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Improve Chess I: There is more than a draw

09 May 2018

I have been following a lot of chess tournaments up close in the past 6 years or so – and I enjoy all of them. The current state of chess is quite okay as there are plenty of top level events with a big prize fund; the internet audience is still growing and the top-10 of the world is closing in, leading to a big variety of world championship contenders. But I have the feeling that something should change in the elite level of our game to make our sport more attractive for the general audience.

In this series of articles, I will elaborate on possible changes to make a better case as to why I think that some things should change:

Abandon 1/2-1/2 as the final result of a classical chess game.

Once every few years, a serious discussion unveils about draws in chess. In London Chess Classic 2017, Shamkir 2018 and Norway Chess 2018, a lot of draws were played in the first half of the tournament. The reason for the discussion is logical: spectators deserve to see fighting chess, and a draw fest is not in the favour of chess as a spectator sport. A draw is in the nature of chess however, so in the past 10 years, we’ve tried the Sofia rules (no talking allowed during the game, including draw offers) or a 30- / 40-move draw rule to avoid premature draws. And although it encourages players to play on, it doesn’t avoid the draw as a result of a chess match – both a repetition on move 12 and a spectacular fighting draw leads to a shared point. 

As I am not a big fan of a draw as a result of a chess game, I have been intrigued by Rustam Kasimdzhanov’s proposal from 2011 to play a new game with shorter time control after a draw to determinate the winner. It definitely deserves a try on the top level. It's based on the assumption that White players want to avoid a Black game with shorter time control, but that doesn’t avoid a quick draw in the classical game.

For me, the ideal format would be to play the tiebreak before the classical game. The tiebreak can be anything, like two 5+3 blitz games. In case of a tie, we will play two 3+2 blitz. In case of a tie, an Armageddon game. After the tiebreak, the classical game starts. If you win the classical game, you get 4 points, disregarding the result in the tiebreak. If you draw the classical game but win the tiebreak, you get 2 points, still half of a classical win. A draw in the classical and a loss in the tiebreak gives 1 point. A loss in the classical gives 0 points, despite the result in the tiebreak.

As a result, no player will be satisfied with a draw as a result of the classical game. And by playing the tiebreak before the classical, it wouldn’t encourage blitz specialists to draw their classical games, like in the World Cup, to secure the win in rapid/blitz.

In such a format, every matchup creates a story (a winner and a loser) and the day starts with a bang. Instead of a long, theoretical discussion in the first hour of the match, we get a spectacular tiebreak, followed by a classical game, where the dynamics are completely different from what we are used to: the loser of the tiebreak has to win the game or he would end up with only 1 point of the maximum of 4. It is a format where the pressure is on the players and where the audience gets a lot of entertainment. And on top of that, a player knows that sharing the point is not an option. Fighting chess is guaranteed.