Chess etiquette when making a move

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Christopher Kreuzer
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Chess etiquette when making a move

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Sat Aug 07, 2010 2:28 pm

I have a question regarding chess etiquette when making a move, and wanted to ask those here who know the various rules what applies and what they would do if they were arbiters asked to rule in such a situation. The basic question is what happens when someone touches a piece but does not then complete the move but pauses or interrupts the making of the move in some way.

This happened to me four years ago in a competition (held in Hungary). For some reason a set of new rules had been introduced with yellow cards being issued by the arbiters for infringing various rules and red cards issued for a second infringement with loss of the game. Sounds quite funny, but embarrassingly I was one of the first to be issued with a yellow card! :lol:

What happened was that I was in a time scramble near the first time control and was coming quite close to beating or drawing with an IM (one of the very, very rare times I have done that). At the point in the game in question, I reached out my hand to move my queen and moved it down the board to where I intended to play the piece, but as I was about to let go I noticed that the move was an awful blunder, losing material, so I paused with my hand on the piece, and then moved the piece back to its starting square, let it go and tried to work out where I could move the queen safely.

My opponent then stopped the clock and called the arbiter. Which shocked me a bit. A furious dispute ensued (in another language, which didn't help) and the upshot of it was that I had gained some sort of advantage or distracted my opponent, and was given the aforementioned yellow card. I went on to lose, but I've always wondered exactly how much leeway arbiters give to people who change their minds mid-move.

I can understand that doing this a lot can be distracting to the opponent, and I agree absolutely that by moving a piece to another square and not letting it go, you can in effect assess the new position while still retaining the option to retract the move (which is similar to the 'making notes' argument that led to the change to writing down moves after the move is made). Clearly it is not acceptable to move a piece (say one that is attacked) to different squares and see which position you like best, but it should be possible to distinguish that situation from one where someone spots a blunder just before they let go of a piece? Or is it more complicated than that?

When thinking on possible permutations of the act of making a move, I came up with several where the player interrupts and/or changes the act of making a move:

1) Reach hand out towards piece and pause, unsure what to do
2) Place hand on piece and pause, unsure what to do
3) Lift piece off and away from board and pause or take other action, unsure what to do
4) Start moving piece to another location on board, and pause, unsure what to do
5) Place piece on destination square and pause, unsure what to do
6) Move piece to one square without letting go, but change mind and place it on another

In all the cases above, up until you let go of the piece, I believe you can replace the piece on its starting square and/or move your hand away from the board and resume thinking (though if you have touched the piece, you have to move it if you can do so legally). But clearly doing this repeatedly will distract your opponent, and in cases where you have started to move a piece, your opponent can no longer analyse the position properly, and you may create a new position that you can analyse while making the move but before completing the move.

This is probably what prompts many of the the "oops, that move is a blunder" retractions (before letting go of the piece). The action of moving the piece makes the player aware of something they hadn't seen when analysing the static position, and this triggers a warning in their mind. So is it really acceptable to retract such a move midway through making the move and before completion of the move?

On the same subject, some of the more disreputable (and hilarious) distraction techniques (sometimes unintentional) I've seen arise from mid-move shenanigans. The story of someone stirring their tea with a captured piece is well-known, but what about stirring your tea mid-move with a piece you pick up off the board? Absent-mindedly fidgeting with a piece you've picked up and intend to move, but are unsure where to put it. Picking up a piece and then hovering over the board looking for a safe square to put it on. Reaching out towards pieces while in time trouble but not touching them. Moving a piece to a square but pausing and checking the move is OK before letting it go (this is very common).

Anyway, as a player, would you complain if your opponent did stuff like this, and (for those who are arbiters) how would you handle a complaint about this sort of behaviour?

Sean Hewitt

Re: Chess etiquette when making a move

Post by Sean Hewitt » Sat Aug 07, 2010 2:31 pm

The answer is that you did nothing wrong, as long as you ultimately move your queen of course.

Ian Thompson
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Re: Chess etiquette when making a move

Post by Ian Thompson » Sat Aug 07, 2010 3:17 pm

Christopher Kreuzer wrote:What happened was that I was in a time scramble near the first time control and was coming quite close to beating or drawing with an IM (one of the very, very rare times I have done that). At the point in the game in question, I reached out my hand to move my queen and moved it down the board to where I intended to play the piece, but as I was about to let go I noticed that the move was an awful blunder, losing material, so I paused with my hand on the piece, and then moved the piece back to its starting square, let it go and tried to work out where I could move the queen safely.

My opponent then stopped the clock and called the arbiter. Which shocked me a bit. A furious dispute ensued (in another language, which didn't help) and the upshot of it was that I had gained some sort of advantage or distracted my opponent, and was given the aforementioned yellow card. I went on to lose, but I've always wondered exactly how much leeway arbiters give to people who change their minds mid-move.
You've done nothing wrong. If any rule infringement has occurred, it would be your opponent breaching Rule 6.12 d.

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Christopher Kreuzer
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Re: Chess etiquette when making a move

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Sat Aug 07, 2010 3:40 pm

Ian Thompson wrote:
Christopher Kreuzer wrote:What happened was that I was in a time scramble near the first time control and was coming quite close to beating or drawing with an IM (one of the very, very rare times I have done that). At the point in the game in question, I reached out my hand to move my queen and moved it down the board to where I intended to play the piece, but as I was about to let go I noticed that the move was an awful blunder, losing material, so I paused with my hand on the piece, and then moved the piece back to its starting square, let it go and tried to work out where I could move the queen safely.

My opponent then stopped the clock and called the arbiter. Which shocked me a bit. A furious dispute ensued (in another language, which didn't help) and the upshot of it was that I had gained some sort of advantage or distracted my opponent, and was given the aforementioned yellow card. I went on to lose, but I've always wondered exactly how much leeway arbiters give to people who change their minds mid-move.
You've done nothing wrong. If any rule infringement has occurred, it would be your opponent breaching Rule 6.12 d.
As an isolated incident, I agree. But I do think repeatedly changing your mind over your move is something that your opponent could legitimately object to. I also think that even single instances of changing your mind over a move mid-move can be unsporting (though possibly this would be chess etiquette, rather than anything the arbiter could rule on).

A good example is where your opponent is short of time and the game has reached a complicated position where you have several options including two moves with a particular piece. One of the moves is an awful blunder, the other is a stunning move to which there is a defence, but one that is difficult to see. The unsporting player (or the one with a good grasp of chess psychology, depending on how you view such things) places his hand on the piece, moves it to the "blunder" square without letting go of the piece, and pauses long enough to raise his or her opponent's hopes, then swiftly moves it to the "stunning move" square and equally quickly presses the clock. The opponent, who briefly thought you were about to blunder, is so shocked by this little bit of drama that they fail to find the defence and/or lose time on the clock as they try to cope mentally with the mid-move changes.

I've actually seen this happen. The essence of this type of move is that you telegraph (by your motions or your body language) your intention to play one move, and then play another move. It can be very distracting for someone in time trouble, but then I suppose that is the danger those who get into time trouble face.

And this applies even with incremental time controls, as if someone has only 30 seconds to make a move, the pressure can be immense and any little distraction can be fatal in terms of the result of the game. I've learnt to try to never get right down to only having 30 seconds left, but when you do (and especially when both players are in that situation) it makes for rubbish endgame play but great watching for spectators!

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