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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caliche2016 caliche2016 11/29/2016 11:55
Guys, how about this for a solution: Let's have a 15 or 17 games match. If a tie the champion keeps the title, BUT the challenger will have one more game with the White pieces (perhaps even two more games).

This way, we have a match that is not too long or too short. Also, we avoid the nonsense of fast time controls. Finally, the champ receives the benefit of keeping the title if a tie, and at the same time, the challenger receives the benefit of one or two extra games with the White pieces.

The challenger will have to fight for real, because a tie is not good for him and the champion too will be under pressure and will have to fight more because he will have one or two more game as Black which as this level is clearly considered as a slight disadvantage.
jarreth22 jarreth22 11/29/2016 11:49
This article doesn't take into account to what extent the defensive skills have improved these days. It is therefore normal to have many draws and not to take too much risk in the last game. Constantly referring to 1972 match is just missing the evolution of chess.
TLemanczyk TLemanczyk 11/29/2016 11:30
In my opinion it’s fully in the spirit of the idea of a title match between a “defender” and a “challenger” of the crown that a tie after a series of fiexed games means that the title is “defended”. If the challenger doesn’t prove his superiority, so he has to show his (hopefully improved) skills in another challenge. The title belonges then to the defender. I don’t see anything wrong with it.
This privilege is part of the history of chess – everybody who beats the current champion in a title match will enjoy this privilege. It is because of these really tough obstacles to be overcome that we - the chess crowd – admire the champion so much. Because he did it once and this means he deserves his privileges. But he isn’t a king – he is a conqueror, who showed that he can do it. If he shows that there is nobody else on the planet who can beat him in a match, then he is still in possession of his conquest.
Therefore I don’t like at all these changes (rapid games and stupid stuff like this) that FIDE has made under pressure of people who say that the rules have to be made more “democratic”, more “fair” and so on. These are hypocritical “arguments” of people who never will get the slightest chance to fight for the World champion title. Ther-fore they like to destroy the spirit of the whole idea of a World champion as a conquerer.
Therefore I also oppose Yasser’s idea to have an extra game that would give the player who gets the black pieces in this extra game a privilege by chance. With his proposal Yasser simply accepts these whole “argumentation” that is the real source of all problems today. Although I would acknowledge that it’s one of the best proposals since many years, as it would stop the lunacy of rapid (or even blitz or ar-maggeddon!) games in a world title match. But we have to go deeper!
eja616 eja616 11/29/2016 11:30
Eliminate rapid or blitz tie breaks - so no player will try to win the match through the tie breaks which incentivize players to be satisfied with draws in the main rounds. While blitz and rapid chess have their own merits, they really are a degradation of classical chess in terms of quality and beauty. And when you have to play Armageddon, it also introduces a lot of luck and unfairness into the game and match. The problem with the current rules of the match is that while it guarantees a world champion to emerge at the end, they do not address the desire and need for quality and fighting chess throughout the match in order to promote chess in the world stage. The following are some suggestions to address this problem.

Only classical games will be played in a 12 round match plus a possible match extension if tied after 12 rounds - explained later.

Set aside a prize fund beyond the guaranteed purse for each player. Each win earns a prize money from the fund throughout the match. The winner of the match takes what's remaining of the fund. This fund must be above the amount possible for both players to earn in 12 rounds to give an incentive not only for playing to win games but also for winning the match as soon as possible (explained next).

The player with a 4 point lead wins the match automatically. This adds incentive to keep playing for a win. For example, if a player has a 3 point lead early in the match, it behooves him to play for another win to end the match right away and win more money (the less your opponent wins, more money stays in the fund). Likewise, it behooves the other player to play fighting chess each round to prevent loosing the match before the 12 rounds are over. Or reduce the requirement from 4 points to 3 point lead to win the match automatically to make it even more urgent. Of course, only a 1 point lead is required at the end to win the match.

Think of other ways to incentivize fighting chess and avoiding drawn games (but no penalty for drawn games - that's a downer). This should help change the way the game is approached towards more exciting chess from match preparation to actual play and will help promote the game.

Worst case is if the match is even after 12 games, extend the match to a best of two-game round(s). Repeat the round until a winner emerges. No rapid or blitz tie breaks.
himalayanbear himalayanbear 11/29/2016 11:29
in case of draw, the champion retains the title... challenger got to dethrone...

maybe grant one extra game to challenge, where he can take white and try to win. but in case of draw, champion stays, but it wont count a win.

i dont like this rapid and blitz aberration as well... classic should stay classic.
kf2wins kf2wins 11/29/2016 11:27
I think they should keep playing until one player makes 2 wins in a row , or more than one point ahead of the other. That makes more sense to me, than saying okay its a draw, the world champion did nothing but draw but its okay he is still the champion. so if the score is 3-5 then the guy with 5 points is the world champion, its so simple. as for the draws they should be banned after 10 games. That means no repeating of moves. and the only way to draw is to exchange everything off. this is to pressure the outcome of 2 points ahead, really wins the match.
Oemig Oemig 11/29/2016 11:19
I agree with Yasser in that changes is needed to keep things separated. Classical chess is supposed to be the most prestigious and shouldn't be mixed with rapid/blitz play.

I don't mind though that a tie should be in favor of the reigning world champion.
A challenger is supposed to made an effort and in case of a tie the champ should keep the title.
Big Alex Big Alex 11/29/2016 11:17
Hi Yasser,

I pretty much agree with you. Your suggestion should be rightly appreciated. Makes all sense. If weren´t for budget constraints reasons, the match should be the longest. I do miss That old Kasparov Karpov match that had to be cancelled! :-)
FOffermann FOffermann 11/29/2016 11:08
Editor's note: The article had been updated and something went wrong, so it wasn't displayed for 45 minutes or so. Please excuse the technical error. Everything works again.
Peter B Peter B 11/29/2016 11:07
Terrible idea. It gives the advantage to the player with draw odds.
Soccer has penalty shootouts to decide the world cup, and rapid chess is far fairer than a penalty shootout. It's not perfect, but it's the best idea I can think of given a limited time frame.
Paranga75 Paranga75 11/29/2016 09:19
the draw on the last game must have been on organizer's dictation. rapid and blitz attract more crowds, more publicity, more income. they pay 1Million prize money to the players anyway.
imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 11/29/2016 09:13
@Petrarlsen - thanks! I guess perhaps the champion would be reluctant to have to play an extra tournament in the cycle, but I don't see why that would be the case, and it would be pretty unreasonable on his part, given that it would only serve to make things more fair and exciting for all those involved, and as a further chance to prove his superiority, not just in match play. That's the only problem I can think of, but I don't think it really should be a problem, as long as all parties decide to behave rationally...

Also, at the risk of starting yet another long, drawn out debate on a less than essential topic, which is something I do far too often (but, still, secretly hoping you'll somehow agree with me that all, or at least most, of the points you expressed your disagreement on were either misunderstandings of what I meant, as pointed out in my reply, or are rather subjective and can never end in either of us proving the opposite to the other), I have to let you know I just now read and replied to your long response to a comment of mine on an earlier article (you'll know which, since there's only one such response from you to me, unless I'm forgetting something.)
XChess1971 XChess1971 11/29/2016 08:59
I wouldn't do anything randomly. If Karjakin didn't do any effort to try to beat Carlsen why HE would be given any RANDOM options? For what I know always the challengers in Classical Time Controls DID the effort to beat the champion. Also there shouldn't be a re-match. Karpov had a re-match. And after that had to play Andrei Sokolov to qualify for the Final of the 1990 WCC match. IF YOU CAN"T BEAT THE WORLD CHAMPION then you don't deserve to be a World Champion. But, maybe instead of 12 games it would be match better 16 games or more. Rapid and blitz games are like "tossing a coin". Thanks Mr. Ilyumzhinov, since you came in the chess scene. The whole chess world is in chaos!!!.
emerlion emerlion 11/29/2016 08:47
mc1483 is right. 18 games and champion remains champion if equal
genem genem 11/29/2016 08:44
1. Challenger plays first 8 games as White.
2. Defending champion plays last 6 games as Black. Thus the challenger has an advantage of two more Whites.
3. Tie-odds belong to the defending champ, as compensation for having two less Whites.
4. Match length can be 14 games, because no day for Blitz tie-breaks is needed.
5. By playing a long block of games as the same color, the evening and morning workload is reduced for ongoing memorization of opening moves.
alucas alucas 11/29/2016 08:37
12 games is indeed a short contest, but on the other hand, today's world tends to prefer fast happenings, so we might have to adapt to a certain extent. I have the following suggestion:
12 games are scheduled as in the current event. In case of a tie as we have now, 6 additional games are planned but on the sudden death basis, meaning the first to loose a game has lost the world championship. To avoid any lottery system, in case of a tie after 18 games, the current world champion remains the new world champion
Martas Martas 11/29/2016 08:24
I don't agree with that much of criticism of the old rule (match draw odds for current champion). It's logic is similar to tournament, draw with the tournament winner doesn't mean you are as good as him. So requirement that challenger has to beat the champion to get the title makes sense as well, it's basically respecting that current world champion passed couple of similar matches while the challenger didn't have to.
Idea with 13 games - saying that it's fair is similar to say that match with 1 or 3 games and similar conditions would be fair as well.
Cajunmaster Cajunmaster 11/29/2016 08:18
Interesting idea and comments. A curve ball: why not reexamine the significance of a drawn game and consider going back to any of the 19th century approaches, including replaying (the same day?) the game with the players keeping the same colors? Etc.
caliche2016 caliche2016 11/29/2016 08:05
@ehsfrac Fully agree with your opinion, I mean being the current champion should be at least worth something, right? Somebody wrote that because the champion got the title two years ago (e.g.) he has to prove he is better than the current challenger, nonsense! The champion is the champion until dethroned!

On the other hand, I agree with GM Seirawan in that we should not mix different chess formats, as classical chess and rapid or (even worst) blitz. This tie-break system is completely absurd.

The 13th game idea is interesting but does not sound appropriate for such a high level event, besides a 13 games match is still too short for such a serious competition. From that point of view, I think you are right when you said "Perhaps a middle-ground of 18 games should be considered?"

Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 11/29/2016 08:04
@ imdvb_8793 : I find your proposal quite interesting. At first sight, I don't see any problem in it.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 11/29/2016 07:58
An idea, for a first tiebreaker : to break down, in case of a tie, the 12 games match into six successive "virtual" 2 games matches (games 1-2, 2-3, and so on). And the first winner of one of these "two games matches" would be the winner of the World Championship.

In the case of the Carlsen - Karjakin match, for exemple, Karjakin would be considered the winner, because he won the "7-8 games match". But it is only an example, and it is quite possible that the match would have followed a different course if this rule had been implemented...

A subsidiary advantage would be that, when a "virtual two games mini-match" would have been won by a player, the match could not go anymore into rapid and blitz tiebreaks, and one or the other players would necessarily have to win, because he couldn't count on the playoffs anymore, in this case. For exemple, in the 12th game of the Carlsen - Karjakin game, Carlsen would have had to win this game to win the match, and we wouldn't have had a short draw in this game.

In the three exemples of a World Championship match which was followed by a playoff, two of them would have been "solved" by this rule, without any need of a playoff (Kramnik would have directly won against Topalov, and it would have been the same for Karjakin against Carlsen).

The result, with this rule, would be that the 4 "rapid games" match would be replaced in effect by a 2 "classical games" match. And the 4 "rapid games" match would be played only if this new playoff wouldn't permit to decide between the two players. So, in many cases, the "Classical" World Championship wouldn't be decided by Rapid or Blitz games anymore, which could seem more logical...
Omoplata Omoplata 11/29/2016 07:58
My preference is 20 to 24 games where the champion retains the title if the match is drawn. This puts the onus on the challenger to actually beat the champion, and is long enough to allow players to play less defensively.
englishplayer englishplayer 11/29/2016 07:50
This game would have been better off as an all or nothing for at least one of the players. I agree with Yasser on almost every point. A short, dull draw in the last game makes no sense. I'd prefer it be 24 games with the tie score going to the champion. 12 games are too short. A playoff with shorter time controls to get a decisive result doesn't make sense when there is a separate championship title for this other time control. A final game where a player has to play for a win no matter what adds so much to the drama and that attracts the general public.
imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 11/29/2016 07:47
Oh, by "draw odds" in the case of my proposed solution I mean "tie odds" - whoever won the Candidates would be the winner of the title in case of a 6-6 tie in the match.
imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 11/29/2016 07:31
"Chess match preparation has become so highly evolved that playing fewer games than in the old days is just counter intuitive."

Completely agree with this, by the way. I'm all for a longer match, but, let's face it, that's not the direction things move in modern times, unfortunately...
NiceChappie NiceChappie 11/29/2016 07:24
Absorbing article, Seiwaran. Completely agree with your critique.
A match played over 18, ideally 24 games, with the incumbent retaining the title in the event of a draw.
WinXP2002 WinXP2002 11/29/2016 07:22
The short draw was "a dud of today" only to chess players but not to the general public. The number of games, be it 12, 18 or 24, doesn't eliminate a tied score. The argument that rapid or blitz should not decide the championship hinges its validity on nostalgia — nothing more. The current system (not ideal) is pragmatic because it ends as scheduled. Furthermore, it declares the winner by competition: equal in classical, maybe equal still in rapid but alas one triumphs over the other in blitz. As far as the general public, it suffices to them that one is crowned World Champion.
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 11/29/2016 07:21
That the champion keeps the title in case of equality is more unfair than breaking the tie by a 4-games rapid chess tournament. In case of equality, the champion does not show any superiority. There is that excellent reason for which in no other sports or games of my knowledge, a champion remains a champion after a tie in the finals.

A 4-games rapid chess tie-break gives a better idea of the best player than a single 13th game. Rapid chess is not that far from classical chess, and 4 games is more representative than one. 25min/10 sec - you can get real chess. Not a blitz.

My proposed solution. If equal after 12 classical games - mini-match of 4 rapids - as currently, which is good. If still equal after this mini-match of rapids, rest day and then other mini-match of 4 rapids, and so on until we have a winner. It should not take that long to break the tie.

And the champion would not be determined by a 2-games blitz match or by a single Armageddon game.

And each mini-match would be followed with high interest because at each one of them, the champion could be determined.

An 18-games match: well, it could be equal after 18 games also. And if a player has one more win after 18 games - the superiority of that player is not that blatant. Let us say that this one more win occurred after 12 games. I think that a 4-games rapid chess match after 12 games would still have been more representative of the chess ability of the players than the single more win in classical chess between games 12 and 18. And in other matches, you may have a clear domination in 12 games.
Semyorka Semyorka 11/29/2016 07:20
An uneven number of games is a good idea when the reigning world champion starts with black at game 1. So no drawing of lots at all, and no abnormal switch of colors during the match. When after the ultimate last game the score would still be even, the WC keeps the title. That is the advantage of the reigning WC. As a compensation for this advantage the challenger has one more game with the white colors.
imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 11/29/2016 07:19
This seems to give a bit too much of an advantage to the player drawing black in the last game. (Especially given the results of this, and other, recent World Championship matches, in which winning with white has proved far more difficult than drawing with black. And it would probably be even more difficult in a must-win situation under the most extreme pressure. It's just too much...)

I do have an alternative to offer, I'm not just criticizing for the sake of criticizing... I've always thought the most simple and fair solution applicable to the current situation would be the following: That the World Champion join seven others in the Candidates Tournament (renamed accordingly, perhaps), but still be seeded into the ensuing title match. Whoever wins the Candidates gets draw odds in case of a 6-6 tie in the match, irrespective of whether that's the reigning champion or someone else - which is, obviously, a very big advantage, worth fighting for, in addition to the prize money and, for all but the champion, the right to actually play the match. If the champion wins, of course, the second place finisher becomes the challenger. That would be it, in short... This way, classical chess decides everything, the Candidates loses none of its luster, but rather even gains in importance, and there's no chance of a short draw in the last game of the match, and far less of a chance for each of the other games of said match.

There might be some practical reason why this wouldn't work, one that escapes me - but that's why there's a comments section! :) Feedback welcomed!...
rehsupdoow rehsupdoow 11/29/2016 07:19
I'm with Seirawan; I hate the classical chess championship being decided by something other than classical chess.

I don't like the 13th game option however; I feel it should be at least 16 and preferably 18 so that a loss of one or two games isn't a virtual death sentence.

And the current champ should have draw-odds for the match. That is, the challenger must actually be able to beat him to become the new champ. ;-)
kaimiddleton kaimiddleton 11/29/2016 07:16
Easy! If tied after 12 games, then it's time for chess boxing.
moronzevich moronzevich 11/29/2016 07:09
18 games for sure, as long as 16 aren't draws.
Draw odds, hmm, I just woke up so I want to mull this over a little bit, but as I've only recently cracked Bronstein's Sorcerer's Apprentice, ... my first instinct is to be wary of this part.
rabid rabid 11/29/2016 07:05
and kill the rest day between games 11 and 12 (as it stands now carlsen got 4 rest days to prepare with white, karjakin only 3)
* see my prior comment
itizi itizi 11/29/2016 06:59
Botvinnik vs Bronstein 1951 was tied at 12 all, and Botvinnik therefore kept the title. I don't remember any controversy over this at the time, and it still seems the best compromise now, although maybe best of 18 as suggested rather than 24.
Great_Scot Great_Scot 11/29/2016 06:54
To me, a much better idea would be to play the rapid and blitz tiebreaks FIRST. The classical match is then played as normal, but both players know throughout the match who will win in event of a tie, forcing a greater effort to play lively chess.
chessstudent007 chessstudent007 11/29/2016 06:51
By no means I am chess expert and most certainly no way close to Mr. Yasser Seirawan. The solution proposed assumes that somehow player with black pieces has disadvantage. Do you think this is still the case? With the opening analyzed at 20+ depth these days how much of an advantage does player with white pieces has over the player with black pieces? Most of the top level games run pretty much equal for opening phase of the game. Do you think that in case of tie there may be somehow possibility to incorporate the Quality aspect of the game? Dont know exactly how this is to be proved... but just a thought... say going by the performance rating?
Zencognito Zencognito 11/29/2016 06:48
I have a different idea. If after 12 games the match is a draw, the title then goes to both players as co-champions, as they've both earned it.
Until the next championship, the old world champion is called the major champion, and his prior challenger is the minor champion.
The minor champion would still be required to go through the candidates in the next cycle (with one bye) to earn the right to play again.
Not that it would happen often, but it makes more sense than deciding the classical championship by rapid or blitz games, for this ignores the worthy accomplishment of drawing the world champion in classical play.
rabid rabid 11/29/2016 06:38
sounds great; with one caveat
why play a 13th game at all if a player trails by a point after 12 games?
the 13th game should only be invoked in the event of a 6-6 tie
KrushonIrina KrushonIrina 11/29/2016 06:37
After 12 games, stay in classical mode, but just go to two-game sudden death (or sudden victory for you optimists).
The next player to win a game simply has to "defend" that win in one subsequent game, by at least drawing.

A little like tennis. But it maintains the classical mode and maintains the drama.