Correspondence Chess – the draw problem

6/20/2015 – Corresponcence chess is experiencing a crisis. For some the growing use of computers is a modern day curse, for others a creative blessing. But the main problem is the resulting increase of draws. Is a quota of 80-90% a kind of natural law that has to be accepted? No, says a leading CC grandmaster. His solution is an new scoring system for different kinds of draws. An interesting proposal.

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Proposal of a Pilot Project with an Enhanced Score System

Open Letter by Arno Nickel (ICCF GM)
to the International Correspondence Chess Federation (ICCF)

Berlin, June 15th, 2015

Summary: For some time now there has been considerable unrest in the Correspondence Chess scene. The growing dominance of computers, which started in the early days of Fritz & Co., has led to considerable uncertainty. For some computers are a curse of modern day technological progress, for others they are a creative blessing.

Certainly the importance of correspondence chess games for openings theory cannot be denied. Never before has research in progressed so fast in the Sicilian, French and Slav openings – to name just a few. Correspondence chess games provide high-level practical tests for openings ideas. But correspondence chess itself is paying a high price for this development: the quota of draws is continually rising. Currently between 80% and 90% of all games in the top tournaments are drawn.

Two months before the ICCF Congress in Cardiff (16-22 August 2015) the well-known Berlin-based chess author and publisher Arno Nickel, himself a leading CCGM, is drawing attention to the problem – and proposing an interesting solution: do not mechanically score every draw with half a point. If a player is able to stalemate the opponent, or ends the game with a minor piece against the bare king, then this player should receive ¾ of a point, while the opponent only receives ¼ point. Nickel draws his inspiration from old ideas presented by Lasker und Réti.

Dear Chess Friends,

Being one of the leading international correspondence chess players, I should like to initiate a productive discussion in the run-up to the ICCF Congress in Cardiff, Wales (Aug. 16 through Aug. 22, 2015) on the issue of the continuously rising percentage of drawn games. Given that there is no such thing as a members’ forum, I have decided to choose this way of a circular letter by e-mail.

I have devoted myself to this issue for quite a while now and, therefore, I believe that I can make a difference with a pertinent contribution. At the same time, however, I think it is important to obtain a comprehensive set of opinions from the members. This aim is intended to be achieved by a survey directed at all ICCF members who are interested in this subject.

On the question of how the “draw issue” should be assessed, and indeed if there is an issue to be addressed at all and if so, how this should be done, opinions tend to vary widely, but based on many individual discussions, my impression is that there are two fundamental trends. On the one hand, there are those who want to change something and make a difference, while on the other hand, there are those who are generally sceptical of change thinking along the lines of “There will be no changes, anyway. After all, the computers have a tight hold on correspondence chess.” It is exactly this attitude, I should like to counter today with a very specific initiative.

It is my firm belief that the ever rising average percentage of draws in the whereabouts of currently approximately between 80 and 85 per cent in higher and top level play will have a negative impact on the overall appeal of correspondence chess because the concept of competition is being eroded. Commitment and willingness to perform are being rendered more and more futile and at least appear ever less worth the while if in the end, all the effort results in a draw between two opponents who are electronically armed to the teeth. What catches the eye is the fact that even in big tournaments with 15 or 17 players, more and more players are to be found who draw all or nearly all of their games while the seemingly unattainable tournament victory would have required only one or two wins against weaker or indisposed opponents. Everybody can imagine where this trend will lead us if it continues unabated.

Please take note of the following current overview of the last World Championship Finals and Candidates’ sections which is being provided as proof for the abovementioned draw ratio of 80% to 85%:

Tournament Start
Draw ratio
Number of games
Ongoing
WC 26 Final 10.06.2010
81.5%
110 of 135
1
WC 27 Final 10.06.2011
88.2%
120 of 136
-
WC 28 Final 10.06.2013
90.1%
109 of 121
15
WC 31 /ct01 10.09.2011
82.0%
64 of 78
-
WC 31 /ct02 10.09.2011
75.6%
59 of 78
-
WC 31 /ct03 10.09.2011
82.0%
64 of 78
-
WC 31 /ct04 10.09.2011
79.5%
62 of 78
-
WC 31 /ct05 10.09.2011
83.3%
65 of 78
-
WC 31 /ct06 10.09.2011
84.6%
66 of 78
-
WC 32 /ct01 20.09.2012
84.9%
101 of 119
1
WC 32 /ct02 20.09.2012
67.5%
81 of 120
-
WC 32 /ct03 20.09.2012
78.0%
92 of 118
2
WC 33 /ct01 20.09.2013
84.7%
61 of 72
6
WC 33 /ct02 20.09.2013
81.3%
61 of 75
3
WC 33 /ct03 20.09.2013
84.9%
62 of 73
5
WC 33 /ct04 20.09.2013
90.7%
68 of 75
3

This corresponds to an average draw ratio of 82.3% on the basis of 1512 games, with a trend towards 85% - 90%.

Against this background, I should like to propose to the ICCF a pilot project with an enhanced score system and a modified drawing score.

Approach: Enhanced Score System with Modified Drawing Score

Every chess player knows the situation where you have more or less outplayed your opponent but finally, you simply cannot accumulate enough ascendancy in order to be able to deliver checkmate. In the end, having a bishop or a knight more will not do in an ending – you will need to be up a full rook. Such a decisive advantage, however, is becoming ever rarer in correspondence chess if good or at least alert players battle each other. Strain as the players might in order to gain an advantage – in the end, all that counts is checkmate. All other kinds of advantages, big or small, being a piece up or a pawn up against the naked king… they all fall through the coarse screen of the score system. All endeavours to convert the hard-earned advantage to a full point, be it a material advantage or a strong initiative, will at the end of the game declared null and void, and the performances rendered will be rated in the same manner as in the case of a dull draw.

About one hundred years ago, the first to point out this problem was the World Champion at the time, Dr. Emanuel Lasker. He put forth the very interesting proposal to enhance the scale of values for determining game results by returning more or less to the ancient form of chess. In this system, the idea is to also acknowledge and reward a partial success below the level of an advantage required for delivering checkmate. (1)

Although being an old proposal, which at the time was supported by many grandmasters but never put to practice (the most arduous proponent being Richard Réti (2) who regrettably died at a young age), it is indeed very topical today in that it calls for more differentiation of the performances delivered. While in any sports, hundredths of a second or subjective evaluations given by judges determine sports performances, chess has always been and remained rather unwieldy in terms of differentiation of performance. In over-the-board play, this may be perceived less as a shortcoming because it is more prone to errors (even though here, too, there is some rumbling and howling from time to time); in correspondence chess, however, where the playing strength has been levelled to a great extent in recent years (regardless of whether or not this levelling has been brought about artificially due to the players’ use of chess engines), there will be an ever louder call for alternatives in the long run.

Therefore, I specifically suggest enhancing the score system to include a ¾ point
for a performance with an added value as compared to a regular draw:

a) stalemating the opponent;
b) being a piece up against the naked king.

Conversely, the weaker side should be awarded only ¼ point in these cases.

Such a rule assesses for the first time in a more refined manner a number of common draws the defender often bails out into. Saving the game in this way would still be possible and desirable as compared to a full loss, but such a save would not be scored on par with the opponent’s performance, anymore. (3)

The ending of king + pawn vs. king can be regarded as the basic form of an advantage which is sufficient for stalemating the opponent. In nearly all cases where the pawn cannot be promoted, the attacker has at least the option of forcing stalemate by means of zugzwang. And this advantage, which is usually the result of hard work and rarely occurs by mere chance, deserves the acknowledgement of being expressed in the tournament table. The same is true if one player is one knight or one bishop up against the mere king although, strangely, the surplus material is not sufficient for enforcing stalemate in this case. Introducing such an enhanced scale of values and/or points would not deprive chess of anything but, on the contrary, would rather make it richer, as was correctly pointed out by Lasker. Both players have thus additional strategic options in a game of chess while the traditional objectives of delivering checkmate or maintaining a full balance continue to exist as they did before. The most frequent kind of draw in practical play – repeating a position three times or a consensual agreement of a draw, which amounts to the same thing – would not be affected by this additional rule and experience suggests that it would remain to be the kind of draw occurring most often.

There have been concerns that such an intervention into the set of rules could change the essence of the game. Apart from the fact that neither Lasker nor Réti nor other proponents considered such a concern well-founded, it could well be argued whether or not Chess960, which has already been accepted by both FIDE and ICCF, constitutes a much more severe intervention into the set of rules. However, questions like this cannot be answered on an objective basis because in the end, they are value-based judgements – for one player, the classic starting position is part of the essence of chess while for the next player, the very same starting position is more of an obstacle standing in his way of playing creative chess.

The so-called three points rule where a win is favoured over two draws, which are only worth one point each, strikes me as wholly inadequate. This rule may work in sports like football but in chess, and especially in correspondence chess, it creates an artificial and empty pressure at best, not to mention possible cases of unfairness and potential game manipulations in team or double round robin events.

Another suggestion brought forward from time to time, is shortening the time limits in order to increase the pressure on the players thereby raising the number of mistakes, but this idea does not correspond to the traditional self-conception of correspondence chess, either.

In order to gain experience with the enhanced score system and to test in practical play how such a change would affect correspondence chess as such, I suggest organising an invitational tournament with 15 players as a pilot project.

The participating players and the time conditions should be in line with the usual requirements for international ICCF tournaments, while at the same time, it should be attempted to achieve the highest possible tournament category.

Being the initiator of a tournament of this kind, which I would dedicate to the former World Chess Champion Dr. Emanuel Lasker, I would undertake every effort to raise an attractive prize fund. Another special feature of the tournament could be the invitation of one or a few over-the-board grandmaster(s). Recommended start date of the tournament: 01/01/2016.

In order to receive a comprehensive set of opinions from correspondence chess players, I should like to ask them to complete the attached survey and return it to me via e-mail (or by post, if preferred).

Best regards,
Arno Nickel (ICCF GM)

Notes

1   cf. Wiener Schachzeitung 8/1929, p. 118; quotation of an article written by Lasker in 1917.

2   R. Réti, Die neuen Ideen im Schachspiel, Vienna 1922; cf. Ch. 20 „Die Reform des Schachspiels“. See also on this topic: A. Nickel, Die Unbesiegbaren – Dem Fernschach droht der Remistod  (PDF), series of articles in the chess magazine SCHACH 7/8/10, 2013.

3 Unfortunately, English GM Nigel Short’s suggestion to do away with stalemate altogether cannot be discussed here but I think less of it (cf. discussions on the ChessBase website).


Illustrative examples: ¾ or ½ point?

1) Stalemate win ¾ – ¼ 

Black to move (±)

 

2) Win vs. bare king ¾ – ¼

Black or White to move (±)

3) Stalemate win ¾ – ¼

White to move (±); 1.Kxf3 or 1.Bxf3

 

4) Perpetual check ½ – ½

Black to move (=)

5) Fortress ½ – ½

Black or White to move (=)

 

6) Philidor position ½ – ½

Black or White to move (=)


Post Scriptum

I tried to be as brief as possible but I think the following four additional points should not go unmentioned.

1. Doesn’t the introduction of the ¾ points rule bear the danger of diluting the essence of chess by giving up its real idea – delivering checkmate – in favour of minimalistic strategies?

This objection has to be taken very seriously but analysis of positions and a number of practical tests have convinced me that such an undesirable “side effect” is not to be feared on a general basis. Firstly, it has turned out that it is very difficult to achieve an advantage sufficient for a ¾ point when playing against an alert opponent. In fact, it is nearly as difficult to achieve as a checkmate win and indeed requires serious mistakes by the opponent. In my experience, mistakes like this tend to occur more often on a complex and unclear battlefield than in a dry positional setting, i. e. in positions where both players need to take certain risks and solve big problems. Moreover, being a pawn up, for example, does not constitute too big an advantage as such unless you have additional plusses like positional advantages or a strong initiative. Therefore, the player with an advantage cannot convert his additional pawn in a simple rook ending if the opponent has reached the Philidor position and defends his position in the correct manner (cf. example 6 on page 10). Even with the ¾ point rule, this ending still is a straightforward draw. Therefore, I believe that the intrinsic dynamics of the game of chess would continue to offer a full-bodied fight if this is what at least one of the players wants to achieve. It is the idea of the pilot project, however, to show on the basis of 105 correspondence games which of these assumptions will be vindicated in the end.

2. By how much will the percentage of drawn games probably be reduced once the ¾ points rule has been introduced?

This question is very difficult to answer, indeed, because as of now, the players do not have any experience with this rule. Roughly speaking, I expect that on average one out of ten previous drawn games would in future be half victories. Statistically, this appears to be not many games at first but if you consider the extremely high ratio of drawn games of 80% - 85% on average, it would indeed make a significant difference. Most of all, however, I assume (and I consider this at least equally important) that a positive effect would be obvious in the games as such, i. e. in the way they will be fought and in the excitement they will produce. And finally, even a low number of games with ¾ points and ¼ points, respectively, could be more satisfying in terms of a tie break as compared to the existing auxiliary means.

3. Isn’t it necessary to consider other steps, too, in order to address the “draw problem”?

I have left this issue open and included it in the survey. I did, however, touch upon a few steps I do not think highly about and I mentioned in passing Chess960, which I am quite fond of, by the way (e. g. in the 1st ICCF World Cup), without really discussing this issue. It seems to me that Chess960 is a good addition to the current armoury of tournaments being offered, but that it is not a replacement for classical chess, i. e. chess with the classical starting position. I think we should be open for new ideas but so far, none of those have convinced me. In addition, banning draw offers altogether appears to be futile and inappropriate in correspondence play – as opposed to over-the-board chess. In correspondence chess, it is all too easy for two draw-loving players to thwart such a rule, rendering it rather useless. Moreover, I don’t think it would be appropriate to “sentence” players to compulsory labour in a dull drawn position. A better idea could be considering and reviewing the concept of banning perpetual check or a repetition of moves (similar to Chinese or Japanese chess or partially also Go). However, the whole idea would need to be reviewed and clarified on the basis of in-depth chess theoretical considerations.

4. Which consequence would introducing the ¾ point rule have for the use of chess engines?

Generally speaking, chess engines can be modified in such a manner that they will in the end provide excellent analytical results, even under these changed circumstances. It will take some time, however, until appropriate and sufficiently tested updates of these programmes will be available and besides the calculating processes could be significantly slowed down due to the more complex setting. Apart from these considerations, it is the human player who should benefit from this change of rules because weighing the pros and cons of the different options in a game (“What kind of attacking plan or defensive strategy should I choose?”) are among the humans’ core skills. Otherwise, it would indeed only be the machines playing against one another, as the critics of correspondence chess never get tired of mentioning.


Survey

The recipients of this circular letter are being asked to participate in the following e-mail survey and to forward it to other ICCF members whom they know and who could be interested in this subject. The survey is carried out anonymously. It will be distributed both in German and in English. It is not a formal survey and it does not claim to be representative. Nevertheless, it can point towards certain opinion trends if there is an adequate participation quota.

Among the answers, there are always three options:  Yes  /  No  /  Abstention.

Please copy the following questions into an e-mail to the sender
and insert your answers to the questions into the intended spaces!

Question 1: Do you think that the rising percentage of drawn games is a major problem for cor-respondence chess?

Answer:________________

Question 2: Do you consider the rising percentage of drawn games an unavoidable side effect of correspondence chess we should better accept instead of doing something against it?

Answer:________________

Question 3: Do you support the pilot project with an enhanced score system?

Answer:________________

(If yes, do you want to be named publicly? ICCF member no.___________)

Question 4: Should the ICCF consider other steps  instead of the pilot project? If you prefer other steps, please write down in a few keywords (or more comprehensively, if you prefer) which steps you have in mind.

Answer:________________

Question 5: Should the ICCF consider additional steps  apart from the pilot project? If you are in favour of additional steps, please write down in a few keywords (or more comprehensively, if you prefer) which steps you have in mind.

Answer:________________

Please send your reply by July 31, 2015, to: arnonickel@t-online.de. If you want to send your reply by post, please use the following address: Arno Nickel, c/o LASKER'S, Sophie-Charlotten-Str. 28, D-14059 Berlin.

All replies received will be recorded in an anonymised excel file, which each participant can receive on request along with a pertinent analysis.

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sandbagger2012 sandbagger2012 7/31/2015 07:00
GM Nickels has offered some scoring modifications for draws to reduce the % of drawn games. I have some alternative suggestions. ICCF could make the following the standard. Sponsors can always create events using other rules. I believe #2 is already an option for organizers.

1. Randomize the openings played in cc events.
There are 500 theoretical ECO codes, slightly less in actual move sequences. Players cannot specialize in 500 openings. The organization will program a database of ECO opening sequences leading to equality. Within a given ECO sequence, the computer can also randomize how many moves are required, i.e., anywhere from 6 to 10, 15 even 20 moves. This gives 3,00 to 10,000 (500 x 6 to 20) different opening sequences. A different opening will be randomly assigned by the server for each game begun by white and will be kept secret until the event is published/started.

2. Do away with "if" move capability on the server.
This will prevent players from "leading" their opponents into deep traps found by their engines.

3. Server time limits are a big problem. 10/50 and 10/40 were allegedly implemented to help postal players transition to the new and faster venue of server play. Today's server players have adequate experience with "zero transmission times" for moves. After chess engines themselves, accumulated "unused" time is the leading contributor to excessive draws. Eliminate players accumulating huge amounts of time in their "bank," enabling them to run chess engines for days or weeks or months analyzing positions. Put an end to the "dead man's defense," stalling for months (years!?) in dead lost positions. Speed-up completion of events, especially multiple-round tournaments.

(a) Reduce the time limit to the traditional 10/30.
(b) After every 10 moves played, clock is reset to zero and a new 10/30 commences. No more accumulating unused time for later use.

Krennwurzn Krennwurzn 6/25/2015 03:54
Simply no solution for the problem that only one result is possible for every single position!

Now (1,0,=) then (1, 3/4, =, 1/4, 0)

The engines will solve this easy to an new 0,5 problem, if chess is draw and then??
ICCF Grandmaster ICCF Grandmaster 6/23/2015 11:07
@Tansel Turgut: "An interesting idea would be to arrange a 5 (or 10) man vs computer match (human play only computers) in which equivalent strength computers need to play their first choice." - I agree with most of what you say, and I would also support such a project. Usually it requires a lot of preparation to organize such a match, define the rules and acquire sponsoring. I am trying to get a sponsor for a simliar idea in freestyle chess. 10 centaurs vs. 10 engine players by Scheveningen System, time control probably 60m+15s or up to 90m+30s. That requires a lot of engine and computer knowledge by the centaurs same as by the engine players. I will give you an update, if it becomes more concrete.

@Keesje: "Another method would be to increase the bord size to 10x10 and add two additional knights on each side." I already played such a chess variant. Very entertaining and at the same time extremely exhausting. 8 knights on board, that's too heavy for human calculating. - The change of score system that I promote is a try to change as little as possible.

@brabo_hf: "If we force black to come out of his cocoon then there will surely be more creative and deciding games." Well said, but hard to achieve. In my latest correspondence chess games / WCCC final and candidates) I experimented with Benko Gambit and Modern Philidor Ideas, just because I am tired to see some Sicilian Najdorf and Slav/Meran lines again and again. The idea is to play for a win by luring White to unknown or at least unfamiliar territory. No problem for me to try this also under the 3/4-point rule. My games ended in a draw (one running will most probably be a draw). I would be happy, if white players would be ready to take some risk for a win, but they didn't (don't), may be because their engines don't.

@Tigraan: Interesting point to look for the Philidor position with c or f pawn. I have to confess, I didn't do that before. But now, after trying, I feel relieved finding no manoeuvres where one side forces the other to exchange the rooks. Did I overlook anything?

@Jacob woge: "The attacker may be stalemated, too." Just show me, be more concrete, if you arguing that the weaker side could FORCE a stalemate. I say, that can only happen after a blunder move by the opponent, which means to give up advantage.
Keesje Keesje 6/23/2015 05:22
Another method would be to increase the bord size to 10x10 and add two additional knights on each side.
Tansel Turgut Tansel Turgut 6/23/2015 03:52
I would also like to add this:

In my opinion, the reason for increasing number of draws is not only because of the improving chess engines. There is significant human intervention that prevents the engines from losing.

What I see in top level correspondence chess is that at the very critical moment (maybe 2-3 times in a game) that computer's first choice is not the correct move positionally , human take over and save the machines. Unassisted computer is significantly weaker than human+ computer combination. I don't think they can compete with human + computer combination. so, here is the difference we make...(There is probably 200-300 rating improvement added by human intervention. )

An interesting idea would be to arrange a 5 (or 10) man vs computer match (human play only computers) in which equivalent strength computers need to play their first choice.

I think that strong cc players would score 70-80% against machines unassisted by human. (I think I can score at least 70%) if my theory is correct (may not be), than there is still a lot of human influence in cc, which is very encouraging.

We may not be able to effect the result of a game every game, but we still have enough influence to change the result in a significant number of games.

Dr. Tansel Turgut, FM, ICCF GM
brabo_hf brabo_hf 6/23/2015 11:25
@ICCF Grandmaster

" In fact do many correspondence chess players try to find new opening ideas even early in the game. "

As mentioned before by several posters, many if not most players are playing with black purely to make a draw. Quite a lot of topplayers have a very narrow repertoire with black that they have analyzed very well and is bullet proof.

"humans should enjoy free choice and free creativity."
Sure but today we notice that only white really tries and to play the tango you need to be with 2.

If we force black to come out of his cocoon then there will surely be more creative and deciding games.
Jacob woge Jacob woge 6/22/2015 11:15
I think there must be more than two ways of reaching the position with White King stalemated in the corner by its own pawn. Exchanges on f7 or f8, ending with Black King takes. It could be a knight ending, anything, whichever the example demonstrates that stalemate is not limited to being the defender's last resort. The attacker may be stalemated, too.

I also think the notion of being "happy with the 1/4 point, since it is better than the deserved 0p" rather assumes the point one tries to argue. Why would a stalemate deserve a zero?

The discussion of how to value draws is older than Lasker. Around the turn of the century, nineteenth to twentieth, top-level tournaments in Monte Carlo applied the scoring system draws= 1/4-1/4 with a second game (colours reversed) played out for the other half-a-point. Without the second game, that would be equivalent to a 4-1-0 scoring system.

So already 100+ years ago the idea that a draw - any draw - should not be worth a full point was tried out in practice. One could suggest a number of scoring systems, not necessarily adding up to 1. 1/2-1/4, anyone?

But that discussion taks away focus from what I think is a fact: Stalemate and one minor piece draws are more usual than not fighting draws. As opposed to draws by agreement. If anything, I would value the latter less.
Tigraaan Tigraaan 6/22/2015 12:45
I am not sure the Philidor position is a "full draw" with the rules proposed, since the defender has to not exchange the rooks else it is 0.75-0.25. By playing around with my board I believe there is a "half-winning" play with a c or f pawn, but I could have missed something.
PCMorphy72 PCMorphy72 6/22/2015 11:55
@ICCF Grandmaster (GM Arno Nickel): I think your answer is "out of address": it's not the same thing drawing with Black in less than 40 moves or not and not all players are able to draw with Black in less than 40 moves.
ICCF Grandmaster ICCF Grandmaster 6/22/2015 11:46
Answers II:

@billbrock: "Getting 0.75 for certain classical draws seems much too generous. I'd prefer 0.6. But this idea deserves a try." 0,6 would make a difference too. You might know that Lasker preferred a 10 points scale: 10 for a win by mate, 8 for a win by stalemate, 6 for a win by material and 5 for a draw. I think it would be too confusing looking at score tables with such big numbers, also I prefer keeping fractional numbers. 3/4 is 7,5 in Lasker's score table.

@PCMorphy72: You are talking about White and Black, arguing a draw with Black deserves more to be appreciated. There is a simple reason, why I don't address this question: in ICCF tournaments all players usually have the same number of white and black games. So nobody has an advantage or disadvantage due to colours (except may be if considering specific opponents). That would of course be different in a tournament by Swiss System, which does not apply for correspondence chess.

@unalmis: You suggest to "apply the proposed scoring system to selected top-level tournaments" in existing databases. It's in fact interesting to see what kind of draws at which move numbers occured, and I have already checked that long before. The logical problem is however that those games were played under the different rules. If someone agrees to an early draw out of the opening or to a positional draw after some middlegame complications or in a drawish endgame, he might have acted differently if played under the 3/4 point rule. So you won't get any reliable statistics by your evalution. Further on, testing the 3/4 point rule is not all about statistics, it's more about how does it affect both players' approach to the game.

@Kaduflyer: "The problem with this 3/4 - 1/4 scoring rule for stalemates and games drawn with superior material is that now 2 draws becomes worth more than a win and a loss. This will only make players play more safely / conservatively. Risks will be minimized."
With a "more safely / conservatively" approach you will not achieve 2 x 3/4 point wins (1,5 points). You just have to play better than your opponent and that might include certain risks, at least when playing with Black. In top ICCF tournaments there are only very few players with scores like 1 or 2 wins and 1 loss (besides any draws). Usually it's just a very rare accident, if a top players loses any game to anybody. That player might have blundered due to mixing the move order, due to moving without serious analysis (look at the desastrous performance of former No. 1 Papenin in the last tours, it just ruined all those tours, because it became a lottery to get white against him, when it was more easy to profit from his bunder moves). In one word, it has to be tested in practice in order to see how the 3/4 point rule affects players approach to the game.

@Robot 3: You refer to an actual game from Mitropa Cup resulting in a stalemate, and you conclude "1/4 point too less IMO" (for White, you mean).
Looking at the last moves, we find that 56...Rf4 is a horrible blunder by Black in a completely won position, may be due to time trouble. So White escaped by the stalemate idea. I think, White could still be happy to get 1/4, because its better than the deserved 0 point, Finding the stalemate was no specific achievement. Any 1500 player could have done it.
ICCF Grandmaster ICCF Grandmaster 6/22/2015 11:38
Some answers to questions (I):

@Jacob woge: "Thought should be given on how to del with positions in which the player up material is stalemated. White Kh8, h7 Black Kf8"
Answer: Black scoring 3/4 and White 1/4. There are 2 ways, how such a position could happen:
a) blunder move by White, if he played 1.h7 and allowed 1..Kf8. With an inferior king's position he should have accepted a 3-fold draw by moving his king h7-h8-h7 etc. The example demonstrates two things: material isn't always decisive, and the position is the only rare exception where the ending K+P vs K does not win either by promotion or by forcing a "stalemate";
b) combination by Black, who could have sacrified a bishop on h8, thus forcing White to capture Kxh8 followed by ...Kf8. In that case it would have been a clever move by Black converting material advantage. Such idea is part of my study to be find here:http://talkchess.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=56020 (2nd example).

@Kurt Utzinger: "...why should one get more points in case of stalemate, i.e. for a chess position that does not win the game?" Simply because exerting zugzwang and converting any advantage by stalemating the opponent, which is a significant difference to those drawn positions, where both are really equal by material or by position. Lasker's premise was: Mate is still the highest aim, but not the only one in case it cannot be achieved. It's all exmplained more than one time in my articles and in the Open Letter.

@pat-adv: You talk about "cheating" in correspondence chess by use of computers. That's not the case. Computers are allowed by ICCF or let's say not forbidden. I know that some national federations have a different approach, but as you pointed out use of engines is beyond control. Also I am not sure, if we should generally ban computers if we could. High-class games based on computer analysis or at least supported by engines deserve our tribute. What should be done, if possible, is to have 2 equal kinds of correspondence titles and competition: one with computers and the other one without.

@Steven E DuCharm: I do not see the point, why "not castling" should be awarded. That appears arbitrarily to me as not based on any achievement. You would ban most of the classic openings that include castling for king's attack. May be you thought of Andersen's unmortable game vs. Kieseritzky?

@brabo_hf: "I very much like the system used in TCEC. In some stages the engines need to play via a fixed set of openings which is defined by a team of experts." That makes sense for engine tournaments, but not for humans, as humans should enjoy free choice and free creativity. In fact do many correspondence chess players try to find new opening ideas even early in the game. But that does not solve the problem of superior resistance and defence by computer armed opponents.
Aard Aard 6/22/2015 11:33
@alec1952:

That's the big misunderstanding: you don't play against computers. You play against human beings who aim to achieve a high level of play. You play against human beings who want to discover the secrets of our game. If you think that I turn on my PC, let calculate my engine one hour and do the move that my engine proposes, then you are completely wrong. That's not the way it works.
alec1952 alec1952 6/22/2015 07:11
@Aard

"To my opinion, people who want to ban engines don't love our game. They are lazy or they don't know how to use a computer. With help from an engine, you discover so many beautiful possibilities. "

All we want is to play our games without outside interference from engines and third party players in our matches we respect the honor code we respect tradition it worked for a 100+ years and we want to continue it.

When Chess is no longer struggle between human minds alone (Lasker's Manual) then what's the point of playing? where's the fun in playing someone's desktop PC?

If I play $35 a year in annual membership dues to my National Federation, cards and stamps, tournament entry fees I want to play people not Computers.



NoBerlinWall NoBerlinWall 6/22/2015 12:55
Chess is for me also science. And the science will for sure prove one day that a chess game will end with a draw.
I'm OK with that. Then I will have to find another hobby. But that day isn't here yet. It's still possible to win games. Correspondence players have to work harder with their games. There are still opening variations engines have big problems with. Play them. Skip for example 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 and more games will be won (4...Nxe4=).
Robot 3 Robot 3 6/21/2015 07:57
Current expample from the Mitropa Cup. 1/4 point too less IMO

[Event "34th Mitropacup 2015 Open"]
[Site "Mayrhofen"]
[Date "2015.06.21"]
[Round "8"]
[White "Paehtz, Elisabeth"]
[Black "Srbis, Jurica"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A05"]
[WhiteElo "2458"]
[BlackElo "2401"]
[Annotator "Robot 3"]
[PlyCount "120"]
[EventDate "2015.??.??"]
[EventCountry "AUT"]
[WhiteTeam "Germany"]
[BlackTeam "Croatia"]
[WhiteTeamCountry "GER"]
[BlackTeamCountry "CRO"]
[TimeControl "40/5400+30:1800+30"]

1. Nf3 {0} Nf6 {7} 2. c4 {0} c5 {24} 3. g3 {0} Nc6 {60} 4. Bg2 {10} g6 {6} 5.
d4 {168} cxd4 {35} 6. Nxd4 {4} Bg7 {21} 7. O-O {15} O-O {29} 8. Nc3 {4} Ng4 {79
} 9. e3 {19} d6 {50} 10. Nde2 {20} Qa5 {957} 11. Nd5 {60} Nge5 {212} 12. Bd2 {
345} Qd8 {117} 13. b3 {174} Rb8 {366} 14. Ndc3 {1098} a6 {279} 15. f4 {140} Nd3
{460} 16. a3 {300} Be6 {958} 17. Qc2 {915} Nc5 {20} 18. Rac1 {353} a5 {221} 19.
Nb5 {576} Bf5 {471} 20. e4 {23} Bg4 {11} 21. Nec3 {719} Nd4 {320} 22. Nxd4 {4}
Bxd4+ {6} 23. Kh1 {1} Bd7 {68} 24. b4 {153} axb4 {54} 25. axb4 {3} Na6 {34} 26.
Qd3 {449} Bg7 {37} 27. Nd5 {91} b5 {105} 28. c5 {148} dxc5 {283} 29. bxc5 {3}
Bc6 {28} 30. Qa3 {130} Ra8 {647} 31. Ba5 {4} Qe8 {42} 32. e5 {189} Kh8 {38} 33.
Qb2 {136} e6 {190} 34. Nb6 {116} Ra7 {83} 35. Be1 {34} f6 {98} 36. exf6 {25}
Bxf6 {2} 37. Bc3 {5} Bxc3 {18} 38. Qxc3+ {4} Kg8 {3} 39. Qb2 {78} Rc7 {44} 40.
Rb1 {0} Nxc5 {0} 41. Kg1 {389} Qb8 {343} 42. Nc4 {614} Nd3 {98} 43. Qa3 {90}
Bxg2 {77} 44. Kxg2 {2} Nxf4+ {88} 45. Rxf4 {137} Rxf4 {7} 46. gxf4 {2} Rxc4 {11
} 47. Rd1 {87} Rxf4 {219} 48. Qe3 {240} Qa8+ {226} 49. Kg3 {8} Rf7 {112} 50.
Rd6 {30} e5 {117} 51. Re6 {105} Qb8 {131} 52. Qe4 {243} Qc7 {84} 53. Rc6 {34}
Qe7 {28} 54. Rc8+ {221} Kg7 {7} 55. Rc3 {38} Qg5+ {18} 56. Kh3 {8} Rf4 {37} 57.
Rc7+ {19} Rf7 {415} 58. Rxf7+ {5} Kxf7 {3} 59. Qd5+ {9} Ke8 {67} 60. Qf7+ {5}
Kxf7 {4} 1/2-1/2

PCMorphy72 PCMorphy72 6/21/2015 04:06
I agree with Aard: “who want to ban engines don't love our game”. About the idea of the obliged openings (which he and brabo_hf like) I wrote something several years ago: https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Talk:Chess/Variants
Karbuncle Karbuncle 6/21/2015 02:48
Nayer, proposing engines bans is going down a dead end. There are plenty of cc sites that have tried engine-prohibiting rules, and invariably they end up with the top players all using some form of engine help, even if they have to disguise it to not entirely match detection methods. The USCF didn't allow engine use in CC games, yet the ranks got dominated with cheaters. Finally Alex Dunne got so fed up with it that he lifted the ban on engine use in the Absolute Championships.

You also need to realize the centaur play isn't just about running engines against each other. While there are players that do exactly that on ICCF, they are not the ones the make it to champion titles and upper ranks. It takes a certain skill set (different to that of OTB chess, though with some shared concepts) to excel at centaur cc. That's why I take great offense to ignorant opinions by people like Nigel Short, where they scoff at it and think it's just a bunch of button-pushing. He has no idea what kind of hard work in researching lines it takes to try to win SPECIFICALLY BECAUSE engines are involved. I've got close to 100 wins against engines users, and just about every one of them had better hardware than my dinosaur of a PC. I'll be damned if some layman is going to dismiss my accomplishments in that arena without having words with them.
J Nayer J Nayer 6/21/2015 02:09

I have an altogether other proposal, which is guaranteed to work.
I played postal chess in the 1980s. At that time, there were no (strong) computers, there was no chessbase, there was the Informator and some books. I spent many hours analysing positions and what I was doing was playing chess.
What are people doing these days?
GM Nickel's proposal will never work - i.e. it will not decrease the number of draws - because computers are becoming stronger all the time (and everyone (or almost) can buy them and if his proposal will be accepted, it will be a matter of months if not weeks before programmers rewrite their software.
To solve the problem of ever increasing draws in CC, one needs to look at the cause of the problem and go from there. There is little honesty here because everyone involved as a stake in the process: people either want to safeguard their precious ELO ratings and manufacturers want to sell as much as possible.
There is only one way to decrease the numbers of draws in CC and that is to take computers out of it. One can disagree as much one wants, as it is now, CC ELO rating correlates more with the ability to work with computers than with the ability to play chess.
I therefore propose the following:
the ICCF has to organise tournaments and WC cycles where the use of engines is forbidden. Those who want to participate in such tournaments have to enter into a legally binding contract (including real penalties - not only bans) that they will not use any engines. In order to detect cheating, moves should be checked by third parties using whatever is available. If this method is not waterproof, then let's make it so. The problem is that, as things stand at the moment, no one has an interest to making it waterproof. That does not mean that it cannot be done. Alternatively, for important tournaments, such as WC finals, players should have to play an OTB tournament. This will show the world that they can play chess without their precious engines and databases. And why not? It would not be difficult to organise. Or is it that the results, as I expect, would be far too embarrassing?
mymomomka mymomomka 6/21/2015 02:06
in the current system you must realize that a lost is actually -2 points.

you actually need 2 wins to compensate for a lost (actually you need 3 win (or a draw to get a + score). that is why many players want a draw instead of a win.

Now, is it worth to get a win over a draw in the current system without incentives?

and its actually stupid to hear in every tournament in chess that a player need only a "draw" to win.
Jochen Keller Jochen Keller 6/21/2015 11:41
First I thought about an April prank in June. Only the discussion here leads me to think it might be a different story, so I just ask about what I dont understand:
1) Why is this solution CCHess-related?
2) Why do so many games (about 10% of all draws, as mentioned in the article mean about 8%-9% of all games) in correspondence chess end in stalemates or in the rare case of a draw being a piece down?
You may easily find out from that question that I am not a CChess player, but I am interested in an answer anyway.
Thank you!
jpmoldovan jpmoldovan 6/21/2015 11:25
All these point-scoring modifications are ridiculous. A draw is a draw. I suggest reducing the time controls (to 10 moves in 25 or 30 days) and counting the actual time used instead of pretending that <24 hours = 0 days. This may stop people from running their engines for days and days.
abdekker abdekker 6/21/2015 10:47
It will only be a matter of time before the chess engines have a setting for the new rule. I like the proposal, and would encourage it to be tested, but I don't see how it solves the fundamental issue that its' the engines playing the tournaments. The strongest engines, on modest hardware, are now running at over 3400 Elo. More radical are to consider the rules from Chinese chess where stalemate is a loss.
Phillidor Phillidor 6/21/2015 10:37
mymomomka: Your suggestion, as it is, wouldn't make any difference compared to classical scoring system. If +2 for a win, 1/2 for a draw and -1 for a loss, then margin between desirable results is in both cases 1,5, which means the only difference is, you would introduce negative points (completely unnecessary) and multiply the scoring system with 3 (where again I wonder what's the point there).
Aard Aard 6/21/2015 10:25
To my opinion, people who want to ban engines don't love our game. They are lazy or they don't know how to use a computer. With help from an engine, you discover so many beautiful possibilities.

Secondly, my advise to ICCF: stop this oldfashioned cycle of the World Championship, which takes many years. Nowadays, there is no clear number one anymore. Organize only rating tournaments.

The idea of Mr. Nickel is not a good one. With his proposals it is not chess anymore, but another game.
The idea of brabo_hf (about obliged openings) is a better one.
giulia giulia 6/21/2015 09:42
How much time need to chess programmers to write a program with these new rules (evaluations)?
Kaduflyer Kaduflyer 6/21/2015 07:29
The problem with this 3/4 - 1/4 scoring rule for stalemates and games drawn with superior material is that now 2 draws becomes worth more than a win and a loss. This will only make players play more safely / conservatively. Risks will be minimized.

The next step becomes clear: chess itself has to change to become less drawish by nature. Changing the scoring isn't practical, there are too many unintended side effects.

So here's one change that could reduce draws: change the pawn promotion rule. Allow a Pawn that reaches the 7th rank to promote to Knight, Bishop or Rook, with the option to remain a Pawn and promote to Queen or Rook or Bishop or Knight on the 8th rank.

This means any advantage of 1 Pawn in an endgame (K+P vs K) will win, because the lone King cannot prevent the Pawn from reaching 7th rank and becoming a Rook.

Another simultaneous change could be to change the powers of the minor pieces. Enable all of them to move like a King (in addition to their current moves). I've actually coded an engine that plays by these rules, and I'm just starting to try it out now. The one thing immediately apparent is that K+N vs K, K+B versus K are all winning because the minor piece attacks all 8 squares around it.

If that last change is too dramatic, here's an alternative: disallow like pieces from exchanging (while Pawns can still exchange for Pawns). So Knight cannot take Knight, Bishop cannot take Bishop, Rook cannot take Rook and Queen cannot take Queen. Thus all captures must be uneven, although a series of captures could still even out. The likelihood is greater that the endgame will see an uneven balance of material.

Of course I realize these are major changes, but chess is imo in need of that. But I know the resistance to change is extremely high... well, then, enjoy your draws and I suppose your 3/4 - 1/4 point scoring. Well, the least you could do is get rid of the fractions altogether and make a win 4 points, a loss 0, a stalemate or draw with superior material a 3-1 score, and all other draws a 2-2 score. But there would be resistance to even this blasphemy!
TMMM TMMM 6/21/2015 03:48
@mymomomka: I hope you're not serious...
mymomomka mymomomka 6/21/2015 03:36
2 points for win
-1 point for loosing
and 1/2 for draw

in this scenario players will have incentive to be aggressive and go for the win.
TMMM TMMM 6/21/2015 02:12
Although this would drastically alter the nature of chess (and endgame books would have to be rewritten completely from the ground up), I think this proposal is not bad and the way to test it (invitational tournament as a pilot project) is well thought out. Why not just give it a go, and see what happens?

It's easy to shoot down ideas by others, but most people do not propose good alternative solutions either. So if this is the best solution we can think of, just give it a try.
Karbuncle Karbuncle 6/21/2015 01:21
Mcamacho, it's not a richer-man-wins scenario on ICCF. I'm living proof of that having become ICCF-US champion and am closing in on 2500 with a computer that is now 8 years old and anyone with a cheap laptop could out-calculate my engine. My trick is I specialize in the opening and try to reach positions that computers don't understand (and there are still plenty of them out there). Some months back, I beat an ICCF-GM by playing the King's Indian Defense, and he played into the most theory-complex line. In this line, most engines think white is near-winning with evals over +1.00. Yet I ended up winning as black with the king-side pawnstorm. Even with hours and hours of analysis on each move, the engines are clueless as to how effective the plan is until it's much too late. That's why I even still play on ICCF. It's those kind of games that make it fascinating to me, and my ratings climb is a testament to the fact that it's not at all about the hardware, but rather how well you research the openings and your opponent's tendencies.
mcamacho mcamacho 6/20/2015 10:46
As a chess enthusiast who unfortunately has limited continuous time to play OTB (and I am not fast enough for fast time controls), I recently started looking at correspondence chess as an option. I was really disappointed when I found that ICCF accepted chess engines as aids. I think this is against the democratic principle of chess itself: can you AFFORD the hardware and the SOFTWARE to beat others? "Let the richer man win"?? Of course, you may say the same of other sports such as F1, but at least there you can control technologies which are approved and others which are not. Having been put off the ICCF, I have been looking at e-mail chess, where at least you make a "gentleman's agreement" not to use engines. Yes, there will always be dishonest people who will cheat, but I choose to have faith in human beings.

That been said, three points for a win and one point to the draw has always seemed attractive to me, but I also understand the reasoning of rewarding a well fought defence by black, especially as white is supposed to start with advantage. In that case, should a win with black be rewarded with higher scoring for winning or drawing than white - again, white is supposed to have the advantage.

What should be done is banning computers from correspondence chess, and before you beat me, I know that policing would only be a problem, but correspondence chess has always been about trusting the decency of others. Before the computer age, you were not supposed to consult with other players, unless consultation games where agreed. But the same has been with consultation chess OTB.
unalmis unalmis 6/20/2015 09:43
SHOW ME THE PROOF!

It appears that ICCF-GM Nickel has spent some time on this idea. I would like to thank him for this interesting reading. The draw ratio he has presented from the high level tournaments is really high, and as he noted, this is expected with the existing system. I have two comments on his proposal: one is related to the real problem and the other is related to his proposal.

What is the real problem? GM Nickel's proposal is related to the scoring of the games but it does not really bring any solution to the real problem. In real chess terms, we know that having a bishop up at the end of the game is not sufficient to win the game. So where is the real satisfaction in getting 1/2 point more than your opponent? I do not believe it is justified. At least, I will not enjoy getting 1/2 point more just because I have one extra bishop at the end of the game but still cannot deliver a mate.

No need for pilot project, use the database: GM Nickel recommends a pilot project with his proposed scoring system. In my opinion there is no need for this, because we already have a huge correspondence database. Before undertaking these sorts of efforts, why not apply the proposed scoring system to selected top-level tournaments (say those in his table)? This way we can see what difference the scoring system would have made in the final results both from "points" and "order of finish" perspectives. If there is a radical difference, then the scoring system could be looked at more seriously, if not, then we can drop the idea. Personally, I think that the scoring system would not make too much difference. Perhaps it will slightly change the finishing order of the players, but the scoring will be chaotic and the parallelism with OTB chess will be lost. It may bring more problems than solutions. Regardless, I would like to see a more convincing analysis with the existing database before any serious commitment.

Haldun Unalmis
PCMorphy72 PCMorphy72 6/20/2015 09:05
I dealt with this famous "draw problem" some years ago ( https://sites.google.com/site/pcmorph72/articoli/wcc-cycle ) getting a few compliments (but even from FIDE CEO Geoffrey Borg). The point is that I wouldn't like any additional score to a White player who stalemated me, because I would deserve more score than him since I got my purpose (i.e. "Draw with black!", as Karbunclee stated in the comment above). On the other hand, any White player should appreciate an opponent that was able to force him to a draw in few moves, especially if White supposed to have the advantage, being surprised of a stealmate instead of a checkmate or a draw for insufficient material instead of a win: probably GM Nickel would claim the plus score as White player in those cases, while I, as White player as well, would donate it to the Black player, instead.
Matt79 Matt79 6/20/2015 08:58
I think that should be adopted generally. My personal proposal is "over-mate" or King's mate, that is, when a King delivers open checkmate. This is generally only possible in KQQ-K endgame when the triumphant king opens line for the queen on the last line and the other queen is on the seventh. I enjoy giving King's mate while playing against the computer.
I suggest 1.25 points for the winner and 0 for the loser.
billbrock billbrock 6/20/2015 08:35
Getting 0.75 for certain classical draws seems much too generous. I'd prefer 0.6. But this idea deserves a try.
brabo_hf brabo_hf 6/20/2015 07:47
I very much like the system used in TCEC. In some stages the engines need to play via a fixed set of openings which is defined by a team of experts. Personally I think this could also work for cc and this will force people to play openings which they don't have experience with or which are maybe even slightly inferior.

Did Arno check that possibility?
Steven E DuCharm Steven E DuCharm 6/20/2015 05:52
Here's another idea ... if the only player to not castle in a game wins or draws they receive a 1/4 point bonus. A castling player would receive the regular score. If both sides are (un)castled no bonus points apply.

Agree? Disagree?
pat-adv pat-adv 6/20/2015 05:24
If the fundamental problem is cheating via use of computers then I don't see how this is a solution. It's an interesting idea, but surely it would just result in those cheats with the strongest computers winning more points.

Perhaps a long-term solution might present itself at some point, I think we need technology that can detect use of computers according to the moves deployed. Top GMs are able to spot computer-like moves, so it should be possible to develop some sort of system for punishing computer-like moves.
firestorm firestorm 6/20/2015 02:52
I thoroughly applaud Tansel Turgut's thesis that the issue is the creativity brought by the person who takes up correspondence chess- that it shouldn't effectively be a chore involving feeding the positions into an engine and sending off the result as the move of choice.

I wonder however whether there is a difference to how one approaches chess if the rules for scoring at the end are changed? If you know you don't have to mate (ie. material advantage is sufficient), that must make a difference, subtle or otherwise, to how one evaluates and therefore chooses one's approach.

I'm not offering any opinion that says "... and that's a good thing/bad thing" because I simply have no idea. But it strikes me as being a consideration nonetheless.

On another, more pragmatic note, the investigative/testing approach (organise a pilot tournament if the idea is supported) is very nice, and all that one might add is- both scoring systems could exist according to what the tournament organisers want to use. After all, 3/1 for win/draw now exists besides 1/0.5 for certain tournaments in the calendar. Or have it as a tie break system? That way "a win is a win is a win" still has primacy, but grinding out computer-proof draws might lose its appeal if the computer draw actually costs in the tie break.
Kurt Utzinger Kurt Utzinger 6/20/2015 02:26
GM Nickel's understandable proposal only leads to other results without changing the character of chess games. For example: why should one get more points in case of stalemate, i.e. for a chess position that does not win the game? The very high rate of draws in correspondence chess is of course a pity. The assistance of computers in CC should not be allowed, but who would be able to check this?