Tom McMillen
By Joel Benjamin   
March 8, 2007
Dear Mr.Benjamin,

Your column in Chess Life addressed something we have been discussing at the club recently. We are instituting the 'move before writing' rule, which some of our players (especially the youngsters) do not like. It was new to me, but after a few minutes reflection it seems like the only way to go. Consider this situation - you are at a 'big money' tournament like Foxwoods. You are playing in the 'A' division. Your opponent writes down his next move. His friend, a master, happens to walk over, pensively scratches his chin for a minute, then walks away. Two minutes later your opponent crosses out his move and make another. Would you be happy with this? And it would hardly be an unusual situation. A player walks over, gives a little shrug, a little grimace, (as players often do when watching others' games) and your opponent changes his move. I wouldn't like it.

Now if this thought occurred to me (and while a USCF expert I rarely play tournaments and never seriously), I'm sure it must have occurred to all serious tournament players, perhaps there is a good reason for it being dismissed. Is there anything I'm missing, if not, wouldn't that be a very valid reason for the change, for written as well as electronic scoring?

Tom McMillen-RI

You have brought up an interesting angle that was not even asserted, to my knowledge, by the framers of the motion. However, this strikes me as a very awkward and inefficient method of cheating. The confederate needs to pick a critical game-altering moment to intervene. Otherwise it would not be worth the risk - doing this repeatedly would become rather obvious and risk forfeiture. Furthermore, if the player hovered over a piece with his hand and the confederate made similar gestures, they would achieve the same effect.

Frankly, I would be more worried about a guy with a radio receiver and a fishing hat. But a rule that brings peace of mind to some players has a certain virtue. Having this rule on the books but giving organizers the option of utilizing it in their tournaments seems like a good compromise. However, many directors do not know that the rule is optional (as we have seen in this column, some have already enforced it prematurely) and players will often be confused whether the rule is used in the tournament they are playing in.

The one thing I am quite sure about is that the rule change is disastrous for scholastic chess. I can't be sure that all scholastic organizers will be wise enough to eschew the new rule. Given that scholastic chess represents a significant portion of rated play in America, I would still favor going back to letting everyone write the move down first.

Joel Benjamin