Monday, 30 August 2010

Collusion or Conspiracy?

Fischer v Korchnoi, Curacao Candidates 1962
There have been many accusations of collusion, either of players deliberately losing (often to help a friend get a norm), of players agreeing draws or teams agreeing to throw matches to prevent another from winning an event.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis claim that Soviet players colluded in world chess championships held from 1940 to 1964.

They argue that players agreed draws amongst themselves to improve their chances. The most famous instance, the 1962 Candidates' Tournament, concerned the allegations of collusion by the Soviets.

The three top finishers, Petrosian, Geller and Keres drew all twelve of their games against each other, in an average of only 19 moves. Soon after the tournament, Fischer publicly alleged that the Soviets had colluded to prevent him from winning. His main allegation was that Petrosian, Geller and Keres had pre-arranged to draw all their games.

Yuri Averbakh
Fischer's allegation has long been accepted as correct. Yuri Averbakh, who was head of the Soviet team at the time, admitted collusion in a 2002 interview, 'Keres wanted to conserve energy, and Petrosian and Geller were good friends with a history of drawing with each other.'

Fischer's complaint titled 'The Russians Have Fixed World Chess' published in Sports Illustrated (August 20th 1962), forced FIDE to change the format of future Candidates' Tournaments beginning with the 1966 cycle. They were replaced by a series of elimination matches to prevent collusion and to avoid further embarrassment.

Could such collusion, between players, teams or even clubs happen in amateur chess? Of course it can. Last year in the MCA league, match re-arrangments in Division 1 during the second half of the season led to accusations of collusion. A delay of over four months occurred before two clubs got round to playing their crucial 'decider'. And John Carleton's article 'Fair Competition' eloquently details the extent to which officials will go to, to win at all costs i.e. to prevent another club from winning the league competition fairly.

A disturbing feature is that the collusion took place under the very noses of the league officials. This is bad enough but worse, the officials have failed to take any action or condemn the behaviour and another club has gone to the extent of publicly congratulating the 'winners'. This bizarre twist should be an alarm call to any self-respecting player because it begs the question - where does the collusion end - two clubs, three clubs?

By any reasonable measure and on the evidence available, that's the direction in which things are moving in the Merseyside League.