Commando-style chess, or going without draws…

To misquote Karl Marx, a spectre is haunting chess – the spectre of draws. All the powers of old chess have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre…

Well, not quite. But few months go by in the chess world without another discussion of what to do about the number of draws in chess, especially when they are short and fightless. The recent Kazan Candidates tournament was something of a nadir, with just three decisive games out of 30-odd played at the classical time-limit, and even a number of the rapid playoff games being halved out in short order.

I do not intend to go into detail about the many potential solutions that have been discussed; you can find extensive debates on these on Chessbase and other chess news sites. But I was quite interested in a recent suggestion from Russian GM, Sergey Shipov, one of the shrewdest and most intelligent commentators on chess today.

Sergey the Shrewd

His article, which in all honesty I only took notice of because I happened to be asked to translate it from the Russian, can be found on the Chessbase site, here. In brief, the essence of his idea is this:

  • Like it or not, the general public want to see a winner each day, and even a hard-fought draw is not a result that makes it easy to publicise chess more widely.
  • Ergo, if we want to spread chess more widely amongst the mass media and general public, we need to provide them with a winner in every game.
  • So: you play one normal, classical game, as now, using Sofia rules (or some equivalent) to prevent early draws.
  • If the game is drawn anyway, the players play two blitz games, followed if necessary, by a single Armageddon blitz game.
  • The player who wins the classical game gets 3 points, his opponent nil. If the classical game is drawn, each gets one point, and the winner of the blitz gets an additional one point.

And , in the words of ex-BBC film critic Barry Norman, “there you have it”. Every day, when asked who won today’s game, we can give a definite answer – Smithsky or Bloggsky. No messing about, trying to explain that despite a five-six-seven hour game, there was no winner. Furthermore, the players are not placed under intolerable physical strain, as would be the case if one tried to arrange rapid games to resolve the tie – even the rather older player is going to be able to manage a couple of blitz games, and the whole playoff process would be over inside 30 minutes, maximum, thus avoiding an unduly prolonged playing session.

It seems to me that this idea deserves a trial, at least. As an old stick-in-the-mud, I am not especially wedded to any such changes in the game, but then again, I am not a chess professional and do not have to make a living from the game. Those who do need to see our game become more popular with a wider audience, and achieve greater media exposure, and we have to accept that, in order to do that, there has to be some change, to make the game more attractive to a mass audience. Having a clearly-identifiable winner, in every match-up, every day, in a tournament, would be an important starting-point in that process.

It would be really nice to see this tried out in a top-level  all-play-all event. It is probably too late now to introduce it at this year’s London Classic, but I would love to see the organisers do so, and drop the rather flawed 3–1-0 football scoring system that they use. As suggested reforms go, this one strikes me as much the most sensible that I have heard. Those familiar with Sergey Shipov and his writings will not be surprised that it should come from him.

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