A TD story

I believe it was 1987 when this instance occurred. My assignment was to help out in any was I can at a local scholastic chess tournament. In reality, and more truthfully, I was the guy whose job it was to solve any disputes.

Now a player who wins a game earns a grand total of 1 point. A player who loses a game gets 0 points. And if a game ends in a tie (usually called a “draw” in chess lexicon), then each player receives ½ of a point. This background information comes into play a bit later.

The winner of the tournament is the one who earns the most points at the end of the tournament. This sounds simple, and it usually is.

If the there is a tie (draw) between players at the end of the tournament then we had two tiebreak systems at our disposal.

The first is to look at all the players who are tied and then check if the players had played each other. If so, then we look at who won. If Player A beat Player B in their individual game, then we would conclude that Player A won the tournament. Simple, and again, usually not a problem.

If a second tiebreak is needed, then we would see would check which player faced the strongest opposition. And how does one figure out who the strongest opposition?

Well, we add up all the points of every opponent each player faced. This takes time. And there is pressure not to make a mistake, sometimes from the players, but mostly from concerned parents who naturally want their child to win or have a later appointment in the day. And this was years before computers were commonplace. In other words, we did it by hand.

We now introduce our two scholastic players who made played in this tournament, ‘J’ and ‘R’. ‘J’ was a fairly good player and one could not entirely dismiss him from winning this tournament outright. However, ‘R’ was in a league of his own. He was definitely the favorite but when it came to King safety, well, that was a weakness. It should be pointed out that this condition is almost universal among scholastic players. But it was more noticeable in ‘R’ ’s case.

Anyway, there was almost no problems with the tournament. The only problem I had to face was answering a child’s question on where the restroom was located.

The tournament ended a little sooner than expected. And as expected, ‘R’ won. Or did he?

We were getting ready to announce the winner, hand out the trophies, and thank everyone for coming.

But ‘J’ came to the TD table and said that he won the tournament and not ‘R’. I asked him for more information. Was it possible that the Tournament Director team made a mistake? As far as I knew we never made a mistake before. But I knew we, being human and all that, could have made one.

So, the team and I went to a back room to hear him out.

He claimed, “My tie-breaks were better than ‘R’. So, I won the tournament!” I told someone to bring the out the pairing cards. Our first check was to see if ‘J’ played ‘R’ and what was the result. It turned out that these two didn’t play each other in the tournament. I remember remarking, “Well, that was easy.” I got a few amused smiles. We had to do the hard work after all. This was the first time we had to work this out. However, things progressed rapidly once we figured out how to do it. I also had hunch or maybe had a sudden recollection, and as the tabulations were being completed, I checked out my hunch.

Once we crunched all the numbers, I put away my smile and told the young student, “You are correct. You did face the stronger opposition.” He smiled. Then I continued, “But ‘R’ has more game points that you. You lost on the first tie-beak, he beat you 6 points to 5 1/2 points.”

My smile came back to comfort him. But he wasn’t upset or even embarrassed. He just took it as a matter of course. I don’t know if he was playing a game with me or the staff. I do not know if he had ever won with this tactic before. My guess is that he had attempted this act in a previous tournament, and this was best reply he ever had.