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Chess arbiter has to do detective work as well: Olympiad's Dy Chief Arbiter Gopakumar

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By Venkatachari Jagannathan
Chennai, June 8 (Ajit Weekly News) A chess arbiter’s work is not just pairing but also includes some detective work as well, says India’s top arbiter and the Deputy Arbiter for the 44th Chess Olympiad, S.Gopakumar.

The first Indian to be selected as the Deputy Chief Arbiter for the Chess Olympiad, Gopakumar, 41, was the first arbiter to detect a player cheating using an electronic device way back in 2006.

“I found a Bluetooth device fitted in the cap worn by a player. He was getting outside assistance to make the moves. The player was frisked when the device was found,” Gopakumar told Ajit Weekly News.

As part of detecting a cheating player, his game moves will be compared with the moves suggested by various chess engines, he added.

According to him, at the upcoming Olympiad there will be several scanners to check whether a player is in possession of any electronic devices to prevent cheating. There will be 5/6 points of checking at the venue.

It is difficult to define the role of a chess arbiter as it includes pairing, deciding whether a game is in a draw position, checking the chess clocks, whether the players write their moves in their scoresheets, preventing cheating and other activities.

A Junior Warrant Officer in the Indian Air Force (IAF), Gopakumar is a no nonsense chess arbiter, a sense that he might have imbibed in the IAF, chess officials told Ajit Weekly News.

Agreeing with the assessment, Gopakumar said: “The IAF discipline has helped me a lot in chess. Converesly chess has also helped me in my office.

“Upholding the chess laws is of paramount importance for me. While I do respect a chess player’s standing, inside the playing hall, all of them are the same and the chess law is the supreme.”

For instance, at one of the Tata Steel chess tournaments, in a game between an Indian Grandmaster (GM) and one of the top Russian GMs, Gopakumar upheld the draw claim made by the Indian though the Russian was unhappy.

It is also the advice he gives to young chess arbiters – treat all the players equally and not get overawed by their accomplishments.

“Gopakumar is very knowledgeable in chess rules. He is also a FIDE (International Chess Federation) lecturer. He is a good lecturer fluent in English and Hindi. He also used to recall several chess games to explain a point. He is also computer savvy,” veteran international chess arbiter V. Kameswaran told Ajit Weekly News.

“He is the topmost arbiter in the country,” he added.

Incidentally, Gopakumar is one of the 20 FIDE’s Green Panel chess arbiters in the world.

His chess interest was lit when his father Sudhakaran Nair brought a chess board home for his three sons to play – though they had wanted a carrom board.

Soon, Gopakumar started playing in the junior tournaments and won the Kerala State Under 12 championship and has represented Kerala and the Services in many national championships.

He began chess arbitering at the age of 15, when he had to step in and to the pairing in a local tournament organised by his father in 1996.

A couple of years later, he started focusing on chess arbitrating and started going forward from being a National Arbiter to FIDE Arbiter and International Arbiter in 2009.

Gopakumar thanked All India Chess Federation (AICF) Secretary Bharat Singh Chauhan and Air Vice Marshal J. Rajendra (retd) and the Air Force Sports Control Board for their encouragement and support for his progress.

On the challenges before him at the Olympiad, Gopakumar said that language could be an issue but there will be arbiters from different countries.

He will be the Deputy Chief Arbiter for the open section in which about 188 teams will be competing while another person will be for the women’s event.

According to him, there will be about 115 overseas arbiters and about 80-90 from India.

With the Olympiad being held in India and Gopakumar selected as the Deputy Chief Arbiter, he now has the pressure to select competent arbiters for the event as they represent the Indian Flag.

For him, this will be the fourth Olympiad assignment after Tromso 2014, Baku 2016 and Batumi 2018. He was also the arbiter at the Online Chess Olympiad in 2021.

Gopakumar has also worked as an arbiter in several other global chess events held within and outside India.

As to his pre-tournament routine, Gopakumar said he would read the chess laws and go to the playing venue in advance to ensure all things are fine.

Married to Divya, he has two young daughters Gauri and Gayathri who are interested in karate and badminton apart from chess.

As a matter of fact, Gopakumar’s interest is not restricted only to chess.

He also has gold and silver medals to his name in 3000m steeplechase and cross country in Air Force respectively and currently, he is a qualified Technical Official for the Athletics Federation of India.

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be reached at v.jagannathan@ians.in)

–Ajit Weekly News

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