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


LMedemblik's picture

Just because its a tool there will be no emotions involved when the verdict has been made.

Henk de Jager's picture

I think it is a great idea, in no individual sport (except checkers of course) that I can think of is a draw an accepted or possible result. Games, sports and their rules evolve and have always evolved over time. Perhaps it´s time for a new step in the evolution of chess. I´m not sure the millions will come rolling in for our grandmasters, but the priniple that every game has a winner appeals to me.

Rob's picture

I think its a good idea. IMO a better one than Sofia-rules etc. Maybe a win in rapid would be 0,75-0,25?!etc. (Maybe not for the tournament score but for elo or something)

Rob's picture

Flip a coin for colour..

Kiwi's picture

Here's a suggestion, with respect to pairings and colour allocation, which would reward players who won their previous round game by allocating them the white pieces for the next round.

This change would involve revising FIDE's Basic Principles for Swiss System Tournaments, (and with it the General Pairing Rules, (see:

The Basic Principles would be changed to read:

1. The number of rounds to be played is declared beforehand.
2. Two players may play each other only once.
3. Players are paired with others of the same score, or nearest score.

4. A player who won with the black pieces in the previous round will be allocated the white pieces for the next round.
5. Notwithstanding Principles 4, above, a player who won with the white pieces in the previous round will be allocated the white pieces for the next round.

6. When possible, a player is given the white pieces as many times as he is given the black pieces.
7. When possible, a player is given the colour other than that he was given the previous round.
8. The final ranking order is determined by the aggregate of points won: 1 point for a win, 0.5 point for a draw and 0 point for a loss. A player whose opponent fails to appear for a scheduled game receives one point.

I believe this change will retain the integrity of the game whilst encouraging winning chess.

Another benefit is that it will keep tournaments competitive for longer, because a player could make a run in the latter rounds by winning a game, being allocated the white pieces for the next round, with the improved chance of winning consecutive games. This would result in fewer tournaments where a player, for example, is a point ahead with three rounds to play, and therefore feels comfortable to offer draws.

The only issue I see with this proposal is the advantage it could give to those who have white in the first round. This could be offset by adjusting tie-break rules to favour those who won the most games with black, other things being equal.

I don't see why this approach could not also be applied to all-play-all tournaments. Yes, that could mean a player get the white (or black) pieces on both occasions against the same opponent in a double-round all-play-all. This reveals another advantage - players in all-play-all events being less able to 'book up' on opponents a long way in advance by virtue of knowing what colour they will have for each round and opponent.

Roberto Alvarez's picture

Draws are not the problem... the real problem are DRAWS without a fght. The history of chess is plenty of exciting draws... I am really not in favour of supressing draws as a possible conclusion of a game.

At professional level, making a draw in a few moves shold be unacceptable. Why not give the money prize for the number of wins? Let us forget for a minute the rating system.... The players will earn a basic money for appearance, and then the big money will be divided into the number of decisve games. The more games you win, the more money you win.... No more money for making 9 draws.... and no invitations for players (I mean PROFESSIONAL chessplayers) who don´t fight.

For instance (figured values)
win: 1000 euros lose: 500 euros
draw 250 euros each player
draw in less than 3 hours of play: 0 (zero)

Note than the player who lose a game (maybe because of taking risks and refusing to a draw) wins more than a cautious player who draws.

stevefraser's picture

Excellent points....."Unless decisive, all games will proceed to sixty moves; the first player on the move to bring about a repeat of position loses."

BlunderSuck's picture

I already follow a modified version of this rule i.e.I am not allowing any loss too...just win.

GuidedByVoices's picture

GM Rustam Kasimdzhanov organises very well an idea which has been around for a while. However, there are a few points to be made:

(1) As I understand it, the proposal is aimed to big tournaments where all (or most - say, the Aeroflot Open) are rated at least 2600. This means we are talking about the top 150 GMs in the World. These are the tournaments which should draw media attention, aren't they? I do not see big sponsors worried about the 2300-2500 Elo segment.
(2) Making the classical time control game tighter is OK. I am only a candidate master but used to play over 7 hours in the 4NCL and I think is way too long. Like GM Nunn wrote in one of his books "if you do not see the right move inside a few minutes, you are never going to see it". Say classic time control is 5 hours, which gives you about 2.5 hours for tie-break games (I quite like 20 minutes followed by a series of 10 minutes games).
(3) I strongly disagree with those here who think the stronger player should fear faster time controls. I think Grischuk said once, the faster the game, the more chances the stronger players wins. From my own 30-years playing experience, this ought to be true.
(4) I disagree with Rustam´s proposal to rate the game regardless the format the clash was decided. It makes much more sense to factor the rating change. I have not done any maths, but let´s say 15% of the rating change comes from Blitz, 25% from Rapid, and 60% from Classic time control. This way, you can get a rating change leaned towards classic time control (like now), but which also reflects the overall result.
(5) I do not see any reason for strong and professional players to draw every game straight up to blitz. The risk of not winning any money prize for months would be too high.
(6) On a different token, I do not see football matches on TV just because of the chance we get the boring 0-0 score after 2 hours. I feel this might well apply to chess, one of the few 'sports' which too often do not produce a clear winner in top-flight games...
(7) If FIDE refines Rustam´s proposal along these lines and give it a try, I think we may well see a positive change.
(8) Last but not least, on applying this system there is a huge chance to bury openings such as the Petroff, Berlin wall or the QGD Lasker; because if you know you will only win or lose on any given day, you will try to win as hard as you can at any stage.

gg's picture

"there is a huge chance to bury openings such as the Petroff, Berlin wall or the QGD Lasker; because if you know you will only win or lose on any given day, you will try to win as hard as you can at any stage"

Are you sure about that? Kramnik would start taking big risks with black against Grischuk in Kazan because he doesn't want to risk getting white in the next game? No player would gain anything by taking bigger risks with black, if such a strategy improved their results they would already be doing it. Some players already take risks with black because they are stronger than their opponents, but if they know they get another game with white if the first is drawn my guess is rather that they would become more prone to go for short draws with black.

Rob Brown's picture

Kasimjanov's idea is excellent. Just knowing that a draw will not count on the score table will ensure that there are fewer of them. It will also heighten the excitement in much the same way that extra time and penalty kicks do in football. Loose all those vapid notions about the proposed change affecting the purity of the game. The spectacle is the thing because the spectator ultimately pays the freight making his or her needs paramount.

Rob Brown's picture

Kasimjanov's idea is excellent. Just knowing that a draw will not count on the score table will ensure that there are fewer of them. It will also heighten the excitement in much the same way that extra time and penalty kicks do in football. Lose all those vapid notions about the proposed change affecting the purity of the game. The spectacle is the thing because the spectator ultimately pays the freight making his or her needs paramount.

Eiae's picture

Start with removing the stalemate rule. If you cannot move, you lose. A subtle change, but I believe the impact on theory would be considerable, at least for a couple of years.

chandler's picture

Sigh.... my opnion of Kasim (and GMs in general) took a nosedive.

My guess is that tennis is not popular among blind people because they can't see the beautiful shots grazing the line that have to be played to extract/save a point.

Similarly, people who don't know the value of pieces, pawn structures etc. won't admire chess because they can't see the positional/material sacrifices that need to be made to extract/save a point.

If you must introduce the dumb tennis analogy, then the best anti-draw rule is: Play till you run of time or black out due to fatigue. No more 3-fold reps or handshakes only when 2 Kings are left. Play it out till you fall down.
And Kasim's (and any other anti-draw ideas) are just as dumb as mine.

Jan's picture

It's a ridiculous idea.

First of all the comparison with tennis is just not to the point. As someone mentioned here, in tennis you have a tie breaker because in tennis every tournament plays with a knockout format.

Secondly with this system without draws you will have some players playing even more for draws, like the ones of Grischuk, Anand, Aronian. They are just excellent rapid and blitzplayers. If they don't feel like fighting with white: just a quick draw and then they blitz out their games. That's NOT what one wants to reach here. The problem isn't solved at all.

But my main focus: chess players and fans are making a problem of something that isn't a big deal for possible sponsors. We have a mask, because we love our game. But we do not recognize the real reasons why chess isn't attracting much sponsorship: our game itself.

I firmly believe that the problem of attracting sponsorship for chess has nothing to do with draws. It has to do with 1) not having a clear World Championship Cycle AND 2) with being chess way too slow and complicated to show to a broad audience. Tennis is simple: everybody understands Federer is winning. Chess is difficult: somebody who doesn't play chess, just does not understand one bit of what is going on. It's not enough to know the rules of chess. This is a problem one will never be able to solve. It just has to be accepted and chess will have to promote itself with the focus on other aspects of the game (fe. the intellectual and psychological fight, see the attention on Kasparov-Karpov in earlier days).

Non chess-media non-chesssponsors are not focussing on the technical aspects of chess, they want to have great stories. Never a non-chessmedia will report on a game in itself. It will report on a tournament for its stories, personalities and the mythical atmosphere of such a tournament. It does not matter one bit whether there are draws or not.

Ow yeah, if one wants to make the comparison with tennis, they have to introduce knockoutformats in every chess tournament. Then it's clear: you qualify or you don't qualify: easy for media and sponsors and the way how they qualify (by draws and tiebreaks) doesn't matter at all. But you will find no top player who wants to do that (I'm also against it, but I just mention it as a much more logical sollution if you follow Kasim's reasoning).

Peter Doggers's picture

My (individual) opinion couldn't have been described more clearly, Jan! Rustam's suggestion should be applauded though, as a first step in a direction to thinking more about what the bigger audience likes. However, at the same time I feel that chess shouldn't be changed much - as it is it has a wonderful tradition.

I wonder if we'd do better if we'd make a clearer distinction between the three variations of chess, classical, rapid and blitz. Or, to keep things simple, only two: Chess and Quick Chess. Leave Chess as it is, with fantastic duels in 16-game WCh matches, and make sure that with QC everything is focused on making it as popular as possible: knockouts with rapidplay and blitz tiebreaks, good internet coverage with audio commentary that's exciting, et cetera.

Coco Loco's picture

Jan, Peter,

Do you really believe Kasimdzhanov just thought of this for a few minutes and decided it would be smart to write an open letter about it to FIDE and the entire chess community? Please give the guy some credit before calling it "ridiculous". I bet you formed your opinion after much less thought than Kasim put into it.

I agree that tennis tournaments rely a lot on the elimination structure. You cannot take a "day off" when you know you'll be eliminated and there's no such thing as a draw. Please note both "levers" here - losing the game/match, and "losing" the tourney. If chess players made the same kind of money tennis players do, many wouldn't complain about playing elimination-style tourneys. But, given the current state of affairs, elimination-style chess tourneys are simply too expensive to do (assuming fair compensation for the players). Which is where the second lever can come into play. A no-draw option would make every round incredibly more competitive, and send the adrenaline level through the roof. All of a sudden, the role of ambition and fear (two great motivators) would greatly increase. One could dream of that 13-0 record at Wijk and another would dread the reverse. Would this make the atmosphere at a chess tournament pleasant? No. Would it make chess more like a sport? You bet.

As far as the eternal PR question, one needs to be optimistic. There might be more people who "understand" chess than people who "understand" golf. In all major sports, I would venture to guess that 99% of the money made comes from the fandom component, and not a real understanding or appreciation of the sport. People want to (pretend to) be Lionel Messi or Tiger Woods or Daniel Negreanu. Journalists like to have many readers and keep writing about these people (and not much at all about soccer or golf or poker strategy).

Kasimdzhanov may be on to something. One question that comes to mind: many millions of dollars have been put into our sport. Has any top consulting company ever been involved in the promotion of our game? I know McKinsey is expensive, but some professional help might be just what we need.

Jan's picture

I don't think Kasim is ridiculous, I just do not like his idea. And I did think a lot about it. You don't have to be a chess professional to think about systems and ideas. The reasons, again:

1) It solves a problem that is not really a problem. The focus should be on aspects around the game, not the game itself. Short draws are a problem, but draws aren't. Kasim motivates his idea by stating that chess needs to be a sport and needs more sponsorship etc. Of course that's correct, but I firmly believe that draws are NOT an issue for possible sponsors and that it has nothing to do with chess as a sport. The reasons:
1a) Seeing a game as a sport has nothing to do with the result. In football a draw is a very normal result and penalty kick offs ONLY come into play in a knockout tournament. As extra motivation: in chess draw IS possible according to the rules.
1b) They want media attention: then you have to focus on personalities etc. but the game itself doesn't matter at all. You mention that 99 procent of the people do not understand most of the sports, but this is not true at all .Most sports are really simple to understand. You just need to know some basic rules of the game to know who is winning and why. That also counts for golf by the way. I do not know a lot of golf, even very few, but I can follow golf on TV if I know how the scoring system works and it's even enough if one understands that the ball has to go in the hole. Golf is extremely simple in essence. But explaining a position of top chess to a broad non-playing chess audience is completely impossible. And as said: not necessary, but that's just why draws aren't the problem. Besides that problem, chess is not mediafriendly, because one cannot see anything happen: just players sitting and moving pieces.

2) The problem he wants to solve (draws), are NOT solved by his idea. Some players will play more agressively in classical chess games, but others will do the opposite, just to be able to reach the blitz games.

So my criticism is twofold: Kasim wants to solve a problem that is not really necessary to solve and his solution to that so called problem does not solve it at all. It just lays other accents. The only proposal that I accept as a good idea, is changing the scoring system, like in football. That's fair and simple.

Tom's picture

I had a similar idea a while ago:

Someone from chessvibes pointed it out that it was like football in the sense that a check mate becomes a goal, the side who scores most goals win.

suleiman's picture

Well, then wouldn't it be the case that those who are very good at blitz (like Hikaru) do their best to take the game to the blitz matches? My unique proposal(!) is, give both the players in turn a chess problem and then give them two minutes or so to solve it and whoever does better out of 5 problems (if necessary, sudden death), he/she wins the game (I guess John Nunn would have a shot at the Classical World Championship then :-)))- very much like a penalty shootout at the end of a draw in a football game (or hockey) :-) How does that sound? :-))))

Or maybe an alternative proposal (very much in the same line with Kasim) can be as follows: the players play two blitz games (alternating in color) before their classical game and whoever wins it, he/she wins the classical game if they draw it later - hence, the one who loses the blitz games should be more active and take risks for a win in the classical game (this was proposed for football again - and it was suggested that in those games which can go to a penalty-shootout both sides should have it before the actual game starts, rather than at the end of 120 minutes - because penalty-shootouts can be a very cruel strategy to resolve the draw at times). How does this also sound?

Nayk's picture

Imagine Federer and Nadal playing tennis. And After the first Set, the score was even! And so they stop. Shake hands... and draw! I think this is a very good idea that FIDE should really look into. To make Chess exciting again. We're done with alot of boriiing quick draws. Let the warriors shed some blood the way they should have had! Not Playing safe chess like cowards!

Perell's picture

Agree all with rustan.
My proposal is player A x B time control 30m30seg and after a some minutes pause, B x A same time control, If iqual blitz A x B 5m10seg and B x A. if iqual an armagedon. This way everyday we will have a winner.

grabapawnalot's picture

its a move in the right direction... but

better is 3 points for a win
1 for a draw
the players will eventually develop a winning mind set , draws will be seen as a none score.

Martas's picture

Many games end up with a draw because the rules of the game allow it. Nothing is bad about it, there can be a lot of blood even in a drawn game and it can be more interesting then 100-th application of some known trap.
A rule with playing some rapid/blitz games after one classical game doesn't bring more attention. First it probably increases number of draws in classical game (black will be almost out of interest to win the game because he is white in next rapid game), second the part interesting for spectators will be only few percent of the whole time (you are not going to watch tennis if 80% of the show would be warming up and the rest would be real match).

hanseman's picture

I think a big sponsor should embrase this idea and organize a super GM tourment with it. See how it goes.

Matt's picture

Not a good idea; so if a weaker player suffered and deservedely got a draw against a stronger player, he'll have to play more games and probably lose. No, good rule only for strong players.

Why is it that always EX WORLD CHAMPIONS come up with these 'changes', Capablanca, Fischer, etc? Well, I don't count this Kasimdzanov as a truly world chaampion anyway.

finite's picture

I am a spectator who simply enjoys watching chess games. But unfortunately, I think chess is dying because of the computers. Chess, before the computers, was much more exciting from the opening until the end, but now we only discuss which theory or game is being followed. The novelties come very late almost at the mid-game (in general). Hence, it is very accurate to say that memory is very important and pure chess skills are not enough to become a top player. So what happens is that players follow some computer lines until they forget the rest or the opponent makes an unexpected move. That kills the interest. I also agree that these problems are inevitable but still that does not change the fact.

The draw rate is another issue responsible for lack of interest but which can be fixed by simply changing the rules to something like Mr. Kasimdzhanov proposed.

If you agree that the interest in chess is decreasing and you feel responsible for the future of chess you must be ready to make some changes in the rules. Mr. Kasimdzhanov's proposal is very logical. We already have different 3-1-0 scoring system applied in top level tournaments. The no-draw proposal can be tried in a few tournaments to see what happens as well.

Stefan Loeffler's picture

This is a great idea for a small invitational tournament with a slightly reduced time control to start with. You can´t really use it in an Open as you need many arbiters and relative silence for the ongoing games at classical control. It makes no sense to decide important titles on it as it would favour blitz specialists with a drawing repertoire over players who are great in every aspect of the game.

sah's picture

I dont like his idea at all, maybe is the best to go for shorter time control like 45 or 60 min per game and it would be much more decisive game, if draws are problem.And i would like to see some rapid world champ every year that would attract sponsors and as kasim said there will be always blood and drama.

szoker's picture

this idea is so good

and whats even better ?

it came from a very good, and respected GM !

I say YES for this !

PCMorphy72's picture

Old proposal but astonishing words

irrelevant of whether it came in a classical game, rapid or blitz”!!!!!! I’m astonished to read this from a top-GM who I respect, but such issues have to be dealt by some expert in other areas, not necessarily from the top-GM area. I am nobody but I have a serious solution:

Just to use his own words ”tournaments with Sofia rules produced as many draws as any other” I would reply with “your rule would produce more draws than any other”, due to blitz preparation only, and just drawish classical preparation. After all he knows he will not avoid the famous “Draw problem” (CB news ID 2729), in fact he says: “Draw? No problem”.

I still prefer the “academic activity” of a clash of minds to give points, but if someone will consider seriously his proposal (moreover very similar to that old one in CB news ID 2719) then play the classical game just to convince yourself you are still playing Classical Chess, then, as tiebreak, use 1 “set” of seven 3min blitz wins, it would be more fair and more similar to tennis.

morphy72's picture

Old proposal but astonishing words

irrelevant of whether it came in a classical game, rapid or blitz”!!!!!! I’m astonished to read this from a top-GM who I respect, but such issues have to be dealt by some expert in other areas, not necessarily from the top-GM area. I am nobody but I have a serious solution:

Just to use his own words ”tournaments with Sofia rules produced as many draws as any other” I would reply with “your rule would produce more draws than any other”, due to blitz preparation only, and just drawish classical preparation. After all he knows he will not avoid the famous “Draw problem” (CB news ID 2729), in fact he says: “Draw? No problem”.

I still prefer the “academic activity” of a clash of minds to give points, but if someone will consider seriously his proposal (moreover very similar to that old one in CB news ID 2719) then play the classical game just to convince yourself you are still playing Classical Chess, then, as tiebreak, use 1 “set” of seven 3min blitz wins, it would be more fair and more similar to tennis.

Coco Loco's picture

Facing Kasparov with black (or white, for that matter) was no picnic for any top 10 player. Similarly now (and in the future) one cannot say any elite player can draw Carlsen (or Anand or Aronian) with black at will.

I understand the Grischuk "counterexample" from the candidates' matches, but if he can really draw anyone in classic and beat them in rapid or blitz, then maybe he should become the champion. Who decided that the "best" chessplayer is the one who prepares the best (which, by the way, involves outside assistance) or even the "deepest thinker"? Ivanchuk and Morozevich might understand chess more than Anand, but they haven't even played for the championship.

Kasim's idea deserves a very serious look. Especially his hypothesis that 13-0 Wijk records would be more likely. The more I think about the no-draw idea, the more I like it. When someone like Nakamura starts calculating that draws with white are a good strategy for winning a tournament a week before the end (2011 Wijk), you know something is wrong. Having only the two results to play for would eliminate the constant "standing calculus" that negatively affects all tournaments. It is also a better alternative to elimination-type tourneys (e.g., Wimbledon or Kasim's WC), and it would make the sport much more competitive.

Johannes J. Struijk's picture

GM Kazimdzhanov notes that chess is in a crisis, a crisis illustrated by expressions of a general dissatisfaction, the loss of a number of traditional tournaments, and the steady lack of public interest.
He then goes on to compare the game of chess with tennis and notes that the difference between chess and tennis is that the latter has no draws. His conclusion: we have to abandon draws from chess.
He also knows how to get rid of draws: after a draw in the classical game, rapid games and blitz games have to be played until we have a winner. It is his chess version of the tie break in tennis.
The best of it all is that suddenly chess will make the headlines because we will have a higher probability of long winning streaks and 100% scores.

Kazimdhzanov’s writing deserve a number of comments.

Is chess in a crisis because of the number of draws? Perhaps there are not more (short) draws than in earlier years, but I think that people are getting more upset with them. Times are indeed changing. Sponsors, organizers and audience (be it present or on the internet) feel they deserve a return on investment of their money, efforts and time, and they feel cheated when the players don’t deliver. I personally couldn’t care less about the final games of the recent Grischuk - Kramnik match, I simply stopped following their games. There is nothing wrong with Grischuk though: he just used the rules to maximize his chances, as he is supposed to do. So there must be something wrong with the rules. So, you are right at this point Mr. Kazimdzhanov!

Chess and tennis. Is tennis more popular because there are no draws? Here Kasimdzhanov makes an enormous jump. In tennis there is activity on the tv screen, in addition, it is so simple to understand, and then again, there is a decisive action every 20 seconds. How does chess compare to that?
Football, by far the world’s most popular sport, has a large number of undecided games and only in certain tournaments a decision is forced, because of practical reasons. So Kazimdzhanov’s conclusion based on the comparison with tennis is unfounded.

The problem is thus not the draw, the problem is the short draw. Kazimdzhanov is fighting draws
instead of short draws. However, his comparison with tennis has a second flaw. The tie break in tennis is still tennis, just like in the main tennis game. His solution, to play rapid/blitz as a tie breaker in chess is just changing the classical game to a different kind of game. Moreover, since most classical games are drawn, automatically most games will be decided in a rapid or blitz game. We are basically going to play rapid / blitz instead of classical. Personally, that will be the end of my membership of my chess club.

Will chess become popular because of “winning streaks”. Well, we don’t have any data on this, but I sincerely doubt it. Mr. Kazimdzhanov is an optimist. Rapid tournaments don’t excite the world , so why would a combined classical/rapid tournament all at a sudden be so interesting for them.

Yes, chess is in a crisis. We are loosing organized chess players in Denmark almost every day. We won’t change that by changing drawing rules. But for sponsors, organizers and chess fans it would be good to avoid quick grandmaster draws (although I am not sure that this also should apply for amateur games). How to do this? The Sofia rules have two flaws: first, the arbiter is part of the process to decide for a draw and, second, draw by repetition still make quick draws a possibility.

My proposal is: No draws before the first time control, and repetition of moves is prohibited ( just as in the Japanese game of Go). More specifically about the latter: it should be forbidden to play a move that repeats an earlier position. This also implicitly forbids draw by perpetual check. With those two simple rules the number of short draws will become zero (the main objective), and the number of draws will be reduced.

Does this have big impact on the world outside chess? Well, with Kazimdzhanov’s optimism, it might avoid scaring sponsors away with whatever sort of positive effects that may have for the future of chess. It will certainly avoid some of the inside irritation in the chess world, a good place to start any improvement.

Zagreb 1959's picture

I think that the real problem at the highest level is the excessive number of closed tournaments and the top ten are playing all the time against each other and know each other very well and play fashion openings all the time. The open tournament warrior knows how tough his life can be and he could loose against the next opponent. When Carlsen went to the Olympiad he lost and the same would happen to weeker GM´s if they play again zonals or open tournaments. If Kazim likes to compare chess with tennis, then why not play like in tennis where the number one can face number 100? I do not see in tennis Nadal, Federer and only the top ten playing all the time between them without chances for others to join. In closed tournaments they protect their rating all the time, thats the problem of modern chess!

Stevefraser's picture

RK is correct about the sickness at the heart of top level competitve chess: the short draw. No sport/game would tolerate such a possibility if it had any interest in expanding interest beyond a few introverted shut-ins. But his prescription for a cure strikes me as too unwieldly.
My suggestion: all games unless decisive must proceed to sixty moves. The player who creates a repetition of position a third time loses.

stevefraser's picture

RK is correct. My solution: All games unless decisive must proceed to the sixtieth move. The player who on the move brings about a third repetition of position loses.

Jan's picture

Ow yeah, just to add:

Rapid and blitz events are decreasing in interest from sponsors!

Sarunas's picture

1) My heart weeps in pain: what -to eradicate draws? Abolish the stalemate, wrong corner rules and blood curling perpetual –will there any excitement still be left in chess? Thanks to Mike for up-to-point references.
2) Deplorable looks comparison to tennis in search of money shortage in chess.There’s no draw conceipt in tennis and that sport would stop dead in its track the minute it appears. The roughly equal players have no choice but play it out till the end. The frequent draws in professional football confirm that Kasim went off the road addressing the issue.
3) There’s no Black and White issue in tennis. With a very weird and clumsy tie-break system Kasim endeavours to establish an ultimate winner of the day in case the regular game is drawn. To my mind, this threatens to increase Drawchuk factor dramatically and number of dull, bloodless draws accordingly. Yet despite Kasim’s earnest efforts, there is always a moral winner in chess even in a case of draw –it’s a Black player, who’s been given odds at the very start –those particular odds that are never part of tennis.
4) I hate short draws. However there is thousand easy ways to tackle the problem: Sofia rules, 40 move rule, increasing the arbiter’s action scope, when he could punish players at his will in case he views some perpetual or three-fold prearranged etc. Why invite the players who neglect and fear the fight in chess at all? Nevertheless I don’t think it wise to accuse both players of bloodless draw. Composing the black list, it’s important to find out who was White and who initiated the premature draw offer.

GMBartek's picture

In the beginning of his letter Kasim described a problem that indeed exists in chess. He successfully build a tension and then ... dissapointed me with pointing out the existance of a draw and strongly blaming on various things, mainly the decrease of popularity of chess.
It is a bit like blaming a single soldier for all disasters. Things are hardly ever so simple.

A draw result exists in the most popular discipline - football. It means it cannot be the decisive factor. It is true that there is an extra time and penalties, but only in play-off stage, not in closed tournaments (groups, leagues). In chess we have exactly the same regulation. In events like World Cup, matches we have a tie-break and a winner. In a closed tournament all results are accepted.

Looking blindly for other disciplines and giving them as an example is always very risky, controversial. Every discipline is a bit different, specific.
I can see a big problem of too many short draws, however I strongly protest when somebody supports his idea to "fight with draws" with arguments like "Can you imagine that teams in football agree for a draw after 20 minutes? They would be punished. We must do the same in chess!".
When I answer "And can you imagine that after 20 minutes a team resigns? It would be punished. Do you suggest that we must do the same in chess?".
Usually people suddenly lose their confidence.

Let us remind golden times of chess, the most memorable match in the history between Karpov and Kasparov. Ah, good old times, a lot of information in press, TV...
But wait a moment, wasn't it the most boring match in the history in the terms that 40 out of first 46 games finished as a draw?
Oh, maybe a draw is not a problem itself then?

Kasim asks a question why tennis is so much more popular than chess. And points a difference - the existance of a draw.
I think a much more important difference is than rules of tennis are very simple allowing everybody watching TV understanding what is happening. What is the percentage of population that can equally easily follow a game of chess?

Another huge difference is that an action in tennis is much faster. 30 seconds and somebody scores a point. And again and again. In chess the first change of a score can be observed after 5 hours.
To follow an example of tennis, we would have to play many games bullet matches. It is possible, perhaps even interesting for many people. But is this what we really want?

And another huge difference is that disciplines like football, tennis etc. require a physical movement, they are good for health. Chess is more like mathematics - excercises a brain.
After a day in school more teenagers prefer to run or jump, than to seat again.
A possibility of a draw outcome in chess really doesn't matter here.

There are also other kind of reasons, I would call them "internal".
2 decades ago best player in the world had been disqualified and removed from FIDE rating list. Since then we had 2 champions, later even 2 world champions and 1 world best player.
Later, almost every year something was changed in FIDE rules. If not the way the world championship cycle was held, then at least the time control. The changes were done even (or rather typically) during a cycle,
As the consequence, even professional chess players got totally confused what the current system was. How could a fan or a journalist understand it then?
For this reason I am very sceptical to new proposals of changes - of course some of them are wise. But I believe chess needs most of all the stability of rules, not constant changes of ideas.

As for Kasim's concrete proposal - I am sure in some events it can work brilliantly.
It is also very good that a top player decides to share his views. I wish more of them would.

Arne Moll's picture

Many thanks for this brilliant reply, ending for once and for all any comparison between chess and other sports!

mishanp's picture

I just don't see how the mainstream media would be any more interested. It's the same as Kasimdzhanov's comments about long winning streaks - do you hear a lot about e.g. long winning streaks in badminton? It just doesn't follow, and Bartek's comment on sports is spot on (going off on a tangent... Bartek, if that's you, did you notice Alexander Motylev named you as the best chess table tennis player? :)

The actual proposal has some merits and could well be used in some events, but the idea that it'd suddenly make chess a popular sport is a bit far-fetched. For what it's worth, though, Gata Kamsky agrees:

Ardjan's picture

Indeed the comparison of chess with any other (physical) sport falls short in many ways as GM Bartek shows. However, the 'Kazan problem' - disastrous for our sport - persists and even he cannot offer a solution. Kasim's solution would surely have made the Candidates a lot more fun as well a bigger success in the mainstream media. Finally, this epic K-K match from 1984-1985 is a case in itself; despite the many short draws it attracted a lot of publicity worldwide because one guy was on the verge of losing for many months and managed to hang on, a true case of heroism!

Arne Moll's picture

Ardjan, in what way do you think 'Kazan' was disastrous? Isn't this rather an expression of your own personal disappointment rather than a real phenomenon? Do you think, for instance, that 'Kazan' has negatively impacted publicity for, say, Biel and Dortmund? If so, how? If not, then what, exactly, is the problem?

Ardjan's picture

Hi Arne, the disastrous thing about Kazan is that for journalists it is hard to write in their newspaper, day after day, that X and Y produced another draw, often without a real fight, because it's boring to write about an boring to read. Therefore their reports will become shorter and shorter, or non-existent. In the end sponsors are well-aware about publicity and serious sponsors, doing some research, will surely find out about the draw-problem.
Actually a draw is not the real problem, as long as it is the result of a hard and well-fought battle. The problems are a) short draws and b) too many draws. Please note that Kasim doesn't want to abolish draws as the result of a game (he understands well it can be the logical outcome of a game), but he only wants to fight on until there is a winner. Quite a different approach! In that sense the title of the article is misleading.


In the past there have been several important matches with the rule "draws don't count, first to win N games wins the match" between top players where this problem did not occur, i.e. there were fighting chess.

But in the World Chess Championship in London 2000 between Kramnik and Kasparov, 18 games were drawn and two were won by Kramnik out of the 20 games. They did not have the rule "draws don't count" so it can still be a lot of drawn games.

It all depends on the person, and we all know that Fischer always fought to win, even with Black and this is what we want to see every player do, just like Fischer!!!

Carlsen is such a fighter and we shall be very happy for that! Also Kramnik is fighting hard even with Black. Seriously I think that most of the highest rated players, around 2750 and above are fighters.

The problem discussed here is that many players rated around 2650 and below frequently take silly draws just like Kasimdzhanov explains. But this happens most often with MALE players rated 2650 and below! NOT FEMALES. . .

I never watch games played by male players, where both players are below 2700, because they play too weak for it to be much of an interest to me and for the silly draws of course. I only watch the very top players and most often the games are interesting.

GMBartek's picture

Mishanp - it is true that from time to time I hold a table tennis racket in my hand [or, during chess tournaments, any other "item" that can be used as a "racket", for instance a book or a shoe :-) ], but perhaps this off-topic is not very interesting for the majority of readers (I can only confirm that Motylev plays table tennis very well), so let's better concentrate on Kasim's recommendation.

It is not a new idea, I can only repeat that in some events it can work brilliantly.
Also I fully agree that too many short draws bring a lot of damage to chess.

My only intention is to say that quite often it is not sufficient to understand that a particular problem exists, but it is always important to understand a size of it.
Pointing out the existance of a draw result as the main explanation for obvious differences between the situation in chess and in tennis I found at least a bit exaggerated.

As for a "fast draw" problem, perhaps it is more practical to search for a best solution for each particular event rather than to search for a global remedy.
I would say the best (and the most simple) solution is different for different events.

Daan's picture

@GM Bartek

You say: "But I believe chess needs most of all the stability of rules, not constant changes of ideas."

I think you might be right, but I also think that the potential gain of stability of rules is only marginal.

I think the true problem of chess is in its public image. When I discuss chess with non-chess playing people that carry university degrees they, in general, do not seem to think of chess as a game that is played by deep and creative thinkers. Of course they recognize it requires a certain type of intellect, but not the type of intellect that is connected to wisdom and creativity, but more to good memory and some monomania. This of course is opposite to the days of Spassky - Fischer, which was supposed to decide the intellectual superiority of either the USA or USSR. Also the K-K matches where perceived as something like the battle between ‘the most intelligent people on earth’.

Nowadays it seems to me that, at least in the Netherlands, this romantic image of chess has become scarcely spread. It seems that an important reason for this change in image is that people now think that chess is a game that one day will be solved by computers. This point of view seems pandemic since the day that Deep Blue beat Kasparov. For many non-chess playing intellects this event seemed to have cracked the aura of superior intellect that surrounded strong chess players. Since that moment chess slowly became more perceived as a game of calculation, suited for young nerds, instead of a game of deep insight, suited for classic thinkers.

The old sponsors like insurance companies and banks wanted to be associated with chess because it gave them that aura of prudence, wisdom and deep thinking. Unfortunately, prudence and wisdom do not match with a nerd’s image and therefore banks and insurance companies no longer seem to be interested in supporting chess. Even many IT companies rather prefer to be associated with sports like snowboarding and surfing. And oh yeah, Kirsan going to Khadaffi doesn't really help either.

One option to change this is to accept this new nerdy image and try to pimp it the way Carlsen is pimped. Make chess cool for youngsters and try to attract more sponsors like G-Star. Maybe even approach companies like Nike and Adidas. Ok, to be honest I am not very confident this will work, but the alternative is the status quo, which when you think about it, might not be so bad after all.

Ardjan's picture

Hi Daan, interesting points about chess losing its romantic appeal and aura because of the superiority of machines. I remember the Japanese Chess Federation withdrew support to its candidate for participation in an Interzonal tournament after Deep Blue had beaten Kasparov, citing the game was now 'inferior'.
Don't forget that chess off late has gotten tremendous competition from Internet and many many Games. You can also conclude it must be a very powerful game still to survive and (let's say) flourish at all. I still believe that chess has a postitive image and most parents - worldwide - are happy and proud when their kids excell in it.
Surely, a change in the FIDE would be very helpful.

Daan's picture

Hi Ardjan,
I agree, it’s somehow miraculous that some children are still attracted to chess, given the increasing number of flashy alternatives. This is what is also what I had in mind when I finished my response with the sentence “but the alternative is the status quo, which when you think about it, might not be so bad after all.”


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