Yasser Seirawan: "A Radical Solution"

11/30/2016 – For many chess fans the short draw in game 12 of the Carlsen vs Karjakin World Championship Match was a shock. Now, rapid and maybe even blitz games will decide the match that started with 12 games in classical time-control. Our author Yasser Seirawan finds this "extremely undesirable" and offers a radical solution.

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A Radical Solution

Still reeling from the 35-minute punch of Game 12 of the “Classical” World Chess Championship match, I am writing this opinion article under the duress of disappointment.  As a long-time critic of FIDE’s Rules Committee, I’m fully loath to enter its realm of spirited self-delusion but feel compelled to do so.  Likely, in the morning, after a good night’s rest, I’ll disavow this commentary in whole or in part.  Perhaps even hoping it may self-destruct.  Before today’s shock wears off let us muse about the following…

After 30 moves and 35 minutes Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin
agreed to a draw in game 12 of their World Championship match.

I’ve long considered the “World Chess Championship” title as the crown jewel of the chess world.  As the single most important title it should be handled with courtesy as well as great respect.  Such has not always been the case; hence my numerous criticisms of the Rules Committee.

The chess of today has come a long way since I started shuffling the pieces in 1972.  Nowadays we speak about the “World Chess Champion,” the “World Rapid Chess Champion and the “World Blitz Chess Champion.”  We recognize three different and separate chess disciplines and award a world title to all three according to their time controls and formats.  Very good.  Of the three, the most prestigious is the one that is simply stated as, “World Chess Champion.”  Concerning that title, we speak about Classical Chess.  This distinction confuses even grandmasters as there are numerous Classical Chess time-controls.  We grudgingly understand that a “Classical” game is meant to describe those that last “multiple hours”, as opposed to “Rapid Chess”, which is understood to be a game played in just under an hour, as well as “Blitz Chess”, a game to be played in just under ten minutes…

Back in 1972, the “(Classical) World Chess Championship” featured a 24-game match or, rather, the first player to score 12.5 points won the match.  Later it would become, “the first player to score six wins” before reverting to 24 games.  Then to 16 games and finally to the standard of today:  A 12-game match.

Personally, I find a 12-game match to be far too short.   Whereas a 24-game contest is now considered far too long.  Perhaps a middle-ground of 18 games should be considered.  I suspect that such a suggestion to lengthen the match by an additional six games would go precisely nowhere, so let me focus on the main point of this article.

As we have three separate and distinct World Champion titles I find that the situation of solving a tied Classical match (6-6) by playing Rapid Games and then potentially Blitz Games is extremely undesirable.  Imagine Viswanathan Anand being interviewed by a journalist with no knowledge of chess:  “Mr. Viswanathan in 2012 you won the Classical Chess World Championship against Mr. Gelfand.  How did you do it?”  Answer, “After the match was tied in the Classical Games, I beat him in the Rapid Chess tiebreakers.”  A truthful answer to be sure, but confusing for a lay audience.  Why is the Classical Chess Championship title decided by Rapid Games?  And potentially Blitz Games as well?  Very good questions.  It strikes me that the rules governing Classical Chess matches are inappropriate.

Back in 1972 and earlier, the rule was that in case of a 12-12 tie in a 24-game match the winner was the reigning World Champion.  A nice advantage to be sure.  An even better rule favoring the reigning World Champion was the one that entitled him to a rematch in case he lost.  These “champion’s privileges” of yesteryear were done away with, which is why we have the Rapid and Blitz tiebreak today.

Now, with the above background out of the way, here comes my call for a radical solution.  It is motivated by the desire to see Classical Chess and only Classical Chess games featured in the World Championship match:  Let the players have a 13-game match.  The player with the extra game with the Black pieces has “draw-odds” in the match.  The drawing of lots would not feature a blitz match, rather it would be the usual simple affair of drawing colors at the start of the contest.

If we are to entertain such a change to the rules, we must consider its possible effect.  Firstly, if a final Game 13 has to be played, it will be decisive.  No 35-minute long affair.  The game would be played to the last full measure.  At the start of the competition both players would fully understand their circumstances:  someone would be obliged to play for a win as he would, in effect, “trail” in the match.  A player with the White pieces trailing by a point at the start of Game 13 could not win the title, but would be playing for a split prize-fund.

My motivation for making this suggestion is twofold:  Firstly, to keep the titles and the formats separate from one another.  A player wins the World Championship match by playing chess games at Classical time controls only.  Secondly, to avoid disappointment similar to what we had in today’s game.  When the attention of the whole world has been captured, it is of paramount importance to deliver a spectacle.  Not today’s dud.

It is highly likely that such a solution has already been offered by others.  Possibly multiple times.  If that is the case, my apologies for not giving them the credit they deserve.  Thoughtful feedback appreciated.

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sapber sapber 11/30/2016 08:46
Very interesting idea by Mr. Seirwan.
I like also old idea in case of tie match, Champion remain the same.
What a World Champion will be Karjakin who play only Berlin Defence ("no risk no title"), where is his fighting spirit.
Thank you
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 11/30/2016 08:26
@ brokencipher : I very much approve what you said here.

And I would even say that, as a spectator, what I expect is precisely that the players does what is the best to win the match.

But, as an aside note, in the present case, I don't understand at all why Magnus Carlsen didn't try to win his last "classical" game in this match : he effectively could win the match on one isolated game, and he had the "first move advantage", playing White. (I don't say that the best would have been for him to take important risks, but he didn't really even try anything in this game.) And, furthermore, his Elo advantage over Karjakin is a little smaller in Rapid and Blitz, compared to Classical Chess. So the situation seems to be significantly less advantageous for him in the tiebreaks that in this last "classical" game. At first view, his choice seems to me to be quite illogical and strange... We'll see what will be the result of this "match strategy" today in the tiebreaks !...
ssakom ssakom 11/30/2016 07:49
Yasser Seirawan is absolutely right and says what many think! Thanks Yasser for this return to good sense and obvious decisions to take.
brokencipher brokencipher 11/30/2016 07:10
...Astonishing no matter how many times I read or hear it: this persistent, fundamental conceit among non-contestants that Carlsen and Karjakin, the contestants themselves, are or ought to be playing for the approval of the public, including chess commentators. MC and SK are playing for themselves, as their teams are doing whatever they can do to help their respective contestants win the championship. And if the public and its chess commentators don't approve or like or understand what the players and their teams are doing, or why, in order to win...so what? The only ones who care are the ones who, frankly, don't figure at all in the matter at hand: the ones who aren't playing or aren't on the contestants' teams. Sure, sure...write letters, propose this, whine about that, object to the other thing...it's your right to do so. And maybe the public cares about the letters, the proposals, the childishly disappointed outcries, and the long-winded objections. However, I assure you: the players and their teams care not a whit about what the public thinks, because they are focused on winning the championship. And they are unassailably correct and justified in that precise focus....--
islaw islaw 11/30/2016 05:39
First one to win a game after 12 games becomes champion, limiting games to 18. This way we don’t have to wait for 18th game before they give it their all, assuming players try to conserve energy to last the match. If we’re lucky, we get to see a violent struggle very early. If draw after 18 games, reigning champion retains title.
ivan3ivanovich ivan3ivanovich 11/30/2016 05:34
If you want to win a championship by playing blitz then you go and enter the blitz world championship. The same goes for rapid chess.

Those saying that the games should be shorter don't know why we have a chess championship in the first place. The best games should be the ones played in the highest event and shorter games does not and never have nor will result in better quality chess.

Who want's to see blunders and crap decisions in the highest rated event there is? Not me, I wan't to see the best possible chess and I want the rules to facilitate that, not prevent it.

The challenger should be required to dethrone the champion in order to call himself the new champion. Bring back the 24 game format and if 12-12 then the champion retains the title (split the purse if you want).

And Mr. Seirawan - Can't you get your buddy Bill Gates to fund a proper match for us?
Fergy84 Fergy84 11/30/2016 05:24
Draw odds are as absurd as a rapid then blitz tie break. 1) 18 or 24 games are needed. Because of advances in opening prep and the endgame more games are needed to afford Champion and Challenger to take risks to win. Less games than the past after advancing opening and endgame theory makes no sense. 2 ) May the Champion retain his crown in a tie. It forces the Challenger to takes risks to prove he is better.
XSammaelx XSammaelx 11/30/2016 05:20
The proposal I like best is one in the comments here by @Zencognito, that a drawn match would have no playoff at all and would result in co-champions. Only, instead of his "major" and "minor" co-champions convolution, I'd say just seed both back into the next candidates tournament.

This would "punish" both the prior reigning champion and challenger for not winning their match, as neither would get the right to be automatically seeded into the next final.
swimjt swimjt 11/30/2016 05:05
10-game match. If tied, next win decides, but flip for who gets white first during the extra games.
sidbis sidbis 11/30/2016 05:01
I think 12 games are enough.
More than this is expensive for organization and coverage of the event. More than 12 games is tiring for players who will have a tendency in losing quality of their matches and motivation. The challenge becomes courageous versus fear. Players tend to be more cautious and less creative. This is not good for the Chess. In addition, raising the number of matches, takes much of the schedule for other major tournaments. For the public, likewise, it is annoying to accompany a repetition of games whose difference will occur after the twentieth movement. Set the rule that the current champion has the advantage of 6-6, since the challenger must overcome it and not equalize it.
XSammaelx XSammaelx 11/30/2016 04:57
The problem I see with GM Seirawan's proposal is it would give too great an advantage to the player with black in the tiebreaks. I'd be willing to bet that, at the highest level, playing all out to draw with black is significantly more likely to succeed that playing all out to win with white. Perhaps the addition of time odds favoring white could be added to bring things to a closer balance? But that might then be considered to run afoul of the classical chess purism we're striving for.
MrL2014 MrL2014 11/30/2016 04:57
A more radical solution: since the defending champion could not beat the challenger in the classical format then suspend his title - he does not deserve it; organize another championship in 6 to 12 months with the participation of the former champion, the former challenger and top 12 players by rating (playing everyone with everyone). The best from the pack becomes world champion.
GrayDuck GrayDuck 11/30/2016 04:25
I am not clear about how this proposal would address Seirawan's second motivation.

More likely, it seems to me, it would result in many world championship matches being determined by a single asymmetrical draw-odds game. One of the two players would be given favorable conditions resulting from the coin toss. Thus, the world champion would be decided by a coin toss, not by superior play. Not good.

I think better approaches would be remove the stalemate rule to make draws less likely and play shorter games and more games.
I agree with Seirawan´s statement, another proposal that we might consider is giving a draw a better value depending the advantage, instead of 0.5 - 0.5 giving 0.7 to the player who has recovered from a clear win and has convert it into a draw, and the person who couldnt turn it into a clear win receives 0.5. There was actually a report in regards of corresponds world chess championship and the person provided a nice documented evaluation of positions.
Maatalkko Maatalkko 11/30/2016 04:22
The Champion should have draw odds. It's really that simple. The point of having a World Championship is that it is a sort of regal progression. The new King should cleanly dethrone the old. The fact that we've had only 16 undisputed Champions in history is what makes the title worthwhile.

The tiebreak was necessary to settle Kramnik - Topalov 2006 because neither player could claim to be the sitting Champion. Its retention beyond that was a historical error. Had Gelfand won the tiebreak in 2012, people would be saying this already. It cheapens the title if a player who has never even reached #2 in world rankings, and who did not conclusively win a match against the reigning Champion, can become the World Champion.
ssdsnd ssdsnd 11/30/2016 04:15
Solution: All classical games in Fischer random format.
vishyvishy vishyvishy 11/30/2016 03:45
Four more Classical games
Challenger gets three white and one black
Challenger must score more than 2 points in this

Challenger has right to go for Three black and one white for him if he is more comfortable with Black
but it is challenge for challenge to score more than 2 points in these 4 games or he is lost.

Problem Solved!
Peter B Peter B 11/30/2016 03:27
Another point: if we return to matches for the Candidates (and I really hope we do), then "draw odds for the champion" are not possible. So either they have to introduce some other draw odds (giving one player an incentive to "play safe"), or use tie breaks. So I think tie breaks are inevitable. It could perhaps be improved by limiting it to rapids, or at least a few pairs of rapids before blitz as a last resort.
There's no need for an Armageddon game. Just keep playing all night, if necessary. That's what tennis does.
KevinC KevinC 11/30/2016 03:03
Sorry, but this idea is MORONIC. It conveys a HUGE advantage to the person with draw odds.

Just extend the match by two classical games at a time.
Peter B Peter B 11/30/2016 02:57
@Nacho8, I assume a pk is a penalty kick? Penalty kicks take about a minute each. Classical games take a day each (more if you count rest days). So you can't have an unlimited number of classical games, because the tie break could run weeks or even months, like the 1984 match.
SULAYI_LANG SULAYI_LANG 11/30/2016 02:56
A logical suggestion there is: in case of a drawn match, each drawn game will be evaluated by an "official" supercomputer to be use as a tiebreaker. Who ever had the edge in the total evaluations will be declared the rightful champion. I think this makes sense too.
thlai80 thlai80 11/30/2016 02:54
To have color odds or any kind of odd will be unfair to either the reigning champion or the challenger. I would propose after 12 games, it would be sudden death* until there's a winner with no rest days in between. We will surely see a decisive game along the way. The * is for a saver game after a decisive game, to allow the losing party to have the last chance to equalize.

After 50 games like Kasparov vs Karpov 1984, then postpone to a new match the year after.
PGMatthews PGMatthews 11/30/2016 02:53
Draws have been a serious problem undermining the credibility of western chess since the era of Carl Schlechter (late 19th, early 20th century), and here we go again. It's the rules of chess, not the current WCC rules, that are at fault. For example, Asian chess variants define repetition as undesirable, up to a loss for the player who nullifies the game by perpetual check. How did the west get it so wrong as to make chess the game of how not to lose, the game of draws?
KingDom64 KingDom64 11/30/2016 02:42
The best solution for me it´s INSERT BLITZ GAME BETWEEN CLASSIC GAME right from the start of the match!
Nacho8 Nacho8 11/30/2016 02:38
If there is a draw after 12 games, play 2 classical games to decide, if still tied, play 2 more, just like in soccer pk's.
Nacho8 Nacho8 11/30/2016 02:38
If there is a draw after 12 games, play 2 classical games to decide, if still tied, play 2 more, just like in soccer pk's.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 11/30/2016 02:21
@ imdvb_8793 : In your project, I think what could be an incentive, for the Champion, would be to let him have the same portion of the prize fund than the other players. Obviously, the Champion could very well win the event, so the "financial aspect" could quite constitute a very real supplementary motivation for him...

You said : "(...) the Candidates Tournament (renamed accordingly, perhaps) (...)" ; perhaps the ex-Candidates Tournament could be called : "World Championship Tournament", and the following match : "World Championship Match", since the result of the World Championship would take into account in part the result of the ex-Candidates Tournament. The advantage would be that it would be obvious, with these names, that the World Champion would also have to participate in the tournament, and not only in the match.

As for your answer to my precedent post, I will myself answer it (the topic quite interests me !), but I will probably not have time to do it immediately, because I'm rather busy. And when I see something that I approve or disapprove on a ChessBase article, I try to comment on it quickly, because after, no one (or nearly no one) reads or writes anything under it, and it isn't very interesting to write exclusively for oneself !..., so, at present, with the World Championship, I will probably write under some of the new articles... and this will probably not leave me enough time to answer immediately to your post !...
footloose4 footloose4 11/30/2016 02:04
I don't like this idea. A challenger who has 7 black games can become the new world champion by remaining unbeaten for 13 consecutive games. "How did you become the world champ?" "I drew 13 games in a row and they gave me the crown."

I also don't think rapid and blitz games are the solution. And an armageddon game might be the worst idea I've ever heard of. I'm surprised professional players have not started a petition to completely ban armageddon games.

Draw odds for the champion is my preference. Just my opinion.
wittgenstein wittgenstein 11/30/2016 01:59
The 1972 solution seems perfect to me. If the challanger does not win the match, it means that
he has not given a step foward to chess and the title should remain with the champion. Simple like this.
triangle triangle 11/30/2016 01:46
What about the following solution:-

if the match is tied 6-6, the players play 2-game matches until there is a decisive result. The 2 games are played simultaneously using the same time limit as the 12-game match, each player having 1 white and 1 black. This would be fairer as it would avoid one player getting a extra white.
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 11/30/2016 01:35
"I'm shocked those attending on Monday weren't shouting REFUND! REFUND!"

If you listen to the press conference after game 12, you will that a reprsentative of the organisers announced that the tickets for Game 12 will also be considered valid to attend the tiebreaks.
newbie_learner newbie_learner 11/30/2016 01:29
I love Yasser Seirawan's chess articles in general, but this proposed solution is a further departure from fairness to both players. I thought we have come a long way omitting draw odds for the defending champion to even the playing ground, only to go back with an almost ridiculous(unfair) proposal. And I'm surprised that so many readers actually agree with this. The draw odds will give Black too much of an unfair advantage.

While tie-breaks through rapid and blitz may not be desirable, they are still chess, just played with more extreme time conditions. We might as well consider something more radical (but fair in my opinion), like:

In the case of a tie, whichever player has been enjoying a more favourable assessment of the position by the top chess engines for a longer period throughout the match wins. or

Simply award games point to players who achieve a winnable position in the series (win by force with best play), but was unable to convert a win.

Also, we have to decide: what is actually the problem with the current tie-break format? Is it

1. Too few games played;
2. "Unfairness" of the format;
3. Because rapid chess and blitz chess is not chess;
4. We don't want to see players playing for draw in the main games to prepare for rapid/blitz for an advantage in the tiebreas; or
5. A combination of some of the above; or
6. Something else?
Kpawn Kpawn 11/30/2016 01:16
No. I don't like this idea either. My vote is for slightly longer match, no rest days, this is war for god's sake, champion retains title if not beaten. It's not perfect but nothing is. And no Berlin's allowed. Just kidding about the last one, well, half kidding.
Masquer Masquer 11/30/2016 01:10
"In the case of a tie after 12 games, winner is the player with more wins." - Yogi Berra (?)
jpmoldovan jpmoldovan 11/30/2016 01:07
The short matches have led to ultra-cautious play. I'm shocked those attending on Monday weren't shouting REFUND! REFUND!

From a fan's POV, returning to the 24-game format, which was used from the 1950's through 1972 & reinstated for Karpov-Kasparov 2-5, would be best. Who is against it? The sponsors? The contenders??

You could add a best of 7 wins provision, to try & keep it from going the distance, but if someone got to 3 early on, a long string of draws, like Karpov-Kasparov 1, could easily result.
Fairfield1466 Fairfield1466 11/30/2016 01:00
Keep it as a 12 game match. (Good luck finding title sponsors for an 18 game match that lasts for over a month!) In the case of a tie after 12 games, winner is the player with more wins. If both players are equal in wins, the defending champion wins.
The World Championship should only be played at classical time controls. No tie break games needed.
To win the title you actually have to beat the champion. How is that for a radical concept.
Andrea Mori Andrea Mori 11/30/2016 12:50
As a few already said, the Champion should mantain the title in the case of a tied match. This might be somewhat unfair for the Challenger, but the Champion had to overcome the same handicap when (s)he was the Challenger, things are eventually even. This certainly represents the simplest solution of all. Having said that, I also agree that a 12 games match for the World Title is way too short. The old 1960s/70s format of 24 games was certainly better. It is not entirely clear to me why it could not be mantained. Without adjournments and with only a rest day every 4th game (which is entirely reasonable) a 24 games match would last just 30 days and I don't see why that should represent an impossibility.
musketeerchess musketeerchess 11/30/2016 12:35
Hi Yasser, unfortunately nowadays chess has shown the limit. Computers made chess more like a science. Top Players no longer want to take risks and the best players got such an impressive homework preparation that the first player who is out of "Book" is generally the player who's going to suffer. Your idea of playing 13 games is excellent, but i think chess needs another radical therapy. It needs some more tactics, new strategies and give the public new thrills. It needs to give the most creative player on the board the chance he diserves not to credit home work, computer analysis, engines etc. So my solution is, let's play Chess Variants: Your Seirawan (or SHarper) Chess was an excellent variant. Musketeer Chess is also another new and thrilling variant. So let's play Chess Variants with still the possibility to play Classic Chess if both players agree.
ZenPassant ZenPassant 11/30/2016 12:26
Solution 1: White loses if the game ends in a draw. It might be unfair but both players will have same number of Whites during a match. Solution 2: In case a game ends in draw, the result is decided by an Armageddon game right after.
Hhorse Hhorse 11/30/2016 12:05
I think a better idea is to get rid of draws. If a game is agreed drawn they play a rapid overtime game or two followed by a armageddon like other sports.