Death by ringtone
All mobile devices are banned from chess tournaments.
IF YOU had been watching the final round of the Chess Olympiad live via the Internet from Khanty Mansiysk on Sunday, you would have noticed something amiss in the match between Malaysia and Bahrain.
I was greatly puzzled while watching Mas Hafizulhelmi’s game. Although he was playing with the black pieces, he had attained a comfortable position after 80 minutes of play. The game was transitioning from the opening stage to the middle game and it was starting to get exciting when it ended abruptly and a loss appeared against our player’s name.
Of course, I couldn’t see what was happening in Khanty Mansiysk. All of us who were logged into the Chess Olympiad web server could only see this terminated chess board position with the terrible 1-0 score.
To make matters worse, I could see that Mok Tze Meng, Peter Long and Gregory Lau were all still playing as normal. Was there something wrong in Khanty Mansiysk? I was hoping that perhaps there was a problem with the organiser’s chess display software. But what if there was no problem and Mas Hafizul had indeed lost his game?
To cut a long story short, our team managed to beat Bahrain but it was by the slimmest of margin. Long played out his game to a draw and then Lau uncorked a tactical surprise to bring in a point and keep the match level. Then, Mok settled matters with a win as well.
But what happened in Mas Hafizul’s game? It was not until about two days later that word filtered back from Khanty Mansiysk that he had fallen victim to what many chess players call the dreaded Nokia Gambit: a mobile phone going off during a tournament.
According to the rules of chess, all mobile devices are banned from tournaments. If any mobile device – and this includes a mobile phone – were to sound during play, the offending player would lose the game immediately.
Since 2003, many chess players have found out to their regret that the ringing mobile phone would spell instant death. In that year, former Fide world champion Ruslan Ponomariov was the high-profile offender when his mobile rang during a game. It was his 20th birthday and someone had called him to wish him without knowing that his game was going on.
Two years ago, in another tournament, Nigel Short suffered the same fate when his new mobile phone tootled when it ran out of battery juice. Another immediate loss.
And in between those two celebrated cases, countless other players have also lost their games to a ringing mobile. But chess players are getting smarter. They now remember to turn their mobile to the silent mode before sitting down at the chess board. Mas Hafizul, it seemed, had also done so. He confirmed having put his mobile into silent mode.
However, he did not reckon on his mobile phone’s alarm going off. Apparently, it doesn’t matter whether or not a mobile phone is in silent mode. When it’s time for the alarm to go off, it will. Mas Hafizul had set his alarm to go off daily at 12.20pm because he wanted to be reminded of lunch time. Unfortunately, the final round of the Chess Olympiad had started earlier at 11am instead of the usual 3pm.
Eighty minutes into his game, amidst all the silence in the vast tournament hall, Mas Hafizul’s mobile suddenly woke up at 12.20pm.
That explained why, after only 23 moves and in an otherwise strong position, the Malaysian team suddenly found themselves one game down. It wasn’t that our player was outplayed. No, he just became the latest victim of the dreaded mobile phone. White: Mok Tze Meng (Malaysia) Black: Khalil Bukhalaf (Bahrain)
1. e4 c6 2. Nc3 d5 3. Nf3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+ gxf6 6. g3 Bf5 7. Bg2 e6 8. O-O Bg7 9. Re1 O-O 10. d4 Nd7 11. c4 Nb6 12. Qb3 Qd7 13. a4 Rfd8 14. a5 Nc8 15. Bf4 Ne7 16. Ra4 Ng6 17. Bd2 Rab8 18. Bc3 e5 19. Raa1 exd4 20. Bxd4 b6 21. Qc3 Qd6 22. c5 bxc5 23. Bxc5 Qc7 24. Nd4 Bd7 25. a6 Bf8 26. Bxf8 Kxf8 27. Bxc6 Rdc8 28. Rac1 Bxc6 29. Qa3+ Kg7 30. Rxc6 Qd7 31. Rd6 Qc7 32. Qf3 Rb6 33. Qxf6+ 1-0 (After 33 ... Kh6 34. Qh4+ Kg7 35. Nf5+ Kg8 36. Qf6, checkmate follows.) White: Gregory Lay (Malaysia) Black: Husain Ayyad (Bahrain)
1. Nf3 Nf6 2. d4 d6 3. g3 Nbd7 4. Bg2 e5 5. c4 g6 6. Nc3 Bg7 7. dxe5 dxe5 8. O-O O-O 9. Qc2 c6 10. Rd1 Qc7 11. b3 Re8 12. Ba3 e4 13. Nd2 e3 14. fxe3 Ng4 15. Nf1 Qa5 16. Bb2 Nc5 (The start of an unfortunate adventure) 17. h3 Nxe3 18. Nxe3 Rxe3 19. b4 (An absolute spiffy tactical shot which Black did not see coming) 19…Qxb4 20. Rd8+ Bf8 21. Qd2 Re7 22. Nd5 Rxe2 23. Nf6+ Kg7 24. Nh5+ Kg8 25. Rxf8+ 1-0 (It’s checkmate after 25…Kxf8 26. Qd8+ Re8 27. Bg7+ Kg8 28. Qxe8.)