An Essex team depleted somewhat by the absence of players from Southend High School (see below) managed to overcome Warwickshire, themselves without the Ghasi brothers, who were on duty for their school at an event in Prestatyn. Essex scored 17½ / 24 to Warwickshire's 17, a reversal of the first round result and the first time throughout the competition that Essex had occupied first place. Hertfordshire won the Minor County competition: with the meteoric improvement in that County's chess fortunes, at Junior level at least, their days as a Minor County must surely be numbered.
The event was a 2-round jamboree for just 6 teams. David Welch, BCF Senior Arbiter, had been consulted for a suitable set of Hutton pairings, and his comment was "The worst nuumber of teams is 6, the worst number of rounds is 2. Congratulations, you have hit the jackpot!" The draw at the start of play paired the board 1 players from each team in perhaps the ideal way as Lorin D'Costa (Herts, 226) played Laurence Trent (209), a game which resulted in a drawn knight & pawns ending; Li Wu (Warwickshire, 187) played Chris Dorrington (Cambridgeshire, 187) in which Li, playing in what should be his last event for a Warwickshire team before becoming an Essex player next season, saddled Chris with doubled c-pawns and then exploited the position to win elegantly. The remaining top boards, Elizabeth Roberts (Manchester) and Peter Fremlin (Essex II) drew their game after Peter exerted a fair bit of pressure but had rather less time on the clock.
The scheduled starting time of 1.30 p.m. was delayed slightly as it was clear that there were many absentees, held up on the M11. Amongst these were the Essex team manager and the Basildon contingent, and it was noticeable that both Josiah and Ezra Lutton lost their first rounds. In Ezra's case this was perhaps the biggest upset of the day as the Manchester board 1, graded 101, won in style: Ezra, in time trouble, "won" white's queen with a discovered attack only for White to promote his a-pawn with check. After that the new queen, accompanied by a pair of rampant knights, delivered mate. Josiah became embroiled in a long game with Cambridgeshire's Tom Eckersley-Waites which eventually went Cambridgeshire's way.
When the second round scores began to arrive, it looked as though Essex's chance was slipping away from them. A board 3 draw from Josiah Lutton against Jamie Hillman (Herts) represented another small advantage to Warwickshire: gradually the Midlands side increased their lead until a sudden reversal at the end. Losses on boards 2, 3 & 4 cost them the title, the closest of these being on board 2. Simon Fowler (Warks) was a pawn up against Ezra Lutton when he involed the 2-minute rule, but during the final two minutes queens, rooks and several pawns were exchanged to demonstrate that progress aplenty was being made. This win for Essex clinched the title for the second time in three seasons.
Hertfordshire's 14 points were sufficient for them to take the Minor County title.
In a remarkable change of fortunes at the BCF Schools' Championships Finals in Nottingham, Southend High recovered from a whitewash at the hands of Royal Grammar School Guildford to inflict an unlikely looking defeat upon Blucoats (Oldham) in the third-place play off. Oldham themselves had come within one second of obtaining on time the draw they needed on board 1 to take them through to the Finals at Oakham's expense. As it was, Oakham won the match on board count and then saw RGS off in style. Meanwhile, Southend had rallied to defeat what must have been a shell-shocked Oldham team 4 - 2. Full details and the Controller's report can be found at http://www.sccu.ndo.co.uk/times.htm .
As has now become infamous, Essex lost their semifinal match in the BCF u175 Championships on board count after a 2-minute rule appeal by an Essex player was turned down by the BCF Chief Arbiter. By a remarkable coincidence, exactly a week later Essex won the BCF under-18 County Championship as a result of ... a 2-minute rule appeal to an arbiter. The game in question was between Essex and Warwickshire, it was the last game to finish and Essex finished ahead of Warwickshire by half a point. Both of these decisions led to a great deal of controversy within the camps of the players who lost the games. I would like to compare the two decisions in question and, hopefully, answer some of the points raised by Robert Parker in his well-researched article in last month's Chessex supplement.
I would like to begin with some general comments about the 2-minute rule. Its purpose is to protect from an unscrupulous opponent a player who has an unlimited number of moves to make in a very limited amount of time. It is only relevant in positions where no progress has been or can be made and the players have exhausted all the possibilities and are making moves only to try to use up time on the clock. If there is any doubt at all about any of this, the player whose flag has dropped, or, where no arbiter is present, has stopped the game, will be awarded a loss.
In the BCF under-18 Final, the difficulty was compounded by the fact that Essex were the hosts and I was the arbiter. The circumstances were that the Warwickshire player (black), having less than 2 minutes left, called me in and claimed a draw. I was faced with a fluid position. Black had 6 pawns to white's five, each side had a queen and a rook, white had a knight, black a bishop. I told the players that I thought it was a reasonable claim and therefore there would be no time penalty (an arbiter is entitled to give extra time to the non-claimant in the event of a spurious claim) but that I would like to see more moves played.
For the remainder of the game, I was looking for one thing only: was the non-claimant making a genuine effort to win the game? As I watched, many moves were made. The queens were exchanged, the rooks were exchanged, White made some aggressive queen-side pawn moves which threatened to create a passed pawn, several pawns were exchanged, White's final move was the capture of a pawn with a knight and then Black's flag fell. I was totally satisfied that White was attempting to win by normal means and had no hesitation in awarding him the game. I did not analyse the position because it is none of my business to do so. I am simply judging the players' approach to the game. It was therefore irrelevant to me that after the flag-fall there was a knight fork available to White which would have won Black's bishop - I didn't notice it until one of the players pointed it out it afterwards.
My decision caused more than a little controversy (but not fromthe Warwickshire player, I hastentoadd) but at the end of it all the only point I felt that I could not refute was the claim that I was not impartial. Even though my decision would have been no different (White win) had the Warwickshire player been White and the Essex player Black, I was still called upon to justify my decision.
I e-mailed David Welch, BCF Chief Arbiter, concerning the events. I was confident that I had made the right decision under the circumstances, but I was uncomfortable that the Essex Junior Organiser should be responsible for the decision which, in effect, won the under-18 Championships for Essex. I was very pleased with David's reponse which was that I had acted correctly throughout and that the only person to do anything wrong was the Warwickshire player who hadn't managed his time correctly. On arbiter impartiality, David pointed out that he has made many friends during many years playing and arbiting in chess events and that occasionally he has to make decisions relating to their games. He wants his friends to do well, but at the same time his job is to uphold the rules of chess.
David had telephoned his response to my e-mail and, without any prompting, he told me that he had had three 2-minute rule decisions to handle in the space of just over a week and that all, in their peculiar ways, presented problems (the final decision, at the BCF Schools' Championships Finals, decided the Bluecoats v Oakham semifinal). The first one was the u175 decision and he threw more light on the decision he made. Bear in mind that all the arbiter is interested in is the conduct of the players. Is there a genuine attempt to win by normal means or is the non-claimant merely attempting to eke out a sterile position to make a flag fall?
In the case of the u175 game, David told me that it was very close to being declared drawn but there was one element in particular of the White claim with which he was unhappy: given that the first time control was 40 moves in 2 hours and then 30 minutes were then added on, how was it that White's claim was made after only 63 moves? White can have made, at most, 23 moves in the next 28 minutes. Where a 2-minute claim is made when the arbiter is present, it is normal practice for the players to be asked to play on: chess is a game for two players and intervention by a third party is best avoided if at all possible. The result of this is that, often, half as many moves again are made during the final two minutes as have been made in the first 148 minutes. The claimant has to be able to demonstrate that he is holding a position of such simplicity that his moves are perfectly obvious.
Where the arbiter is watching, he can get a feel for what is going on. Where no arbiter is present, it is often harder for the claim to be upheld. The onus is upon the claimant to provide the evidence and, where that evidence is incomplete, he loses. The claimant's evidence must be absolutely cast-iron for him to get the draw. It is not sufficient that identical or analogous positions have been reached, and agreed drawn, in Master Chess: no doubt in the Master games the players had explored the possibilities and the player with the extra pawn was satisfied that the opponent knew how to defend it. The game being subject to the arbiter's scrutiny is not being played by two GMs and such high standards of play are not expected. The average under-175 or under-18 player is not entitled to benefit just because he has reached, by plan or accident, a position reached in a GM game in the past.
It was noticeable in the evidence supplied by Robert Parker that every one of the games he cited had had more moves played than the mere 63 reached in the Essex-Warks game. It is not sufficient for a strong player to "know" that such-and-such a position is drawn. If that is the case, then at any time during the quick-play finish he could just stop moving, sit on his position and, once his clock showed less than two minutes, make his claim. This, I believe, is where the Essex claim failed: not enough moves had been made to assure the arbiter that the Essex player, knowing that he had a theoretical draw, was not just relying on his knowledge of the works of Averbakh. He has to be seen to put them into practice. The claimant's case has been damaged in that he had not been "round the houses" sufficiently to have removed all doubt from the arbiter's mind.
What lessons can players glean from this? That you have to be totally self-reliant. If you have a drawn position, prove it over the board. If you can, more often than not your opponent will recognise the draw and will agree it without having to call in an arbiter. If you can't, you will probably lose.Back to Index Page