Kibitzing with the Poisoned Pawn – The Arbiter

The Pawn recently had the misfortune to play in an (otherwise very pleasant) event in a continental city.

They like to keep the exact time of the rounds a closely guarded secret at these events, so the Pawn took a rough stab at 9.30 as a probable sort of start for the second (morning) round, and strolled down to the hotel breakfast at 9.00, to be met by a tide of humanity coming the other way. It seemed these people imagine it is possible to play chess at nine o’clock in the morning. Well, that can only be done with the proper coffee and victuals inside one, so the Pawn made an only slightly hurried breakfast and wandered up ready to play at 9.20 or so, only to find that his board was deserted.

A bit of enquiry elicited the information that this particular event had changed the hallowed default time of one hour to fifteen minutes and that the Pawn had been defaulted for the first time in his 42-year career.

The following exchange took place with the arbiter. Words in blue represent the Pawn’s unspoken thoughts.

Arbiter:            Did you not hear ze announcement I made before ze first round?

Pawn:  No, I must have missed it. I’m so sorry. (Of course I didn’t you stupid c***. If I was usually here at the start of rounds I wouldn’t need to know when the bloody default time was, now would I?)

Arbiter:            And haff you not read ze tournament conditions? (gestures at a couple of pages of mimeographed German small print on the wall)

Pawn:  No, I must have missed them. It’s entirely my fault. (THEY’RE IN GERMAN YOU BELL END. If we hadn’t been so decent after the war you’d all be speaking bloody English anyway.)

Arbiter:            Zis information vos also on ze tournament vebsite.

Pawn:  Ah yes. What a pity you didn’t put them in the English part. (Then I’d have known not to darken the doors of your bloody country in the first place.)

Arbiter:            I haff just returned from arbiting European Club Cup in Plovdiv. Zere ve had zero tolerance and (proudly) do you know zere vere no defaults?

Pawn:  Jolly good. But presumably the real test is whether it made the event more enjoyable for the players. I wonder if you’ve asked any of them?

Arbiter:            (looks baffled and then, regretfully) I haff asked your opponent if he vanted ze forfeit or iff he vanted to play. But he vanted ze forfeit. (spreads hands with air of helplessness and assumes air of expecting praise for this titanic effort).

Pawn:  Oh, that was very kind. Thank you. (Perhaps he thought he was Nigel Short. Anyway if instead of asking him whether he wanted to play you’d dragged your fat arse down to the breakfast room one floor down and asked me if I would care to step upstairs and play 1 e4 before returning to my breakfast we’d all have been a lot better off.) Never mind. What time is the next round?

Arbiter:            Too o’clock.

Pawn:  Gosh. Given that it’s a five-hour session, isn’t that a little quick to be starting again?

Arbiter:            Sorry. I meant zree o’clock.

Pawn:  Not to worry. Easy mistake to make.

(There is a whooshing noise as the force of this last observation passes over the arbiter’s head. The scene ends.)


Anyway the Pawn, battling stoutly as ever, forced his way back into contention for the prize list and found himself contending for the twelfth and last prize with a ten-year-old from Norway, who had benefited from another default over an equally baffled local IM in the final round. After a hard-fought victory in that round had hoisted him onto the same score, the Pawn consulted the regulations and saw that the tie was to be broken by sum of opponents’ scores. Excellent, he thought, after a bit of calculation, and mentally chalked up thirty euros or some such sum. Ah no, said ze arbiter, ze game where you defaulted does not count for ze calculations, zo I am afraid ze other player is half a point ahead. But what about the game where he won by default, protested the Pawn, viewing the calculations. Ah no, said ze arbiter. Zis rule iss only for ze player who loosses by default. Ze player who vins by default gets ze opponent’s score as normal.

Suitably chastened, ze Pawn slunk away. On the bright side, though, the Pawn’s score only fell short as a result of his erstwhile conqueror going down in a tricky ending in the last round. Anyone can lose the notorious ending as Black with rook against rook, f and h pawns, and the White player was a grizzled veteran with lots of experience of these pressure situations. Given that Black started out in the approved posture with king on g7 and rook on a1 however, and had in addition no fewer than three pawns of his own, on f5, f6 and h6, one did feel that some sort of resistance might have been possible. Instead the gentleman, showing the wisdom of his decision not to tackle the Pawn, lost all his pawns one by one and then, rather than subject his technique to a further examination, resigned in a position which was still a book draw, as another greybeard from Latvia or somewhere they taught proper endgame technique in the fifties swiftly demonstrated. This may have cost the Pawn thirty euros, but it was worth it to see Nigel’s discomfiture.



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