Monday, February 11, 2008

Lingering death

Debate has recently arisen again on the “USCF Forums” about Rule 14H. This is the rule concerning “insufficient losing chances” in sudden-death. The current wording is that, given less than two minutes remaining and a position in which “a Class C player would have little chance to lose the position against a Master with both players having ample time,” a player may request TD intervention. This has gone through a number of iterations since the appearance of sudden-death twenty years ago, but in essence it is an attempt to turn SD into an amazing lifelike simulation of “real” chess.

How should such claims be dealt with? Logically, there are four, and only four, possibilities:

1) Require all games to use time-delay clocks. (If you are already s=using time delay, noc claim may be made.)

2) Let the TD adjudicate the position.

3) Put in a time-delay clock and let them play it out.

4) Abolish the claim. If your flag falls in sudden-death, you lose.

Now, “1” is obviously silly, except perhaps in small invitation events where the organizers supply clocks. “2” is essentially the FIDE rule. It was given in the 4th edition of the USCF rulebook (written before time delay clocks were widely available), but the problems with it are pretty obvious. (Do you really want a Class C TD telling Yermolinsky that his game is a draw?)

“3” is the currently preferred USCF option. It requires that the TD keep a clock handy, but that’s not really the problem. What happens when a player “demands” a time-delay clock in a position where he really doesn’t deserve it? “I have the advantage! I’m sure I could draw it against a Master!” If the TD is a weak player and the claimant is loud and pushy, he may get it. If the TD is a strong player and doesn’t feel like being pushed around, he tells the claimant he has a pawn for the initiative in an unclear position, so shut up and play. But the result of the game should never depend on the playing strength of the TD.

“4” has the virtue of simplicity, and has recently been endorsed by Tim Just, who wrote the 5th edition of the rulebook. Twenty years ago I might have been more sympathetic to this idea, on the grounds that it might convince the players that sudden-death was a bad plan. But sudden-death is here to stay, and adopting such a policy now would merely further the debasement of tournament chess into something resembling blitz.

Solution? Absent a time machine, I don’t have one. Those who sought to “improve” tournament chess with such innovations as SD and time-delay created a new set of problems for which there are no good solutions. Now we have to live with it.

No comments: