Hello and welcome back to the discussion on how to mitigate the amount of short draws at the highest level in chess. If you missed part 1 of our discussion you can find it here. I thought it was important to get to the core of what I believe “Grandmaster draws” to be. Grandmaster draws are the conversation of energy. Although they are frustrating for spectators, we cannot blame players (for the most part) for taking advantage of the tournament rules set before them. Would you blame a marathon runner for hopping on a golf cart for miles 22-24 if the rules allowed it? I wouldn’t. It sounds ridiculous but that is exactly what some tournaments allow chess players can do, conserve energy at no cost.
The best solutions are usually accidental
This a personal anecdote, if you don’t care skip to the next paragraph. I am a very bad nail biter. I tried everything to stop myself from biting my own nails: the simple white knuckle approach, painting bad tasting nail polish (although wait doesn’t all nail polish taste bad?) on my nails, prayer and meditation, I even tried to personify my fingers by naming them, then maybe I wouldn’t want to hurt Natalie (left ring finger). None of these solutions worked and I simply lived with daily pain in my hands. I haven’t bitten my nails since December 12th 2016, and I stopped with MAGIC. For once in my life I’m not being analogous. I got inspired to start learning some card tricks, and started showing them to people. For the first time in my life I started drawing people’s attention towards my hands. I stopped biting my nails because I wanted people to be able to appreciate the medium/poor magic trick I was about to show them without being grossed-out by my hands. I instantly stopped nail biting. Magic. Impossible to see that coming, which is one of the main reasons I wanted to write these articles: to propel the conversation (hopefully forward) so we (maybe accidentally) get closer to a solution. So how how are we going to get more fighting at the highest level in chess?
A rule that sounds better than it is
The three points for a win, one point for a draw rule. Usually in tournaments you get 1 point for a win and 1/2 point for a draw. This rules incentivizes players to win by increasing the value of those wins. The problem with this rule is that creates more problems that it solves. This rule reminds be a bit of prohibition, if you just say “alcohol is illegal” than you create a whole black market for liquor which breeds violence and corruption, the very symptoms the prohibition was trying to control.
Instead of being motivated towards caution, this rule could make players overly reckless. The 3 point win rule alters the core of chess too much towards aggression in the same way that it is currently altered towards caution.
This rule also lends it self to cheating and collusion. The 3-0=1 rule is easiest to abuse in the swiss tournament format. Here’s how: you’re the top rated player, and you throw your first game (or two). The next top rated player fights hard in his game and draws. Round 2 will have the top rated player playing someone who also lost, an easy match up. The top playing easily wins, while the 2nd top rated player fights to another draw. The top rated player is now leading 3-2, and has really only had to play one easy game of chess.
This is not where I would choose to change things.
The 2018 Schwartz Cup
To think about methods to discourage GM draws I want to pretend I’m putting on my own chess tournament: The Schwartz Cup, an imaginary chess tournament that will happen sometime in 2018. If my money was on the line, what would I do?
The 2018 Schwartz Cup has a 40 move minimum. How many chess games have you seen and/or played that were bone dry, until someone made a mistake on move 38? I took a very memorable lesson with the great GM Ben Finegold where he gave me some curt advice: “you want to get better at chess? Stop making so many mistakes!” The advice/wisdom was packaged in Ben’s sense of humor, but the core of what he was saying is: the mitigation of mistakes is more efficient path to mastery than brilliance. How’s that for advice? TERRIBLE. Kidding, I love Finegold. You have to.
I was also lucky enough to ask GM Maurice Ashley, WGM Jennifer Shahadae and GM Yasser Seriwan during a SLCC broadcast, “what’s more important: making great moves, or not making mistakes?” The answer was pretty unanimous: mistakes are more responsible for decisive games than brilliance.
Mistakes decide games. Mistakes reveal humanity in chess. It’s impossible for you to make a mistake when you’re sitting on an inner tube in a hotel pool drinking a margarita because you played a 40 minute game of patty cake. Also if you’re in the UAE or the USA from 1920-1933, drinking that margarita is a huge mistake.
I want players at the board a minimum of 40 moves because even in the dullest of games, mistakes (and brilliance) happen.
What about repetition of moves before move 40? Yes that happens from time to time, and there’s no way to avoid that. Each player in the 2018 Schwartz Cup gets 1 “gimme” every 10 games, where they can finish a game by 3-fold repetition in under 40 moves. What if a player draws more than 1 game by 3-fold repetition in under 10 games? Then 3% of your winnings (to be calculated after the tournament) and 15% of your appearance fee are awarded to the current leader of the tournament (more on this later).
I believe in the context of a match or tournament, equality rewards caution. Here are two examples.
In the 2016 World Chess Championship Carlsen and Karjakin started the match equally. Meaning if they finish regulation tied, then they go to rapid games, then blitz, blah blah blah. The 1972 Spassky vs Fischer match didn’t start equally (it became even less equal after the first 2 games!) If Fischer just drew all 24 games Spassky kept his title, Fischer needed to beat Spassky.
Greg Shahade wrote a great blog post called “How to Make the World Chess Championship Less Boring,” where he articulates the advantages of the removal of equality from this aspect of a match.
- At every moment in the match, someone will be behind on the scoreboard. When someone is behind, that player cannot play the most boring openings and moves imaginable game after game. Instead every single draw specifically hurts someone and there is incentive for them to fight harder every game.
I can’t add to a perfectly made point so I’ll move on!
Example #2- The 2017 Sharjah Grand Prix: I greatly enjoyed commentating with the great GM Victor Bologan for this Grand Prix. One of the unexpected bonuses of the trip was meeting and sharing several meals with Norwegian GM and TV Personality Jon Ludvig Hammer. Hammer and I just so happened to eat lunch at the same time most days, so we had some nice conversations, and I can confirm that he is a 100% nice/cool guy. One afternoon Hammer told me about the prize payout of GP Sharjah; if you’re tied with other players all those players get an equal payout. So hypothetically let’s say 4th, 5th, and 6th place pay out $4k, $5k, and $6k respectively, $15k total. If players A, B, and C all tie for 4th place each would get 1/3rd of $15k. Hammer thinks there would be more fighting for better placement if the prize money wasn’t equally divided. When someone always benefits from the status quo, those with poor tiebreaks might have a bigger incentive to go for a win, but then finding a good tiebreak system is key.
Too much equality turns chess into a game of 9-ball in pool where no one has a good shot. Rather than try to pocket the next ball, you make a defensive shot, that leaves your opponent in an equally bad position. Now it’s your opponent’s turn, and it’s in their best interest to make a defensive shot, and leave you with a bad shot, and then you make a defensive shot, and so does he, and you do, and…ahh we just entered infinity! Quick, where’s my totem?
The Double Dutch Rule: a silly idea that probably won’t work
A lot of people don’t know that the top chess players get appearances for attending some tournaments. Not a winning fee, an appearance fee. In my perfect world we would eliminate appearance fees and add them to the prize payouts. I’ve been told by people smarter than me that this is naive, if you want some big names to come, you have to pay them. Fine. I don’t love it, but it’s how things are. The Schwartz Cup will still issue generous appearance fees and gift baskets full of fancy pears. But you have to play chess for at least 2 hours each day.
The Double-Dutch Rule:If your game is drawn and the game is under 2 hours long; then 3% of both player’s winnings (to be calculated after the tournament) and 15% of those player’s appearance fees are awarded to the current leader of the tournament. Players get one “Gimme” for the double dutch rule as well. Sometimes short (in terms of time, not move # or Nigel) draws just happen, and we understand that at the Schwartz Cup.
Why mandate a minimum time someone spends on their game? It’s simple: I think if you get an appearance fee you should have to appear. If there is a marquee match-up between 2 prize fighters, and they decide not to play that day, it should cost them.
Were you wondering about the pears in the gift basket? A pear, Appear, a ppear, appear. It’s subliminal suggestion: pears being suggested as wonderful, will make players want to appear more at the Schwartz Cup.
Am I joking or being serious? Yes
I’m excited about the 2018 Schwartz Cup despite the fact it’s completely imaginary (unless someone wants to give me a sack full of money to do this). 10 players, round robin, classical time controls. 40 move minimum w/ the 3-fold repetition penalty (players are awarded 1 gimme. If a player does not use their gimme, that gimme does not expire and can be used in other Schwartz Cups in coming years). And the double-dutch rule (players are awarded 1 gimme. If a player does not use their gimme, that gimme does not expire and can be used in other Schwartz Cups in coming years). The prize payout will not be equally shared for equal scores, and I will hire someone to figure out tiebreaks to reward fighters.
Who is my fantasy line up: Carlsen, So, Caruana, Nakamura, Kasparov (please please please come out of retirement, for me?), Richard Rapport, Ding Liren, Mamedyarov, Grischuk, and Maxime Vacher-Lagrave. Fighters all of them.
Yes this is a bit silly, but it’s fun to pretend, and it’s fun to think with ‘new’ rules. Amongst this silliness are things I actually are about.
I care about a minimum number of moves. I honestly see no reason for not having such a rule. I also care about removing equality, or the status-quo as GM Hammer called it, from every aspect of tournament standings and prize payouts. This rewards effort and incentivizes players to fight. I understand the time minimum is silly, but I still want it!
I would love to hear any thoughts on these rules, or hear any creative rules you may have thought of, and as always, thanks for reading!