Forum 2: A Review of the Registered Player rules ...why do we have them? Are they still doing the job they were intended for, or has the way we see "team membership" changed so that they are no longer working effectively? Are some team captains abusing the system by ignoring the "spirit" of the rules?

An examination by Mike Smith, Association President, 19th May 2015,

followed by a response by Steve Mann, 20th May 2015:

Mike: "The present rules about Registered players no longer seem to be fit for purpose.

(Constitution & Rules: 2. THE OBJECTS OF THE ASSOCIATION SHALL BE: (c) To promote the interests of chess players generally.)

It is evident that the present Registration rules do not comply with Rule 2 (c), and therefore the Registration rules should be changed.

What are the Registration rules supposed to achieve?

(a) Clubs with teams competing in different divisions shall register with the Association the names of the strongest regular players from each team except the team or teams in the lowest division. The number of players to be registered for each team shall be equal to half the number of players which constitute a team in that division.)

So the intention is to register half of the club's higher team's strongest regular players so that they cannot play for any club lower team.

How many times do you need to play in the top half of the team to constitute being one of the strongest regular players? Intuitively you would expect it to need to be at the very least more than half of the matches. Would anyone intuitively think that 6 out of 16 games in the top half of a team made you one of the strongest regular players? No, of course not.
Even more so, it is not logical that playing 3 games out of 16 in the top half of a team automatically makes you one of the strongest regular players, but that is precisely what the present Registration rules dictates.

So how did the present Registration rules arise?

In the past some teams did not register all their strongest regular players, so that a strong player could play for a club lower team, and there was no easy way to correct this, short of a complaint to the Executive, which waited for the next Executive meeting to be considered and addressed. A previous league secretary created the present rules as a means to combat this dubious practice. He was well meaning and neither he nor the AGM that adopted these rules (including me) could not have reasonably foreseen the consequences.

What have been the unfortunate consequences?

To avoid players becoming registered and therefore unable to play for club lower team/s, some team captains have played their team out of any reasonable interpretation of order of strength.

It is also within my knowledge that a club that could have played a weak team in a match of no consequence to either team, instead defaulted the match, as to play the weakened team would have resulted in players becoming registered, to the detriment of a club lower team which was fighting promotion/relegation.

That this is happening is contrary to the best interests of our chess players.

It is possible that small clubs running only one team are prevented or discouraged from entering a second team because they would need to keep players in reserve to cover themselves against the present Registration rules. That would mean that the Registration rules were preventing some players from playing games. For example, did (some clubs edited:BL) consider running second teams last season, (but were discouraged because of the present rules? Might some 2nd teams have been run if the clubs knew that only 3 players would be registered during the season? edited:BL)

What should we do about the Registration rules?

I can see only two choices:

1. Go back to just registering players at the Fixture Meeting, with any transgressors again being addressed by the Executive. A previous AGM was so concerned that that did not work as to pass the present Registration rules.

2. Register players at the Fixture Meeting but proactively manage the Registered players for each team. This would mean that the League Secretaries would need to closely monitor who are the strongest regular players for each team and to change them so that the Registered players during the season were indeed the strongest regular players. This means that a player could become unregistered during the season and replaced by by another. This is close to rule 17 (c) [see below], which most League Secretaries are not using at present as rule 17(d) is doing that and worse.

These are the present rules:

(a) Clubs with teams competing in different divisions shall register with the Association the names of the strongest regular players from each team except the team or teams in the lowest division. The number of players to be registered for each team shall be equal to half the number of players which constitute a team in that division.
(b) Except as provided under Rule 17(c) and 17(d), registration of players shall be subject to approval by the Fixture Meeting
(c) After a team has played four matches the Divisional Secretary shall from time to time check whether the appropriate number of its actual strongest regular players are registered. If after consultation with the club concerned it appears to him/her that this is not the case then she/he may register one or more additional players, such registration taking effect seven days after written notice to the club by the Divisional Secretary.
(d) Any player who plays three or more matches in the top half of any team shall be automatically registered for that team.

I suggest deleting Rule 17 (d), which means a change to Rule 17 (b) to remove the reference to 17(d), and I also suggest modifying Rule 17(c) to allow for a player to becoming unregisterted.

Here is my first draft. for comments please

(a) Clubs with teams competing in different divisions shall register with the Association the names of the strongest regular players from each team except the team or teams in the lowest division. The number of players to be registered for each team shall be equal to half the number of players which constitute a team in that division.
(b) Except as provided under Rule 17(c), registration of players shall be subject to approval by the Fixture Meeting.
(c) After a team has played three matches the Divisional Secretary shall from time to time check whether the appropriate number of its actual strongest regular players are registered. If after consultation with the club concerned it appears
to him/her that this is not the case then she/he may change that team's registered players by registering one or more additional players, and unregistering the corresponding number of players, such registration and unregistration taking effect three days after written notice to the club (this will normally be by Email) by the Divisional Secretary.

Delete Rule 25(i) and re-letter 25 (j) (k) and (l) as 25 (i) (j) and (k). [this is applying the similar change to the summer league]

Comments please on the concept/logic and on the draft rule changes.


Steve: "I think (the) proposed version of the Rule is marginally worse than the present one. (See A below.)

I don’t see how (the) proposals address the problems quoted as caused by the present Rules (fiddling board order and defaulting matches) - see B below.

I don’t see how (the) proposals address potential problems elaborated regarding interpretation of “strongest” and “regular” (see C(b) below). Indeed, deletion of the present 17(d) seems to me to increase the extent to which league secretaries would need to make such difficult decisions, which was why that clause was introduced.

A) The changes seem essentially to be to changes 4 to 3 in 17(c), and the deletion of 17(d). It seems to me, that 3 matches, especially at the start of the season, are too few to perceive an overall long-term trend. Equally, 4 could be seen as too late to avert some early instances of should-be-registered players playing in lower teams. There’s a balance to be made between too few for one purpose, and too many for another purpose, but I’d stick with four. As for deletion of 17(d), it seems to me that this clause takes a load off the league secretaries (as its automatic). Its effects are not a problem for me. (See D below.)

B) (The proposed) changes don’t reduce the opportunity for fiddling board orders in order to avoid specific players being registered. That would be more properly addressed by greater definition and quantification of “playing strength” – as discussed earlier. Equally (the) changes don’t reduce the likelihood of teams defaulting in order to avoid registration of players. That would be better addressed by rules penalising defaults, which already exist. Legislation cannot eliminate crime, so there will always be such dubious activity.

C) Answers to philosophical questions.
a) What is the Registration rules supposed to achieve?

Registration rules were intended to:

(i) allow players of one team serving as reserves for other teams from the same club, in higher or lower divisions;

(ii) regulate this process from the standpoint that a clubs teams were intended to have essentially separate pools of players;

Registration rules were not originally intended to

(iii) enable as many players as possible to play in as many matches as possible in as many divisions as possible;

(iv) enable a club to run 2 6-player teams with only 9 players.

The scenarios in (iii) and (iv) might be perceived as serving the purpose of 2(c), namely “to promote the interests of chess players generally.”  However, that is a one-sided interpretation, as those scenarios (arguably) unfairly expose weaker players in lower division to stronger players from higher divisions, which (arguably) is not in the interest of those weaker players, so going against 2(c).

b) How many times do you need to play in the top half of the team to constitute being one of the strongest regular players?

The aim is to identify those players who constitute the primary pool of a team’s players, and then the strongest members of that pool. There’s an unquantifiable balance to be struck between strength and frequency. Arguably, a grandmaster playing once for an A team ought not thereafter to play for the B team; that’s not an application of the rule but an application of its purpose, as no simple yet concise wording of the rule can meet all cases adequately. (That doesn’t invalidate the objective.)

The answer to the question varies from team to team. Some teams have a hard core of players who turn out for most, if not all matches; for these teams, the strongest 3 or 4 (according to division) are the one to be initially registered. Some teams have a large number of players, few of whom play with any regularity; you then have to adopt a careful balance between strength and frequency in that specific case.

c) So how did the present Registration rules arise?

Originally, the Weston Trophy (like the I. M. Brown) was for “minor” clubs. Then, in time, second teams of “major” clubs (in the Davy or Woodhouse) were admitted to the “minor” competitions. The basic assumption was that the club’s two teams are distinct; but to have wholly separate pools of players means the A team’s pool must include reserves who possibly get few games. The idea, therefore, is that a (relatively weak) B-team player can act as reserve for the A team, without after playing being deemed an A-team player. Equally, but more controversially, a (relatively weak – important point) A-team player can act as reserve for the B team.

The overlap between such A and B teams was originally intended to be minimal, but in recent decades, the relative wide latitude provided by the registration rules has been use, even exploited, to achieve the scenarios described above in (iii) and (iv).

The term “registration” was introduced as a label within the overall process referred to in (ii) above.

The need for review of changes through the season arose, and modern rules represent an attempt to automate aspects of the whole process.

d) What have been the unfortunate consequences?

The two scenarios described as “unfortunate consequences” do not represent flaws in the Rules, but represent arguable flaws in people’s behaviour.

The main unfortunate consequence that I perceive in the registration rules is that they promote in some people a belief that a club’s teams should not be largely distinct entities, that people should be able to play in as many matches in as many teams in as many divisions as possible, and that a club should be enabled to enter more teams than its membership numerically justifies – all with total disregard to the impact on opponents of that club.

Observations by Andy Mort (27/5/2015):

The demographics of chess mean that chess clubs have aged and shrunk. More players are playing for more teams out of necessity. Chesterfield is a case in point. We have our strongest personnel ever, with 12 players about 160+, though not all available every match. However, we have only a small number of players below that level, many of whom are much weaker, but who want to play for teams. If the second team is short, we end up drawing from the first team rather than the third because we cannot allow third team players to be barred from playing because they have made too many second team appearances. I play games for the second team, but not generally out of choice. We’d love to have two teams in the first division, but don’t have the depth of personnel, and would end up defaulting boards regularly.

I’m sure the issue of 6 boards in Division 1 will be raised again in the light of shrinking of clubs, but the balance would be adjusted in different clubs in a way that might not solve all the issues, or might create different ones.

The worry about reducing flexibility by addressing ‘player crossover’ too strictly is that some clubs might drop a team, which is obviously not desirable.

Andy's comment about 6 boards was a response to Brian Lever, who wrote to him (27/5/2015):

Someone (I can't remember who) told me that Chesterfield B would not be taking promotion, having won Div 2. If that's so, is it because, while you may find, say, 10 - 16 players who can man your A and B teams in separate Divisions, you cannot find 16 players (plus reserves) for 2 Div 1 teams?

Is there an issue of unfairness here: that there is a blockage at the top of Div 2 preventing proper Div 2 teams from trying for the trophy, but also causing others to be relegated because there isn't room for them? It seems to me that the problems being addressed under "Registration" and "Order of Strength" may be considerably eased if not completely solved by running my own hobby-horses: The unfair glass ceiling on which Div 1 stands should be removed by playing all Divisions with 6 (or the same number of) boards, and Divisions (particularly Div 1) should be larger so that the "chessaholics" who are causing "all these problems" get more games for (and hence again feel like members of) one team.

Comments from Robert Shaw, Nomads III Captain (05/06/2015):

First off, all the below is my personal opinion, not the official position of Sheffield Nomads. We haven't discussed these issues as a club yet.

As I see it, the registration and board order rules serve the same purpose: preventing clubs gaining an advantage by pitting strong players against weak opponents for a near guaranteed win. Any revisions should be made with this end in mind, and should be consistent across the two rules - using the same definition of playing strength, for example.

The proposals on board strength look like they'd address the problem, though there might be practical problems with the implementation. They're probably worth trying, on a provisional basis, and maybe just in the bottom division. We should also be prepared to switch back to old rules mid-season if the new rules prove unworkable. 

The proposed 440/400 division wouldn't fix the problem. It'd protect the teams in it from facing highly graded players, but fourth division players could still find themselves in that position. It's an interesting idea, which may be worth adopting, but other changes to the registration rules are needed too. 

Have players ever become registered under the current rule 17c? If not, this rule is currently a dead letter, and may need stronger enforcement by the divisional secretaries.

I'd replace the vague 'the divisional secretary shall check from time to time...' with the stronger 'the divisional secretary shall check after each match ...' 

Current rule 17d creates a perverse incentive not to play people on the top boards, to keep them available for a lower team. More rigorous enforcement of 17c would serve the same purpose of getting the stronger players registered for the higher team, and hence ineligible to play in the lower team. Thus, rule 17d can go.

I'd add another rule. 'A team may not field a player in any division below the first who is stronger than the strongest player they have at the time of the match who is registered to play in that division, or in any higher division.' 

Thus, if a team has players graded 150, 145, and 140 registered to play in the third division they can't play a grade 220 player in the third division, or in any lower division. They could only field players in those divisions graded 150 or less. 

This would effectively cap the strength of each club's lower teams, similarly to the proposed 440/400 division, but in a more organic way than that rigid one-size-fits-all approach.

Naturally, player strength would have to be defined, in the same way as for the board order rule.

Response by Steve Mann (22nd June 2015):

Robert Shaw asks a question (above) as to whether Rule 17(c) gets used. My reply would be that registrations under 17(c) certainly used to occur, the fact being recorded in the past in the official organ of communication, called the bulletin. That is how bogus registrations at the start of the season (e.g. of players known by the captain to be no longer available to play) were trapped early on. 17(d) doesn’t necessarily do that job. Now that the YCA grading website is used by people as the way of finding match results, and there is no longer a monthly Bulletin (seemingly by popular demand or apathy), some aspects of communication to the wider membership, such as that of mid-season registrations, have been lost. Current divisional secretaries would be better able to advise on present-day workings of Rule 17(c).

Comments by Brian Lever (3rd Sept 2015)
on Robert Shaw's Question:

I'm sure that Rule 17(c) doesn't get used much, certainly not as rigorously as it's meant to be.

I put the registration monitor on the website after Tony Perry asked (if I remember correctly) the very question, amongst league secretaries, about what you call "bogus registrations" earlier in the season, and also asked something about how much 17(d) was being applied. I then volunteered myself to use the monitor from time to time to update the list of automatic registrations which Rule 17(d) generates. I don't know whether most captains do go to the registration web page to check the validity of opposing teams. I hope they do, and I guess it's as convenient as the old method of combing through the bulletins to find additionally registered players. My reason for digging out the monitor (Phill Beckett located it for me) was that most League Secretaries seemed to be saying they assumed team captains did a pretty thorough job of validating opponents themselves, i.e. they - the secretaries (with the exception of Tony) - didn't bother themselves.

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