The arbiters team management in chess tournaments

IA Carolina Munoz Solis

The Chief Arbiter of a tournament is not only responsible for the technical and organizational aspects of the event. One of his or her primary duties is to manage a team of arbiters.

Team management is a manager’s ability to carry out and coordinate a team to execute their tasks and common goals. It is essential because it creates a positive work environment, and all team members are aligned with the team` and organization’s goals. To succeed in managing a team, some skills and conditions are necessary. We will see five of them.

1. Knowing the team

The first condition is the first challenge. In most of the tournaments, you don’t choose the arbiters. If you are lucky, you will know most of your teammates, but sometimes you will work with them for the first time, and they will be from different countries, have different cultures, and speak different languages. That’s why it is essential to have previous communications with your team, first by email, WhatsApp and online calls, for example. The idea is that you have an initial impression of each member. In addition to the group meetings that occur before and during the tournament, it is crucial for a CA to pay attention to the work and personality of each team member and, if possible, talk to them. If your work team is extensive, you can support this work in the DAs or Sectors.

I was Chief Arbiter (CA) at the last World Junior Championship in Mexico. I got the arbiter list late, so I didn’t have previous online meetings or communicate with my team before the tournament. From 30 arbiters, I had worked only with 3 in previous tournaments. I was able to meet most of them just before the start of the tournament. Despite the above, I was lucky that communication with them was fluid, mainly because most of us shared the same native language (Spanish). Furthermore, during the tournament, I had the support of one of my DAs, IA. Gary Bekker, who was attentive to the arbiters, how they felt, and their conditions, among other essential aspects, and he communicated to me any relevant incident.

It’s part of the Chief Arbiter’s role to ensure arbiters feel good about where they work.

2. Communication

Effective communication ensures team-wide clarity on tasks, deadlines, and goals. Sometimes, the first communication barrier is the language and even the culture of each country. Although English is the official language in chess tournaments, not all have the same level of understanding. If, as CA, you notice that an arbiter does not understand the instructions well, we can seek the support of another teammate who can explain them better in his or her native language. It is also advisable to have feedback in both directions. The CA must be open to receiving questions from his or her team, and as an arbiter, should not have reservations about asking his or her superiors (Sector, DA or CA) any technical and procedural doubts I may have. The tournament period is relatively short (1-2 weeks), and it is vital to clarify doubts from the beginning.

The CA can use online means to improve communication: WhatsApp groups, Slack, email, Zoom, and any other means necessary.

3. A clear understanding of the responsibilities.

For good communication, it is also essential to explain in meetings our primary goal for the tournament, the procedures (to standardize them) and responsibilities and send them in writing in a format of simple steps to follow. For example, in the Junior World Championship, in our first meeting, we saw the desirable behavior of the arbiters, the most important technical aspects, coordination with the Fair Play team (which had specific tasks, and it was important not to duplicate or interfere with their work), tasks at the beginning and end of the game, what to do in case of a draw before move thirty, what to do if the players offer a draw or demand a triple repetition of position before move 30, how to keep track of times and moves, how to report the results to the Pairing Official, and so on. In the initial meetings, I highlighted the critical moments during the game, such as the initial 10 minutes for photographs, 15 minutes of default time, checking times and numbers of moves (every 30 minutes), when players would reach 30 moves and 40 moves and time trouble.

In addition to explaining and sending written instructions, it would be helpful to organize a one-day pre-tournament training and team building session, which would ensure that everyone on the team understands and applies FIDE Regulations and Laws of Chess uniformly. This recommendation was made at the end of the tournament by two of the arbiter members of the team, demonstrating the importance of implementing it and scheduling it in the tournaments.

These instructions and steps should be reviewed during the tournament, especially if there are errors or if team members need to understand them better because I didn’t explain them well or if they need to be more familiar with the procedure.

In the Junior World Championship, we had an error in a procedure. The first thing we did was admit the mistake and be transparent about what happened (the CA must give the arbiters confidence to communicate this). As CA, I am responsible for my team, so for me, an error on their part means a lack of supervision on my side. Therefore, the responsibility is shared. Once we knew what happened, we saw the possible solution, and we reviewed the procedure (even modifying it if necessary) to prevent the error from occurring again.

Also, during the tournament, I assigned some arbiters for organizational tasks (like doing the pgn of the games). In this tournament, it was possible because there were many arbiters, and everyone was very willing to collaborate. Still, it is not recommended because the organization and team structure vary and need clarification regarding the assigned tasks.

4. Delegation and encourage team collaboration.

In a big tournament, the CA has the support of the DA, Pairing Officer, Fair Play Official, and Sectors and can (should) delegate most of his or her team management to them. Delegation of work is important because, during a tournament, the CA should do several tasks that don’t allow him or her to be in the playing hall all the time. Also, in a small tournament, the CA can assign specific tasks to his/her trusty arbiters.

In the last World Junior Chess Championship, we had around one arbiter for eight matches, so the paring officer, IA. Javier Perez Llera, proposed dividing the team into seven sectors and assigning one IA to each. This division of the playing hall not only facilitated my work because I could delegate more, but also because each sector acted like a team and incentivized them to support each other. Also, when one sector finishes first, they supported the other ones. 

5. Regular check-ins by Chief Arbiters and Sector Arbiters and feedback.

Supervision is a crucial factor in the success of the tournament. I like to delegate, but I also know that as CA, I am the main responsible for the arbiters team, so it is vital to be present in the playing hall, make regular walkthroughs in all sectors and look at the work your team is doing, make corrections and support them if it is necessary.

By doing this well, you can provide them with constructive feedback and recognition. Appreciation of team members’ efforts and achievements has a significant impact on their motivation. If the CA, DA and Sector are doing a good job of checking on arbiters work, they can prevent errors or resolve them quickly. Also, if your team is doing a good job, the supervisor should tell them to keep it like that. I like to remind the team each 4-5 rounds that they are doing a good job (when they are), but we can’t relax too much, and we should keep the energy, effort, and concentration in the games in charge.

For this, I used two main tools: Keep a tournament record (like a binnacle, notes or memory). It’s instrumental to write all the incidents in the tournament so you can keep all the information. I also have a timeline for each game, where I write my tasks and the time I should do them so I do not forget to check them when I complete the task.

            Also, the feedback can be from them to you. During the tournament, I was open to feedback on any aspect they considered. You may have received some good ideas, or you can’t implement all of them (as a CA, you took the last decision), but it’s part of the leadership of your team. At the end of the tournament, to help me with this article, I asked them for feedback about what we did well and what we could improve. Most of them are included in this article.

For example, during the tournament, we had conflict cases with some players. My policy has been to try to interfere as little as possible in the game and create a pleasant environment for the players, and in general, the instructions to the arbiters were in that direction. However, at the end of the tournament, several arbiters expressed a more straightforward strategy to define these cases as areas for improvement. Analyzing the situations presented, if there is an exceptional conflictive case, it is advisable to speak with the player and the tournament organizer (outside the game schedule) to find a solution to the problem. In my case, I did not do it, possibly due to a lack of experience in this type of case (I have been lucky as a CA), but it is part of learning. We are not perfect. Closing and analyzing our work in the technical area and the leadership of the workgroup is vital to improve tournament after tournament.

IA Carolina Munoz Solis