Friday, June 05, 2009

Chess and Sandbagging

Chess and Sandbagging

"You Sandbagger!" [Tony Cortizas to Mike Griffin at the 2009 Mass Open]

Check my tournament history and judge for yourself if you think I was sandbagging or not. I deny the accusation and let my record speak for itself. But what is sandbagging in chess?

sandbag definition d:
to conceal or misrepresent one's true position, potential, or intent especially in order to take advantage of

intransitive verb : to hide the truth about oneself so as to gain an advantage over another

Players who are unable to win in the open section of a tournament having to beat all comers sometimes engineer a way to play in a lower section in order to increase their chances dramatically to win prize money. Action to intentionally lower ones rating in order to qualify, or misrepresent ones true strength is called sandbagging. The term is also used in pool, golf, poker, probably any gambling game. In chess there are three basic ways to sandbag:

1. "Play UP" in tournaments: Most swiss tournaments allow players to play in the section higher than their ratings qualifies them for. So a player playing "UP" will probably face opponents 80% of the time higher rated than they are and thus probably lose more games, thus probably losing more rating points than they would if they played in their natural section. Although some statisticians in the crowd might claim that the rating system will compensate for the variance in probabilities to win or lose in such cases; my feeling is that a class section in a tournament is a closed population which would skew the probability for people playing up, thus increasing the probably of them losing points. Rating point loss in order to drop into a lower section in a high prize tournament in the future. Also coaches sometimes want their students to play up in order to face a better quality of chess for developmental reasons.

2. Throw chess games: Lose on purpose. I very rarely have seen a player play in such a way that I had the suspicion they intentionally threw a game. Except in the early 70's when only one player comes to mind. A BCC player who's rating hovered around 2000 but was the strongest 2000 I had ever seen. Yet I witnessed this person lose several times to 1600 players?! Interesting enough I asked a strong Mass Open player if they had ever seen what they thought was a thrown chess game for sandbagging. He was pretty sure he had seen it. And It's more than rumored that in the 1951 World Chess Championship David Bronstein threw games to Mikhail Botvinnik in order to protect his imprisoned father. Sandbagging to keep dad alive. Leon Trotsky's last name was really Bronstein BTW.

3. Misrepresent ones self either by A. using the false ID of a weaker player or B. registering in a foreign country that has a different governing body, perhaps being so outrageous as to even claim one is unrated.

A. To George Mirijamian this is his biggest fear as a director: as there is no rule to require a player to show ID when registering. So a player could steal an identity, although if that person misrepresents themselves and collects winnings they are committing fraud. George feels there is nothing to preclude a stranger to go to a remote part of the country and do this. And you don't even have to be a member of the USCF!?

B. I have witnessed several cases of people with eastern block accents claim they have no FIDE rating, or understate their FIDE rating. Several years back, at a Continental Chess Tournament in Woburn, the class B section had a 2000+ FIDE rated player enter and play several rounds before being discovered. And although the person's games later were forfeited, the mere fact the guy competed in the section messed up the outcome of that section big time. A variant of this is to rejoin the USCF with a slightly different name and start over again where not known.

There was a fourth way that I consider ok, in the old days: a local Boston chess player could travel out to the then "boonies" of Western Mass to play say in the Palmer Open and know that their rating relative to the locals was deflated because the Boston population of players would have stronger players within their common playing group, thus be deflated when compared to a distant population pool. Except for New Yorkers in those days. And New Yorkers traveling up to a tournament, say in Sturbridge MA, would have an advantage over a Boston player because of the same phenomenon. But today with the internet, better and more books, instruction materials everywhere, and good coaches, this geographical effect is no longer significant. When the future world champ Magnus Carlsen can come from Norway having only one soccer playing grandmaster Simen Agdestein as his coach, it indicates that globalization has extended to chess wisdom.

And the classic gambling in speed chess: smart players will sandbag by just winning enough on the plus side to keep the weaker player thinking they could have a win if they only had a break. I was warned by my great uncle and BCC member Justin "Ducky" Power to look out if when gambling and your mental state is: "If I only had a little break cash in, get up, and walk away, as you are being hustled. In the 70's teenager Jim Rizzitano was an artist at this winning lunch money regularly while playing at the Boston Chess Studio on Newbury Street.

Do you think you've seen players throw games.

What do you think about sandbagging?

Please Comment. Thank You

Mike Griffin


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