"I JUST called to say... you’re disqualified!" FIDE World Champion Ruslan Ponomariov was defaulted in round one of the European Team Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, last Saturday when his mobile phone started ringing.
Match arbiter Toncho Demirev stopped the Ukrainian’s game against Swedish GM Evgeny Agrest at move 28, citing the tournament regulation: "No mobile phones are allowed in the playing area."
Ponomariov had created his own bad luck by transgressing the chess player adage never to play on your birthday. The game started with the tournament organiser presenting gifts for his 20th birthday, but the mystery caller cost him the game two hours later.
Ponomariov protested against the arbiter’s decision by not signing the score-sheets, the traditional method of officially endorsing a game result. Indeed, the sanction of game loss does seem rather severe but the arbiter quoted section 13.4 of the Laws of Chess, which does include referees "declaring the game to be lost".
The only minor consolation was that Ponomariov’s position looked very difficult when the game was forfeited.
The proscription of mobile phones is only partly related to the issue of "distracting the opponent". Many high-level tournaments are now transmitted live on the internet. A potential cheat could phone a friend who was viewing the game online ready to offer computer-aided analysis tips at key moments. A metal detector would make more sense as an anti-cheating device than the FIDE drug tests endured at last year’s Olympiad.
Euro Team Plovdiv rd1, White: E Agrest (Sweden, 2,605), Black: R Ponomariov (Ukraine 2,718), 1 Nf3 Nf6 2 c4 b6 3 Nc3 Bb7 4 d3 Bxf3 5 exf3 c5 6 d4 cxd4 7 Qxd4 Nc6 8 Qd1 g6 9 Be2 Bg7 10 f4 0-0 11 Be3 e6 12 0-0 Ne7 13 Qa4 Nf5 14 Rad1 Nxe3 15 fxe3 Qc7 16 Kh1 a6 17 Bf3 Ra7 18 Rd2 Rc8 19 Be2 Qb8 20 Qb3 Bf8 21 e4 d6 22 f5 Nd7 23 fxe6 fxe6 24 Bg4 Re8 25 Ne2 Ne5 26 Bxe6+! Rxe6 27 c5 d5 28 Qxd5 Rae7 1:0 The phone rang in this position. Play might continue 29 Nd4 Ng4 30 g3 Ne3 31 Nxe6 Nxd5 32 Rxf8+ Qxf8 33 Nxf8 Kxf8 34 exd5 bxc5 and White is much better in the rook ending.
Ponomariov’s telephone problems are a reminder that tournament organisers are within their rights to employ local variations of international FIDE rules, an issue which provoked much debate at the Isle of Man Open last month.
World number one Garry Kasparov is visiting the London Chess Centre in Euston Road on Tuesday to promote his highly praised series My Great Predecessors. It will be 10 years to the day since he completed his rebel world title match against Nigel Short in London. A draw in game 20 won the match 12.5-7.5 and took the winner’s cheque for 1,062,500 - presumably the book signing fee won’t be quite as lucrative.