Zero Tolerance, Sofia Rules and Dress Code

3/31/2012 – The events that have clouded the European Chess Championship in Plovdiv – after Shakhriyar Mamedyarov another Azeri GM, Eltaj Safarli, has abandoned the event after defaulting in round nine – have generated a great deal of discussion: is "zero tolerance" really necessary, how should one regulate draw offers, and should arbiters be measuring skirt lengths? Reader feedback.

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Once again we have received a large number of letters, and once again we have eliminated the ones that are gratuitously rude or aggressive. We know that emotions on the subject of the new FIDE regulations run high, but that should not proclude a civil discussion. So if you want your letters to be published be sure to moderate your tone, give a proper name and place of residence, and avoid CAPS or adventurous orthography.

Charles Hall, Orlando, FL, USA
The "zero-tolerance" rule is a fanciful effort to punish players for non-violations. If a player is ten seconds away from the board or is getting a pen or scoresheet, it is crazy and unfair to forfeit that player. On the other hand, as with the Georgian players, they should have been informed by the organizers as to the proper DST adjustment. In any case, if they are two hours late, under any rule, it is a forfeit.

As for the Sofia rule, it also is ridiculous. If two high-level players want to make a draw, there are endless well-known short repetitions to choose from. Energy levels, wellness, and table position are all taken into consideration by both players. You cannot force them to fight. The best way to encourage decisive play is to offer rewards for best game, fighting spirit, etc.

Finally, regarding FIDE changing the dates of the Candidates matches, you should have held that bit of news a few more days. FIDE Respects the Wishes of Top Players would have made a nice April Fool's tease.

Chris Orlando, Perth, Ontario, Canada
There has been a lot of criticism of the zero-tolerance rule and how it has the potential to ruin the tournament. I strongly disagree with this opinion. This is a major event and what else are the players there to do besides principally to play in the tournament matches? If a player cannot show the tournament and his/her opponent enough respect so as to show up on time, why should the tournament extend that player any special treatment?

I think that forfeit of the match is the minimum consequence that should result, and I would entertain the idea of expulsion from the tournament if there were no valid reason for the tardiness (i.e. the Georgian time-change error which is an honest mistake that affected several players and is clearly not some silly excuse). If the tournament is important to the player, then simply plan to show up early so that if there is a delay one will still be on time, just as one would for any important event.

It is not the rule that has the potential to ruin the tournament but rather the player who chooses not to abide by the rules and to disrespect the tournament and its organizers.

Stewart Reuben, Twickenham, England

  • Tennis: Sharapova arrived eight minutes late at Wimbledon 2011. There was no penalty. I think that was wrong.
  • Snooker: Players are forfeited if 15 minutes late.
  • Boxing: Players first lose points for the round.
  • Football: In the English league there is a complex rule, but the team doesn't actually default.

Kirsan made a big thing that chess should be like other sports. I agree. See the above. In fact the law now states the player must be there before the start of the round. It doesn't say must be at the board.

Dress code: That is for the organizer to decide. This is what the ECU has decided for its own events. Short draws: Players should be penalised by losing money. Not forfeited. I have seldom forfeited players and never felt pleased about it. Why organise events only to destroy some of the games?

Stewart Reuben is Secretary of the FIDE Rules and Tournament Regulations Commission

Micah Hughey, Edmonton, Canada
A correction, please. This is not the Sofia rule. Sofia rules are not in place in the European Championship, only a 40-move rule. Sofia rules are when no draw offers can be made, at all.

Matthieu Freeke, Tilburg, The Netherlands
I think one of the beautiful thing about chess is the gentleman-like behaviour that accompanies the game. The handshake, offering drinks and exchanging thoughts after the game. There are unwritten rules in chess which gives it it's class. Please do not spoil this with meaningless rules. I'm sure sponsors value sportsmanship higher than the right guy sitting in his chair when the game starts. Above all: let there be common sense in chess.

David Levens, Nottingham, England
The zero tolerance rule is just about the most stupid rule to come out of FIDE.

Roman Hanys, New Zealand
A player is ten seconds late and is excused. Another player is late one minute and is excused. Yet another player is late five minutes and is – or is not – excused? Where is the limit? The limit has actually been defined: it is zero seconds. Imagine the mess when a player who was late five minutes was excused and the one who was late six minutes was not. A player who signs for a tournament knows the rules in advance and agrees with them. Why cannot a player come to the playing table five minutes before the start of the game, take a seat and just wait in concentration? If you rush to a bus stop in the last minute, the risk is you miss the bus, and it does not matter if it's ten seconds or ten minutes – the bus is gone.

Peter Ballard, Adelaide, Australia
Not much sympathy here. In any other sport you need to be on the field of play on time, in fact a few minutes early. Shakh knew the rules.

Torbjörn Björklund, Malung, Sweden
The "Zero Tolerance" rule strikes again. Dress code for chess tournaments. Defaulted by breaking the "Sofia Rule", which does not allow draw offers to be made before move 40, and always through the arbiter. That's what happens when the wrong people is deciding the rules for international otb chess competitions. The main thing in a chess competition is no longer the game itself. Well, there is always poker (and where the BIG money is) if the otb chess fundamentalists continues to decide...

Benjamin Brandt, Saginaw
Forfeit in chess for tardiness is silly. Chess is played on a clock. Of course, if your clock runs out, you lose. This takes care of tardiness automatically. What's next? Will players be forced to stay in their seats for the entire game? Still, we can't blame the arbiters for enforcing the rules. Nor should we excuse the players for bad behavior in response to the rules.

Steve Chess, Cambridge, USA
This "zero tolerance rule" is too strict. I want to see good chess. Humans are sometimes late. There must be flexibility. For cheating: no flexibility. If there are rules to prevent cheating, especially consulting strong chess programs while chess game is in progress, all well and good: forfeit, and even money penalty. But not for being late at the chess board. Remember the great game at Sousse, when Fischer was on his way home and was persuaded to return to play Reshevsky. With five minutes on his clock (no increments then) Fischer won the game, to the chagrin of Samuel Reshevsky. Would have been a pity to deny chess literature this game due to a rule of needing to be at the board at the time of the "official" start of a tournament round. This rule must be re-thought and abandoned. It is bad for top level chess. There can only be bad effects from this bad rule.

James Hankins, Oklahoma City
Maybe this case will be a catalyst to rescind zero tolerance rules. Such rules are unfair and do not promote fairness in the game. They are for the benefit of lazy administrators who seek to avoid difficult decisions or using sensible judgment. Anyone hearing that a player is ten seconds late to the board would think "what's the big deal?" A better rule to punish later-arriving players is to just run their time off until the show up.

John MacCormack, San Antonio, Texas
Headline should not have said "Mamedyarov defaulted for ten second delay" since this is disputed. It could have been a minute as officials assert. Headline should say "brief delay." I am a newspaperman so I know what I'm talking about.

We corrected the headline to "Mamedyarov defaulted 'for ten second delay'" (i.e. added quotes), after which John MacCormack wrote: "I'm impressed – you resolved the problem very efficiently."

Iman Khandaker, Watford
Should players be defaulted for 'disrespecting' their opponents by arriving late at the board? If yes, should they also be defaulted for 'disrespecting' their opponents by playing the Orang-Utan, for playing 'too quickly', or by playing on in drawn positions? I have been accused of all three. For players to claim 'disrespect', they need a reason to suspect the opponent's behaviour was intentionally offensive – rather than just unintentional error. Equally surprising are the comparisons to other sports, where timely arrival is compulsory. How many last four or five hours? If Gebreselasie turned up five minutes late to the London Marathon, would he really be prevented from taking part? Most chess games are substantially longer than mere marathons and the possibility to recover lost time is proportionately greater. The traditional 'start your opponent's clock', is the reasonable penalty. It is proportionate to the degree of infringement, and allows the opportunity to recover. 'Zero Tolerance' = 'Zero Judgement' and prioritizes ease of arbitration over fairness.

Magnus Carlsen's opinion means a great deal more to FIDE than either commonsense or justice! Perhaps he could be prevailed upon to comment negatively on the 'Zero Tolerance' rule. What a pity it would be if the Candidates Tournament were marred by this. FIDE already have one botched Candidates cycle, with ridiculously short matches – can they really afford to see another?

Jan Novala, Uppsala
In what other sport do we see late arrivals? If Usain Bolt competes in 100m, he sure is on the starting line when the shot goes off. Does Messi run in ten seconds after his teammates, when they enter Camp Nou? No and the answer is no in almost all other professional sports: boxing, tennis, etc. If the ambition for chess is to be taken seriously as a competetive, professional sport there must exist rules. No late arrivals, drug tests, no food at the tables etc. Chess is on its way but the European championships 2012 shows that there are still work to be on the attitudes towards these questions.

We cannot resist commenting: Is the 100 meters sceduled for exactly 02:30 p.m. and started on the second, whether Bolt is in the starting block or not? Would Messi be barred from a game because he ran on to the grounds ten seconds after his teammates? If Vitali Klitschko were not standing in his corner at exactly at 21:45 p.m. would the fight be cancelled and David Haye awarded the World Championship title? And would Nadal be defaulted against Joe Smith in round one of Wimbledon because he was two minutes late on the court? We really, really don't think so.

Benedikt Wagner, Edinburgh, Scotland
Your report says "Tukmakov made it clear that he supported a professional attitude in chess, and was not dismissive of proper behavior. When asked about the dress code, he was supportive to avoid excesses, but worried that trying to define it too closely might allow a narrow-minded arbiter to find any reason to punish a player not abiding to the rules. There should always be room for common sense."

Define "proper" behavior, please? The entire quote doesn't make sense. A narrow-minded arbiter can punish players arbitrarily, precisely when rules are open to this interpretation. When they are very specific, finding fault becomes, in fact, much harder.

However, I'm not advocating such specific rules; a dresscode is a perfect example of unnecessary regulation at the FIDE level. Who is FIDE to decide how people should dress, which is ultimately a cultural issue? Should it be the "beacon of morality" banning miniskirts and imposing fully covered arms, legs, toes, and noses? Or an authoritarian "professional" organisation forcing everybody to turn up in freshly pressed suits? At high-level tournaments, organisers can stipulate whatever they want, and others should respect the spirit of an open tournament - the word "open" is there for a reason. There is absolutely no need for FIDE to get involved.

David Ellis, Perth, Western Australia
Regarding the banning of hats and caps for male players: if the venue is cold, or air conditioners on, a player with a shaven head (like mine) may feel the need to wear a cap or a beanie. Surely this should be permitted.

Brian Gaines, Ireland
Zero Tolerance – do the top players find it a problem? If so then there is a simple solution. Have them all sign a statement saying they will not participate in events with the Zero Tolerance rule and send it to FIDE. The same goes for the dress code. No top players means no sponsorship. There are plenty of tournaments that won't be observing these rules anyway. I think the FIDE motto could be revised. "Gens Una Sumus" (We are one family) sounds like a motto for an organisation that might "make you an offer you can't refuse". Maybe something like "Ad Iudicium" (Common Sense) would be better...

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