Wednesday, March 25, 2009

TD Tales: Stuff I Can't Make Up

I directed a scholastic tournament this past weekend. The organizer thought it would be a smaller tournament then normal because the private schools are on spring break. Wrong! It's two weeks until Super Nationals so we got bombarded with 200 kids. Normally we have 150 to 175 kids. It was a good thing the private schools were on vacation otherwise we might have 250 kids. I'm not sure we could even handle that many kids. As it is we had to double up on a couple of tables in one section.

My main job at this tournament is to handle all the entries, do the pairings, and help out on the playing floor with disputes. Those are my official duties. Then there are the unofficial duties such as sharpening pencils, looking for blank score sheets, lost and found coordination, garbage collection, parent cop, etc. To do this job, one has to be able to multi-task. A help wanted ad might read something like this: Highly organized and energetic person needed to work in highly stressful environment. Must have computer skills, be able to do 5 things at once, and handle difficult situations on a continuing basis. Excellent interpersonal skills required. Salary. Ha!!

Who in their right mind would answer that ad? No such ad exists, but I answered the call a long time ago. Then again, who said I was in my right mind?

The bitching and moaning starts before the rounds even start. I get an entry for a kid who has an 850 rating and wants to play in the Championship section which is for players rated over 1000. If we have an odd number if the Championship we'll move the highest rated player from Reserve up to even up the number. This kid was not going to be the highest rated player by any means. His mom starts whining about how he wants to play higher rated competition, and that he should be allowed in the Championship section. The organizer said he could not move up. The mom is insisting that we move her son up, or she's withdrawing her son from the tournament. The organizer spoke to her and convinced her that he would get good competition in that section. We actually have an overlap. Championship is for players over 1000, but the Reserve is open to players under 1200. Some players rated in the 1100s would rather be near the top of the one section instead of the bottom of the other section. The mom finally agrees to leave her son in the Reserve section. He had his hands full in that section. He went 1-3.

The first dispute actually happened in the over 1400 section. This is a section where the players are all very experienced both in scholastic and non-scholastic events. The kids also tend to be older then the kids in the other sections. I probably be lucky if I went 2-1 in that section. I think this may have been one of the first disputes we've ever dealt with in this particular section. How do you rule?

One player had promoted a pawn. He reached for the queen, and the opponent picks it up and replaces the pawn with the queen. The problem is promoting to a queen causes stalemate. Now what? Does the promotion stand because the player was reaching for the queen, and the opponent "helpfully" put the queen on the board for the player? No. The rule reads as follows: "In the case of a legal promotion of a pawn, the move is determined with no possibility of change when the pawn has been removed from the chessboard and the player's hand has released the new appropriate piece on the promotion square, and completed when that player presses the clock." Player refers to the person making the move. There is no mention of the opponent placing the piece on the square.

The other rule regarding pawn promotion is in the touch-move section. It reads as follows: "Piece touched off the board. There is no penalty for touching a piece that is off the board. A player who advances a pawn to the last rank and then touches a piece off the board is not obligated to promote the pawn to the piece touched until the piece has been released on the promotion square."

Based on these two rules we ruled that the player did not have to promote to a queen. He could have picked up the queen put on the square, not taken his hand off, seen that it is stalemate and change his mind. We felt that the opponent placing the queen could be construed as trying to influence the opponent in his move choice. It's like the player who "hangs" a piece and gasps, hoping that the opponent will just grab it, and miss that it's a sacrifice leading to checkmate. The other TD gave the opponent a stern warning about influencing the player's move choice by doing the promotion for him.

In that same round I get called in to try to settle what square Black's bishop was on. They were arguing over whether it was on f3 or e2. It wasn't going to impact the game. Even Black said it doesn't matter. White then argued that it was a dark squared bishop and was on g3. Black said "You took my dark squared bishop earlier." I looked at the score sheet and sure enough Bxc3, Nxc3 had been played earlier. White continued to argue with me, but I said it's a light squared bishop. I'm not sure what white was trying to accomplish in getting it to be a dark squared bishop. Earlier in that same game the organizer who also helps with the directing ruled against White who was trying to claim touch-move on an accidental touch. Shortly after I made my ruling, the organizer had to make another on the same game.

That would not be the last problem we would have with the player playing white in that game. I will refer to him as player X. Just as I'm getting ready to pair round 4, player X and his father come up to me along with his third round opponent and his father. It seems player X posted the result as a win for himself. His opponent who I will call player Y, said he won. Both the fathers start talking at once. The first thing I said to both fathers was "Back off. I want to speak to the children about what happened." Player Y claimed his opponent resigned. Player X claimed his opponent lost on time. Player Y said his opponent knocked his king over. Player X said his king fell over when he went to stop the clock. Player Y then said that player X said "I resign." Player X denied saying it. A kid several boards away thought he heard player X say I resign, but wasn't totally positive about that. The only thing players X and Y could agree on was that Y was up 2 pawns. Both had stop keeping score. Player Y's Mon Roi had a position where he was ahead by a rook and several pawns, but he admitted that was not the final position, and that he was not that far ahead.

The organizer decided that the game should just be called a draw. Our best guess was that player X may indeed have resigned, and then tried to retract it when he noticed player Y's time ran out. We told both players they need to agree to a result before leaving the board. Too often in scholastic tournaments kids don't realize that what they think they agreed to is not what the opponent thinks. This game occurred in the over 1000 section where the players generally don't need a tournament director to verify a result. We also told player Y he needs to double check the pairing sheet to see if the correct result had been posted.

In round four we would have another issue with player X. I'm sitting at my computer trying to catch up with data entry. Anytime we get a player who's playing in this tournament series for the first time, we have to put in his address for our database. It's tedious work, and I usually don't get a chance to do it until most of the other sections are done. Several players from the Championship section come out to complain that there's a kid crying loudly and is disturbing everyone. At the same time player X comes out, and says his opponent touched a pawn. Mr. X tries to come into the room with his son. I told him to stay out.

The opponent of Player X is crying hysterically. I tell him to try to calm down, stop crying and tell me what happened. He tells me that he wanted to capture the rook that was attacking his queen, but that Player X was insisting that he touched his g pawn first, and had to move that. The opponent said he may have touched the f pawn while reaching for the queen, but did not touch the g pawn. Player X was insisting that his opponent touched the g pawn. I explained the rule about accidental contact. As I was explaining this, the organizer/TD comes in and says "I've already explained that to him. Make a decision and get on with it." I told player X that his opponent could make the queen move. After that we made sure that there was always a director in the room to watch what was happening on player X's board.

After the game was done, the mom of Player X's opponent thanked me for resolving the dispute and keeping an eye on the game. She told me that Mr. X went into the boys room with his son during the game. I was not aware of that. Other people told me they've heard the father yelling at his son in their native tongue. It's sad when a kid is subjected to that type of pressure and feels the need to cheat. This kid is in first grade. What kind of values is he learning if he's cheating? Is the father encouraging that type of behavior, or is the pressure of living up to his father's expectations causing him to resort to underhanded tactics?

Besides Player X's antics there were all the dumb little glitches that make my job harder. Usually in the first round we have to do some switching around of players because somebody didn't show up, somebody comes late and wants to play, or somebody is in the wrong section. The changes are written on the pairing sheet, and then I have to make the changes on the computer before I enter the results. In the case of no shows, I have to make sure I withdraw them from the tournament so that they don't get paired again in the next round. In one section I had forgotten to drop the no shows, so they got paired again. Fortunately there were only two of them, so I was able to pair the two opponents against each other.

In one section I had a kid listed as unrated, but he actually had a rating. I didn't find the rating at first because I couldn't read the parent's handwriting so I had the name misspelled. I found the rating and changed the players information. Since I had a lot of changes in that section, I decided to print another copy of the pairings so that I could put the changes on the copy and work from that. I don't know what happened, but when I printed the copy the pairings were completely different. I still don't know how that happened since it takes several steps to repair a round, and I don't recall doing that before printing. I had to take the original pairings and manually switch everything on the computer to match my first set of pairings.

Then there are the problems that occur when a result is entered wrong. Sometimes it's my fault, sometimes it's the players' fault. No matter whose fault it is, it means having to make changes to the pairings, and to the scores of the players involved. Sometimes it's an easy switch where you just have to go have the actual winner change opponents with the actual loser. Other times it gets more complicated because making the simple switch doesn't work for a variety of reasons. Either someone has already played the new opponent, or they go to same school as the new opponent. Then you have to bring another match up into the switch. For what ever reason it seemed like every round I had to make some sort of switch.

When I'm not sitting at the computer I'm often walking around the playing room, and watching the games. Sometimes I'm convinced that watching too many games where players are missing mates or hanging pieces messes up my own game. I often joked with other directors that watching players rated under 300 play, causes my strength to go down by 150 points. Below is one of the amusing moments I saw. The position isn't exactly right, but only the position of the rooks matter.

Black makes a move, and suddenly White stands up, pumps his fist and whispers "Yes!" What move could Black have made that made White so excited? Black to move and lose. This is not a repeat of my Thursday faux pas, though it would make a worthy addition to my collection of March Misses. Black played Rf8?? After White's mini celebration he played Rdg8#! Ouch that hurt. I don't know if the material was actually even or not, but that still hurts. I guess I'm not the only one to make horrifyingly stupid moves.

Just another day at the office.


tanc (happyhippo) said...

One word.... wow.

chesstiger said...

I wonder why only in the last game somebody of the organization commite was put to watch player X. Seems to me that after his complaint in the first round one had to be carefull with him, when he had another complaint in round 2 one sure had to put him under the microscope during his game.

I know it's sometimes not possible to do so but in your case, if you can do it in round 4 you can do it in round 3 aswell.

I wonder what pairingsprogram you are using? In Belgium Pairtwo is most used i believe but i doubt it's a known program outside belgian borders since the author of the program is a belgian who doesn't has the habit to make his program known to the mass outside belgium.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post as usual, Polly. As parent with children who particpate in the NSCF tournaments you help run, I find your posts fascinating and informative. Thanks for all your hard work!!


Anonymous said...

Wow Polly. After reading this, I'm glad we were in Florida last weekend. Stories like this remind me why my older daughter prefers to play at the the local chess club at 7 pm on a school night and at CCA events to local scholastic tournaments. Though this happens to be a great tournament and the vast majority of the kids and parents are fine, sounds like this weekend there was a bad mix of too many overpressured kids and overinvolved parents.

James Stripes said...

Wow. I could sure use your help in Spokane on April 25 when more than 1000 kids arrive at the Spokane Convention Center. Want to make an expensive trip to do some volunteer work for nothing more than a really cool t-shirt?

Some of these disputes at youth tournaments get nasty, but I think you enjoy resolving them. I know that I do.

Polly said...

Tiger: I think the problem was 3 different TDs were dealing with this kid, so it took awhile to connect all the incidents to the one kid. You can bet that eyes will be on him next weekend at the Nationals. The organizer told me he's going to alert the floor chief for his section to watch out.

I use Swiss-Sys. The two most popular pairing programs in the US are Swiss-Sys and Win-TD. These two programs are written specific to the US pairing rules. There are a number of European programs that are designed to pair using FIDE rules, which are a little different the US rules. I remember when I played in small tournament in Budapest in 2007 they were using a program I had never heard of.

Anon: Most parents are pretty rational, but every tournament has one or two over zealous parents. I directed 2 Fridays ago in NYC, and again there was a pain in the neck parent demanding that we let her child play in a section that he wasn't eligible for. Some parents seem to think the entire structure should revolve around what is "best" for their child. They forget that sections are structured in such a way to meet the needs of the players in a particular rating and age range.

James: Sorry I have plans for that weekend. :-) That sounds like it will be an exciting tournament. It's nice that you can find affordable space for that many kids. We can draw 1,000+ kids for our state championship if we hold it down state in Westchester County. Unfortunately hotels want an obscene amount of money to host such an event.

Chessed said...

That brought up some memories.

There is a lot more of that in youth tournaments. Draws by intimidation, anything to avoid losing. And never enough tds to keep an eye on everything.

Once, about 30 years go (that's depressing) we had a td constantly keeping watch on a player at a Pan Am. Maybe just to let him know that we knew who was lying.

Liquid Egg Product said...

Looking at the promotion rule, it's amazing how precise the rules are and how many situations they cover. I'd imagine you've managed to come across a few situations where there's not a rule that seems to fit?

It's like the player who "hangs" a piece and gasps, hoping that the opponent will just grab it, and miss that it's a sacrifice...

Shamefully, I've tried variations on this a few times. It hasn't worked.

BlunderProne said...

and the job doesn't pay anything?!?!?!

Chessed said...

For small tournaments it generally pays nothing - or perhaps, if lucky, barely enough to pay for meals.

For a large tournament (Super-Nationals or Goichberg event) the pay is more, but generally not enough to compensate for the time. And, walking the boards, answering all the questions, and solving the occasional impossible dispute is hard work.

There are very few TDs who do it for the money, and those become unpopular organizers very quickly - because "the money" has to come from the prizes.

Polly said...

Blunder: I do get paid. If I broke it down by the amount of time I spend inputting the entries on Friday/Saturday, the time spent at the tournament itself (9:00 am to 6:30 pm), and the time spent doing the memberships and rating report submissions afterward it probably would come out to under minimum wage.

As Chessed pointed out, it's not so much about the money. The Nationals and CCA tournaments don't pay as much as people would think. Some organizers I work with pay better then others.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you might ask for more money? If each kid is paying 35 dollars to enter....where does all of that money go?

Polly said...

Anon: I am getting more then the past years, but there are trophy expenses, the janitor, and the profits do go to the chess program. It's a lot of work, but I'm sure most directors aren't doing solely for the money.

likesforests said...

I can't figure out why TDs do it, but I'm grateful they do! The behavior of some parents towards their children even in the non-scholastic events I attend really irks me.

I remember one Dad who was upset how their son played and heatedly showed their son the "right moves"... but his moves were actually worse than his son's! The funny thing is the highest rated kid in our area... an 8-year-old expert!... his Dad is laid back and cool even when his son makes mistakes. When his son and I disagreed on a rule he acted like an impartial TD. :)

Polly said...

Like: The most well adjusted chess kids are the ones who have laid back parents. I have some kids like that who are a pleasure to deal with.

I have to laugh at the chess dads who don't know 1/2 of what their kids do but insist on throwing in their "expert" opinion.