Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Draws in Chess - A solution to High Draw Percentage in Tournament Play

I posted this back in 2007 and am re-posting it due to the discussion of draws spreading around the chess blogosphere again, namely a recent Chessbase article in which a variety of "solutions" are proposed (such as changing the size of the board, method of play, etc):

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 coach 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 destroys 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, 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. While things like Armageddon Blitz might not be indicitive of skill, it's definitely exciting to watch the GM's face off in a blitz game due to an inability to secure the win in the longer time formats of the tournament.

Would it make tournaments longer? Sure - a little bit! 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! Just take a look at how viral the Armageddon Blitz videos become, and how controversial they are sometimes.

I believe this is where competitive 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 recent championships? 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 following 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!

So in summary, I believe the solution to draws is the following, and it definitely does not include any kind of fundamental game change as proposed in the chessbase article: 1 point for win, 0 points for loss, and when draws happen, let them blitz right after the game in an "overtime" Armageddon Blitz format to see who wins the point with the loser getting nothing.

jrobichess makes chess videos and has a chess blog along with a personal chess site at http://www.jrobichess.com.


Michael Quigley said...

I made my view clear on this a while ago.

As Anand says, deep opening theory just means that a player can't have a favourite opening, but instead learn a little about a lot, rather than a lot about a little.

I know the "American way" is to not have draws, but we have draws in most sports in England. For example. Once every 2 years the Ashes (cricket match) is played between Australia and England. This is a 5 match (5 days per match) competition. So after 25 days of play can there be a draw? Yes. Of course. If both teams/players are equal this is a fair result.

Also, I made comments about fatigue, over playing and that early draws are not good for the sport, but half-wins and playing on for the sake of it, seem petty and ill thought out.

Football, rubgy, cricket, golf, hocky, basketball, the list is almost endless. Sport has draws.

jrobi said...

Good post Michael! I agree with pretty much everything you say about the importance and reality of draws in chess, and also how they do take place in other competitions.

But I do think that it would be more exciting from the spectator end of things to see the GM's blitz out after the draw to see who gets the tournament point. It accomplishes a few big things in my opinion:

#1 - Removes the possibility of draw controversies in chess, which tend to rear up every now and then in tournament play which hurts the game.

#2 - Much more exciting and representative of the competitive spirit in that the GM's really do fight it out for that point, and there will be someone who wins the point for the tournament tally and someone who doesn't. This brings the element of excitement, stamina, and the fighting spirit to new levels. Great examples of this are the Armageddon blitz videos from some recent high level tournaments. The difference here in my proposal is that these blitz games would take place after any draw, and not just for people tied for first place at the end of the tournament. Compounding the excitement and possibilities for upsets and dramatic clashes in all rounds of the tournament and not just the final one.

#3 - It still allows for draws to take place in the tournament setting, which in my opinion is very important because a draw usually means a very well played game from both sides. Sometimes GM's turn a losing position into a drawing position which is great. If they had to blitz after to see who gets the point, it's almost like salvaging the situation and getting another shot at overcoming the opposition.

4. I think with this format you would see much less draws take place. GM's would be much more motivated to play for the win from move one to avoid having to rely on the blitz game in case a draw happens.

It's an interesting conversation nonetheless.

Michael Quigley said...

Thanks for your reply J. Some excellent points.

I understand the sponsorship problem of having 2,3 or more winners of a tournament. I'll conceed here then, that to win a tourney a seperate game (blitz) should be played to decide. Like penalties in a cup final.

I also think that FIDE should promote more chess styles. In particular the blitz and blind versions. These would be more appealing to the general public.

Last year (I forget the tournament) there were games played inside a glass bubble (one-way glass, so spectators could see in but the plays couldn't see out). Another way of promoting chess - which I think is one of the things behind this draw debate.

But I am dead against changing rules, e.g. part-wins as outlined in the post you link to i=on the blog. I'm sure there are plenty who disagree with me :-)


jrobi said...

I completely agree with you about the "part win" option listed in the chessbase article. I think it's a horrible idea, especially when there are some very solid alternatives that don't mess with the fundamental rules of the game. And who would willingly give up a "partial win" anyway.

Anonymous said...

Draws are garbage.

The end.