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IN AN arena as cut-throat as a chess tournament, there have to be extremely precise rules to deal with the incidents which may arise if something goes wrong. Arbiters should of course uphold these fairly and, when possible, use their discretion to promote the normal course of the game.

So, for example, if a player absolutely accidentally brushes against a piece while going to move another one then the rules exact no penalty since the "touch move" rule requires that the player "deliberately touches..."

I verified this by consulting The Chess Organiser's Handbook, by Stewart Reuben (Cadogan, pounds 9.99), which was published in 1997. Not a very promising title for a book, but Reuben, currently chairman both of the British Chess Federation and the Fide (Federation Internationale des Echecs) Organisers Committee, extracts some surprisingly intriguing material from this apparently deadly dull topic.

One of the most interesting sections appertains to what happens if a player exceeds the time limit. In principle, he then loses: but "the game is drawn, if the position is such that the opponent cannot checkmate the player by any possible sequence of legal moves, even with the most unskilled counterplay".

This leads to some rather surprising conclusions, albeit generally in highly artificial positions.

Black's "flag" (a tiny lever held up by the advancing minute hand untill it is vertical) falls. Does he lose? The answer is "No" (I got this wrong until I started typing out the solution, when it dawned on me.) White can't get his king out without help from his opposite number who must capture the white bishop. But at the moment that Black plays ...Kxc1, the white king must be on a1 and White will be in stalemate!

Recently Stewart showed me a new example, which may appear in a future edition:

In this highly plausible position White plays 1 Qc1+ (1 Qc3+ forces mate in four if he has time) and his flag falls. The result? A draw again because after the forced mass slaughter on c1 White must finally capture with 6.Kxc1 stalemate.