An Ill-Timed Cigarette Break Trips Up Two Grandmasters

Turns out that smoking is not just bad for your health; it may be bad for your game.

At the World Chess Cup, which is being held in Khanty Mansiysk, Russia, two top Chinese grandmasters, Wang Yue and Li Chao, showed up late for tie-breaker games in their third-round matches because they had been smoking. Under new World Chess Federation rules, they had to forfeit.


The forfeits cost Wang and Li their matches, and they had to go home. In an interview published on the tournament’s Web site, Wang said he understood the decision but thought it was unfair. He expressed remorse for what happened to Li, who started smoking only to keep him company during the tournament.

Asked if he would now give up the habit, Wang said: “I don’t think so. After such a shock, you only think to take a long smoke.”

Players at the National Chess Congress in Philadelphia, which was held over Thanksgiving weekend, received a different life lesson: Appearances can be deceiving.

A section limited to players with ratings under 1,600 was won by David Nguyen, whose rating before the tournament was 684. Ratings measure ability — the higher the rating, the better the player.

Nguyen, who had not played in a tournament since 1994, according to United States Chess Federation records, chose to enter the section where he could win the most money — $2,000 — against the weakest opposition. The next section, for players with ratings under 1,400, had a top prize of $1,400.

Mark Glickman, a Boston University professor who oversees the federation’s ratings, wrote in an e-mail message that the odds of a player with a 700 rating beating six players in a row in the 1,500 range, as Nguyen did, is about one in a trillion.

Bill Goichberg, the director of the tournament and the federation’s president, said in an interview that he had asked Nguyen how he had done it. He said that Nguyen explained that he had “played a lot on the Internet.”

Goichberg, who has directed tournaments for four decades, said he could not recall a similar feat. He told Nguyen that he would be treated as having a rating of 2,000 in tournaments that Goichberg runs.

Goichberg said he would also ask the federation to raise Nguyen’s rating, which was about 1,250 after the tournament. The federation changed it to 1,600.

In the sixth round, Nguyen beat Jahaade Adams to clinch first place. Despite the loss, Adams raised his rating during the tournament to 1,529 from 1,415.


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