Behind the Scenes at the U.S. Championship with Alex Relyea

05.10.18 Our own Alex Relyea served as one of the arbiters at the recently completed 2018 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women's Championship held at the St. Louis Chess Club. Relyea, already a FIDE Arbiter, is working towards his National Tournament Director certification. In this post, Alex shares some of his impressions and experiences at the tournament.



Alex Relyea keeps a close eye on the game Annie Wang--Nazi Paikidze at the 2018 U.S. Women's Championship. image courtesy uschesschamps.com

Thanks to Alex Relyea for contributing to this report.

In January Ken Ballou was hired as Chief Arbiter for the Championship. Ken knows that I need only one more event to qualify for NTD, but that it is too difficult for me to work the scholastic nationals, so he recommended me and Noreen Davisson from New Jersey to be hired as deputy arbiters. As Ken is highly respected, the organizers agreed and we were hired.

The prize fund is $294,000, with theoretical $64,000 bonus prizes for anyone scoring 11-0 which even Fischer couldn't do again. This means that there is, obviously, a lot more at stake than a typical tournament. Since we have two round robins going on, the pairings for all eleven rounds were known during the opening ceremonies. This gives the players much more time to prepare and, as they all have plenty of games online, it is very easy.

I'd imagine that the vast majority of the chessmaine.net readership has never been to the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, so let me explain a few differences. If you look at the live feed, you can see the playing area, so I'll describe the rest. The playing area is on the second floor of a historic building in the tony Central West End. The front windows overlook Maryland Ave., while the back windows lead out to a balcony which functions as the smoking area (required by FIDE) and a place to get fresh air. The windows are doubled, which makes this the quietest site I've ever seen. Just outside the playing area, there is a spread laid out by the restaurant next door, and there is a man whose full time job is to keep the food refreshed. There is also a large media staff, and a security staff. This is important as the players are only allowed to talk to the arbiters during the game (or to their opponents to offer a draw), and only the arbiters and credentialed media are allowed to bring electronics upstairs. The whole second floor is searched every night so a player doesn't hide a chess engine in a toilet tank (yes, really).

Those of you who are TDs will understand the truth of this statement, but 95% of the job anyone could do. About 3% could be done by anyone with a half hour of training, but the other 2% is what we're here for. At most tournaments I've done there are a lot of "non-arbiter" things that I've had to do, but here I can focus on the arbiter duties. Since these players are both very experienced and very accomplished, these have been minimal so far. It is not like Caruana is going to raise his hand and ask "Is this mate?" So far the only contentious issue has been during the Xiong-So game in which the players claimed a draw by repetition on move 22 despite the fact that the tournament is being played under Sofia rules, that is no agreed draws before move 30.

It may be surprising, but the arbiter team hardly interacts with the players at all. We don't approach them before the games, as we don't want to distract them from their preparation, and spectators are discouraged from asking for autographs at that time. Immediately after the game the players disappear downstairs for their postgame interviews. As a result, I only know what a few of them sound like above a very quiet whisper.

P.S. ...an earnest spectator asked ME to sign his program!


Comments

Great Job Alex! Making New England proud👍.
Jason

Thank you for the insight into this event. This was a very interesting read!

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