Rules? Who cares! They are made to be broken! 

A major incident took place before the first round of the 2012 PanAm Intercollegiate Championship at Princeton University. It had to do with official rules not being followed. An official protest was made and it was denied and no further appeal can be made. 

But before we go further, let me backtrack a little to provide a little history. The annual PanAm Intercollegiate Championship is a prestigious college team chess event with many top colleges and universities in North America competing. All these universities have to spend a lot of money to send teams to compete. The top 4 finishing teams will earn  spots in the College Chess Final Four and lots of glory. Each team is allowed 4 starters and up to 2 subs. Players from these teams can be placed in any order providing that their ratings are within 50 rating points. However, once a line up is set, it is final and can no longer be changed.

Before the tournament, the Director and Head Coach of Webster University, GM Susan Polgar, wrote to the organizer of the event about the official cut off time to submit the final team lineups. This was the reply:

The latest point will be 5pm”, which is exactly 60 minutes before the 1st round (at 6 pm). In addition, the official college chess rules ( state: 

4. Teammates must play in descending rating order, except that 50-point transpositions are allowed. Board order must remain the same throughout the event. Each team must submit a roster before the close of registration indicating the fixed lineup. 

The official rules also state: 

A team may not deviate from its given roster after sign-up. 

So far so good. Well, not so fast.

At 5:43 pm, the final lineups of all the teams were printed. It was posted a few minutes later at the tournament hall. There is absolutely no provision for exception for any reason. Aren’t chess rules supposed to be enforced, especially in a FIDE rated event?


Here was the line up from Texas Tech University, which was posted on the wall for all 44 teams and spectators to see.

At about 10 minutes before the first round started, after seeing the lineups from Webster University posted, the Texas Tech team privately went to the Chief Arbiter to ask for a lineup change. They asked to put lower rated GM Hedinn Steingrimsson of Iceland on board 1, and a higher rated GM Elshan Moradiabadi of Iran on board 2. 

The reason? Because an Iranian player (Elshan Moradiabadi) cannot play against a Jewish Israeli player. Board 1 of Webster University B team happened to be GM Anatoly Bykhovsky who is Jewish and is from Israel. This was about 50 minutes AFTER the lineup change deadline had passed. This request should have been rejected as it clearly violates official college chess rules and the rules set by the organizer, which was confirmed in writing in an email.

No one knew about this change request until after round 1 had started because the correct (or changed) lineup of Texas Tech was NOT posted for others to see. No team was aware of the after the deadline switch. I caught this by accident only because Texas Tech happened to play right next to Webster B team and I saw these two GM sitting in reversed order.

Changes cannot be made after the deadline, especially after all other team final rosters were submitted, published, and posted. This obviously would create unfair disadvantages to all other teams which play by the rules. This is like knowing the answers before taking a test. That is why a deadline was created to be fair to all the teams.

On top of this, Texas Tech A team also has a sub so Texas Tech could play the sub if there is a problem by chance the two teams meet. This is what is done in every team event across the United States and around the world. This is why teams have sub(s). There is no basis for allowing this change. None!

This deadline for roster submission has long been established and enforced, including the PanAm, which is a FIDE rated event.

When I found out about this which was a few minutes after the round started, I lodged a complaint and my complaint was denied. The official excuse? “Humanitarian Reason”. This rule must be broken because an Iranian player must NOT play against an Israeli player, even though GM Bykhovsky and GM Moradiabadi were teammates last year, and they DID play against each other in Texas 11 months earlier at the 2012 Lubbock Open in Lubbock, Texas. 

It is NOT “Humanitarian Reason” when Texas Tech has a sub and he is at the tournament hall. If by a small chance Texas Tech meets Webster B team somewhere down the line, the sub can be inserted and GM Moradiabadi could sit out to avoid the forfeit loss, if he refuses to play against an Israeli Jewish player. But this is all hypothetical.

Again, there is absolutely no reason for the rules to be broken. Texas Tech should have never made this request and the Chief Arbiter should have never granted this request. The request was clearly done to enhance their chances of winning the tournament or making the Final Four. This is clearly not a “Humanitarian Reason.”

Below is the rating crosstable which can be found on the official USCF website (


On top of this, some students from Webster University were ridiculed and insulted for wanting to play by the rules. Unfortunately, I was told point blank that once the decision was made, it is final and the decision will not be changed.

This is an excellent life lesson for students of SPICE at Webster University. We are often asked why top players from all over the world want to come to the #1 ranked program SPICE and Webster University, and their decisions are very much supported by their parents and families.

The reason is simple. Not only these students / players will receive excellent higher education from Webster University, they are also given the opportunity to improve their chess skills while learning important life lessons. We always preach to our students to respect the game of chess, be professional, and conduct themselves with high level of integrity.

When faced with the same exact situation last year by having GM Elshan Moradiabadi on our team facing the strong team from Baltimore with an Israeli player, IM Sasha Kaplan, we did not ask for any exception. If GM Moradiabadi had to face IM Kaplan in the National Final Four Championship, he must make a decision to play or to forfeit. But as coaches of the team, GM Polgar and I would never ask for the rules to be broken. We respect the game of chess too much to do this.

Chess should be above the world political nonsense and rules should be respected. That is my opinion as the coach of the team. Winning should not be at all costs and turning a blind eye  to benefit you personally is also not OK. This is wrong. As educators, we must teach our students the right value. This is what I will continue to preach to my all my players and I am proud of it.

Paul Truong
Coach of the #1 ranked Webster University Chess Team

Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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