Sunday, March 2, 2008

Is This Checkmate? and other thought provoking questions from kids.

If you want to really mess your chess vision, try being a tournament director at a scholastic event. But not just any scholastic event. Some of those kids really know how to play, and will smack you around the board if you're not careful. If you don't believe me look here, here, here, or here. (Note to self: Tags such as Killer Kidz would make it a lot easier to find this stuff.)

The tournament I was directing today was small unrated event open to kids from one particular school district where we have chess programs. It was divided into three sections based on level and age. Out of 60 players only around 10 of them had played in a tournament before. Of those experienced tournament players only one has a four digit rating. Needless to say you see some interesting piece movements and hear some interesting questions, especially in the novice section.

In a tournament like this we try to keep fun for the kids, but at the same time we hope they'll learn a little something from the experience. One of the things we insist upon is that they raise their hand when they think it's checkmate. This avoids the "captured king" checkmate, the "stalemated king" checkmate, or the "I won, no I won" shouting match. So when a pair of hands go up, you're never quite sure wheether the game is really over or not.

One game I was called over to, the kid who was ahead asks me if it's checkmate. I look at the board, and neither king is in check. Hmmmm, that's a tough one. "No the king is not even in check."

Then in this position, white was claiming threefold repetition.

The move sequence had been 1 ...Qf2+ 2. Kb1, Qf1+, 3. Kb2, Qf2+, 3. Kb1, Qf1+, 4. Kb2, Qf2, etc. I had not observed this sequence, but both kids agreed this is what had happened. I'm impressed that the kid knows about repeating the position, but then I notice the rook on b8. I told him he had been leaving his king in check to the rook, and couldn't be making all the repeating moves. No draw yet. Black eventually did checkmate.

Some might say that I should have let the claim stand since the position did repeat at least three times, and this was a small unrated event where the results weren't all that important. In situations like this I don't tend to think that way. Though I can't cite chapter and verse off the top of my head, I know what the rule book says regarding the TD observing illegal moves. As I'm writing this, I have the rule book open. According to 11H in the rule book says if a director observes an illegal move, he shall require him to make a legal move. There's also a rather lengthy TD tip about situations where the king has been left in check. (Damn, I sound like a frigging lawyer.)

My favorite question in this tournament was "Can the king eat two pieces at once?" "No this is not checkers." That was not my answer, but that was what I was thinking. Sometimes it's best to give a one word answer of no.

My least favorite question was "How come I didn't win anything?" I don't mind explaining that a player had to get 2.5 points in that section to win a medal, and 3 or more for a trophy. I do mind when the player asking got one of his points on a bye, gives me an argument and then procedes to tell me he really had 2.5 points not just two. When a kid tells me his score is wrong, I will go back and check what was written on the pairing sheet. Sometimes I make mistakes when inputting the results. I had done so with this particular kid's friend. It's possible I messed up another result from the first round. Mistakes often crop up in the first round because of repairing opponents of no-shows.

I show him what I have on the computer, and he tells me he drew in the first round. I find the pairing sheet, and it indicates he lost. Then he tells me he got the draw playing as James. (Not his real name. Not that anyone would be able to figure this one out since he's never played in a tournament before.) He had been entered twice. Once as James and once as Jimmy. Yeh right, nice try. The problem with that argument was that James was a no show, and his opponent was repaired. The kid had sat at the Jimmy seat, and been paired as Jimmy for all four rounds. Jimmy had two losses, a bye, and a win. James had a forfeit loss and then was withdrawn as a no-show.

I can understand wanting a medal or something, especially when your friends got something. But it saddens me when they try to pull a song and dance number on me to do so. Did he really think I'd say "Oh you drew in round 1? I'm sorry I messed up. Here take this medal. I believe you." Give me a break!


wang said...

Polly, you are a saint! I couldn't handle it. Kids can be a challenge. The "I am going to trick myself into a medal" act always disturbs me. Makes you wonder what is or isn't happening at home....

Polly said...

Wang: Yes that type of stuff bugs me too. I've had kids be profoundly disappointed when they don't get enough points to win a medal. However most of them will accept the fact that they need to do better. Really young ones have more trouble with that concept which is perhaps why we do participation awards for the real little ones.

This kid was a fourth grader, and a mature one at that. But I suspect there are other issues going on at home or amongst his peers to make him resort to such a blatant stab at an ill gotten award.

I gave the kid a bit of a lecture, but I figured he embarressed himself enough by saying he got his draw playing as James. Hopefully he learned something from it.

tanc(happyhippo) said...


good on ya that you gave him a lecture. i think he would learn from this episode. it's strange how competitive chess can sometimes bring out the worst in people.

all up, the whole tournament must have been quite an interesting experience for you and you sound like you had fun.

drunknknite said...

When I started playing these kinds of tournaments I was already competent, but in the early rounds you have to play against pretty much anyone and it was really funny to see what other kids would do. I can't tell you how many times a kid would attempt to pass.

I think both decisions you made were correct, that game wasn't a draw by repetition (although it may have ended up that way) and that kid is just trying to get ahead the easy way...