Monday, January 23, 2006

Thursday Night Controversy

We had a bit of an incident just prior to the 3rd round of this month's Thursday Night Illinois Swiss which prompted a rather lengthy letter from Jason Rihel. Prior to posting it below, let me make an attempt to describe what happened.

There were an odd number of competitors planning to play the 3rd Round in the Open section necessitating the need to give one a full point bye instead of a game. According to the rules, the bye is awarded to the player with the lowest score who has not previously been given a full point bye. If two or more players share the low score, the lowest rated player receives the bye. In this particular case, only one player had zero points after two rounds and therefore he was scheduled to receive the bye.

Not wishing to take his bye in lieu of a game, this player chose instead to re-enter the tournament (by paying a new entry fee) with half-point byes in Rounds 1 & 2. This now gave him one point after two rounds which left him tied for the lowest score with Jason Rihel. Though Jason is rated higher, according to the tournament director, a full point bye can not be given to a re-entry. Therefore, Jason was now scheduled to receive the bye.

Needless to say he was not particularly pleased with this turn of events. An animated discussion ensued in which several options were discussed, e.g, Jason could re-enter the tournament and push the bye up to the next player in line, everyone in the tournament could re-enter forcing the bye back to the original player (but, of course, this would make no sense for players with more than one point). Finally, the issue was resolved when a player in the lower section agreed to take a full point bye and Bernardo (who is the TD and was playing in the lower section) agreed to take a half point bye in the lower section and play as the "houseman" in the Open section. While this proved to be a satisfactory answer at the moment, it is still clear that the re-entry resulted in another player getting "screwed out" of a game (not to mention a reshuffling of the pairings in both the Open and Under sections).

With this background covered, here is Jason's letter:

I am, perhaps irrationally, still really angry about what transpired at the BCC this past Thursday, when [Alexander] Paphitis re-entered to avoid his third round bye. By doing this, he slaps me with a bye 15 minutes before the round is supposed to start, when I fully expected to play my 3rd round game. [Alexander] knew he was destined for a bye for the whole week, and Bernardo even called him that afternoon to inform him of his likely bye. Instead of accepting his well earned bye, he shows up at the club 15 minutes before the round is supposed to start and re-enters the tournament to avoid his bye.

I am especially angry because after the round, I confronted him and asked that he, in the future, might show a little more consideration for other players, who also would like to play their games. At the VERY LEAST, he could have indicated his desire to re-enter a week in advance, so that I might be aware of my pending bye fate. He refused to admit that he even did anything rude at all, which just infuriates me. When my own bad play earns me an early bye, I take my lumps instead of sticking them to other players who might deserve to play more (either because they have scored some points or they have earned over time a higher rating).

For example, how would [Alexander] have felt if the situation were slightly different? In round 2, [Alexander] has the game of his life against a master, and he wins, while I lost my game in round 2. He now has 1 point, and I have 0. I am getting the bye, and [Alexander] has earned the right to keep playing. However, I come to round 3, [Alexander] is already sitting at the board, setting up his pieces, relaxing after his commute to the tournament. Suddenly, I declare that I am re-entering, which gives me 1 point to his 1 point, and now HE is slapped with the bye, as his rating is lower. He could now do two things:

1) Get his just desserts and go home

2) Take the really stupid step of paying to re-enter, giving him the SAME SCORE OF 1 POINT, and then slapping someone else with the full point bye. In some cases, this would mean that a person who has 1.5 or 2 points out of 2 would have gotten the bye.

In fact, such silliness could have happened on Thursday when [Alexander] re-entered like he did: If I then re-entered, that would have given Sullivan the bye. If he paid to re-enter, then Salomon would have gotten the bye, then Salomon re-enters, giving Godin the bye, and then Godin re-enters, giving one of the players with 2 out of 2 a free bye, which they gladly take.

In other words, by ponying up the entry fee again, [Alexander] bullied us into the same -- you want to play round 3, you have to pay. As most of us are paying 17 dollars to play some chess, not really to win, this just doesn't seem fair.

As a result of Thursday, I think that the BCC must consider more carefully rules about re-entering tournaments, especially for a 4 round event. The rule could be quite simple -- you only get 1 bye, and you have to declare it before round 2. Or if you want to re-enter, you have to declare it a week in advance. At any rate, it is more than just silly to have a player enter half a tournament and have any hope of winning the money. Would this happen in any other competition (OK, I guess in ice skating Michelle Kwan got to be on the Olympic team without qualifying, but that is different)? This late re-entry is also odd in small events with only 10 people, as it could force situations that give the tournament leaders a full point bye.

This also means that the bye rules should be expressly stated for each BCC event. Check out the Marshall Chess Club in New York City -- to avoid confusion, they make it very clear when you must declare byes, and how many you can get. Presumably to avoid such conflicts as the one on Thursday, players rated below 2000 are only allowed one bye in most events there.

I just think that re-entering to avoid a bye in the third round is an abuse of the "right" to re-enter events (which I did not see granted by the USCF in any of the rules, by the way) and should be eliminated.

To highlight the abuse potential, I'm keeping my eyes peeled now for opportunities to force [Alexander] to take a third round bye. In fact, I could go so far as to pay the re-entry fee of multiple players if it slaps [Alexander] with a bye. And I'll wait until round 3 is about to start, and see how he likes it.

Of course this is just silly and spiteful. Shouldn't the BCC adopt rules that keep players cordial?


I agree with Jason that this issue needs to be addressed. However, I'm not sure that messing with the bye rules is the answer. We have many players who have unpredictable work schedules who benefit from the ability to take a bye or two when necessary (myself included). I haven't really seen any abuse of this kind from them. Further, we already have a rule in place requiring early declaration of last round byes to ensure that tournament leaders don't take byes in the last round to secure prize money without playing.

Instead, I would be more inclined to put prohibitions on re-entries. Re-entries are extremely rare in our tournaments in any case. In fact, I can only recall one other re-entry and it involved the same player (surely there are others that I am not aware of, but it is nonetheless uncommon). It's not as if our puny prize funds would ever justify paying an additional entry to take a shot at a big payday. Therefore, I would propose that the tournament committee consider the following proposals: 1) Do not allow re-entries at BCF events or 2) Do not allow re-entries after the beginning of Round 2 at BCF events.

I can think of only two counter-arguments. First, as a struggling not-for-profit shouldn't we be happy to take in every extra entry fee we can? Second, will we still let players who have not previously entered the tournament enter before Round 3 with two half point byes? If so, isn't this essentially the same thing as re-entering?

As to the money, as a Board Member familiar with club financials I am hesitant to shut off a potential revenue stream (as small as it is). However, allowing abuses in tournaments will only reduce tournament attendance in the future. Regarding the other questions, my answers are "yes" and "so what."

Now, it's your turn to weigh in...

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