Should one wake a sleeping chess player?

9/8/2009 – Amazing. The international discussion on chess subjects is currently centered around the question of whether it is ethical (and conformant with the rules) to wake a player who has fallen asleep in the middle of his game. This happened to GM Vladislav Tkachiev, who in round three of the Kolkata Open clearly displayed 'methylated somnolence', as tournament participant Nigel Short calls it.

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Should one wake a sleeping chess player?

Before we come to the op-eds let us take a look at the current standings in the tournament:

Rk. Name Ti FED Rtg Pts. TB1 TB2 TB3
1 Le Quang Liem GM VIE 2602 6.0 30.0 27.0 23.5
2 Sandipan Chanda GM IND 2611 5.5 33.0 30.0 26.0
3 Laznicka Viktor GM CZE 2634 5.5 26.5 24.5 22.0
4 Filippov Anton GM UZB 2595 5.5 22.5 21.0 18.5
5.0 Safarli Eltaj GM AZE 2587 5.0 30.0 27.0 23.0
6 Khusnutdinov Rustam GM KAZ 2506 5.0 30.0 26.5 23.0
7 Adhiban B IM IND 2490 5.0 29.0 26.5 23.0
8 Mchedlishvili Mikheil GM GEO 2613 5.0 28.5 26.0 22.5
9 Mamedyarov Shakhriyar GM AZE 2721 5.0 28.5 25.5 22.0
10 Laxman R R IM IND 2486 5.0 28.0 26.0 22.5
11 Satyapragyan Swayangsu IM IND 2439 5.0 28.0 25.0 21.5
12 Mamedov Rauf GM AZE 2626 5.0 28.0 24.5 20.5
13 Negi Parimarjan GM IND 2615 5.0 26.5 24.0 21.0
14 Aleksandrov Aleksej GM BLR 2639 5.0 26.0 24.0 21.0
15 Markos Jan GM SVK 2565 5.0 26.0 23.0 20.0
16 Postny Evgeny GM ISR 2651 5.0 24.5 22.0 19.5
17 Short Nigel D GM ENG 2706 4.5 31.5 28.5 25.0
18 Ganguly Surya Shekhar GM IND 2634 4.5 31.5 28.5 24.5
Panchanathan Magesh C. GM IND 2532 4.5 31.5 28.5 24.5
20 Himanshu Sharma IM IND 2471 4.5 30.5 28.0 24.5
21 Konguvel Ponnuswamy IM IND 2440 4.5 30.0 27.5 24.0
22 Gagunashvili Merab GM GEO 2564 4.5 28.0 25.5 22.0
23 Grover Sahaj FM IND 2288 4.5 27.5 24.5 21.0
24 Sundararajan Kidambi GM IND 2516 4.5 24.5 23.0 20.5
25 Geetha Narayanan Gopal GM IND 2598 4.5 24.5 22.0 19.5
 :                
42 Tkachiev Vladislav GM FRA 2669 4.0 23.0 20.5 18.0

Nigel Short: "An example must be made!"

Professor R. Anantharam, is a most charming man, but it is hard to understand how his actions during the infamous "Inebriated Tkachiev Game" adhere to the Laws of Chess. In his attempt at self exculpation, he quotes the two laws (Article 13.6 : "The arbiter shall refrain from informing a player that his opponent has made a move, or that he has failed to press the clock." and Article 13.7 "Spectators and players in other games are not to speak about or otherwise interfere in a game.") that show EXACTLY why nobody should have been allowed to interfere with Tkachiev's slumbers. Professor Anantharam's tenous justification apparently rests not with the Laws of Chess themselves, but apparently to an answer given by Geurt Gijjsen to a correspondent Dave Burtonshaw on an Internet website in 2000.

The comparison is bogus. The Tkachiev case differs from the Burtonshaw case mentioned by in one crucial respect: Tkachiev had not merely fallen asleep, but was deeply drunk. This is, of course, the nub of the matter. Unlike Burtonshaw's poor opponent who inadvertently dozed off (and who incidentally was snoring – unlike Tkachiev – disturbing other players and therfeore needed to be woken up), the Champion of France was in a self-induced, near-comatose state. Short of actually vomiting on his opponent, it is hard to think of a more flagrant breach Article 12.1 of the FIDE Rules:

Article 12: The conduct of the players
12.1 "The players shall take no action that will bring the game of chess into disrepute."

The (extraordinarily wide-ranging) punishments for such a transgression are:

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.

In view of the seriousness of the breach, (g) was the most appropriate response. Indeed why does such a provision exist if not for extreme cases like this? On a number of occasions, over the years, I have seen players who have arrived to a game somewhat worse for wear, but I have never seen anyone even close to being as paralytic at a chessboard as Tkachiev. The reaction to his condition was one of amusement to a few, but indignation and disgust to a great many others. His behaviour set a shocking example to the many children present. It is to see how we expect to see chess treated seriously as a sport (and, naturally, the incident generated world-wide publicity) if firm action is not taken in a case like this.

Professor Anantharam mentions that when Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (an Appeals Committee member) was taking a stroll he mentioned the subject to him and that Mamedyarov himself volunteered to wake up Tkachiev. This somehow gives the impression that the action was casual, spur-of-the-moment one. Not so: Professor Anantharam spoke to at least one other member of the Appeals Committee during the round to seek support for his position. Lest it be forgotten these people were busy playing and did not have the rulebook to hand. To the best of my knowledge, no one was informed that interfering with the game was against the FIDE Rules (Articles 13.6 and 13.7 above). Furthermore not only Mamedyarov, but various other people also tried to wake Tkachiev. This was done, if not explicitly at the Chief Arbiter's behest, then at least with his tacit approval.

As Professor Anantharam rightly argued, there was, in fact, a good argument for waking Tkachiev up, as the commotion caused by his methylated somnolence was disturbing to overyone. However this should have been done to forfeit him and to remove him from the playing venue, NOT to render him assistance.

Lastly, on a personal note: I have on many occasions enjoyed Vladislav Tkachiev's entertaining company. He is vivacious and witty when still sober. What he chooses to do in the company of friends in his own room is, of course, his own business. However when he brings the game into disrepute, causing widespread public embarrassment, as he most certainly did on this occasion, an example must be made.

Nigel Short


Reader feedback

Kevin Cotreau, Nashua, NH USA
While this is clearly a bit of a gray area, I could not disagree more with the arbiter. I think that it is clear that here you can have two or three rules that are conflicting, so what to do? Well, I would say that the more definitive are the following rules, and therefore should be followed strictly:

Article 13.6 says: "The arbiter shall refrain from informing a player that his opponent has made a move, or that he has failed to press the clock."

Article 13.7 says: "Spectators and players in other games are not to speak about or otherwise interfere in a game."

While it does not specifically mention sleeping, the general sense of these rules would be clearly the same with regards to sleeping: You don't wake him up since that is helping that player, and that is forbidden. If the arbiter wishes to impose the following rule from the Laws of Chess

Article 13.2: "The arbiter shall act in the best interest of the competition. He should ensure that a good playing environment is maintained and that the players are not disturbed"

then he should consider forfeiting the player outright, especially if the player is making noise, such as snoring, or is falling out of the chair. If he does not wish to go this far, and the player is quietly sleeping, then just let him sleep and let his flag fall if the player does not wake up. In any case, you do not wake him up since that is outside help. I think that most tournament players would believe that waking a player is the more serious violation of the rules.

While I disagree with the arbiter's reasoning, since the opponent requested that the GM be woken up, I am not as inclined to judge so harshly, although it would still be a breach of the rules, since they do not exempt help from your opponent.

Trevor Davies, Glasgow, Scotland
As an arbiter, I would always wake a sleeping player. How am I to tell that the player is merely intoxicated (itself a life-threatening condition in extreme circumstances) or tired and not gravely ill? The laws of common-sense always take precedence over the Laws of Chess.

Paul McGaugh, Las Vegas, NV USA
I think GM Tkachiev should be congratulated for raising the spirits of the game.

Géraud Moulas, Toulouse, France
I don't want to apologize Vladimir Tkachiev but to remind people of the circumstances. One day before the opening of the open, Tkachiev became French Champion ahead of Vachier-Lagrave and Fressinet, who were both ranked higher. He probably spent the night in the plane (let's think about the jetlag). Two days after his arrival, he is alone, totally jetlagged and he learns that his Elo increased by 18 points, thanks to the French Championship. In this context, we all know now that Mister Vlad enjoys (local?) alcohol after receiving such good news.

Milen Petrov, Varna, Bulgaria
My personal opinion as FIDE IA and having experience facing such cases in my practice in local tournaments is that the Chief Arbiter acted in a best way. What is missing from other opinions is the FIDE Laws of Chess Preface where it is stated:

"Preface: The Laws of Chess cannot cover all possible situations that may arise during a game, nor can they regulate all administrative questions. Where cases are not precisely regulated by an Article of the Laws, it should be possible to reach a correct decision by studying analogous situations which are discussed in the Laws. The Laws assume that arbiters have the necessary competence, sound judgement and absolute objectivity. Too detailed a rule might deprive the arbiter of his freedom of judgement and thus prevent him from finding the solution to a problem dictated by fairness, logic and special factors."

So my opinion is that the arbiters of the competitions acted according to the Rules and in the best way of interests of the competition and the players.


Previous articles on the subject

The Tkachiev incident: the arbiter replies
06.09.2009 At the Kolkata Grandmaster Open one of the top seeds, GM Vladislav Tkachiev, appeared for his round three game in an intoxicated state, fell asleep at the board and was ultimately declared the loser. In our previous report we published a letter from one of the participants criticising the arbiter for waking the grandmaster. Is that a breach of the rules? Not so, says R. Anantharam.

Kolkata Open: inebriated grandmaster forfeits game
05.09.2009 An incident at this grandmaster tournament in India has made it to the national and now the international broadsheets: one of the top seeds, GM Vladislav Tkachiev, who recently won the French Championship, appeared for his round three game in an intoxicated state, fell asleep a number of times at the board and was ultimately declared the loser. Details.


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