Traps, Tricks & Mistakes: Writing Notes

An unusual situation shook the chess world in 2015. It was during the U.S. Championship. The event took place at the emblematic Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Sant Louis. The championship consisted of 11 rounds played from March 31st to April 14th. Only two participants had a rating over 2700: GM Wesley So and GM Hikaru Nakamura. But the principal actor in this story is Wesley So. He stunningly lost his game in round nine. His opponent was GM Varuzhan Akobian.

Below are the moves of that game.

You will wonder why So lost after just 6 moves. He was taking notes on a separate sheet of paper underneath his scoresheet. Akobian informed the chief arbiter, Tony Rich. He claimed that So wrote something on a piece of paper and disturbed him. And the arbiter forfeited So. According to Rich, the notes were words of “general encouragement and advice”. Rich explained that “So’s notes were not moves. There were notes a player might write if he is nervous. Things like using your time and game management.”

Relevant FIDE Laws of Chess on this subject state:

    8.1b The scoresheet shall be used only for recording the moves, the times of the clocks, offers of a draw, matters relating to a claim and other relevant data.
    11.3 During play the players can not to use any notes, sources of information or advice, or analyse any game on another chessboard.
    11.5 It is forbidden to distract or annoy the opponent in any manner whatsoever.
    11.7 Persistent refusal by a player to comply with the Laws of Chess shall be penalized by loss of the game.

Apparently, So knew that taking notes on the scoresheet is not allowed. However, that did not preclude him from taking notes on a separate piece of paper. After the incident, So wrote: “I have been having trouble concentrating so I wrote a note to myself on a piece of paper. Not on my scoresheet”.

This is not incidental in So’s career. Research carried out by shows that he made the same mistake previously. Even three times in the present event!:

    In round one against GM Daniel Naroditsky. So wrote at the bottom of his scoresheet “Use your time you have a lot of it”. Nevertheless, there was no official complaint.
    In round two, against GM Sam Shankland. So wrote: “Sit down for the entire game. Never get up”. When Shankland complained to the chief arbiter, So accepted to show his notes and agreed to cross them out.
    In round three. The arbiter noticed So again taking notes. He gave him a second official warning. And informed So that a third instance would result in forfeiture.

Paul Troung is a former So’s coach. He explains that he often warned him not to take notes during games. “This is exactly what I told Wesley three years ago,” Truong said. “He always writes notes to himself. We told him this is against FIDE rules… We discussed this issue at least a dozen times. He had a smile and thought nobody’s going to complain about it.”

Dear readers, do not put your games at risk. Do not use the scoresheet for writing your comments or feelings. Never make the same mistake as Wesley So did.

Nairobi Chess Club site closed again until further notice due to the COVID pandemic. Nevertheless, if you want to play chess, you are lucky. Our virtual club regularly organizes online tournaments and matches. More than 390 members enjoy that chance. New tournaments will start soon. And there is Blitz every Wednesday and Saturday. Join now! Limited slots!.
Besides all of that, a new overseas match against the English Camberley Chess Club is scheduled for Jun.6th. 10 members of Nairobi Chess Club will have the privilege to play.
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