Chess, football and the Bilbao Rule – Part II

by ChessBase
11/15/2007 – The debate on the perceived problem of too many – unfought – draws in chess, and what to do about it, continues. The letters pour in and we keep receiving extensive, well thought through proposals that attempt to create incentives for playing to win. Josu Fernández presents closing arguments for the Bilbao System, while Serbian GM Dragan Solak tells us why he thinks it cannot work.

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Chess, football and the Bilbao Rule – Part II

By Josu Fernández

In the chess world, it is important to consider with great attention the decision made in the football world. Football is the principal sport of the world due to its economical impact and number of licences that generate thousands of millions of Euros and tens of millions of players. Football implemented the scoring system (3/1/0) instead of the previous one (2/1/0), in order to encourage the desire to win, to reduce the unsporting defensive attitudes and, above all with the intention of improving the quality of the competition.

It is also essential to take into account the fact that simplicity is a basic factor concerning a good score system. Amateurs and public in general, must be able to view and understand the classification boards and the results easily. Otherwise, that system will never be socially accepted. It will simply be a failure.

In accordance with the aforementioned issue, this year in the Bilbao competition “Blindfold Chess World Cup” that took place during the International Chess Festival “Villa de Bilbao” a new scoring system was added to the Sofia Rule. This scoring system establishes, like in football, 3 points per winning game, 1 point per draw and 0 points for a lost game, instead of the classic (1/0.5/0). Therefore, Bilbao Rule has the great advantage of being understood from the very beginning by everyone without any trouble or difficulty.

The Bilbao Rule, as well as FIFA’s scoring system, tries to encourage and favour competitiveness, stimulate the desire for the victory and penalise the more conservative sport attitudes. This means that fought draws in chess, just like football draws without defensive strategies, have a value in a minor proportion of 1 to 3 instead of 1 to 2. However, the reality is that draws in football or as is our case, draws in chess, have the same value. It does not matter if the draw occurs in 12 moves and in less than 20 minutes or in a fighting draw of 90 moves. What we must objectively analyse is whether a change in the scoring system will have, on the whole, a positive effect for chess or not.

The results in Bilbao have been noteworthy. In the 30 games competed by the six players, only 30% (9) were drawn, half of the whole of the previously mentioned tournaments. Only 7% (2) of the draws ended in less than 30 moves, and the others, 23% (7) were drawn over 45 moves. No game ended in a draw between 31 and 45 moves.






Tournaments 2006-07






Bilbao 2007






Tournaments 2006-07: World Championship Mexico (2007) and Wijk ann Zee, Linares-Morelia, Sofia, Dortmund and AeroSvit (2006 and 2007)







Tournaments 2006-07







Bilbao 2007








Number of draws and % over the total number of games with 30 moves or less.


Number of draws and % over the total number of games from 31 to 45 moves


Number of draws and % over the total number of games with 45 moves or more.

We can conclusively state that 93%, in others words, practically all of the games competed at Bilbao, were strongly played (with victory or draws result) whereas in the last two years, in the best tournaments of the world this figure rise only to the 57%.

Furthermore, it is undeniable that in a theoretical framework, the Bilbao Rule incorporates obvious incentives in order to promote the attacking game in contrast with the defensive game. Firstly, with the new scoring system a victory is equivalent to three draws (3 points), whereas with the previous, a victory is equivalent to two draws (1 point). Secondly, the competition spirit is maintained. The combat is encouraged up to the last moment.

For example, suppose that in the final round of a double round system tournament with 8 players, player A plays against player B. Player A is leading the ranking with 6 victories, 4 draws and 3 defeats. His/her points according to both scoring systems would be 8 (6*1+4*0.5) or 22 (6*3+4*1=22). Whereas player B is ranked second with 6 victories, 1 draw and 6 defeats, therefore he/she has scored 6.5 points (6*1+0.5*1) or 19 (6*3+1*1) depending of the scoring system (1/0.5/0) or (3/1/0). Both players that drew in their first game have an advantage over the others.

Applying the classic rule, player A is mathematically the champion without needing to play the last round. There is nothing that player B could do since at the most he/she would reach 7.5 points winning the last game and player A would stay 0.5 ahead since there is only 1 point to play for. However, with the Bilbao Rule, as there are 3 points to play for, if player B won against player A in the last round he/she would rank 22 points (19+3). Consequently, he/she would be the winner of the tournament as he/she drew the first game. Excitement, fight and motivation for the victory would be present up to the end of the competition. The reader can easily imagine more situations, with more players fighting until the last game.

Finally, I would not like to finish this article without making a consideration about two aspects of the Bilbao Rule. These two aspects have generated controversy and must be explained.

The first criticism is based on the assertion that if the Bilbao Rule was applied to tournaments and competitions already finished, the rankings would not notably change. To prove this, the reader can confirm that in both football and chess whether using the first or the second scoring system, the ranking is practically the same. The question now would be: why a change?

It is obvious that if the goal of the Bilbao Rule was only to encourage the attacking game, rewarding victory with more value would be enough. For example, a victory could score 100 points and a draw only 1 point. It would occur then that sport itself, not only football but also chess, would become denatured. Taking risks without responsibility and losing would not matter so much, since a victory would balance all the previous defeats. In this way, a game that was mainly defensive has been avoided, but we would be in a worse situation. The aim of the game must therefore combine the impulse for winning with the concern for an affective defence.

For this reason, the fact that the Bilbao Rule is strong in the sense of not having consequences “ex ante” in the final ranking is what gives it value and credibility. That is the reason why it has been chosen in football. The Bilbao Rule affects the perception that players have about theirs preferences in order to establish competitive game strategies. Their behaviour in front of the board and their strategies will be different but what gives credibility to the Bilbao Rule is that a priori it does not benefit any of them.

The second criticism refers to the fact that in a double round robin system competition, with the classic scoring system, unfought draws are a real possibility. With the new scoring system the competitive spirit is put into question, since players would obtain a greater benefit arranging the reciprocal wins and losses. This agreement would give 3 points to each player instead of agreeing two draws, which would give only two points for each player (2*1). Then, the criticism implies that players arrange both victory and defeat between themselves, replacing the draw agreement by an agreement to take it in turns to win.

With this argument, we must note that evidently players do not agree draws with a previous spoken agreement. This is a conceptual mistake. There is not an explicit agreement. This would be cheating, a fraud, a trap, and I am sure, except for some rare cases, that this does not occur with top players and never between grandmasters in the International Circuit. However, it happens, as we analysed before, that the strategies of both players in a game can lead both of them to evaluate, according to the Minimax (Games Theory) that the best choice is to play not to win but to draw.

Each player has arrived independently to the conclusion that drawing is the best strategy and play consequently in the most effective way to reach that result. The game ends with a high probability of draw, without a previous agreement or shady deal between both players.

Moreover, it would be implausible, without criminal behaviour, to agree to reciprocal thrown games. This would be a contract to commit fraud, in which absolute connivance and trust between two real sporting delinquents must exist. Nevertheless, I am sure that does not occur with grandmasters.

In short, the Bilbao Rule, which incorporates the Sofia Rule (in order to avoid the agreed draws) a scoring system equivalent to the system that FIFA has implemented in football competitions, was created with one aim. The aim is to give a jump to finish with the few competitive practices, in order that the noble sport, art and science that constitute Chess continue to develop its attraction and allow us to enjoy great and unforgettable moments in our life. Players, fans, competitions, tournament organisers and the managers of the federations have the last word.

Why the Bilbao Rule doesn't work
and other thoughts about quick draws in chess

By Dragan Solak

If we want to solve the problem (which obviously exists), we must first try to understand how chess players think and why they make short draws. So let's try to define the problem.

It takes a lot of work to become a good chess player. Years of study. And while there are many examples when a good grandmaster plays just to enjoy the game, most players expect some financial reward for their effort. It comes from sponsors (otherwise professional chess wouldn't exist). Some sponsors donate money just out of love for chess, while others expect some positive effect in return, thanks to the fact that there are millions of chess fans all over the world who follow chess events with great interest. Now the problem is here. Chess fans don't enjoy quick, unfought draws. Neither do sponsors. And still they happen.

In most cases actually, these quick draws hurt even the players who make them (more about this later). It would be good if they could be prevented, without having to modify the game of chess too much.

Now let's try to understand why chess players act as they do. What are the main objectives of chess players? Of course, they are different from person to person. But from my perspective, some most common ones are:

  1. High rating
  2. Financial gain
  3. Tournament successes
  4. Having a good and easy time while striving for 1, 2 and 3

And while points 1, 2 and 3 are closely connected, point 4 is totally opposite of them. And why do chess players make draws? In my opinion these are the main reasons:

  1. Relief from stress
  2. Lack of motivation to play
  3. Financial gain, norms, tournament success
  4. Important sport events

The most important factor by far is number one. I know many beginners who make quick draws for this reason. I know many strong grandmasters who do it. There are grandmasters who will almost always try to draw their white games with players who are rated slightly or even much below them, just to avoid the stress. And most of these players are aware that these draws are senseless, that if they really love the game, then they should play. And if they don't, then why bother come to play at all? Before the tournament most players are brave, they want to beat everyone, become the champions. But as soon as the game begins, many start to ask themselves: what if I lose? Is this a good moment to offer a draw? My position doesn't look that good anyway. And my opponent has had some very good results recently. And so on... Playing a game, while beautiful, can also be very difficult. One has to give the maximum and it is not easy. It is enough that for 30 seconds the 'difficult' part prevails and a draw may be agreed.

Other reasons for making quick draws appear less often, but still exist. For example, in team competitions, where players are not motivated by money, top boards of approximately the same ratings often make quick draws. Near the end of a tournament, players start to think if a draw or two can secure them the title or maybe some norm. But probably it would be better for everyone if all games would just be played out until the end.

(Important sport events? Well this is not really my idea. It is a remark by my friend who read what I wrote and insisted on adding this as another reason for quick draws. I don't know many top players who make draws so that they can watch tennis. I heard about Kramnik offering a draw in the World Championship match so that he can follow some Champions League football match. Someone told me that GM Banikas used to make quick draws on Sundays so that he can follow Formula One. But I don't think this is a real danger for chess.)

Anyway, we want a solution to minimize the number of quick draws. Many solutions have been suggested so far and I will try to comment on some of them.

Let's think about the Bilbao system. First we must note that it hasn't been tested. There were some tournaments where the players would score 3 points for a win and 1 point for a draw. But the problem is that these tournaments must still be rated according to the normal system. And the main objective of players is to have high ratings. So even though it would give them better chances to win the tournament, players were not as aggressive as they should have been.

So if we would want the Bilbao system to work, we would have to design a new rating system. Let's assume that with the present system the drawing rate between grandmasters is around 50%. And let's assume that it would rise to 67% with the use of the Bilbao system. Now a player would be expected to make 2 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses in a 6 rounds tournament against opposition with approximately the same ratings, on average. This would be 8 out of 18 according to the Bilbao system. So in the case that a player makes 8/18 there should be no rating change. And of course, in case of a 'Bilbao draw', the player would win rating points. And although there are some dangers for players who would make 'Bilbao draws', mentioned by many people, I think these draws would still exist. In my opinion, about the same group of players who prearrange games would now make 'Bilbao draws'. There are not too many such players, but there are some. It is possible that this group would even widen a little, because the 'Bilbao draw' would be considered somewhat less unethical then throwing games is now.

But this is not the main reason of why the Bilbao system doesn't work There are not so many double round robin tournaments anyway. The main reason of why the Bilbao system can't work is following: the game changes too much. I will try to illustrate this through an example:

White to move

In a normal game, white would start to think about pushing 1.b5, closing out the black bishop. But Black can then play 1...Ng3+ 2.Kh2 Nf1+ forcing the perpetual. So in a normal game White would maybe choose 1.Bf2, trying to play for a win, although Black can then play 1...Bc4!. With the Bilbao rules, however, White can play 1.b5. Now Black can make a draw if he wishes, but it might be better for him to go to a slightly worse position that he still can win. White can use this fact and make the move 1.b5 and get a small advantage. Analysis in the Chess Informant one day may look like 1.b5!! [1.Bf2?=] Bc8! +/= [1...Ng3?=]. In my opinion this change would be too drastic for chess. Here is another example:

White to move

This is one of the basic positions of the Slav Defense. The move 1.Qb3 is not considered dangerous for Black, at least in normal chess. After 1...a5 2.Na2 gives nothing to white, as after 2...Be7 3.Qb7 Rb8 the game ends in a draw by repetition. But in Bilbao chess, 1.Qb3 can be a very dangerous move. After 1...a5 2.Na2 Be7 3.Qb7 Black can make a draw, but it is better for him to play without a pawn and try to complicate matters, although White's position then deserves preference.

I am not saying that no changes are welcome in chess. Just that this one would be too radical. The psychological concepts demonstrated are more in the spirit of poker. Probably some players would love to see this change, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Grischuk and Bacrot in the next World Championship Final Match. But I am equally sure that most players would miss the old chess where a draw is worth exactly half a point.

What then?

Making draws before the fight is over really is senseless. It could be compared with two football clubs agreeing to a 0-0 result after 15 minutes of play. I don't want to waste words about chess clubs playing 4:4 by making eight quick draws. It is insane.

The solution is very simple: draw offers should be completely banned. And that's it. And it works. The Sofia Rules are a good example of it. Several tournaments have been played already and I haven't yet heard of any problems. I don't even see a reason for a draw offer to be possible at all. In my opinion it is better to leave the arbiter out of it. Games would only be drawn if one of the players declares it a draw according to the FIDE rules of chess. When the position is a dead draw, players will repeat the moves anyway. It is possible that some players will not want to repeat the moves and continue to play on for 100 moves more, but then again, the same thing is possible now and still no one does it. Another problem could be that there is a simple drawing line and in ten moves the game will finish in draw anyway. But then let the fans see this drawing line too! I am sure that it is not very difficult for grandmasters to spend one minute more at the board tha n they normally would, executing the final moves and bringing the game to its logical end.

In my opinion, this would be the best solution. And I am curious about other people's thoughts and what they think the problem might be. But there are other possibilities as well. For example, knockout tournaments is another good idea. Maybe double knockout. The problem with this is that some players have to leave after one or two days, so there are unnecessary travel expenses. But this is not such a big deal. Parallel to the main event, an open tournament can be organized, and the losers from the main knockout event could join this open tournament. If it is a single knockout, they will start with 0/1 in the Open if they are eliminated in the first round, and with 5 out of 6 if they are eliminated in the 6th round. To make the things more interesting, it is possible to start the knockout tournament not with 2n players, but with 3 x 2n, when the most successful player from the open tournament would join the top 3 knockout tournament players in the semifinals. I believe this would be interesting for everyone. One problem remains: it is not easy to play two games in one day, plus possible rapid and blitz play-off games. So either the pace has to be faster, or a single game will decide the winner, in which case one of the players will have the advantage of the white pieces. For the most important tournaments this problem can be solved. The tournament will last for 15 or more days and there will be enough time for two-games matches. In smaller tournaments, though, one of the two undesirable things would have to be done.

This is what I think about the problem. I am looking forward to hearing other people's ideas.

Dragan Solak: about me

I was born on March 30, 1980 in Vrbas, Yugoslavia. I had been taking advantage of my younger sister Djurdjica when sharing sweets until she turned five (that's about the time when she became smarter then me).

So, one would expect me to become economist, like my uncle Dr Zdravko, but actually, I am studying maths. But I am much more into chess. My parents, Rade and Rada, love to tell a story that I learnt how to move pieces around the chessboard when I was 1.5 years old (number still decreasing), just watching father and uncle play.

I don't remember this period of my life that well, but it is more likely that I only learnt how to throw pieces around the house at this age. Some years later, when I destroyed my father's last chess-set, he took me to Novi Sad Chessclub, where they had indestructible wooden pieces.

Djurdjica and Dragan

Chess courses for kids were held by FM Krasoje Notaros. He really had a way with children. Enormous quantities of time invested by my father in my first chess-steps resulted in a surprising manner – I mastered the rules of the game and even some basic endings. Having gained so much knowledge, I could dominate the children who didn't know how to make moves. The sweet taste of a victory made me fall in love in chess. Then I would bother not only my parents, but also my other relatives and friends to take me to the tournaments. They all helped my future chess career.


The 'Bilbao Draw' – how it doesn't solve the problem
28.10.2007 – Chess fans and organisers all over the world are worried about the problem of too many draws in chess. Actually: about pre-arranged or unfought draws. Many remedies have been tried, including threats, prohibition and, most recently, the Bilbao system of awarding three points for a win and one for a draw. Is that the solution? No, says one astute reader and points to a possibly fatal flaw.

The Bilbao Draw – feedback from our readers
06.11.2007 – 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.

Chess, football and the Bilbao Rule
08.11.2007 – The discussion and the search for remedies for the perceived problem of short draws in chess continues. Josu Fernández, a Spanish organiser, sent us a report on the effects of the Bilbao 3-1-0 system on the football league in his country, and on what this means for chess. Other readers too have submitted thoughful papers on the subject. Again, it is a long interesting read.

Chess, football and the Bilbao Rule – Part II
15.11.2007 – The debate on the perceived problem of too many – unfought – draws in chess, and what to do about it, continues. The letters pour in and we keep receiving extensive, well thought through proposals that attempt to create incentives for playing to win. Josu Fernández presents closing arguments for the Bilbao System, while Serbian GM Dragan Solak tells us why he thinks it cannot work.

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