The European Championships does not exactly have a great reputation for the dignity with which it treats players. In previous years, there were several scandals, surrounding the so-called "official hotel" policy. This was an ingenious new method of financing tournaments, which was first used at the European Championships. As a condition of playing, all players were required to stay (at their own expense) in the designated official hotel, where they were charged 2-3 times the normal room rate. At first, a few players tried to move out, but, as Grandmaster Sergey Tiviakov reported at the time, all such attempts "were ruthlessly crushed by the organisers", who promptly excluded such players from the next round's pairings. In effect, the players were paying for their own prize money, as well as their own expenses.
After several years of protests, this particular rip-off seems to have been dropped, but attacks on the players' dignity continue. Unfortunately, the European Chess Union is now run by the ghastly Silvio "Danny Boy" Danailov, so players should have realised what they were in for. In this year's event, the new ECU dress code is in force. So too, are the so-called "Sofia Rules" (devised by...er...Silvio Danailov...), preventing draw agreements in under 40 moves. And, to cap it all, the ludicrous FIDE "zero tolerance" rule is applied, under which any player who is not sitting at the board, correctly attired, having washed behind his ears, and with his arms folded and facing the front, when the arbiter starts the round, is automatically defaulted.
The effects of this have already been seen several times. A few days ago, all of the Georgian players were defaulted en masse, the day after the clocks went forward - they don't have Daylight Saving in Georgia, and so were somewhat baffled by the whole business of adjusting clocks. One story says they put theirs back instead of forward. Whatever, they all got defaulted for being late, although it sounds as though this might well have happened even under a more sensible default regime.
But far worse is what has happened over the last 24 hours. Yesterday in round 8, Shakriyar Mamedyarov, the second seed, was defaulted, because he was 8 seconds too late sitting down at his board! Yes, that's right - 8 frigging seconds! And then today, he and his opponent agreed a draw inside 40 moves, without first paying due obeisance to Danny Boy and the (presumably) hundreds of arbiters he must have around the place, to enforce all these rules. Mamedyarov and opponent were both defaulted, at which point "Shak" drew the only appropriate conclusion, and withdrew from the tournament - doubtless a grand or so poorer, having paid his own travel and accommodation expenses.
What can one say? In the specific case of Mamedyarov, anyone who has had dealings with him will probably suspect that he was not especially near the front of the queue, when the interpersonal skills were being handed out, and so may not feel very sympathetic towards him. A few years ago, for example, he behaved quite outrageously at the Aeroflot Open, in accusing his opponent, Igor Kurnosov, of computer cheating, without a scrap of evidence. He has displayed a certain lack of emotional stability on other occasions, too. Agreeing the draw without waiting for 40 moves was especially silly.
But the fact remains that this "zero tolerance" nonsense has gone on far too long. And who is to blame? Well, naturally the Kalmykian space-traveller was the original culprit, but the real blame has to lie with the players themselves. I have never yet come across one single chessplayer who thinks the rule is sensible, yet it is still in force. The players could end it within the hour. All they need to do is take a leaf out of professional cycling. Every time that sport's cretinous organisers go too far, and impose some rule the peleton are unhappy with, the riders simply go on strike. In the Tour de France, several years ago, they did just that. When ordered to wear full safety helmets throughout the mountain stages, despite 120 degree heat, they just lined up at the start of the next stage, and when the bell went to start the race, they....just sat there. They refused to pedal, for an hour or more, and just sat on the line, chatting to one another. Eventually, the race organisers relented, withdrew the offending rule, and the Tour resumed.
Collective action, Tour de France style
If chessplayers at a major FIDE or ECU event, such as the Olympiad or European Campionships, simply sat at the boards at the start of the round, and then made clear that nobody would make a move, on any board, until the zero tolerance rule was withdrawn, there would be the end of it. What are the organisers going to do? Wait an hour and a half, until all the white players' flags drop, and then score every game 0-1? OK, fine. Next day, the players do the same again. I think the Olympiad organisers would soon realise that their event was going to be a farce, if every game in every round, ended 0-1, without a move being made.
But no, chessplayers never organise themselves in such collective action. Instead, they moan and complain, and send "open letters" to poor old Mark Crowther at TWIC. And nothing happens.
At the end of the day, chessplayers have the chess world they deserve. It goes without saying that anyone who chooses to play in a tournament organised by the likes of Silvio Danailov deserves all he gets. But I can't help feeling it is a shame. "Chess used to have class", as Ulf Andersson once said. Those days are long gone.