Southend Easter Congress

I promised to write up my experience in Southend, particularly the incident in the last round. I delayed publishing it online as I wanted to give the organisers time to respond. Below is the letter I sent them which outlines my grievances around the last round.

Dear Sir,
I am writing to complain about the handling of my game against Alexander Cherniaev in the last round of the Southend Open. As you are aware, Alexander Cherniaev claimed a draw and the arbiter eventually granted it to him after his flag had fallen. I have reconstructed the game as best as I can below:

I have also written out my view of the events during the game:

I was playing Cherniaev in the last round. After a topsy-turvy game we reached an endgame where I had rook, bishop and knight against rook, knight and h and g pawns. At this point I had around 15 minutes against around 30 minutes. The last times I have written down on my scoresheet are 7 minutes for me against 15 for him. At that point I had forced him to advance his pawns and started playing fairly quickly.

When I had 4 minutes against his 5 and a half he tried to claim a draw. The arbiter informed him he had to have under 2 minutes left to claim a draw and awarded me 2 extra minutes. I managed to win a pawn and when Cherniaev demanded a draw again when just under 2 minutes, the arbiter rejected his claim as I was making definite progress. However he did not give me any extra time to deal with Cherniaev’s shouting. Each time Cherniaev demanded a draw he did it on my move without stopping the clock and I was forced to stop it myself as it was highly disturbing.

With around two minutes against one minute he managed to exchange off his knight for my bishop. This left a position where I had rook and knight against rook and his pawn on f4 with my king stuck on the side of the board on h3 with his rook on g1. With 49 seconds left against my fraction under 2 minutes he again demanded a draw (again on my time) and the arbiter told him to play on. I succeeded in getting my king to f2, no longer blocked off by the rook and with his king blocked off from defending it, I believe I would have won the f pawn in a few moves time and was therefore making definite progress.

At this point Cherniaev’s flag fell and after I pointed this out the arbiter declared the game to be drawn. I protested and pointed out that though the position was a theoretical draw I was making definite progress. The arbiter said the position was a technical draw and I replied that that doesn’t make a difference for 10.2 claims, my opponent has to prove he knows how to defend it and I should be given the opportunity to attempt to win. At this point the arbiter said his decision was final and walked off to his arbiter’s corner and printed out the final crosstable.

I refused to sign the scoresheet and asked to appeal. The organiser spoke to me and introduced me to the tournament secretary who listened to me but had not been present during the incident. He went to talk to the arbiter and said they would uphold the arbiter’s decision.

I believe that the arbiter got the decision wrong and showed that he did not know the full workings of the 10.2 rule. Not only was I making progress in the final position, but my opponent did not claim the draw in the way set out in the rule:

“If the player, having the move, has less than two minutes left on his clock, he may claim a draw before his flag falls.”

None of his repeated claims, on my time, before, during and after this two minute period, fulfilled the requirements of rule 10.2. The claims were therefore invalid and the draw should not have been awarded.

This error cost me £920 and 1st equal place in the tournament as well as five lost rating points. My opponent was also very unpleasant to play against, distracted me in the time scramble, talking loudly and claimed the 10.2 rule incorrectly. I believe that the arbiter should have stepped in again to discipline my opponent for his distracting conduct.

With the relatively large prize fund on offer it is odd that an arbiter was appointed who does not appear to be a qualified FIDE or ECF arbiter. This was definitely a contributory factor in what I believe to be an incorrect decision and one for which I hold the organisers responsible. I believe that a court would find such an appointment unreasonable, and in breach of the organisers’ duty towards participating players.

Normally, during a FIDE rated tournament, an appeals committee is convened to deal with such situations. This was not the case in Southend, a surprising omission. I wish to have my appeal heard, but wish to avoid the necessity for legal proceedings if possible. I therefore suggest that, as there was no appeals procedure in place during the tournament, the matter could be arbitrated by a neutral panel, perhaps brought together by FIDE or the ECF. If you consented to this then both you, as tournament organisers, and I would be bound by the panel’s decision.

I hope that we can reach an amicable settlement of this matter and therefore look forward to your prompt reply.

Yours faithfully,
Gawain Jones

As you can see I was unhappy with how the arbiter applied the rule and the behaviour of my opponent (who unfortunately is known for always getting into these kind of incidents). I really doubt I’ll be returning to play in Southend. However I appreciate the organisers are still learning and so I’ll publish a few pointers below on how to run a successful tournament.

1) Arbiter – If you want to have a serious, properly run FIDE Rated tournament with a decent prize fund then get an experienced qualified FIDE Arbiter. They will have the respect of (most of) the players, know the rules correctly and should be experienced in dealing with these situations.

2) Appeals Committee – Set up an appeals committee to deal with any potential appeals, then at least the players will feel justice has been done.

3) Time control/ playing schedule – As long as you have access to digital clocks there’s really no excuse not to have a time control with increment, at least on the final time control. In the case of the Southend Open with two rounds a day the six hour playing schedule is really too long. During the tournament there was one day where I was unable to make it back to the hotel between games as I had a 6 hour morning round and so was out from 9am until past 9pm at night (and my friend Pete Wells was out from before 9 until something like midnight!). It would make far more sense to change the time control to 90minutes + 30 seconds a move for the entire game, perhaps with an extra 15 minutes at move 40.

4) If you promise to do something then you have to do it! During the tournament a sign was up promising the pairings would be published online. I’m afraid this just wasn’t done consistently. Before round 5, in which as it turned out I had the most important game of the tournament against 2nd seed David Howell, I was up until 1am refreshing the website and then up again at 7.30 trying to find out who I was playing. I decided to go to the venue early to find out and at least have a minute or two to prepare. Apparently the pairings were published at 9am for the 9.30am game, useless for the players and in a FIDE rated tournament preparing is very important.

When I asked why the pairings hadn’t been published as promised the arbiter told me he was tired when the final game finished. I’m sure he was but this was his job. He then proceeded to tell me that although they had promised to publish pairings online, they hadn’t promised to publish them before the start of the round! Hardly a sign that the arbiter was in touch with the players.

That’s it from me on this incident and I’ll now just move on but thought I should let you guys know the full details. I’ll try to write an update on the Bundesliga when I’m back at home and have some time.


12 Responses to “Southend Easter Congress”

  1. George O'Toole
    April 13, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    Hey Gawain

    I have also had many bad experiences at this tournament, most of which relate to terrible pairings. In previous tournaments they have:

    – used ECF grades as the primary factor for pairings over FIDE ratings,
    – frequently published pairings in the evening and changed them the morning after and
    – paired players that have withdrawn (!)

    Similarly, I also question the old-fashioned time controls and lack on computer generated pairings.

    Irrespective of how hard the organisers may try to run this tournament successfully, I have little confidence in their abilities. The remark regarding publishing the pairings online after the round only exemplifies their lack of connection and understanding with players which goes to evidence their collective incompetence in organising such an event in a manner expected by today’s players.

    Personally, I rarely attend this event now, even though it is only five minutes from my house.

    I would imagine there is little you can do now but I, and probably others, would happily support you with anything in terms of appeal.

    Please keep us informed.


  2. Tony Kosten
    April 13, 2013 at 11:47 pm #

    Gawain, the position is totally drawn, and you know you would never win this against a GM in a game played with a normal time limit!

    • Jesper Norgaard
      April 15, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

      Tony, there are winning chances in K+R+N vs. K+R – for instance Kasparov won against Judit Polgar in this ending! By correct tablebase defence it is a dead draw as you mention, but Cherniaev is not a computer. Besides I don’t see any reason shy Gawain should not be allowed to play it out, and if the opponent’s flag falls, he should be given the win. The same about K+R+B vs. K+R or K+B+B vs. K+N – the defender must play quicker so he doesn’t lose on time or else I think it most be deemed a win. Indeed Cherniaev seemed to have more time at one point, but did not use it for making many moves, which would have given the arbiter a chance to determine whether any progress was made.

      Increment would have been a much better solution. It allows for both a precise defense to lead to a draw, and for Gawain pushing ahead the winning chances could lead to a win if against imprecise defense.

  3. Jesper Norgaard
    April 14, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    From the Laws of Chess:

    d. The decision of the arbiter shall be final relating to (a), (b) and (c).

    For 10.2 decisions, an appeal is not possible. For any other decision by the arbiter, an appeal is possible. Even if the arbiter is wrong in a 10.2 decision, the decision still stands.

    I think the decision was wrong to declare a draw at flag fall, and apart from that it appears you should have been given 2 minutes extra each time the 10.2 was invoked wrongly IMHO. That would probably have stopped him from claiming it so many times.

    I agree completely to your comments of including increment would be better. Double rounds with 6 hours does also stretch the players, to the point of having no spare time between double rounds.

  4. Glenn Baumann
    April 15, 2013 at 12:07 am #

    I am not a FIDE arbiter but I am a tournament director for USCF and I think this is ridiculous after looking at the FIDE rules closely. Apart from what you said above the arbiter also made some other mistakes. Every time he made a claim that was denied you should have been awarded 2 minutes, and it doesn’t seem that the arbiter made it clear whether he was rejecting or postponing his decision on the claims. If the claims were rejected then it appears to me that the arbiter is not allowed to declare the game drawn after the game was finished.

    10.2 states:


    If the arbiter has rejected the claim, the opponent shall be awarded two extra minutes time.


    The decision of the arbiter shall be final relating to (a), (b) and (c).”

    I am not sure how this is supposed to be interpreted but it could mean that once rejected no more claims are allowed to even be made.

    Just for reference, USCF rules have a similar rule for claiming draws, and it is recommended in the rulebook that for rook and knight vs rook to postpone or deny the decision if the side with extra material is making progress

  5. Kevin Markey
    May 14, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

    I was also playing at the Southend Chess Congress and although I played in a much lower section than you I believe the pairings could and should have been put up earlier. I did make such a comment to an organiser and as the top event included proffesional players who need to prepare for games as I saw both Peter and yourself do after a round had started I can understand why you are upset on that point.
    As for arbiters I am ECF qualified and only consider myself capable of junior events and the lower sections of weekend congresses. It may difficult for events to obtain the limited number of top qualified arbiters. From talking to organisers it was only the generous sponsorship they obtained that enabled them to offer such good prize money and attract the GM’s they did.

    I hope you do return to Southend it was one of the best venues I have played chess in does have some great selling point to attract more players to our game.

  6. Jesper Norgaard
    June 26, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    This is yet another proof that the R+N vs. R ending can be won between strong grandmasters. It is ludicrous that you can escape without even letting the stronger side try to win, because the weaker side has no time, and 10.2 becomes an escape clause to remove the need to defend. Would Cherniaev have resisted 210 moves? We will never know, he didn’t even have to show 50 or 20 moves.

  7. Andreas Hagen
    June 29, 2013 at 11:45 pm #

    I tried to win a rook endgame with f- and g-pawn against g-pawn against Cherniaev in 2011, and he tried to claim a draw because it was a theoretical draw. We both had lots of time, and I thought I’d play on. When I refused, and the arbiter also refused Cherniav began being very unplesant. It ended in a draw, but after this experience I won’t play a tournament with that guy again. Just because a position is a theoretical draw doesn’t mean it is a dead draw. Your experience reminds me of this episode. His behaviour is not acceptable.

  8. martin crichton
    August 20, 2013 at 11:27 am #

    Hi Gawain
    I read the above and the comments with interest. Agreed Cherniev is not one of the most charming GMs on the circuit but he is improving…he was a lot worse when he first arrived here. You made me laugh a bit when you harped on about the £920 prize at stake….I am certain the £920 would mean a lot more to Cherniev than it ever would to you. Cherniev arrived here and I first came across him playing in a bitsy rapidplay tournament with a first prize of £30. He was taking on all comers at 5-minite chess for a £1 a game between rounds. You had better believe that he did not have the priviliged background that you had! Not making excuses for his behaviour…just adding a little context!

  9. Robin Moss
    April 23, 2015 at 9:32 pm #

    One reason why I lost interest in chess. Much as I dislike Tony Kosten he is spot on and quite frankly Gawain you should know better.

    • Les Crane
      July 21, 2015 at 1:20 pm #

      I really do not understand why this has become an attack on Gawain who wharever your opinion of his opponent or the poor arbiter who was probably doing his best in difficult circs Gawain is the only one blameless here.


  1. Daily Chess News Links April 14, 2013 | - April 14, 2013

    […] Southend Easter Congress Gawain Jones I promised to write up my experience in Southend, particularly the incident in the last round. I delayed publishing it online as I wanted to give the organisers time to respond. … […]

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