Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Armageddon in Nalchik

I've just been watching edited highlights of the Armageddon game between Monika Socko and Sabine Foisor in round one of the Women's World Championship in Nalchik.

Monika Socko of Poland had White and six minutes to win, playing against Sabina Foisor of Romania who had Black and five minutes to get a draw. It came down to a clock-thumping finale which was caught on film by a bystander. The final minute or so can be seen as part of this report on ChessBase.

The moves were being blitzed out as a tremendous rate with pieces being knocked over right left and centre. It came down to king and knight versus king and knight and a few seconds later Foisor's time ran out ("flag fall" in old terminology, though there is no flag on digital clocks).

The arbiters on the spot ruled that the game was drawn on the grounds that White could not force a win, though it is possible for Black to allow herself to be mated (e.g. wKc7, wNb6, bKa8, bNa7 - later note: credit to Sean Hewitt for noticing that the original position I gave here was not checkmate! I have moved the black knight from b8 to a7...). However, this is not the most logical interpretation of article 9.6 of the laws of chess ("the game is drawn when a position is reached from which a checkmate cannot occur by any possible series of legal moves, even with the most unskilled play...") and the appeal committee overruled the arbiters and awarded White a win.

However, one thing that nobody else seems to have noticed so far is that Foisor could have forced a draw in the final sequence. I reconstructed the game from the video and the diagram on the left above shows a position which arose just before the end. The game proceeded: 1...Ke6 2 Nc5+ Kf5 3 Nd3 Ke4 4 Nb4?? and now we reach the position on the right, above. Amazingly, Black didn't snap off White's knight with 4...Nxb4 which would have given her the draw she needed to qualify, but played 4...Kd4?? 5 Nc6+ Kc5 6 Ne5 Kd6 7 Nd3 Nf6 8 Nf4 Nd5 at which point Black lost on time. In truth, it is very hard to see the actual moves played but I'm pretty sure they were as above. I do hope poor Sabina Foisor doesn't watch the video as she will be kicking herself for missing a 'draw in one'.


  1. How depressing to read about this travesty in manners in such an important contest related in so churlish a fashion. Is no thought given to article 12.1? Chess is supposed to be a game played by Ladies and Gentlemen. That it could be considered as anything other than proper to declare the result of such a competition to be a draw is beyond dispute to a man of any moral standing. Reading this article reminds me very precisely why I withdrew from playing competitive chess. Awarding a draw by considering a world championship candidate to have all the skill of a gerbil is revolting in the extreme. What can be attractive about a sport dominated by those with such feverish willpower to uphold with pride the most base of rules. Shame!

  2. Well said anonymous - to a point. The rules apply to all players, however. In my local league I am fairly certain the players would have agreed a draw, irrespective of how lowly graded either of them might be, and would certainly not have waited for an 'arbiter' to declare a result.
    FIDE has brought about this situation by having ridiculous time controls, but that is another debate...

  3. Absurdities like this occur when absurdities like Makropoulos chair the Appeals Committee

  4. Alex Baburin and Stephen Boyd in Chess Today had a different view, and one which I'd agree with, which is that the rules exist and should be applied. Moreover, they have to be applied - because if one person qualifies as a result of them being igored, another person will then be denied qualification which under the rules should have been theirs. They will then, of course, have every right to complain that FIDE do not uphold the rules.

    It's quite possible that the rules should be other than they are, but Alex also observed that at least this way, they are not the subject of interpretation by the arbiter, inviting appeals and counterappeals. I'm not sure I totally agree with this (after all, there was an appeal) but it's a reasonable position to take, I think: and these were, after all, experienced players who could be expected to know the rules and play with them in mind. A great deal easier, of course, for me to say that for them to do.

    It's not clear to me that the FIDE time control (of which I am no fan) is particularly cuplable here: it's certainly clear that it's nothing to do with any fault on the part of Makropolous, of whom I am no admirer either. But I am an admirer of applying the rules as written, especially where it would hurt one party just as much if they were ignored (also see the Carlsen-not-world-number-two palaver, in which it seemed to escape people's attention that breaking the rules to promote one player would penalise another) and even more so where the situation that arose was, as Mr Boyd observes, precisely the one which the framers of the rule had in mind.

    By all means criticse the rule: by all means change it. But in the meantime it should be applied, and its correct application should not be used as a particularly weak stick with whom to bash people or institutions who we do not like.

  5. Incidentally, at York eight years ago I lost a blitz game to Keith Arkell on time when I had knight and pawn against knight. This seemed to me to be quite correct at the time, and seems to me to be quite correct now.

  6. ejh, the point is that these rules offer nothing to chess. This is a disgusting and perverse decision. This is not Chess, this is something else entirely.

    For Alexander Baburin in paticular to argue that if the rules are there they should be enforced is pure hypocrisy. The man who played a match against his student in secret to "qualify" for the Irish Olympiad team cannot make such a statement without being open to ridicule.

    Rule 12.1 should clearly be applied.

  7. Well, let's see.

    This is an event that should only occur in a blitz game. In a full-length or even rapidplay game, black will either have increment/delay time (thus making the draw trivial) or will have the opportunity to make a 10.2 claim, which would be granted immediately.

    It seems, in fact, that the main culprit here is the knockout tournament format. The original game or match between Socko and Foisor was evidently a draw; this Armageddon game was being used to artificially create a decisive result for it. And, indeed, the draw-odds rule was being used to artificially create a decisive result for the Armageddon game - were it not that a black win and a draw were functionally identical (knocking white out), white would have accepted a draw long ago.

  8. For Alexander Baburin in paticular to argue that if the rules are there they should be enforced is pure hypocrisy.

    That's a view, but is it a view that should be expressed anonymously?

  9. The rules are open to interpretation, but I have always believed that the intention of the rules was that the least skilled player should mean one who gives all their pieces away and not one who cleverly positions them to allow checkmate. Therefore, K + N vs K + N should be a draw. However, I think there is a complicating factor here. If the moves as reported are correct then Black declined a draw, by not playing NxN. In these circumstances White could claim that Black was playing for a win and by doing so risks losing as indeed they ended up doing.
    I tend to feel that the balance of evidence suggests the game should be declared a draw.

  10. Stewart Reuben asked me to post the following comment on his behalf:

    Armageddon games can be very important, as here in the Women’s World Championship. In the US Rules, a bare bishop or knight cannot win on time unless there is a forced mate. This can be several moves deep. e.g. black pawn h4, black king h1, white knight e3, king f2. 1 Ng4 h3 2 Kf1 h2 3 Nf2 mate.

    FIDE Laws do not provide for this possibility. I am hoping FIDE will agree to a new Law in Dresden.

    • Where there is adequate supervision of a blitz game, the Arbiter may step to declare a draw if commonsense requires it.
    • Examples include where neither player makes any claim:
    • setting the clock incorrectly
    • setting the pieces up incorrectly
    • a player leaving his king in check and his opponent not noticing
    • both players being in check
    • a pawn being promoted, but no replacement piece being put on the board
    • a pawn being promoted to a queen, but an upside-down rook being used
    • bare bishop
    • bare knight
    • bare two knights against bare king
    • multiple repetitions, four or more
    • bishops transposing diagonals
    • Pieces jumping over pieces. (In the last Hastings a slowplay game went 1 d4 Nf6, 2 c4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e3. A spectator noticed, pointed it out to the arbiter and this was corrected.)
    • a knight moving to its blind spot, for example Nf3 to Nd5

    Of course where a player makes an illegal move, his opponent can claim a win. We are referring to those situation where he does not do so.
    An arbiter who did not like the Law could always state that the supervision is not adequate. Indeed that would be true unless the arbiter is quite strong.

    The great problem is wording the Law.

    Stewart Reuben

  11. I just wanted to say thank you John, for your article on Chessbase regarding this subject. Very entertaining! In particular, I always get great pleasure from reading any Woody Allen quotes! :)

    Nice to see a proper picture of you as well. :)

  12. a pawn being promoted, but no replacement piece being put on the board

    Does this mean where somebody just leaves the pawn on the board? I had this happen to me just the other day, albeit in not very imnportant circumstances: but I've seen it happen in blitz finishes where the player has said "queen" and then moves it swiftly around the board with the opponent having to remember which of the other player's pawns is actually not one any more.

    I agree with the point in John's article about not having single Armageddon games. It's like penalty shootouts, you're going to get an imbalance sooner or later and it really doesn't matter all that much if you have to wait a bit first.

  13. I also (and independently) reconstructed the game fragment from the video and reached the same conclusion that Foisor missed a draw that would have won her the match - see post 27 at

    Concerning the general matter of armageddon finishes, the real problem in my view is the use of armageddon time controls that lack increments.

  14. It's sickening to have to come across another absurd dispute in such a high profile event like this and was ready to lamblast
    the IFOs, but on reading Jack Rudd's comment jocked me to my senses.

    This is an Armageddon game being used to 'artificially create a decisive result' period! So, illegal moves loses,
    indecisiveness loses, unwittingness loses, ignorance loses, sportingness loses, logic loses! This is not something for a
    faint heart. It's the end of the world, so the last and completely destructive battle, that's what Armageddon means. Nobody is interested and wants another standoff, another draw.

    Watching the video slowly, was there any illegalities, indecisiveness, unwittingness, ignorance, unsportingness,
    illogicalness? Yes, all these are glaringly apparent! Obviously lacking time had forced the players to be TRULY unskilled and
    not able to be aware enough to act according situations.

    Illegal moves
    Either player could have claimed illegal move and win the game if the pieces are knocked off their places or board and the clock pressed! I have watched many blitz games but it seems the players are very dumb as this stage and ignorant of the rules. All one has to do is stop the clock and ask him or her how he captured so many of your pieces in one move! "No! I did not capture anything!" comes the reply. "Then where are my pieces?" you ask. There were many such instances in the video.

    I like the part how Socko did it @1:49. Sooo smooooth! But Foisor repay her back 1 second later. Very unprofessional. That's
    an immediate and clear 1-0 to Socko.

    As John Saunders has already pointed out after Socko played Nd3-b4 @1:47 and Foisor did not play ...Nd5xb4 but instead
    ...Ke4-d4. And there many instances of Foisor trying to save her Knight!

    Will leave you all the fun to discover many other interesting bits.

    Obviously not in favour of what FIDE have done to our sacred beloved game through the introduction of ridiculous rules but until another time where there is a change at least there is no infringements of what is the current. It's not difficult to
    agree that what happened is not chess but there is no room for logic in this scenario. They just want someone that is more
    witting and cunning all else being equal.

    Also, it is better than a flip of the coin! Then we will have, "Someone opened the door as the coin was landing on heads and
    blew it the other way instead!" or "His sumo-coach stomped hard on the floor and caused the coin to flip the other side!" "I insist on a reflip!!!".

    P.S. In case of any misinterpretations, IFO is for 'incompetent foolish official'.

  15. It's not chess, it's not even the equivalent of a Penalty Shoout-out at Football, it's pure Farce.

    If you need a result use a Time Increment.

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