Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Fix Is In St Louis

Much is being written these days concerning the proliferation of draws in chess. For example, on the forum section of the USCF website there are three pages of comments regarding Greg Shahade's article, Greg on Chess: Stop the Draw. ( There are articles on every major chess website, and minor ones, too. Many different ideas are being proposed. The only one implemented thus far to have been proven to work seems to be the awarding of 3 points for a win and only one point for a draw. As I have written, I would prefer different points for each different result. For example, 1 1/2 points for a draw with White; 2 points for a draw with Black; 3 points for a win with White; and 4 points for a win with Black. This would end the last round 'group hugs' seen at so many large events. It would also reward the unfortunate player who has to play with the Black pieces three times in a five round swiss.
This past weekend at the Missouri State Championship GM Ben Finegold offered a draw to his opponent after 1 e4 c6. His opponent was his son, Spencer. Ben writes about it on his blog, in a post entitled, 'And the winner is...', at the St. Louis Chess & Scholastic Center website. (
Ben writes about the 'game', and I use the term very loosely, "I “played” Spencer in round 4, if you can call 1.e4 c6! draw agreed playing. I thought I pretty much equalized and did not see the point of playing any further." I guess this is his attempt at humor. I seriously doubt if any of the other competitors in contention found it amusing. Ben goes on to write about his last round game, "The last round was a Finegoldesque squeeze as my opponent, Mark Ferber, chose a dubious variation that I used to play." "Finegoldesque squeeze" could be interpeted another way, since Mr. Ferber had three points going into the last round, as did NM Richard Benjamin and Spencer Finegold. While the Finegold family rested after their 'draw' in round four, Mr. Benjamin and Mr. Ferber had to spend that time actually sitting at the board, playing chess. The last round advantage obviously rested with the Finegold's. Thus, the 'squeeze'.
Many years ago IM (of GM strength, something that used to be said about Ben Finegold)Boris Kogan emigrated with his family from what used to be part of the Soviet Union, the 'Evil Empire' according to President Ronald Reagan. He settled in Atlanta and was the strongest chess player in the South. His son, Mike, also played in chess tournaments and was strong enough to become a NM. They met many times in tournaments in Atlanta, and possibly in other tournaments in the South. I cannot recall one instance of Boris giving his son a draw, especially one in which only one move was played! I believe the Legendary Georgia Ironman, Tim Brookshear, and the impresario of Southern chess, Thad Rogers, as well as many others, will attest to that fact. Playing five games over a two days, as it was back then, or even three, beginning Friday night, was tough on Boris, who was a middle-aged man upon coming to Georgia. He could have opted for a quick draw with his son, and some much needed rest, but refused to do so. Consider what happened at the Columbia Open in the Great state of South Carolina this past weekend. GM LUBOMIR FTACNIK lost in the third round Saturday night to ALEXANDER MATROS. Lubomir is 53 years of age now, no longer a spring chicken. In the last round, two much younger players, NM Chris Mabe and the aforementioned Matros agreed to a nine move draw, probably thinking the GM would win and they would tie for first. But ALEXANDER ZELNER, with 3 1/2 points going into the last round, had other ideas. He beat the GM and finished in first place, a half point ahead of 'no guts & no glory' Mabe and Matros.
Bobby Fischer railed against Soviet collusion and his allegations have been proven correct over time, as many former Soviet players have written about how the 'fix was in'. Boris had too much integrity to stoop to such a level. Yet what we have here in St. Louis is an instance of a GM doing the exact same thing Bobby Fischer used to vilipend so vehemently!
Ben Finegold even has the audacity to write at the conclusion of his blog, "An excellent tournament for Spencer, who broke 2100 for the first time." Well, yeah, it is much easier to have "an excellent tournament" when one is able to rest Sunday morning in lieu of working hard at the board! And the rating points come quickly when your GM father donates them to you without playing a game! The Finegold cartel took two of the top prizes at the tournament with their colusion. Why would any strong player want to come to St. Louis and play having to compete with this?
At the beginning of his blog post, GM Finegold writes, "I decided to play at the last possible moment, after my long travels and moving into a new apartment almost dissuaded me from going for the $500 first prize. But, as Tatev Abrahamyan has told me on several occasions, “$500!!” He ends it with, "Tatev was right… $500 feels good!" I realize there is little money in chess, and we are in a depression the establishment calls a 'recession', but is GM Finegold not the Grandmaster in residence at the St. Louis Chess & Scholastic Center? Does he receive a stipend? If so, is it not enough for him to have to resort to collusion with his son to 'earn' an extra $500?
The St. Louis Chess Club also bills itself as a 'Scholastic Center'. Rex Sinquefield, the filthy rich man who has given the money for the place is, from what I have read, justifiably proud of what is happening with regard to scholastic chess in his city. He, and his chess & scholastic center, have won many awards from chess organizations, and no doubt others of which I am not aware. St. Louis is leading the way for the rest of the US as far as chess is concerned, according to what I read online and in foreign chess magazines. Yet, what kind of example is being set in St. Louis? What if, during the fourth round at a scholastic tournament, one young player offers his best friend, rated 500 points lower, a draw after only one move? What happens when you tell the players they cannot do that because it is against the rules of chess, and they fire back with, "GM Finegold and his son do it!"
Rule 14B6 of the USCF Official Rules of Chess is: "Premature or prearranged draws. It is unethical and unsporting to agree to a draw before a serious contest has begun. The same is true of all arrangements to prearrange game results. In case of clear violations of the moral principles of the game, penalties should be imposed at the director's discretion. See also 20L, Manipulating results." It says: "Collusion to fix or throw games, whether before or during the game, in order to manipulate prize money, title norms, ratings, or for any other purpose is illegal and may result in severe sanctions, including revocation of USCF membership. Such agreemants include arrangemants to split prize money no matter what the result of the game."
The TD should have forfeited the Finegold family for their egregious breech of the rules! But, since the GM is the 'big dog', except when Hikaru is around I suppose, and paid by the man with the deep pockets, I can see that it would be rather difficult for a TD to follow the rules. Certainly the pooh-bahs at USCF should take some kind of action, if it is to only vacate the rating result of the so-called 'game' between the Finegolds. The sad fact is that if you put all of the pooh-bahs of USCF together, you will not have enough material for even half a cojones!
When I was in the seventh grade there was a fellow class member named Clifford. He was 16 and still in grammar school, so it is obvious he was not the brighest bulb on the tree. He towered over the rest of us and got his way, since we knew he could put a hurtin' on all of us combined! One day we were outside at recess playing soft-ball when Clifford decided he wanted to play. He grabbed a bat and got in the batter's box and hit the ball over the fence. The next batter stepped up, thinking Clifford would hand him the bat. Clifford let the poor boy now in no uncertain terms that he wanted to hit a few more. "But that ain't the way we play the game," protested the little fella. "It's the way I play the game, squirt." But, as Bob Dylan wrote, "You gotta serve somebody." The principal kicked Clifford out of school and we rejoiced! Is there anyone who will step up to the plate and put an end to the big dogs of chess? Are people so afraid that Rex will stop sinquefielding money into chess that they let him do what ever he pleases? None of the man's largesse has, or will come, my way, so I will speak out. Is there anybody out there in chess land with enough cojones to do the same?


Walter High said...

I find the idea of pre-arranged draws distasteful for many of the reasons pointed out in this blog. I came to chess at a late age (57) and from the world of track & field. What astounded me was the idea of elective byes being given in a competition! I couldn't believe someone could elect not to play a round a be awarded a 1/2 point towards prize money! I quickly found out that elective byes were considered standard in chess and that wasn't going to change.

Now that I am an organizer myself (North Carolina Open, Sept. 2-4, Charlotte, NC), I have at least a little control over what happens. I limit players to one bye and it cannot be taken in the last round. I don't like the idea of someone backing into a prize by refusing to play the last round. Another idea someone has mentioned to me is that next year I should not permit titled players any elective byes if they are getting a free entry.

Any thoughts?

Walter High
Vice-President, North Carolina Chess Association

Anonymous said...

Who would have thought that the most complicated part of chess would be the scoring system!?

Concerning the Finegold draw, it's already against the rules to have rearranged draws. At least with grandmaster draws, they act like they played to circumvent this rule.

This is what the USCF Rule Book - 5th edition, has to say:

14B6. Premature or Prearranged draws. It is unethical and unsporting to agree to a draw before a serious contest has begun. The same is true of all arrangements to prearrange game results. In case of clear violations of the moral principles of the game, penalties should be imposed at the director's discretion. See also 20L. Manipulating results.

20L Manipulating Results. Collusion to fix or throw games, whether before or during the game, in order to manipulate prize money, title norms, ratings, or for any other purpose is illegal and may result in severe sanctions, including revocation of USCF membership. Such agreements include arrangements to split prize money no matter what the result of the game. See also Chapter 6, USCF Code of Ethics.

The guy who lost to Finegold could have filed a protest, but now it's too late. However, it does sound like someone could still file a complaint with the USCF. I can't imagine any more clear case of manipulating the results by agreeing to a draw.

Anonymous said...

How do you know the Finegold's agreed to a draw before the game?

Ray said...

As a former TD of a tournament you played in, I can say that you are absolute scum Bacon. You are everything wrong with the chess community. And after dealing with the fallout from your stupid temper tantrums when played at the club, I can assure you, without mincing words, that there are few people that like or even respect you, in the chess community. You whine and bitch about everything. Why don't you just shut up and worry about playing your own games. You spend way too much time worrying about what other people do. I am sure keeping track of Michael Bacon is a full time job in and of itself. Quite frankly, I am surprised you are able to correctly put pants on in the morning.

Anonymous said...

Just fantasizing about an alternate scoring system in an alternate universe (meaning that it would never happen here), but instead of fighting the draws, why not steer into it. Reward Black with a full point for a draw and a win. Give White a point only for a win. There will be no 1/2 points. The pressure would be on White to mix things up and go for the win. It's crazy I know, but it might make for some interesting games.

PS: I enjoy your BaconLOG. Keep on writing.

Anonymous said...

Could it be that the Grandmaster offered a draw to his son on the first move to ascertain whether the young man was ready to 'man-up' and challenge his father? I went to the St. Louis Chess Club website and checked Ben's Blog. He has written nothing on the matter. The only statement from anyone at the club would seem to be the scurrilous personal attack by a tournament director at the club, Ray. If this is an example of the kind of tournament director I will find at the St. Louis Chess Club, I can assure you that I, for one, will never play, or visit, the club.

It seems to me that Mr. Bacon is asking a question of the chess community. Are we, as a community, to allow only one move to constitute a game?

Mr. Bacon continues to write about subjects that no one else is willing to discuss. He asks probing questions that make me think. As far as I am concerned his blog is the most interesting chess blog on the web. Keep up the good work, Mr. Bacon, and do not let these small minded people, like Ray, deter you!

Anonymous said...

How interesting that this 'Ray' character never bothered to even mention the Finegold collusion, instead just launching a personal attack on Mr. Bacon. But I am not surprised at the USCF's lack of spine in this; they have never impressed me all that much...