By IA Kerry Stead
Sportsmanship in Chess … Magnus Carlsen – Play Fair & Play Well
In the current world, with its travel restrictions, social distancing & other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, chess has been largely restricted to online-only events. This has applied for both top-level events, as well as those for the rest of us & many of the world’s super-grandmasters have spent their lockdown/restricted time playing in online events. One such event was the recent Chessable Masters, which was an event featuring twelve of the top players in the world in a Rapid event (15 mins + 10s/move increment), played initially in two round robin groups, followed by a knockout starting with the final eight players.
One critical rule of the tournament was the following rule in relation to disconnections:
In case a player is disconnected from the playing server, his clock will keep running. The player will have all his allotted time to reconnect and continue the game. If the player fails to reconnect before his flag falls, he shall lose the game. The Chief Arbiter may decide otherwise in exceptional circumstances.
The event had been running smoothly until the Semi-finals, where the matches featured Magnus Carlsen v Ding Liren & Anish Giri v Ian Nepomniachtchi. In the first game of the Carlsen-Ding match, the players reached a drawn rook & pawn endgame (diagram 1), where Carlsen’s passed a-pawn was neutralised by Ding’s extra king-side pawn, when Ding’s internet connection dropped out! He did not reconnect until after his time had elapsed, so Carlsen was awarded the win & was now up 1-0 in the 4-game match.
Magnus’s response to this was to ensure that the score was evened out after game 2 & in the process managed to be part of the fastest ever loss by a reigning World Champion! The ‘game’ went 1. c4 e6 2. g3 Qg5 3. Bg2 Qxd2+ 4. Qxd2 1-0 Commentators Yasser Seriwan, Sam Shankland & Anna Rudolf all commented on the sporting nature of the resignation by Carlsen. Afterwards Carlsen was asked about his decision to resign & he said that it was one way that he could make things right, although he would have preferred to simply go to a 0.5-0.5 score rather than a 1-1 score, but he felt it was the only way to make things right. He noted that in the final position of game 1, Ding had a number of reasonable moves, so it was not as though it was still tricky to achieve the draw, so splitting the point was the fairest result & given that he could not change the already awarded 1-0 result, resigning game two was the next best alternative. He also said that he preferred to win the match over the board, rather than because of a technicality.
Ultimately, Carlsen went on to both win the semi-final match against Ding, as well as the final against Anish Giri, to win the Chessable Masters event.
How can the idea of sportsmanship apply to your own games of chess? There are a number of ways that come to mind – simply being polite & courteous with your opponent would be an excellent start. Another way to shop good sportsmanship would be to (at least on the first or second occurrence) point out to your opponent if they forgot to press their chess clock when they had finished their move. A similar logic could also be applied if you made a move while your opponent was away from the board & they ask you what move you played – although by the rules you do not have to tell your opponent, it is good sportsmanship to do so.
Remember that at the end of the day, chess is a game, which is there to be played in good spirits & to be enjoyed, so play the game for a challenge, for fun, for enjoyment, but always playing it in a fair manner, just like Magnus Carlsen!