Thursday, October 05, 2006

World Chess Championships: Ref Criticism by Kramnik and Topalov

In the World Chess Championships, Veselin Topalov and his team filed a copmlaint against his opponent Vladimir Kramnik, who frequently visited the bathroom during the first four games of their 12-game match. At the time, Kramnik had a dominating 3-1 lead. The "referees" of the dispute were a three-person appeals committee. In judging the complaint, the appeals committee let Topalov's team watch the surveillance camera footage of Kramnik's private room (thank goodness they did not have cameras in the private room's bathroom).

The appeals committee ruled that Kramnik may not use the private bathroom and both players must share a mutual bathroom for the rest of the match. Toiletgate, some called the dispute. Kramnik refused to play game five and caused a delay on the entire match. He reportedly demanded that his private bathroom be reopened, the appeals committee be fired and replaced, and that his forfeit of game 5 be wiped off the books so the match could continue at 3-1.

The benefit of having a sport where people can criticize the referees is that people can talk about what is really happening. Nigel Short in the Guardian (UK) criticized each of the three members of the appeals committee, Yiorgos Makrapoulos and Zurab Azmaiparashvili supposedly have business dealings with FIDE (the federation that qualified Topalov for the match) and Jorge Vega, who supposedly did a poor job as arbiter of the FIDE World Championship in 2005.

Who was right and who was wrong was hotly debated. In my opinion, Topalov's protest probably should not have resulted in shutting the bathrooms and instead some type of warning or probation would have been appropriate. But the arbiters' questionable decision was no excuse for Kramnik to boycott play unilaterally, especially when his main complaints were very weak: his team initially argued that nobody could alter the bathroom arrangements without good reason (ignoring that dozens of trips to the bathroom could well be a good reason to change plans around, it wasn't like the arbiters shut the bathrooms on a whim or just for fun) and that Topalov is not allowed to complain about a game more than two hours after it ended (ignoring that Topalov's complaint was about future games based on newly discovered evidence, and did not seek to overturn the long-completed first four games).

Kramnik had anyway agreed to respect the arbiters' decision as final. So he blatantly violated the rules by refusing to play game 5. It's true that often, the one who responds is penalized and the initial perpetrator goes unpunished. But in the scheme of things, Kramnik's refusal to play was much worse than Topalov's provocative, weak complaint. So in this situation, Kramnik's improper reaction was much worse and much more harmful than anything Topalov did.

In the end, many players rallied behind Kramnik, who graciously agreed to continue the match at the score of 3-2 once the appeals committee resigned and the private bathroom was reopened (with additional searches and inspections in place).

The best solution would have been a negotiated agreement to continue the match at 3-1. Or for Kramnik never to have refused to play game 5. Or for some sanction to be imposed against Topalov if his complaints are considered frivolous or unfounded.

Still, the chess championships show that it is possible to let the players criticize the referees and still keep control over the sport. Players can criticize the arbiters, but if they improperly refuse to play, they can be punished for refusing to play (and be forfeited a game).


Anonymous ChessFan said...

Kramnik was upset because 1) the refs let his opponent Topalov look at private video of Kramnik's private room before the match was over, but did not return the favor and let Kramnik look at Topalov's private video. The refs had no right to one-sidedly violate his privacy like that; they should have reviewed the video themselves and rendered a decision on their own. 2) Topalov was throwing around all kinds of unsubstantiated accusations of cheating by Kramnik, and when the refs caved to Topalov's demands, it created the impression that Kramnik was, indeed, cheating (even though they had no evidence). 3) The ability to use private rooms was written into the match contract, so by closing them, the arbitrators violated the contract. 4) The Topalov team was allowed to inspect both private rooms and bathrooms before the match, and the two players would switch private areas in between games, so there was no possibility of getting an unfair advantage from having a "better" private area, because both players got to use both private areas equally. 5) The arbitrators agreed that Topalov lied about how many times Kramnik used the bathroom, yet they penalized Kramnik anyway... what competitor would put up with a penalty based on an opponent's verifiably false accusation?

11:42 PM  

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