CSCA Informant – Monroi and Technology Trip Through Time


Colorado Chess Informant – January 2007)

By NM Todd Bardwick

Closing in on midnight on May 11 at the Colorado Convention at the Tournament Directors meeting for the 2006 Elementary School Nationals, I leaned over and whispered to Mary Nelson, “What is this MonRoi thing that they are talking about?”

For a humorous description of this rather expensive and unnecessary device, see the Opinion column written by Randy Reynolds in the October 2006 CCI.

Flash back to 1978. One of the classic instructional chess books of all time, Kotov’s Think Like a Grandmaster, was published. Kotov suggests what I believe is the most important piece of practical advice given to the tournament chess player…Blumenfeld’s Rule.

Paraphrased, Blumenfeld’s Rule says that after you have considered all the candidate moves and gone along all the branches of the analysis tree, write the move down on your score sheet before playing it and hide it under your pen so that your opponent can’t see it. Then double-check it for obvious mistakes…Are any of your pieces en prise? Is there a mate in one or two? Is there anything obvious that you have missed in your deep analysis? The purpose of Blumenfeld’s Rule is to tear yourself away from the distant future of the position you just analyzed and look at the board again through fresh eyes.

This simple blunder check will save you countless games. Think of all the games you have ever lost…I would guess that over half of them were fairly obvious blunders in hindsight. Kotov claimed that the great majority of the world’s best players use Blumenfeld’s Rule. If it is useful for them, it is even more useful for us mere mortals. (In my own personal experience, I have had two masters walk into a mate in one, with plenty of time on their clock.)

Flash forward to the 1990’s. The personal computer becomes the most influential invention in society since the automobile and the television set. Today it is hard to imagine the world before the computer. Remember back in the days of manual typewriters when you had to do special “pinky curls” at the gym to try to gain enough strength to type an “a” or a “;” on the keyboard? For us old-timers, chess notation used to be a little more complicated…we used the old Descriptive notation where you had to flip-flop back and forth.

Flash forward again to 2006. Every chess player has a home computer, and many spend countless hours in front of it on a daily basis.

Enter the MonRoi. My first thought at the TD meeting was, “Why would a parent buy one of these for a kid instead of having the child learn the very basic algebraic notation language of reading and writing chess?”

What type of parent wouldn’t want their kid to learn to read and write with good penmanship and instead would give them a machine to do it for them?

Now I have no problems with technological advances, but I do have a BIG problem when technology actually influences changes in the rules of chess.

What is the primary purpose of the Canadian company that produces MonRois? To sell MonRois and make a profit. I have no problem with that, it is what America and the free enterprise system is all about.

The MonRoi is an expensive chess-recording device where the player uses a stylus to trace out the move. Because the MonRoi would reject illegal moves and the player would get to see a future position by “writing” his move down first on the MonRoi, players using a MonRoi are required to make the move on the board first, before entering it into the device.

What is the major obstacle toward getting the greatest number of chess players to purchase such a device (besides the price!)?…Blumenfeld’s Rule.

So what is a company to do? That is easy: try to eliminate Blumenfeld’s Rule from tournament play. Now in order to do this, we need to come up with a reason as to why Blumenfeld’s Rule should be eliminated. Hmm…that is a tough one. How about this, writing the move down before making it is note taking.

I don’t buy this argument in the least, but lets say I concede the point and assume that it is note taking. I would actually love it if my opponent were required to actually take notes during the game. Masters need to be able to sort out complicated variations quickly in their head…or they wouldn’t be masters. If a master was required to take notes during the game, it would be a horrific waist of time…and he would surely be in time pressure later on. Hey, if I could force him to take notes, I’d run out and buy him a notepad and a pencil…while my clock is running!

USCF Rule 15A (see page 11 of the October 2006 CCI), disallowing writing down the move first, before playing it will go into effect January 1, 2007. This rule change is enough to make you wonder if the USCF Rules Committee is getting kickbacks from the MonRoi people.

Oh well, there are plenty of stupid laws in society that we are forced to obey. So how do we get around this one?

I floated an idea to comply with the new rule and keep Blumenfeld’s Rule alive and well in the thought process to a friend who is one of the top level TD’s in the nation, who, in turn, forwarded it to the USCF Rules Committee. The Rules Committee had no comment or complaint (or possibly they didn’t take the suggestion seriously!).

So the idea appears to be okay. Here it is: at the time during Kotov’s thought process where you used to do Blumenfeld’s Rule, turn your pen over and pretend to write the move down, clearly and carefully, so that you tear yourself away from the position that you have just studied in depth, and then double check your move, as Kotov suggests. If the move has a problem, re-analyze, and then re-check it, again pretending to write it down as before. Continue to double check until you are confident that there are no obvious blunders and this is the move you want to play. Then make the move and write it down for real on your score sheet. Who can accuse you of note taking, when you actually aren’t writing anything down?!

Lets look at the MonRoi from the company’s perspective and speculate how the MonRoi people must be viewing the tournament chess player, besides as a group of people with lots of extra money burning holes in their pockets.

It is probably safe to say that tournament chess players are of higher than average intelligence compared to the general population. When you think about it, algebraic chess notation is a rather simple application of the x,y coordinate plane that you were taught in third grade. Anyone who can figure out how the horsey moves shouldn’t have too much trouble writing his move down. The MonRoi people must think chess players are lazy fools who have difficulty counting to eight! Is this really so difficult a task that you need electronic assistance? If so, you should probably drop chess and take up Tic-Tack-Toe. I wonder if there is a MonRoi for the players of that game who have trouble counting to three?

Another problem I see with MonRoi, especially in regards to scholastic players, is that now the student doesn’t even have to learn how to record their games and learn how to read and write chess…the MonRoi does this basic and important task for them. As a responsible chess educator, I feel very strongly about not straying from teaching the fundamentals (reading, writing, arithmetic, penmanship) as they relate to chess.

Of course other electronics companies are going to start producing similar scorekeeping devices, and the features will likely get more sophisticated as time goes on. What about putting a computer chip in the scoring device so it can also analyze the game? This could open another can of worms in regards to requiring the tournament directors to check every electronic device in the room to make sure it isn’t a chess computer. Wouldn’t it keep the game simpler and purer by just banning all electronic devices from the tournament room?

Since MonRois are probably here to stay, it is only fair that to submit some definitions to Webster for the next version of the dictionary.

Mon.Roi (mon’roy) n. 1. an electronic chess scoring device for mentally-challenged chess players who flunked third grade math multiple times. 2. an aid to those with difficulty counting to eight and/or problems with the first eight letters of the alphabet. 3. a corporate philosophy that an above-average intelligent segment of the population will spend hundreds of dollars for a device that performs a simple function capable of certain kindergartners.

mon.roid (monroyd) v. to be scammed out of a large sum of money for an electronic device that performs a simple task capable of most elementary school children. “Not being the sharpest tool in the shed, John was monroid into paying $359 for an ordinary river rock.”

mom.roi (mom’roy) n. a human female keeping score for an offspring at a chess tournament who is in need of assistance from their mommy