FIDE Laws of Chess article 11.2 says:

11.2 The ‘playing venue’ is defined as the ‘playing area’, rest rooms, toilets, refreshment area, area set aside for smoking and other places as designated by the arbiter.

The playing area is defined as the place where the games of a competition are played.

Only with the permission of the arbiter can

a. a player leave the playing venue

b. the player having the move be allowed to leave the playing area

At a congress recently the following happened.

After the first 6 moves, which I played very slowly as I I had never seen the opening before, my opponent played his move and got up. I thought for 5 or 10 minutes, played my move and noticed that my opponent hadn't come back. I got up, had a look around the playing area and couldn't see him. I checked the toilets. They were empty. He wasn't there.

I went to see the arbiter. "I've lost my opponent" I said and explained the situation. "There are some toilets at the very far end of the building" she said. "He's probably gone there".

It didn't sound likely to me. I waited just inside the entrance to the playing area and 5 or 10 minutes later my opponent appeared. There had been insufficient time between rounds for him to get some food and so, rather than go immediately before the round started and lose 20 minutes or so (30 minute default time) he waited until part way through the game when the position was complicated and he would lose much less time.

Now that my opponent admitted leaving the playing venue during the game without the arbiter's permission I asked what she would do about it. "Well, he's ever such a nice chap. He's a charity worker, you know. So, of course he wouldn't cheat. He shouldn't really have done it but no harm done"

As an arbiter myself I think the explanation the arbiter gave in this case is a good one to justify not throwing my opponent out of the tournament altogether. It is not a good one to justify not defaulting him. And certainly not a good one for letting him off completely.

I've never had to deal with this when I have been the arbiter but for a "cheating related" violation like this I would automatically default the player and then consider whether I believed anything more untoward had happened before deciding whether to let him continue in the tournament or not.

Have any other arbiters had this situation before? If so what did you do? If not what would you do? There is no one prescribed penalty in the FIDE laws of chess as far as I know nor even specific guidance (please correct me if I'm wrong) and so it is left to the discretion of the arbiter.

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    The response of the arbiter suggest that if asked she'd have granted the request to leave the playing area in which case there would be no issue at all. That is, the issue is merely that the player had not asked beforehand. This seems like a formality to me. (Only a comment, as I am no arbiter.) – quid May 6 '17 at 21:21
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    He should have asked. – Jossie Calderon May 6 '17 at 21:21
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    @quid If the arbiter is asked then the issue becomes "is there somebody, an arbiter's assistant for example, who can accompany the player?". The reason you are not allowed to leave the playing venue during the game is because you could then consult another person or a computer engine for help with your game. If you go before your game starts then this is not an issue. You just lose time on your clock. If the arbiter doesn't have a partner or assistant then the answer has to be "No". Anything else is unfair to the opponent because it gives the opportunity for cheating. – Brian Towers May 6 '17 at 23:10
  • 'If the arbiter doesn't have a partner or assistant then the answer has to be "No".' Is this an actual rule or your opinion? I feel that the arbiter you refer to has a different view of this. If this is an actual rule or at least widely agreed upon you should include it in the question. As a player it happened to me once the opponent disappeared for like an hour. I asked the arbiter (an international arbiter) what's going on and if this is legal. They said just so it would not but they granted permission to the player. (To be fair, this was about 20 years ago and not a major event.) – quid May 6 '17 at 23:20
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    The correct penalty to me seems heavily related to the venue and what's at stake. If nothing's at stake, why do you even care how he spends his time? As long as he's not cheating, just be happy that you're up on the clock for the rest of the game. – TMM May 9 '17 at 19:23

According to FIDE Handbook (12.9):

Options available to the arbiter concerning penalties:

  1. warning
  2. increasing the remaining time of the opponent
  3. reducing the remaining time of the offending player
  4. increasing the points scored in the game by the opponent to the maximum available for that game
  5. reducing the points scored in the game by the offending person
  6. declaring the game to be lost by the offending player (the arbiter shall also decide the opponent’s score)
  7. a fine announced in advance
  8. expulsion from the competition

I think that the arbiter should penalize the player anyway, the question is which way. For me as an arbiter would be crucial the presence/absence of a mobile phone in player's pocket, bag etc. If the presence of his mobile phone was proven, I would declare the game to be lost for this player. Another problem is that arbiters don't have the right for any inspections without permission, the player has to agree...

If the presence of his mobile phone wasn't proven, reducing the player's time seems most adequate to me.

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