Maurice Ashley: 12 Games Are Enough!

by Maurice Ashley
12/12/2016 – How to play World Championship matches? Yasser Seirawan did not like the 12 game format in Carlsen vs Karjakin and proposed a "Radical Solution". Now Maurice Ashley disagrees. After asking the top players for their opinion and looking back at previous matches he concludes that 12 games and a rapid tiebreak are enough!

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A Radical Solution: Unwarranted

Recently, my dear friend and esteemed colleague Yasser Seirawan wrote an article for this website decrying the format of the 2016 World Chess Championship. While many readers agreed with him and eagerly offered interesting proposals for change, I have to say that I think that his “radical” movement is way off track. Although I have sadly, and often disgustedly, watched FIDE shoot itself in the foot many times over the years, this is one area I feel that they and their organizational arm Agon have been absolutely trending on the right side of history.

There were two points that were essentially made in Yasser’s article. The more overt one is that the Classical Chess World Championship should be decided by classical means. No Rapid games (or, heaven forbid, Blitz) should mar the process of deciding the most important title in our game. After all, he argues, there are Rapid and Blitz tournaments expressly designed for the purpose of deciding who the best players are at those particular genres. Let the Classical Champion be decided by classical means, which usually coincides with giving draw odds to the champion. Yasser actually proposes that the match should go 13 games with draw odds given to the player who receives the extra Black, his point being that a winner should be decided at all cost but only by classical means.

Granted, in these matters, it’s impossible to prove one side wrong. Yes, classical chess does have a completely different time control from Rapid and Blitz. However, it should be noted that it was only in recent years that the title of Classical World Champion came into existence, but not initially for the reason one might suppose. The term is most often attributed to Vladimir Kramnik who, after winning the Braingames World Champion over Kasparov in 2000, ostensibly sought a way to differentiate his victory from the various title holders who had popped up as FIDE arranged their own knock-out world championships (a brave experiment that unfortunately was not implemented in a way that chess fans were prepared for). Kramnik was not looking to make a distinction between Classical and Rapid/Blitz, but to affirm that he had won the title by succession, i.e., that he had defeated the generally accepted legitimate champion (Kasparov) in a one-on-one battle. In his eyes, and many others, this is the one and only true (classical) way to consider oneself the new king of the block.

What the top players think

The objection of deciding the match by Rapid play has not, from what I know, received any vociferous objections from the many recent champions and their challengers who have played under the new rules (Kramnik, Topalov, Anand, Gelfand, Carlsen and Karjakin). When I asked Anand what he thought of Rapid tiebreaks, he said, “No problem. It’s the way of the world now.” A source close to Carlsen said that the World Champion hasn’t seen any reason to complain. Since I was in London getting ready to do commentary for the London Chess Classic, I decided to hold off submitting this article to personally ask the top players here if they objected to the current format. A full nine of the ten I questioned (Anand, Kramnik, Topalov, Adams, Aronian, Caruana, Giri, Nakamura, Vachier-Lagrave) felt that the present system of 12 games with Rapid tie breaks was absolutely fine, some even thought it was very near perfect. Only Wesley So hedged a bit, saying he saw the point of a purely classical solution of some sort. If the current titans of the game embrace 12 games plus Rapids as a good solution for deciding who amongst them is best, then one has to wonder why there is a need to gripe about it in the first place.

That said, at least one of the all-time greats has profoundly objected in the strongest terms. In an interview with SportBox, former champion Anatoly Karpov had these harsh words to say after viewing the Anand-Gelfand match:

"If evaluating the match from the qualitative and entertaining modes, I think that this was probably the worst World Championship Match played at least in the postwar period. One of the main reasons is the format of the encounter. 12 games is not that mockery on chess we observed during the knock-out system - but it is still not enough. At least 14-18 games are needed for full-fledged, creative fight: then the rivals have an ability to risk; whilst in a short match of the rivals whose strength is equal, the game is usually just hold, while the opponents are just trying to catch "a fail-safe chance." That's what we saw in Moscow and surely that made the match plain and boring... I'm firmly against of mixing different forms of chess. Determining the Classical World Chess Champion in rapid, and all the more, in blitz is just nonsense."

Those are very strong words, but one which is clearly in disagreement with his colleagues of the present generation. Granted, the quote is four years old, but I bring it up because I find interesting is that this objection typically coincides with a nostalgic call to the days of 24 game matches whereas here Karpov posits that as few as 14(!) games are adequate to have a “full-fledged, creative fight”. It’s hard to understand the profound difference between 12 and 14 games because I have never come close to playing in a match at such a rarefied level, but his suggestion is a far cry from the call of some for the good old days of much longer matches.

Historical evidence

To consider the opposition to a shorter match a bit more thoroughly, let’s look at the history of 12 game contests. Of the seven that have been held under the current format, the reigning champion or higher rated player has won them all (see the table below):

Kramnik – Topalov 2006: Winner – Kramnik 2.5-1.5 in Rapid playoff after 3 wins, 3 losses (1 by forfeit).
Anand – Kramnik 2008: Winner – Anand in 11 games: 3 wins, 1 loss
Anand - Topalov 2010 – Anand in 12 games: 3 wins, 2 losses
Anand – Gelfand 2012: Winner – Anand 2.5-1.5 in Rapid Playoff after 1 win, 1 loss
Carlsen – Anand 2013: Winner – Carlsen in 10 games: 3 wins, no losses
Carlsen – Anand 2014: Winner – Carlsen in 11 games: 3 wins, 1 loss
Carlsen – Karjakin: Winner – Carlsen 3-1 in Rapid Playoff after 1 win, 1 loss.

These matches have been contentious affairs, mostly full of stress and anxiety (for the players at least) from the very beginning. Anand-Gelfand may not have been thrilling, but that may have been due to Anand not playing up to his highest level and Gelfand playing the match of his life (Garry Kasparov himself denigrated Anand’s play more so than anything: ). The fact that the recent Carlsen-Karjakin match began with seven draws belies the fact that the players were badly trying to win, especially in games 3, 4, 5 and 9, which could all easily have been decisive if the player with the advantage had played more accurately. Over half of these matches had at least 4 decisive classical games, with 2 of them having 5 (not counting Kramnik’s forfeit loss against Topalov which would have made 6). Go back 50 years and you will find that these winning percentages compare favorably with many matches from the past. The fear of cautious play simply doesn’t hold water in the majority of cases nor, by the way, does the often stated worry that this kind of short match might somehow lead to more random results.

While there is a concern that short matches could be dull if the players choose to play things close to the vest, the data seem to support the idea that in many cases long matches can be quite anti-climactic. Kasparov-Short (1993 PCA World Championship; 24 games scheduled) was such a demolition by game 7 (Kasparov had racked up 4 wins) that some onlookers preferred that Short throw in the towel instead of having to play out the rest of the games (Final score was 6 wins to 1 loss in favor of Kasparov). Karpov vs Timman in the rival FIDE World Championship from the same year was effectively over by game 16, when Karpov held a 6-1 lead. Those were the last of the 24 game matches that more or less began the trend of shorter affairs. In the Kasparov-Anand match (1995 PCA World Ch.; 20 games scheduled), Kasparov had broken Anand’s spirit by game 14(!) - winning four out of 5 games at one point - that he was able to basically trot to the finish line. If one looks back at the history of long matches, this same pattern often repeats itself, leading to the natural assumption that a greater number of games simply isn’t necessary to prove who the superior player is at that moment in time. Even more interestingly, if we begin in the Botvinnik era (post-1951), it appears that any player who was leading a title match at the 12 game mark has gone on to win the title in the end (the lone exception I could find being Peter Leko against Kramnik in 2003).

To conclude...

The evidence strongly suggests that a 12 game match with Rapid tie breaks (no blitz) makes sense in the modern era. I realize I am biased, and here are some of my personal beliefs on which this bias rests:

  1. History has proven that the better player will usually win a match of any (decent) length with very few exceptions.
  2. Today’s general audience (and especially those age 34 and under) will not maintain much interest in a match that lasts over a month.
  3. Rapid chess is very often a reliable measure of strength (blitz may be up for question).
  4. Draw odds to the champion seems anti-sport. People want to see a clear winner.
  5. Even if the better player loses for some reason in Rapid, that in itself is a compelling storyline that suggests that the classical portion was hard-fought.
  6. Rapid chess is much more fun for and easy to explain to the general fan and media.
  7. Carlsen played one of the most beautiful moves in history to finish off a World Championship match…and he did it in a Rapid game!

Is the current system perfect? Nothing ever is. Personally, I think draws are the scourge of our game and something has to be done to deal with them (those who took a day off of work to watch the lifeless game 12 of the last match would most likely agree). I’ve written about this before, and I don’t think that Sofia rule solves the problem. My personal preference is the suggestion of Rustam Kasimdzhanov, - - but that is truly a radical solution that would have to be tried multiple times in less important venues to test the validity of the concept. For the moment, I have to say that the current format (12 games with Rapid tie-breaks) holds water, but I am open to any suggestions that increase the tension from the word go and keeps the match within a solid time window that favors organizers, players and fans alike (less rest days probably make sense as well). Both Caruana and Kramnik told me they like the idea of playing a Rapid tie-breaker beforehand in order to give one player draw odds in the classical portion. That seems like splitting hairs to me, and I am certain it would not make the proponents of the classical-only model happy to know that Rapid games actually control the entire outcome of the match. Until some other fantastic proposal comes along, I have to say that the current model, sans Blitz, is not at all bad.

See what the Top players have to say about the format:

Maurice Ashley is an International Grandmaster well known for his dynamic brand of chess commentary and effective coaching style. He was a commentator for the Anand-Kasparov World Championship match as well as all of Kasparov‘s epic computer matches.
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Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/14/2016 03:22
@ fgkdjlkag (3/3) :

- As for my "virtual mini-matches" tiebreaking system, I still maintain that it works in approximately the same way as a "normal" "two-games mini-matches" playoff.

Why ? Because the same features are in common between the two systems :

1) In the two systems, the (for example) main 12 games match is played normally, and it is only in case of a final tie that the tiebreaking system is used.

2) Then, it is true that one uses already played games, and that the other request the players to play new games, but, in both cases, it is the same process : there is a tie at the beginning, and the match's global result depends then solely on only two games (two games at a time ; then, two more games are used, or played, etc.). So, in a "normal" playoff, with "two-games mini-matches", there is also a significant increase of the "luck factor". And in my system, there is approximately the same part of "luck factor", because, yes, the first player to win a "virtual mini-match" will have an advantage, but this advantage will have absolutely no consequences if the match doesn't end in a tie. So, in one and the other system, the "luck factor" hasn't a great importance if there is no tie at the end of the match, but increases significantly if there is a tie.

And, in my opinion, the possibility to extend the match to 6 successive "virtual mini-matches" without having to reqest the players to play a single game is an enormous advantage in terms of costs of organization, so I think that this idea could really be useful...

In tournaments, it is considered as completely normal to use complex (and sometimes strange) tiebreaking methods ; for me, these "virtual mini-matches" represents the same idea for a match, and I think that is in fact much less artificial than many tiebreaking ideas (as, for example, the very well-known Sonneborn-Berger, as I said previously) that are nevertheless used in all (or nearly all) of the most important tournaments.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/14/2016 03:21
@ fgkdjlkag (2/3) :

- The "draw odds to the Champion" system :

1) The Fischer - Karpov 1975 match : It's each player's decision to decide if he participate or not in a match. Fischer was an incredible champion, but also an absolute maximalist (I think that you are rather one too, by the way !...), and he refused the proposed conditions... We can regret it, but the cause was Fischer's "maximalism", and not the rules. If a player suddenly decide that he doesn't want anymore such or such rule, is it per se the rules' fault if the player doesn't ultimately participate in the given competition ?? In my opinion, no...

2) The Botvinnik - Bronstein 1951 match : Per se, I see no problem in the result ; Bronstein didn't win, and, following the "draw odds to the Champion" system, Botvinnik retained his title. (As for me, I would nonetheless prefer to use other tiebreaking systems before using the "draw odds to the Champion" system, to avoid mixing too frequently the results of two different World Championship cycle for a given result - this is why I tried to create new tiebreaking ideas using only "classical chess" games.)

But one reason for which this match has left bad memories is that there were significant rumors that Bronstein was subjected to significant pressure not to win this match. This is nonetheless totally distinct from the question of the application of the "draw odds to the Champion" system.

You say, about the "draw odds to the Champion" system : "there are actually very few commentaries in support of it" ; have you read the commentaries under the two Seirawan, the Sutovsky, and the Ashley articles ? Personally, I have read one and every of them (there are about 500 commentaries, so it really counts). I havn't counted which proportion of the total was in favor of the "draw odds to the Champion" system - for me, it would take too much time -, but it is very easy to see, when you peruse these commentaries, that there are MANY commentaries in favor of the "draw odds to the Champion" system.

I nonetheless did one thing, the only thing that seemed easily feasible, and that was to count the "results" under Ashley's article. As for now, there are 5 commentators in favor of the current system (or in favor of Ashley's variant - without blitz), 19 that are against it, and, 11 of these 19 commentators favor giving some sort of an advantage to the Champion (...and I remind you that I am not myself particularly in favor of an "absolute" use of the "draw odds to the Champion" system ; I proposed only to use it as very last resort...).

So, yes, there is a clear majority of opinions in favor of the "draw odds to the Champion" system, in one way or another.

You say : "I do believe that the majority of chess-playing audience worldwide do not like quick draws", but, precisely, as another commentator explained already (lajosarpad, if I'm not mistaken), the "draw odds to the Champion" system rather tends to diminish the number of quick draws, because it creates an "imbalance" : there is always at least one of the players that NEEDS to win (for example, such a scenario as the 12th game of the Carlsen - Karjakin match would be very improbable in a match were the "draw odds to the Champion" system would be implemented in a way or in another).
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/14/2016 03:20
@ fgkdjlkag (1/3) :

They are still many things with which I don't agree in you last post :

- About comparing tournament formats and match formats : My meaning was that, if a complex mathematical tiebreaking system as the Sonneborn-Berger is used for the Candidates tournament (which is the stage preceding immediately the World Championship match, so I don't see why what could apply to one couldn't apply to the other), it seems obvious that a less complex (and much more foreseeable) system as my "virtual mini-matches" system can be used.

- The "first to x wins" system : I read the article that you mention, but, as it wasn't the system that you explained in you post, I didn't comment on it in my previous post.

In the basic form of this system, in my opinion, the Karpov - Kasparov match of 1984 DOES show that it doesn't work...

In its "evoluted" form (the form described in the article you mentionned), I think that this system is quite unnecessarily complicated (it isn't already very easy to have a clear result at the end of a match, and I don't think at all that it would be a good idea to try to impose a greater difference in result between the two players).

And when you say that the article mention an upper limit... ! : yes, 36 games !!! Approximately a 2 months match ! Frankly, in my opinion, if you can find sponsors for such a match, you are really the (at least potential) Best Organizer in the World !!
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 12/14/2016 01:27
@PawnMates - If there is any bias, it should work slightly in favor of the defending champion, as per tradition.

Why does the defending champion get an advantage? Is there any other sport where the champion gets an automatic advantage?
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 12/14/2016 01:14
@Petrarlsen, I think you have misunderstood what I said, or are mistaken in some ideas.

I did not compare your tiebreaking system to tournament formats. Most of the tournament methods would not work in a match format.

I did not suggest that "first to x wins" was a new system, in fact I credited Fischer with the idea. Practice has not proven that it does not work. Take the Karpov-Kasparov 1984 match that you mentioned. I don't think you saw the article that I linked in my last message, but that match would have ended after 8 games with a "first to x wins" system using the specific idea in that article, when Karpov was leading 3-0, draws excluded. In addition, the article suggests having a maximum upper limit.

About draw odds to the champion, I did not say it was a new system. And the negative effects have been there for century! Did you not consider Fischer-Karpov 1975 which did not happen when the organizers rejected the draw odds? How much of a loss to the history of chess was not having that match? What about Botvinnick-Bronstein? It has been controversial since the beginning. And you did not address that it favors the champion. Some do not believe that is appropriate. You mention an "astounding number" of commentaries in favor of a draw odds system, but there are actually very few commentaries in support of it, we have no idea what people think if an appropriate number were surveyed. I'm not saying that the majority support it, nor that the majority does not support it; we actually have no idea, just a few commentaries from strong players. I do believe that the majority of chess-playing audience worldwide do not like quick draws, I believe there is substantial support for this and you would agree with me.

I agree with your point on the increment; I still think it is too short for a world championship but would not strongly oppose it and it would be interesting to see how it would work in practice.

About the"virtual 2 games mini-matches", if I understand what you are saying, they are different than using it in a tiebreak method. The difference is: In a match of 12 games, eg, with a tied result. and a mini-match tiebreak, neither player was able to demonstrate their superiority in classical chess. You could say that the players were very evenly matched. If you start the match as a series of mini-matches, then it increases the luck factor tremendously. As I mentioned, a player could fall into a prepared trap and lose a game, even if she was the stronger player. Then in games 3-4 she wins that mini-match. If the result after all 12 games is still even, then you could still say that the players were of equal strength. Yet we have a winner based on your tiebreak system! It is not the same at all as having a tiebreak after 12 games.
PawnMates PawnMates 12/14/2016 01:13
I like Maurice Ashley's proposal better than either Yasser Seirawan's or Emil Sutovsky's, but I would like to propose my own "radical solution" that I think is even better. The world champion would be decided with no need to resort to rapid or blitz games, no possibility of the match continuing indefinitely, no randomness factor, no strange time controls, and very little bias toward either player. Besides that, it’s incredibly simple. How is that possible, you ask? Allow me to explain.

The match begins as usual, with 12, 14, 16, or whatever classical games. If the players are still tied, the challenger selects the number of extra classical games (I’d guess 3-5) in which one of the players will always have black. The other player has white for all of the tiebreaker games, but here is the catch. If the match is still tied, whoever played black in all the tiebreaker games is the new world champion. The defending champion just has to decide whether to take all white or all black with these conditions.

This practically guarantees fighting chess, since white (or whoever is behind in the match) must play for a win in every tiebreaker game. It also has very little bias in favor of either player, since one player divided the games evenly and the other chose which “slice” he preferred. If there is any bias, it should work slightly in favor of the defending champion, as per tradition.

I’m curious to hear what others think of my proposal. Btw I do have chess credentials: FM Andrew Hubbard, 2015 & 2016 Michigan State Chess Champion.
Jacob woge Jacob woge 12/14/2016 01:05
The main reason for this whole debate to take place is the 12th and final game of the match proper, in which both players decided to fold. "I got nothing." "Me, neither."

This has one reason and one reason only: The existence of a tie-break of speed chess.

Fun as it may be, the tie-break come at a price: the lowering of tension in the final stage of the main match. To the extent of there being none at all, in the final game or games. No conflict of interest, even though nothing is decided. Yet.

I very much prefer draw odds for the champion, in a longer match. To topple him, you must prove you can win. Proving you can draw isn't enough. Although this time, this was clearly the strategy of the challenger.

Again, thanks to the existence of the tie-break. Without it, that strategy would have been worthless, and the challenger would have had to show his hand. As it came, we never saw it.

N Short took a beating, but at least he came out swinging.

With draw-odds conditions being passed on, down the line of champions, I see no unfairness.
Jacob woge Jacob woge 12/14/2016 12:38
"1. We have 7 historical,12 game matches, a small sample size. In 3 of those 7 the match was a tie in classical games. That means in roughly 48% of the matches the higher rated player/champion did not win the classical games match. This isn't climate science. You don't get to fudge your data."

Since 3 out of 7 is not 48%, but 42%, the proper statement would have been: "This isn't climate science. You *do* get to fudge your data."
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/13/2016 10:49
@ fgkdjlkag :

My solution is thought up as a compromise, keeping on the one hand the match into the "classical games" limits, and eliminating any unfair or too artificial solutions (would you seriously say that my tiebreaking system is more artificial than the Sonneborn-Berger that is used in the Candidates Tournament ???), and, on the other hand, keeping the match into a strict calendar.

Whereas, I'm sorry to say it a little abruptly, but your system is not a new system at all, and, unfortunately, practice has proven that this system is a very well known "recipe for disaster" system : cf. the infamous 1984 Karpov - Kasparov match and its five months length, its 48 games, its strings of 14 and 17 (!!) consecutive draws...

Who would want to try that again ??

And good luck to find an insurance for such a match with such a precedent...

Additionally :

- The "draw odds to the Champion" system : You speak of this system as it was a new one, with strange possible consequences, while, it has in fact been used for a century, without any of the negative effects that you announce ! And, when you say : "The spectators do not want to see one player forced into taking undue risk while the other player coasts, based on the match format", to demonstrate that the "chess public" doesn't want the "draw odds to the Champion" system : "speak for youself", so to say ! The astounding number of commentaries in favor of the "draw odds to the Champion" system under the two Seirawan articles, the Sutovsky article, and the Ashley article quite shows that your views aren't at all generally shared, as you think they are...

- As for the 30 mn. + 30 s. time control, the worst that can happen in a game can be to have a player playing exclusively on the increment ; as the increment is the same as in the "long classical" games of the normal match, the "worst move quality level" can't be worse than in the "long classical" games. And, by the rules, this time control is a "classical time control". So, in my opinion, this is a good compromise between "long classical" games, that would be, very probably, too "time-consuming" for the sponsors, and the rapid games, which lower too much the level of play (as, for example, in the Carlsen - Karjakin rapid match, where Karjakin played long strings of moves on the 10 s. increment).

- As for my "virtual 2 games mini-matches" tiebreaking system, it is exactly the same idea as the "two-games mini-matches until one player win a mini-match" tiebreaking system. For me, the "two-games mini-matches until one player win a mini-match" system is quite good, but too time-consuming, so I propose to replace it by my "virtual mini-matches" idea. Obviously, if someone don't like the "two-games mini-matches until one player win a mini-match" system, it is logical that this person would not like my "virtual 2 games mini-matches" system, but, otherwise, I don't see a reason for rejecting one and not the other.
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 12/13/2016 09:19
I find the proposals of @Petrarlsen very odd.

The points:
a) To use the already played games of the "normal match" to break the tie (following the example of the tiebreaking methods used in a tournament).
Deciding a world championship match based on a mathematical formula is not going to be accepted by anyone, and in addition the tiebreaks for tournaments have additional data to use - the interactions between all of the other players.

b) Using short classical games of 30 m + 30s increment does not allow study-like endgames or deep strategical ideas. 30 +30 is much closer to rapid than it is to classical chess.

c) And, after all this, as a very last resort, to use the "draw odds to the Champion" system...
Draw odds to the champion force the challenger to take unnecessary risks, in specific games by pushing too hard for a win in a drawn position. As the match approaches the end of the defined number of games, it is to the champion's interest to play drawish openings, such as the Berlin with black. The spectators do not want to see one player forced into taking undue risk while the other player coasts, based on the match format.

About using a tiebreak as who wins the first game. I see no significance to the fact that player A wins one of the first 2 games and player B wins one of the next 2 games. A player could have gotten lucky by having the other player fall into a prepared trap. Then the world championship is decided based on a swindle, even if the other player was far more prepared and would have won if more games were played (which statistically is more likely to show the stronger player).

A first to x wins system, as proposed by Fischer, does not give any advantage to either player, retains all classical games, does not require any tiebreaks, and does not give either player any incentive to draw a game. As mentioned, insurance can easily be used to handle the indefinite match length. The actual number of games required for a win can be determined by mathematical means, based on probability of demonstrating superiority.

I came across this interesting proposal for format:

If it is believed that the classical chess world championship is preferably decided based on classical games, and it still cannot be done with the above format, then the problem is with chess and not with the format, and officially FIDE should switch to fischer random, or another variant.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/13/2016 07:35
As I said earlier, my distinct impression is that, contrarily to the "top players", the "chess public" is quite opposed to the current World Championship match system.

The best thing to have a precise idea of this would be to analyze and count all the commentaries under all the Seirawan, Sutovsky, and Ashley articles, but it would take such a long time that, as for me, I can't do it, unfortunately...

But it is, in my opinion, possible to have a very approximative idea on this subject by taking only the commentaries under the present Ashley article.

It is what I have done ; I have counted, on the one hand, the commentators who are clearly favorable either to the current system or to Ashley's variant (without Blitz), and, on the other hand, the commentators who are clearly opposed to the current system or to Ashley's variant (I haven't taken into account the comments that are neither clearly favorable nor clearly opposed to the current system or to Ashley's variant).

The result : 5 commentators favorable to the current system, and 17 commentators opposed to it.

This gives, in percentage : 22.7 % favorable to the current system, and 77.3 % that are opposed to it.

So a clear majority of the "chess public" seems to be opposed to the current system...

And I think that the "chess public" counts, too !!
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/13/2016 03:27
@ lajosarpad : If I understand well you idea, your proposed tiebreak is to have two classical games, the first player winning one of those games winning the tiebreak and thus the match ?

For me, the necessary condition for this idea to be fair (...and normally, following your own ideas, you would agree with me...) would be that, in the first game, the Champion would have White.

Otherwise, in the hypothesis where it would be the Challenger who would have White in this game (following a drawing of lots, for example), it would give a small but quite significant advantage to him because the fact of having White in this game would necessarily give him more chances than the Champion to win this game and thus the match.

And I think that you will agree that there is absolutely no possible reason to give a (potential) advantage to the Challenger !
lajosarpad lajosarpad 12/13/2016 12:40
While we do not change the King piece to President, Manager or Director we have to accept that chess is a royal game and the symbolism coming from this fact. The kingdom needs a king, who has some kind of "divine right", so he is above the others. This symbol is broken if we crown a new king who did not prove that he is above the king. Rapid or Blitz game are not really proving anything and these playoffs remind me of my intellectual experiment, thinking about the heavyweight boxing final being drawn and thus the fighters forced not to eat so that a light-weight playoff can be played, or even doing liposuction during the match to speed up the process. While this - admittedly - sarcastic example might be funny, it actually has a point: the best boxer is the strongest. If he is not beaten, then he is still the strongest. Since chess is also an individual sport, the same reasoning can be applied there as well. By the way, champion retains is a very sporting argument, unless we exclude boxing from sports.

I have thought about this and I have an idea:

1. Let the players play 2 * n games where n is a natural number. The games will be played out even if the match is decided before the last game. This would make planning easier for the fans, who will see extremely fighting, revenge-seeking games at the end if the match is decided earlier.. If the match is tied, then

2. There will be another game, which, if decided, crowns the old/new World Champion. If this game is drawn, then

3. There will be another game with reversed color, which, if won by anyone, crowns the old/new world champion. If drawn, then

4. Champion retains title.

All games are classical.
zwikir1978 zwikir1978 12/13/2016 10:02
The WCh has to be longer than 12 games, because the qualifying process is longer than that. I think about 20 to 24 games. In case of a tie the match will continue with the classical time control for four further games. If the match is still tied the Champ will keep his title. I still would prefer Zonal Tournaments and Interzonal tournaments and candidate matches to determine the challenger.
staleno staleno 12/13/2016 09:27

Seems like we are very much on the same page. I'm not sure that it would be unattractive to sponsors though, particularly if world champion participates. Each event (two match rounds) would be no longer than a double round-robin tournament, and each event (3, in addition to the final) would include all the top players.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/13/2016 08:18
@ staleno :

As for your proposal, I find it quite interesting and very logical.

I would fear, on the other hand, that it would be difficult to find sponsors for such a long event (but perhaps I'm wrong...).

Personally though, I clearly prefer that the Challenger plays the final match against the Champion ; I like the idea that the Challenger must win against "The King of Chess" ; for me, such a match is much more interesting than having "simply" the two best players from the current World Championship cycle playing against one another. But I admit it is a subjective point of view...

As for your proposals for my system, I completely agree with all of them.

I think it is a question of priorities : if you want to minimize as much as possible the part the "draw odds to the Champion" system plays in the global system, you chose 6 x 30 mn. + 30 s. games as a second tiebreaker ; if a significant part of the "draw odds to the Champion" system isn't a problem for you, you omit steps 3 and 4. And, for an intermediary solution, you chose 4 x 60 mn. + 30 s. games, with two games a day. (In my opinion, two games a day with 90 mn. + 30 s. would be too long : it could make a total of more than 8 h. of play by day, and I would find this a little too much for such a strenuous event as the World Championship match.)
peterfrost peterfrost 12/13/2016 08:04
Agree completely with Karpov. Dislike intensely Kazimdzhanov's proposal, which has far too great an element of non-classical chess. I think Sutovsky's idea of playing the tiebreak at the start has great merit. However, I am firmly in Yasser's camp that the ideal is a match where quicker games play no role, and only classical chess is played.
staleno staleno 12/13/2016 07:45

I think your proposal is well thought through (and tie-break system could also be applied to my proposed system, which makes it all the better ;-).

I particularly like the idea of giving to the draw odds first winning a "virtual mini match". In fact, one might even choose to omit steps 3 and 4, as the "draw odds advantage" given to the world champion would already be significantly reduced. Personally, I would prefer a tie-break consisting of two mini-matches in two days with longer time controls (90+30' or at least 60+30'). Each mini-match could decide the championship.
staleno staleno 12/13/2016 07:27
As mentioned in the previous ChessBase article on this topic, I believe the system could be changed to a multi-event (64 player) knockout system played over a two-year cycle, with match length increased toward the end (e.g. 6-game matches in initial rounds, 8-10-game matches in QF/SF and a 12-16 game WC final). In each match, draw odds should be given to the top seed (acc. to ELO), and any player beating a higher seeded player, is given that player's seeding for the next round. World champion should be part of the cycle. Simple and clean.

I've always found it a bit problematic that a tournament is used to qualify for the WC match.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/13/2016 07:27
(2/2) What is the justification of this proposal ?

- Step 2 would permit to break most ties without having to use shorter time controls, and keeping completely equal chances for both players.

The first time I posted this system, someone gave an interesting objection about these "virtual two-games mini-matches" : he thought that this "tiebreaking method" would tend to make the players play in a more "drawish" manner than normally.

Personally, I think that it would rather be the contrary if the "draw odds to the Champion" system was kept as an "ultimate tiebreaker" (but I think that no-one could really be sure of that without the idea being tested) : the Challenger couldn't afford to perpetually draw game after game ; it would be NECESSARY for him to win (at least a "virtual two-games mini-match") to become the Champion, so I think he would be particularly motivated to be the first to win, and especially the first to win a "virtual mini-match". Of course, I could be completely wrong on that last respect ; it is always difficult to know precisely what will be the consequences of a new system before it is tried for the first time...

I would add that the idea behind those "virtual two-games mini-matches" is to use something as near as possible to a playoff with successive mini-matches of two "long classical" games, without the players having to play new games (to "keep control" of the match's duration).

- Step 3 would permit to add 6 games in 2 days, with a greater chance of a decisive game (shorter time control = less draws + the fact that the change of time control, for the players, requires a quick adjustement that one player can make with more success than the other). The 30 seconds per move increment would guarantee that the "time situation" couldn't be worst than in the 12 normal games when a player has used all his main time and plays on the increment. And the 30 minutes main time gives the players approximately 30 further seconds per move, besides the additional time, to make - still approximatively - half and half : half main time and half additional time. So the quality of play should remain at a correct level.

- And step 4 would ensure a last tiebreak method, still avoiding rapid or blitz games.

I specify that I know that these last 6 games couldn't be rated, but, personally, I don't think it would be a great problem (these games would have a tiebreak function, so I think that the fact that they couldn't be rated wouldn't be too serious an issue).

And, with step 5, yes, there would still be an advantage for the Champion, but to go through all the 4 first steps right to the 5th would necessarily be something quite rare, and thus, in my opinion, it would not be a real problem to use this last method as an ultimate tiebreak. And, one more time, I don't find it particularly shocking to give a small advantage to the Champion.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/13/2016 07:26
(1/1) This is a proposal that I already posted under one of Seirawan's articles ; there are so many posts under all these articles on the World Championship system that I think it could be useful to post it again. For this proposal, I chose to stay in the same "calendar limits" than in the present system (because I think it would be difficult to find sponsors for a longer match). But this "new system" could also perfectly well be extended to a greater number of games.

Here are the successive steps of this system :

1) A 12 games match, similar to the present one, with one difference : to gain one day, I would suppress the rest day between games 11 and 12 of the match.

2) Using as a tiebreak for this 12 games match the fact, for one player, to be the first to win (globally) a pair of games of the match (with alternating colors) - for example, if the first game of the match is a draw, and the second a victory for the Challenger, then the Challenger will be the "tiebreak winner" if the match ends in a tie. It is the same idea that : "The first player who wins a game wins the match, in case of a tie", but the difference is that, if we take the games by pairs of games and not by single games, it doesn't give an advantage to the player who begins the match with the white pieces. This would already break most ties (for example, Kramnik - Topalov 2006 and Carlsen - Karjakin 2016 would have been solved by this tiebreak, but not Anand - Gelfand 2012).

3) A 6 games match, with a classical but very short time control (for classical chess) - 30 minutes for the game, with a 30 seconds increment starting from move 1 (I would call this a "short classical" time control). This match would be played on two days, without a rest day between the two halves of the match.

4) The same tiebreak as for the 12 games match : Using as a tiebreak the fact, for one player, to be the first to win (globally) a pair of games of the match (with alternating colors), in the 6 "short classical" games match.

5) In the (rather unlikely) case where there would still be a tie, the Champion keeps the title.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/13/2016 07:22

2) The "Draw odds to the Champion" system

On this matter, Maurice Ashley says two things : "Draw odds to the champion seems anti-sport" and "People want to see a clear winner".

It is quite strange, but on this matter, many persons (including strong grandmasters) seems to lose completely their objectivity !

Sutovsky said : "I find it unfair to award the match to the reigning Champion in case of a tie" (and he doesn't demonstrate why this idea would be unfair...).

Seirawan said that he found the idea bogus (without giving any real argument to demonstrate why !).

And now, Ashley affirms that this system "seems anti-sport" (still without any demonstration !).

The fact is the "draw odds to the Champion" system gives an advantage to the Champion, but, as I said previously under the Sutovsky's article : "this system DOES give an advantage to one of the players, but this advantage is a FAIR advantage, because it depends only on a completely objective criterion (the player that will benefit from this system will be "the winner of the previous World Championship match" - this is a prefectly objective criterion), and it depends only on a "superior chess result obtained by one of the players" (and this is also for me a necessary condition for a system being used as a tiebreaking system)".

I don't at all mean, by that, that the "draw odds to the Champion" system is the best possible system, but I think it is an acceptable system, and, as such, can be compared with other systems.

For example, a Rapid games playoff have the drawback of mixing two completely different types of time-control, Classical, and Rapid, for the global result of the Classical World Championship, whereas the "draw odds to the Champion" system have the drawback of mixing the results of two consecutive World Championship cycles.

For me, these two different drawbacks must simply be compared objectively. And I don't see at all why the "draw odds to the Champion" system would be sytematically rejected ! (As an example, I clearly think that, in the current system, to apply the "draw odds to the Champion" system would be much more logical than to keep the final Armageddon game ; it would have, in my opinion, a much more real "chess meaning".)

Also, when Maurice Ashley says that "People want to see a clear winner", I do think that this is not at all the case ! Many commentaries under the two Seirawan and the Sutovsky articles are completely in favor of the "draw odds to the Champion system" ! Not necessarily as first tiebreaker, but at least as a last resort, when all other "satisfying" tiebreaking methods will have been used...

What I would think to be the best solution (as a general idea) would be :

a) To use the already played games of the "normal match" to break the tie (following the example of the tiebreaking methods used in a tournament).

b) If necessary, to use for a "tiebreaking playoff" what I would call "short classical" games (I would choose 30 mn. + 30 s., because it would have two advantages : to be the shortest possible "classical games" time control - as an equivalent of an 1 hour thinking time - and to keep the 30 s. increment, thus also keeping the same "minimal quality" of moves that in the "long classical" games of the "main match" ; I know that these games couldn't be rated, but, for tiebreak games, I don't think it would be a very serious problem) ; this would permit to play 3 games a day, and, with a 2 days playoff, to have a 6 games match for the playoff.

c) And, after all this, as a very last resort, to use the "draw odds to the Champion" system...

This would "keep the match Classical", without extending to much his length, and without using any "strange solutions", as the Armageddon game, for example...

In a new post, I will propose a system - that I already posted under one of Seirawan's articles -, that uses these ideas...
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 12/13/2016 07:21

Maurice Ashley's article is quite interesting, but there are several points about which I am not convinced...

As a preambule, yes, it is interesting to know what the top-players think on the present rules for the World Championship, but the players are the "authors", and it seems to me that the public (those who are at the "receiving end"...) count also !!

I've personally read all the commentaries under Seirawan's two articles and Sutovsky's article, and, obviously, rare are the persons who really approve the current system. This for different reasons (even if tendencies can nonetheless be seen through this mass of commentaries), but, one thing seems sure, and it is that the current system don't seems to be much appreciated.

If we take into account that these articles are published on one of the biggest chess news sites (if not THE biggest) , it seems rather obvious to me that the enormous flood of commentaries that accompanied these articles (there must be already very approximately 500 commentaries, and, obviously, more will follow under this new article by Maurice Ashley) must necessarily mean something about the opinion that the "chess public" has about the current system for the World Championship match.

About the opinion of the top players, what would also be interesting would be to know what they think of other possible solutions : they can perfectly well accept the current system without too much problems and nonetheless find interesting other possibilities.

There are two themes with which I don't quite agree in Maurice Ashley's article : about the "Rapid games" tiebreak, and about the "Draw odds to the champion" tiebreaking system.

1) The "Rapid games" tiebreak

To use rapid games for breaking the tie, in the World Championship, isn't quite certainly the worst possible possible method.

But, obviously, it has a significant disadvantage : a Rapid World Championship already exists. And when, as in the Kramnik - Topalov, Anand - Gelfand, and Carlsen - Karjakin matches, the Classical part of the match is drawn and the match is resolved in the Rapid tiebreaks, the decisive part of the Classical World Championship is played, concretely, with Rapid games, exactly as in the Rapid World Championship.

So I think that it would be much better if playing Rapid games for the Classical World Championship could be avoided.

And when Maurice Ashley says : "Rapid chess is much more fun for and easy to explain to the general fan and media", for me, it is completely beside the point. This would be quite a good reason for developing and promoting the Rapid (and Blitz) World Championships, but it is not logical at all, in my opinion, to say that it is quite a good thing to have a Classical World Championship decided in Rapid games !

The same can be said of Carlsen's last move : if we want to see such moves, we must follow the Rapid World Championship ; obviously, in Classical games, the players, at this level, with never (or nearly never) let something like that happen on the board. But this is because the level of play is better in Classical games, and not the contrary ! These move cannot happen in Classical chess because there are (nearly) systematically prevented !

To use Rapid games as a tiebreaker for a Classical games competition is a little (with, obviously, a quite certain level of exaggeration) like using Table tennis as a tiebreaker for "Normal" tennis !

It really doesn't seem at all to me to be an ideal solution...
Ianjo Ianjo 12/13/2016 06:11
I think way out is simple: devise system to identify top 5 players apart from champ (maybe some sort of Grand Prix made of top 2 on ratings + 3 who qualify on the basis of results) and the have them play each other 4 times. Done!
caliche2016 caliche2016 12/13/2016 05:07
Being pessimistic or realistic (your choice), I think that at the end FIDE will decide according to their economical interests and the interests of big sponsors such as Agon. Money will have the last word, no matter what we discuss here or GMs may say at some point and both the champion and the challenger will agree because that would mean more publicity and more money. What would be the next big step? A Boxing Chess World Chess Championship?
Peter B Peter B 12/13/2016 04:14
Thank you GM Ashley! I've been saying the same thing - tie breaks at some stage are essential, and it's better if tie breaks were entirely in rapid. I only disagree in that a longer match would be preferable.

Also Karjakin had to win some rapid tie breaks to qualify in the first place, and no one has been complaining about that. There needs to be a provision for tie breaks in the qualification process, so why not have them in the title match as well?
Álvaro Pereira Álvaro Pereira 12/13/2016 02:03
I agree with Maurice Ashley: the present system is the best we can have by now, with the exception of the blitz games. Instead, I would suggest more rapids (in case of 2-2 after the first four), finishing at first win, with the sequence White-Black-B-W-W, etc.
Kasimdzhanov's idea is interesting (except that a draw should count as a draw for classical rating purposes), but not for a World Championship nor for swiss system tournaments, where the existence of draws is important. It would deserve to be tried at some other tournament.
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 12/13/2016 01:46
Any proposed format must take into account a wide variety of factors. A number of proposals have argued for an advantage for the champion, that the onus must be on the challenger to "prove" that she is better (eg, winner retains if match drawn, etc). Seirawan proposed the draw odds idea, to end the championship in only classical format.

I disagree with those proposals because the Seirawan draw odds will give one player an advantage (which can be computed) before the match begins. What other proposed (and the current) format does not prevent is the strategy of aiming for draws in classical games (ie, not taking as much risk), in order to win it in the tiebreaks. This is not to the liking of the audience. This seemed to be Anand's strategy against Carlsen in one of the world championships.

I propose first to x wins in classical format wins. There is no advantage to either the champion or the challenger, and whoever wins would have demonstrated that they are the better player. Both sides can receive the same number of whites. There may be still a slight advantage to the player receiving white first, but if decided by a drawing of lots, both players have the same chance, and other ideas can be used to mitigate this advantage if desired. Regarding the concern of renting a venue for a match of uncertain length, insurance can be taken by the organizers and by the venue, in case the match is longer than or shorter than anticipated. A match that goes longer than anticipated would also get additional advertising revenue and selling of tickets to attend.
methos methos 12/13/2016 12:34
This match highlights the need for change to address some atrophy in the game.
First:any classical match should have a winner in that format only.
The idea is to see who is best in classical chess- not rapid.
Suggestions of increasing the match length would not suit the majority of sponsers or the public and may not result in a winner.
Second: the reason for the introduction of rapid game deciders -the high percentage of draws both in match and tournament play.
Specifically, draws are still an integral part of the game but need to be reduced
Third: the reason for the draw problem -the creeping prevalence of one side not coming to the fight,especially as black.
Too often the idea is to draw as black and try to win as white.
It seems to me that the basic problem is that black need to be motivated to play for a win.
Therefore, that we need look at a number of ideas to address this with the smallest change to the rules.
Pros and cons should be listed and the one that meets with the most support adopted
Hopefully that is the one with the best + to - mix
My suggestion is to change the scoring so that the black player only gets 1/4 point for a draw, with ratings adjusted accordingly.
If there is no result at the end of a match or tournament order:
a] most wins b] champion keeps title [including last year's tournament/match winner] c] highest rated player wins
MKT MKT 12/13/2016 12:24
Draw odds to the champion maybe add 4 more games. You need to create this situation where there is no safe situation for both of the players to simply draw the rest of the games. While the goal might be to find the world champion, there is a secondary objective of entertaining a worldwide viewing audience. A true world champion in my view, should be appreciated as so by the rest of the world. The draw odds creates the imbalance needed, where at any stage in the contest neither player is tied with the other. If you don't have that you risk both players having the same objective in a contest, where colour does not matter, they both want a draw. I cite game 12 as a prime example. A farce, both players had opted in advance for the tiebreak, they may have even made this decision in the preceding games beforehand although this wasn't as obvious.
fons fons 12/13/2016 12:22
@ A7fecd1676b88:

Climate scientists do not fudge their data. If anything; it's the anti-global warming crowd that fudge their data.

"The scientific consensus is that the Earth's climate system is unequivocally warming, and that it is extremely likely (meaning 95% probability or higher) that this warming is predominantly caused by humans."
leonin leonin 12/13/2016 12:20
"If one looks back at the history of long matches, this same pattern often repeats itself, leading to the natural assumption that a greater number of games simply isn’t necessary to prove who the superior player is at that moment in time."

Well, for now. I would say we are still just lucky, and this year match showed how much.
sicilian_D sicilian_D 12/13/2016 12:15
well, no. 12 is small. 16,18,20 or the old pattern is better.
vladivaclav vladivaclav 12/12/2016 11:48
if 12 games are enough, then make 12 rounds of the candidates as well
benavas3 benavas3 12/12/2016 11:16
We have to agree that Kasimdzhanov's idea is very interesting and really worth a try.
geraldsky geraldsky 12/12/2016 11:11
12-game match is enough, because the only ideal numbers for world championship are 12, 20 and 24. In case of tie after final game, no need to play tie-break/s to avoid confusion and still the best is that the champion retains his title, but the prize should be divided equally. This is clear and simple.
PCMorphy72 PCMorphy72 12/12/2016 09:06
What providential and long-awaited observations from our smart GM Ashley!
Is it obvious or is it trivial that pseudo-support from 9 out of 10 top-GMs?
Since he didn’t use lapalissades I’d say he followed Pascal’s thought:
Unable to make strong what is just, one will make just what is strong.
Conclusion: he reinvented the modern wheel. Completely unwarranted!

Perhaps he and many of his “colleagues of the present generation” will have to wait many Wch matches until an updated (and really significant) “Historical evidence” will let them realize they are no longer interested at all in such matches containing those boring classical games! Or perhaps until a top-GM really interested in holding the (rapid) TITLE (and not to “hold water” as Ashley writes today) will remember them what “playing for draws” means (have you forgot Karpov-Kasparov 1984 match?)

In the meanwhile, having already said I prefer Seirawan proposal, and having introduced my own proposal ( : bypass all about votes in the attached pdf if you think democratic decisions are too complex), I can't do anything else but repeat myself:

To who considers things like a 24-game match as unpractical caprices from utopian purists, note that pure logic suggests that in a match that “encourages whoever got an early lead to play for draws” only two wins more (i.e. a +2 points) prove who plays better chess. It was noted by Fischer more than 40 years ago ( ).
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 12/12/2016 09:00
Mdamien reminded that « Carlsen's view, as World Champion, is to drop history altogether in favor of tournaments”. It is noble from Carlsen not only to be ready, but to propose to abandon the privileges of the Chess Champion.

In all other sports or games than chess, the champion of a season has to start from scratch at the next season. Only in chess does the champion have the privilege of automatically be a finalist of the next season. And in the past, to that privilege, was even added the privilege of remaining the champion in the case of a draw match.

Given that the only time Carlsen participated to a Candidates’ tournament he barely made it and that he benefits and benefitted from the chess champion’s privileges, his position is clearly contrary to his petty interests. That is worth to be noted, regardless of whether one supports his proposal or not.
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 12/12/2016 08:47
To mdamien

Highest Elo:
"really it is the player with the best performance against people he has played, relative to other people's performance against people they played, from the same overall pool of players."

Yes, this is more precise. Thank you.

"It is an objective measure, true, but it does not tell you who is better between any two players, and so it does not establish who is the best player overall."

Maybe it does if the two players were in the same pool. Also, we are not sure that the challenger is the best player if you do not consider the champion. And sometimes, it could happen that we have a challenger who has got the number of the champion but who, globally, is not as good as the champion. This is the kind of things Elo takes account of.

But I still prefer to have a championship match between the champion and a challenger. Taste for spice. Attachment to tradition. Subjective preference.

And thank you for your good words! I may intervene less than before - I will politely try to take less space. But it is good to know that some people do appreciate my posts.
mdamien mdamien 12/12/2016 07:21
@Raymond Labelle

I have enjoyed your posts and enough people have mentioned the ELO of an objective measure that it warrants a response. You yourself clarified the measure as "best player among players playing in the same time," but really it is the player with the best performance against people he has played, relative to other people's performance against people they played, from the same overall pool of players. It is an objective measure, true, but it does not tell you who is better between any two players, and so it does not establish who is the best player overall.