Tkachiev: Problems with health and acclimatization

9/15/2009 – "I would like to explain the recent incident," writes Vladislav Tkachiev, who caused an international stir by appearing in a near-comatose state for a game at the Kolkata Grandmaster Open. "From the very beginning of the event I experienced problems with health and acclimatization, and had to take strong medications, which obviously affected my ability to play." Tkachiev's statement + reader feedback.

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Vladislav Tkachiev: Problems with health and acclimatization

Dear ChessBase Readers,

I would like to explain the recent incident at the Calcutta tournament in which I was involved. From the very beginning of the event I experienced problems with health and acclimatization, and had to take strong medications, which obviously affected my ability to play.

French Champion GM Vladislav Tkachiev

I wish to express my gratitude to the Alekhine Chess Club for their hospitality and a high level of organization of the event. I thank all media who have published this letter.

Best regards,
Vlad Tkachiev

Reader feedback

Joseph Toh, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Let me relate a personal experience that I was a guilty culprit for sleeping during a game. It was the last round of one of the major Swiss tournament in our country, and I was down with a flu during most of the event, and it was at its worst during this round. I heavily intoxicated myself with medications to withhold the fever just to be able to play this crucial game. During the game I was heavily wrapped up to protect from the cold air-conditioning and was dozing most of the time just able to open my eyes at the click of the old analog clock being pressed after my opponent's move. Since my opponent was also a slow player and not wanting to take advantage of my poor situation, I got the much needed rest during the game and was also very relaxed throughout for this very important game.

Through sheer luck or determination, I managed to win the game and was placed outright second, losing an only game to the eventual champion in the earlier rounds. Had anyone of my friends or the arbiters interfered, trying to be good Samaritans, I doubt things would had turned up as it was. All there is to say is, if a player can bodily get him/herself present at the board, leave them alone! One's own presence, mentality or physically, is the responsibility of oneself. Should one have felt otherwise, one would not have chosen to be there in the first place.

There is the saying, "Let sleeping dogs lie." Should one wake a sleeping chess player? An absolute resounding, "NO!"

Frank Dixon, Kingston, Canada
Thanks to ChessBase and GM Nigel Short for their important coverage of this subject. It is clear that FIDE needs to address this matter forthwith, and to have its top rules experts and arbiters debate the proper consequences for instances of this type, and then draft a precise formulation of a new rule, which would then be applied worldwide.

I was present at another instance when a strong titled Master fell asleep at the board during his game. The player in question was also drunk at the time. It was at the 1995 Canadian Championship in Ottawa, hosted at the University of Ottawa, during round three. The championship was staged as a ten-player round-robin that year. I was visiting the city, and decided to drop in to spectate the round, arriving about half an hour after play began.

IM Bryon Nickoloff (1956-2004), undoubtedly a very strong, talented player, who played for Canada six times in Olympiads, was also known for his controversial behaviour. Nickoloff was playing FM Glenn Johnstone in this round. Nickoloff was sleeping at the board when I arrived, with his clock running. Clearly drunk, Nickoloff was also snoring, which was disturbing the otherwise quiet atmosphere. I was astonished at the situation, which went on for probably another half hour, with no change. Then, GMC Robert Kiviaho, another of the competitors, walked up to Nickoloff's board, and shook him awake. Nickoloff realized where he was, and continued the game.

The situation which then unfolded ignited an entire chain of reactions, including protests, counter-protests, meetings of the Appeals Committee, rulings, revised rulings, polarization of the other players into camps, and withdrawals (several threatened, one actually carried out), which essentially overwhelmed the chess for the rest of the event.

More details of this complex situation can be found in the October 1995 issue of the Canadian chess magazine "Chess Canada Echecs".

Since witnessing the atrocious, disrespectful conduct of IM Nickoloff on this occasion, I have been advocating in Canadian chess circles for several years the need to formally address this situation with rules specifics, and I see now that I have company, in the form of GM Nigel Short, whom I had the great pleasure of meeting in Ottawa at the superb 2007 Canadian Open, where he was an invited player who narrowly missed winning, and I was a sponsor and assistant who helped run the event.

GM Alexander Kotov's book "Think Like A Grandmaster" is universally admired in the chess world as one of the all-time greatest instructional texts. Perhaps some enterprising writer will now write an article punningly entitled "Drink Like A Grandmaster", to deal with incidents like this!

Milen Petrov, Varna, Bulgaria
My personal opinion as FIDE International Arbiter 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:

"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.

Victor Trifan, Timmins, ON, Canada
I hope that the following can be taken into consideration as completion to what a lot of your readers expressed in their letters or as a right to answer to some of those opinions.

This topic, triggered by the recent incident involving GM Tkachiev's behaviour at Kolkata Open, generated a lot of discussions about whether the arbiter or someone else should or should not wake up the player who fell asleep during an official game.

What everyone who submitted an opinion (including GM Short) overlooked is that a player, any player, may experience a heart failure or a stroke while playing. I'm not a doctor, but I witnessed once how an old person died (God forgive his soul) in a busy streetcar in a very hot summer afternoon: there was no convulsion, no cry, no other sign of what was happening to him. He just passed away before someone noticed. In such cases, the medical help within the first 15 to 30 minutes, is crucial in saving one's life.

A player is first and foremost a human being, and if we see one with the head on the board, would not be our duty to check upon this person to make sure he or she is OK? At least the arbiter should be allowed to do so, even if this is not explicitly stipulated by the chess rules that are now in force. Would not be embarrassing for all people around to let one die in the middle of a crowded area? Is there a human life worth anything these days? By the way, how many tournaments have at least someone with first aid training ready to intervene?

Even if I'm not a titled player, I urge everyone to support a FIDE amendment giving the arbiter of a chess competition the right and the obligation to check if the health status of a player allows the player in question to continue the game or this player might need immediate medical attention.

Richard Evans, Shropshire, UK
With no disrespect to Tkachiev's case. I wonder how many of your readers would jump to the other side of the fence if the news headline had read 'Chess Player dies at board when medical attention could have saved his life. Only the arbiter and players thought he was just sleeping and ignored him.'

Michael Bacon, Louisville Kentucky USA
The problem with not waking a sleeping player is that he, or she, may not be sleeping, but have a more serious medical problem. How would we feel if the player died because we did nothing?

FM Grantel Gibbs, Toronto, Canada
I read the comments from this article and found it disturbing that the Laws of chess would leave it to discretion, whether or not players should come to the assistance of a player who has "lost consciousness" during the game. What if this guy had suffered a stroke and fell back in his chair. The arbiter comes around and notices the player with his eyes closed, and then just observes to ensure that no one assists him. Only for the game to end, wakes him to give him the news and then discover the player is dead. Would the debate be the same? Let common sense prevail. The player has to be assisted. I think it is imperative that this law be revisited so that common sense can prevail. I agree if it is observed that the player's state based on the discretion of the arbiter would bring the game into disrepute, then the game can be forfeited. But let's not wait for someone to die at a chess board and offered no assistance before the laws of chess are changed. I also salute the arbiter and "Shak" for awaking the player.

Gary Walters, Cleveland, Ohio
While a few aggrandizing "free spirit" comments should be expected, they aren't to be taken seriously. I have learned everything I know about Tkachiev in the past week, and I, too, am inclined to like him. Nevertheless, his conduct was dangerous and distracting. He should receive an admonishment and a warning about similar future conduct.

Bob Durrett, Taylors SC USA
All the hoopla is for nothing. The opponent requested that his opponent be awakened. That was done and there was nothing wrong with that. End of story!

Brian Wall, Thornton, CO
I played IM Byron Nikoloff. It was a big American tournament maybe 25 years ago. He was drunk asleep at my board. Right before he was about to be forfeited the TD awoke him to yell at him. He offerd me a quick draw but I had traveled many miles to play titled opponents. I was a little irritated. He kind of sleep-walked his way through a KID (I was White). He came alive near the end when some interesting tactics appeared. I adjourned in a hopeless position just to make him get up at 8 AM. An hour later I thought better of it and went to his hotel room to resign. He was analyzing my game with his drinking partner IM Igor Ivanov. They are both dead now along with GM Wojtkiewicz. Brilliant Chessminds cut short by drinking.

Dan Andersen, Copenhagen, Denmark
Let's put this in perspective. GM Vladislav Tkachiev was drunk at the board. Unfortunate, and perhaps not the best way to represent the game. And so what? He did not kill anybody. To speak like Nigel Short of the bad impression made on the children present and an example must be made, etc., is way over the mark. Tkachiev was drunk, like greater masters have been before him (Alekhine comes to mind). People tried in vain to wake him up. Of course. What else should they do? He was drunk like most of us have been from time to time. As to the children, they have probably seen worse on the television. Even in these neo-puritan times it should be possible to be more relaxed about this sort of thing.

Joseph Chan, Singapore
I must say, I was feeling rather lukewarm about the whole intoxicated player's matter until I read a certain reader's (Trevor Davies, Glasgow, Scotland) opinion on the matter. I must say, it hit me like a revelation. But of course!!! For goodness' sake have the decency to check that a fellow human being is alright, then worry about the laws of chess. The arbiter did, in my opinion, the next best thing by gaining reassurances before waking the unconscious player. Probably because he knew all too well that cynical people like Nigel Short would be quick to criticise everybody and everything other than himself. Kudos to the arbiter.

Dr. Tansel Turgut, correspondence chess GM, USA/Turkey
I agree with GM Short: an example should be made. This is a very talented GM, however he does not have the right to act in such a spoiled way. He needs to have more respect. I think that FIDE consider making a rule about players who get drunk and distract other players. Maybe these players should be punished for a longer period of time: i.e. not participating in FIDE tournaments for 3 months etc.

On the other hand, GM Short is also to be criticized. He is acting selfishly, and trying to promote himself. He is using this opportunity to get stronger ties with his Indian friends (he gets invited to the Commonwealth Championship every year). I don't see him standing up with all other injustices in chess.

Overall GM Short is right: an example should be made. But, GM Short is wrong in choosing fights that he personally benefits.

Paul Rachlin, Tarrytown, NY
Sadly this seems less about a mishandling of the rules and an interesting hypothetical ("Do you wake a sleeping opponent?") then about a very troubled young man. It disturbs me to see his "friends" try to excuse his conduct. For his own good, GM Tkachiev should have been seriously sanctioned, either suspension from the tournament or a future tournament or from FIDE play for some period of time. No professional sports organization in the world would react differently, for to do otherwise would demean the sport and the professional character of the organization. Moreover, to show up drunk to work is a sign of alcohol abuse, plain and simple. I hope he gets help or he'll be another grandmaster to drink himself to an early grave while the chess world sadly watches on.

Flavio Quintiliano, Sao Pauo, Brazil
It's really wrong to crucify Vladislav Tkachiev. Of course Vlad knew he was drunk, but nonetheless he showed up to the game, as it was his duty. He showed respect to his opponent and to the organizers of the tournament. Of course, it was a miscalculation. He should have stayed in his hotel room and forfeited the game.

Chess is a neutral game, it has nothing to do with ethical values. I don't care if a painter or a musician or a chess player drinks or smokes. I'm only interested in what they can achieve. Leave Vlad alone, he is a great player.

Peter Jamieson, Sydney, Australia
GM Short is confusing his alcohols: “ethylated somnolence” is probably what he was searching for – a result of ethanol consumption.... Unless he is claiming the player was drinking methanol or methylated spirits!!

Dr Alexander Jablanczy, Sault Ste Marie Canada
Unfortunately now Nigel Short has done it. He fell flat on his face with his latest malapropism. Methylated, dear sir, refers to CH3 not CH2-CH3, which is ethyl. Grain alcohol is ethanol, methanol I am afraid is wood alcohol. Sheeessh. Furthermore falling asleep may indeed be due to inebriation by grain spirits, but it may be due to other substances illnesses such narcolepsy epilepsy cataplexy coma due to say diabetes mellitus among others. Or even glue sniffing. Finally neurosurgical conditions such as head injury subdural stroke tumour hypertensive encphalopathy and a thousand other toxic and natural and unnatural conditions. So it is wrong to presume that a dead drunk is drunk dead, he may not be at all. Did anyone take a blood alcohol level or a breathalyser on Tkatchiev? I forgot I had a young lady in a coma anterograde and retrograde amnesia who fell off a horse, another young chap also received a skull fracture in a bout of kick boxing. And as noted above several patients arrested beaten up for being diabetics or head injured.

These savage disciplinarians missed their calling their place is among policemen who enjoy police brutality on top of abject stupidity not playing chess. Finally an extremely boring chess game does make me fall asleep. May be the soporific game made him somnolent.

Previous articles on the subject

Should one wake a sleeping chess player?
08.09.2009 – 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.

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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