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At the recent US Open I started the tournament well and was paired against a GM in the roped-off area. I had worked out the pairing well in advance and was able to do some fairly heavy openings preparation before the game. The official pairings, though, went up a relatively short time before the round.

My opponent did not show up until about 20 minutes after the round had started. I heard one of the tournament directors remark to another that my opponent was probably preparing for the game. After the game (he had 350 rating points on me and ripped me to shreds even in one of the lines I had prepared) he volunteered the information that this was indeed what he had been doing.

While I do not think that this was unethical, I am left wondering: is this legal under USCF rules? Obviously it does not affect the outcome of the game at this point, several weeks after the fact. The reason that it seems like a potential gray area to me is that a player doing this is looking at a chess database after his clock has started.

I would ask about FIDE rules but it seems like the zero-tolerance forfeit rule would render it a moot discussion.

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I only know about FIDE so I can't answer your question; but as most tournaments choose not to use the default time of 0 minutes, it is also relevant there, and it is actually allowed. As long as he's not in the playing area and behind the board, he's not yet playing the game so not yet bound by its rules. – RemcoGerlich Aug 19 '14 at 21:57
A real ethical problem would arise if there was live transmission of the game and you had white. Your opponent could see your opening move and restrict his preparations for that move. – JiK Aug 20 '14 at 10:16
Yes, live transmission can cause a real problem in this case! – Keshav Aug 20 '14 at 10:42
He said that it was to get a feel for my style of play. I am an extremely tactical player who has basically gotten to where I am based on pure calculation, so this definitely paid off for him. He knew to steer the game to quiet lines where he was much, much better than me. – Cleveland Aug 22 '14 at 4:32
@bof According to the FIDE rules, that's not possible. Don't know about the USCF rules. – JiK Aug 22 '14 at 8:16
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I would think not since there is no realistic way for the organizers to find out if you are preparing if you are in your hotel room for example, and even if they do you will probably not forfeit your game as long as you are not in the playing hall.

Maybe this was why the zero tolerance rule was put into effect.

In a logical sense though, whilst your opponent could hope to get an advantage out of the opening against you, you are getting a definite time advantage, so you could see it that way.

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I have observed in FIDE rated tournaments (low profile ones), there are local rules setup with respect to the time at which the players need to be present at the board. And that typically happens to be around 20 minutes after the round has started. What can be prepared in such short times, well of course for a GM its more than sufficient time.

But coming back to your question, its not just the GM who "prepared" to defeat you, you have mentioned yourself about the advance pairing calculation and heavy preparation that you had done. Its just that his preparation was better. Does it matter "when" this preparation happened?

Probably the best thing to combat such situations is to choose random openings from your repertoire if possible and throw in the surprise element!

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The basis of the USCF rules are the FIDE rules of chess, and they clearly state the following:

6.6 a. Any player who arrives at the chessboard after the start of the session shall lose the game. Thus the default time is 0 minutes. The rules of a competition may specify otherwise.

If the US Open bends the FIDE rule in this case to allow for a player to arrive at the board after the clock has started, it is their rules that should also cover the possibility of preparation within this time. If no such rule is in place, the rule can naturally also not be broken, and it would be allowed for a player to use a computer or any other means as long as it is outside the playing venue, since:

13.7 b. Unless authorised by the arbiter, it is forbidden for anybody to use a mobile phone or any kind of communication device in the playing venue and any contiguous area designated by the arbiter.

If I were to be cheeky, I would postulate that a player visiting a website for live transmission would be in breach of rule 13.7 b., as it would be 'using' a communication device that is located in the playing venue (i.e. the live transmission board + transmitter/server).

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