Reports | July 22, 2011 1:37

Kasimdzhanov: abolish draws altogether

Former FIDE World Champion Rustam Kasimdzanov from Uzbekistan has sent an open letter to the World Chess Federation with quite a revolutionary idea: to abolish the draw in chess altogether. "This way the expectations of the crowd will never be deceived. There will always be a winner, there will always be blood. (...) It will be good for our sport. Not just sponsors and attention and prizes. It will be essentially good for our game."


Open letter with a proposal Dear chess friends, I am writing this open letter, addressed both to FIDE and the entire chess playing world, due to a certain crisis, in which our noble game finds itself lately. This crisis is not only defined by a general dissatisfaction, coming from sponsors, organizers and amateurs; also among the professionals there has been some growing distress. Quite a number of traditional tournaments are no longer organized; in those still out there an ever growing number of extremely strong players is competing for the same money. At the same time voices from all around are expressing serious concern about lackluster play in some top tournaments, and notorious short draws. To understand the reasons why our sport has never made it to the heights it deserves I find it useful to take a look at a sport very similar to ours – tennis. Both games feature the battle of two personalities, showing a whole array of technical weapons in their fight, competing in speed and precision, in patience and wisdom. Why, despite this apparent similarities, despite the fact that many more people worldwide are capable of playing chess properly, do we stand light-years behind tennis in everything that defines success in professional sport? The reasons are numerous, no doubt, but the main problem, as I see it, is an existence of a draw as a result in chess. Short draws (and I also have made a number of those) make our game look more like an insider academic activity, rather than sport; but they can't be avoided – the preparation of today and the inherent qualities of chess are such, that a draw, and in fact a short draw, is a most likely result in a game between strong well-prepared players. Still, in a well-organized tournament, top players, getting up to go to their hotel rooms after a ten minute draw, do not add attractiveness to chess. Returning to tennis, the main attraction is, as I see it, the fact that every single fight produces a result; a winner and a loser at the end of the day. And there is a thrill for every spectator to see, say, Nadal and Federer, come to court, and know with certainty that one of them will triumph and the other one will lose. In short, to put it figuratively, there will be blood. And there will be great champions. In our game, however, things are different. We also have great champions, but their greatness is sometimes limited to insiders of the game. In order to be successful outside of our little world, in order to make front pages and TV, and thereby also the finance that comes in a parcel, we need champions that appeal to a general public, even to a public far from intricacies of chess. Such was a winning streak of Novak Djokovic this year, for instance. Something that a win in a chess super tournament with 8 out of 13 simply cannot match. And now comes my proposal. If we want success, sponsors, public and the rest of the parcel, we need to abolish those draws in classical tournaments. And not by Sofia rules – tournaments with Sofia rules produced as many draws as any other; and not by 30 move rule, where players are often just waiting for move 30. We need something entirely different. Like a tie-break in tennis. We need a result. Every single day. And here is how it works. We play classical chess, say with a time control of four to five hours. Draw? No problem – change the colours, give us 20 minutes each and replay. Draw again? Ten minutes each, change the colours and replay. Until there is a winner of that day. And the winner wins the game and gets one point and the loser gets zero; and the game is rated accordingly, irrelevant of whether it came in a classical game, rapid or blitz. This way the expectations of the crowd will never be deceived. There will always be a winner, there will always be blood. There will come an age of great champions, since with this system there will be times when Vishy or Magnus will win Wijk-aan-Zee with 13 out 13; and there will be winning streaks, when some of the great champions will win 50 games in a row. We'll make front pages. And much more than that. It will be good for our sport. Not just sponsors and attention and prizes. It will be essentially good for our game. People will try extremely hard with white, in order to decide the issue now, and not in a black rapid game. Instead offering a draw in a slightly better ending in order to save energy and catch a movie, chess players will show their whole ability and will win these endings. As a matter of fact this will develop classical chess. And there is so much more. Often players, playing white, feeling rough in the morning, get to the game with an attitude "I'll just make a draw today" Imagine, what will happen to this attitude? Chess will become a true sport. We'll wake up to win or to lose that day. We'll come tho the board, ready to play chess. And just like when we come to see Federer play – we see his whipping forehand, his effortless slice, his hammer serve and immaculate return – same will happen in chess. Every single day we'll see players like Aronian or Grischuk pressing with white, wriggling out of trouble with black and showing some blitz skills to an ever larger public. That is something I would like to watch and play. Grandmaster Rustam Kasimdzhanov

Editors's picture
Author: Editors
Chess.com

Comments

Nima's picture

I see your point Arne. At the same time, your draw against a stronger player is not meaningless - it is an accomplishment - it depends how you look at it. Also, if you can draw a standard game, it is conceivable that you can win in blitz.

EvanLoon's picture

You're missing the point Kasim makes. Everybody in chess has always regarded a draw against a strong player as an achievement of some significance. We have to change ourselves! A draw is nothing! Only victory counts!

arbiter's picture

Decisive games; a win or a loss, being the only result do bring the games more attention.

Despite the faults of the tournaments format, the tie breaks in Kazan, particular the blitz was laden with drama for the spectator. Consequently there were more spectators.

Playing a classical game, a rapid game, and a blitz game in one day seems a bit much, but then again so does the amount of running in a soccer game. Players will need to play less often, but the days they do play will be terribly exciting.

Tournaments with the Kazimdzhanov Rules will have fewer matchups but just as many games.

Let's give a try and see what happens. As Fischer taught us "Best by Test."

arbiter's picture

Decisive games; a win or a loss, being the only result do bring the games more attention.

Despite the faults of the tournaments format, the tie breaks in Kazan, particular the blitz was laden with drama for the spectator. Consequently there were more spectators.

Playing a classical game, a rapid game, and a blitz game in one day seems a bit much, but then again so does the amount of running in a soccer game. Players will need to play less often, but the days they do play will be terribly exciting.

Tournaments with the Kazimdzhanov Rules will have fewer matchups but just as many games.

Let's give a try and see what happens. As Fischer taught us "Best by Test."

Pingu's picture

Fischerrandom is the way to go.

Johnny's picture

I find Mr. Kazimdzhanov's letter to be amazingly well-written and its proposal to be worthy of careful consideration.

Umesh's picture

I agree on both counts. Well articulated and definitely a very interesting proposal. It needs to be tried out.

RdC's picture

Chess is a game with three natural results, why fight against it? If tennis tournaments were organised like chess tournaments as all play alls or Swiss, a draw in tennis (6-6 in a set) would also be seen as a natural result. They have tie breaks in tennis because of the knock out format of most tennis competitions. Also it was traditional that you had to lead by 2 in order to win a set.

In practice why wouldn't players tacitly agree to settle for the blitz by taking early draws in the longer forms of their match?

gg's picture

stupid

Ben's picture

Heh, the least "world champion" (not his fault, competition is too fierce) may be one of the most famous if this gains traction. His time modification statement is a bit ambiguous: does 'give us 20 minutes' mean each side starts with 20 minutes or you add it on to whatever time you saved from the previous game. I like the latter option a bit better. I'm less a fan of his rating suggestion (I prefer the classical game gets rated only), unless the format becomes the widespread norm. This would be great to have some of the tournaments experiment with this, just like they experiment with the 3:1:0 scoring system from time to time.

Max's picture

I like the idea. I wonder if maybe only the first game should be ELO-rated.

Igor's picture

I think we need 3 ratings. Or basicly the extension of what every chess server already has. Standard, Rapid, Blitz. Depending on what game is not a draw, the rating changes. Btw. we still can have draw rating adjustments, that way the weaker player will not be punished for makeing just a draw, he/she will be rewarded with rating improvement.

Thomas's picture

"Instead offering a draw in a slightly better ending in order to save energy and catch a movie, chess players will show their whole ability and will win these endings."

Ah, all you need to do to win a slightly favorable ending is "show your whole ability"? If you have such a slight advantage with the black pieces, it might actually be more promising to call it a day and try again with white in the rapid game ... .

Methinks Kasimdzhanov's system can be rather unfair: One player wins quickly - because his opponent blunders or runs into his opening preparation. His next-day opponent tries to win a queen ending for 120 moves in vain, then has to play several tiebreak games to lose the all or nothing bullet game ... while his future opponent relaxes watching a movie, or rather prepares for the next encounter.

sab's picture

"Methinks Kasimdzhanov’s system can be rather unfair".

Is there any system which is not a bit unfair sometimes ? At least Kasimdzhanov’s proposal may bring more fights in chess.

Let's give it a try !

Drag Queen's picture

Want more media coverage?Play naked.
Let s give it a try

Thomas's picture

As a matter of fact, I am not all against "giving it a try" in some sort of exhibition event - world-top players might attract more media attention, yet it could also be fun between amateurs (where draws, at least short fightless "GM" draws are already less common).

On the other hand, I am against making it mandatory in all events. Hence, even if parts of Kasim's proposal-letter are interesting, others don't make sense to me. 'Every slightly better ending can be won' - huh?? If this came from Danailov, I would shrug shoulders thinking he doesn't have a clue (though as an IM, even he should know better), from a strong GM it's just plain deliberate nonsense. "We need a result. Every single day. ... the game is rated accordingly, irrelevant of whether it came in a classical game, rapid or blitz." - WRONG IMO.

Another aspect which several people already pointed out: there is simply no time for tiebreaks after every single game in amateur events such as weekend Swisses. And while Kasimdzhanov wasn't thinking about such events, I still believe that chess should, as much as possible, have the same rules at all levels.

Bartleby's picture

The goal "no draw" is worth a thought, but the suggestion how to get there won't help. The incentive for Black not to play for a win would even be higher than it is now. True or not, many good players claim that White cannot achieve much against a risk-averse Black at the higher levels. Basically tournament chess would become a rapid competition, like in Kazan. We could just skip the initial draw before the decisive games.

If you really think the draw itself is the problem, we should eliminate draws by changing the rules. Assign a decisive result to every situation that now leads to draw. E.g. draw offer loses on the spot :)

But I don't buy the logic that the draw is the thing that holds chess promotion back. I think the problem lies in chess promotion. And sometimes in too high expectations. Too much pipedreams about easy money, too little groundwork.

Igor's picture

I strongly disagree. Draws suck.

realitycheck's picture

The main problem haunting sponsorship is that the Sponsors are too often made out to look like suckers and treated like suckers after the players and the organizers have gotten their money.

Constantly changing the rules, the formats, the time-controls, the score cards etc won't solve this problem.

The silly comparisons with other sports like tennis, soccer, and boxing don't help either.

ro's picture

I'm already following this rule!

(by loosing all the games)

Mike's picture

Chess is about strategy, tactics, intelligence, planning, concentration, art, science, talent and even chaos. You cannot just simply erase the draws from Chess without mutilating it's essence. Just check these precious draws:

-Mikhail Tal - Lev Aronin; Moscow, 1957;
-Svetozar Gligoric - Robert J. ("Bobby") Fischer; Bled (YUG), 1961;
-Bobby Fischer - Mikhail Tal; (FIDE Olympiad, Leipzig/W. GER/1960);
-Laszlo Szabo - Arthur Dake; FIDE Olympiad. Warsaw, Poland; 1935;
-Boris Kreiman - GM Larry Christiansen; The U.S. Championships. Seattle, Washington. (U.S.A.) 2002;
-Kramnik - GM G. Kasparov; 'Brain Games' World Championship; Game # 4; London; ENG 2000.

And many, many thousand more brilliant ones.

What we need is more rewarding for the fighting players, and eventually, like in Boxing, a certified group of arbiters (of course all them GM's) with the power of analyse any officially played game and decide to remove ELO points from any player who is playing too much draws without fight. Even as an amateur I can see when players often play ridiculous and "out-of-fight-spirit" draws.

Rob Brown's picture

Kasimjanov is not suggesting that draws be erased. The games you site would still have been recorded for posterity under his proposal. The result would have been erased pending a decisive outcome.

Harish Srinivasan's picture

Why cant FIDE just try this one out. If people like it and there is acceptance from a majority, then retain it. There is no harm in trying something new. The only detractors to this would be those who always like to criticize an idea since it was not their own. Many times a change can be welcoming and make current situation better even if you already like chess as is.

Paul V's picture

Thanks for an interesting proposal for official "tournament chess structure" without altering the basic rules of chess at all.

(Need some basic suggestions on how to handle elo.)

I´m sure one would be able to find participants and sponsors to set up such a tournament. Let´s postpone judgment till after following such an event and after the sponsors and the players have made their comments.

calling all sponsors

JC's picture

It's an interesting thought, but I'm not sure on the specifics.

I think the notion that the draw is the "main problem" chess is behind tennis is a little silly. There's no sense comparing the number of proficient *players* of chess with *players* of tennis, when you're comparing them as spectator sports. Rather you need to consider the number of 'proficient' *viewers*.

To understand a tennis match, you don't even need to be able to lift a racket. Practically anyone can enjoy watching a high-level tennis match, and marvel at the athleticism/shot-making of the participants. Even if they don't know the rules, they'll quickly be able to see who has won each point, and who is leading in the match.

In high-level chess, the same is not true at all. The vast majority of potential viewers can't hope to understand or appreciate what is happening in a high-level match. Even for club players, most of the nuances of top-level play will be opaque. Certainly real-time commentary and analysis are helpful here, but the fact remains that most players won't see significant details that aren't pointed out, and the vast majority of the general public wouldn't understand what's happening even after an explanation.

There's no way to make chess as transparent as tennis, so the comparison really isn't too helpful. Next to the transparency issue, the draw issue is tiny - which isn't to say it's not worth thinking about. There just shouldn't be any expectation that chess could ever be as popular as tennis.

Perhaps a closer comparison might be something like poker - where following top-level play does require some understanding. Even there though, it's not only the win/lose format that encourages spectators, but also the constant feedback: each hand is brief, and each hand has a winner.
In chess there's no clear, objective feedback after each move/few-moves. Even the evaluation of Houdini is, subjective, prone to error, and often provides very little insight into the considerations of the players.

Sadly, I think people simply have to face the fact that chess has a lot of negatives as a spectator sport. Interesting formats can be thought of to make things more entertaining/exciting for some viewers, but it'll never have the transparency/consistent-feedback of other sports, so it's unrealistic to expect it to compete.

Harish Srinivasan's picture

JC: Your point of chess not being as transparent is right but that does not mean chess cannot be compared to tennis. Kasim does make a correct point in comparison only from the tie-breaks perspective. Imagine in tennis they did not have the tie-breaks after 6-6 and instead declared draws... would the tennis game be less or more popular than what it is right now? If the answer is tie-breaks helps tennis, then it will help chess as well. The issue is not about resolving transparency.

JC's picture

Oh sure - my main objection is to the idea that the draw issue is "the main problem" when compared to tennis. In my view that just isn't the case. It might be the main *potentially resolvable* problem, but that's an entirely different statement.

I agree that the possibility of draws is an issue, and that there might be ways to improve chess-as-spectator-sport by addressing it. My point is simply that this is a relatively smaller issue than Kasimdzhanov seems to think it is.

I'm not saying that his general thought on eliminating draws is necessarily a bad idea - I think it's worth exploring. Simply that we should be glad of whatever small improvements such experiments might make, rather than thinking it might put chess on a similar level to tennis.

Bob's picture

I think that we saw the problems with this idea at the qualifiers' final.

TMM's picture

It would have been different if after every game they had tiebreaks. Now they could draw all their classical games and see who is better at rapid/blitz. If instead they did tiebreaks for each game, and after the first two tiebreaks one was leading 2-0, then the other would try harder to score a win.

Thomas's picture

If there's a need for such a system, I would actually suggest a modified Bilbao scoring system:
- A classical win counts as 10-0
- A rapid win means 7-3
- A blitz win means 6-4
Players might even get the right to omit the fast tiebreak games and leave the score 5-5, under certain circumstances: if the classical games was long, tiring and gruelling or even if the draw was (with arbiter's consent) prearranged because one player is sick.
Games might even be rated according to such a system - I see at least two advantages:
- Referring to Arne Moll's comment above, a classical draw against a far stronger player remains an achievement: you gain or at least don't lose rating points.
- It will be harder to win an event "Grischuk-style", drawing classical (and rapid) games to primarily rely on your blitz skills.

JC's picture

This I like. It seems much more likely to create an incentive to play for a win, while meaning that achieving a draw will always get you something.

As a very similar alternative, it might be more entertaining to use a system that totals the scores as you go, so that each player has more points after each game.

For example:
Classical game: 8 points for a win, 2 points each for a draw.
Rapid game: 4 points for a win, 1 point each for a draw.
Blitz game: 2 points for a win, 1/2 a point each for a draw.
...

This way you'd get pretty similar scores to yours after three games:
Classical win: 8-0
Rapid win: 6-2
Blitz win: 5-3

The main difference being that things might be a bit clearer / more systematic. Of course you'd get down to pretty small fractions of points after a few blitz games, but perhaps that's pretty reasonable (e.g. winning in the third blitz game would get you 4.25-3.75).
Perhaps there'd be a bit less tension given that there would be progressively less at stake, but the eventual winner would still come out with a moral victory at least - even if the points gain is little better than a good tiebreak.

In tournament situations, it'd also feel more reasonable to players I guess. Having the entire match come down to blitz after a well-fought classical draw, just feels a bit cheap. But knowing that the classical draw got you 2 points in the bank, and by the third blitz game you're playing for the remaining 0.5 points, seems a bit fairer.

RuralRob's picture

Frankly I think the best way to get chess more positive exposure in the public eye would be "product placement" in big movies. Soft drink companies, car companies, computer companies, etc. do it all the time. Let's have FIDE raise enough money (or shake loose some of Kirsan's pocket change) to pay Christopher Nolan to include a scene in his next movie where Batman is playing an engrossing game of chess against . G-Raw times 100!

RuralRob's picture

Frankly I think the best way to get chess more positive exposure in the public eye would be "product placement" in big movies. Soft drink companies, car companies, computer companies, etc. do it all the time. Let's have FIDE raise enough money (or shake loose some of Kirsan's pocket change) to pay Christopher Nolan to include a scene in his next movie where Batman is playing an engrossing game of chess against (insert next cool villain here). G-Raw times 100!

(Sorry - somehow my initial post got messed up.)

stevefraser's picture

"Product placement" already happens, both in ads and movies....but who wants to follow top level chess with short draws because both players are afraid to lose,.

gg's picture

People that like to see Federer-Nadal won't say: "Wow, have you heard, there are no draws in chess! We should follow the games of that guy Gelfand instead of Federer's now!" If the idea is just to kill classical chess then by all means just go on with candidates like Kazan and proposals like these,

Lee's picture

Bad idea.

The Black (classical-control) player will simply dry out the game to get White in the next (rapid) game

Septimus's picture

This is another extreme view. Sometimes draws happen and it is a bit foolish to continue playing a dead position till Kings are the only pieces on the board. What needs to go are the Drawnik kind of 9 move draws.

If you want to make things interesting, have two sections to a match.

a) Normal half (say 6 games) where Sofia rules are followed.
b) Unprepared section where an opening is picked out of a hat and the players play on. Eliminate the Berlin, QGD, Petroff and all such boring openings.

Morley's picture

It's not like there are hoards of sports fans waiting for chess to get rid of the draw, at which point they would follow the sport. Chess could universally adopt this proposal, and it would still just be an academic detail in a game that most people are unaware even has professional leagues. The only thing that will make the game more popular, more economically feasible, and more mainstream is a concerted effort to publicize it. Chess was pretty darn big at points in the 60s and 70s because work was put into popularizing it and presenting world championship matches to the public in an entertaining way. They still had draws. Get rid of the current FIDE leadership, put someone who loves chess and is tech and news savvy in his place, and things will change. Draws have nothing to do with it.

RM's picture

I actually think it's a good idea. Just like in other sports, your physical condition will start to be more important. It's already the case, but this is the No. 1 aspect that separates our sport from the other, more physical ones, generally much more appreciated by a greater public.

Shorter games would also come in handy, to allow for spectators to follow a match.

The point that stronger players will generally prevail, is incorrect. A stronger player also suffers from tiredness after the first game, and ome weaker players will actually benefit from a shorter time control.

It also allows the weaker player to gain more experience by playing more than 1 game against a stronger opponent, if he manages to not lose in game 1.

Last but not least, this rule would force players to become more all-round, and diversify their repertoire.

Fighting draws earned are indeed painful when lost in game 2. But that's where the scoring system could come in handy. A win in game 1 could imply 2-0 or 3-0. A win in game 2 after a draw: 2-1 or 3-1, to allow for game 3 to end in a 2,5-1,5 score. I do think their should be a limit on the nr. of games, 3 for example. If all 3 games would end in a draw, the number of black games (or the last to have played black, which would be the same result) could lead to a win.

It's hard to make chess a mainstream sport. People don't like to use their brains when watching sports. The regular guy won't be able to tell his mates at the bar that Aronian shouldn't have neglected that weakness on b2, but still... If we want to go mainstream, we have to make some changes.

This idea, combined with shorter time controls, are certainly possibilities worth considering. Even though we already know it won't happen. Chess pride and conservatism walk hand in hand. We see that in every layer of our game. Or sport?

David H. Krantz's picture

I am grateful to GM Kasimdzhanov for his highly original and thought-provoking proposal. It opens a new dimension for exploration of ideas to improve high-level chess competition.

I see two potential disadvantages (both may be surmountable with appropriate modifications of the proposal).

First, alternation of colors in successive tie-breakers does give the black side a strong incentive to avoid risk in the initial game at the classical time control. It may therefore be better not to alternate -- the White player continues with White until a decision is reached.

Second, the proposal downgrades the truly great drawn games, which are themselves classics. For example, Game 17 of the 1972 Spassky-Fischer match was a tremendous, absorbing battle ending in a draw. Game 13 of the same match was one of the most creative chess games of all time, and could easily have ended in a draw. Perhaps the arbiter should have the privilege of allowing a draw as the ending of a dramatic struggle.

Another point concerns the possible exhaustion of the two contestants. It does seem that we should get rid of the slow time controls entirely. The recent Anand-Shirov exhibition match demonstrated the virtues of a time control longer than rapid but shorter than classical. Such a time control for the initial game might fit well with GM Kasimdzhanov's proposal.

Drag Queen's picture

Red little hand for you.

Igor's picture

Why not just say a draw is not +0.5 for both players but a -0.5 for both. We will see a lot less draw games in tournaments.

Chilsz's picture

Or maybe, what would be even better is if a draw would count as a loss?! Then you will get fighting chess for sure, both will try to win and thus you will get more exciting games.

bhabatosh's picture

if you have no clue about arithmetic then draw should be treated as loss.
if both gets -1 in table it is as same as both getting 0.5 ...
only diff is if one player looses 10 games in a 10 round tournament he is -10 and
similarly another guy he drew 10 games is stuck at -10 !!
This is not acceptable.
What Kasim said is different , you only have to win to score points ... even if it is tie break,...

steve's picture

chess will never be popular; it is simply something that a lay person can not appreciate and understand without lots of practice.

commentator: ohhhh, after 30 minutes, there it is! a3!!

crowd: snoooooooooooooooze

all of these attempts to make it 'popular' are misguided.

steve's picture

chess will never be popular; it is simply something that a lay person can not appreciate and understand without lots of practice.

commentator: ohhhh, after 30 minutes, there it is! a3!!

crowd: snoooooooooooooooze

all of these attempts to make it 'popular' are misguided.

although he is correct about top level players being heavily inclined towards a draw. it is the same thing people said 50 year ago.

gg's picture

And he exaggerates so much when he talks about top players drawing after ten minutes, or preferring to catch a movie instead of winning an endgame. I wonder how many such games he will find in Biel for example.

KingTal's picture

I think its not a good idea. As he already says in his letter, if two players want a draw, then there will be a draw. So what use will it have to play a long match first, if both will immediately agree to it. Then it will be just rapid and blitz chess...

Also i don´t think draws are a problem in itseIf i would just suggest to forbid draw offers. I think this is a problem as the Candidate matches showed, where early draws were agreed in playable positions. Then, at least, the number of the short draws will decrease.

LMedemblik's picture

Lets use the available technique!
If there is a draw let the computer calculate who was on average the whole game better. This way you'll keep on fighting in drawish games.

Mike's picture

Ok, the computer can be a tool, a valuable one, but just a tool. A set of human (GM) arbiters would decide the verdict, and even remove ELO pints from the "drawish" guys.

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