2017 Zonal: Tie-Break Controversy

Controversial Blitz Finish

The 2017 Canadian Closed Chess Championship (Zonal 2.2) took place June 27 - July 1, 2017 in Montreal.

GM Bator Sambuev and IM Nikolay Noritsyn tied for first with 8/9. They played four rapid games (15m + 10s) with White winning each time. They then played two blitz games (5m + 3s) with the first game being drawn and the second ending with a Sambuev win. However, the final blitz game is controversial: Noritsyn attempted to promote to a Queen, but not finding one on the table, he placed an upside-down rook on the board and hit the clock. The TD stopped the clock and said that according to the rules the upside down rook is not an illegal move, but it is a rook and not a Queen. There was no time penalty, and the game continued. On the next move Sambuev promoted to a Queen with check, and won a few moves later.

AFAIK, this is the correct application of the FIDE rules, which state: "A player may stop the chessclock only in order to seek the arbiter’s assistance, for example when promotion has taken place and the piece required is not available." (FIDE Article 6.12.b). 

With 5 seconds left, and no queen in sight, and the National Championship on the line, Noritsyn did not do this, and it cost him dearly.

The controversy comes from two sources:

1. It is an embarrassing oversight by the TD and Arbiters that there were no spare Queens next to the clock for such an important game. Had there been spare Queens, Noritsyn would certainly have promoted according to the rules and the game -- and the National Championship and Zonal 2.2 -- could have continued normally.

2. When Noritsyn was looking for the captured Queen to promote, Sambuev was holding three captured pieces in his left hand, including the Queen. 

It is not clear (to me) that holding on to captured pieces is a violation of the rules. In fact, it is common for players to fidget with captured pieces. However, here it does seem to have had an effect on the outcome of the game: had the captured Queen been placed at the side of the board as is customary, then Noritsyn could have found the Queen and promoted normally. 

Some chess players will think Sambuev's holding captured pieces is just a common response to tension, and think it's no worse than what Gelfand and Nakamura do habitually. 

Other chess players, being an unnaturally suspicious lot, might assume that Sambuev did this on purpose and should be forfeited based on FIDE's Article 11.1 (about not bringing the game into disrepute) and 12.9 (about penalties TDs may impose). Before doing so, they might want to watch the video of the game in question and perhaps play along with the notes to that game below.

The game below is based on the HiDef video of the second blitz game uploaded to YouTube by Nikolay Noritsyn. The annotations are unusual: instead of commenting on the quality of the moves and alternatives, I have noted what happened to the pieces after they were captured. What I counted is that about 1/2 the time Sambuev captured a piece he put it in his left hand, and about 1/2 the time he put it beside the board. 

What, if anything, is to be made of this?


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