Southend Easter Congress

I promised to write up my experience in Southend, particularly the incident in the last round. I delayed publishing it online as I wanted to give the organisers time to respond. Below is the letter I sent them which outlines my grievances around the last round.

Dear Sir,
I am writing to complain about the handling of my game against Alexander Cherniaev in the last round of the Southend Open. As you are aware, Alexander Cherniaev claimed a draw and the arbiter eventually granted it to him after his flag had fallen. I have reconstructed the game as best as I can below:

I have also written out my view of the events during the game:

I was playing Cherniaev in the last round. After a topsy-turvy game we reached an endgame where I had rook, bishop and knight against rook, knight and h and g pawns. At this point I had around 15 minutes against around 30 minutes. The last times I have written down on my scoresheet are 7 minutes for me against 15 for him. At that point I had forced him to advance his pawns and started playing fairly quickly.

When I had 4 minutes against his 5 and a half he tried to claim a draw. The arbiter informed him he had to have under 2 minutes left to claim a draw and awarded me 2 extra minutes. I managed to win a pawn and when Cherniaev demanded a draw again when just under 2 minutes, the arbiter rejected his claim as I was making definite progress. However he did not give me any extra time to deal with Cherniaev’s shouting. Each time Cherniaev demanded a draw he did it on my move without stopping the clock and I was forced to stop it myself as it was highly disturbing.

With around two minutes against one minute he managed to exchange off his knight for my bishop. This left a position where I had rook and knight against rook and his pawn on f4 with my king stuck on the side of the board on h3 with his rook on g1. With 49 seconds left against my fraction under 2 minutes he again demanded a draw (again on my time) and the arbiter told him to play on. I succeeded in getting my king to f2, no longer blocked off by the rook and with his king blocked off from defending it, I believe I would have won the f pawn in a few moves time and was therefore making definite progress.

At this point Cherniaev’s flag fell and after I pointed this out the arbiter declared the game to be drawn. I protested and pointed out that though the position was a theoretical draw I was making definite progress. The arbiter said the position was a technical draw and I replied that that doesn’t make a difference for 10.2 claims, my opponent has to prove he knows how to defend it and I should be given the opportunity to attempt to win. At this point the arbiter said his decision was final and walked off to his arbiter’s corner and printed out the final crosstable.

I refused to sign the scoresheet and asked to appeal. The organiser spoke to me and introduced me to the tournament secretary who listened to me but had not been present during the incident. He went to talk to the arbiter and said they would uphold the arbiter’s decision.

I believe that the arbiter got the decision wrong and showed that he did not know the full workings of the 10.2 rule. Not only was I making progress in the final position, but my opponent did not claim the draw in the way set out in the rule:

“If the player, having the move, has less than two minutes left on his clock, he may claim a draw before his flag falls.”

None of his repeated claims, on my time, before, during and after this two minute period, fulfilled the requirements of rule 10.2. The claims were therefore invalid and the draw should not have been awarded.

This error cost me £920 and 1st equal place in the tournament as well as five lost rating points. My opponent was also very unpleasant to play against, distracted me in the time scramble, talking loudly and claimed the 10.2 rule incorrectly. I believe that the arbiter should have stepped in again to discipline my opponent for his distracting conduct.

With the relatively large prize fund on offer it is odd that an arbiter was appointed who does not appear to be a qualified FIDE or ECF arbiter. This was definitely a contributory factor in what I believe to be an incorrect decision and one for which I hold the organisers responsible. I believe that a court would find such an appointment unreasonable, and in breach of the organisers’ duty towards participating players.

Normally, during a FIDE rated tournament, an appeals committee is convened to deal with such situations. This was not the case in Southend, a surprising omission. I wish to have my appeal heard, but wish to avoid the necessity for legal proceedings if possible. I therefore suggest that, as there was no appeals procedure in place during the tournament, the matter could be arbitrated by a neutral panel, perhaps brought together by FIDE or the ECF. If you consented to this then both you, as tournament organisers, and I would be bound by the panel’s decision.

I hope that we can reach an amicable settlement of this matter and therefore look forward to your prompt reply.

Yours faithfully,
Gawain Jones

As you can see I was unhappy with how the arbiter applied the rule and the behaviour of my opponent (who unfortunately is known for always getting into these kind of incidents). I really doubt I’ll be returning to play in Southend. However I appreciate the organisers are still learning and so I’ll publish a few pointers below on how to run a successful tournament.

1) Arbiter – If you want to have a serious, properly run FIDE Rated tournament with a decent prize fund then get an experienced qualified FIDE Arbiter. They will have the respect of (most of) the players, know the rules correctly and should be experienced in dealing with these situations.

2) Appeals Committee – Set up an appeals committee to deal with any potential appeals, then at least the players will feel justice has been done.

3) Time control/ playing schedule – As long as you have access to digital clocks there’s really no excuse not to have a time control with increment, at least on the final time control. In the case of the Southend Open with two rounds a day the six hour playing schedule is really too long. During the tournament there was one day where I was unable to make it back to the hotel between games as I had a 6 hour morning round and so was out from 9am until past 9pm at night (and my friend Pete Wells was out from before 9 until something like midnight!). It would make far more sense to change the time control to 90minutes + 30 seconds a move for the entire game, perhaps with an extra 15 minutes at move 40.

4) If you promise to do something then you have to do it! During the tournament a sign was up promising the pairings would be published online. I’m afraid this just wasn’t done consistently. Before round 5, in which as it turned out I had the most important game of the tournament against 2nd seed David Howell, I was up until 1am refreshing the website and then up again at 7.30 trying to find out who I was playing. I decided to go to the venue early to find out and at least have a minute or two to prepare. Apparently the pairings were published at 9am for the 9.30am game, useless for the players and in a FIDE rated tournament preparing is very important.

When I asked why the pairings hadn’t been published as promised the arbiter told me he was tired when the final game finished. I’m sure he was but this was his job. He then proceeded to tell me that although they had promised to publish pairings online, they hadn’t promised to publish them before the start of the round! Hardly a sign that the arbiter was in touch with the players.

That’s it from me on this incident and I’ll now just move on but thought I should let you guys know the full details. I’ll try to write an update on the Bundesliga when I’m back at home and have some time.

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