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Friday, September 11, 1998


Appealing a flag fall

By Quah Seng Sun

I HAD just walked into my room at the Dynasty, the official hotel of the 17th Merdeka team chess championship in Kuala Lumpur last month, when I received an urgent call to return quickly to the Putra World Trade Centre.

The Penang team captain was in a bit of a fluster. He wanted my opinion whether the team should appeal against a decision by the tournament arbiter to declare a loss to his player in one of the games against Terengganu.

Apparently, on the first board game between Penang and Terengganu, both players were reaching the end of the time control and they were blitzing away their remaining moves.

The flag on the chess clock of the Penang player fell. As the arbiter was moving in to stop the clock, the Terengganu player also noticed the fall of the flag.

However, before he could claim the win, his flag also fell. The arbiter intervened and gave the win to the Terengganu player. All these happened rather instantaneously.

The consternation of the Penang team was well-founded. It was a very crucial game and for it to end this way, seemed very unsatisfactory. After all, both the flags had fallen almost together and a draw looked to be a fair result.

I advised against making an appeal as I felt strongly that the arbiter was correct and well within his authority to declare a win for the Terengganu player in that game. A quick check of the Chess Laws suggested I was not wrong in my assessment.

However, seeing the mood of the players in the Penang team, I told them that if the general consensus was to appeal, I would submit it to the Appeals Committee.

So it was about two hours later that the Appeals Committee met, heard submissions from the two affected players, deliberated on the matter and then decided 6-1 to uphold the arbiter's decision.

Although the decision went against the Penang team, the initial decision to appeal should not reflect adversely on them.

After all, the new Chess Laws had taken effect only from July last year and many of our local players are still quite ambivalent about them. Through this process of interpreting them, many people who are unsure of the rules can also learn something useful.

The Appeals Committee's decision was based mainly on Article 6.8 of the Chess Laws which says: "A flag is considered to have fallen when the arbiter observes the fact or when a valid claim to that effect has been made by either player."

The arbiter had been watching the game and he observed that the flag of the Penang player had fallen first. This observation was enough reason for him to award the point to Terengganu.

However, in the first place, was the arbiter correct in attempting to stop the chess clock and hence the game?

In Appendix B of the Chess Laws, dealing with Rapidplay (or rapid chess), there are three often-quoted rules governing the flag fall.

In Clause B6, "the flag is considered to have fallen when a valid claim to that effect has been made by a player. The arbiter shall refrain from signalling a flag fall."

In Clause B7, "to claim a win on time, the claimant must stop both clocks and notify the arbiter. For the claim to be successful, the claimant's flag must remain up and his opponent's flag down after the clocks have been stopped."

Finally, Clause B8 says, "if both flags have fallen, the game is drawn."

However, these rules must also be read together with Clause B1 which says that "a Rapidplay game is one where all the moves must be made in a fixed time between 15 to 60 minutes."

If the time control is longer than 60 minutes, the game does not qualify as a Rapidplay, meaning that Clauses B6 to B8 clearly cannot apply.

In games such as those played at the Merdeka team chess championship where the time control was 90 minutes per player for each game, it becomes obvious that Rapidplay rules are not applicable and the arbiter, if he is observing a game, is empowered to stop the game whenever he notices a flag fall.

Perhaps I should also add here that in the absence of an arbiter, if both flags have fallen and it is impossible to establish which flag fell first, the game is drawn (Article 10.4).

As a postscript to this incident, when I returned home from the Merdeka championship, I went to The Chess Cafe homepage on the Internet ( to check whether Geurt Gijssen, a well-respected senior international arbiter and the chairman of the World Chess Federation's Rules Commission, had anything to say about similar incidents.

In one of his articles, Gijssen said that someone once asked him this:

"In a local tournament, players A and B were playing a chess game with one hour per player for the whole game. At the time control, player B (with black) lost on time. At that particular moment, player A had only three seconds on his clock. When player A noticed that player B had lost on time, he claimed the game but he was unable to stop the clocks at the time of the claim. (They were playing with a FIDE electronic chess clock).

"Player A didn't know how to stop the clocks. So, time ran off and player A overstepped the time limit as well. At that moment, both clocks showed 00:00. Player B then claimed a draw. The arbiter accepted the claim and gave to both players half a point. The arbiter said that he had no choice, as FIDE rules did not allow the arbiter to announce that a player had lost on time in rapid chess.

"Was this decision correct? The arbiter and other people saw that player A had claimed the game with three seconds on his clock."

Gijssen's answer was that according to article B6 of the rapid play rules, the arbiter should refrain from signalling a flag fall.

Article B8 says, if both flags have fallen, the game is drawn. In the situation described, both the flags had fallen and it meant the game was drawn.

He understood that in the enquirer's opinion, this is not a reasonable decision. He said that when playing with a digital clock, it was absolutely clear which flag had fallen first.

"So, I can imagine that people will say: Why not give the point to the player whose flag fell later? If all games are played with digital clocks, I will completely agree. But as long as this is not the case, it is impossible to make different rules for mechanical and digital clocks."

Gijssen ended by noting that in normal games, the rule was different. If it was completely clear that the flag of one player fell before the flag of his opponent without having completed the required number of moves, he would lose the game.

Sympo '98 Challenge

HERE is a reminder to readers that Mas Hafizulhelmi will be at Sympo '98's "The Challenge" pavilion tomorrow and on Sunday to give two simultaneous chess displays. It will be Mok Tze Meng's turn on Sept 19 while Jimmy Liew is scheduled to appear on Sept 20.

These three players have each agreed to play against 50 opponents at the same time. On these four days, the simultaneous chess displays will begin at 2pm and the whole playing session is expected to last about five hours.

Visitors to Sympo '98 on these days will be eligible to play against Mas, Mok or Liew, subject to the availability of places. No fee will be charged for their participation, except for the entrance fee to Sympo '98 itself which is RM10 for adults and RM5 for children.

Anyone winning against the MCF players will receive a prize from the organisers.

Chess enthusiasts can contact Quah Seng Sun via e-mail ( His chess articles are archived at Malaysia On-Line which readers can visit at

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