Refined Chess – a new proposal to combat draws

4/26/2009 – Last December Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh proposed a solution to the perceived problem of too many unforced draws in chess (force everyone to play to mate). There ensued a lively discussion. Now we have another proposal on the table, submitted by Ali Ferhat Tamur, a computer engineer and 2200 player, who differentiates between complete and slight wins. What do you think?

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Refined Chess – a proposal to combat draws

By Ali Ferhat Tamur, Ankara, Turkey

1. What Needs to Be Solved

It is becoming clear that classical chess is suffering from a number of lethal problems and there is a need for change in rules if chess is to survive.

Problems Of Classical Chess

  • Drawing Tendency: Chess is a drawish game when played by very good players. Draws are not inherently bad; the result of a perfect game is believed to be a draw, but uneventful, short draws are.

  • Lack of Sponsorship: Chess does not attract the same level of sponsorship as many other professional sports do. It is unfortunate for a sport so respected and with such a long tradition. The problem is chess is not suitable for tv and the masses lack the knowledge and patience to appreciate even the most beautiful parties.

  • Computer and Cheating: What can we say? It has happened to chess, and it will probably happen to go and many other intellectual pursuits. Computers can beat everyone but a few elite players. This has a negative effect on sponsors and also raises concerns about cheating. Preventing cheating needs to be handled separately. As for chess no longer being the symbol of human intelligence, that is a deeper problem with no simple solution.

  • Opening Theory Too Advanced: Theory has perhaps advanced too much leaving less room for creativity than say 50 years ago. Many opening variations have been analyzed to death. In some variations, i.e. Benoni with 7.f4, white is proved to enjoy a clear advantage, so few grandmasters are still willing to play them, at least with the usual move order. But most of the variations are seldom played because black has a comfortable equality, so white needs to diverge earlier to hope for an advantage.

Solution Proposals

Some of the more logical proposals that has been advanced can be summarized as follows:

  • Bigger Board and More Pieces: This was Capablanca's proposal, a fresh start. This is the most radical solution. The problem is, it is difficult to agree on the new rules. Such a radical change will mean to throw away most of the expertise gained in thousands of years. It is very difficult to keep the delicate balance between white and black, draw and win, strategy and tactics enjoyed by the current rules.

  • Random Start Position: This was Fischer's proposal, which enjoyed a modest success. The problem is, not all starting positions offer the same chances to both players. Some gives white a huge advantage, some are too drawish.

  • Random First Moves: This is Dvoretsky's proposal, which has the same problems with Fischer's.

  • Sofia Rule: This is a modest change that forbids draws by agreement. It enjoyed some success, but it addresses only the problem of grandmaster draws. Even the Sofia Rule cannot make an uneventful party more exciting than it is.

2. Refined Chess

Refined Chess is a chess variant developed to address especially the problems of drawing tendency, and advanced opening theory with the hope that it will one day replace classical chess completely. Refined Chess is very similar to classical chess, with a single subtle change that will make chess a more difficult game. Every rule is the same except for those concerning the end of the game.

  • Complete Win: A win in classical chess is called a complete win. The winner player gets 1 point as usual and the loser gets 0 points.

  • Draw: The game is drawn and players get 3/6 (½) points each when any of the following conditions hold:
    a. The players agree on a draw, as in classical chess.
    b. There is insufficient material to mate or stalemate the opponent.
    c. No piece has been captured and no pawn move has been made for the last 50 moves.

  • Slight Win: A player wins slightly if any of the following conditions hold:
    d. The opponent offers to concede a slight win and he or she agrees,
    e. He or she stalemates his or her opponent.
    f. Without making a move, a player calls the arbiter and proves that as a result of her opponent's last move, the same position has occurred thrice.

The player that wins slightly gets 4/6 points, and the player that loses slightly get 2/6 points.

For example, in the Flohr-Zaitsev variation of the Spanish opening white will lose slightly if he plays 10.d4 Re8 11.Ng5 Rf8 12.Nf3 Re8 13.Ng5 Rf8 14.Nf3 since at the end of his 10th, 12th and 14th moves the same position has occurred.

Immediate Consequences

The so called grandmaster draws will almost cease to occur, since in many equal positions, including "dead draws", one side enjoys a tiny advantage, which although may not be sufficient for a complete win may be enough to win slightly. For example, in a usual, drawn king + pawn versus king position, the side with the extra pawn will get 4/6 points.

The rule about repetition perhaps needs some explanation. The side with extra material usually has more mobility. The threat of stalemating, added to the threat of forcing the opponent to repeat the moves should suffice for a slight win in many situations. For example, K + B versus K, or K+N versus K endgames will probably win slightly (I don't have a formal proof). Generally speaking, whenever a side uses opposition to save the draw will now lose slightly. Example:


Black to play

1.. Kc7 (1.. Kc8? loses slightly: 2.Kb6 Kb8 3.a7+ Ka8 4.Ka6 stalemate) 2.Ka8 Kb6! (black loses slightly if he repeats with Kc8-Kc7) 3.Kb8 (3.a7? Kc7 and white loses slightly) Kxa6 draw: ½-½. So, now even a simple well-known endgame has some subtleties.

3. Conclusion

Now let's see how Refined Chess responds to the problems of chess.

  • Drawish Tendency: Completely solved. In fact it is no longer obvious whether the result of a perfect game is a draw or a slight win for White.

  • Lack Of Sponsorship: Unsolved. Although, having fewer grandmaster draws and having more mistakes even by the very good players (which the audience loves) should help a little.

  • Computer Players: Unsolved. However the players will need to make "strategic decisions" such as "should I enter into the ending with a slight advantage that will probably give 4/6 points or risk an attack" more frequently, and such judgmental calls are not silicon players' strong suit. So perhaps this is some challenge for chess programmers as well.

  • Too Advanced Opening Theory: Solved. The change will have consequences in the openings as well. In the French Opening, Exchange Variation, could white perhaps squeeze a slight win? How about the Slav Exchange? Will the Marshall Gambit still fare well without the possibility of threefold repetition? Every opening that has been analyzed to death needs to be analyzed again.

Advantages

  • This is a very conservative change and players, trainers and arbiters should adapt very easily.

  • The current chess sets, clocks, tournament rules are still in use. Rating system and pairing rules in Swiss system should be easily adaptable.

  • The top players are still on the top, grandmasters are still grandmasters and novices are still novices. This is crucial since any change need to be approved by elite players and they will not be keen to throw away their hard earned expertise.

  • The existing literature and accumulated knowledge of many decades are still useful and relevant. A winning combination is still winning. A drawing combination in an otherwise hopeless situation is still good. But they do need to be refined. Which is good.

  • More possible distributions of the point in a single game means less tie-breaks at the tournaments. The top players are still on the top

  • Rating system and pairing rules in Swiss system should be easily adaptable.

Disadvantages

  • Most competitive sports have two or three possible results. In basketball one side wins. In football, either that or the result is a draw. Having five possible results (lose, lose slightly, draw, win slightly, win) is somewhat unusual.

  • Because of increased importance of repetitions, Refined Chess is only suitable when the moves are recorded. However, this is not an important issue, since the problems of grandmaster draws and opening theory is of less importance in blitz.


About the author:

Ali Ferhat Tamur is 37, a computer engineer still working towards a Ph.D degree. In chess he was Ankara Champion in 1997 and 2004, but no longer has time to compete in tournaments. His current rating is 2200. Ali Ferhat also plays Go, "with even less expertise than in chess". Sometimes he dreams of becoming a professional board games designer. Ali Ferhat is married and have a seven years old son, "who will perhaps be a grandmaster some day."


Previous discussion on the subject

Let kings decide the result of a game on the board
05.12.2008 Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh is imaginative, innovative, eccentric. In other words: our kind of person. Once a year he approaches us with a radical idea – last year it was video cameras and intelligent object recognition software tracking games and replacing sensor boards. This year at the Olympiad in Dresden he had a proposal to change how a chess game ends. Judge for yourself.

Should kings really decide the result of a game?
06.12.2008 – Which recent report generated the fastest and most vigorous reader responses? Not the new cycle of FIDE, not Ivanchuk's run-in with the doping commission. It was Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh's proposal to force players to play out every game until mate. In 24 hours we received a slew of letters ranging from "silly idea" to "most brilliant proposal since the inception of the game". Feedback.


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