Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Olympiad Summary - Being an Arbiter at the Olympiad

The recently completed Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway was the first time I had been to the Olympiad & I was there as a Match Arbiter. This meant that each round I was in charge of one match of four games putting two countries against one another.

Below is the typical routine of what a Match Arbiter would do at the playing hall:

Once you arrived at the playing arena, you saw the Sector Arbiter, who gave you the Match Sheet for the match you would be in charge of, as well as signs for the display boards & a sheet to keep track of the clock times.
Find your sector. I was in Sector 5, on the far right of the above map.
Arrive at your assigned table - you will notice that at the end of each table there is a sign at one end (at a low level - this was raised for later rounds), while at the other end there are three chairs - one for the Match Arbiter, while the other two are for the respective team captains.
Set the clocks & put out scoresheets for all games.
Later rounds saw the organisers add bottles of water to the tables, so you also needed to put these on the tables for the players.
Put the sign with the math pairings up so that spectators can easily see who is playing, as well as the results once games have finished.
Once the players arrive, things are ready for the games to get underway. 
Once individual games finished, you recorded the score, both on the official match scoresheet, as well as on the large signs displayed in the playing hall. This is of the Australian's final round match against Germany!
This is the sheet typically used for keeping track of clock times. Every half hour you had two write down the clock times for both players, as well as the number of moves completed for each player. This could be used to easily keep track of when players were close to making or had passed the time control, as well as having a reference in case a clock malfunctioned. This sheet is the one I used for the final round Peru v Italy match.
Towards the end of the tournament the arbiters were given their blue Arbiter shirts to wear - here I am with the shirt on, as well as my Accreditation, ready to leave my accommodation for the day.
A photo with all the arbiters was taken during the tournament - although I am technically in this photo I am not visible as I am sitting down while another arbiter is standing next to & in front of me, obscuring me from the camera!
This was taken by me AFTER the photo ... so I really was there!
We were also given the new FIDE Arbiters' Manual on one of the early days.

The Arbiters' accommodation was a big talking point during the Olympiad
The accommodation for Arbiters was fairly nice - this is the apartment section I was staying in, which was the smallest of all the accommodation options at Malangen Brygger.
The views from the apartments were fantastic!
Although the rooms themselves were tiny, barely big enough to fit a bed!

The big issue was the 70+km journey to & from the venue that had to be made each day. I tended to use this time for some extra sleep if I could, but it also meant that the arbiters could not really have a 'full' Olympiad experience because of the need for transportation (at set times) each day.
The buses themselves were reasonably comfortable.
Of course with an arbiter's job being what it is, it goes largely unnoticed unless something goes wrong. I think I was the only arbiter to do any sort of blogging about the event, so there's no 'alternative' arbiter perspective (at least that I have found - feel free to pass on a link if you find anything!) of events & the only things I have found online regarding arbiters have been largely negative. I'll present these below, as well as my own comments on things I observed.
Irish player Colm Daly describes an incident of a troublesome arbiter in one of the early rounds at the Irish Chess Cogitations Blog. The post also describes some of the issues players faced during the first round trying to get into the venue.
Danish player (and chess author) Jacob Aagaard described his experiences with a 'nut job' arbiter, although he points out that the other arbiters he had were excellent, on the Quality Chess Blog. I was in fact the arbiter for the Danes in round 4 & had nothing like the incident described by Jacob, so can only presume that he considers me an excellent arbiter (at least that's what I'm going to tell everyone if they ask!). In the post, Aagaard also discusses issues about the 'Zero Tolerance' rule.
In terms of my experience at the Olympiad, although I found everyone in the group of arbiters to be friendly & approachable, their levels of competence as arbiters seemed to vary greatly.
In terms of the things that needed to be done, the job of Match Arbiter at the Olympiad is in fact a fairly simple one. In terms of actual 'arbiting' work I had to do, I had very few instances of being required. The exceptions were:
* A player losing on time in an early round - as the arbiter I declared the game lost for him when I noticed his flag fall
* A disputed triple repetition claim - I simply went with the players to an area set aside for resolving such issue & sorted out the claim (it was correct)
* Quickly resetting the clocks for a game when the players had started with black's clock running & had pressed the clock before making any moves on the board (meaning the times displayed 1:31 each, rather than 1:30)
* Stopping the clocks when the commotion occurred in the final round surrounding the unfortunate death of Kurt Meier
Apart from these instances, my job consisted of setting the clocks prior to the matches, putting out scoresheets for the players, filling in the necessary paperwork for the matches, observing the games, completing the time check sheet every half hour, collecting the green player tags when they had finished their games, adding the results to the match sign as the games finished & tidying the match area up (mostly clearing empty bottles of water & coffee cups) when the match was finished. In other words, not particularly onerous or demanding.
Bearing all this in mind, I was surprised to see a number of things happen in my sector (let alone what may have occurred in any other sector).
* An arbiter noticed that the players in a game had a different number of moves on their scoresheets (I think one player had 31 moves, while the other had 34). This arbiter simply looked puzzled & did nothing about it. Thankfully for all involved, the game finished before move 40 (on either scoresheet!) & the result was decided on the board. What I would have done would be to compare the scoresheets without disturbing the players & once I had figured out the discrepancy, stop the clocks, inform the players of the issue & have them correct it while their clock was running (most likely it would be a player missing a few moves, though that might not be the only explanation).
* One arbiter who was often busy taking photos, particularly at the start of the round. I was next to them on a few occasions & was asked to watch their match for the first 10 or so minutes while they went & took photos around the playing hall.
* Arbiters not watching their boards - on one occasion I saw an arbiter talking with a FIDE official while there were still a number of games in progress in their match. The games were all in the 40-60 move range & at some stage these players would require new scoresheets (scoresheets had room for 60 moves per sheet). I noticed the arbiter's 'absence', so when one game reached move 58, I put new scoresheets next to the players to use. The arbiter returned when the players were on move 63 & I don't think they realised that the players were even on a second scoresheet, let alone how they got there!
* Scoresheets were also an issue with some arbiters - particularly when providing players with a second scoresheet. When doing this, I always try to make sure I do not disturb the players, so try to put new scoresheets next to their tables when they are writing down a move on their scoresheet so as to not break their train of thought (particularly if they are low on time). However such courtesy was not common amongst the arbiters at the Olympiad - new scoresheets were often almost thrown on the table while players were concentrating on their games (and on more than one occasion I saw this happen when a player had less than 30 seconds on their clock & was obviously stressed).
* A general lack of common sense from some arbiters. Periodically a member of the technical staff would come around & collect the blue scoresheets (scoresheets were in triplicate form - the top white sheet was the official game score, the green copy was retained by the players, while the blue copy went to the technical staff - presumably for any changes that may have been required to the DGT/PGN records) & on the first few times that this person came around, I noticed them writing the table & board number on the top of the sheets (eg: 18-2 for table 18, board 2), so I made sure to write the relevant numbers at the top of the blue sheets at the conclusion of each game. Other arbiters however did not notice this & often did not have the blue sheets ready for collection when the official came to their board. This simply delayed the official & from an observer's perspective looked unprofessional, with arbiters often fumbling around with scoresheets, folders & the like at the conclusion of games, rather than simply being able to discreetly hand the official the blue scoresheets without a fuss or creating any disturbance.
* Arbiters not knowing how to adjust the chess clocks. This was noticeable in the final round when many players left the hall with the final round medical commotion. One of the arbiters had not stopped the clocks on a game when the players left the arena, so had to add 10 minutes to one player's time. He was not confident in adding the time correctly to the clock, so asked another arbiter at a nearby table to help him adjust the clock ... and the arbiter said that they didn't know how to & to ask someone else! This happened on two other occasions before the arbiter in question asked me to help him with the clock (I was about 3 tables away from his match) ... and I was able to add the time & get the game restarted in less than 20 seconds. Given that the majority of arbiters at the Olympiad are International Arbiters (along with many FIDE Arbiters) I would have thought such a situation would be fairly trivial to solve ... but obviously not!
* Arbiters leaving their match in a mess. Although not strictly in the job description for the tournament, I always made sure to tidy up the playing area at the conclusion of the match - on most occasions there were a number of empty coffee cups, water bottles and some general rubbish left at the boards when a match concluded - so collected this rubbish & put it in the bin. A number of arbiters did not do this & left their match areas in a mess, presumably leaving it to some of the tournament volunteers to clean up at the end of the round.
I also managed to sneak into the background of a number of photos on the official site Chess24.com


All in all, I found being an arbiter at the Olympiad to be very eye-opening, both in terms of what is required at such a large international tournament (previously my biggest event I had been an arbiter at was the Doeberl Cup in Canberra), as well as the relative standards of other arbiters from around the world. Unlike other tournaments, in the Olympiad you have such a narrow focus as an arbiter that you can actually take notice of the actual chess being played! Given that I actually had an opportunity to look at some chess (and mostly high quality chess), I'm now looking forward to playing in some tournaments in the near future, as well as looking forward to the next Olympiad in Baku in 2016!

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