Norway Chess Armageddon gambit

by Macauley Peterson
10/11/2018 – The organisers of the 2019 Altibox Norway Chess tournament have unveiled a new format aimed at reducing the rate of draws. It's either "innovative" or "bizarre" depending on who you ask but is sure to be an interesting subject of debate in the months leading up to the June, 2019, tournament. We explain the new idea and check in on the Twitter reaction. Plus, have your say in our reader survey! | Photo: Lennart Ootes / NorwayChess.no

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A result. Every. Single. Day.

In 2011, former FIDE World Champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov proposed a novel tournament format aimed at curtailing an excess of draws among elite players. The rationale was simple, he wrote in an open letter to FIDE and the chess community at large:

KasimdzhanovIf we want success, sponsors, public and the rest of the parcel, we need to abolish those draws in classical tournaments. And not by Sofia rules — tournaments with Sofia rules produced as many draws as any other; and not by 30 move rule, where players are often just waiting for move 30. We need something entirely different. Like a tie-break in tennis. We need a result. Every single day.

The system Kasimdzhanov proposed was to follow a drawn classical game by a rapid game with colours reversed. If drawn again, a blitz game, repeated until there is a decisive result.

Now Norway Chess has proposed a new format with some major differences but a similar aim: To ensure that each pairing produces either a decisive classical game, or a decisive tiebreak game in the event of a draw. The twist is, they will have the tiebreak in one go — as a sudden death blitz game where black has a time disadvantage, but draw odds — commonly known as Armageddon.

From the Norway Chess press release:

Each player will have 2 hours on the clock per game, without any increments.

2 points will be given for victory, ½ point for draw and 0 points for loss.

The players that have games that end with a draw will continue in an Armageddon play-off only a few minutes after their game. The player with the white pieces will continue with white in the Armageddon game. With this, there will be a winner in each game due to the fact that black pieces will win if the game ends in a draw. The winner in the Armageddon play-off gets 1 point.

The Armageddon games will not add to the rating of the players, only contributing to the results list in the tournament, which is FIDE rated.

Players will get following points per round:

  • Victory main game: 2 points
  • Loss main game: 0 points
  • Draw main game & loss Armageddon: ½ point
  • Draw main game & victory Armageddon: 1½ points

Magnus Carlsen at Norway Chess 2018

Magnus Carlsen interviewed for TV2 at Norway Chess 2018 | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Magnus Carlsen, who has a virtually automatic invitation to Norway Chess each year and was consulted on the idea, told TV2 in an interview in Rome that he was excited to try out the new format and hopes that his fellow Grandmasters won't be scared off by the novel approach.

The reaction on Twitter seems to be generally positive, especially among live commentary veterans:

But not everyone is convinced:

And there could be unintended consequences:

It will be interesting to see more elite players weigh in over the coming days. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave expressed reservations about having two hours for the whole game. "I’m not a fan of the new time control, because it’s so much different from the time controls we have and it requires new adjustments."

The scoring system is also unusual, although perhaps no more so than "football" scoring with 3 points for a win and 1 point for a draw. Incidentally, here's what the current FIDE Laws of Chess have to say about scoring:

10.2 The total score of any game can never exceed the maximum score normally given for that game. Scores given to an individual player must be those normally associated with the game, for example a score of ¾ - ¼ is not allowed.

Under the newly proposed system, a classical win nets either player 2 points, and two draws would yield ½ point for the white player and 1½ for the black player (because a draw wins the Armageddon game). If you look at it as two games with the first draw worth a half point and the second a full point, then that would seem to be fine as far as being a score "normally associated with the game".

The question then becomes: How does it incentivise decisive classical games (or not) in practice?


What do you think of the new format?

Vote in our reader poll.

20181011-Norway-Chess-format

Poll closes at Midnight UT on October 15th


This story was updated from its original version to correct the intended meaning of Mr. Vachier-Lagrave.

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Macauley is Editor in Chief of ChessBase News in Hamburg, Germany, and producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast. He was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.
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FlannDefence FlannDefence 10/11/2018 06:34
In tennis there are no draws. There is your solution - go play tennis. Ajeeb007 is 100% right.
Daniel Miller Daniel Miller 10/11/2018 06:27
Everyone likes to react emotionally to a new proposal. Upon reflection, it seems clear to me that it will increase the number of draws for two reasons: 1) The better blitz/rapid player will play the classical game for a draw, and 2) the players will figure out that they can get paid the same for a quarter of the work by agreeing to a draw and going straight to the blitz. Playing a series of 4 hour games while your opponents are playing for 30 minutes will wear you out eventually.
Denix Denix 10/11/2018 06:07
A Draw is an understandable conclusion to a game, just like a Win and a Loss. If you are not satisfied with a Draw then please continue reading. To avoid Draw, I will invent my own Gambit wherein a Win gets a point, a Loss is half point and a Draw, zero, with an option to continue the game with colors and clocks reversed, otherwise just accept zero. Note that this system only affects tournament scoring as it will be irrelevant to Matches e.g. World Championship. Ratings will be affected as well. The more you draw, the more zero you get. Peace!
Ajeeb007 Ajeeb007 10/11/2018 05:44
The degradation of classical chess continues for the sake of trying to attract onlookers who aren't so much interested in the game itself as they are in witnessing the spectacle of players losing or winning. It's pretty difficult to follow a chess game played at breakneck speed but watching the players slam the clocks and seeing their worried looks and reflex responses will certainly "up" the sport in the public's eyes.

Organizers are selling out the time honored tradition of serious classical chess for financial gain.
Peter Barkman Peter Barkman 10/11/2018 05:26
This is a great idea...but only if Sting and Dustin Diamond agree to play.
s8977 s8977 10/11/2018 05:22
a good idea but kasimcanov's is better as we may watch rapid and blitz before sudden death game. when i was reading the article, i thought of a 3-point system as in football, but the suggestion of the organisors is equivalent to that.