Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Olympiad Summary - Being an Arbiter at the Olympiad

The recently completed Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway was the first time I had been to the Olympiad & I was there as a Match Arbiter. This meant that each round I was in charge of one match of four games putting two countries against one another.

Below is the typical routine of what a Match Arbiter would do at the playing hall:

Once you arrived at the playing arena, you saw the Sector Arbiter, who gave you the Match Sheet for the match you would be in charge of, as well as signs for the display boards & a sheet to keep track of the clock times.
Find your sector. I was in Sector 5, on the far right of the above map.
Arrive at your assigned table - you will notice that at the end of each table there is a sign at one end (at a low level - this was raised for later rounds), while at the other end there are three chairs - one for the Match Arbiter, while the other two are for the respective team captains.
Set the clocks & put out scoresheets for all games.
Later rounds saw the organisers add bottles of water to the tables, so you also needed to put these on the tables for the players.
Put the sign with the math pairings up so that spectators can easily see who is playing, as well as the results once games have finished.
Once the players arrive, things are ready for the games to get underway. 
Once individual games finished, you recorded the score, both on the official match scoresheet, as well as on the large signs displayed in the playing hall. This is of the Australian's final round match against Germany!
This is the sheet typically used for keeping track of clock times. Every half hour you had two write down the clock times for both players, as well as the number of moves completed for each player. This could be used to easily keep track of when players were close to making or had passed the time control, as well as having a reference in case a clock malfunctioned. This sheet is the one I used for the final round Peru v Italy match.
Towards the end of the tournament the arbiters were given their blue Arbiter shirts to wear - here I am with the shirt on, as well as my Accreditation, ready to leave my accommodation for the day.
A photo with all the arbiters was taken during the tournament - although I am technically in this photo I am not visible as I am sitting down while another arbiter is standing next to & in front of me, obscuring me from the camera!
This was taken by me AFTER the photo ... so I really was there!
We were also given the new FIDE Arbiters' Manual on one of the early days.

The Arbiters' accommodation was a big talking point during the Olympiad
The accommodation for Arbiters was fairly nice - this is the apartment section I was staying in, which was the smallest of all the accommodation options at Malangen Brygger.
The views from the apartments were fantastic!
Although the rooms themselves were tiny, barely big enough to fit a bed!

The big issue was the 70+km journey to & from the venue that had to be made each day. I tended to use this time for some extra sleep if I could, but it also meant that the arbiters could not really have a 'full' Olympiad experience because of the need for transportation (at set times) each day.
The buses themselves were reasonably comfortable.
Of course with an arbiter's job being what it is, it goes largely unnoticed unless something goes wrong. I think I was the only arbiter to do any sort of blogging about the event, so there's no 'alternative' arbiter perspective (at least that I have found - feel free to pass on a link if you find anything!) of events & the only things I have found online regarding arbiters have been largely negative. I'll present these below, as well as my own comments on things I observed.
Irish player Colm Daly describes an incident of a troublesome arbiter in one of the early rounds at the Irish Chess Cogitations Blog. The post also describes some of the issues players faced during the first round trying to get into the venue.
Danish player (and chess author) Jacob Aagaard described his experiences with a 'nut job' arbiter, although he points out that the other arbiters he had were excellent, on the Quality Chess Blog. I was in fact the arbiter for the Danes in round 4 & had nothing like the incident described by Jacob, so can only presume that he considers me an excellent arbiter (at least that's what I'm going to tell everyone if they ask!). In the post, Aagaard also discusses issues about the 'Zero Tolerance' rule.
In terms of my experience at the Olympiad, although I found everyone in the group of arbiters to be friendly & approachable, their levels of competence as arbiters seemed to vary greatly.
In terms of the things that needed to be done, the job of Match Arbiter at the Olympiad is in fact a fairly simple one. In terms of actual 'arbiting' work I had to do, I had very few instances of being required. The exceptions were:
* A player losing on time in an early round - as the arbiter I declared the game lost for him when I noticed his flag fall
* A disputed triple repetition claim - I simply went with the players to an area set aside for resolving such issue & sorted out the claim (it was correct)
* Quickly resetting the clocks for a game when the players had started with black's clock running & had pressed the clock before making any moves on the board (meaning the times displayed 1:31 each, rather than 1:30)
* Stopping the clocks when the commotion occurred in the final round surrounding the unfortunate death of Kurt Meier
Apart from these instances, my job consisted of setting the clocks prior to the matches, putting out scoresheets for the players, filling in the necessary paperwork for the matches, observing the games, completing the time check sheet every half hour, collecting the green player tags when they had finished their games, adding the results to the match sign as the games finished & tidying the match area up (mostly clearing empty bottles of water & coffee cups) when the match was finished. In other words, not particularly onerous or demanding.
Bearing all this in mind, I was surprised to see a number of things happen in my sector (let alone what may have occurred in any other sector).
* An arbiter noticed that the players in a game had a different number of moves on their scoresheets (I think one player had 31 moves, while the other had 34). This arbiter simply looked puzzled & did nothing about it. Thankfully for all involved, the game finished before move 40 (on either scoresheet!) & the result was decided on the board. What I would have done would be to compare the scoresheets without disturbing the players & once I had figured out the discrepancy, stop the clocks, inform the players of the issue & have them correct it while their clock was running (most likely it would be a player missing a few moves, though that might not be the only explanation).
* One arbiter who was often busy taking photos, particularly at the start of the round. I was next to them on a few occasions & was asked to watch their match for the first 10 or so minutes while they went & took photos around the playing hall.
* Arbiters not watching their boards - on one occasion I saw an arbiter talking with a FIDE official while there were still a number of games in progress in their match. The games were all in the 40-60 move range & at some stage these players would require new scoresheets (scoresheets had room for 60 moves per sheet). I noticed the arbiter's 'absence', so when one game reached move 58, I put new scoresheets next to the players to use. The arbiter returned when the players were on move 63 & I don't think they realised that the players were even on a second scoresheet, let alone how they got there!
* Scoresheets were also an issue with some arbiters - particularly when providing players with a second scoresheet. When doing this, I always try to make sure I do not disturb the players, so try to put new scoresheets next to their tables when they are writing down a move on their scoresheet so as to not break their train of thought (particularly if they are low on time). However such courtesy was not common amongst the arbiters at the Olympiad - new scoresheets were often almost thrown on the table while players were concentrating on their games (and on more than one occasion I saw this happen when a player had less than 30 seconds on their clock & was obviously stressed).
* A general lack of common sense from some arbiters. Periodically a member of the technical staff would come around & collect the blue scoresheets (scoresheets were in triplicate form - the top white sheet was the official game score, the green copy was retained by the players, while the blue copy went to the technical staff - presumably for any changes that may have been required to the DGT/PGN records) & on the first few times that this person came around, I noticed them writing the table & board number on the top of the sheets (eg: 18-2 for table 18, board 2), so I made sure to write the relevant numbers at the top of the blue sheets at the conclusion of each game. Other arbiters however did not notice this & often did not have the blue sheets ready for collection when the official came to their board. This simply delayed the official & from an observer's perspective looked unprofessional, with arbiters often fumbling around with scoresheets, folders & the like at the conclusion of games, rather than simply being able to discreetly hand the official the blue scoresheets without a fuss or creating any disturbance.
* Arbiters not knowing how to adjust the chess clocks. This was noticeable in the final round when many players left the hall with the final round medical commotion. One of the arbiters had not stopped the clocks on a game when the players left the arena, so had to add 10 minutes to one player's time. He was not confident in adding the time correctly to the clock, so asked another arbiter at a nearby table to help him adjust the clock ... and the arbiter said that they didn't know how to & to ask someone else! This happened on two other occasions before the arbiter in question asked me to help him with the clock (I was about 3 tables away from his match) ... and I was able to add the time & get the game restarted in less than 20 seconds. Given that the majority of arbiters at the Olympiad are International Arbiters (along with many FIDE Arbiters) I would have thought such a situation would be fairly trivial to solve ... but obviously not!
* Arbiters leaving their match in a mess. Although not strictly in the job description for the tournament, I always made sure to tidy up the playing area at the conclusion of the match - on most occasions there were a number of empty coffee cups, water bottles and some general rubbish left at the boards when a match concluded - so collected this rubbish & put it in the bin. A number of arbiters did not do this & left their match areas in a mess, presumably leaving it to some of the tournament volunteers to clean up at the end of the round.
I also managed to sneak into the background of a number of photos on the official site Chess24.com


All in all, I found being an arbiter at the Olympiad to be very eye-opening, both in terms of what is required at such a large international tournament (previously my biggest event I had been an arbiter at was the Doeberl Cup in Canberra), as well as the relative standards of other arbiters from around the world. Unlike other tournaments, in the Olympiad you have such a narrow focus as an arbiter that you can actually take notice of the actual chess being played! Given that I actually had an opportunity to look at some chess (and mostly high quality chess), I'm now looking forward to playing in some tournaments in the near future, as well as looking forward to the next Olympiad in Baku in 2016!

Monday, 18 August 2014

The Olympiad Trip - Home again

So I'm back in Melbourne after the Olympiad ... and already back to work!
After four flights - Tromso to Oslo, Oslo to London, London to Dubai & then Dubai to London - I've finally arrived home. Of course I now have to return to unpacking (both from the Olympiad trip, as well as my house generally, as I moved shortly before the Olympiad) & 'normal' life.
I mostly tried to get some sleep on the trip home, so did not watch many movies or shows on the return trip, so don't really have anything to add their, however it must be said that the sheer size of the A380 (the type of plane which I was on for the Melbourne>Dubai, Dubai>London, London>Dubai & Dubai>Melbourne legs of my trip) is staggering when compared to other planes!
Apart from the expected extra sleep to try to readjust to the change in time zones, the things that have struck me the most on my return are that my back is more sore than usual & that it takes quite a bit of adjusting to getting used to the lack of light of an evening (but thankfully it makes it much easier to get to sleep!).

I'm also planning to write a few more posts about the Olympiad & at this stage I am planning on writing about my Olympiad experience generally, the role of the Arbiter at the Olympiad, as well as examining some of the issues that have been mentioned about the Olympiad & my take on them.
I'm also planning on bringing something of my Olympiad experience to my chess coaching - I think the role of a chess coach, particularly at junior levels, is about inspiring the kids about chess, as much as it is about teaching them the techniques & methods for improving their game. Having said that, I'll need some time to put some things together (like tactical exercises from the event, photos from the tournament, souvenirs, etc), so doubt that will happen until next week.

Congratulations to Manuel Weeks, captain of the Australian Open team, who married Brigitta in Germany immediately after the Olympiad! Hopefully Manuel & Brigitta enjoy married life, as well as their honeymoon in the Barbados!
Manuel & Brigitta at their wedding (photo from Brigitta's Facebook page)
I wonder if the result of the Australian Open team will lead to any changes in the selection criteria for future Olympiads - the youth of the team seemed to be a big advantage, with Anton Smirnov's results being the standout of the team. Of course the other argument that could be made is that Anton is simply an outstanding talent & that is what lead to the excellent results, rather than the apparent 'youth' experiment. I suspect the status quo may remain, however there were issues with the selections this year (an appeal by John-Paul Wallace was somewhat surprisingly upheld - ultimately he was moved from second reserve to first reserve as a result), so there may be a change to the selection procedures, if not the criteria themselves.

The detailed results for the Australians can be seen on Chess Results:
Open Team
Women's Team

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Olympiad Trip - Day 18 (the long version)

The final day of the Olympiad started early – with an 11am start to the games, the bus from the hotel left at 8:30 - so there was little time to get sleep the night before, particularly with trying to get some of the packing out of the way.

Once I arrived at the venue, I found I was once again assigned to board 18, which had the Peru v Italy clash this round. On paper it should have been an interesting match, with Italy having about a 150 point advantage on board 1, with Fabiano Caruana playing Julio Granda Zuniga, while Peru had small (roughly 50 point) rating advantages on the other three boards. What eventuated was a massacre, with Peru clobbering Italy 3.5-0.5 … and Italy were lucky to scrape a draw on board 1! I can’t really split the games, so have included all four for Game of the Round!

 Board 18 Matchups for the final round
Boards ready for the players to arrive
Players ready for games to commence

Peru's board 1 Julio Granda Zuniga makes world number 3 Fabiano Caruana look like the lower rated player who struggles to hold a draw!

Board 2 Emilio Cordova turns a fairly equal looking major piece ending into a nice victory

Board 3 Jorge Cori starts slowly, but once his attack gets going, there's no stopping it

Board 4 sees Cristhian Cruz under some early pressure, but he defends well & then overwhelms his opponents with his pieces!

The unfortunate incident surrounding the passing of Karl Meier (mentioned in the previous brief post) deserves some explanation. According to Ian Rogers, Meier's face went red & the arbiter noticed this & went to get some medical attention. Another player also noticed this & ran across the room towards the medical area screaming 'MEDIC! MEDIC!'. The medical staff were quickly on the scene, but the commotion created concern amongst the otherwise very quiet playing hall. Some players & spectators moved towards the commotion to see what was happening & according to Kevin Bonham, at some point someone yelled out 'BOMB!' & this created havoc in the playing hall, with players, spectators & officials running for an exit. Seeing the likes of GM Michael Adams & other top chess players running past me as fast as they could was quite a sight! I stopped the clock of the remaining game (only the Granda Zunica v Caruana game was still in progress at my match) & noticed that the Australian team (who were playing on a nearby board) had just finished (Nisipeanu resigned against Illingworth just as the commotion began) & they were also moving towards the exits, so I joined them. However I only got a few steps when it was announced over the microphone that there was no need to panic, that medical staff were attending & that players should return to their boards. Games were to be restarted as soon as possible. Having said that, the hall was not quiet for the next 30 or so minutes while the medical staff & Ambulance that attended worked on Mr Meier, with the beep beep of the machinery echoing through the playing hall as the games resumed. Eventually although Granda Zuniga was a pawn ahead & pushing for the win, Caruana managed to create some threats against his king & the players repeated the position to finally draw the game.

After the match finished, I headed to the hotel for dinner & caught up with some Aussies on the way – Kevin Bonham (who had my FIDE Instructors card … complete with photo of Nik Stawski! Kevin had said that I looked different in the photo – now I knew why!), Ian Rogers & Junta Ikeda & talked about events of the day & the excellent performances of the Australian teams this Olympiad. I eventually got to the hotel for dinner & sat with Papua New Guineans Stuart Fancy & Shaun Press. As mentioned in the previous post, they talked a bit about Kurt Meier, but mainly discussed what they thought of the Olympiad overall. Shaun lamented the way that FIDE operates & how the system itself had huge obstacles to change, which made it difficult for the Kasparov ticket to get up in the first place. He also complained about how the General Assembly was largely pointless this year, with a quorum not being reached on two of the final days, so that no decisions could actually be made! This was caused by a number of countries being provided with incentives to send a team, along with a delegate who would make the appropriate vote in the Presidential election, however these nations (a number attending for the first time) had little or no interest in the meetings on other days, so simply did not bother turning up, leaving those who had attended frustrated by the situation.

After dinner it was off to the Closing Ceremony, again held at the Skarphallen on the other side of Tromso island. This seemed a bit smaller than the Opening Ceremony & did not seem to have the TV coverage that the Opening Ceremony had. There were speeches from FIDE President Kirson Ilyumzhinov, Tromso Major Jens Johan Hjort as well as a number of songs from a local Norwegian band throughout the evening. The main point of the evening was to award the various prizes for the Olympiad & they began with the Category prizes for both the Women's section & Open section. There were five categories in each tournament & they got the winning team up on stage to present them with their gold medals. One thing that did seem odd was that there was a Category A prize, which was effectively medals for 4th to 6th place! Next was the Board prizes for the Women's & Open sections, with the top 3 all presented with their medals on stage. Following this was the final presentations to the top three teams in the Open & Women's events, along with the Hamilton-Russell Cup & Vera Menchik Cup respectively. There was also a presentation to the best overall result, who received the Nona Gaprindashvili Cup, which was won by China, who won the Open division & finished second in the Women's division – a very impressive result indeed & arguably the crowning triumph of the 'Big Dragon Program' to develop Chinese Chess that was started in the mid 1970s by Dato Tan Chin Nam.

Finally there was a video showcasing Baku, the host of the 2016 Chess Olympiad, as well as the ceremonial handing over of the FIDE flag from the Mayor of Tromso to the head of the Organising committee for Baku.

Australian GM Ian Rogers was in the package of images from the tournament shown before the Closing Ceremony begam
Closing Ceremony ready to begin
FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov speaks
 The FIDE flag
 A local Norwegian band provided entertainment throughout the evening
 Mayor of Tromso Jens Johan Hjort speaks
Norwegian Flag
Women's section divisional winners

Open section divisional winners

Women's board prize winners

 Open board prize winners

 A jubilant China after winning the Open section
 Russia - Winners in the Women's section
 China - Overall winners
 Part of the Baku video package
The FIDE flag is handed over from Tromso to Baku
After such a long day, it was back to the accommodation to pack, before getting a fairly short sleep before the bus to the airport in the morning for the start of my flight home to Melbourne!

Late news: according to news online, another player died after the last round with Alisher Anarkulov from Uzbekistan, who played for the ICCD (Deaf) team, apparently found dead in his hotel room of natural causes on Thursday night. Another tragic death to close what was an otherwise memorable Chess Olympiad.

In a classy finish to the tragic news of Kurt Meier's passing, the game was recorded as a draw (as was his son's presumably unfinished game on board 1) at the venue, however that was later changed to be wins for both Kurt & Peter Meier in a wonderful gesture by their Rwandan opponents.

I'll post a full review of the Olympiad, including some discussion about some issues at the event at a later date, most likely once I am back in Australia (I'm posting this from London while in transit).