Just the Rules: Gamesmanship to Dirty Tricks

Tim Just, Chief Editor of the 5th, 6th, and brand new 7th edition of the rule book.
I asked my colleagues to present tricky situations, all on different spots in the continuum between cheating and gamesmanship. Many are particularly effective because they are hard to prove. Some names were changed or deleted to protect the guilty. Erik Czerwin: The high school team that I coach had a match in our school library. The cheerleaders were practicing just outside the library windows. My team faced in towards the library. Our opposing team sat facing out the windows with the cheerleaders in view. Walter High: Deliberately setting an electronic clock so that you have delay and your opponent does not. Chris Merli: I used to know a player that in blitz games would play Nf6 and as the N passed through g7 would bump the pawn to g6. Tim Lund: Wear funny or distracting t-shirts. Daniel Parmet: Your opponent rearranges the board in front of the TD and claims your scoresheet is made up. Michael Atkins: Player A offers a draw. Player B thinks for 45 minutes, agrees, and Player A says, “I never offered a draw.” Brian Harrigan: With less than 5 minutes left on his clock to finish his game a player stopped notating. A 3 time repetition of position occurred. He made a draw claim. His opponent replied by continuing to move and repeating the position. The player also repeated his moves a couple more times before finally playing something else. He lost the game. After the game he told his opponent, "That was a draw, you know." His opponent replied, "Since you stopped notating, you have no proof that a repetition occurred." A TD was never involved in the game. G.F. David: I was playing blitz and time was low. I was about to promote a pawn to a queen in a couple of moves. While I was moving my opponent picked up the queen and held it in his hand. When my pawn reached the last rank, I reached for the queen that was there just 20 seconds ago—it wasn't there. I lost 8 of the remaining 10 seconds looking for the queen in his hand thereby allowing him to draw and not lose. JJ Lang: Player A touches his queen and then he lets go of it. His opponent, Player B, claimed, “Touch Move” indicating Player A touched his bishop instead. Brian Karen: As the story goes a famous young GM was warned about his upcoming opponent. The opponent would write down a blunder on his score sheet, push it toward his opponent, then cross out the blunder and play a strong move. But when he showed the blunder the GM shouted, "TOUCH MOVE!" Of course the opponent claimed he never touched the piece. The Grand Master said, "He did - look he even wrote it on his score sheet!" Tim Mirabile: When in a complicated position, your opponent reaches for a piece that can make a strong move, you yell, “TOUCH MOVE” just before he touches it. The opponent then denies that he touched the piece, and this is upheld. When he goes back to play his move, there is a chance he will wonder why you wanted him to move that piece so badly, and may doubt his calculations while moving another piece instead. Neal Bellon: When your opponent is in time pressure, you make a move that is NOT a check and deliberately say, "Check." The idea is for him to eat more clock time looking for the phantom "check." It's a cheesy way of clocking your opponent. Mike Shuey: I've heard of people calling checkmate when there is no checkmate on the board. Tim Just: To rattle their opponents, some players make false claims—especially false claims of cheating. Frederick Rhine: It is the last round of the unrated state team championship. The top two teams are playing for the title. On Board 1, Player B has a winning position—a piece up. The players are in mutual time pressure. Player A makes his move, knocking over several pieces in the process, and hits player B's clock. Player B, foolishly, lets his clock keep running while he assists Player A in picking up the knocked over pieces. While they are doing this, Player A yells, "Flag!" The arbiter at the tournament, who is also the coach of Player A's team, rules that Player A has won on time. The US Chess Rules (Chapters 1-2+11 from the 7th edition rulebook) are now downloadable and available on-line. Tim Just is a National Tournament Director, FIDE National Arbiter, and editor of the 5th, 6th, and 7th editions of the US Chess Rulebook. He is also the author of My Opponent is Eating a Doughnut & Just Law, which are both available from US Chess Sales and Amazon/Kindle. Additionally, Tim recently revised The Guide To Scholastic Chess, a guide created to help teachers and scholastic organizers who wish to begin, improve, or strengthen their school chess program. Tim is also a member of the US Chess Rules Committee. His new column, exclusive to US Chess, “Just the Rules” will help clarify potentially confusing regulations.


In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Two are legal gamesmanship not affecting the board or pieces (cheerkeaders, t-shirts - though some t-shirts may have other issues involved). One is legal gamesmanship though some would question the morality (unwritten repetitions), two are gamesmanship difficult to differentiate from an honest error (knocking over pieces in the hope that the opponent will not simply restart your clock and chew up your time, or claiming touch move for a piece about to be touched), three are gamesmanship that could easily be treated as deliberately distracting an opponent (hiding a queen or erroneously saying check or checkmate), seven are simply illegal, are cheating, and could result in penalties up to and including loss of game and ejection from the tournament followed by an Ethics complaint against the player that might result in suspension of membership.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

To be fair... It was the team's idea... ;-)

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I don't understand Mr. Harrigan's scenario. How could the opponent move after the player had made a draw claim. Of course if he did it improperly, then it was not a claim but an offer, and no fault on the opponent's part.

In reply to by Alex Relyea (not verified)

It sounds like the claim was made to the opponent, not the TD. If the player did not have a scoresheet then one of the other options of 14C8 would have been needed. It sounds like summoning a TD would have eventually allowed 14C8 to apply, but no TD was summoned.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

When I was in high school, I asked the school's cheerleaders to cheer for us before an important chess league match against an all male high school team. The other team was dazzled by their appearance. My team was a little dazzled, too. The girls hung around to watch us play, and sat close to the boards in their short skirts and pompoms, before having to go to cheer at the basketball game that evening. Our opponents told us we were "awesome" and did not care that they lost. Our coach rolled his eyes and wondered what we would do next. I have had to deal with similar situations as mentioned by Mike Atkins, Walter high, and GF David. In the matter of hiding the Queens in blitz, I told the player to leave the Queens on the table and added two minutes to the opponent side. In the setting of the clocks without delay on one side, I considered the amount of time it took before it was discovered and the type of clock used. There was also some history of his doing this before. I added one minute for every move played to the opponent's side and warned the offender that he would be forfeited next time. Another TD at his tournaments had the player set the clock in front of him every round after hearing about his antics. As for lying about a draw offer or trying to take one back, I listen carefully and usually just call the game a draw. Many TDs keep a notebook of incidents and players. Players should expect that TDs talk among themselves about these players and what to watch for but it is difficult to catch everything. Some gamesmanship will never be solved by a TD, especially if he is not present and watching the goings on. Certain matters get handled later in the hallway or in the parking lot. There have been a number of occasions where I have seen fists thrown over questionable practices that might barely fit under the rules but are just not done. If a player wants to create a real enemy there is nothing more effective than engaging in gamesmanship tricks. Unfortunately, this nonsense happened even before there were big money tournaments. Though the Rulebook does not cover everything, it is extremely important for players to know the rules and get a TD whenever anything weird or questionable occurs. You have to protect yourself from the jerks who spoil enjoyment of the game.

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

It might be interesting to ask PLAYERS what "dirty tricks" they may themselves have tried, over their years of playing. I will confess to only two: In one, my opponent was rated about 500 points lower than me, but he was winning. Somehow I got the idea that making a draw offer might rattle him. So I offered a draw (properly, i.e. just after I had moved) and then immediately pressed my clock). Apparently this made him think he had to respond instantly. He replied with a blunder, thus declining the draw offer, and then I won. In the other, a 5-minute blitz game, I was dead lost against a strong opponent. I played a bishop check, forking his king and queen at opposite ends of the diagonal. Unfortunately, my bishop was not protected, so all he needed to do was play QxB and he would win quickly. But he wasn't expecting this move, so instead he instantly moved his king. I then took his queen, and won the game a few moves later.

In reply to by Bill Smythe (not verified)

Getting confessions of dirty tricks, or even legal but sharp play, seems a bit unlikely. I've seen players make a move when their opponent is absent and then change it (possibly to a different piece) before hitting the clock since their opponent isn't around to call touch move. Doing the same thing after hitting the clock is more likely to get TD involvement because now it is not a touch move violation, but rather making three moves in a row (the first move - with the hitting of the clock completing that move, undoing the first move, and the second move), and if a capture was undone then it also illegally added a piece back on the board. In a blitz game a player (white) made a capture and knocked over a piece. Black went to make the forced recapture (a one square queen move) then put the queen back on the original square and hit the clock. White picked up the knocked over piece, completed Black's recapture and then made a move. At that point Black claimed an illegal move win. He had not hit the clock to complete his move, but had rather hit the clock to force White to pick up the piece knocked over, requiring White to reset the piece and then hit the clock again. When White then proceeded to also make a move for Black and a second move for White the illegal move claim was made. A player facing a dead lost position and having a lot of time was just sitting and staring at the board while the clock was running (well, actually the opponent's clock was running because the opponent had forgotten to hit it). When the opponent asked if he would make a move the player simply said he was still thinking. Eventually the opponent finally noticed the clock and completed his move with about a minute to spare and the dead-lost player then immediately resigned. In the '80s and early '90s a player would regularly mis-report a first round result (as a loss instead of a win) and then get the opponent to join him in the TD room to provide the evidence to correct the result. So far not bad, but the opponent was brought after the final round and now the player would get one extra point on his score while having easier pairings throughout the tournament. When the rule was added that allowed such game corrections to only affect the ratings report (while the original incorrect result was used for prizes) the incentive for that type of trick pretty much went away. Setting a clock for an extra five seconds base time, instead of for a five second delay, can deceive an opponent - particularly if the clock doesn't show the seconds (by anything other than a flashing colon) until late in the game. It is easy for an opponent to think that flashing colon is the delay instead of being the drop in time (the initial five seconds in added base time looks exactly like five second delay ticking off before the clock shows being in a different minute).

In reply to by Jeff Wiewel (not verified)

This "trick" is easy to fall into accidentally, too, even by the tournament staff instead of the opponent. During the setting procedure on the DGT North American in delay mode, the clock first asks for the hours and minutes (h:mm), then switches to asking for the seconds (:ss). It is easy to be fooled into thinking that this second request is where the clock is asking for the delay time (:dd), but it is not. That comes next, as a third request. Sometimes the organizer setting the clock might even enter the "delay" twice, resulting in 5 seconds being added to the main time AND a 5-second delay. The clue that this has happened is that, on the first move, there is a 10-second wait before the visible part (h:mm) changes.

In reply to by Bill Smythe (not verified)

I don’t see any cheating in this, but I clearly won a game through psych against a 1700. I was behind in material but had some initiative with some checks, i had a check and then another check planned, and I knew that there were two ways we could get out of that check — one move led to a forced mate in 3 or 4. The other move would lead to a draw by repetition. So I checked him and asked for a draw. Being ahead in material, he didn’t accept it. Then I made the 2nd check. He’d already declined the draw — decided he didn’t want the draw, so he didn’t move back and lead to the repetition. After my next check, he saw the trap and offered a draw. But then it was too late.

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