Bartek Macieja | September 06, 2011 3:01

Fair play (?) in the World Cup 2011

Yesterday, the news of a day was a draw offer in a winning endgame by David Navara, accepted by Alexander Moiseenko. Many commentators called both players honourable, some even composed pray songs. Mrs. Natalia Komarova, the Governor of Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug-Ugra, took a decision to establish a special prize of the World Cup - "Fair play", explaining: "No doubt that the whole world will highly appreciate the mutually noble deed of the Ukrainian and Czech chess players."

Was the truth really so bright? I have serious doubts about it.
Let's first collect facts of what exactly happened.

According to the explanations published on the official website of the World Cup:
David Navara: On the 35th move I accidentally touched both pieces - the king and the bishop. I wanted to move my bishop on d6, but clipped the king also, however, Moiseenko insists that I have first touched the king, but I am not sure about that. Any move with the king would lead to the loss of the piece, however, Moiseenko did not insist that I make my move namely with it. I did not want to be referred as to the unethical chess player who managed to win in an unfair way, that is why at the end, having achieved the winning position, I offered a draw.
Alexander Moiseenko: Navara on the 35th move first touched the king. I told him: the king moves. However, I realized that my opponent accidentally made this mistake, it is not possible that he could so easily blunder the piece. This is the reason I did not insist on his move with the king.

The whole incident can be seen on a video published on the official website of the World Cup, starts about 16:02.

The explanations of both players together with a video give a full picture of what happened.

1. While trying to make his 35th move with a bishop, Navara accidentally touched also a king.
Such things have happened in thousands of games and not only they are not illegal, but they are even not considered to be unethical. They are accidental! If one of pieces falls on a board, a player is only obliged to reinstate the position before pressing a clock. The FIDE Rules of Chess force a player to make a move with a piece touched deliberately, not accidentally!
Shame on many commentators who talked about "fair play forgiveness".
Shame on an usually highly professional GM Sergei Shipov who congratulated Moiseenko on the Crestbook forum with "forgiving an accidental touch of a piece made by his opponent".
Shame on a prestigious ChessBase that published a comment: "According to the rules, Navara had to move the king, but each of those moves would lead to his loss. Realizing that Navara made a careless mistake, Moiseenko did not force him to obey the rules".

2. Moiseenko distracted Navara with an oral information that the Czech grandmaster had to play a move with a king ("the king moves").
This point is missed by the majority of commentators, but it is very important. The Ukrainian grandmaster was wrong (there was no necessity for a king to move), moreover with his claim he violated the FIDE Rules of Chess: 12.6 It is forbidden to distract or annoy the opponent in any manner whatsoever. This includes unreasonable claims (...)
There is one more reason why Moiseenko didn't act correctly - a player should address claims to an arbiter, not to an opponent directly.

3. Unexplained details.
While watching a video and gathering an information about the incident, 4 details that had not been discussed/explained brought my attention.

The first small controversy is that Navara even doesn't think that the first piece he accidentally touched was a king. It is possible that we will never get an answer who was right. The available video doesn't help. Fortunately it is only a detail, without consequences. It is quite possible that both players truly believed in a different order of touched pieces. It is not a rare situation at all.

The second detail is that Moiseenko stated: "I realized that my opponent accidentally made this mistake, it is not possible that he could so easily blunder the piece. This is the reason I did not insist on his move with the king."
Such an explanation could have been given if Navara had wanted to play a move with a piece located far from him and on a way to that piece his hand would have touched a king. However, thanks to an available video, it is clearly visible, that the Czech grandmaster wanted to play with a bishop from e7 to d6 and made that move, touching at more or less the same time a king.
Saying that it is impossible to avoid a conclusion that Moiseenko's explanations are slightly inconsistent with the reality. He realized that his opponent had accidentally touched a king, but mainly not because playing with a king would have been a terrible blunder (this is also true), but simply because Navara had played a move with a bishop without hesitation. Hence, a sincere sentence should have sounded more or less like: "I realized that my opponent had accidentally touched a king, because he had clearly intended and had made a move with a bishop.".

Actually, the last sentence: "This is the reason I did not insist on his move with the king." is the third detail. The video clearly shows that the Ukrainian insisted, however only until a moment when Navara looked at an arbiter with an intention to clarify if he had done anything wrong. Only then a gesture of Moiseenko's hand suggested that it wouldn't be necessary.

That's, by the way, the last detail that brought my attention. That was David Navara himself who called an arbiter requesting to clarify what should be done in the situation that occured. An arbiter, obviously, ordered to keep playing.

Although I know both players quite well (also as persons) and I respect both of them, I must admit that in this concrete situation I feel very sorry for Navara (who is an extremely sensitive person) that he didn't resist a psychological pressure put on him during a game by an opponent.
However I would like everybody to calm down with conclusions. When analysing the whole situation home, without any tension, it is easy to understand what happened. Only one player acted fair, even much more than "just" fair. However, it could have been unfair to blame Moiseenko, as it is fully possible that it was only his immediate instinctive reaction. In tensed situations very often emotions take over, thus calm precise analysis are inadequate. During my career I have witnessed many uncontrolled behaviours during a game of extremely ethical persons.
Perhaps, the only conclusion we can get from this post is that the creation of a psychological pressure on an opponent desires more a warning than a fair play prize.

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Bartek Macieja's picture
Author: Bartek Macieja

Bartlomiej Macieja is a grandmaster from Poland.



Schellevis's picture

You say yourself you know both players Bartlo. So how can you give a good adjustment about the moral background of what happenend?

Just stay objective instead of suggesting many stuff. Obvious you have a lot of symphaty for Navara wich i can understand but it should not allow you to talk so highly suggestive here.

Keep it to the facts. Its not the first time Chessvibes is violating proper objective news reporting.

Peter Doggers's picture

Fyi these are personal blogs and do not represent ChessVibes reporting. We should probably make that more clear, in some way.

Septimus's picture

I agree with everything the blog author said. This seemed like a dirty trick right from the start. Awarding a fair play prize to Moiseenko is a bad joke!

mishanp's picture

My general view on this (and Chess-News has also waged something of a war to point out this wasn't actually "fair play") is that things were actually handled diplomatically and sensibly, even if they got a little carried away. This was obviously a stressful incident for both players - you could see at the end of the game that they certainly weren't smiling and patting each other on the back for their gentlemanly behaviour. So either you could simply leave a bad taste after the game, or you could spin it with positive PR. As I said, I think the second option was the right one.

I think you contradict yourself somewhat when it comes to Moiseenko - first you say: "However, it could have been unfair to blame Moiseenko, as it is fully possible that it was only his immediate instinctive reaction." And then you do blame Moiseenko (or at least that's the implication) with: "Perhaps, the only conclusion we can get from this post is that the creation of a psychological pressure on an opponent desires more a warning than a fair play prize." But obviously you shouldn't blame or warn Moiseenko for putting his opponent under pressure if that wasn't his intention i.e. if he simply saw his opponent touched a different piece and reacted instinctively (plus he was in time trouble).

A couple of general points - the English at the press conferences should be taken with a large pinch of salt as it often has a very loose relationship to what was actually said in Russian (at one point I'm sure I heard the interpreter change what Moiseenko said from "I asked him to move the king" to "I didn't ask him to move the king"...). And re: "shame on ChessBase" - they've mainly been reposting slightly edited versions of the reports at the World Cup website, which is also the case with that quote.

Daaim Shabazz's picture

Well... I certainly didn't make this mistake when I wrote my report. In fact, I immediately pointed out the FIDE and gave the credit to Navara. However, it was a good show of sportsmanship by Navara and lets look at the positive side of it.

ic's picture

I was really sure that it Navara wanted to play Bd6 but his hand went for the king, meaning that the accident wasnt just a finger touch when it's obvious you can go on and play your move, but a confusion in the brain sending the hand the wrong action. so it looked to Moiseenko as Navara wanted to move with the king although it's obvious he wouldnt play in this way.

but maybe I'm wrong.

Chris's picture

It is as GM Macieja wrote.

It was putting a pressure on the opponnent, other way arbiter had been called by Moiseenko and he would have solved the accident.

Moiseenko acted contrary to the rules may be under emotions but contrary the rules.
So Fair Play for Navara only.

brabo's picture

The worst I find of this story is that even afterwards Moiseenko couldn't admit that he had no right to claim the touchmove and in fact violated 12.6. I can understand that during the game it is a tense affair but in the pressconference afterwards the cards lay different.

Hanseman's picture

Moiseenko would have been a true gentleman if he would have rejected the draw and resign. Het had enough time to comtemplate about this, during the game.
Thumbs up for Navarra.

Septimus's picture

I agree 100%. He should have refused the draw and resigned, or at least forfeited the rapid games. Now THAT would be honorable.

Jiri Mazoch's picture

David Navara probably thought that his oponent was angry about Navara's finger fault and that is why he had not resigned at least 10 moves before David offered the draw... :) Yes, I would agree that Moiseenko probably should not have got the fair play prize. Anyway, there is really no reason to condemn him... And he also did not award himself. :-)

Chris's picture

There is an additional factor of the matter. Moisseenko got 'famous'

fanda's picture

very unfair trick from mojsejenko :(

NBC's picture

Very boring stuff indeed. I really have better thing to do, than going into such great details about a minor incident in a competitive game? If we really have to pick at details and involve moral questions, how about asking why Navara played on for so many moves only to gift his opponent the draw in a winning position. The "he helped me, so I helped him explanation" certainly does not hold.

Anyway, where is the link to live games now?

brabo's picture

Such minor incident decides over minimum 7.200 dollar and potentially much more for the one proceeding to the next round. I would even go further to say that such minor incident can make or break somebodies career (suppose the winner, wins in the end the cup). In other words, for the amateur it can look boring and meaningless but for the involved professionals this was a very important moment.

Navara's playing on and then offer a draw in a winning position is illogical but not illegal. Morozevitch also offered a draw in a must win openingsposition against Grishuk. Also that was completely illogical but not illegal. Navara and Morozevitch are both chessgeniuses which mean that for normal people as us they are often not understandable.

Jiri Mazoch's picture

Providence did work in the end. :-) I know, not providence but David's force as a player. He kept his moral integrity and yet won the match. This is the way of True Man...

Pavel's picture

1) I warmly agree with Bartolomiej, who outplayed me in Zlin 1995 already :-) 2) There is nothing "illogical" and "not understandable" about David offering a draw only after achieving a completely winning position. For his prestige it would be hazardous to do it earlier (= "look, it is because he just deliberately moved the king, so unfair"; "look, he was unable to win queen against rook", etc.). And as I know him (fairly well), he took in his consideration all the possible (be it chess or not) variations. btw, Moiseenko was in a similar situation already (source of inspiration?):

Chris's picture

Navara gave a lesson of fair play to Moisseenko. Question, did he learn anything?

Chris's picture

Navara has given a lesson of a fair-play to Moisenko . Did Moiseenko learn anything ?

Bartleby's picture

It's always a terse moment when you or your opponent touches a piece accidentally. You do not watch out for it, and both players may or may not be aware what actually happened. If you notice something and don't protest, you may end up being the silly fool. It easily can lead to angry discussions and hurt feelings. This time it didn't. Well done.

Nima's picture

Excellent post by GM Macieja. Peter Svidler also articulated the situation quite well in the press conference after his second game with Kamsky:

Roberto Balzan's picture

Fantastic article by GM Macieja, that finally tells the TRUTH, loudly and clearly.
I spent some time to find it, because I didn't think for a single moment that the ridiculous comments of the official Website (naturally) and of Chessbase (less naturally) were anything near to what should be considered the TRUTH of what really happened. This is particularly shameful, in my opinion, for a website (Chessbase) that propose itself like 'impartial', but after all nowadays I don't see so many examples of high level journalism, not only in chess.

I was an active chessplayer in the 90s, reaching the level of National Master, and a funny episode, related to the rule of the touched piece, happened to me in a competitive game against a 2300 rated opponent. Sorry if I eventually steal space and time here, but I think it can easily explain the difference between 'intentional' and 'not intentional' touch of a piece (and moreover I have no incentives to send the same epidose to Chessbase, for obvious reasons).
I was White and we were both in heavy timetrouble (a couple of minutes for the last ten moves, with no increments). My previous sacrifice of a piece for the attack failed, and my only perspective was to simplify in an ending with my 4 pawns against B and P of the opponent. My opponent previously checked my K with his rook in f1, then, in the mess of the timetrouble, clearly forgot about his rook. His K was in f8, I had a P in g4 and my rook was in g5. So I gave him the check Rg5-f5, with the sincere intention to exchange the rooks. With my disbelief my opponent, in total panic, grabbed his king and began shaking it at about a height of 10 cm from the chessboard, like saying 'I put in g8, or e8? g8 or e8?'. After about 10 seconds of this shaking my opponent realized in horror that he forgot about his Rook in f1, and PUT BACK THE KING in the square f8, thinking! It was clear to me he hoped I didn't say anyhing, hoping in that way to now exchange the rooks, so I suddenly and quite strongly told him: 'You have to move your King, because you touched it!'. My opponent became red in face, and after a little finally moved his King. I then captured his rook in f1 (of course I was not proud, but blunders and rules are part of chess) and after few other moves he resigned.
We both signed the scoresheets, without a world, we both calmed down and finally even analyzed together the game, very friendly and peacefully. After the postmortem anyway my opponent couldn't resist to the temptation of telling me in a very paternalistic way 'Anyway, you were right about touching the king, I had to, but there was no need to shout at me that way'. I was really and honestly surprised and replied to him that I didn't realized I shouted, I didn't remember doing it, and it was of course not my intention, but if I really did I told him I was extremely sorry for my behaviour and that could only come from the heat of the battle, not for sure from any ill manner of mine. He accepted my apologies and seemed to feel better.
Immediately after I asked a dear friend of mine, who was playing on the chessboard next to mine, if in his opinion I really shouted at my opponent. My friend, much more experienced than me, said with a smile: 'not at all, you used the right, strict and firm tone of voice, given the situation, as there is no point in calling the arbiters when your word is worth the same as your opponent's and there are no observers to support your point.'

One last question: how many 'not so fair' opponents will from now on try to put psychological pression on the poor David Navara, knowing that he is so prone to give free half points at the highest professional level, because he is usually so harsh with himself?
Just a retorical question, of course, as the arbiters should better do their job, and protect extremely sensitive and honest players like Navara by just applying the FIDE rules.

Twan Burg's picture

Very nice article, Bartek. I have 100% the same opinion, thank you for writing it down.
I was already a bit confused that they wrote 'according to the rules'. Fortunately its clarified now.

Paul-Peter Theulings's picture

Navara was pretty daft, he did not know the details of the touch move rule, and that costed him half a point, unbelievable for a player at this level.
Did Moiseenko know the details of the touch move rule? If no, he deserves a fair play award. If yes, he "deserves" an unfair play award. Then he should know he should not have disturbed Navara, and at the end of the game he should refuse the draw offer, and resign.
That would be elimination, and a deserved fair play award.

GMBartek's picture

Thank you for all the comments. I am aware it is a controversial topic. Perhaps I wouldn't write about it, if original comments were more balanced.

I agree with mishanp that from the point of view of the organisers it was much better for PR purposes to turn the whole incident into a spectacular moral victory of chess. Perhaps the organisers tried to do the best (in their opinion) thing. The danger is, however, that it devaluates the value of a fair play prize.

Answering Schellevis - I have always had a lot of sympathy also for Alexander and I know him even longer than David. Just in this particular case I don't think he has deserved a fair play prize.

Taking a conclusion that he is "generally" a bad person in totally unjustified. Many players lose control over their behaviour in tensed moments. I must confess that in the spirit of fight also I have not always acted correctly in my career. Still I don't consider myself to be a bad person. :-)

I must also add that in some cases I was unaware of my incorrect behaviour. Thanks to my friends who warned me after a game, I could control myself better in further games in particular situations. In this sense I don't think I contradicted myself when I suggested first, that Moiseenko could have not been fully concious of his behaviour, and later that it could have been more adequate to give him a warning than a fair play prize.

I would make a guess that in the whole chess world only David Navara has never done anything wrong, although ... he apologies almost after every game. :-)

I think there was still a chance for a really great story, if Moiseenko followed the advice of Hanseman. Obviously, it was a very difficult decision to be taken in that moment, as the temptation (chess and financial) to accept a gift was enormous.

It must be also clearly stated, that although Alexander's behaviour during a game in no way can be used as an example to be followed (why to award him with a fair play prize then?!), at the same time it was not "dramatically terrible", so he didn't need to feel terribly guilty. For this reason when David offered a draw, Alexander could think he was not forced to make a counter-gift.

From my point of view, it is a pity he didn't, but I fully understand that he could have thought "it is a problem of my opponent". He decided to choose a more practical decision.

Vasili's picture


Frits Fritschy's picture

Something not mentioned in the comments: David Navara had something to gain by offering a draw. Suppose he simply had won the game. There would possibly have been a lot of unwelcome discussion afterwards. ("Was it really unintentional, wasn't he simply having a problem with his allegedly weak nerves", etc.) That could still be on his mind in the next round.
By sacrificing his immediate gain (going to the next round), he transfers the psychological pressure to his opponent ("I got a present, how could I return it? Should I?"), so he is at an advantage in the play-offs. But most importantly, he frees his own mind. Not unimportant in such a tense competition!
You can compare it with the wisdom showed by Judith Polgar when Kasparov once 'forgot' the touch move rule. By not protesting, she escaped the disturbing turmoil that would have followed and left Kasparov with a little PR problem.

Nigel Short's picture

An excellent article by Batlomiej. He is quite right.

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