America’s #2 Chess Player Just Messed Up Big-Time
Posted March 18, 2016 | 11:48 AM
At the chess Candidates Tournament in Moscow on Thursday, four-time U.S. champion Hikaru Nakamura was in trouble. His opponent, Levon Aronian – Armenia’s top player – was up by a pawn, and was gradually pushing his pieces forward into Nakamura’s territory. It was a difficult position, but the consensus of the commentators was that Nakamura should be able to hold things to a draw.
Then, a disaster. Nakamura reached out his hand and gripped his king. Suddenly, his hand trembled and he yanked it backwards.
“He touched the king! He touched the king!” Gasped the official commentators. “He needs to move it!”
Perhaps a few words on the rules are in order. In chess, whether in the loftiest of professional or the lowliest of scholastic tournaments, the “touch-move” rule, as it’s known, is holy writ. If you touch one of your pieces, you must move it. If you reach out and place your fingers around a pawn, then change your mind and decide you’d rather move a knight – too bad. You are obliged to move that pawn. Many an amateur has lost a game with an ill-considered touch. I can recall a tournament game I played a few years back in which my opponent picked up his queen to move it – then realized that the only legal queen move available to him would allow me to capture it on my next move. He of course lost. It’s a bit embarrassing to win a game in this way, rather than by your own skill, but rules are rules. Besides – a few weeks before that, against a different opponent, I had been kind and allowed him to move a different piece. I lost that game.
But in professional chess – especially at the super-elite level – losing a game in this way is a rare thing. In the video, you can see that after realizing what he’s done, Nakamura mutters something, prompting a response from Aronian. It is as yet unknown what that something was, but many have speculated that Nakamura was trying to escape from his mistake by claiming a “j’adoube”. More words on the rules of chess are in order. A player may touch a piece without being obliged to move it for the purpose of adjusting its position on the board – if, for instance, one of your pieces is not properly centered on its square. However it’s crucial that you announce your intentions by declaring “j’adoube” (French for “I adjust”) before touching the piece. This rule exists to prevent people from abusing their “j’adoube” privileges to violate the touch-move rule, as Nakamura appears to have tried to do Thursday.
All this happened in just a few seconds. But if you watch the video you can detect all these thoughts running through Aronian’s mind as Nakamura tries to renege on his touch. He shakes his head and throws up his hands – it’s embarrassing at the professional level to have to remind your opponent of the rules. Aronian was hardly going to “be nice” when a chance at the world championship – a lifelong ambition for both men – was on the line. After a visit from the tournament arbiter, who presumably confirmed Nakamura’s obligation under the rules to move his king, the two men resumed play. After 90 seconds or so of tortured silence, Nakamura moved his king to the f8 square. It was the best he could do given his situation, but it nonetheless left him in a hopeless position.
Most professional chess players maintain a studious poker face at the board, the better to hide the inner workings of their minds from their opponents. Former world champion Viswanathan Anand of India, who is also playing in the Candidates this year, is famous for maintaining the same impassive expression whether he’s crushing his opponent or being crushed himself.
Not everyone adopts this approach, though. Ex-champion Garry Kasparov was famously un-poker-faced at the board. If he didn’t like his position, he would scowl at it like it was a disobedient child. Nakamura very much belongs to the Kasparovian school of thought regarding facial expression. As the reality of his situation became clear, he sunk his head into his hands. He furrowed his brow in dismay and embarrassment. Again and again, he arched his eyebrows and shook his head in the manner of a man who knows he’s all out of options. After a few more futile moves, he extended his hand to Aronian in the traditional gesture of chess surrender.
Full article here.
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