The Fabulous 00s: Something to Nip in the Bud

Ethics Problem: Red-Flag Matches used to gain Youth Master Record for Nip

Here is something we should definitely nip in the bud.

As GM Hikaru Nakamura correctly pointed out on ICC and in his blog, there is no way matches should be counted if someone is trying for a youth/rating record. He nails the issue on the head – it’s all about the integrity of the record. A nine year old should be able to do good things via rated tournament games and not need that extra “boost” for a mad record rush. Unless, of course, the nine year’s old relatives are trying to short-circuit the system in order to gain, yes, you’ve guessed it, the time-dependent record. And how to short-circuit the tournament system? Simple: sprinkle in a few matches. After all, if a kid needs some points pronto, all the “sponsoring relative” needs to do is find a “friendly” match opponent in the rolodex for just such an emergency.  Readers:  I heard disturbing and disgusting reports that Nip’s coach paid the match opponents.  I can only hope it’s not true. Can anyone verify?  If so, all the matches should be tossed out.

Author’s note 3/15/08: IM Greg Shahade posted this agreement on Hikaru’s blog:

” I am a big fan of Nicholas Nip, I got to see him first hand at the US Chess School training session in San Francisco. I think he’s a great kid, with a ton of talent and I don’t think that he would ever knowingly cheat. Despite that, I don’t believe such matches should be valid, if someone wanted to they are such an easy way to unfairly gain rating points, and kids have been doing it for a while to qualify for certain events like the World Youth and such.

I just think it’s terrible that such matches are allowed, especially in regards to breaking records, and the USCF needs to do something about it, even retroactively in this case (especially as without matches Nip’s record may be almost unbeatable in the future). This is nothing against Nip, who is a great talented young player, but this practice of junior players being allowed to play matches of many games against a single player (who may be extremely overrated) to boost their ratings quickly and either qualify for events or break records needs to stop immediately

By Greg Shahade on 3/10/2008 1:36 PMI could not agree with this sentiment more.

Here is Nicholas Nip’s recent (and painful to read) rating history according to USCF MSA:

Date Event Reg. Rtg. Quick Rtg
2187 => 2207 2060 => 2102
2186 => 2187 2051 => 2060
1: TNM108
2193 => 2186  
2167 => 2193 2002 => 2051
2137 => 2167 1952 => 2002
2144 => 2137  
1: TNM507
2128 => 2144  
2104 => 2128 1904 => 1952
2113 => 2104 1911 => 1904
5: X5
2101 => 2113 1893 => 1911

Note the big rating gains in the Perez, Fuentes, and Schiller matches. The Perez and Fuentes matches were rated one day apart, on 2/23 and 2/24! Not to malign the competitive abilities of these people, but let’s state the obvious: none of these matches should count to accomplish any type of record or receive any type of invitation. The whole thing is entirely absurd – even a relative of the Caissic Kid did not rig the match, it smells like they were, in fact, rigged. To take it further, if any of these people (Fuentes, Perez, Schiller) are family friends, it’s already far gone and out of the question to count the matches for this particular record. It’s not the kid doing this, it’s some well-meaning relative or “proud coach” (living vicariously?) but it still smells.

Postscript 3/14/08: a California informant reports that the match opponents are, in fact, family friends. These matches should be annulled.

Postscript 3/15/08: Reports are popping up in the blogosphere that Nip’s coach paid the match opponents. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it just did. If this is indeed the case, the offending party or parties should apologize to the world chess community and voluntarily rescind all the matches.   Of course, it’s psychologically difficult to rescind a vicarious award.

Boo Young Caruana, Bravo Young Nyzhnyk

I haven’t seen rating manipulation like this since the famous “Caruana gambit” – where future GM Fabiano Caruana, in very unsportsmanlike maneuvering, was pulled out of Marshall Chess Club events (many times) early (forfeiting his remaining games) to protect a few measly USCF rating point gain. In retrospect, how silly that must appear now that Caruana is at or near 2600 FIDE. Parental rating shenanigans always smell funny. And it’s never the kid’s fault. It’s the observer/parent/relative who pulls off these stunts. I want to point out a counter-example – Ukrainian Kid Fresh Ilya Nyzhnyk (somebody buy him a vowel!) is front and center on the world stage, playing in Aeroflots and other strong opens (he recently beat David Pruess and previously won the “B” group at the 2007 Moscow Open at only 10 years of age with a score of 8.5/9 and a performance rating of 2633) and he’s not lurking trying to build a lofty ELO or go for youth records with behind the scenes “matches”.

The USCF should revisit this issue pronto. Nakamura’s complaint is not sour grapes – it is quite obvious, prima facie, that matches are easy to rig and should not be used as a tool for what I am assuming is a close relative’s quest for child Caissic honor. The situation could be even worse: bogus matches could be used to rig invitations to youth squads or student teams! After all, the chances are exceedingly high a child’s match opponents are at least casual acquaintances of the aforementioned relative. And if so, fuhgeddabit – (visualize a baseball umpire ejecting the match, giving it the heave-ho – these matches are outtah here!).

Solution – Stop The Tanner Gambit and the Nip Gambit Deferred

Solution: ban the use of match play to gain child rating records. The potential for abuse is too great. Things can get really silly – for example a sponsoring relative might even be paying the ‘hurry-up offense’ match opponents. The incentives for abuse make for a lengthy list indeed. This sort of glaring abuse problem was actually exposed by Sam Sloan when he outed Robert Tanner’s fake matches, forcing Tanner’s ouster from the USCF Ethics (!!) Committee. Tanner was trying to gain an NM title and claimed matches vs campfire buddies as legitimate games. The “Tanner Gambit” should not be used again in match form – ban the Tanner Gambit and the Nip (Match) Gambit Deferred. And it would also be nice to ban the “Caruana Withdrawal Gambit” – any youth withdrawing from an event who is not dying of bubonic plague should not be given any rating point gains from that event.


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23 Responses to “The Fabulous 00s: Something to Nip in the Bud”

  1. Matan Prilleltensky Says:

    I agree that matches devoid of any sort of oversight cannot be counted towards time-related records. This seems like common sense to me.

    MG Note:
    The key concept – lack of oversight. If opponents are getting paid, it’s even worse than no oversight. One cannot imagine Nip’s match opponents not knowing he’s in the mad rush for this record, and are they going to “give their all?” No, why should they? He’s on his way to a record, after all!

  2. Chris Goldthorpe Says:

    I do not think any match should ever be able to enable either player to gain more than 100 points in a 3 month period. EVEN if the integrity is there, some folks might be good at identifying opponents who are temporarily overrated.
    It might be easy enough to recalc a rating leaving out the match results. Ten, they might still be eligible for whatever record award.

  3. Stephen Dann Says:

    How about just having a “match” rating, like a quick rating, correspondence rating, provisional rating, etc.

    And, in American chess history, before ratings (1950), they just used titles, gave odds, and, even had an informal system of “timed” games vs. offhand games (records of such) to determine playing strength!

    Now that computers do the work, why can’t systems be established to rate all “kinds” of play???

    Stephen Dann, chess journalist and historian

    MG Note: An Excellent Idea.

  4. Granny O'Doul Says:

    There used to be a USCF rule (maybe still is, don’t know) that if one played a private match, he had to then play at least twenty regular games in advertised tourneys before his rating could qualify him for special tourneys and teams. Since a “record” is a more nebulous thing, it may never have occurred to them to make such special rules.

    As far as withdrawing from events to protect rating gains, I don’t see the point unless the plan is to immediately retire from chess, as your rating will obviously be at risk the next time you play. Or if you can arrange it so that all your rated games are played with the White pieces.

    MG Note: I think the point was to gain a point or two from early round fish then save the commute in for the second day and also avoid the “more dangerous opposition.” Pretty silly stuff for a player now rated about 2600 FIDE and one the offending relative was taken to task for at the time. The offending relative (O.R.) offered a frothy indignant defense of the frequent withdrawals, but that made young Fab look even worse. It’s hard to put a good face on playing just the first rounds in a 2 day 4-rounder. A long time ago IM Eugene Meyer gave me the sage advice: Just play all your rounds, no matter how you’re doing. And he’s right. That’s the way to play a chess tournament. Unless of course, the bubonic plague is involved.

  5. Polly Says:

    I think counting matches for record consideration is totally wrong. Looking at these results it just smells to high heaven. Two matches starting one day apart and finishing one day apart? Is this the homework assignment for “How I spent my winter vacation”? Then it seems kind of funny that there were quads with only one section several days apart. Records and invitation should be based on normal tournament results, and matches should not be taken into consideration. He’s clearly a very talented player, but to have the master rating achieved under such circumstances takes away from what he has achieved at such a young age.

    In terms of the playing a few rounds and dropping out, there’s another NY kid who does that. If he plays on Thursday night he’ll request a 1/2 point bye for the last round. I have no problem with that since the last round starts at 10:30 pm. Typically with the rating break he’ll lose to a 2300 in round 1. In round two he may beat a 1700-1800 rated player and then drop out. I’ve seen him do the same thing on the weekend one day events. I think it’s a stupid way to scrape up a few rating points. I think the only time I’ve seen him complete the entire schedule is when he’s wins an important scholastic event.

    MG Note: Suggested new USCF rule: if a kid tries to drop out to gain a few rating points, he or she should be put in the public pillory for all to see during the missed round(s).

    But I even see older established players monkeying around with well timed byes to avoid certain opponents. Just play the damn game, and beat the guys you gotta beat.

  6. Concerned Says:

    The nip quads were really “matches” since the players chose to play each other for a specific purpose. If you agree that these quads are matches, and if you include the X5 section from his November match, his match rating gain of 113 points has exceeded the match rule that “a player may only gain or lose up to 100 rating points through match play during any 180 day period.”

    USCF should do something about this. Also, Eric Schiller should have his floor dropped by 100 rating points according to match rules.

  7. The Fabulous 00s: Never Let Chess or Bridge Bums Near Vast Amounts of Cash « IM Mark Ginsburg Presents A Personal Chess History Says:

    […] Author’s postscript 3/18/08:  Bear Stearns indeed failed and sold itself to JP Morgan for a paltry $2 per share.  Bridge bum Jimmy Cayne made out like a bandit, shelling out $25.8M for a private apartment (no mortgage necessary!) shortly before the death throes.  Many thousands of shareholders and employees with Bear 401K’s were ruined faster than you can say “3 No Trump.” It’s time for torches and pitchforks!  What was Cayne doing during the collapse?  “As investment bank Bear Stearns collapsed, and was sold to JPMorgan Chase for a scant $240 million, its chairman James Cayne played bridge at a tournament last week in Detroit over two critical days, like Nero fiddling away as Rome burned. “    The only thing more morally questionable would have been playing a chess match with Nip. […]

  8. Jim T. Says:

    Hmm, wasn’t the USCF rule the match rule that “a player may only gain or lose up to 100 rating points through match play during any 180 day period” at least partly due to the brainchild of a contemporary of ours — Claude Bloodgood in the mid-1970s?

    My recollection is that while in the Virginia State Penitentiary, he became one of the highest-rated players in the state mostly thru “matches”.

  9. H W Says:

    Is the USCF aware of this?

    Has Shillers floor been lowered the way the rules say it should?

    Jim T has an interesting point about the 100 point rule. Those “quads” were arranged matches, not quads that anyone could compete in.

    Integrity would be nice.

    3/29/08: MG Note: There is no there, there, when it comes to USCF ethics. I doubt anyone in power cares about these issues, all I see are congratulations – there is a tiny chance this discussion might lead to something.

  10. A regular citizen Says:

    I watched this morning’s Regis show and saw Little Nic played with
    10 adults, live.
    I am not a chess player.
    I’d say, he REALLY is gifted.
    Adults are just being jealous, that’s it.
    There is no need to fight against the rating rules.
    If you win, you win.
    Jealousy will not bring anyone a better person.

    MG Note: Nakamura also had to put up with rather silly “jealousy” notions. Elsewhere, NM Shankland posted a comment that the match opponents “were not morons.” These comments miss the point. The crux of the matter is what is, and isn’t, a legitimate route to make a record. Matches should not be allowed to establish youth records, because they are too easy to manipulate. Well-meaning or publicity seeking parents and coaches can really go the extra yard and get the kiddie record in record time, but at what cost? It all boils down to this simple idea, not an attack on personalities.

  11. Polly Says:

    I watched the video that was posted on youtube from his appearance on Regis. I’m from NY, play in a lot of tournaments in the area, and I did not know one single person from the simul. They kept saying these were players from NY area clubs. Who are they, and what clubs?

  12. RichT Says:

    Interesting, but there may be another side to the story. I’m no expert on this stuff, but if I wanted to get a highly rated player to play against my son in a match, I can imagine that player would want to be paid for their time. Not to throw the match, but to show up.

    When I look at Nakamura’s tournament history, I wonder if he ever had to go to school, since he had so many matches on weeknights as a primary school kid.

    Where do you draw the line between trying your best and trying too hard? Both of them, along with their support system of family, coaches, etc., made decisions that led to them having extraordinary success at chess. Is that unfair to kids that don’t live near good coaches, or can’t afford them, or don’t have tournaments in the area, or need to do their homework and play sports?

    By the way, the Fabiano story surprises me, since his coach from that time doesn’t seem to care at all about rating points, and regularly says if the computers all broke down people would still play chess and figure out who was the best. At the time, I recall it was indeed all about the rating (relatives, coaches, doesn’t matter). Many kids are controlled like that. It’s absurd of course.

    What I wonder is: why did Nicholas Nip stop playing, cold turkey, after he made Master? Is he burnt out? Was that his only goal? Do his parents now want him to conquer something else? I can’t find any answers. I saw the puppetmaster/trainer/rating planner cross-listed somewhere as a poker player. It increases suspicions.

  13. HCL Says:

    Dunno about the Caruana shennanigansl, but it doesn’t make sense to me. Ratings regress to a player’s true strength, anyway. Whether a player’s a few dozen points above or below true strength means nothing.

    That’s the point. Relatives and/or coaches often pull shenanigans that make no sense.

    As to Nip’s record, it means nothing to most people, and rightly so.

    It’s only a country record (think of how far Russia is ahead in such youth precociosity internationally), and not a FIDE one at that either.

  14. LivingVicariouslyThroughSon Says:

    As someone very familiar with the sf chess scene and Nicholas Nip, I think I might have something valid to say. Feel free to disregard it.

    -It has been discussed repeatedly that Nic’s opponents were paid for their matches against him. Although I don’t know this for sure (I wasn’t in the room when money might have been exchanged), I think it is highly probable that was the case. His opponents in two of those matches- Romulo Fuentes and Emmanuel Perez- are people that I know and I think would be amenable to some sort of deal.

    -Nic’s mother is an absolutely horrendous person. I was in a side room at the Mechanic’s Institute in SF once when she viciously berated Nic, who was 8 or 9 and crying, about drawing some 1300 when he was maybe 1800-1900. I remember her yelling at him “If you were going to play like that you should have stayed at home and played on the ICC!” Disgusting.

    Nothing new here. I think “horrendous” is too strong a term. Louis Cohen had yelling parents that drove him out of chess, but some juniors can tune that out. I remember a future GM whose mother hassled him, forcing him to wear a sweater at the board, claiming he was cold (he protested, saying he wasn’t cold). I don’t think the ‘sweater mom’ delayed his ascendancy too much. It is uncool, though, to yell about a draw. Fabio Caruana had a stage parent who used to withdraw him from quads to preserve his precious single USCF point gain from his first round win. Objectionable? Yes. But apparently he didn’t mind it; he became fairly strong.

    -She is without a doubt not the only, or probably the worst “stage” parent for chess I have seen in years of playing. Others include Daniel Naroditsky’s father as well as Samuel Sevian’s father, both of whom pushed their sons to a level I personally found repulsive. It’s pretty much ubiquitous on the scholastic chess circuit.

    I’m not terribly bothered by “stage parent” antics but sometimes they cross the line and rig pairings or otherwise cheat on behalf of their kid. That’s the problematic part. Living vicariously through a kid occurs in any sport, such as tennis, but it’s easier to cheat in chess.

    -Chess has a tolerance for this kind of crap that really bothers me. In my mind, no chess record or prize is worth the kind of psychological damage inflicted on some of these kids by horrendous, borderline-abusive parents who aim to bask in their kid’s glory. I hope these kids have the support they need when they inevitably burn out.

    Aha. In today’s attention-deficit media age, it’s easier for kids to tune out and therefore not burn out!

    • samuel sevian Says:

      Others include Daniel Naroditsky’s father as well as Samuel Sevian’s father, both of whom pushed their sons to a level I personally found repulsive. It’s pretty much ubiquitous on the scholastic chess circuit.

      And I find your comments repulsive and dishonest.

      I would like to see the anonymous attacker “outed”. But I am most curious to learn if the maligned chess parent believes that living vicariously through a son is OK. I think it should be. The only crossing the line occurs at, e.g., Nationals where parents try to enter the playing area (or send coaches in) to try to cheat. Also crossing the line is arranging matches to break records. I want the maligned parent to indicate where he thinks the line belongs.

  15. Russ Mollot Says:

    Thanks, Dr. Ginsburg, for raising this issue. I continue to be amazed at the shenanigans of chess parents and their progeny. Ratings can be manipulated to some extent, although the ultimate “truth” will be revealed, sooner or later, over the board. It is harder, but still possible, to manipulate the entire spectrum of performance metrics (roughly 40 statistics) tracked by CXR. I agree with many of the foregoing comments, that something should be done to ensure the integrity of the sport of chess, and to discourage that sort of child abuse cited above. Is this not a matter of good governance?

    I am always amazed on how tightly controlled scholastic tournaments need to be. There are just too many chess parents and coaches who are itching to cross the line to illegally assist during the game. The good news is that in many cases, simply the kid getting older erases the situation and the parents mercifully melt away. In some unfortunate cases, the parents who link the kid’s results too vicariously cause the kid to quit or to not like chess and stagger on in that counter-productive situation.

  16. brian walsh Says:

    re caruna- it’s really quite possible that being a kid he couldn’t ‘ stay up all night at the marshall playing chess and that’s why his parent’s pulled him. people forget that kids often can’t stayup late. it’s not a matter of ratings points, people complainn about pushing kids too far yet criticize parents for enforcing a bedtime

    • nezhmet Says:

      No, it had nothing to do with staying up or not staying up. The withdrawal was for the precious rating point. Remember, Round 1 was a Friday night garnering the precious point, then the withdrawal, then the missed Saturday daytime rounds, then the missed Sunday daytime rounds. How silly all these antics appear in retrospect.

  17. brian walsh Says:

    well i would say i pull my kid out of the last round of marshall tournaments not to protect ratings points – i’d rather have him play up and the last round is usually the best, but i do it for two reasons, he needs to have a proper meal and it’s just too late to stay up, and i don’t have the time to spend all day at the marshall if it’s a mutli round tournament and it’s it’s a multi day tourney i dont have time to spend all weekend at the marshall either, and most kids dont’ either, i’ve taken byes in the last round of a tournament because my kid has a soccer game to go to, or birthday party etc so he can have a normal life too. i’m sure i’ll be accused of doing this to protect ratings points, but people do have a life outside of chess, and isn’t it better parenting to protect a normal kid life?
    also there’s a lot of despicable action by adults at long time control tourneys. one adult stalled for almost 2 hours in a dead lost position just hope it would tire my kid out so he could protect his ratings points. so given that experience my kid takes byes in any round that could go real late if the adult decides to stall on purpose. it’s not to protect ratings points again, but to protect against vindictive adults.

  18. brian walsh Says:

    one further note, Re polly’s comment. even for one day tournaments, scholastic or not, if it’s G60, forcing a kid to sit at a chess board for 8 hours just to show that he’s not dropping out to protect ratings points, seems seriously wrong too. maybe a young kid only has the stamina to concentrate for 6 hours. why should he be pilloried? shouldn’t the parents be commended for not pushing too hard? i mean seriously, people who think every action around a kid is about protecting ratings points should put themselves in the shoes of the parent. should you really criticize them for not making their 8 year old kid sit for 8 hours instead of just being a kid?

  19. brian walsh Says:

    btw i’m not defending nicholas nip or that ratings shenanigan, i’m just taking issue with the assumption that not playing all rounds in a tournament means you’re doing ti to protect ratings points.

    • nezhmet Says:

      The withdrawals occurred after round 1 and the games were all fast games (no 8 hour games). So, the strategy was win Round 1 and gain one rating point.

  20. brian walsh Says:

    ok you know more about the situation than i do.
    in any case outside of caruana people should be aware that it is not uncommon for parents withdraw kids for the reasons i cited about, because they don’t want to be a crazy chess parent, not because they are ones. when i said 8 hours,, i didn’t mean one game,, but 4 games of G/60 which would be 8 hours.

    also one further point, if you’re ever been a chess parent you would know it’s much less stressful for the kid to play up and not down. there is no upside is playing down(ratings wise) and only upside in playing up.

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