Reports | May 02, 2011 2:02

ECU rejects Nielsen's protest

ECU rejects Nielsen's protestThe European Chess Union (ECU) has rejected the protest of Peter Heine Nielsen about the way the performance ratings were calculated at this year's European Championship in Aix les Bains. Admitting that their calculations were flawed, the ECU's main argument for rejecting is that the Danish grandmaster should have protested 'in due time'.

On April 12th we published GM Peter Heine Nielsen's official protest against the way the performance ratings were calculated at this year's European Championship in Aix les Bains. As a result of these calculations, Nielsen missed a qualification for the upcoming World Cup in August-September in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. The best 23 players in Aix-les-Bains would qualify for Khanty-Mansyisk. However, the final standings had 29 players finishing on 7.5/11, occupying places 16-44. Which 8 of these 29 players would qualify? To refresh your memory, here's the relevant quote from the tournament regulations:

The order of players that finish with the same number of points shall be determined by application of the following tie-breaking procedures in sequence, proceeding from (a) to (b) to (c) to (d) the extent required: (a) Performance Rating; (b) Median-Buchholz 1, the highest number wins; (c) Buchholz, the highest number wins; (d) Number of wins, the highest number wins. In case of (a) the highest and the lowest rated opponent will be deleted and the maximum rating difference of two players shall be 400 points. In the case of unplayed games for the calculation of (a), (b) and (c) the current FIDE Tournament Rules shall be applied.

The crucial point is the interpretation of "the highest and the lowest rated opponent will be deleted". The organizers decided to not only remove the ratings, but also the points scored against these opponents, which led to some strange situations. For example, GM Parligras did not qualify for the World Cup because he lost it to a high rated opponent: reigning champion Ian Nepomniachtchi. Peter Heine Nielsen also missed qualification because of the ECU's calculation. We repeat the main points from his protest here:

Primary: The Performance Rating for players with the same number of points in the 2011 European Individual Championship must be recalculated in such a way, that the highest and lowest opponent’s Elo-rating is excluded when calculating the opponents’ average rating, but points achieved against these two players are included when calculating the percentage score. The final standing must be corrected in accordance to the recalculated tie-break. Secondary: Proper compensation given to me and other participants of this ECU tournament, who have been harmed by the implementation of the Performance Rating.

ECU: protest rejected

The ECU rejected the protest from Nielsen. Here's the reply that was sent to him in full:

ECU: protest rejectedApril 29th 2011 To: GM Haine Peter Nielsen [sic] SUBJECT: The decision of the ECU Board on the Protest of GM Nielesen from April 10th, 2011 Dear Mr. Nielsen, We acknowledged the receipt of your e-mail ("Protest" and "Enclosure") dated from 10th of April 2011. We read both documents very carefully, and here is our answer. The regulations were published well in advance, and every player could have checked and tested them during (and even before) the tournament - their validity, logic and accuracy, as well as the way they were interpreted to calculate the standings after each round. We have to distinguish between criticizing the regulations (which is a legitimate procedure) and claiming against the interpretation of these regulations given by the arbiters/organizers. We agree with your principal ("academic") claims that the new regulations for tie- breaking in the Individual European Championships are an unsuccessful combination (to say the least) of Performance Rating (PR) and Median-Buchholz. ("Median Performance Rating" (MPR) as you defined it in your Enclosure). However, any appeal against the interpretation of the regulations should have been presented in due time to the EICC 2011 Appeal Committee, giving the latter at least the chance to clarify this point before the last round at the latest. Rule 6.2 (Tie-breaking in individual competitions) , approved by ECU GA in Novi Sad 2009 says: The order of players that finish with the same number of points shall be determined by application of the following tie-breaking procedures in sequence, proceeding from (a) to (b) to (c) to (d) the extent required: (a) Performance Rating; (b) Median-Buchholz 1, the highest number wins; (c) Buchholz, the highest number wins; (d) Number of wins, the highest number wins. In case of (a) the highest and the lowest rated opponent will be deleted and the maximum rating difference of two players shall be 400 points. In the case of unplayed games for the calculation of (a), (b) and (c) the current FIDE Tournament Rules shall be applied. A Performance Rating is a number derived from both the results and the ratings of the opponents. Reading (a) together with the last sentence means, to our knowledge, that the PR should be based in this case on only 9 results (against the "median" opponents) and 9 ratings (of the same "median" opponents) while ignoring two games (against the "extreme" opponents) as if they were not played (for tie-breaking purposes). If we pay more attention to your claim, we come to a conclusion that it is not necessary at all to calculate performance rating, given that all the players sharing the same place have the same percentage. According to your interpretation, it is enough just to calculate the average rating of each player's opponents (after the opponents with the highest and lowest rating are discarded). Now, even if we accept your claims that these regulations are illogical, unfair and that they do not solve all the possible situations etc, these are still the regulations and you will probably agree with us that we cannot change the rules during the games. Consequently, Dear Mr. Nielsen, the ECU Board decided to reject both of your claims (a) to retroactively change the final standing of the EICC 2011 and (b) to give compensation to anyone for this. Sincerely, ECU Board

The ECU does admit that the situation is far from ideal, but rejected anyway. Their main argument is that Nielsen's protest came too late. One could counter-argue that only after the last round it became clear how the ECU interpreted their own regulations, therefore making it impossible to protest earlier. It seems that the ECU does have a point in pointing out that players could have known the way the regulations were interpreted, by looking at the standings after each round. However, later they state that they "cannot change the rules during the games". This means that even if Nielsen would have protested after, say, five rounds, it would have been rejected on the same grounds. Therefore, the protest would only have had a chance if it was sent before the start the tournament, when it wasn't clear yet how the regulations would be interpreted. A nice Catch-22, we say.

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Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of ChessVibes.com, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.

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Comments

William Stewart's picture

what does he expect the organizers to do? overturn their judgment, compensate him and the others that unfairly didn't make it to the next qualifying phase as deserved, AND kick out the players they already rewarded the spots? or they can make sure this doesnt happen again. unless there is an easier solution that rectifies the situation for all parties involved?

Remco Gerlich's picture

His complaint isn't that the rules were flawed, it's that they weren't followed correctly. He couldn't have known that before the tournament.

slayer's picture

the more such OPEN sour-grape letters, the less sponsors as one can see
chess means constant accusations, at our times,

CAL|Daniel's picture

I think the real problem for the ECU was they would have to give money and a second problem was they'd have to admit they were wrong.

Mads's picture

Even though I am a Dane like Peter, I have to say that I think his protest was rubbish. I agree with him that the system was crappy, but the players knew it before they started and it was the same for all players.

Ben's picture

No, exactly that's the point: The players didn't know it before. It is totally illogical how the Performance Rating was computed, and none of the players could suspect such a lunacy from reading the regulations.

Zeblakob's picture

I have never read a letter from ECU neither FIDE in all my life, so I can not make a comment.

arkan's picture

Hah i told you so!

Chris's picture

It's rather rude that they misspelled his name twice in the heading of the letter in two different ways.

chess official's picture

Not rude, just incompetent. But what do you expect from the dilettantes and charlatans that infest chess politics?

help's picture

lol

William Stewart's picture

Well Nielsen is definitely correct that the tie-break system is flawed, however what does he expect the organizers to do? The rules were in place and made clear (at least in the fine print!) before the start of the tournament. If he had made this complaint before the tournament ended, possibly they would have been able to amend this specific rule, however I think that would receive Even More complaints. The best thing that can come out of this it to legitimately append the rules for future events. Unfortunate for Nielsen and other players that Should have qualified, but did not due to a faulty tie-break system. However, they could (and should) have read the rules more carefully before the event. Thanks for the article!

Septimus's picture

According to the letter, the players are supposed to go over the rules with a fine tooth comb and compute every single limiting scenario/ Absurd!

On the other hand, one should respect the organizer's decision. I am sure they were grappling with the problem and did the best they could. The fact that the rules were broken from the outset does not matter (when you ascribe motives to the organizers).

slayer's picture

"the ECU Board decided to reject...(b) to give compensation to anyone for this"
MONEY that was a real problem to Nielsen, hidden in an enclosure to his letter

Y. oghurtnotforme's picture

@Slayer.
For those of us who do not live on a kaftan-yoghurt collective as you seem to, money is an issue.
Chess is his job, players were treated absurdly, thus complain. Natural and reasonable.
A shambles. But, that's pro chess.

jonald_fenecios's picture

It is best that Nielsen hires a very good lawyer and files suit. :)

calvin amari's picture

Yes, the "regulations were published well in advance" but nobody in their right mind would have interpreted and applied them in such an absurd manner. If the ECU read PHN's letter and the analyses that have been widely published about his claim, it could have not escaped the point he was making, but that is precisely what they pretend to do. The ECU's response is simply a stubbornly asinine face-saving evasive tactic, and dishonest in the extreme.

Shumly's picture

If your only quallifying by tiebreaks far down the list, you aint gonna win anyway, so who cares?

Thomas's picture

Most World Cup participants - I would say at least half of the field - have no or negligible chances to win the event. They still play hoping to survive a few rounds to earn a significant paycheck.

Also in response to arkan above: I think noone, not even Nielsen himself, expected the protest to be successful - which would have opened another can of worms. But it was still worth the effort, as even FIDE acknowledges that the rules were flawed - hence this "experiment" will not be repeated.
BTW, could anyone really expect Nielsen to make such an effort _during_ the event, when his first priority must have been preparing for tomorrow's opponent? Only if he had a "ghostwriter" at his disposal ... and even then he couldn't have come up with specific examples why the tiebreak rules were plain nonsense.

Arne Moll's picture

I agree with your last point, Thomas. It is not reasonable to state the players could have 'checked and tested' this themselves. Only a trained statistician or mathematician could, but even then they would have to devise all sorts of different scenarios before finding out the true problems with the rules.

Paul Janse's picture

None of the reactions respond to the two crucial paragraphs of the ECU letter:

"A Performance Rating is a number derived from both the results and the ratings of the opponents. Reading (a) together with the last sentence means, to our knowledge, that the PR should be based in this case on only 9 results (against the “median” opponents) and 9 ratings (of the same “median” opponents) while ignoring two games (against the “extreme” opponents) as if they were not played (for tie-breaking purposes).

If we pay more attention to your claim, we come to a conclusion that it is not necessary at all to calculate performance rating, given that all the players sharing the same place have the same percentage. According to your interpretation, it is enough just to calculate the average rating of each player’s opponents (after the opponents with the highest and lowest rating are discarded)."

To be honest, this seems quite reasonable to me. Even if the rules could and should have been stated more clearly, the interpretation of the organization seems to me more logical than that of Mr. Nielsen.

The misspellings of Mr. Nielsen's name are really a disgrace, by the way.

Stephen's picture

Doesn't any professional players body (PCA?) get involved in (a) the drafting of rules for major tournaments (b) representing players' grievances in such circumstances ?

Knallo's picture

When, oh when will we have officials who know anything about chess?

Jonathan Berry's picture

There was a time when the FIDE Laws of Chess, if interpreted literally, allowed the game 1.e2-e4 e7-e5 2.Bf1-c4 Bf8-c5 (wait for this super-Hikaru...) 3.Qd1xf7 mate 1-0. This was pointed out to the FIDE Rules Commission. At first they just said "Absurd", but after a few years they thought well enough that the rules as written should correspond with the game as it is played.

I think this is a good analogy, because the tiebreak rule that results from the ECU interpretation, is about as absurd as the three-move game given. I am an IA with decades of experience in tiebreak systems. I am writing this for the benefit of those readers who are mainly chess *players*, who might think that the difference between the ECU's interpretation and a proper tiebreak system is just blah, blah, blah. It is not.

Needless to say, I think the ECU's decision is wrong. The players cannot be blamed for slowness in responding to an absurdity, just as no player would eventually have been deemed the loser in the three-move game.

The Board members, incidentally, from the ECU website, are:

President: Mr. Silvio Danailov
Honorary President: Mr. Boris Kutin
Deputy President: Mr. Tomasz Sielicki
Vice President: Mr. Ion-Serban Dobronauteanu
Secretary General: Ms. Sava Stoisavljevic
Treasurer: Mr. Almog Burstein
Board Member: Mr. Jean-Claude Moingt
Board Member: Mr. Theodoros Tsorbatzoglou
Board Member: Mr. Kurt Gretener

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