Spirit of Atticus


Liverpool European Capital of Culture 2008

Dedicated to the 'Spirit of Atticus'

Fair Competition



Dear Chessfriends,


Herein I would like to consider two or three strands of Widnes' current practice, principally from season 2009-10, which are quite disturbing for those who support normal notions of transparency and fair play.


A) On paper Widnes 1 have the strongest squad in the MCA. Thus the performance against them is likely to be crucial for any side aspiring to win the championship. One reason, if not the major reason, why Aigburth won the championship this season was that they were not required to play a full strength Widnes 1 team in either of their matches against the former champions. This arose for two reasons:


i) Widnes and Aigburth postponed the game that was due to be played before Christmas until two weeks after the scheduled end of the Division 1 season. Their scheduled last game was also against each other so this meant both the last two games of the season for these highly rated teams were against each other. In my opinion, the league controller was distinctly naive in claiming: "It was only a quirk of fate that meant an early season match, postponed to the end of April, finally decided the outcome", a naivety you will appreciate as you read on; 


ii) shortly after they were thrashed 6½-1½ by Atticus 1, Widnes 1 with some five games left apparently realised that they had no realistic prospect of winning the league. For most teams the recognition of this state of affairs would not actually affect the teams they put out. But for Widnes there was an immediate drop in the calibre of the teams that they fielded. So far as the division as a whole went, these teams were quite strong. But if you were relying on them to get a result against Aigburth (or for that matter against Atticus 1, were there any games left against them), then you would be backing against the odds.


Let us just back these claims up with a few numbers. The average grades of the Widnes 1 players in each of their games against Atticus 1 were:


a) 179 [won 5-3 by Widnes]

b) 180 [won 6½-1½ by Atticus]

Against Aigburth they were:


a) 171 [won 4½-3½ by Aigburth]

b) 161 [! maybe that previous one had been too close, won 5-3 by Aigburth]

Clearly, Atticus 1 played in a much harder league than Aigburth - on the valid assumption that other teams would have fielded players of the same calibre against them. At no stage in the season did Widnes 1, even in their "we've given up" phase, play a team as weak as in the second Aigburth match.


It should not be thought that Widnes, in the later stages of the season, had given up trying to win any trophies. In the final of the John Ripley trophy, the team they fielded had an average grade of 185. They lost to Waterloo on handicap. We may assume that, had they been in contention for winning the league, Widnes would have produced markedly stronger teams than they actually did on their run-in. Obviously, it's easier to have a highly graded team over 6 boards than it is over 8. So let's just put the strength of the Widnes Cup-final team into the league context. Had the top 6 players in the Cup final played in the first game against Aigburth, then the bottom two boards, to ‘maintain’ the strength of the Widnes league team, would have each had to have been graded 129. In the ‘decider’, the two bottom boards would each have needed a grade of 89.....


Dave James, perhaps wishing to lay claim to the title of History's most magnanimous loser (currently held by Sir George Thomas), did not mention any of this in his end of season report to the Atticus AGM. Instead he concentrated on establishing that Aigburth deserved the title. "They beat us fair and square" (match played March 3rd, won 4½-3½ by Aigburth). True, Dave says, we did beat them earlier in the season (October 26th 6-2) but this was, Dave says, because Aigburth were not at full strength. Well actually, Dave, there is a view that your being missing for the crucial March game meant that we were not at full strength for that one! This report did require a little mental agility to deliver without implying that Atticus might feel badly done by. Dave did pretty well; most of the Club remain unaware that the season was anything other than totally normal. Perhaps the only blot on Dave's performance was forgetting to mention, until reminded to do so by a member of his audience, that Enayet Hossain scored 14/14 to win player of the year. Some acknowledgement from Aigburth that Atticus 1 did not have the rub of the green would have been appreciated.
B) Perhaps this is the most minor of the three concerns I intend to raise. It is ‘only’ a moral issue and thus very hard to deal with without resorting to notions of fair play. In the aforementioned Cup final Widnes brought in a professional chess player, Keith Arkell, to play on top board although he had not played in any other match for them over the course of the season. (Keith was paid by and played regularly last season for Widnes). Last time a "ringer" was brought in for a Cup final, there was fairly universal condemnation throughout the MCA...
C) In contrast to the last item, this section will examine Widnes activities both against the spirit of the MCA rules and also against the letter of the law. I would like to bring to your attention the way that Widnes Chess Club manage their resources vis-a-vis the League rules relating to listed players and related issues.


First, the relevant rules for the last couple of seasons should be summarised: for each team of 8 players, the Club concerned shall send a list of 7 players who will always be invited to play for that team and have indicated that they expect to be available for the majority of the games. Such listed players shall be ineligible to play in any lower team of that club during the season. If when 50% of the fixtures have been played a listed player has failed to play in at least 3 matches then the club will be expected to list an additional player unless it can convince the Controller that the player in question will complete his obligation. Any players, whether listed or not, shall not be eligible to play in any given team if they have played a total of four times during the season for a higher team or teams in matches where they have played on a board above the lowest listed player in that team or teams. Games played on boards below the lowest listed player do not count towards this total. Teams must play their boards in order of playing strength.

This last slightly contorted section was introduced a few years ago and replaced the long-standing: Any players, whether listed or not, shall not be eligible to play in any given team if they have played a total of five times in any higher team or teams during that season.

A key concept in the framing of the rule relating to listed players is the notion of players indicating "that they expect to be available for the majority of the games". My belief is that most people read this to mean that the player expects to be available for all or nearly all games (i.e. the vast majority of games). If the majority is taken to mean "more often than not", then that would be better described as "over half the games". The idea of the listed players is to establish regular players who cannot therefore play for lower teams. The other side of a similar coin relates to the number of games a non-listed player may play for a higher team: If a player plays 13/14 [say] for a first division team, is it right they should be playing for a lower team throughout the season? [or 12/14, or 11/14 or 9/14 or 8/14...?] .The old rule stated above made things clear: once you played 5 games for higher team[s] you could not be part of a lower team: if you play that many times for one higher team, it was recognised that you were part of that team. The present loose framing of the rules allows situations that are contra-common sense and contra-fair play.

Before looking at the detail of my assertions, let us look at some new "league" tables. These show, for each of the last two seasons, the % of games played by listed players out of those possible. I am very grateful to Division 1 controller Dave Whitby for passing me his end of season report which presents in a clear and straightforward way the information that I have used to prepare my statistics and make comments thereon.


Atticus 2    
Atticus 1
Aigburth 1
Prescot 1
Widnes 1
Widnes 2
Wallasey A


85.7 %



69.0 %





Atticus 1

Formby 1

Prescot 1

Atticus 2

Widnes 2

Aigburth 1

Wallasey A

Widnes 1











Thus, last season Widnes 1 listed players just "beat" an average of 8/14 [=57.1%] appearances which is in any case indefensible as a ‘majority’ in this context. Three out of the seven listed players did not play over a half of the possible games: Woodcock [4], M.Ellis [7] and Clissold [6]. I would suggest that R.Clissold should not be eligible to be a listed player since for the second year running, although listed, he failed to play a reasonable number of games (last year he played 4 out of 12 possible matches). Incidentally, the same also applies to E.H.Taylor of Wallasey [who played 5/12 and 4/14 although a listed player].


Some consideration may be given to N.Barnaby's position. This year he played 8/14 thereby achieving the hollow "majority"; last year he played 6/12 (also listed for each season). Three of the Widnes 1 team did play 13 games last season. They were R.A.James (listed); P.Coughlin who became listed only on the 12th March; and M.I.Connor who was never listed. Last season Connor, also without ever being listed, went one better and was the only player in Widnes 1 to play 100% of league matches. Thus to summarise: Widnes 1 played on average only 4.1 listed players per match making a total of 57 games. P Coughlin, M.I.Connor, S.Potter [8 games, listed for Widnes1 on 30th March], and M.French [9 games never became listed for Widnes 1] were between them not only clocking up 43 appearances for Widnes 1 but also spearheading the Widnes 3 challenge to win Division 2. This challenge faltered only at the tail end of the season, so (as with the John Ripley Cup final), justice was done. But we should not be relying on fortuitous outcomes when a team is disregarding the rules. It is in Division 2 that Widnes 1 gained the unfair benefit of ignoring the rules pertaining to listed players.


I have put my remarks in context by producing the above tables and you may feel that some of the other entries therein are a cause for alarm. I would recommend Dave Whitby's aforementioned reports (below) if you wish to investigate, and possibly flesh out your concerns.


The Executive committee of the MCA have, for next season, firmed up (or so it might appear) the rules relating to listed players. The part relating to ‘playing up’ now reads something to the effect of: A player who plays up can do so as many times as s/he likes provided s/he does not play above the lowest graded player of the higher team (irrespective of whether or not that lowest graded starred player is actually playing on the night). So far as the "playing up" that matters is concerned, i.e. the non-observance of league rules by Widnes, this regulation is irrelevant. It is actually very difficult to see what difference will be made to any practical situation. All it does do however is to to emphasise the dodgy principle that it is acceptable for a player to play all (or virtually all) of the games for each of more than one team within the MCA. One reason that Widnes have pursued their blatant disregard of the listed player rules is because of this laissez-faire arrangement. Principally though, rather than acquiescing in their non-observance of rules, the sanctions already in place should be enforced with, if necessary, a view to strengthening those sanctions rather than tinkering with the fine print of the regulations. The notion of fair competition is an idea worth fighting for.


John Carleton

July 2010


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