Home > Polls > Sportsmanship?


Last week’s question was: ‘Who was the best player never to become World Champion?’ Our clear winner was Korchnoi, ahead of Rubinstein and Keres. Was it an impossible question? Probably. How can we compare players from different eras? Not well, but luckily there is no harm done if we get it ‘wrong’. For what it’s worth, I voted for Korchnoi. Ask me again next week and I’d probably vote for Rubinstein.


Nakamura took first place in the combined rapid and blitz event in Paris at the start of the Grand Chess Tour. In the blitz tournament Topalov was beating Nakamura with Black in an endgame, but then made the mistake of not promoting his pawn as it went to the first row. Nakamura claimed the point, the players shook hands and life went on. No dispute, as the video shows.

However, the Internet has a life of its own and over the last week there has been absolutely no focus on Topalov, a former World Champion, not abiding by the simple rules, but lots of focus on whether or not it was sporting of Nakamura to claim the full point. The punishment seems excessive.

People are arguing that it can be compared to being punished going 61 km/h in a 60-zone in the same way as going 120. I have personally received a £50 fine for gently rolling across a traffic light on my bicycle, going 5 km/h while the lights were green for pedestrians, of which there were none. The same fine for going through a red light, speeding, in a car. So, I understand why that would be painful. But traffic is not sport.

Nor is it a morality play. In the 1990s I played a lot of blitz tournaments in Copenhagen, every Friday night. Whenever people promoted a pawn and failed to put in a piece, I would point out that I could claim the point, and then I would play on. This happened maybe ten times, before I made the mistake myself. Obviously my opponent claimed the point instantly. It taught me an important lesson.

To me sportsmanship is to play by the rules. There are rules about how to behave, not to disturb the opponent, putting the pieces fully on the right square, which hand to push the clock with. And so on. There are also rules for illegal moves. In blitz it means you lose. Even if you take the king instead of claiming a win. I personally dislike this rule, but on behalf of John Shaw, I have been asked if we can do something about outlawing knight forks first…

Or maybe you disagree?

Q: Was it right of Nakamura to claim the full point in the game against Topalov?

1) Yes. Nakamura was of course lucky, but playing according to the rules is sportsmanship.

2) No. The rule is excessive and the sporting decision would be to press back the clock and continue the game.


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  1. Cowe
    June 20th, 2016 at 12:31 | #1

    voted (1) yes. If you don’t want to play by the rules, don’t sit at the table (Bobby style).

  2. Jupp53
    June 20th, 2016 at 13:16 | #2

    Pressing the clock without having finished the move is unfair. So I really don’t understand the question about Nakamura. Must have been put because of other non-related incidents.

  3. Peter
    June 20th, 2016 at 13:17 | #3

    I voted “no”. Obviously Nakamura is right according to the rule. But I would not have claimed the win. Because instantly taking the queen again of the board would have been the only legal move for white. If instead that newborn queen would go on to perform a queen move in the corpus of a pawn I could respect claiming a win.

  4. Jacob Aagaard
    June 20th, 2016 at 13:27 | #4

    But taking the knight would not be forced.
    Or to take it a bit further yet: why should Topalov not be polite and take Nakamura’s rook of the board and just put his bishop on d1 immediately?

  5. John Shaw
    June 20th, 2016 at 14:51 | #5


    One reason this incident caught our attention is that Colin McNab had a related incident in a recent Scottish blitz event. With his flag hanging, Colin pushed his pawn to the eighth, looked around desperately for his queen to promote to, and finally saw it clutched in his opponent’s hand. Colin bashed the clock, while saying something like “You’ve got my queen!”

    A draw was the eventual result after further chaos.

  6. Todd Bryant
    June 20th, 2016 at 15:43 | #6

    Nakamura was absolutely right. At such an elite level, players do not give any charity to each other.

    However, the rule itself is much too harsh. A 2 minute time bonus for the claim sounds appropriate to me.

  7. James
    June 20th, 2016 at 16:18 | #7

    Nakamura was right. In fact, I think if he hadn’t of claimed the win, it would be justified to criticise him for not doing so. Rules are rules, you don’t pick and choose which ones to follow. Furthermore, I was annoyed when Nakamura let Kasparov get away with letting his piece go in their blitz game, the King’s Indian one in that blitz event after the recent US Chess Champs.

  8. Thomas
    June 20th, 2016 at 17:35 | #8

    I cannot criticize Nakamura for obeying the rules. That’s absolutely ok for me.

    But I do criticize FIDE for inventing more and more idiotic rules, just to make the arbiters and the officials more important.

  9. Gollum
    June 20th, 2016 at 20:06 | #9

    Obviously Nakamura did right, as he followed the rules. I, however, would not have claimed the point nor I think the infraction deserves the full point. But of course I’m no professional, so I do not have money on the line.

  10. Pinpon
    June 20th, 2016 at 20:13 | #10

    @ Thomas : agreed ( !! (+- )) Chess is for players , not arbiters .

  11. Jacob Aagaard
    June 20th, 2016 at 23:05 | #11

    Why is it a crazy rule in blitz that the moves have to be legal? Especially at World Class level. I really do not see it. There are some stupid rules, but this one is actually simple and prevents complications. The fact that a World Champion cannot make legal moves is ridiculous of course, but hardly the opponent’s fault.

  12. Andre
    June 20th, 2016 at 23:59 | #12

    @John Shaw
    Pretty risky stuff Colin did. 😉 The correct action was: Shout the word “referee!” and stop the clock. Then politely tell the referee you need a queen and to please go find you one. While he does, study the position to save some time.

  13. Karim Reed
    June 21st, 2016 at 06:59 | #13

    At my last rapidplay and blitz tourneys, the arbiters explicitly highlighted this rule and the fact that upside down rooks don’t count either. I’m against any interruption of the flow, so stopping clocks and hunting out a queen is for me not in the spirit of blitz or rapidplay.

    As a further curiosity, in my first blitz game “out of retirement” and not up-to-date about FIDE rules and regs, my opponent took a pawn en passant, without actually removing the “captured” pawn and pressed his clock. In my “confusion” I highlighted this and he completed the capture all with my clock going! I’m pretty sure I could have called him for completing an illegal move.

  14. Remco G
    June 21st, 2016 at 07:19 | #14

    @KarimReed: I actually think upside rooks do count. As rooks. I remember an important blitz game where someone promoted to upside down rook, the game continued, and then when it moved diagonally the opponent claimed a win and the arbiter agreed. Hilarious 🙂

  15. Claude
    June 21st, 2016 at 09:10 | #15

    Just wondering, the blitz rules state that:

    The Competition Rules shall apply if
    one arbiter supervises one game and
    each game is recorded by the arbiter or his assistant and, if possible, by electronic means.

    It’s not clear from the video footage taken from above the board, showing only the players, if there was one arbiter for every game. From other footage, it seems the arbiters were at least not on the stage when the rounds began. But clearly from the way Nakamura claimed the win there was an arbiter standing next to the game at that moment.

    So why did the arbiter not rule according to point 7.5 of the FIDE rules:

    If the player has moved a pawn to the furthest distant rank, pressed the clock, but not replaced the pawn with a new piece, the move is illegal. The pawn shall be replaced by a queen of the same colour as the pawn.

    During FIDE KO events, there is one referee sitting on every table during the tiebreak games, so claiming a win this way should be impossible?

  16. June 21st, 2016 at 09:53 | #16

    I think Naka did what he needed – he was right to claim the win due to the illegal move. I do not judge this as a bad behaviour or even lack of sportmanship. Why? Because it is the official game and they have to stick to the rules. If there would be a friendly game played at the chess cafe – I would be against such a drastic mesaure.

    The only exception to this rule is to the players attitude (choice). Naka could press the clock and say: “finish the promotion”, but in this case… his opponent could claim “disturbing during the game”!

    For me not changing the pawn to the promoted piece is the same as playing with the King two squares towards the rook and pressing the clock. In BOTH cases you played illegal move. And if illegal move at blitz is punished with a loss – you have to deal with it.

    BTW. There are many stupid rules and regulations invented by FIDE, but this one is not at this “honoured group”.

  17. Soviet School
    June 21st, 2016 at 11:27 | #17

    I think it was wrong to claim, in the actual position after the pawn queens Hikaru only has one legal move capturing the ‘queen’ it would be reasonable for Topalov to expect Nakamura to just play it immediately so it was hardly necessary to physically substitute a queen for the pawn

  18. Ray
    June 21st, 2016 at 12:27 | #18

    @ Soviet School

    I don’t agree, since at least it would have cost Topalov some extra time to substitute the pawn for a queen. And in a blitz game every second counts.

  19. Jacob Aagaard
    June 21st, 2016 at 13:23 | #19

    @Soviet School
    How do you know he wanted to promote to a queen.

  20. Boki
    June 21st, 2016 at 16:17 | #20

    You cannot blaim nakamura for claiming a win. He has the right to do so according to the rules, so nobody has the right to critisize him and it is not unsporting to Play according the rules.
    But there is something more then only playing according to the rules that defines Sportmanship.
    The example Jacob provided is the behavior which Shows Sportmanship , but you cannot expect your opponent to so the Same for you .

  21. s.hansen
    June 21st, 2016 at 18:56 | #21

    Andre :
    @John Shaw
    Pretty risky stuff Colin did. The correct action was: Shout the word “referee!” and stop the clock. Then politely tell the referee you need a queen and to please go find you one. While he does, study the position to save some time.

    How about the guy who is hiding the queen in the hand is disqualified for un-fair play? I have also tried this situation. I stopped the clock as I could not find the queen and went to another table to get one. My opponent got pissed and went for the arbiter – BUT while getting up from his chair he opened his hand and placed the queen on the table. The arbiter gave we the right to stop the clock. In the same round at another table the same happened except that the player who promoted a pawn did not stop the clock (20 sec left) – he looked for the queen until having 3 sec left….guess where the queens was…..rigth, hidden in the opponents hand! That should not be allowed = disqualification

  22. Andre
    June 22nd, 2016 at 09:25 | #22

    s.hansen :
    How about the guy who is hiding the queen in the hand is disqualified for un-fair play? I have also tried this situation. I stopped the clock as I could not find the queen and went to another table to get one. My opponent got pissed and went for the arbiter – BUT while getting up from his chair he opened his hand and placed the queen on the table. The arbiter gave we the right to stop the clock. In the same round at another table the same happened except that the player who promoted a pawn did not stop the clock (20 sec left) – he looked for the queen until having 3 sec left….guess where the queens was…..rigth, hidden in the opponents hand! That should not be allowed = disqualification

    Yes, he should be punished. I’m not sure how hard though. Depends on his intention, I guess. I can imagine both opponents who do this on purpose and those who are just so caught up in the game that they need to hold onto something, which then happens to be the queen.

    Two more comments: If you as a player only search for the queen when you’re about to use it, you’re doing it wrong IMHO. It should already be standing next to you before your pawn reaches the 2nd rank. Searching so late is at least not clever. 😉
    The other point: The organizer deserves to be criticised too. He should have spent a few cents more per set to get pieces which are completely…

  23. Andre
    June 22nd, 2016 at 09:28 | #23

    (the rest:) … tournament ready. These usually come with a spare queen for each color, which avoids the whole problem.

  24. Jacob Aagaard
    June 22nd, 2016 at 11:52 | #24

    Actually, I think it was youthful ignorance. We should not try to seek for fair decisions for our games, as we cannot manage this anyway. The rules, when applied correctly, is the only yard stick in my opinion. So, we should follow them when they are to our advantage as well, as they will be used against us.
    So, yes, I am saying that people who behave “with sportsmanship” and they later complain that others do not act in the same way are not only wrong, but actually are behaving offensively. To attack someones character for following the rules is fair, but only if they use tactics! Winning on time, touch move, illegal move or toilet moves are fair game. To question someones character for playing according to the rules is apprehensive and deeply immoral and arrogant. But this is obviously a private opinion and not an official opinion of Quality Chess, though there is consensus in the office that the rules of the game are the rules of the game and that is that.

  25. John Shaw
    June 22nd, 2016 at 11:52 | #25


    The way Colin told the story to me, the other player was not intentionally holding onto the queen. He had no idea it was in his hand, and started looking around for the ‘missing queen’. He had captured the queen a few moves (and a few seconds) before, and it was just still in his hand.

  26. Gollum
    June 22nd, 2016 at 12:29 | #26

    Yesterday I was playing a blitz game with a friend. I had a big advantage after fending off an attack successfully, but my king was walking the board. I erred and allowed a perpetual. I had the chance, however, of sacrificing a rook to enter a clearly worse ending. He had 1 second on the clock and I had 20… I allowed the perpetual.

    For me this is sportmanship, I could have flagged him, but what was the point? I do not play the game to win, I play the game to have fun, and I do not have fun entering into a clearly worse position just to flag someone.

    I agree with Jacob that following the rules is fair and square, and I would never criticize someone for trying to flag someone else in a dead draw rook vs rook endgame (no pawns). But while I do not think this action is ‘bad’, i do not think it is ‘good’ either.

    Of course I am an amateur, I do not play to make a living, I have never won a monetary prize, so what Jacobs plays and what I play are not the same ball games at all. Our two diverging opinions surely highlight this different background.

  27. Gollum
    June 22nd, 2016 at 12:33 | #27

    By the way, it is all different when I play at team events. Then I would continue and try to flag my opponent until I was told otherwise by my captain, as those games are not mine, but the team’s, and it is the team that has to choose to do the sportmanship thing or try to take advantage of the rules.

  28. Jacob Aagaard
    June 22nd, 2016 at 13:03 | #28

    I think there is a big difference between socialising with a friend, playing blitz, and playing a tournament with big prizes and thousands of spectators, sponsors and so on.

    Earlier this year a friend lived with me for a few months. We played mini-matches of four games and had agreed to play according to the rules; touch move, illegal move, the whole thing. Because we had agreed that this was a fight to the death with “prison rules” it was fun and relaxing. Had we not, I would also have gone for that perpetual you mentioned.

    Maybe people are confusing a friendly blitz tournament with a £10 first prize in the club with a World class sporting event when they criticise Nakamura’s entirely correct claim?

  29. Jupp53
    June 22nd, 2016 at 15:52 | #29

    @John Shaw
    I have a local referee license. Keeping the opponents queen in your hand would lead to a loss because of unfair play if I had to judge this. I would interfere as referee in this case without being asked and would not accept any discussion about this. If someone asks why or thinks this is unneccesary rules I would reply that no gentleman hides the opponents pieces in his hands.

    Then pressing the clock without having finished the move is again unfair. Here I would accept if both players want to continue the game, because this can happen in the heat of the moment.

    It’s all about respecting your opponent and the rules.

  30. June 22nd, 2016 at 17:04 | #30

    If the arbiter was keeping score, he should have replaced the pawn with a queen and given a time penalty. If not, the arbiter should have intervened and declared the game lost without Nakamura getting involved at all. Of course this is a fair result.

  31. s.hansen
    June 22nd, 2016 at 19:39 | #31

    Hi Andre.
    It was actual a serious international tournament. I had been searching for my queen several moves before the the pawn reached the 8th rank.
    It was very clear to me that these 2 persons wanted to cheat. The queens left the board serveral moves earlier – it was 100% the intention not to play fair. Was it my mistake? Where I come from we don´t play chess in that un-sporty way. Anyway, we learned something that day – and my good friend who at the time were leading the tournament ended third due to the loss.

  32. Stigma
    June 23rd, 2016 at 04:37 | #32

    I’ve had this problem of failing to immediately find a queen a number of times, both in blitz and in longer chess (but in time trouble). I have always simply stopped the clock while promoting or just before, until I could find a queen or get one from the arbiter. I thought this was the correct action and within the rules? Never had any complaints from opponents, at least. It would be obviously unfair to lose a game because basic playing equipment was unavailable when needed.

  33. Remco G
    June 23rd, 2016 at 12:04 | #33

    @Stigma: if a queen isn’t immediately available, then it’s fine to stop the clock and go ask an arbiter for one, it’s not your problem. If you *don’t* need assistance from the arbiter because the queen is right there next to the board, then you’re not allowed to stop the clock either. Promotion is a normal move and you can’t stop the clock while making it, just like you can’t stop it for castling.

  34. Stigma
    June 23rd, 2016 at 15:32 | #34

    @Remco G
    I agree with that distinction. But to split some hairs: If the queen is next to the board, but for some reason hidden from view (behind something or because the opponent is trying to hide it!), I would of course stop the clock. So logically the critical factor isn’t where the queen is, but whether the promoting player can see it or not. I also sometimes stop the clock to fetch a queen myself from a nearby board, i.e. when I already have one queen on the board. Maybe when stopping the clock it’s technically more correct to have the arbiter do that for me, but that seems unnecessary, especially if no arbiter is nearby.

  35. Hard Truther
    June 23rd, 2016 at 15:40 | #35

    Good Sportsmanship is doing what is right, regardless of the rules.


  36. Kassy
    June 23rd, 2016 at 17:39 | #36

    @Hard Truther

    What’s right in a game being played professionally with clearly defined rules is to follow the rules.

    In the real world and life, it’s a little more grey.

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