Can a roulette wheel decide the game?

by Amar Godbole
6/24/2019 – It is something little hard to imagine but yes, in the history of chess there was one occasion when FIDE had no certain type of play — such as Armageddon — to decide the winner in case of draw. For those who are unaware of the format, Armageddon is the ultimate form of tie-breaker in chess, where time-odds are there and Black just needs to draw the game to win the match and White must win the game to advance or be declared as the winner of the match.

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This story originally appeared on ChessBase India

Are Champions lucky?

"A roulette ball dropping into a red slot of the wheel gave Vasily Smyslov of the Soviet Union his victory in the quarterfinal world championship candidates match against Robert Hubner of West Germany in 1983." -An excerpt from New York Times 1983

Vasily Smyslov, USSR VS Robert Huebner Germany, Velden, Austria, 24 March - 19 April 1983

Final scorecard which resulted in the roulette as the tie-breaker | Photo: Chessgames

Vasily Smyslov at the age of 62 qualified for this candidates match on his performance in Las Palmas Interzonal Tournament in 1982. He scored 8½ out of 14 games in a reasonably strong field to secure the 2nd position. Zoltan Ribli who secured the 1st position went on to play the candidates quarterfinal against Eugenio Torre. Robert Huebner qualified to play against Smyslov in 1983 quarterfinal match as he was the runner-up of candidates in 1980 (losing in final to Victor Korchnoi).

Quarterfinal match would be played to 10 games and the first player to score 5½ would qualify for the semifinal. If players score 5.0 each in the first 10 games then two more games will be played and that if still tied the players can play two more rapid games or draw the lots to decide the winner . The winner would get the prize of 12500 Swiss Francs and the loser gets 7500. The candidates match was taking place to decide the challenger for Anatoly Karpov, the World Champion.

In the first game, Huebner had a chance to score a win with exchange up position at adjournment, but he couldn’t make the best moves to convert a complicated yet slightly better position. Later there were only two decisive games in Round 4 (Smyslov win) and Round 9 (Huebner Win). After 14 games the score was tied-up to 7-7. The venue of the match was nearby from the Casino Velden and it was decided that a spin of roulette will decide the winner of the match.

Photo of the Roulette tie-breaker

If the ball plunked into the red colour slot at the spin, Smyslov would win, black colour slot would help Huebner emerge the winner. What an irony, the ball settled-down into the number 0 on the first spin and the result was still not possible as the number 0 is the only number on a roulette wheel which is neither in red nor in black. On the second spin though the ball dropped into the number 3 slot which is red! Making Smyslov win the match and advance to the Candidates Semi Final which was to be played against Zoltan Ribli.

Amar is a chess enthusiast. He is a founder manager of Media Matrix — A Digital Marketing and Creative Agency.


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macauley macauley 6/27/2019 10:26
@Igor - I tend to use "ue" for "ü" and have corrected it here. This story actually came via a contributor ChessBase India. @yesenadam Also corrected "Muhammad" from 2016 :) Please feel free to offer corrections, preferably via the "feedback to the editors" link at the bottom of every article under "discussion and feedback". They will nearly always get prompt attention. Comments will probably also work, but less reliably, and comments are intended more for discussion rather than corrections.
yesenadam yesenadam 6/26/2019 03:57
"ChessBase News was very careful with international names and completeness of information when Frederic was editor."

Not exactly my recollection. For example, his misspelling the name of one of the three great sporting heroes of his youth when he died comes to mind:

It's hard to fathom whether "Muhammed" was from carelessness or indifference, or something else. I used to regularly offer corrections on here a few years ago, but gave up when mostly it had no effect.
Bill Alg Bill Alg 6/25/2019 03:23
You should at least try to spell the names of the players correctly.
be8ki be8ki 6/25/2019 10:51
Susan Polgar lost her candidates match against Ioseliani in 1992 through a coinflip after 6:6.
Igor Freiberger Igor Freiberger 6/25/2019 09:08
Why Hübner lost his umlaut? And why do not present the complete Candidates results? ChessBase News was very careful with international names and completeness of information when Frederic was editor. Nowadays I do not see the same level of quality.
Keshava Keshava 6/25/2019 07:13
Armageddon is based upon the fallacy that a tiebreak decided by blitz games could last forever. I don't think that a 3+2 tiebreaker which is won by the first player to lead after an even number of games (after an initial six or so) would even last all night. Have they even tested this?
Zdrak Zdrak 6/25/2019 03:18
2019: Armageddon is a roulette! We should play real chess, like in the 80s!
1983: World Championship Candidates match is decided by a literal roulette.
KingZor KingZor 6/25/2019 01:39
How could you not mention that Smyslov went on to win the semi-final match against Ribli? He scored 6 1/2 - 4 1/2 against a higher rated grandmaster half his age. Amazingly, at 62, he was one step away from the championship match. It took Kasparov to stop him.