Badminton’s “Grandmaster Draw” vs Chess
Feedback from our readers
Julian, Kuan, Sydney, Australia
Regardless of the views towards the badminton players, ultimately we're here
to talk about chess. Lets not forget that a draw is a positive result for both
players, and can't in any way be compared to losing on purpose. It is a perfectly
legitimate outcome of the game, and short of changing the game completely (make
it still 0-1 if it's a draw?) it will always be so. I understand the issue with
Grandmaster draws, but there are ways around it. Both the Sofia rule (no draws
under 30), and the 3-1-0 scoring system have done their bit to reduce the number
of quick draws, but they cannot be eliminated completely save by changing the
The traditional round-robin tournament, long a staple of chess tournaments,
has serious drawbacks for the anti-draw enthusiast. In a knockout tournament,
for example Wimbledon, the World cup, or the vast majority of Olympic sports,
a competitor plays one opponent at a time, with only one of the 2 players advancing.
In such a format, taking draws does nothing but prolong the match, as only one
can advance eventually.
With this in mind, why doesn't chess have more knockout tournaments? The cost
of running such tournaments, due to having to accommodate more competitors,
is higher, and so is less attractive to sponsors. We do, however, have a Chess
world cup, which is every bit as much as a knockout tournament as Wimbledon.
However, this tournament has been much maligned for having results that are
too random, with top players often getting upset.
The lesson we should learn from this is that Chess is different to other sports,
and shouldn't compare itself to others. Chess fans don't look for crushing upsets
and random results (greatly celebrated in other sports), but it seeks to crown
the best player winner. At the end of the day, if Chess wants to appeal to a
larger, more bloodthirsty audience, it should switch formats (perhaps knockout
blitz matches, tennis style scoring?), but then it wouldn't be the same game
we love and know now, would it?
Zak Smith, Houston, Texas
I totally agree with this article. The biggest difference between chess and
badminton is the "perfect result" (in theory) IS a draw, which means
that there is no stigma in NOT winning a game of chess. However, the spirit
of the game is a contest, where both sides strive to outplay the other, and
if in the end the "perfect game" is played, the result will naturally
be that draw. "Grandmaster Draws" are another beast entirely, wherein
both players violate the spirit of competition by failing to engage in the combat
that is chess, instead giving a halfhearted attempt to assuage the rules while
sidestepping the issue of combat on the whole. I agree that such lack of effort
damages the game, and should not be coddled nor accepted from this point forward.
Okay guys, enough with this obsession of yours against draws please. At least
publish something vaguely relevant if you feel like coming back to the issue!
Losing deliberately is nothing like drawing in chess, which can happen after
a full seven-hour fight as well. Please respect your readers more in the future.
GM Igor Stohl
The analogy of the badminton scandal in chess are contrived decisive games,
not grandmaster draws. Please stop comparing chess with sports, in which a draw
is simply impossible!
Paul Lillebo, Asheville, NC, USA
Kung-Ming Tiong misses the point with his comparison of chess draws with the
attempted intentional losses in Olympic badminton games. The comparison should
of course be with intentionally losing games in chess, a scandalous practice
that would be dealt with harshly where it could be proved. But that's not a
significant problem in chess. There are cases where a high-rated player may
take a draw in a first round of an Open tournament run on the Swiss system,
in order to get easier opponents, but even there he wouldn't take an intentional
I do agree that intentional draws have a downside. In a tournament, early opponents
of the top player may fight against his strongest efforts, while near the end
of the tournament he may coast and not try hard to win. This affects the scores
of other players, and therefore seems unfair. But it can't be compared to trying
to lose. No one (not even Kung-Ming Tiong, we see) has come up with a method
to ensure that a player exert an equal effort in each game. I'm afraid that
remains an impossible dream, unless all players have the will-to-win of a Fischer.
I do think the managed draw is especially objectionable in team events, where
the team captain often determines the result of a game for strategic reasons.
We ought to put an end to that practice by banning the captain from the playing
hall, and if possible having team members play their individual games without
access to each other, so that each game is played to win.
Perhaps if the badminton players were trying to arrange a draw (!) that would
have been less scandalous, though it would certainly have been newsworthy.
Kevin Spiteri, Marsaxlokk, Malta
Trying to lose is different than not trying to win. In real grandmaster draws,
the players decide to stop playing when they have no clear advantage. In the
badminton case, players were trying to lose to get favourable pairings in the
following rounds. Trying to lose is absolutely not the same as not trying to
squeeze a win out of a drawish position.
The pairing rules in badminton should be changed since they are partly at fault.
The rules should not promote unsporting behaviour; the conflicts between sporting
behaviour and tournament performance should be avoided as much as possible.
Football takes measures against such behaviour by having last round games played
simultaneously. Something similar should be done in badminton.
Grandmaster draws and actively trying to lose are not equivalent, however much
the article tries to paint them as such. A possible chess case equivalent to
the badminton loss attempts would be if a player intentionally loses a game
to improve the opponent's rating, thus causing the opponent to be included in
a world championship cycle instead of a third player. The scenario where there
is an incentive for unsporting behaviour is possible, but very unlikely. And
so it should be in badminton.
In defense of grandmaster draws, different circumstances warrant different
behaviour. A player playing the last game in a match when 6-5 behind would
risk losing to improve the probability of winning. We cannot accuse players
not taking that risk in the first game of the match as unsporting. In a tournament,
a player may decide that the effort to go on playing when the probability of
winning is say 10% would undermine the expected score in the rounds to come
by a larger margin. We cannot accuse the player as unsporting.
Vishwa Krishnamurthy, Boston USA
There is big difference in the comparison of grandmaster draw and the farcical
games of Badminton that were on display in the Olympics. It lies in the title
itself. "The Draw" . In chess, there is an extra possible result of
a draw, where no one is trying to lose on purpose. If at all there should be
a comparison, it should be with a chess game where a player resigns on the third
move to deliberately lose.
Ludo Tolhuizen, Waalre, The Netherlands
Drawing quickly is different from loosing intentionally (which is a part of
tournament tactics in the badminton case).
The badminton players should learn how to loose intentionally in a non-obvious
Alexei Kovalczuk, Curitiba, Brazil
I think this
text says a lot about what is really going on. It also reminds me of a certain
Norwegian player who lost a tournament due a dubious scoring system...
D. Pleo, Connecticut, USA
I don't think what happened with badminton at the Olympics can be compared to
grandmaster draws. The badminton players did not agree to a tie. One team was
trying to lose to gain a better position in the tournament ladder. In a sense,
they were fighting to put themselves in the best position to win the tournament.
When GM's agree to a draw early on in a tournament it does not position them
any better to win the tournament. Draws in chess are usually detrimental towards
eventually winning an event. The situation in badminton can be easily remedied
by having the ladder fixed in advance through some kind of pre-determined ranking
system based on past records and/or random selection if needed. The problem
with GM draws is completely different as the problem and solution has nothing
to do with the tournament ladder. The remedy, as history is proving, is not
so easy to find.
Charlie Linford, London, England
"How does this incident relate to chess?", asks Kung-Ming Tiong. The
short answer is that it does not, as a draw is not an available option in badminton.
Whilst GM draws may be unsatisfactory, they are clearly not to be compared to
deliberately losing, which is deplorable and, if occuring and proven, would
instill the same feelings in the chess world as it did in the badminton world.
Jean-Michel, Montreal, Canada
The comparison doesn't stand at all. The badminton players were trying to lose,
not draw. A relevant comparison would have been rumored Soviet-era match fixing
to favor certain players. A good comparison to a grandmaster draw would have
been a football match where a 0-0 draw qualifies both teams, which happens from
time to time and invariably ends up with the expected result.
David Levens, Nottingham, England
While the comments are interesting, comparing chess GM draws to Badminton non-triers
is completely missing the point. In the Olympics the badminton players were
deliberately trying to get a better draw, or easier opposition, next round!
GMs and others who agree early draws (I don't approve of this either) are mostly
trying to conserve energy for the several rounds yet to play, but are not trying
to avoid any opposition. It is quite, quite different.
What utter nonsense!! Comparing a draw to a willingful forfeit of a game. Trying
to lose is just not the same as trying not to. I do not see grandmaster draws
as a method to ditch stronger opposition but rather a strategical manner to
bring your tournament result on a favourable level. I do not approve of grandmaster
draws, but comparing them with the London discrace is just silly...
Christian Sasse, Vancouver
Can you blame Badminton players for using their intelligence? If the rules reward
losing, then it will happen! At least in chess there is no scandal when you
use your brains.
Eric C. Johnson, Allentown, PA
The analogy between the badminton scandal in the Olympics and GM draws in chess
is wrong-headed. In a GM draw, the players make a DRAW. In the badminton scandal,
the teams were playing to LOSE. A game where both players actually score points
(GM draw), while not very sporting, is not necessarily embarrassing. Now if
those GMs had played to LOSE, making queen-dropping moves and generally playing
like weak players -- as the badminton folks did in the Olympics -- they would
be accused of cheating and receive the same scorn and penalties (e.g. eviction
from a tournament, prize penalties, etc.). The spectacle of the badminton scandal
was that the teams had to LOSE – not draw – and they played to LOSE
in the most absurd, obvious way. They were not very good actors at all.
Iman Khandaker, Watford
I do not believe that there is ANY comparison. All sports have situations where
tactical considerations merit underplaying. Did Usain bolt get disqualified
for slowing down at the end of his heats? No – he was saving energy. Did
the entire field of the women's 1500m final get disqualified for the slowest
first lap (75s) in living memory? No – they ALL thought that they had
strong finishing kicks.
If unplayed draws are undesirable then appropriate tiebreak rules – or
rules determining appearance fees – should be devised. I think that players
in such draws should not be paid a proportion of their appearance fee –
given that they failed to make an appearance in that game! Though this begs
the question of what should happen to players like van Wely who drop rooks on
move eight – should they be further punished for being AWOL at the board?
Short losses can be just as 'unplayed' as short draws – are we just after
I have every sympathy for the badminton players. The organizers were
incompetent enough to devise rules that actually made the draw for the knockout
stage easier for losers. They should be the ones to apologise –
and they should be summararily sacked. Who ever heard of a seeding system that
favoured losers? I'm still shaking my head in disbelief. I could as well argue
that any competitor who tried to win an early match, should be disqualified
– as they were clearly not trying their best to win the tournament.
Thiamhee, Lai, Ipoh, Malaysia
I would like to point out a major difference in chess versus badminton, in which
the author had confuse himself and thus making his original argument rather
invalid in the first place!! The GMs, as guilty as they are, do not play to
lose(!), while that was the purpose in the examples given in the badminton.
Playing to lose, in any sports IS a disgrace. I don't recall any GM ever purposely
play to lose even during the Fischer era, in which the ever suspicious Fischer
had openly accused the Russians of ganging-up on him by drawing (not LOSING)
among comrades and reserved full energy facing him.
Philip Feeley, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
There was no explanation in the article for the badminton players behaviour.
At least in chess we often know the reason for a draw.
Ashwin Sewambar, Kaohsiung, TAiwan
Mr. Kung-Ming Tiong should realize that in chess, no one plays with the sole
purpose of losing. On the contrary, if any chance would arise people would take
them. In our scoring system, we don't have incentives that makes us want to
lose or draw in chess (and deliberately throwing away 0.5 or a full point).
In London 2012's badminton tournament things surely were very different.
Badminton situation is by no means equivalent to the chess. Nobody is trying
to lose in chess, actually. Any loss lowers your so precious rating, you will
not get invited to the top (for you) tournament and so on...(name your ten horrors
of suddenly low Elo). So 'GM draw' has its roots in rating system.
Imagine a system where number of points in particular tournament is not important
to rating, as overall result – let's place in this tournament and, for
example, 50% percentile of competitors' rating. Obviously this system has good
measure in round robins and it will be much easier to play for the win, but
certainly not in Swiss because it doesn't value the points which were won by
your blood and sweat against much higher rating.
There is nothing in Olympic badminton compared to rating and Swiss system.
But round-robins before elimination stages are prone to such kind of fixing.
See 'Scandinavian draw', for example. However, should we have such a system
in chess tournament, I doubt that highest ranking player would choose such a
way to fix – he has rating to care of. And his #n spot is much valuable
than even Olympic medal. To lose a nearly tied match with #(n + 1) opponent
(what badminton players wanted to avoid at all) is less costly to rating than
this 'fixed' single loss to #(n + 20).
Comments of the author
The feedbacks are welcomed and appreciated. However, I have to point out the
inaccuracies in the objections.
The premise of the article was to compare two types of contests and what happens
when it didn't turn out to be a contest at all. This was why the term "grandmaster
draw" for badminton was used. It is obvious that in badminton there is
no draw, but the crux of the matter is the spirit of the contest. In a chess
grandmaster draw, players don't put up a fight and simply draws after making
perfunctory 10-15 moves for example. It is very different from the case when
a game was fought and drawn after both sides cannot see progress in the game.
The thing is question is not the draw result, but how it was achieved.
Also, the reasons behind the badminton players' decision to try to lose or
not try to win to get weaker opposition sidesteps the crucial issue, which is
trying to settle/fix a result, and this is a valid comparison to grandmaster
draw in chess where results are agreed upon. The badminton players practically
had "no choice", as there is no way for them to simply agree and shake
hands to a result, unlike in chess.
The motivations in chess are different of course, as pointed by some readers,
but again the issue is not the motivations but the fact that results can be
agreed on instead of the result being played out. No spectator, organizer or
player can complain if players play out to a result (whether it is a win/lose/draw
in any sporting event) much like the comparison with Usain Bolt's easing up
after already clearly won the race, or in football, when a team that has already
qualified for the next round, still plays competitively and not just make it
like a practice game or quit playing (if ever there was this option) as they
have already qualified.
Well, as pointed out in the article, there are always people in chess who view
a deliberate non-contest (the grandmaster draw) is a non-issue and therein lies
the problem of making chess a bonafide sport.