Badminton’s “Grandmaster Draw” vs Chess

by ChessBase
8/10/2012 – It happened in the Olympics: four sets of badminton women's doubles players ditched their ties by giving a "not trying to win" performance. This earned the ire of spectators, and officials cautioned the players several times for the farcical display. In the end they were disqualified. Kung-Ming Tiong of the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus compares this to the situation in chess.

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Badminton’s  “Grandmaster Draw” vs Chess

By Kung-Ming Tiong

Thomas Lund, chief executive of the Badminton World Federation, said that scenarios where players try to lose matches must be avoided in future. Eight competitors – from China, South Korea and Indonesia, who deliberately played to lose – were disqualified by badminton's governing body. The Chinese Olympic badminton doubles champion Yu Yang announced that she is quitting the sport, hours after the disqualification. "This is my last competition. Goodbye Badminton World Federation, goodbye my beloved badminton," the 26-year-old wrote on the country's Weibo microblogging service. Her message came shortly after state news agency Xinhua announced that Chinese officials had ordered Yu, her partner Wang Xiaoli and the head of their Olympic badminton team to publicly apologise.

Here are scenes from the thrown match showing how the players were trying to lose (more footage here)

And this is what top level fighting badminton can be like – and women are just as athletic and virtuoso

The badminton governing body soon afterwards held a meeting and handed the players disqualification from the Olympics. The Chinese coach and players later tendered their apologies for their dismal unsportsmanship attitude and conceded they had tarnished badminton 's reputation. The following two statements sum up this fiasco:

  • "You cannot do this in an Olympic Games, this is something that is not acceptable and it just makes not only our sport but the organisers and the poor crowd who had to watch, who pay good money to watch two matches . It was just disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful." - Gail Emms, former British badminton star, in The Guardian.

  • "I think firstly we should apologize to the Chinese audience, because we did not demonstrate the Olympic spirit. We did not give the audience a game that fully demonstrated our skills. And it really resulted in a lot of negative influence." Yu Yang, women's doubles world champion who was one of those disqualified, in The Inquisitr.

Badminton rules 'must change' after London 2012 Olympics scandal – Guardian video

Thomas Lund, chief executive of the Badminton World Federation, says scenarios where players try to lose matches must be avoided in future. Eight competitors - from China, South Korea and Indonesia - who deliberately played to lose - have been disqualified by badminton's governing body. Indonesian sports minister Andi Mallarangeng said he respected the explusion, but hoped the federation would change the tournament's rules.

How does this incident relate to chess? We've all heard of the "grandmaster draw", all too many times. If one looks closely, this badminton incident draws many parallels, but is so dissimilar in effect, with the "grandmaster draw" in chess.

  Chess “grandmaster draw” Badminton’s "grandmaster draw"
Fighting play/spirit When little/none is displayed in a 10-15 move draw for example, it’s called: 1) strategy, 2) conserving energy for the battles ahead, 3) regrouping one’s confidence if one had not been performing very well until then, etc. When little/none is displayed in a game, it’s called disgraceful. Period.
Spectators A sigh, and then “ok, next game. Hopefully, we see an exciting one.” Or some write in to address the matter which is then often brushed off as a non-issue. Many have weighed in on ChessBase for example, but in the end, they’re ultimately just “long, interesting reads” and little comes out of it. Open and visible disapproval, boos, grunts.
Governing body
Mostly “Problem? What problem?” Some do try to appease the spectators or sponsors by offering the Sofia rule or using Bilbao scoring. But nothing happens to players except the occasional sighing and “next time, we shall invite more fighting players.” Swift action taken on and off court. Warnings on court and off court, a hearing and immediate disqualification even if those involved were highly seeded. Reasons: does not show Olympic spirit and detrimental to game’s reputation.
Other players Mostly “Problem? What problem?”  = “Leave us alone. It’s a non-issue.” Disapprove and unacceptable. Reason: detrimental to game’s reputation and not good for organizers and spectators.
Players themselves Mostly “Problem? What problem?” Open apologies for dismal sporting conduct.

So, chess is special indeed, in the sense that purposeful non-performance in a “grandmaster draw” is mostly a non-issue to players, organizers or governing body and a significant number of spectators. And oh, chess is not in the Olympics.

Kung-Ming Tiong,
University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, Selangor, Malaysia

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