Armageddon and Football – reader feedback

6/19/2008 – The US Championship, "between a woman with a Russian-sounding name and another woman with a Russian-sounding name," was decided by "the most ridiculous tie breaker in sports history," writes an AOL blogger. On this side of the Atlantic we were taken to task for carelessly naming regions from an archipelago that lies to the northwest of Europe. Excerpts from your letters with addenda.

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Armageddon controversy

The Armageddon playoff game to determine the winner of the US Women's Championship generated a fair deal of controversy and generated a lot of feedback. More has come in after we published the first installment. Here some excerpts.

News Bloggers AOL
The US Open Golf Championship wasn't the only recent major competition to finish in a tie after the regulation rounds. But it certainly has a more sensible format for breaking the tie.At the 2008 US Open Golf Championship, Tiger Woods birdied the final hole in dramatic fashion to finish in a two-man tie after completion of the regulation four rounds. The tie breaker is another complete round of 18 holes on Monday. Makes sense.

The recent 2008 United States Women's Chess Championship also finished with a tie between one woman with a Russian-sounding name and another woman with a Russian-sounding name. You would think that chess players and people who organize chess tournaments have a sensible way to break a tie. You would be wrong. The tie breaker in this championship was a game of speed chess, in which each player has to move as fast as possible and then smack the chess clock to stop their own time countdown and put their opponent on the clock. Watch this video to see the most ridiculous tie breaker in sports history. (Disregard the first 20 seconds and you can stop watching after 1 minute 15 seconds.)

George Cataluña, Philippines
I believe that it will be fair for both players to play against each through the use of computer of the same specifications and speed connections... in that manner there will be no such cheating and for both will be present just like most grandmasters would play blindfolded using computers in the internet or something because the time spent upon reaching the clock will be just a click using the mouse!

Peter Ballard, Adelaide, Australia
the readers' feedback missed what is to me an obvious suggestion: why not play the Armageddon game with a time increment? I'm sure a suitable time balance can still be found to compensate for black having draw odds. Otherwise one day a world championship qualifier, or even the world championship itself, may be decided by a time scramble. The Fischer clock eliminates the need for a game being decided by who can press their clock the fastest. I'm amazed there are still major championships which don't take advantage of it.

David Palfreyman, Manchester, England
I've followed the news on the Krush Armageddon game "scandal." It seems to me that this just isn't chess and if organisers want to have a final decision at the end of a tournament so they can all go home, the best thing would be to decide a match on the toss of a coin. It would be far less controversial than this fiasco!

Albert Frank, International Arbiter, Brussels, Belgium
I think it's good this happened for a national championship, showing once more, as I said several times, that it's a nonsence to decide of the result of a chess match with blitz or with (even worse) armegeddon. I can only hope this will show to organisers they can't take blitz for a tie break (if "one champion" is necessary...)

Andrew Ballam, Melbourne, Australia
What a fiasco! How sad a humiliation for our great game. The organizers rely upon a frantic, crude blitz finish to separate tied players. Such a finish, in my opinion, devalues the importance of the event.

I've got no problem with co-ownership of a title, if that's how the event pans out after normal round-robin, or swiss, play. If there must be an outright winner ( and why?) then at least give such an important event, and the tied players, the dignity of one likely well-played game (White with extra time, say 22 minutes, Black with 19 minutes and draw odds) or a pair of games, with some reasonable minimum time limit, typically 30 minutes each on the clock (even 20 minutes each is reasonable, but not less) with or without small increments, still highly likely to produce the 'necessary' winner. There's too much pandering to a large section of the public thirsting for blood-letting in the shortest possible time, and, likely, too much concern by organizers about the possible extra time and cost involved in deciding a winner in more agreeable and appropriate circumstances, such as suggested above.

Chess deserves far better than a crude, reflexive 'shootout' inside eleven minutes. Such finishes demean, even degrade the great game. What next? A Wimbledon final, two sets all, five all in the final set. First player to win the next point is the champion? We (organizers and the general public) want to save time and money. So, toss a coin for the 'sudden death' serve? Toss-winner gets to choose the serve, or receive?). I'm only surpised that the final set currently has to be played out to a two-game advantage after five all, instead of a tie-breaker. But hey, maybe that'll change soon, too, for the sake of economy and expediency...

Pol Zantua, Tagig, Philippines
For games like armagedon, blitz and the like it seems that the Shiv Mathur's suggestion ("I feel the solution to this problem is simple: Play these games on two computers connected by LAN, using the same software we use to play online on playchess.com. Then it will be impossible for anyone to play before their opponent has played.") could solve the problem wisely, and it also take away responsibility (and more often the BLAME) from arbiters. During endgame 'rumble', it is an impossible job for arbiters to follow the high speed action and implement the rule objectively.

Daryn J. Moran, Okinawa, Japan
What a joke! If people can't see how ridiculous that was, then there is no hope. The players did the best they could under the circumstances. The organizers dropped the ball. I like the idea of online computer chess match to eliminate some of the issues.

John Crooks, Stilwell, KS USA
The one thing that was interesting to me, and that no one else (published at least) has commented on was that Irina took a long time at the beginning of the clip thinking about a move. As any frequent blitz player would know, if you are at the end of a game like that, with both flags hanging but with a time lead all you have to do is make legal moves! You are not in danger of being checkmated so all you have to do is burn your opponents remaining few seconds. Instead, Irina thinks for several seconds on moves before the final insane scramble begins. If she had only moved quickly to start with she would have easily won. Would she then have complained about the title being confered via a blitz match?

Patrick, Lyon, France
Just one thing: Irina, accept defeat when you're defeated. I would not be proud of myself if I were in your place. You're like a baby!! You're so unmature! You're deceiving! Train yourself and get stronger and take the title next time. This is how it is going.

Callen Mascarenhas, Seattle, USA
I don't think a competition of such high stature should be judged through a blitz match. The tournament is high-pressure as it is. And to decide the final game in a blitz match sounds senseless, to say the least. The game should rightly be replayed under normal chess conditions, not even rapid.


"Football is like chess, only without the dice"

Our digression to the EURO 2008 European Football Championship and this gem of a quotation produced by striker Lukas Podolsky also occupied the readers. Here a selection of letters we received:

Clive Waters, Blyth, Northumberland
Just to correct your article: Northumbria is an old British county which no longer exists. The new county of Northumberland has similar but different boundaries. Being a county of England we are sadly not eligible to enter a team in the European championships, which is for countries. Your correspondent dare I say must be from the USA (everyone else knows better) and may not understand the difference between a country and a local county ("state" to him I suppose). This may explain things like the American World Open and their 'World' football series – games which nobody else in the world plays except Americans! Only the USA invents games so they can win and then claims 'world'. I guess they just dont like losing in real football!

The correspondent is from Germany, and Northumbria was ironical. The problem is that we cannot for the life of us understand how England, Wales, Scottland and North Ireland can have separate teams in the soccer world cup. Could Germany have Nordrhein-Westfalen and Bayern participating as separate teams? – Editor.

Reply from Clive Waters: "Because Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own individual football associations as recognised by FIFA and UEFA. As simple as that. In much the same way as they – and other countries – have individual chess associations as recognised by FIDE. Northumbria hasn't (at least not as far as I know, certainly not internationally). Your sarcastic throwaway comment adds nothing to your article."

GM Jonathan Rowson, Scotland
In your recent article about chess and football, you make a strangely gratuitous aside ("the British for some reason can field teams from Scottland, Wales, Northern Ireland and probably Northumbria, while other countries are allowed only one team apiece – heaven alone knows why") which makes me wonder whether you might have been listening too regularly and without due discernment to a famous English Grandmaster.

There is a sensitive issue here, and you pose a reasonable question, but to my knowledge there has been no suggestion that Northumbria, or indeed any other British region, be given international representation. Nationhood is a charged and vexed notion, but to compare Scotland and Wales with Northumbria is offensive, and betrays complete ignorance of the unique geopolitical situation in Britain, where several nations peacefully coexist within one nation state. "Heaven alone knows why" is therefore a regretfully obtuse remark, because there are good historical, political and practical reasons for the current predicament that are not particularly opaque. In fact, the opinion of this Scotttish/British GM is that Britain's messy but eminently functional geopoltical set-up is not a mistake that needs to be corrected, but a recognition of the kinds of compromises that are necessary to keep countries together, and prevent nationalism from reering its ugly head.

As it is, we are terrified of mentioning grandmasters who hail from the archipelago off the northwest coast of Europe. Whenever we do so we are soundly reprimanded for calling an English GM a British GM, or vica versa, or – the greatest sin of all – a Scottish player an English player. Apparently Mel Gibson did not free that part of the island for nothing. We have to decide between Britain, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the United Kingdom (forget the throwaway joke about Northumbria), and any misstep has immediate international repercussions. Interestingly, this is not the case with other European countries (memo: check if it is politically correct to include England in the term "Europe"), as well as surrounding nations, where we can speak with abandon about Albanian, Austrian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Belgian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Estonian, Faroe, Finnish, French, Georgian, German, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Irish, Isle of Manian (memo: check usage), Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Moldovan, Norwegian, Polish, Portugese, Romanian, Russian (for heaven's sake), Serbian, Slovakian, Spanish, Swedish, Swiss, Turkish, Ukrainian players. The only other country where we have to exercise a smidgen of caution is Holland/Netherlands/The Netherlands, but even now, while they are dominating EURO 2008 with some of the most brilliant football seen in many years, the Dutch (oops?) are much more relaxed about despicable misuse of the correct nomenclature by our editors.

Addendum: We have been reminded by a Danish grandmaster, a tall, strapping fellow, that his country has pulled a similar trick with the Faroe Islands, a group of "sheep islands" (literal translation) between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic, equidistant between Iceland, Scotland and Norway, with a population of 48,000, which is part of Denmark. At Olympiads Denmark fields both teams separately, thus doubling it chances to win Gold.

Addendum 2: Benoit St-Pierre of Montreal, Canada, wrote to us: "The comments of Mr. Jonathan Rowson, regarding the unique geopolitical situation of the British state, are mesmerizing, to say the least. Scotland and Wales are no countries, so why are they treated like that? Saying because FIDE says so is not arguing from reasons, but from law. Saying because Britain is endowed with some peculiar predicament is appealing to an exception. That means nobody can't provide any good general reasons, except by condescending handwaving. The last remarks concerning the functionality of the predicament are simply irrelevant. But still, I wonder what nationalist threat will spurt in Britain if FIDE comes to its senses and realizes that it should have only one team. Or does that mean that chessplayers from Québec would get a national team if they hold their breath too?"

Addendum 3: An anonymous reader reminds us of the good old Soviet days, when Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Byelorussia, Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and a number of other countries, spanning twelve (!) time zones, sent one (in words: one) team to the Olympiads, while Britain, spanning one time zone, had four. Also that Denmark has missed a great opportunity to put together a third team, of Inuits, from Greenland, which also belongs to Denmark. Greenland is about ten times the size of Britain, in area. – Ed.

Igor Freiberger, Porto Alegre, Brazil
Another great article from Mr. Friedel. Der Spiegel's story is hilarious. But it seems football has an international philosophy – or kind of. Some of the greatest and profoundest thoughts collected in German football are also found between Brazilian players and coaches. Probably, to reach success in football one must have high IQ and deep understanding of life. The rest of us, less gifted, have to play chess. Incidentally I have read somewhere about attempts to combine chess with blind fortune by the throwing of dice before each move, but I can't remember the exact context. This practice, I believe, has been tried several times. And one more addendum: "Dia de checo-mate" is a modification to "Dia de xeque-mate", which means "Checkmate day". Instead of "xeque" (check), the newspaper wrote "checo" (Czech) because Portugal was playing the Czech Republic on that day.

Greg Mack, Melbourne, Australia
Gentlemen, perhaps you are being a little hard on Lukas Podolski. He may in fact be an amateur historian as well as a footballer. In the West, dice were used in chess between the 10th and 14th century to determine which piece should be moved. Religious leaders frowned upon the dice game. In the East, the Caliph al-Mahdi wrote to Mecca religious leaders in 780 to give up chess played with dice.

We would hope that you are right, but we know in our heart of hearts that Lukas was probably thinking of Backgammon or some other board game. At least he didn't say "Football is like chess, but without the jokers."

Addendum: Juca Montenegro of Fortaleza, Brazil, wrote: "I have a far more plausible explanation for Podolski's statement: Perhaps he was given – as a child – one of those multiple games boxes with backgammon, checkers, chess, et alia. Makes sense, doesn't it?" Absolutely, Juca. You nailed it. – Ed.

Carlos Sirgado, Lisbon, Portugal
I read your article about Podowlski and his comment about chess and dices. I will send you a copy of the first page of the sport newspaper "Record" (issued today, 11/07/2008) where you can see Cristiano Ronaldo 'playing' chess. I think that he knows almost nothing about chess. About the title is "Dia de checo-mate!": we (Portugal) play today against the Czech Republic, and the journalist made a joke with the term 'cheque-mate' (the same as checkmate in English) and the term 'checo' (in Portuguese a native in the Czech Republic).
The translation is: Day of Czech mate. As you see we have more links between chess and football than we think!?... [Many thanks, Carlos. We added the picture and this information to the original article. – Ed.]

IM Julio Kaplan, Berkley, USA
For those of your European readers who might need help appreciating Carly's feats, here's the first play in a format they might understand better:

Carly is the pawn on f4, Ka8 is the kid in the red uniform. The play goes 1.g5 fxg5 2.h5 gxh5 3.f5 and Carly runs all the way to touchdown on f8.


Carly Man tearing the boys teams in flag football to shreds

Philip Feeley, Vancouver, Canada
Now we have Ultimate, played on a football field with a frisbee. No downs, it's just passed around until one or the other team makes it across the goal line. Lots of running and no padding, no tackling.

Harold Metselaar, Madrid Spain
We shouldn't take the opinions of football players too serious, especially when they say something about the noble game of chess. Clearly football is a game for the mob. Like the Romans said: "panem et circenses".

Alexandro, Santa Cruz, Bolivia
For today's soccer game between Portugal and Germany the Portuguese coach, Felipe Scolari, has said: "It's a game of chess, where the way the pieces moves will decide the winner. A braver move, a mistaken pass, a perfect side kick, anything could be the move that will win the qualification. The secret is to make less mistakes and, for that, we will have to be concentrated".



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