Saturday, March 26, 2016

Draws and Tie-breaks

What a weekend for chess! I can remember back to my younger days in the UK and the choice for me was whether to play in the annual Easter congress in Southend, or the SCCU Championship, which for the life of me I can't remember where it was played...Croydon, Crawley? Anyway, I now look at the wide world of chess this weekend and see:

1. Candidates final 2 rounds

2. Doeberl Cup, Australia's premier weekend tournament

3. Norway Qualifier, looking for a player to join Carlsen et al later in the year

4. GRENKE Open, a huge open with over 600 players including a load of 2700+ players headed by Chinese star Li Chao who currently stands above Topalov on the live rating list.

This is just the tip of the iceberg from where I'm sitting. All these events can be seen on the premier news site, chess24, but TWIC shows about 30 major events happening around the world.

Of course, the major event is the Candidates tournament in Moscow which has had a number of twists and turns up to this point. Today is a rest day, and there are just 2 rounds left to sort things out. Currently, the tournament is being led by Karjakin and Caruana. I'm glad to say that when ACP President Emil Sutovsky asked on his facebook page the 2 questions, Who has the best chance of winning the Candidates, and Who do you want to in the Candidates, I answered Caruana has the best chance, while I want Karjakin. These 2 are now the favourites to take it. But ex World Champion is only half a point behind, while Svidler, Giri and Aronian are just a point behind the leaders.

The tournament has been criticised for the number of draws, and indeed there have only been 14 decisive results from the 48 games in 12 rounds of play. Anish Giri has come in for particular criticism, having drawn all his games. But in my opinion, there have been few quick draws, and some amazing defences, especially by my favourite, Karjakin. It is impossible for a player of my ability to judge how difficult it must be to beat a top 20 player. But I'm willing to accept if there are a lot of draws, it has a lot to do with the quality of defence of the players. I think we place too much emphasis on the result in chess nowadays and not the quality of the play.

And as such, I'm very disappointed with the tie break system, even if it does benefit Karjakin. The first tie-break is the results between the players who each have to play 2 games against the others. This makes some sense. But then, the next tie-break is number of wins. This is a tie-break criteria that has me baffled. One could argue that the player who scores the most wins has played the most aggressive chess. One could also argue that the player with the most wins on a given score also has the most losses, and so has mixed good with bad play. Caruana has so far won 2 games and lost none. He has had a number of promising positions which he hasn't managed to convert. Karjakin meanwhile has won 3 games but lost 1, and has had a number of lucky escapes. Who deserves to go through the most? In my opinion a play off is the only way to decide the outcome of a tie at this level, even if it means speed chess leading to the dreaded Armageddon game!

Devaluing the draw is hurtful to classical chess, as draws are a part of the game. Funnily enough, if Karjakin dos win, then it will be more thanks to his tenacity at drawing difficult positions rather than the games he won. I'm happy to see the rise of Rapid and Blitz events, and the high win quotas that come with this form of chess, but Classical chess should be respected too and the higher rate of draws with it. As long as we're talking fighting draws, of course. The short draw shouldn't have a place in modern chess, and it is good to see so many events banning draws before a certain number of moves.

But then again, there could be worse things in the chess world. Like a World Championship played in Trump Tower, New York with Donald Trump the honoured guest making the first move of the first game? That was a suggestion recently put forward by FIDE's leader in exile, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov which I saw on this page!

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