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Adding an old fashioned thrill to the game: a few words about sealing a move.


3 July 2012

News section

ACP Newsletter
It has been so long since the last top event featured an adjournment that many of us actually forgot how it all works - and quite a few of the younger were never even bothered to study their chess history... So, let's freshen up our minds and go through it all again!
When can a game be adjourned and who can adjourn?
Adjournment is possible only after the session of play has fully expired. In the ACP Golden Classic this translates into "after 5 hours of play". The player whose clock is running at this moment shall be entitled to adjourn the game, provided he/she has already played 40 moves.
There is however an important exception: after move 40 has been played by both players, any of the players can decide to adjourn before the end of the session, provided he/she zeroes his/her own time and takes charge of his opponents remaining time to the end of the first session of play. Basically, this means you shall have to deduct from the newly allotted amount of time (60 minutes for 16 moves at the ACP Golden Classic) your opponent's remaining time in the first session of play. This raises interesting strategic issues (see below).
What happens when the arbiter asks a player to adjourn?
At the end of the session, the arbiter notifies the player whose clock is running that he has to seal his/her move. At his point, the player has two options: (s)he can play a move on the board (losing his/her right to secrecy) or else write the move on his/her scoresheet in an unambiguous way. Both scoresheets are then sealed in an envelope by the arbiter, and no-one gets to see the sealed move until the resumption of play.
What need to be recorded on the envelope?
On the outer side of the envelope there shall be recorded: the name and colour of the players, the position before the sealed move, the number of the sealed move, the player who seals the move, the time used by each player, the offer of a draw (if any) and the date time and venue of resumption of play. The arbiter shall check the accuracy of the recorded information after the players agree on their content.
Who keeps the envelope?
The arbiter, of course.
What happens at resumption?
First of all, the board and clock are set as indicated on the envelope. If one of the players is not present at the scheduled time, his clock shall be started until he shows up or one hour has elapsed, when he shall be defaulted. When the player who replies to the sealed move is present, the arbiter shall open the envelope and check if the move is unambiguous and legal, and then play it on the board. At his point, if the other player (the one who originally sealed the move) is not present, the player who is present can seal his move in his turn, and the new envelope opened only upon the other player's arrival.
If any sealed move is illegal or ambiguous, or cannot be precisely established, the game is lost by the player who sealed it.
Strategic issues associated with sealing your move
Adjourning is a complex matter. After move 40, any player can decide to adjourn at any moment, provided the total amount of time elapsed on both clocks is equal to the total time allotted for play in the session. This has a number of implications. Saving time during the first session of play basically makes it harder for your opponent to adjourn, since he/she will be left with a lot less time to think in the second session.
Adjourning can be an advantage, since the player who seals the move will be the only one to know which move was actually played (thus saving time and energies during the home analyses) but it is not always so. At times, you get to seal the move in a horribly complicated situation, when you'd rather let your opponent err, or when your move is forced, which basically let's your advantage in sealing slip away. This means that both players shall need to keep into account the exact timing for adjournment - by no means an easy task, and one that adds complexity to the game on top of time constraints.
Is computer aid a problem?
One of the main arguments against adjournment is that players have access to strong computer programs or that there may be uneven access to hardware/software. May we remind you that this has always been the case: had it not been for the "Geller hardware", Fischer would have probably beaten Botvinnik in their only hyper-famous game... 
Today all players have access to hardware/software combinations that suit their needs. This basically means that Anand and Gelfand likely had access to supercomputers and software (plus a variety of top-notch seconds), professional players have access to adequate hardware/software combinations and even amateurs have their ordinary laptops with 2800-rated softwares.
Also, many think that a player will remember all the lines churned out by the computer, even though this contradicts common sense: anyone remindful of the Sissa legend? It is highly unlikely that players will follow a computer line for more than 5 moves, unless it is forced. And after that, they will be again swimming in the deep waters of chess...
After all is said and done, players are left with their skills (even that of devising a general plan from the computer lines) to battle out their games at the chessboard, just as in the good old times of the Golden Classics. 
Yuri Garrett
ACP Board Director