I think I must have jinxed myself when I made the following comment a few weeks ago: "I find directing a 200 player scholastic tournament in one day easier then directing a 26 player tournament that is spread out over the course of 9 weeks." This past Sunday I directed a scholastic tournament that ended out being the chess tournament from hell. I had players in wrong sections, or in no section at all. There were the no-shows and switching pairings to take care of the no-shows and the late arriving players. It seemed like I had to redo the pairings in the top sections at least two to three times in the first round alone. Any changes I had made in between repairings would get lost. When I would go to pair the second round all my changes had gone into a black hole, and I would have to put the changes back in and start over again. It also doesn't help when people are telling me things that impact the pairings, but because it wasn't given to me in writing, it didn't get done. I can only remember so many things before my brain goes into overload.
Because I have the computer set up in the playing room, I not only deal with doing pairings, but sometimes I have to make rulings on the floor when there are touch move disputes or other problems. I don't know but there was something in the air on Sunday. There were more disputes and temper tantrums in that one tournament then the other 5 in that series combined. The most common dispute occurs over touch move. Did the opponent touch a piece or not? Touch move is one of the most frustrating claims to make a ruling on.
If one goes to the rulebook to look up the rule she will find herself reading the following paragraph before even reading the rule itself.
TD Tip: Without a neutral witness Rule 10 depends on the reliability of both the claimant and the opponent. If they disagree then the TD should strongly consider denying the claim. In most cases, by denying the claim the TD shuts the door to all false claims. Upholding a false claim usually does more harm to more players than denying an accurate claim. (page 20 USCF Official Rules of Chess)
Now to the touch move rule itself. 10B: Touch-move rule: Except for 10A (adjustment of pieces), a player on move who deliberately touches one or more pieces, in a manner that may reasonably be interpreted as the beginning of a move, must move or capture the first piece touched that can be captured or moved. See also 10E, Accidental touch of a piece; 10F, appearance of adjustment.
I underlined "deliberately" and "reasonably be interpreted" for emphasis because these are key to dealing with claims. A kid will often try to call touch-move on his opponent when the opponent's hand hits a piece while reaching for another one. He claims touch-move even before the opponent gets his hand on the piece he's intending to move. Sad to say there are kids who will try convince the opponent that he's required to move the piece even though it was an accidental touch. This is where the tournament director gets called over. In situations like this it's fairly easy to to make a ruling denying the claim.
There are situations where the opponent will admit he touched a piece, but that it was an accident because he was really intending to play a different move. "I didn't deliberately touch the bishop. I was planning to play Qb5 the whole time." Yeh, right! Actually there is a whole TD tip devoted to that particular scenario.
TD tip: "Touch-move rule" claim without a witness. After talking to the claimant and opponents, TDs will find that opponent often insist that they did not "deliberately" touch a piece. Often, after some further discussion, the TD will find that some of the opponents really dis physically touch the piece in a way that they intended to move it (not an accident); however they will explain that they really intended to move another piece; therefore, believe that since the "touch" was not literally "deliberate" (since they intended to move another piece), the rule was not broken. The TD will have to uphold the claim in this instance.
Those instances are pretty easy to deal with. It's when both players are very insistent about what they did that it becomes tricky. If the TD asks the same question a number of times he will often get at the truth. I recall Steve Immitt dealing with two adults in a letting go of piece dispute. The way he continually asked the claimant's opponent to him what he did with the piece, it became clear that he had let go ever so briefly. This is a slightly different situation since the claim was about letting go of the piece in question. The players could agree on the fact that the piece had been touched. In dealing with kids it's often a matter of not understanding the rule. That was the situation in most of the incidents I had in the scholastic tournament.
What happens when adults have this kind of dispute? Adults understand the rule and are not as prone to trying to misapply it in situations such as accidental touches or touching one piece while planning to move another. The latter I refer to as "thinking with one's hand".
After my scholastic tournament from hell on Sunday, I had the club championship from hell on Monday. I was really hoping all the pairing problems were behind me. I had not gotten any frantic emails or phone calls with messages saying they couldn't make it that night. I thought I would get through a round with all 26 players in attendance, and be able to make round 5 pairings based on actual results. The good news; all 26 players were there. The bad news; I may have been there in body, but my chess brain wasn't there. I made a dumb decision not to trade off my opponent's knight. That knight then came in and busted open my king side, and within a few moves I was lost. I was very disappointed in how I played that round. However losing was the least of my problems.
I was putting my equipment away when I hear two players having a heated discussion. I come over to see what the problem was. One player was claiming that his opponent picked up his knight, started to move it, put it back where it was, and make a completely different move. The opponent claimed he did not touch the knight. I tried the "Immitt technique" of asking the same question, and have each player show me what happened. I was having no success with this method because both players were emphatic about what happened. The claimant demonstrated that the opponent picked up the knight and started to move it. The opponent demonstrated that he reached for the knight, did not touch it at all, much less pick it up and start to move it. It was a case of "he said/he said". The players at the adjoining board said they didn't see anything.
Everyone was getting annoyed at the ruckus so I asked the two players to leave the room so that we could discuss it without disturbing everyone else. I'm totally annoyed that these two players are acting like children and that one of them is lying. The problem is I have no way of telling which one is lying. It's not a case of someone reaching for a piece and not realizing that they may have touched it. It's the claimant saying that the opponent actually picked up the piece and started to move it before realizing that moving it is a blunder, and the opponent saying he didn't pick it up. The claimant tells the opponent that's "Bull $h!t" What's a TD to do? Follow the TD tip on page 20, and hope that denying the claim doesn't impact the result of the game.
The claimant was so pissed off. Later on he came out of the room and told me "I'm so pissed off. I can't believe he can lie like that." I told him"You know the rule. You've seen it with your students. There is nothing I can do. Calm down and try to beat him." He tells me he can't concentrate because he's so angry. I would have liked to see him win so that non-decision wouldn't hurt. It looked like that's what would happen. He was winning pretty much until the end when he messed up the ending and lost.
What can I say? Another strange night at the chess club. After 4 rounds I have a score of 2.5 - 1.5 where the average rating of my opponents has been 2024. Wins against an 1890 and 2025, loss to a master and a draw with a 1950. Despite the craziness I've played well for the most part.
I know I keep promising games. They're coming!