The Bilbao Draw – feedback from our readers

11/6/2007 – In a recent article one of our readers analysed the system used in the recent Bilbao tournament, which awarded three points for a win, one for a draw and zero for a defeat. Ron Dorfman came to the conclusion that this does not prevent short draw but may in fact encourage collusion amongst player. A lot of our readers disagree, and many have proposed profound alternatives. Long, interesting read.

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The Bilbao Draw – feedback from our readers

In the following we have sorted the feedback to our recent article on the Bilbao anti-draw system somewhat, bringing the most substantial and formally presented proposals up front, with the shorter and more casual suggestion following them. At the end there is an editorial note regarding proposals we have ourselves submitted in the past.

Stewart Reuben, Twickenham, England

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a hard-fought draw, but there has been considerable interest recently in reducing the percentage of non-games. The situation is different in team tournaments from in individual events. A number of partial solutions have been tried with varying success.

  1. It has been suggested that, where all the players pay their own way, with no sponsorship of any type of the prize money, then it is no business of the administrators of the event. This has some truth, but there are few events like this outside the US. For example, in Gibraltar many people pay their own expenses, but the entry fees are minuscule and the overall subsidy of all the players is about £400 a player. Moreover, encouraging even amateur players to try to win can only be good for our sport. After all, there are now often many spectators due to the rise in viewing the games on the Internet.

  2. Scoring the game 3 for a win, one for a draw and zero a loss, 3/1/0. This has only occasionally been tried. For a Swiss, in particular, it invites cheating by collaboration in the last round. The two players may well receive more prize money if one wins than if they draw. In addition, to rate such games in the normal FIDE Rating System is fallacious. The players have a different objective than when playing 1/½/0, which is the same as 2/1/0.

  3. The FIDE Laws of Chess required at one time that there be no draws in less than 30 moves, apart from repetition or inadequate pieces left to secure mate (unlikely). This was swiftly discontinued. It could often lead to concocted games, which personally I abhor. I prefer the more honest: 1 draw agreed.

  4. Various systems where the players cannot agree a draw in a specified number of moves without the permission of the arbiter or his representative. Variations include: no draws at all by agreement, as in M-Tel or Corsica; no draws in less than 40 moves, tried in Gibraltar but it was thought to be too many; no draws in less than 30 moves, used in the US and will be in Gibraltar 2008; no draws in less than 30 moves in the top half in New Zealand. All of these systems have either the disadvantage that there is a measure of consultation with an outside party, or alternatively may lead to games which are partly concocted. In my opinion a new addition to the 2009 Laws of Chess is desirable or even necessary for this type of event.

  5. A system of fining players who agree draws in less than 30 moves, perhaps 10% of their start money (if any) or of their prize money. This requires no changes to the Laws and is a private matter between the Organizer and the Player(s). Again games may occasionally be concocted.

  6. The Organizer not inviting players who take quick draws. This can only be partly successful and the organizer may not be that knowledgeable. Each organizer creating a hidden blacklist cannot be desirable. A public list would be fraught with problems.

  7. Single game knockout tournaments avoid the problem. Eventually one player must go through to the next round. This has been tried in both Dresden and Hastings. There is some problem with the unfairness of White having such a big advantage. Overall the systems have not met with commercial success. Two game knockouts suffer from the problem that the players may take quick draws in both games in order to expend less energy. They then play properly in the Rapidplay games.

  8. The Iranian System devised by Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh. If the slowplay game is won, the winner scored 7 points and the loser 0. If they draw, a Rapidplay game is played. The winner scores 5 points and loser 2. If that is drawn, an Armageddon (sudden death 5/4) game is played. The person who 'wins' scores 4 points and the loser 3. Thus 7/5/4/3/2/0. I don't know whether Mehrdad has ever tried this. It is a great deal of chess for one day and is thus unsuitable for two rounds per day. Again there is the problem that the players may agree a perfunctory draw in the slowplay game in order to conserve their energy. Also 7 point is an enormous score for the last round and may well lead to collusion.

  9. The Iranian-Jewish System. I have only recently thought of this in Predeal in Rumania. If the slowplay game is won, the winner scores 3 points and the loser 0. If they draw, they proceed to Armageddon. The winner scores 2 points and loser 1. Thus 3/2/1/0. Such systems are used in other sports such as hockey I understand. The stronger player is less likely to agree a quick draw in the slow game because he would be risking the points in a rather random tiebreak. 3/2/1/0 should have a less pronounced effect in a Swiss, possibly even less than the standard 2/1/0. Indeed, it might be difficult to determine the best way of cheating until all the other games are concluded. In the Rumanian Team Championship, many games were agreed drawn in a package deal before the last round started. At least here there would be Armageddon games to view. Another advantage of 8 and 9 is that the points would be more spread out than with a conventional Swiss. Thus players would be less likely to tie for first place.

For both 8 and 9, the venue must be large enough so that fast games can take place at the same time as slow games.

Stewart Reuben is the author of "The Chess Organiser's Handbook".


Jens Christensen, Copenhagen

I was quite surprised to read the article by Ron Dorfman since it constitutes possibly the worst argument against the 3-1-0 scoring system I have ever heard of. While his argument is theoretically true it has some serious real-life flaws.

First of all there is the obvious question: In the two player mini-match, which player takes the first loss? One need not be a professor to see that it takes a massive amount of trust to hand another player a win and then expect him to throw the second game of the mini-match. I dare the reader to consider this: Would you be comfortable deliberately throwing a game to another player, even if you had made a 'gentleman's agreement' that he would deliberately lose the next game. What if, by the time of the second game, your opponent would win the tournament if he drew or won that game? Does anyone seriously think that the other player would throw the game in that situation?
What would you be able to do about it if your opponent didn't lose his game as agreed? The answer to that is: Absolutely nothing. If you told anyone about your little agreement you would admit that you had been cheating by prearranging games and would (most likely) get thrown out of the tournament and (definitely) be the laughing stock of the entire tournament.

Secondly there is the question of how to arrange the reciprocal wins/losses. With the double draws it is quite easy to do 'naturally'. When one player offers an early draw in the first game it is a sign that maybe he/she is not in a fighting mood. If the other player is not in a fighting mood either he accepts the quick draw and all is well. Neither player risks anything, and in the second game the two players can make a quick draw as well, or play a 'real' game depending on mood, tournament situation, etc.

The situation with the two mutually thrown games is quite different. You must necessarily agree to it beforehand, and it cannot be something implicit or unspoken. Player A must literally go to player B and say: "I lose game one and then you lose the second, ok?" and player B must answer: "Yes, let's do that." Apart from the fact that in any tournament, an agreement like this would be blatantly cheating it would also entail the trust/who-goes-first issues mentioned above.

Practically all of the European football-leagues now use the 3-1-0 scoring and I think I can safely say that, apart from maybe a few of the bottom feeders, you would get laughed out of any clubhouse if you suggested swapping wins (most European leagues operate with a double round robin system or similar).

Instead of this silly argument, we should really rather discuss the real issues and problems with the 3-1-0 scoring system. For one, it would be entirely possible for a player to go +2 (+6-4=2 20pts) in a tournament and still beat another player who went plus 3 (+3-0=9 18 pts). This is a real issue that can be argued both for and against.

There is also the problem that even if 2 players go all out and play a great drawn game they still get 'punished' at the same level as the 2 players at the next board who took a 15-move GM draw.

This brings us to the real issue at hand. The problem is not the draw itself. Draws are a natural part of the game and happens when 2 players come up equal. The problem is the 15-move draws that continue to let down the spectators and (not least) the sponsors of major tournaments, and the 3-1-0 scoring doesn't entirely seem to address this issue, though it would be quite interesting to see it tried out in a few proper GM tournaments (long time control tournaments, that is).


Frank Dixon, Kingston, Canada

Thank you for your very interesting article from Ron Dorfman. My approach to this problem relates to the fundamental definition of a truly and fairly contested game of chess, in harmony with other sporting contests. The proliferation of so-called 'Grandmaster Draws' has damaged the image of chess, has diminished interest from spectators, fans, and sponsors, and threatens to relegate our beloved game and sport into second-rate status. It is simply not possible to do this, receive credit for non-effort, in other sports.

My solution is to combine a minimum 'number of moves' requirement for a game, together with arbiter intervention as necessary, and to apply a sliding scale for transgressions, as described below.

We have already seen some forms of this approach tried, with mixed success. In the early 1960s, FIDE implemented a '30-move rule' before draws could be agreed to in its official events; it is somewhat ironic that GM Bobby Fischer, one of the greatest fighting players in chess history, was one of the transgressors of this rule, at the 1962 Varna Olympiad. The 1962 Candidates' Tournament at Curacao was notorious for the number of short, apparently previously agreed draws, between certain Soviet participants, Grandmasters Petrosian, Keres, and Geller.

Then, with more recent events, such as the annual Linares supertournaments, the Sofia M-Tel supertournament, and the rich Minneapolis HB Global Challenge, with a first prize of $50,000, further attempts were made to enforce fighting chess, by the organizers.

At the 2007 Canadian Open in Ottawa, where a new tournament record of 22 Grandmasters took part, and where the event attracted ACP recognition, the organizers (of which I was one) imposed a '30-move rule' for the first time in the 51-year history of this championship. It was enforced quite strictly by the arbiters, with only a couple of shorter draws slipping through, for unusual reasons, not related to the theme of this article.

I, along with millions of other chess lovers, am hoping that this concept will catch on.

But this provision needs to be strengthened, in my view, by arbiter intervention, as necessary. Arbiters for top events need to be trained to spot so-called 'pre-arranged' draws, some of which are filled with nonsensical moves. One can think about the farcical drawn 'game' between GMs Miles and Hubner at Tilburg 1985 (which had its own bizarre background), as well as many other examples. The arbiter needs to have the right to sign off on drawn games, before this result becomes official (more on this below).

In nearly 40 years as a player and arbiter, I have noticed that 'Grandmaster draws' are almost completely nonexistent among non-Master players. It is only when the class of the players and the size of the prize fund rises, that we see this phenomenon appear.

Again, no one in chess objects to a true contest which ends in a draw. This sort of game demands much energy, effort, and time from both players. A short, non-contested draw is virtually a day off for both 'players', giving them an unfair advantage on their rivals, and this is simply not right from the sporting perspective.

My solution to this phenomenon is for the arbiter to score both players who partake in this sin with LESS than half a point, depending on the severity of their crime. It could be 0, 0.1, 0.2, 0.3, or something of this type. Granted, this is somewhat subjective. And furthermore, this score would also be applied for the tournament score for norms and for rating purposes. I get constantly annoyed when I see international norms scored by players who have played one or more non-contested 'games' in order to achieve the magical norm threshold.

I think that if these provision were to be made available, we would soon see the virtual extinction of pre-arranged and Grandmaster draws at the international level.

This disease of 'Grandmaster draws' has become so pervasive that drastic measures must be taken, on the lines of the shot clock in basketball, which revolutionized the game in the 1950s, by mandating the team with ball possession to take a shot within a ruled amount of time (now 24 seconds), or else turn over the possession to the opponents.

We simply have to do something dramatic, and must eliminate this evil phenomenon of arranged games and non-contested games, in order to enable our beloved chess to continue to grow and develop.

[Frank Dixon is a Canadian geophysicist and mathematician, Candidate Master player, arbiter, organizer, patron, coach and writer, past Governor of the Chess Federation of Canada, coordinator of post-secondary chess]


Nate Plapp, Lemon Grove, Ca, USA
An agreed swap of wins is not as easy as it sounds. You can agree, but it is far from risk free if you have to give-up the first game. How can you be sure the other guy will honor the agreement and throw the second game? Who can you complain to if he does not? No, no one is going to take that big of a risk.

The criticism of fighting draws being punished is a valid point. Another not mentioned is the fact that few players actually try to win with black. They spend lots of time analyzing at home looking for lines they can draw with as black, they can be so engaged in trying to draw that they don't try to win when they get an advantage, they just jump at the draw. This makes the draw all the more likely. Consider also that since everyone wants to see the best players, and the best players are nearly the same strength, the most likely outcome is going to be a draw.
Sure you could invite weak GMs to be obliterated by good GMs but that would cause all sorts of problems. I would suggest another approach.

My solution instead is to give one player 1/2 or 1/3 the time of the other. This artificially reduces the strength of the player with less time and increases the strength of the one with more time. This accomplishes several things. The player with more time is really giving up something when he accepts a GM draw because those he is competing with are not as likely to be happy with draws from the strong side because draws will not win the tournament. This approach could be amplified by making a draw a win for the player with less time. Or if you really want blood, how about if when the player with less time actually wins, it counts double and the player with more time gets a point taken away or a negative point if he has no points to give yet.

Example: player A with 5 points and the time advantage looses to player B who has 5 points. The result would be that player B now has 7 and player A has 4. If the color is independent of the time imbalance, the players would have to try to win as black and as white, if they have the time advantage.

If they are going to make an honest attempt to win with black it is going to have to get interesting – they have to go into chaos. I think the best way to actually do this is to have a four round, round robin (all play all). Each player would have two whites and two blacks against each of the other players. In one of the whites he would have the time advantage and in one of the blacks he would have time advantage.

One interesting aspect is that we would see how a very strong player would handle a much stronger player where there actually is no such player that strong for him to play. The cost of the tournaments could actually be less because the games would be shorter and two rounds a day is plausible. It should also test everyone's psychological metal because it is unlikely anyone will escape having a loss.

Savien Anderson, Vancouver, Canada
I was interested in Ron Dorfman's reply to the Bilbao system – only there are fatal flaws with respect to his own analysis. I am not a professor, so it seems the "underpinning truth" which Dorfman suggests should be accessible to me. Only I do not see a system which strongly encourages a swapping of wins. Frankly I consider the idea laughable, and for a couple of very good reasons:

Chess is a Peer-Reviewed sport. Agreeing to a draw is simple, and executing one even easier since it takes literally no collaboration. Engineering a win which is reviewed by professionals and students the world over would take some serious effort. They would even have to innovate within current lines of play. This amount of work requires they both be in a room together studying for a good while. Or they could tell their seconds too work it out – either way their reputations would be dependant on the quality of the draw. So manufacturing wins that keep the quality of their chess intact is going to be difficult. They would likely be discovered as cheaters.

Another problem would arise from a prisoners dilemma type situation. What would happen if one of the players cheated within the rigged system? If he duly won the first game that his opponent threw, and then didn't hold up his end of the bargain in the next game? This would happen sooner or later. It is not like the losing player can do much about it. There would always be the temptation to cheat the cheater. In a tournament like a double round robin, the players are dividing their two games by a number of rounds, making any agreement hard to sustain. This is because the rest of the field is changing its positions, and if the tournament leader loses a game and one of the cheaters may suddenly be in contention...

One more point: how would this Dorfman reality affect the ratings of players?The imbalance between two agreed cheaters would mean a net loss in rating points for the stronger player. Am I wrong on this point? I am not precisely sure.

And lastly, one must take into account the pride and professionalism of the majority of chess players. Agreeing to a draw is not cheating. It is a time honored tradition, regardless of its negative impact. But agreeing to throw a game would be cheating, and I think the very idea of it is insulting to a large number of players. As a strong competitor myself – at the very top of my professional food chain...I would never even consider throwing a game.

So to Recap why players cannot easily agree to swap wins:

A) Chess is Peer Reviewed
B) Wins would have to be convincing (a lot of work!)
C) The temptation to cheat the cheater...
D) The Ratings Imbalance?
E) The Pride and Competitive Spirit of Pro Chess players.

To Chessbase: I love your page, have visited it daily since it came to life. Keep up the truly fantastic work on all fronts.

Tuan Minh Vung Tau, Vietnam
In Chinese Chess we face the same problem. A new idea of competitive system is recently recommended by Mr. Hu Ronghua, who is very famous player in China and Chinese Chess society (similar to Garry Kasparov in chess). It eliminates draw problem completely. Here are the rules:

  1. The Red (move first) player has a fixed time of 80 minutes.
  2. The Black (move second) player is decided through bidding. Each player will try to bid the time to play as the Black player. Whoever bids less will play Black in that game, with the clock time he/she bid.
  3. Each move is rewarded 30 seconds to the clock of that player.
  4. If result of the game is a draw, the Black player will be declared the winner.

Hopefully, this experiment will be applied to chess too.

Howard S. Sample, Toledo, OH USA
A few years ago, I pointed out a fatal flaw on this Bilbao system of allowing wins to count three times as much as draws. My argument appeared on the "Alekhine's Parrot" website. The palpable problem with this ridiculous system is that it would encourage fixed games. If, say, two players are competing in a crucial tournament game and the game appears to be heading towards a draw, they could just quietly agree for one of them to "blunder" and let the other "win." Thus, the "winner" pockets three points instead of the one point that a draw would have given him, and the two players could then split the additional prize money that the "winner" received. You don't need much of an imagination to think of other scenarios where this screwy system would encourage rigged games! If a win is worth three times as much as a draw (instead of twice as much) there's just too much temptation for cheating to take place. Granted, no one likes a draw-saturated tournament especially when a lot of the draws last a paltry 20 moves or less. But the Bilboa system is a classic case of the cure being worse than the disease.

For the record, here's what I might propose – and I would welcome any reader feedback in case MY idea has a flaw too. Why not carve out a portion of the tournament prize fund to be used as bonus money for games ending in wins? For example, two players might tie for first place in a tournament with, say, a score of 8/11. Player A may have achieved that score with (yawn) five wins and six draws, while Player B got there with seven wins, two losses, and two draws. Since Player B won two more games, he pockets more prize money overall. The amount of this bonus money should be kept a bit low so as to discourage the type of cheating alluded to above, but the idea is still worth considering.

Julio Mendoza-Medina, Kentucky, USA
Try this modified scoring to award game result: Win: 1, Draw : 0 (no one wins), Loss: -0.25. No one will be interested in loosing or drawing. Hope this works out.

Kenneth Calitri, Mahwah New Jersey USA
I have watched this debate over the years with increasing despair as there has been a point system used in professional golf periodically to promote aggresive play.

There is an easy point solution to solving the "draw problem" in professional chess:

Win = 2 points
Draw = 0 points
Loss = -1 point

This point system does not allow a player to coast to victory in a tournament by drawing. Therefore, a player has every incentive to keep winning games. Also, with 2 points for a win and -1 for a loss, a three point swing in a round dramatically changes the dynamics of a tournament. Anotherwards, aggressive players are going to have every opportunity and edge to win a tournament. Additionally, a player with several losses can still overcome the field by winning games because each win of two points also subtracts one point from a defeated player. Long live players like Ivanchuk, Morozovich and Grischuk. As much as I admire players like Kramnik, Svidler and Leko – they will have to change their game!

Go through any major professional tournament crosstable and apply this point system – you will an eye-opening difference in who tops the tournament.

Mussie Mengesha, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
The idea suggested is really help to minimize the grandmaster draw. But in my opinion any sort of draw must be seen as unaccomplishement because the purpose of chess game must be to win. So for any kind of draw the point must be 0 and for a loser player the point must be -1 (negative one) and for a win should be 1. In this case for a losing player to come back will be very difficult but it does not encourage player to draw a game whether it is a hard fought or mischiveous agrement. It only reward the winner only. In my opinion this is best, even if it hurts the losing player.

Steven Metzger, San Jose, USA
Ron Dorfman's article on the "Bilboa Draw" effect – a pre-arranged swapping of wins – makes clear the point that there is a need for something other than a 3-1-0 scoring system in chess. However, his argument falls short in single-round-robin competition.

I for one am an advocate of finding a suitable way to do single-round-robin. Chess is a game that is nowhere near being solved for white, and at the highest levels the advantage of playing as the lighter pieces is generally overshadowed by who is the better player. Therefore, there should be some effort into playing an ODD number (1, 3, 5, etc) of games per match in order to offset some of the effect of the "Bilbao Draw."

Christopher Ward, Bedford, UK
The problem your correspondent identified with the Bilbao (3 points win) rule is that the game is no longer fixed sum. Players by colluding can generate 3 points (instead of 2 by drawing) at the expense of other players. My own suggestion would be that 1 point is available for a win in regular time. If the game is drawn colors are reversed and 30 min is given to each player but now only half a point is at stake – the winner gets 0.75 the loser 0.25. If this game is also drawn then colors continue to alternate on 5 minutes games but now only a quarter of a point is at stake (winner 0.625 loser 0.375) and quick games are played until a decisive result is reached. Of course players can 'agree' to go straight to the smaller stake fast games but that would likely produce an interesting spectator event. I am sure this has been thought of in many forms before but I think it addresses the main problems.

Marcin Ksiazkiewicz, Poland, Zielona Góra
Ron Dorfman suggests that chess players will agree to swap victories. That's insane to me. If I let someone beat me I don't have ANY guarantee that this player will let me beat him. I don't believe that there are many chess players that would like to lose on purpose. Even the players who are somehow cheating wouldn't like it. To draw on purpose is whole other thing. I myself often play AS IF I'm playing for draw, but that's not true. I'm playing NOT TO LOSE. And that's what best players do. They playing not to lose, because they know that the smallest mistake would be fatal. Playing not to lose is not a crime. Other player can fight for win as much as he can, but he must be aware that a mistake would be costly. New scoring system rewards taking risk, because without risk a player will never win a tournament. Drawing all games will not even take him close to the winner of the tournament. So the new scoring system is very good and criticizing it means preferring players that seldom take risk. I believe Ron Dorfman claims that the new system will bring less draws, because the chess players are cheaters, and I claim that the new system will bring less draws because the players will take more risk. And I think the players will like that system very much. Ask them.

Joseph Ellis, San Saba, TX
I agree with Ron Dorfman in that the Bilboa scoring system is just substituting one problem for another. One aspect of current scoring methods I rarely see mentioned, however, is expected value: E(X). Current scoring systems rate the expected value of a game the same regardless of whether a player has Black or White. However, historically, real world results suggest otherwise. I submit that a scoring system that takes this into account would encourage more competitive play.

Example of such a scoring system:
Draw with White = .45 points
Draw with Black = .55 points
Win with White = 1.0 points
Win with Black = 1.1 points
Loss with White = -0.1 points
Loss with Black = 0.0 points

Thus, a draw with both colors equals .55 + .45 = 1.0 points, which is equal to one win and one loss with either color (White win + Black Loss = 1.0 + 0.0 = 1.0 and a Black win + White Loss = 1.10 + -0.1 = 1.0). This maintains the balance of the old system while providing more incentive for competitive play. Of course, more mathematically accurate values could be obtained with a little statistical analysis, but even the above would be a step in the right direction.

Yau Kwan Kiu, London, England
The three-point-win in the English football league was so successful that it has been adopted by the whole world. The collusion that Ron Dorfmann has in mind is plausible, but practically it is never heard of. Of course it is easier for two individuals to collude. Yet it is worthwhile to continue the experiment.

Kajani Kaunda, Blantyre, Malawi
Think about it; all you have to do is make it mandatory to PLAY at least 40 moves! The only draw to be allowed in less than 40 moves is draw by stalemate! Draw by repetion of moves, out! Only allowed AFTER 40 moves. The logic is that games over 40 moves will gaurantee some good viewing. The only way to beat this is to repeat moves and then repeat them three more times after the 40th move!. So what do we do? Introduce a time constraint? No draw until either side has played for at least one hour each? This is beginning to sound very bad ... which happens to be my point: It is ridiculouse to try and change the current rules. Things are just fine as they are.

The only way people are happy with a draw is because they are not losing! So the obvious solution is to force them to lose! The good thing is that you don't have to change the rules of the game! Soccer! I once wathced a game where Cameroon was playing this other nation in the preliminary stages of a tournament. Neither side advanced the ball and the game ended in a draw. This however gauranteed that they both proceed to the next level – the knockout stage! Aha! Therin lies the solution!. It is being used in almost all sports that incidentally enjoy huge media coverage and hence spectator pleasure. The very thing that chess guys want! So you want to 'punish' the chess player who goes for a draw! – knock him out! That my dear friends is why ANY knockout system is pleasing to the viewer – because it gaurantees 'blood'. So: Re-introduce knockout events and all will be well – No! All will be very well!!!.

Evan Post, Philadelphia, PA, USA
Mr. Dorfman's point is well taken, but the problem he identifies occurs only in double-round (or quadruple round) events. If players play each other an odd number of times there is no opportunity to swap wins in the manner he describes.

Marcin Kasperski, Warszawa, Poland
Just a note: exactly the same concerns were actively raised when 3-1-0 system was being first introduced for the soccer games. But ... nothing like that happened, the system turned out to be huge success and is now adopted everywhere. One important factor is that it is not that easy to find somebody who would throw away his game first. Imagine Johny and Benny made an agreement to exchange points. Johny purposedly lost to Benny at round 4. Now they face one another at round 13, Benny is co-leading the event with Teddy and have 2 points advantage over 3rd player in the table.... Will Benny drop this game? Remember, he is not an honest person, otherwise he would not make an initial agerement with Johny...

Peter Jackson, Bournemouth, UK
Is the author of your article seriously suggesting that the top players will deliberately lose games to take advantage of the three point system?? I can't believe this. If three points encourages attacking chess then I'm all for it.

Daniel Kazhdan, Berkeley, CA
I feel like the Bilboa Draw rules actually would work. It requires a great deal of trust to lose a game, trusting that your opponenet will lose right back. In a GM draw there is no need for trust.

Mark Baker, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Ron Dorfman correctly pointed out that the Bilboa system will reward two players who swap wins over two players who trade hard fought draws. This can radically change the strategy of our entire game and punish fine players with styles like Capablanca, Petrosian and Kramnik. Two draws really should be worth the same as a win and a loss at the grandmaster level. This is what the scientifically established Elo system indicates and the score table should reflect that.

The answer is really simple; one point for a win, 0 points for a loss, .6 of a point for a draw with Black and .4 of a point for a draw with White. With this system, a player who draws all of his games will still end up with an equal score as a draw is still splitting a point. However, most importantly, White will almost always be reluctant to concede a draw and will play for the win (as White should). If two players are tied in the final round of a tournament, you can practically be assured of a hard fought contest and the need for tiebreaks might actually be eliminated.

Rogier van Loon, Steenbergen, Netherlands
In theory I can see the point that Mr. Dorfman is making, but this would mean that a lot of national and international football competitions (e.g. UEFA Champions League) suffer from this too? The likelihood of the swapped draws seems odd to me, and I believe the cure is bigger than the pay.

Marcelo Carpinetti, Brazil
I'm a strong supporter of the Bilbao system and I disagree with Ron Dorfman's opinion about it.
Let's say the competion is a double round robin with four players, being A and B the strongest. Let's say that they both won their games against oponents C and D and they agree to "swap wins" between themseves. A will end the first round with 9 points and B will have only 6(he agreed to loose to A).

Following Mr. Dorfman's theory, A will agree to loose to B, letting B to catch up , instead of trying to draw or even win again against his main rival to keep himself on the lead? To "swap wins" someone has to loose first! It is a totally different situation compared to dividing the cake 50-50. Here you give something to get something. There you give the whole cake first hoping to get it back in the future. I don't think that it will happen in today's highly competitive chess.

Paul Beach, Auckland, New Zealand
The best way to make draws a little less palatable is to make the number of wins the first priority in tiebreaks, ahead of tiebreak scores or anything else. In most tournaments at the moment tiebreaks are worked out by other means.

Lars Knudsen, Copenhagen, Denmark
Yes, the Bilbao rule has a flaw. One could perhaps be tempted to use the rule only in single round robin tournaments. However in these tournaments three players can collaborate in a similar plan. One beats the other, who beats the third, who beats the first one.

Michael J Fitch, Sandy Valley, USA
I can't give you a mathematical equation, but it seems to me that the only way to stop grandmaster draws is to punish the players by giving them a -.5 instead of +.5 for draws, period!! Obviously except in the rare occasion when all the pieces have been captured. Expert players know when there's no way (don't have enough material) to win. In major tournaments, some of the players if not all are given honorariums to participate in that tournament + free entries into them. This being the case, they should fight hard the whole game.If that's not in their character to do so, then the organizers & sponsors should find players (name recognition be damned) who are inclinded to fight every game to the death – "figuratively speaking".

Niima Pardis, Vancouver, Canada
The comments by Ron Dorfman on your website regarding the Bilbao Draw reminded me a little of the Prisoner's Dilema. The Bilbao Draw may turn out to be an effective system after all, because:

1. It requires considerable amount of trust between two players.

2. There is always the chance that one player will cheat and not lose when his turn comes up.

3. If this happens, the first player would not be able to make a complaint, because a complaint on his part would expose his own attempt at cheating.

The system does however have the effect of increasing violence between players when they try to settle their accounts privately. This will probably result in a lot more bar fights among chess players which is not actually a bad thing, as it will raise the popularity of chess among beer-dirnkers and promote its image as a tough fighting sport.

Paschal Gay, Dallas, United Stated
I'm writing in response to Mr. Dorfmans' hypothetical critique of the Bilbao scoring system as the best method of dealing with cowardice and dry play at the grandmaster level. Although Mr. Dorfman was somewhat correct in theorizing that as the system stands players could benefit by agreeing to trade wins within the two game match, the problem is not in awarding 3 points for a win, but rather in scoring the games within the match individually. If points were to be awarded only for the overall mini-match result, no one would benefit from the win trade, and here's why; if player A wins game 1 and player B wins game 2, the match is a draw and therefore both players are awarded only one point. You see, one must use the standard scoring method to score games within the match, and then apply the Bilbao method in awarding actual tournament points. In closing I would also like to note that Mr. Dorfman's theory has several holes in it that are easy to see. First of all, agreeing to split wins with a tournament rival is a very risky endeavor, one can simply back out, play for a draw or win in the second game, thus limiting the opponents points while maximizing your own and hence trying to win the tournament and prize money....sorry Mr. Dorfman, but it doesn't take a genius to see that.(even a bad reputation is worth winning to most people) And on top of that even a trade of wins is better for the audience than two draws, that IS the objective remember? If you're going to slam a method to fix top level chess by all means try to rely less on hypotheticals, and try proposing an idea of your own afterwards. 3 pts for a win works for football, and it can work for chess. Get a clue Mr. Dorfman.

Pere Joan Obiols, Barcelona, Spain
The article by Ron Dorfman on the fatal flaw of the Bilbao contains its own fatal flaw, consistently spelling 'Bilbao' as 'Bilboa'. The name of the rule comes of course from the city of Bilbao, where the rule was first put in practice.

Igor Freiberger, Pelotas, Brazil
Ron Dorfman is absolutely right. But I think you should correct the many 'Bilboa' he wrote instead of Bilbao.

Carlos Adán, Madrid, Spain
I am dissapointed when reading the "The Bilbao Draw" article becuase the author writes ten times "Bilboa" instead of "Bilbao". It was written correctly in the title, and I am sure that this was corrected or written by other person.

The ten typos were subsequently corrected by the editors. "Subsequently" is a euphemism for "after receiving your letters.

Jackson Showalter, Lexington, Kentucky
Mr. Dorfman has pointed out the theoretical flaw in the Bilboa system. But it is premised on the highly unlikely real-world proposition that GM A would intentionally lose to GM B in the hope that GM B will return the favor. Such game fixing does not happen in top-level Football/Soccer, which essentially uses the Bilboa system. And, now that the Soviet sports system is dead, I find the Biblboa flaw even less likely in Chess. On the contrary, 'game fixing' or GM draws (to use the polite term) occurs much more frequently in the current system, which requires no trust among competitors.

Mark Warriner, Richmond, Virginia, USA
Ron Dorfman's appeal is based on a well-known political axiom: "If you subsidize something, you get more of it, if you tax it, you get less of it." While lack of competive effort may be perceived as a problem, it is one that is self-solving. Players without competitive urges will not win tournaments or matches against equally capable players who do possess competitive spirit. Spectators (a somewhat subjective term in chess circles as chess fans may follow events while not actually present) will not bother taking the time to read about or purchase books/access to tournaments where players who lack competitive spirit participate. That in turn will causes organizers not to invite players who are of no interest to the audience the organizers are seeking to attract. So, let them draw. They hurt no one but themselves.

Dr. Waldemar Kurowski, Reutlingen
I think there is one and only one right solution of the draw problem. I propose to abolish the rule that actually allows a draw claim at any time, and to introduce a new rule: to allow draw claim only after 64 moves. Why is this rule needed? Let us imagine a football play with a rule that allows a draw claim within the game. So, the coaches of the teams can claim draw after they see that their teams play equally and there is no chances for the win for both teams. What will then happen to football? It is not difficult to imagine that then the football will be much less so interesting like it is really without such a rule, because then the number of draw will dramatically increase. Just like it is the fact in chess. Of course, there are draw plays in real football too, but before to claim a draw the both teams have to prove their claims for draw result at least within 90 minutes. Otherwise, many football plays would end after 20 or even 10 minutes, like it is the cases in chess, and as a result football would lose its attraction as well as many sponsors. Also in chess the competitors should prove their claims for draw only after 64 moves. The spectators have their rights to see fight also in draw positions. Actually, the beginning of every play is also draw positions but despite that the further positions can become winning. The whole play is an interchange of draw and winning positions. Why 64? For the sake of the 64 squares on which the events are happening. Even though any position ended in clear draw after for example 35 moves, the players should formally play till 64-th move. For the sake of new rule.

Kevin Cotreau, Nashua, NH
This problem has been solved: it is called the Sophia rules. There is nothing wrong with draws as long as they are hard fought, so the solution is to simply not allow draws. Which has already been done. The Bilbao system changes the flavor of chess and is quite unappealing to me. Forcing people to fight in positions that do not warrant agression hurts the game far more than it enhances it.

Pierre Noizat, Paris France
Point well taken,but for practical purposes, the 3-point win is nonetheless the better system:
(1) it is more difficult for two round robin opponents to pre-arrange a win-swap than two draws on psychological ground. Who will win first? (2) For the spectators, two pre-arranged wins are still more interesting than two pre-arranged draws. Since neither the current system nor the three-point win is a perfect system, why not favor the most spectacular?

Pimp Fang, Gwangju, Korea
A grandmaster draw is the choice of a draw over a win/loss toss-up. Mr Dorfman's one-win-each scenario is the choice of a loss over a draw/win toss-up. This is a difference between rationality and irrationality. Being a lawyer, I'm sure he knows the latter is often used to prove collusion, or stage an insanity defense.

In regards to the double-bloody-draw possibility, what the Bilboa rule does is prolong and hence squeeze more blood out of each game. The players will keep on playing as long as the reward for a win (2-1=1 point traditionally, but 3-1=2 points with Bilbao rules) outweighs the effort/energy saved for next day's game by agreeing to a draw. The imperfect nature of human play will then ensure a number of these 'played-out draws' inevitably turn into decisive games.

It is therefore vital to suggest a new win=64, draw=1, loss=0 system. Under this system, it is reasonable to expect every draw be played out until the very end of the 50 move rule, if the players are lucky of course.

James Grist, Huddersfield
So, Ron Dorfman argues an instance of a more general truth – any competitive game scoring system which assumes players will not cooperate with other players, is open to abuse if players cooperate. I think the only infallable way to score chess is to do it move by move. The player gets most points for their moves being most perfect. That's what the post game analysts have been doing all this time.

Tobias Nordquist, Sandviken, Sweden
The problem is that the audience don't want to see draw offers? Right! If it's a draw they want to see it played out. If one agrees to this fact namely that a game of chess isn't between two players rather when three!? The the soulution is simple – dont allow draw offers. End of story.

Andrew Williams, Frankfurt, Germany
So player A and player B agree to each win with white. Player A duly beats B. Then comes the return game, A surprises B by going for a win there as well. What is poor old B going to do? Complain to someone? What happens if the player approached blows the whistle right from the start?Expecting a simple rule change to solve all the world's problems and lead to world peace is a bit naive, but this change could be expected to have a positive effect and should be tried in some tournaments.

Josef Wycha, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Just thinking... If, let's say in a seven-round tournament, every player was to be credited with three points per game, he would loose the game and 3 points. A draw would loose 2 points and a win would get a clean "0"! Would that not solve the problem of gaining points by devious means?

Albert Frank, International Arbiter, Brussels, Belgium
The "Bilbao draw" scoring system is totally absurd, as clearly explained in Ron Dorfman's article.

Vivek Nambiar, Bangalore, India
Here are two simple rules which can minimize draws in chess: (1) No offer of a draw without Arbiter's permission. (2) If a game is drawn before move 30 due to natural causes – perpetual, stalemate (!), repetition, etc. – then the score will be .4 – .6 in Black's favour. Thus the onus is on White to prevent an early draw since he has the advantage of the first move. Thus if black wants to play Zaitsev variation or another drawing line, it is White's responsibility to prevent it. Considering that the .4/.6 score can spoil chances of a prize for the player with White, this should lead to a lot of fighting chess!

Donovan van den Heever, Cape Town, South Africa
The situation discussed by Ron Dorfman only applies to double RR or similar tournaments. If it is a normal RR tournament the Bilbao scoring system may be successful in encouraging the players to go for more wins.

Hector Maquieira, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
I'd just like to point out that Dorfman's analysis is completely speculative, and as it turns out, contradictory to all evidence. For example football, which also uses a double-round robin system has definitely seen an increase in competition and most importantly a reduction in lame draws.
Dorfman also mentions the 'Bilbao Draw' without any evidence that it exists nor any games as examples. It is clear to me that the three-point win system is a clear improvement to the double round robin chess tournament, competition increases and chess is made more exciting and interesting.

Michael Da Cruz, Modesto, CA, USA
Personally I have a not draw policy over the board on my own; and I want to suggest my way on how to deal with this "draw-addiction" If we impose penalties to the players for a draw game, a sanction that affect the player itself in a direct way, then this can cut the drawish percent drasticly. This sanction can be imposed in two ways:

Fist, affecting the prize fund of the tournament. In other words, a player who finish first without a draw get the full prize, and the one who made draws, can have a penalty, let said a 10% of the prize out for each game that he/she draws and that money can go to any other player who finish without a draws as a premium. In this way it will be a "luxury" to made a draw.

Second,is a factor in the elo formula that affect the rating of the draw-addictive players, something like a -10 rating point for "N" percent of drawn games. I'm a pretty sure that in this way nobody wanna a made draws. And also will be in the benefits in chess, because when somebody tried not to blunder or lose the game, furthertmore, everybody it's gonna try their best for not to draw as well.

Miguel Garcia-Blanco, Adelaide, Australia
'But the Bilboa scoring system will strongly encourage the "Bilboa Draw" (an agreed swap of wins), rewarding non-competitive behavior far more strongly than the common scoring system.' Yes, but who's going to agree to "lose" first, knowing that their opponent might renege and walk away with two wins for half the effort?

Derek Grimmell, Clinton, IA, USA
I have suggested awarding one point for a win and 0 points for either a draw or a loss; in other words, only wins count. This seems to avoid all the problems. For example, in a tournament, a player with a worse position is still motivated to deny the opponent a win, while the superior position is still far better rewarded by a win than by a draw. Playing with draw in hand is less safe. I have looked at some past tournaments to determine how the scores might have differed. Most tournaments I looked at come out roughly the same, but Curacao 1962 would have seen Keres win rather than Petrosian, while Stein would have fared much better in the Title series. Over a number of tournaments, the main beneficiaries are thos who fight for every point – for examlpe, Fischer would have finished tied for second at Curacao, rather than a distant fourth, and the swing of one game might have enabled him to win in spite of his disastrous start. I hope chess players consider this option, and perhaps a few tournament organizers might try it.

Roberto Balzan, Roma, Italia
Ron pointed out the flaw, but not an easy way to correct it: that would be to assign 6 points to the player that wins the two game mini-match (and zero to the other), 4 points each if the match is drawn after two decisive games, 2 points each if the match is drawn after two grandmaster draws.

Andrew Felter, San Antonio, USA
The only way to solve this problem is to make a draw as a loss. Win counts three points. Draw and loss of a game counts one point. It just defeats the purpose of having pre-arranged draws since it counts as a loss! That system alone will encourge all chessplayers to win and try to avoid draws and losses like a plague. I think it is time for us to rethink the value of a draw.

Olso Ortiz, New York, USA
Ron Dorfman pointed out a flaw in the Bilbao rules, but something else should be said and it is that not all tournaments are double round robin, in the case that the opponents only can see their faces one time, or an odd number of times, the three points per win still stimulates combativity.


Editorial note

Many years ago we were involved, in a peripheral advisory sense, in a breakaway chess organisation called the PCA – Professional Chess Association. The many-million dollar funding of its chess activities, which included world championships, came from Intel, and the sponsors were eager to hear about any solutions to the perceived draw problem. For this reason we did some basic research, consulted some learned experts (whose name, as always, was John Nunn) and came up with the following results.

  1. The draw problem is tied to a certain group of players [we gave a list, which we will not reproduce here] who are more willing than others to play quick, unfought draws. Mechanisms that address the problem as though all players are susceptible to this kind of behavior do not address the problem correctly.

  2. The real problem is often not short draws but cheating, which is very real in the many open tournaments that are staged all over the world. It is often to be observed that a group of strong players will take part in an open as a team. One player elected to score maximum points and take the biggest possible slice of the prize fund, which is then presumably shared according to a pre-arranged system with the other "team members", who lose all their games to him.

  3. The introduction of a 3-1-0 scoring system – yes, that was seriously considered at the time – did not really solve anything, while it certainly magnified the problem given in point 2. A team of players who are able to hand out three-point gifts to the designated winner have an easier task than in the traditional scoring system.

  4. We did come up with a concrete proposal, which was never implemented, since the PCA ceased to exist before it could start staging general tournaments and introducing new rules. The proposal was to cut the prize money in half, handing out the first half in the traditional way, and the second half to players who won games. For instance if the tournament had a prize fund of $100,000 available, then $50,000 would be handed out in the normal way. If in the end there were ten wins, with all the other games drawn, then the players would receive $5,000 for each win. This was not deemed a perfect solution, but a step in the right direction.

    Frederic Friedel


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