As was mentioned in an earlier post, Alan Atkinson has been appointed Manager of Arbiters by the ECF. We were able to meet the new boss who, contrary to what The Who might have said, is not the same as the old boss, to learn a bit more about his new role and what it is like being an arbiter at some high-profile events.


Congratulations on your appointment, Alan. First question and an obvious one, what does the role of Manager of Arbiters entail and is it a new appointment? No, it’s not a new post; I took over from Tom Thorpe just before Christmas. The Manager of Arbiters’ main task is to arrange courses for, and keep records of, the progress of Arbiters as they move through the various grades up to International Arbiter level.


When did you first become an arbiter and what attracted you to the job? I had helped at events decades ago, and when, more recently, I was told that all leagues would need an arbiter if the games were to get graded (it will happen soon), and we were also having problems finding arbiters for the Thanet Congress, I resolved to get my paperwork in order to become a qualified arbiter. Strangely, since, I’ve done almost no arbiting within Kent, and certainly none in Thanet since then! It is just about making things happen; if I did not offer to help, some events would probably not happen. And then with the grander events, there is the fact that I now get to be there with some great players. Say like a World Cup football referee, or an F1 pit steward, etc.


Which is the most high-profile tournament in which you have been involved? This last year or so I was an anti-cheating referee at the Georgia Olympiad in Batumi so probably that or the FIDE Grand Swiss on the Isle of Man. I was also at the British Championships in Torquay, and Hull the previous year, and I played in the Mick Croft Cup. (Ha ha! Arbiters clearly do not lack a sense of humour – the Mick Croft Cup is a minor Thanet League competition as far removed from the Olympiad as you can imagine. – Ed)


An arbiter can sometimes have to deal with controversial situations. Are there any that you can talk about without naming names?! The best events are when nothing unusual happens! But I was one of the two arbiters at the British Championships when a player left the hall in possession of his phone; sadly, his game was still in progress, so we had to default him. That made the newspapers which was a pity, I thought. Some players were moved at the Isle of Man 2019 which raised a few questions. But usually, “things” do not happen: most players are fairly sensible, and the British arbiters are fairly good and reasonable, and the players understand that. So when an arbiter decides something, it is accepted with good grace.



What is the most amusing or unusual incident you can recall? At the British Championships in Torquay, after the end of the day, when all the work was done, and the next day’s pairings had been published, the arbiters went for their dinner. We then had a phone call about a senior member of the English chess establishment’s game from earlier that day. I had recorded the game result incorrectly, I was told. I had put down a win for Player A, when it had been a loss for him. We had already done the draw for the next day, so I was utterly embarrassed, in front of the whole arbiter team.

Player B was contacted; yes, he had won, the result I had put into the system was certainly incorrect. But he conceded that he might have written down the result the wrong way around on his own score-sheet.  Well, from Player A’s point of view, that was still not good enough, I should have checked both score sheets against each other of course. And Player A knew that, for he is an International Arbiter too! So I had my dinner spoiled, in my embarrassment. And breakfast the next morning too.

Later that next day, when we could get to check the previous day’s actual score sheets, it transpired that both players had recorded the result of their game incorrectly. Both players had shown a win for Player A when Player B had in fact won. I did swear. But just in the Arbiter Office; no apology from the players though. So after that, I could start the next round of the Masters by asking that the players hand in the same result to the arbiters, and, ideally, hand in the correct same result.


Do you still play much chess or have you had to cut back in recent years? I hardly play at all now. And when I do, I am out of the habit, and yet still have to play in grade order, so it seems that my grade is falling out of the sky.


Which of your own games has given you the most satisfaction? Well, since becoming an arbiter… see above! Hardly any games to choose from, and they are error strewn. But at the IoM the organiser arranged for Hou Yifan to play local players and the arbiters in a simul: I am happy that I managed a draw against her; it’s probably good for the players to know that the arbiters can play a bit sometimes!


White:   Hou Yifan     Black:  Alan Atkinson

Isle of Man 2017 simul

Is there any game that you witnessed as an arbiter that stands out? There are a few: the first time I realised that I was officiating with “the big names” was the game Shirov-Nakamura IoM 2017.I saw much of their game when I was in the playing area, and then I was sent for the early dinner. (We have to be there until ten or eleven at night, so we have split dinner shifts at the IoM). Shirov came in, having drawn, and sat with we two Arbiters, (place was empty otherwise, and he knew the arbiter I was with). “Hello, I’m Alexei”, so I discussed his game with him, and afterwards, when I was returning to the hall, I thought “Wow, I’ve just sat chatting to Shirov about his game; (and he’s not called me an idiot)”. People younger than me might not know of Shirov, but he was a super player. This year at the IoM he was one of the four players involved, when two games, played on adjacent boards, were identical for an unusually large number of moves. (See earlier comment about players being moved IoM 2019 -Ed)


White:   Alexei Shirov     Black:  Hikaru Nakamura

Isle of Man 2017 



If you could do one thing to improve chess in this country, what would it be? Ah, an easy question at last! Compulsory hour a week of chess in all schools for all pupils.


Finally, what advice would you offer to anyone with aspirations to be an arbiter?
Don’t expect to be treated well.
No-one tells you how to do anything.
Most people will assume that you are getting paid a fortune, which you won’t be.
You won’t get any of the glamorous events to do.
The players will always manage to do the wrong thing.
And it will be your fault.
But it might be a good laugh anyway!
Start by helping out at a few events, then do the ECF Arbiter exam, then do some more events.
And remember that the players have paid good money to get there and play and so they don’t want some power-crazed arbiter spoiling their weekend!

Post navigation