Caissic Bad Behavior – Everyone’s Favorite Categories
E. Vicary writes at the end of rather humorous article where her kid opponent botches a piece up game (the kid was winning in mundane ways from her diagram after White’s 22nd move):
“Chessplayers are very tolerant. I say this because so unbelievably many chessplayers have unbearably annoying board manners / habits/ smell /loudness of breathing and/ or compulsively vibrate the table with their legs, yet it seems like I’m the only person who ever says anything. Everybody else is a complete saint. I really do not know how they do it.”
I’m going to have to mention some information here. Can’t resist. Not all people are saints. I usually am, but I have limits too.
Actionable Bad Behavior
By actionable, I mean behavior where opponents or onlookers (kibitzers, TDs, etc.) took action. Let’s see some cases. To summarize, we have:
- The behavior
- The action
- The result
The Case of the Time Trouble Cheater
Sammy Reshevsky was quite the opportunistic SOB (some would say weasel). In time trouble, he had a whole “palette” of tricks. In one charming move, he would offer a draw; the opponent would tank and accept, then he would deny having offered it. The action: in Lone Pine, his opponent Fedorowicz goes nuts and gets the TD. The result: despite witnesses backing John up, the TD (a friend of Sammy) goes with Sammy and the game continues. Sammy loses. Karma! Another of his strategems was bombarding the opponent with several consecutive draw offers. He pulled this one on me in Montreal 1980; where I went from a better position to losing. And the way he did it was irritating – I have only a few minutes left and he keeps saying on my time “Are you playing for a win?” Geez. I should have punched him and created an international incident. Result: I blew the game and was really irritated. In Zuerich Candidates 1953, Sammy asked a kibitzer (!!) if he had completed his moves in time trouble (playing Kotov). The kibitzer answered! Both the Q&A were, of course, illegal. This helped Sammy know when to slow down and Sammy won the game. Result: Kotov was embittered and was reduced to venting about it in the tournament book. It is really a shame that Hanon Russell foisted on Chess Life such a sanitized Reshevsky bio omitting him going over the line in OTB behavior; this side of him was part and parcel of what made him such a fierce competitor that lasted so long on the world stage. In the old days, Chess Life was quite a sanitized vehicle with the occasional Larry Parr rant peppered in. Times are slowly changing.
I also read in Benko’s autobiography (quite a nice book from Silman Press; John Watson, Jeremy Silman, and Ron Gross contributed) that Sammy lost on time in a tournament, but his friend (a TD) looking directly at the clock didn’t call the flag for several moves (although the tournament rules said specifically the TD would be calling flags). Sammy went on to win the game. The moral is, buddy up to TDs. The only thing I read that made me feel sorry for Sammy was a story in Benko’s book by Ron Gross where hipsters in the 60s offered Sammy marijuana during a LA car ride. Poor Sammy, stuck with these hipsters! Another tidbit I really enjoyed in the Benko book: the time Benko punched Bobby Fischer in the face.
The Case of the Clock Cheater
At a World Open, someone I know (Hertan? Tisdall? Wilder? Schroer? – I can’t recall) was scheduled to play a master but was 20 minutes late for the game. Arriving in the tournament hall, he was within 15 feet of his board, and he saw that lo and behold his opponent (a master) had not arrived yet either. He then noticed the master getting to the board and setting up the pieces and clock in a hurry. My buddy hid behind a pillar to observe the offending master then turn the clock dial (the old days, before digital clocks) ahead 20 minutes (illegal) on my buddy’s side (the rules say to split the difference). Emerging from the pillar, my bud (according to his report) said “[insert cheater’s name here], you can’t DO that!” Chagrined, the offending master turned the dial back.
In a related incident (only related because it has to do with clocks), I tried out a new-fangled digital clock at the World Open in the 1980s. My opponent, GM Bill Lombardy, was very impressed with the device as I pointed out its features and how it would count down by seconds if either player was under the five minute mark to make the first time control. Well, lo and behold Bill is up a pawn at move 35 to reach the time control at move 40. There is no particular counterplay for me. But Bill then goes into an incomprehensible four minute tank, from four minutes left to none on move 35, as my digital clock counts down his minutes and seconds! A red light appears on the clock (did anyone have this model?) and I inform poor Bill his time has expired. He comes out of his reverie and doesn’t say much … at first. However, a short while later in an adjacent room, he let me have it in a most impressive post-game speech. Among the highlights of this speech: “You are a thief… you are a non-entity… you no longer exist to me.” John Fedorowicz really enjoyed this speech and repeated it quite a bit, actually shortening it to “Red Light, Bill!”. But what was I supposed to do, say “Watch out Bill, you might incur the Red Light soon!” during the game? I didn’t enjoy winning the game like this and the post-game speech was a bummer. Contrast this to a more uplifting post-game speech I received — after playing Larry Gilden in a Swiss when his career was in a downward slump (he used to play in US Championships), I lost a long, hard game on the black side of a Taimanov Sicilian. Larry said “Thank you.” I said, “What?” He continued, “Thank you… for making me feel like a Gilden again.” I felt like I had contributed something to chess!
In a curious mix of Time Trouble and Clock cheating, I heard that Sammy Reshevsky at the US Championship while in time trouble… simply pressed his clock without making a move versus someone not at the board. An onlooker, Larry Evans I believe, said “Sammy… you can’t DO that.” I will need to get this corroborated, Larry Evans are you there? Some old timer will have to supply me with the year, Sammy’s opponent, and the intervening onlooker’s name.
The Case of the Absurd Chess Set
Some old coots whip out a ridiculous chess set, for example tiny, with misshapen figures, and often in strange colors like red instead of black. The sets are so tiny that the pawns and bishops are interchangeable. I have seen this “gambit” essayed on numerous occasions. I say a pox on these sets in tournament play!
The Case of the Board Shaker
Many players are just bundles of nerves and can’t help vibrating and shaking all the pieces and the table (mostly on their time, when they are most immersed in thinking). This would include GM Walter Browne. The action: Huebner often went nuts on these guys, but I for one didn’t mind that much. Igor Ivanov, a very mellow soul, would just lean back and tip his chair backwards. The result: kibitzers were always entertained when Walter cycled through postures and expressions in Zeitnot. I believe ex-WC Tigran Petrosian was also a table shaker, and an occasional leg-kicker, in his day. Complaints were not heard – Tigran strategically switched off his hearing-aid! (I believe this anecdote came from his arch-nemesis Viktor Korchnoi).
The Case of the (at-the-Board) Eater
Robert Feldstein ate fairly disgusting hamburgers and slurped shakes at the board versus me and other players. Much of the food remained stuck to his beard or wound up on the board and adjacent area. My action: I jogged between his game at the Bar Point (6th Ave. and 14th St.) and the Marshall CC to play another “simul” OTB game against Walter Shipman at the Marshall CC (10th Street) to minimize my face time with Feldstein. This jogging stunt was motivated in the large part by the at the board feast. I would encourage the USCF to simply outright ban the disgusting tableau of meals-at-the-board.
The Case of the (at-the-Board) Drinker
In a Pan-Am Intercollegiate, Joel Benjamin, a very well behaved sportsman, accidentally spilled a Fanta Orange Soda all over the board (amusingly, during severe mutual time pressure) during our game (Yale – Princeton match). Result: the clocks were stopped and we cleaned the orange soda off with many paper towels. After the game resumed, it was I that lost on time (nothing to do with the soda spill; I simply spaced out and didn’t realize how raised my flag was).
Going to a different beverage category, according to some biographies I read, Tony Miles used to be called “The Milkman” because he would lug along a gallon of milk to the board. He would consume the milk and belch contentedly throughout the contest. I played Tony once and fortunately he wasn’t “The Milkman” at that particular phase in his career. He had another cool habit – he would take off a big, clunky wristwatch and carefully use it to hide the moves he had written down, but hadn’t played yet.
It’s my theory that players who bring alcoholic beverages to the board are less likely to spill.
The Case of the Oddball
Tony Miles, with a bad back, played a major tournament Tillburg 1985 laying flat on his stomach on a massage table.
The result: Huebner, a nervous ball of nerves who couldn’t stand these eccentricities, went nuts. Another result: Miles won the tournament!
“When he returned to Tilburg in 1985 he finished first equal with Huebner and Korchnoi with 8.5/14 in the Category 15 event. He injured his back during the event and the organisers allowed him to play stretched out on his stomach on a hospital massage table. This annoyed some of his opponents a great deal who protested. He did the double over Korchnoi (who he had never beaten before) and Ljubojevic during the event.” Korchnoi really did play poorly in their encounters; see this dreadful 34 move loss as white.
Korchnoi Not Groovin’ on the Scene
I should mention I have played Robert Huebner in the Swiss Teams 2000 and he was a fantastic gentleman, analyzing profusely after the game to discover the chess truth.
The Case of the Loud Guy
Jerry Hanken, peripatetic journalist, also has the bad habit of being exceptionally loud. When he enters the hall he’s loud; he speaks in loud tones during games in progress, you get the idea. One time he was playing next to me in Las Vegas and lost quickly (perhaps he parted with his lady on bad terms) – but he started mumbling to himself and moving the pieces around. I was playing on the adjacent board vs AJ Steigman and Steigman had just sacrificed his rook, and I had several continuations. Hanken’s mumbling got louder and louder and I shushed him, but he didn’t hear me and kept mumbling/talking by himself. I got low on time and I couldn’t get rid of Hanken. Finally I played a move that allowed Steigman a perp when in fact I could have played a different and fairly obvious move to win. Result: I was really steamed and as the perp was being executed, Hanken chose that moment to pack up his set and leave the hall.
Here’s the Steigman game.
Steigman, A.J.. – Ginsburg, Mark National Open 2005
1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nge2 a6 4. a4 Nc6 5. g3 Nf6 6. Bg2 Be7 7. O-O d6 8. h3 O-O 9. d3 Qb6!? 10. g4 Re8 (10… h6 11. f4 c4+ 12. d4) 11. Ng3 Bf8 12. Rb1 Nd7 13. g5 Qc7 14. f4 Nd4 15. Be3 b5 16. Nce2 Nxe2+ 17. Qxe2 bxa4 18. f5 Ne5 19. Rf4?! 19. f5!? g6 is very sharp.
19…exf5 20. exf5 Bb7 Now black has some open lines to white’s king and has activity on the e-file so he’s very happy.
21. Rxa4 If 21. f6 d5! 22. fxg7 Bxg7 23. Nf5 Ng6! and black wins up on top.
21…d5 Also strong was 21… Bxg2 22. Qxg2 Nxd3! 23. f6 d5 24. Bd2 Qc6 25. b3 Ne5 26. fxg7 Bxg7 27. Nf5 d4.
22. Rh4 Nxd3! A nice hit. Black stands much better.
23. Rxh7?? This attempt to channel Mikhail Tal didn’t work. White should accept the sad ending after 23.
Nf1 Nf4 24. Bxf4 Qxf4 25. Rxf4 Rxe2 26. Rf2. For better or worse white has to accept this sort of inferior ending.
23. Rxh7?? – Hankenized!
23…g6?? The elementary capture 23… Qxg3! should have been very easy to find. However, this was the product of the Hankenization. It’s not hard to see that 24. Qh5 Qxe3+ is an elementary forced mate. For example, 25. Kh1 Nf2+ 26. Kg1 Nd1+ 27. Kh1 Qe1+ 28. Kh2 Bd6 mate! The simple fact that black’s bishop can go to d6 in all lines, giving check and worse yet, mate, had escaped black’s attention during the Hanken nonsense.
24. fxg6 Qxg3 25. Rh8+?? White is also oblivious to the tactical possibilities and mistakenly goes for the perpetual. The simple 25. gxf7+ Kxh7 26. Qh5+ Kg7 27. fxe8=N+! Rxe8 28. Qh6+ Kf7 29. Qf6+ Kg8 30. Qg6+ picks up the e8-rook and wins for white.
25… Kg7 26. Rh7+ Kg8 1/2-1/2
The Case of the Sniffler/Snorter (Loud Guy, Part 2)
Many moon ago, Steve Odendahl and I were playing in London (Lloyds Bank) and Steve was coming off some bronchitis and was sniffling and snorting, both on his time and his opponents’. Tony Miles was on a nearby board and went ballistic, screaming something to the effect of “STFU!” very loudly. This worked and Steve was shocked into silence for the rest of the game. History repeated itself recently. I was playing Zenyuk in a tricky game at the Chicago Open 2008 and unfortunately I found myself next to a loud sniffler/snorter, Jonathan Hilton. Periodic loud snorts emanating from the kid (mostly on his opponent’s time) absolutely destroyed my ability to “see” anything on my board. There was no muffling Kleenex in play at all. It’s droll that Hilton and Hanken are in the “Chess Journalists of America” or CJA. The CJA should have behavior rules that cover the journalists playing! The situation called for a Milesian STFU! Normally, I leave these things alone but my Zenyuk game was anything but simple so I disdained the STFU option (perhaps incorrectly, the atomic bomb approach brings results) and alerted the TD Chris Bird. We circled him ready to nab him, but fortunately his game ended in a fast draw before his next snort and he mercifully left the playing area. I was able to barely repair my position to make a draw against Zenyuk. NM Carl Boor, another pour soul sensitive to these types of things, told me in Tulsa that Hilton’s sniffling/snorting drove him up the wall (in an awful game, Hilton-Boor, selected for some reason in Hilton’s blog simply because, I suspect, Hilton won). I would caution young people to be aware of the noise they are making, particularly if they are nervous balls of nerves. And quiet down! There might be a quieting tea one can drink as opposed to a nerve-jangling strangely colored “energy drink” which probably encourages antics. I have noticed kids that drink colored energy drinks are fairly likely to go nuts at least once during their game.
The Case of the Out-and-Out SOB
Occasionally one encounters a rara avis, an out-an-out SOB. GM Michael Wilder was playing a senior master and asked him how many moves were in the first time control. His opponent, the SOB in question, promptly said 45. Wilder made the 45 moves with a minute to spare and settled down to think. His opponent, (note he had never left the board during this incident), noticing Wilder’s flag down jumped up and crowed “Your flag is down, I win!” (the actual time control was move 50). I know what you’re thinking, it was really Wilder’s business to know the time control or ask someone authorized (TD or TD assistant). Nevertheless, the sheer bogosity of this behavior made me mention it.
On the other hand, if a behavior occurs just once we can forgive it, such as Jesse Kraai executing a move to give him a winning position, pumping his fist and yelling “Yes!” while his game with Bryan Smith was in progress at the World Open. I don’t think yelling out “Yes!” during the game is cool in any circumstances but we’ll overlook this one.
The Case of the Strange Noise
In a Lone Pine encounter between two titled players, let’s call them “A” and “B” in the interests of discourse, “A” heard a strange repetitive noise from across and under the table. Upon surreptitiously checking, “A” determined that “B” was rhythmically zipping and unzipping his fly. Action: “A” was nonplussed but took no action. I will investigate to see the final result of that game.
Readers, please comment on your own horror stories. Note for brevity I have omitted some juicy categories such as “Kiddie Cheater”, “J’adouber”, “Starer”, “Unabomber/Psycho Hoodie/Darth Hoodie.”
Postscript: What Happens in Acapulco Stays in Acapulco
Rabbit Ears, Acapulco Mexico 2007
Has Anyone Heard of Dr. Deming, Statistician Extraordinaire?
While I’m plotting to name names in the bad chess behavior saga, feast your eyes on this 1991 memento. The Deming Prize!
Epilog: Search Engine Terms
Let’s get away from the unpleasantness of OTB antics. These terms were used on July 18, 2008 to get to my site.
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