What is sportsmanship?

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Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

2014 National High School Chess Championship in San Diego, CaliforniaLast weekend the 2014 National High School Chess Championships were held right here in San Diego. High school is a misnomer because this included anyone in grades kindergarten to twelfth grade. And I saw a couple of pretty good kindergarteners!

What is sportsmanship?

I went on Sunday to see Round 7, the final round, figuring that in Round 7 I’d be able to watch several of the top players go at each other.

Indeed, the pairings for the final round had #1 Seed, Darwin Yang, playing Cameron Wheeler. Darwin had six wins in six games. Cameron had five wins in six games.

Darwin is a Grandmaster-elect. That means he’s really, really good because Grandmaster is the highest international rating, and Darwin’s only in the eleventh grade.

Is sportsmanship letting the other person win?

2014 National High School Chess Championship in San Diego, CaliforniaIn chess, a win is worth one point, a loss doesn’t earn a point, and a draw (a tie) earns each player half a point.

I don’t know what Cameron was seeded, but at the beginning of the final round, Cameron was tied with eight other players for second place, behind Darwin, lonely in first.

I took position by Board 1 to watch the game. Total disappointment. After three moves each, Darwin and Cameron agreed to a draw! Huh? Really?

Is sportsmanship not playing if you’re already assured of winning the whole enchilada?

They both got half a point, so the final standings show Darwin in first place with 6½ points out of a possible 7 points. Four players tied for second place, all four with wins in the final round. So if Darwin had lost to Cameron, there could have been a five-way tie for first place.

2014 National High School Chess Championship in San Diego, CaliforniaThat makes one wonder, Who offered the draw after only three moves? And why would the other player accept it.

If Cameron offered the draw, he was assured of being the only player to put a dent in Darwin’s otherwise-perfect record. Why would Darwin accept the offer of a draw? It would assure him of being in first place all by himself…. but

Is that sportsmanship?

2014 National High School Chess Championship in San Diego, CaliforniaWith the draw, Cameron wound up in a 15-way tie for third place. If he had lost to Darwin, he would have been in a 28-way tie for fourth place.

By my analysis, it looks like both players benefitted. So by agreeing to a draw after only three moves, both players apparently got to take a rest. I doubt they would have left early to go back home because the awards ceremony was at 7:00 p.m. I think I also saw Cameron doing a little shopping at Fashion Valley Mall, which was just feet away across the parking lot.

If sportsmanship is letting the other person (or team) win simply because you have already won the whole enchilada (or made the playoffs), imagine what would happen during the last half of the football, baseball, or basketball seasons when those teams already out of contention, or those so far ahead that a loss wouldn’t matter, decided not to give it their all. Hmmmmm. I’m not liking this kind of sportsmanship.

Here is my picture of Darwin (left) and Cameron at Board 1 just minutes before the final round started:

Darwin Yang and Cameron Wheeler

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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10 thoughts on “What is sportsmanship?

  1. SmallHouseBigGarden

    You raise very important questions about sportsmanship. I have a hunch it means something VERY different to the generation coming up today than it did in my (and your) day.
    In a world where kids get trophies and praise regardless of whether they’ve earned it, I think sportsmanship is often replaced by taking the easy way out!
    Just my opinion, of course. 🙂

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  2. belsbror

    Chess is life, as they say. 🙂
    I am not surprised at all for the result. These kids probably learned from the adults how to preserve their rankings. A draw is always better than a possible defeat. 🙂

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  3. E A M Harris

    I can see the logic of this draw, but I’m not convinced it should be possible – presumably the competition rules could stop it. These kids have lost a lot in ducking out – they’ve disappointed their audience (did you have to pay to watch?), they’ve failed to test themselves to the full, they’ve replaced chess with politicking – to name but a few.

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  4. draliman

    I agree. This is also seen sometimes in professional sports, for example near the end of the football (soccer) season, when both teams know they will get what they want with a draw so they don’t really try.
    A real shame.

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  5. Morgan Mussell

    The one unanswered question is, did those first three moves put those expert players in what they (but not us) would recognize as a no win situation? Was it a standard opening or something exotic that has been much studied?

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    1. Russel Ray Photos Post author

      The first three moves were nothing unusual, the Nimzo-Indian opening: 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4.

      Well studied, and Yang plays it often. Since both players had three moves, the implication is that Yang offered the draw. Cameron was probably wise to accept it.

      There is nothing in chess that hasn’t been much studied. The reason why chess remains exciting is because not everyone has studied the same thing, or has the same memory capacity.

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