Thursday, November 1, 2007

Chess Controversy: Draws in Competitive Play

It's game 7 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Hockey. 3rd Period, 2 minutes to go, tie score. A coach calls a time out and walks over the other bench, and offers the other team a draw, giving each team 3.5 points, and an equal share of the Stanley Cup. Possible? Not on your life! The fans would drop the sport completely and denounce it as professional competition. Pockets of fans would remain, but the media and news organizations wouldn't bother covering the event any longer. Why bother - draws can be decided before the contest even begins by competitors lacking integrity, and there will never be a sure-fire way to determine if it was rigged way before the contest even began. Why give worthwhile news coverage to events that are questionable before they even start! Such doubts are what destroy competitive sports as soon as fans start to believe deals are being made behind closed doors.

What does this have to do with chess you might be thinking? Well, consider the following scenario:

A group of Grandmaster competitors converge on a highly anticipated tournament. 3 GM's of a field of 12 play their hearts out, with their supporters keeping track on internet blogs and chess servers of their progress. One GM has a score of 11-0, one has 10-1 and the other has 10 and 2. The GM with the score of 11-0 offers the GM with 10-1 a draw fairly early in the match. The GM being offered the draw has lost against the current leader 4 out of their last 5 encounters, and does not want to split the prize fund for second place if he drops to 10-2. Or in some formats, he might simply want to avoid having to fight for second place. He accepts the draw.

The winner claims the prize with a 11.5 point total. Second place claims the prize with a 10.5 point total, and the last GM finished 3rd with 10 points.

Who loses out in this example? The GM's? Maybe the 3rd place GM if it was a format where he would have had a chance at playing to win second place. But honestly, it's the fans of chess that lost out the most along with the credibility of the competition in general.

Now let me say this: Draws and Stalemates are extremely important to chess. But I question their importance in competitive play. If tournament participants reach a draw or stalemate, it should be at the credit of their good play, but it should not end there. There should be a rematch until a clear winner of that 1 point is determined. If someone can force a stalemate or draw, good for them. They might very well have salvaged a losing position. However, their only reward should be another shot at that 1 point against the same player.

Would it make tournaments longer? Sure! Just like overtime in any other professional sports. Fans love it! The media loves it! Everyone is waiting with baited breath to see who will rise above their competitor and finally secure the win!

I believe this is where chess needs to go. There can be no doubts, chess is really suffering from a lack of media coverage and exposure. How many newspapers covered the results of the recent championships in Mexico? None around my area, and from what I am reading very few in North America in general. Questionable draws and tournament results over the years have turned many media organizations and people in general away from the sport of chess. Many believe that results are rigged when draws end up altering the outcome of tournament results - and can we blame them?

If chess is going to gain popularity and media coverage, things have to change. The issue of draws is just one thing, the overall organization of how world champions are selected is another. In its current form, Chess has too many things working against it that is stopping it from reaching a mass audience and an equal share of coverage that chess enthusiasts like us know that it definitely DESERVES!

I am looking forward to your thoughts on this discussion.


dOpposition said...

Some tournaments are played without accepting draws. The games must be played out. Of course players can communicate over the board and still steer the game into a practical draw.
Can it be eliminated? No. Encouraged. Yes.
The only way to win is to win.

Christian said...

As far as I know, the European Team Championship requires a minimum number of moves before players are allowed to agree on a draw. That seems fair and feasible. Another option would be for draws to require the approval of a referee.

Short draws ought to be banned from professional chess play, in my opinion, for it upsets fans and sponsors alike -- let alone outsiders! Moreover, in some cases, quick draws make for questionable sportsmanship, as in the 13-move draw Kramnik-Grishuk (was it?) in the world championship tournament in Mexico, which basically gave the two an extra day off. And let's not forget the famous Sovjet drawing spree in the tournament against Fischer.

Anonymous said...

Using Blitz games to distribute the full point to one player or the other does nothing to reduce the draw problem in the long time-control games, which are the only games we care about.

It is not the points or prize money that we spectators (and replayers of games from .PGN) care about, it is the quality and gravitas of the long time-control games.

Blitz ain't got no gravitas. Plus Blitz games are rarely recorded or notated.

S.Polgar blog re short draws

Mig's blog re short draws re short draws


jrobi said...

I don't mean have them play a blitz, I mean have them play a long time control match back to back. Would this be desirable for the GM's? Definitely not, which means they will try harder for a win instead of passively working towards a draw.