Posted on December 5, 2019 by Wesley Surber

A Discussion About Electronic Notation Devices

Strange things are afoot in the chess world…

In March of this year, I had an opportunity to test and review the ChessNoteR, an electronic notation device (END) for chess tournaments created by independent developer Black Mirror Studio. I really liked the device and I have used it in several games. However, ChessNoteR is at the heart of a growing discussion in the chess world about the future of the game and how ENDs fit into the equation.

The Churning Volcano

The US Chess Federation published its reviewed electronic device policy on their website back in September with little deviation from previously understood policies. In general, electronic devices are forbidden from use in tournaments to include music players, cell phones, computers, and others. Only certified devices are authorized. However, the policy grants wide freedom to individual tournament organizers to set additional rules for END use.

ChessNoteR

The ChessNoteR electronic notation device.

On November 1st of this year, the Continental Chess Association elected to modify their tournament rules and outright ban use of the ChessNoteR device in its tournaments.

Electronic Scoresheets are usually permitted if approved by USCF or FIDE. However, effective 12/26/19, use of the device ChessNoteR is not allowed. Any player using this device must discontinue use upon request, in which case, assuming no evidence of cheating, there is no penalty.

I have looked and there does not seem to be any specific incident mentioned in forums and in the official USCF groups that explains why this decision was made by CCA other than an arbitrary desire to eliminate ChessNoteR use from their tournaments. As I previously mentioned, this is in line with the revised US Chess END policy. Unfortunately, there is no need for TDs to explain why they enacted a restriction.

My biggest issue with the ban is the arbitrary decision to ban only the ChessNoteR device. I believe that US Chess should clarify in its ruleset that TDs can authorize or forbid use of any END in a tournament. In my opinion, the banning of specific devices and manufacturers sounds suspect.

The Heated Argument

In my opinion, the growing discussion goes much deeper than the perception of security vulnerabilities in ChessNoteR. Instead, I think that this speaks to a larger challenge within the chess community. It is a discussion that has brought strife to nearly every sport, hobby, and human activity throughout history: the old vs. the new.

Plycounter - No longer available

The Plycounter – a discontinued electronic notation device.

There are many people out there with exaggerated perceptions of the dangers of using electronic devices. In chess, using almost any type of electronic device during a game, whether its approved or not, is bound to raise a few eyebrows. That is because the only time these devices are mentioned by chess media is when they are used for nefarious purposes. Whether it is the GM in the bathroom using Stockfish or the absurd accusations of a playing hiding a chess engine in her lipstick, the general (and older) chess population appear to be hesitant on allowing technology to replace traditional pen and paper.

ChessNoteR remains certified by US Chess, and I do not see that changing anytime soon. Not all TDs may agree with the use of ENDs, but US Chess is right in certifying and promoting these devices. Players and TDs should be given a choice over the use of these devices. Restriction at a national level would be an arbitrary rejection of progress for the game as a whole. While the process remains somewhat clunky, I believe that technology will eventually evolve to where use of ENDs is more convenient and encouraged than traditional methods, but that is just my personal opinion.

A Compromise Solution?

Regardless of the way forward, I believe that US Chess must approach future END endeavors thoughtfully and strategically. I support the right of individual tournaments to ban the use of these devices, but I believe that US Chess should consider:

  • Promoting and encouraging the use of these devices where appropriate. ENDs can be very beneficial for people with disabilities.
  • Forbidding the arbitrary ban of specific devices and manufacturers. TDs should be restricted to authorizing or forbidding all ENDs from their tournaments.

I am saddened by the ChessNoteR ban from CCA events, but I understand it. At the end of the day, CCA is following the rules set out by US Chess, which I believe are fair and broad enough to allow TDs to effectively manage the use of these devices. However, as I said before, I believe that these bans should not target specific devices or manufacturers as it sets a bad precedent.