliffhangers. After tying their standard and rapid games, Nakamura and Nepomniachtchi each survived must-win situations to push the match to sudden death. After a dramatic game, the American prevailed and it was all over. Or was it? To the astonishment of all, the Russian filed an appeal demanding the result be nullified.

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When news that Ian Nepomniachtchi had filed an official appeal, requiring a US$500 deposit, regarding the Armageddon game, thus requesting the final result be nullified (and no doubt replayed), Hikaru Nakamura expressed utter consternation on Skype. He had played in the utmost good faith, so what was the complaint?

As it turned out, his opponent was informed that during the game the American had castled with both hands, something the FIDE rules specifically cite as an irregularity:

4.1 - Each move must be made with one hand only.

Naturally, the first thing to do was examine the evidence. Thankfully, this was not dependent on testimonies since the games were all broadcast in high definition streaming by FIDE. See the evidence for yourself:

 

Video of the critical moment. Nakamura is black.

The first thing to note is that there is no question that both pieces were touched by both hands. There are two further rules in the FIDE Handbook under Laws of Chess that cover this specifically, outside the issue of playing with one hand only.

4.4 - If a player having the move:

b.- deliberately touches a rook and then his king he is not allowed to castle on that side on that move and the situation shall be governed by Article 4.3.a

If one examines the video frame by frame, one can see that the rook was touched a split second before the king. However, it is not so simple. Consider the very next article:

c. - intending to castle, touches the king or king and rook at the same time, but castling on that side is illegal, the player must make another legal move with his king (which may include castling on the other side). If the king has no legal move, the player is free to make any legal move.

It is clear from this last point that deciding the rook or king had been touched first via frame-by-frame playback was never meant to be the way the rules were interpreted. Now it is mentioned "touches the king or king and rook at the same time", and it is evident that in good faith Black's play is best described as "intending to castle", he "touched the king and rook at the same time."

Fine, but where does that leave the entire debâcle? It is defined by article 4.7, as ruled by the Appeals Committee.

4.7 - A player forfeits his right to a claim against his opponent’s violation of Article 4 once he deliberately touches a piece.

As a result, his appeal was denied and the result stood. In a display of understanding and sportsmanship, the Appeals Committee also chose to return Nepomniachtchi's $500.

It should be noted that watching the video of the crucial moment it seems clear that White never hesitated even a fraction of a second when the 'incident' took place or even right after and either did not see it at the time, or did not care.

Unhappy with the way it turned out, Ian Nepomniachtchi lashed out on his Twitter account with
an image of the rules and a curious grey box surrounding text that says, "If an arbiter observes
a violation of Article 4 he must always intervene immediately. He should not wait for a claim to be
submitted by a player".

However, it must be pointed out that there is no such rule in either the FIDE Handbook, or the
official 2015 World Cup regulations. It is rather a guideline in the FIDE Arbiter's Manual.

The important thing to take away from this is that should you witness an irregularity in your game and wish to complain, stop the clock and call the arbiter immediately. Just be warned that should your claim be rejected, you are the one who may be penalized.

The official report by the Appeals Committee



Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.