Dear USCF Board, and interested parties.

I wish to raise oficial questions about the recently concluded US Women’s Champion final, on an on the record basis.

It is the general opinion of the super-site Chessbase that what we recently witnessed was that Americans degraded and demeaned the game of chess by their conduct during the Women’s championship final.

Even tournament directors in Europe do not recognise the final as other than a deviant form of chess, nor think blitz any sensible means of resolving tie-breaks for the serious game.

On behalf of Chessville, now very prominent on the US chess scene, in fact in terms of reader numbers, #1, I propose the USCF board the following questions which I will also publish, and continue to do so until it is understood:

1) Does any person on the board //disagree// that the means of resolving of the championship was degrading to chess and its players?

2) Who was responsible for chosing this way of resolving the championship?

3) Do the rules of Armageddon matches allow a player to move on the opponent’s time?

4) While I understand that the TD is bound by the rules and no doubt has acted properly from that basis, did both players sufficiently understand the changed nature of the Armageddon rules to what went before?

I see from one player’s reaction that this is not likely so, because of suggestions of open cheating, and thereby, what efforts were expended to inform the players of the actual rules under which they played some form of chess?

I will publish these questions next weekend as an open letter to the board. I will continue to keep the issue open until each item is both answered by people with authority to do so, and will receive any answer made to me by any party here as being in the public domain, and intended as permission to publish same.

Phil Innes

The following is the response by sponsor and chief organizer Frank K. Berry

Please include the below to all further discussions on this subject.
Frank K. Berry

The Women’s Playoffs

This 106-move draw landed Krush into a tie with Zatonskih with 7½/9, with Rohonyan and Abrahamyan tied for third with 6. The tournament regulations called for a rapid playoff for the title. This playoff would prove to be both close and controversial, with a cacophony of criticism from internet observers.

First were two G/15 games with a 3-second increment. With the separate commentary room filled with GMs and IMs calling out variations as MonRoi relayed the moves on screen, the contenders split the first two games. Kaidanov called them “well played.” Then two G/5 games, with a 2-second increment, were also split. Thus it then came down to one dreaded “armageddon game” to force a decisive result. Black is given “draw odds” while white has extra time to compensate. Irina was chosen, by chance, to name the times for white and black, and Anna was to pick a color. Irina, after considerable thought and conversation with supporters, picked 6 minutes for white and 4½ for black. Anna chose black. There was no increment of add-on time given, although in view of what happened it is clear a one- or two-second add on or delay should be used for such games in the future.

Unfortunately the final game devolved into a wild time scramble. Witnesses say the time stood at Krush 12 seconds, Zatonskih 8, when the “clock slamming” really started. Both players were banging out their moves.

When the proverbial dust settled Irina’s clock ticked 0:00 while Anna’s was still hanging on Tulsa Time with 0:01.

“Oh, come on!” Irina exclaimed, knocking over a piece in disgust and rushing out of the room. This was all caught on a dramatic video that can be viewed on the internet. What you don’t see is that while the stunned spectators were congratulating Anna, Irina headed straight to the pool for a swim to clear her head. Later she showed up at the closing ceremony smiling and looking rather fabulous in a slinky dress and still-damp hair.

The Controversy

“It’s a helluva way to pick a champion,” said John Fedorowicz at the long-delayed closing party. “I like the old days when they would just say they were co-champions.” And so began the criticism sparked by the unsatisfactory playoff and its ultra-close finish.

Irina kicked it up another notch when she published an Open Letter on Chess Life Online several days later. She said she couldn’t understand how she lost on time when she had a lead going into the final moves and both players were moving as quickly as possible, until she viewed the video, in which Anna can be seen on several occasions making her move before Irina has pressed her clock. Krush said if she had realized this at the time she would have protested, and argued that due to this mad scramble the result was not a sporting one, and that a verdict of co-champions makes sense.

“I’d have to say that by not raising an objection at the time Irina essentially agreed to the result by quickly walking out and not protesting immediately” IA Frank K. Berry responded. “Once agreed to it is next to impossible to over-rule… even in the face of video evidence….” Even so, is it true that Anna was not playing fair? As Anna and many others who watched the video have pointed out, Irina also made a questionable move or two during the time scramble when she knocked over a piece and didn’t set it back up before punching her clock as the rules require.

More importantly, what Anna did on these moves appears to be typical and not actually “illegal” despite what some players commonly believe. Mike Atkins, an experienced blitz director who helped write the new USCF blitz rules, says, “If Player A has moved and is reaching for the clock, in blitz it is perfectly acceptable to be making your move in response. As long as you allow the opponent to punch the clock first… This is not illegal. Top blitz players have to do this to survive.” The fact that this game was videotaped seems to have brought this blurry issue into focus. Perhaps this will spur some clarification. See Zatonskih’s interview on Chess Life Online for her thoughts on this and the championship.

The system used this year is virtually the same system as that used in the 2003 championship. Playoffs with blitz games have also been seen several times in the last 10 years, such as the 2000 playoffs between Benjamin, Seirawan, and Shabalov.

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