Monday, March 6, 2017

The adjudicator

Chess is simple.  There are clear rules.  No ambiguity, no uncertainty.  There aren't obscure clauses you have to know or timing tricks - just a series of clear, logical steps.

So running a chess tournament should be the easiest thing in the world.  Just make sure the clear, simple rules are followed, right?

Hah!  Ten year olds take your simple rules and laugh.

Today I was helping to run a chess tournament and had to deal with some real head scratchers.  The biggest problem in running tournaments for kids is that they consistently forget about the king being in check.  If the game made any damn sense then leaving the king in check would be perfectly legal.  Stupid, maybe, but legal.  However, today I faced a situation where I walked over to a board and noticed that the black queen had the white king in check.  The white player had just moved her pawn forward to promote it and I had to inform her that the move had to be taken back because she had to get out of check.

Of course the obvious thing is to ask what the previous moves were to try to restore the game to a legal state.  The players thought that the king had probably been in check for ten turns and there was no way to get back to the way the board was when it was legal.  I looked at the board and had a conundrum.  Clearly the solution was to leave the board the way it was and inform white that she had to make a different move.  Normally I would say "You must either block the piece checking your king, move the king out of check, or capture the piece checking your king."  Kids need to know that all three of these things are possible.  Trouble is, the pawn that had been moved back could capture the queen that was checking the king.

(You might wonder why the pawn hadn't taken the queen in the first place.  Kids are BAD at chess.)

If I make it explicit that white can capture the queen to end the check, she probably will, but her opponent might feel that I was giving her moves to help her win.  He would have a point there.  If I don't say it, white will just move her king out of check and lose the game.  I don't think there is any way I can give the white player a proper understanding of her options without cluing her into a move that is completely devastating.

I don't know what a proper tournament director would do in this situation.  Declare both players the loser for failing to maintain a legal board state?  Declare a tie?  Beats me.

What I do know is that a game that seems so totally logical and solid suddenly becomes a complete mess when children are involved.  They can't agree on whose turn it is.  They can't agree which space a piece occupies.  They can't remember what the last move was.  One of them is obviously stalling, and I don't have a chess clock, and I can't just stand over her board for the entire time because there are other children who need help.

I just stand there trying to make up ruling on the fly, desperately hoping I seem impartial and consistent when I know I am not.

At least they weren't playing Monopoly?

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