Hard to Argue – a TD story.

A few decades ago, I was a TD at a local chess club. It was an open tournament and maybe it is fair to say that all participants were adult males.

Some of these players were friends of mine, and other players were known mainly by their reputation.

As a TD my main responsibilities were making sure that the wall pairings were up on time, the players had the necessary equipment, and to be available if a problem comes up. Other than that, I could walk around the tournament room or read a book (an opportunity I took advantage of, as the only place quieter than a chess tournament is a library).

As it is happens, one of the players in the tournament was somewhat a former child prodigy, who was now in his early 20s. I knew his parents and we all friendly and courteous to each other. I will name this player, “J”, and his mom, “M”.

Another friend of mine, “B” was playing in the tournament and could actually win a prize (not necessary to the story, but he was good enough to occasionally win a club championship).

Both the United States Chess Federation (USCF) and International Chess Federation (FiDE – this is French acronym) state that a player loses the game if he is an hour late to the start of the round. Every player I know follows this rule. There are stories from the 1940s that a strong player arrives at the board 59 minutes late (sometimes even later than that), and with a handicap of an hour less to think about his move, somehow manages to draw (or even wins) the game.

The rule is that well-known.

Anyway, I had finished the pairings and they were up on the wall. “J” was playing Black against this person who thought he was a lawyer, argued like one sometimes, and knew all the tournament rules. Or so he thought. I will call him “K”.

The start time was 7:00 PM. Just before the wall clock reached 7 PM, I was looking for “J”, as he was the only one missing.

At exactly 7:00, I told the players to start their clocks and immediately heard the ticking of many small clocks. (After a while of playing tournament chess, one learns to tune out the ticking. It’s a useful skill to learn).

I sat down to do some paperwork. But before I could get comfortable, “K” comes to the TD table and said his opponent (“J”) was not at the table and he was going to use the wall clock to keep track of the time so he could claim victory one hour from now. Then he walked back to his table. OK, that got my attention. Was he asking me something or was he making a statement so I could not argue back?

I watched from the TD table as he walked back to his chair and sat down and looked at the wall clock. There was nothing in from of him, no set, no clock, nothing. He was sitting there, possible thinking he had an easy win. Maybe he really didn’t want to play.

I looked at him for a couple of minutes. Then I got up and slowly walked to his seat.

I told him he was welcomed to sit there. But if he wanted to “clock” his opponent, he needed a set and a clock in front of him. He looked at me shockingly, as if it was wrong for me to tell him about the rules, as he always thought he knew the rules better than I, a TD. I also wanted to give “J” somewhat extra time to get to his game.

I told him he could look up the rules and that I had a copy of the rules book in case he wanted to look it up (it is an actual rule).

He declined my offer. And sheepishly asked me if he could borrow a clock. I told him yes, he could borrow one. That was covered in the rules.

He got up and walked to another player. Well, I got the clock and came back to the TD table and said he was going to set the clock to 53 minutes as “J” was seven minutes late. I told him he had to start the time for one hour as he could not claim lost time. He agreed and made the correct change to the clock. And went back to his table, pressed the clock and played 1.d4.

Now, if you know something about tournament chess, he made a few minor errors here. One, you don’t need to make your first move on the board. You just need to start the clock. That way, your opponent cannot get more study time before he come to the board. Second, you play the move on the board and then hit the clock. At that point the move is considered complete. This is important for speed chess and time trouble.

Finally, and this only my opinion. You don’t open a chess game with 1.d4. It’s too slow of a game – you have to play 1.e4!

Meanwhile I was still looking for “J”. If something happened to him, I wanted to know. This tournament was played well before cell phones became ubiquitous.

No problems for the next hour. I finished my paperwork, my friend “B” won his game (but finished just outside the winner’s circle), and “J” didn’t show up.

How do I know at this point it was an hour? Well, “K” came up to the TD table and said it was an hour and I had to give him a point. I told I would, but it was still his responsibility to indicate that on the wall chart.

He gleefully went to enter this the result. And then put away his set. This is usually an indication that a player doesn’t want to play anymore tournament chess, and not so much that he want to clean up the place.

As “K” was putting away his set (and cleaning nothing else) “J” and “M” stepped into the tournament room. “M” asked where her son could play his (tournament) game as there didn’t seem to be any open chairs or sets.

I informed her that her son was an hour late for his game and according to the rules, his opponent claimed a win by forfeit.

She got angry and demanded her son to play the scheduled tournament game as it wasn’t her fault that she was an hour late (actually it probably was, esp. if she was the driver). But I kept calm and spoke quietly. I didn’t want to risk a friendship, nor did I want to create a disturbance for the other players.

She wanted me to reinstate the original pairings. I could not do that as we had a time limit for use of the building and some of us (including me) had to wake up early the next morning for work.

She wanted me to take the time lost, divided in half and each player would lose a ½ hour on the clock, just to be fair. (Sorry, I could not do that.)

About this time, “J” started to tell, almost beg, his mother that it was not that important and he was willing to go along with the TD’s suggestion. Other players, including some where still playing their game, began to follow the conversation.

She demanded how could I do this to his son. I told her that I had nothing against her son; I still thought he was an intelligent young man, who would do well in his life.

She wanted me to talk the situation over with his opponent and get him to play the game with her son.

I told her that I would do that. But the choice was going to be his to make.

So, I got up from my chair, walked over to “K” and told him that “J” was still willing to play the original tournament game with him. I also mentioned that it would be his decision and I would respect whatever decision he made.

He curtly replied, “no”. And then I could swear he had an evil grin on his face. Did he hear our conversation?

I thanked him and walked back to “M”, I told her that “K” said no and there was nothing else I could do for her or her son.

She got even more angry than before and told me to do my job. (I thought my job was to run a tournament, and not make exceptions). I didn’t even get a chance to tell her that I did everything possible and legal to give “J” some extra time to get to the board.

Her last words to me were, “It is your fault that we are no longer friends”.

I began saying, “I would hate to end a friendship for this”. But she was already walking out the door by the time I got between the second and third word.

I never saw her or “J” after that episode.

My friend, “B”, and some other players said I did the right thing. I quietly replied, “Thank you” and walked back to the TD table. And got through a few more chapters of a book.

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