Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Short Draws: Problem Solved?

The Pro's have been polled, as have the chess public - in fact, twice. There's been long, well-researched articles - and recently after a certain last round, much disappointed talk.

The contentious issue that attracts such attention and debate is, of course, the number of short draws at the top tier of chess. So far, two main solutions have been proposed. One - a football scoring system of 3 points for a win, one for a draw, none for a loss - has yet to be tried out anywhere, as far as I know, and would surely lead to severely anti-meritocratic distributions of prize money, to bunny-bashing mad-hackers rather than refined perfectionists.

The other commonly-proposed solution - the Sofia Rule, that draw offers are only allowed late on in the game, when the arbiter agrees the position indeed is clearly drawn - has been tried out with some success. Although surely the reality is that at least some of the time, it has the dubious consequence of creating long and boring games, rather than short and boring games.

But, I myself have recently devised a third way to solve this problem, which I'm now going to share with you. Firstly, suppose the total playing time scheduled for a game is 7 hours - but, the players finish after 1 hour. Under my new rule, another game would then start, with swapped colours and a playing time of 6 hours. This would continue until a game with less time than half an hour each was reached. The final score of the days play would be fractional - so let's say you won one and drew one, you'd get 0.75, your opponent 0.25.

Aside from continuous intrigue for the spectators, my system will have numerous other advantages. For instance, draws agreed in advance - which they undoubtedly are under the current system - would now be utterly transparent and detectable, since no-one needs half an hour over 1. e4, or slows down to snails pace against their pals in dull positions. Also, a drawn position after move 15 can be agreed drawn, unlike under the Sofia rules - after which black gets rewarded with a game with white. And, drawing isn’t penalized harshly, unlike under the football score rules. And - so on.

Well, what do you think? Shall I email Kirsan now? He seems like a sensible chap...


ejh said...

I reckon you need a holiday, Tom.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I've seen something like this suggested before - perhaps from Dvoretsky... Could not the players circumvent the rule by playing very slowly to achieve their draw?


Tom Chivers said...

Funny you should say that Justin...

The trouble with that Angus is that then it would be completely obvious to the spectators and sponsors that prearranged game fixing was going on. For instance, let's say player A plays a move on average a move every 8 minutes in sharp encounters with Topalov in a tournament. Then against his pal player B in a symmetrical endgame with not much going on he spends an average of 25 minutes per move, and they agree a draw.

Well, the cheating is then obvious, isn't it?

Game fixing undoubtedly goes on now anyway - at least this way it would be less probable, since it would require a lot more work in advance to prepare, and would be a lot more visible and likely to be exposed as such.

ejh said...

This doesn't remind people of the suggestions people send in to football magazines to solve the problem of dull play in that sport? Inevitably these wacky ideas (points for goals, say, or drawn game decided on who had more corners) would have a far greater distorting effect on the game itself than do the problems they're designed to address.

Is it not possible, for instance, that chess is a good game and that on the whole we very much enjoy international tournaments? And that this being so, quick draws are really a very small matter indeed?

Mind you, have Angus and I told you about that GM at the Czech tournament we played at....?

Tom Chivers said...

Well maybe we are a little bit spoilt, I don't know. But then on the other hand, some people say chess lacks sponsors partly due to the kind of dullness associated with short draws; perhaps it could do with some spicing up at the top level. I guess my point is, if two players up sticks at after 15 minutes and ten moves, I don't really see the problem in them having to play another game.

And, no! What's his story?

ejh said...

some people say chess lacks sponsors partly due to the kind of dullness associated with short draws

I don't believe this for a moment. In fact in general I distrust nearly all "no wonder we have difficulty attracting sponsors"-type comments: the actual reason we have difficulty attracting sponsors is that it's chess. Chess isn't very popular. Which doesn't have anything at all to do with quick draws in the last rounds of grandmaster tournaments.

Many finals in international footballing events are very dull, by the way, with both sides playing for penalties - yet curiously enough football does not find it hard to attract sponsors.

Anyway, this GM. Angus and I played in Marianske Lazne in January last year, in the Open. There was also a Master and a Grandmaster tournament, and unless I'm mistaken the top-rated player in the latter drew every game in the tournament, mnost of them in very short order.

Thinking about it, this can't be that hard to arrange, as most players will gladly take a quick draw against the top seed.

Angus may have the bulletin somewhere: my impression is that nearly all these draws were in less than twenty moves. I do recall one game which took longer though, but my recollection is that he lost a piece early on and had to spend several hours fighting for a draw!

I've no idea why he did this, by the way - perhaps the prize money was insufficient or the organisers had offended him or something, and so he just took his expenses ("conditions", as they say) drew all his games quickly and went home. I can't imagine the organisers were delighted - but what can you do? The answer is, I guess, don't invite him next time. And it doesn't actually matter all that much, because there was plenty of fighting chess on other boards.

The player was the Ukranian Malaniuk, a specialist in the Leningrad Dutch and therefore not the sort of player you'd normally associate with dull chess and quick draws.

Unlike me, for instance.

Tom Chivers said...

Well, yes. If a GM offers a non-GM a draw, non-GM is almost inevitably going to accept.

My hunch is - he was in it for the holiday, and happy just to collect his expenses. Or maybe he met a girl the night before the tournament started, who knows!?

I wonder what the average game length for tournaments played in Bermuda is?

ejh said...

Heh. Shouldn't be hard to check.

But this was January in the Czech Republic and it was below freezing outside. Now that's my idea of a holiday, but probably not most other people's...

Anonymous said...

I believe Mike Basman has suggested (and run tournaments along the lines of) 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw.

Didn't Fischer - Spassky II have some 'no quick draw' rule? I'm sure I remember reading Spassky turned down a draw because it would have meant started a second game that afternoon. Instead they played a few more moves, got passed the cut off point and then agreed a draw.

Finally, the Linares tournaments used to have a 'no draws before move 40' condition for some of the players at least.

One time there was some really sharp game involving Yusupov and A.N. Other that ended up with both sides having to agree to a repetition after about 20-25 moves.

Next morning despite producing the thrilling game of the round Yusupov gets a letter from Rentero saying he's going to be fined x% of his appearance fee - which was indeed possible according to the strict application of conditions written in to his contract.

Not all short draws are dull. I suppose the real problem is when the last round - traditionally the high point of any event - is a complete non event.

(PS: I've had three draws so far this season. All of them proposed by me, all of them before move 25. I definitely can't be throwing any stones)

Anonymous said...

I don't see what is so wrong with the no draws before move 40 rule. I would happily welcome it in all chess I played (first time control for league games). If players play something deadly dull, well let them suffer for 25 moves or so before they can escape! I am strongly opposed to the 3 points for a win idea. Who is going to play the QGD as black under these conditions (good I hear you say, yes well maybe, but it has disrupted the whole nature of chess)? Not sure it had a great effect on football even (the 3 points for a win rather than the QGD (although of course the latter statement is also true))- teams still seem happy to go for a draw.

ejh said...

I think in club chess, if I want to play a quick draw and my opponent does then it's not really for anybody else to tell us not to (except of course the team captain, if a win is required).

Also, I have to confess that a number of years ago, after a fairly successful Kidlington Open (2.5/3 on the Saturday against the Cobbs and Adam Hunt) I agreed a one-move draw against the bookstall organiser in the last round so he could pack up and I could watch the Manchester derby on the telly. A bit sad but scarcely unethical...

Anonymous said...

I also rememmber you withdrawing from the Barnet Congress on 1/1 so you could go off and watch cricket. I myself may play at Southend and if so will take a last round bye (yes, they allow last round byes) to go and watch Watford try to beat Chelsea (like they did last time they were in the Premiership).
I think no draws rule would actually make chess more relaxed. None of this shhould I offer a draw because of 1. the match situation 2. I know my opponent and it would be unfriendly to try and beat him 3. My opponent is stronger so I should cash in on my position before it gets worse 4. My opponent is weaker so I should offer a draw before my position is clearly lost 5. A draw will help my tournament situation 6. I can't be bothered to play (if you go swimming you don't turn up at the swimming pool and say great the swimming pool is closed- no swimming for me today!). Sure you can think of 100 other reasons.

Anonymous said...

The trouble is though, unlike swimming and other sports, sometimes a draw is the logical outcome of a position - even early on.

What about the famous game Sax - Seirawan from the World Cup cycle in the late 80s...

e4 d6
d4 Nf6
Nc3 g6
f4 Bg7
Nf3 c5
Bb5 Bd7
e5 Ng4
e6 fxe6*
Ng5 Bxb5
Nxe6 Bxd4!
Nxd8 Bf2+
Kd2 Be3+

a 12 move draw but scarcely uninteresting. Of course at the time Black's 8th move was a huge novelty. Are you suggesting he should be penalised in someway for drawing efficiently rather than slowly or painfully?

How are Black and White to avoid the draw in the final position? Banning the offering of draws is all very well but what should happen to the likes of Sax & Seirawan?

ejh said...

How would they prevent last round byes? What are they going to do, default you?

ejh said...

I also think that there is an art in playing for a draw. It may not be to most people's taste but so what? It doesn't prevent anybody else playing exciting chess if they want to.

For most of the last few seasons in various S&B matches it was possible to see myself and Robin Haldane at adjacent boards playing with two entirely different approaches: Robin, trying to win at all costs, me, trying to avoid defeat. To me, that's diversity, that's interesting.

Of course most people will prefer the attacking approach, but why don't Petrosian and Leko and Anderssen add to the diversity of chess as much as Tal and Shirov and Morozevich?

Anonymous said...

Justin. Most tourneys do default last round byes. Southend seems to be an exception. Jonathan, my point concerning swimming was not as to the result, but that if you went swimming you would be hacked off if the swimming pool was closed and you couldn't swim, yet many people are happy to go along to play chess and then have a quick draw, effectively meaning that they have not played chess.

ejh said...

Yes, I know you score nil, but my point is, how does that matter if you've decided to go home? It's withdraweing rather than defaulting since you don't lose anything thereby).

It's been my normal practice to go home early over the past few years - I'd guess I've played the last round in less than half my tournaments. A variety of reasons for this, including nerves (I find it very difficult to play two games in succession) and the state of the rail network on Sunday afternoons...

Tom Chivers said...

I'd just like to point out - my system does *not* penalize short draws. It just means rather than after a peaceful 10 moves and 15 minutes - rather than go home and watch TV, or sign DVDs and books the spectators bring, or cash their pay cheque there and then - GMs would simply swap colours and start again.

Why not?

Btw - I didn't mean to imply this would be a good system at all levels. I really was thinking of the top tier.

Anonymous said...

I think fractions of a point could lead to all sorts of trouble. For instance it may suit both players to be guaranteed 0.25 of a point and play only for the remaining half. Therefore they could agree 2 one move draws, before getting down to business. Nott sure if this is how the system would work, but I expect something like this could be exploited. How do ratings and norms fit into this system also? If only the first game counts, you could have a situation where the norm seeker (who only needs a draw) gets a 1 move draw in return for throwing the next game. Looks like it could get very messy.

Tom Chivers said...

Andrew - I see what you mean, but I think the system would be most suited to the top tier, for the interest of spectators and sponsors.

I think though norm calculation could go ahead just as usual - you need 7.5/10 or whatever it is, and 7.49 just won't do!

Anonymous said...

The problem with bunny-bashing and so forth from a 3-1 scoring system(or 1-0 with .4-.6 for draws), is not primarily related to the scoring, but to the swiss tournament system. This problem exists today, but will be reinforced by 3-1 scoring. If you use other formats, 3-1 would not have this effect so it would be interesting to see some tests with round robins.

This said, I believe the best thing is to try out the least invasive systems first. The Sofia rules have given excellent results, which means there is at present no reason to put into work more complex sollutions, lets just try it in a large scale for a couple of years.