As the entire chess world knows, Wesley So was recently forfeited for writing notes to himself during his games at the U.S. Championship. The purpose of this blog post is to give my view of what should have happened. There were three major parties in this incident, Wesley So, Tony Rich and Varuzhan Akobian and I think that all three of them should have acted differently.
Let’s take a look at the most obvious offender in this case: Wesley So
What should Wesley have done differently? This one is pretty obvious. Once he was warned that he could be forfeited if he continued taking notes, he should have stopped taking notes completely.
Instead he decided that he could take notes on the non-official notation sheet. This is definitely an odd way of thinking, but I suppose it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility for Wesley to believe it. However for someone to be 2700+ FIDE rated and to not take the precaution of asking the tournament director if this very similar action might be okay…let’s just say it’s a bit strange.
So at the end of the day, it’s the irresponsible actions of Wesley that lead to the events that followed and put all of the other parties in a very awkward and difficult situation. When people are placed into strange situations and faced with tough choices, sometimes not everyone is going to love the choices that result.
Party number 2 is Tournament Director Tony Rich
In my belief, one of the major responsibilities of a tournament director is to be as invisible as possible. Sometimes this will remain impossible due to the actions of the players. In this case we have a player who made a few minor rules violations, and Tony was correct to respond. However the one situation that should be a last resort, is to actually forfeit a player for a rules violation that does nothing to threaten the integrity of the game. Yes it may have to come to this eventually, but you should definitely make every effort to make this a last resort.
Did Tony try to leave this as a last resort penalty? The obvious answer is no. There are a ton of intermediate steps that could have been taken before a forfeit win was awarded to Wesley’s opponent. Tony was definitely in a difficult and unprecedented situation, one that no tournament director should be expected to face in such a high level tournament. However I wish that Tony didn’t threaten to forfeit him for a future violation, so that he could have felt more comfortable first taking one of the more intermediate steps such as a 10-15 minute time penalty. FIDE rules completely allow for this type of in between penalty, and for a violation that’s so harmless it would have been a completely reasonable option. If Wesley still didn’t get the idea after a time penalty then okay, go ahead and forfeit him, but please penalize him with something tangible first. Instead this moment has become the focal point of attention for the entire Championship.
Party number 3: Varuzhan Akobian
Varuzhan was Wesley’s opponent and was well within bounds to inform the tournament director that Wesley was note-taking. However what I really would have liked to see, was for Var to not simply roll over and accept a forfeit win in 6 moves. If I was in his place I would ask the director to please allow the game to continue, and to perhaps impose a less severe penalty instead.
I am pretty sure that the majority of players would accept the win, so I wouldn’t go biting off Var’s head over something like this. Taking the win seems self serving, but it’s the opposite that’s true. To behave in an over the top sporting manner in a situation like this, that is what people remember, and that’s what’s going to increase your reputation and make people want to help you as much as possible. Also it’s just a nice thing to do to a fellow chess player and a friend.
Sure, Var gets a point in the standings and ends up with some extra money, but he squandered an opportunity to potentially achieve more. He probably won’t notice losing anything tangible from this, but let’s say he fought for Wesley instead. A lot of people would have seen and noticed this. Random opportunities would come up in the future, and people might remember this hypothetical selfless act and Akobian’s name would end up on the tip of their tongue. Var is going to be active in the chess world for a long time, and this one moment could have really helped him in a lot more ways than one single 6 move forfeit win will help him. And who knows, maybe Var would have won the game anyway.
It’s very beneficial in the chess world, and in the real world, to have as many people like you as possible. Yasser Seirawan is basically one of the most amicable, sporting and friendly chess players out there, and it’s no coincidence that after all of these years of generating good will, that he gets so many high profile broadcasting opportunities with the St. Louis Chess Center. Varuzhan passed up a chance that was handed to him on a silver platter to make thousands of new fans.
(random aside: I would accept a forfeit win for violation of the cell phone rules in the majority of cases, mainly because this is something I am also in danger of losing to and have to vigilantly make sure my phone is off before every game.)
Party number 4: Hikaru Nakamura
After this incident, Hikaru posted a nasty tweet about Wesley at one of Wesley’s lowest moments. I would have suggested not doing that.
Conclusion: At the end of the day it’s clear that all of the chaos began due to Wesley’s relatively insane insistence on continuing to write hilariously adorable inspirational notes to himself during his game. I really wish the rules were different and this kind of behavior would be encouraged, but sadly it’s not. What a cruel cruel world the chess world is.
The actions of Tony and Varuzhan were different than I’d have hoped, but understandable because they were placed in very difficult situations.
Wesley So will recover from this embarrassing moment for sure. He seems like he is always a perfect gentleman and everyone I have personally talked to about Wesley is a huge fan of him as a human being. In fact he defeated defending U.S. Champion, GM Gata Kamsky, in the very next round. I think we need a 10 game match between Wesley and Hikaru in the future…