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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Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 11/29/2016 06:35
@ Jabbar : Yes, in a way, the Champion is supposed to be the best player on Earth. But the Challenger is only supposed to be the "best player on Earth after the Champion". And, in case of a tie, you would prefer "the best player on Earth after the Champion" to the Champion himself ??? I don't get it at all !!...
Joseph Toh Joseph Toh 11/29/2016 06:35
12 games match. Classical time control throughout. Match is divided into sets of 4 games, i.e. 3 sets. Any win in the first set of 4 games, scores as 1 point. Wins in the second set of 4 games, score 2 points ! :-) And, wins in the third set, score 3 points !! :-D The match gets more and more exciting for everyone as it progresses. Draws are irrelevant.
Example: 8 straight loses equals the last 4 wins. Tiebreak: Countback.
ShogShog ShogShog 11/29/2016 06:30
I would propose instead to keep 12 games and to adopt the cumulative system in case of tied match (= the sum of cumulative points for each player). With this system, thanks to his win in round 8, Karjakin would have been champion with 40pt versus 38pt for Carlsen. If still an equality after 12 games, then the player who drew first blood win (=the so called 'Han shoot first' rule :-) and in case of 12 draws, the champion keeps his title. Quite simple rules to understand...
abdekker abdekker 11/29/2016 06:29
I second this excellent idea from Seirawan. Deciding the World Championship in the lottery of rapid and blitz games does not feel right.
Martas Martas 11/29/2016 06:28
A coin flip which would give significant advantage for last game, I find it inappropriate for decisive match of world championship (for any sport). Current (rapid/blitz tiebreaks) and old (match draw odds for current champion) way is in my opinion better then coin flip.
Alternative would be bidding time for black - player with smaller bid would take black and his time for the game would be either according to his offer or according to offer of the opponent. Slightly weird side effect is the game would not be rated, but I find it better solution to coinflip. Solution is closer to classical games then rapir/blitz tiebreaks.
leop07 leop07 11/29/2016 06:26
GM Seirawan gave me another idea: Overtime, as in football, after 12 games the first decided game will finish the match. So, continue playing and staying in clasical format.
Jabbar Jabbar 11/29/2016 06:25
Supposedly, the champ is the "strongest" player on Earth. HE should prove it by beating the challenger. If he can't, the challenger becomes the champion.
DPLeo DPLeo 11/29/2016 06:24
I don't think the challenger should be at any disadvantage. The challenger earned the right to play the champion. So if the match ends in a draw there are 2 co-champions. As a result neither will sit out the next candidates cycle waiting for a new challenger. Instead they will be seeded 1 & 2 in the cycle and have to earn the right to play again for the title. The last 2 to come through the cycle play a championship match for the crown or co-crown.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 11/29/2016 06:16
@ J Nayer : "But I still think that the challenger has to beat the reigning world champion." If the Champion would have Black with draw odds for the 13th game, it would still be that ; the only "twist" is that, for this last game, the Challenger would have the slight advantage to have White, so, yes he would have to win, but with White, which would made it a little less difficult for him. But it isn't so different from the system that you prefer ; it just diminishes a little the Champion's advantage (and it appears to me as quite positive).
J Nayer J Nayer 11/29/2016 06:07
I do not agree with this proposal, although, for the rest, I agree with everything else GM Sereiwan has to say. I think we should have 18 games. If the result is even, the world champion retains his title. I find that very fair. The problem seems to be that people want to see blood. And as chess has become a commodity, organisers and FIDE also want to see blood. But I still think that the challenger has to beat the reigning world champion.
VincentM VincentM 11/29/2016 06:06
Why not play the tiebreaks BEFORE the "classical" match? It seems more fair: the final result is decided by classical play. If the loser of the tiebreaks can't win the "classical" match then he doesn't deserve to be crowned champion.
Jarl Carlander Jarl Carlander 11/29/2016 06:06
I like the proposal. I would make it fifteen games. But FIDE as a role never considers anything sensible. They are a criterion of silliness and ineptitude.
PCMorphy72 PCMorphy72 11/29/2016 05:59
For anyone who dislikes simple solutions (almost always trivial) to the draw problem and likes the direction that Yasser Seirawan suggests (a tie-breaking CLASSICAL CHESS game), please read the second part of this rather old article: https://sites.google.com/site/pcmorph72/articoli/wcc-cycle .
MaxMinus MaxMinus 11/29/2016 05:59
I don't see why it would be such a big deal to do a 24 game match. You might even consider a cycle of matches once every 2 years.
Having a match of 12 games, with the obvious and now unfolded problem of players being extra carefull from the start, is just ridiculous. Chess match preparation has become so highly evolved that playing fewer games than in the old days is just counter intuitive. Does FIDE want a champion who is best at the game, or one who's lucky with his opening choice?
jajalamapratapri jajalamapratapri 11/29/2016 05:57
When the match is tied the champ retains his title would be my preference.
Or have them share the title and next cycle have 2 challengers.
fixpont fixpont 11/29/2016 05:57
"“Mr. Viswanathan in 2008 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."

Because this explanation is much much better: "I won the Championship because i drew with black in the 13th game."

Really? I mean...really???
ZenPassant ZenPassant 11/29/2016 05:54
Simple solution: If a game ends in a draw, then it should be decided immediately by a blitz Armageddon game. That would end these appalling draws.
fightingchess fightingchess 11/29/2016 05:53
this must be done at the beginning of the match. one guy gets 7 whites and the other gets 6 whites. the one with 7 whites has to win the match and the one with 6 whites will be announced the winner if the match ends 6.5-6.5.
OdinsFather OdinsFather 11/29/2016 05:50
There is one problem with the 13 game match. The winner of the drawing of colours already has a match advantage, and in my opinion, no random component should be involved.

As some of the other commentators here have suggested, I like the idea of an 18 move match, where the incumbant champion retains the title in case of a 9-9 result.

Also, as suggested by amongst others GM Short, fewer rest days is also worth considering. 3 days play, one day rest seems like a sensible schedule. The schedule will take 24 days, compared to the current regime; 21 days.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 11/29/2016 05:42
Personnaly, I'm not really annoyed by a short game like the 12th game of the Carlsen - Karjakin match. If it isn't really interesting in itself, such a game is, for me, still very interesting as part of the match (notably in the "match strategy" aspect).

And I don't find either that the present tiebreaks are a big problem : It seems rather logical to me, so as to obtain a result more quickly, to "accelerate" the games, in order to have many games in a short period of time. It is quite "pragmatic", in fact. The only thing that I don't like at all is the "Armageddon" game (I find this type of games too artificial - for me, it isn't "real chess").

I think nonetheless that Yasser Seirawan's idea is also interesting. But not with a drawing of colors ; like "Globular", I think that to give "Black with draw odds" to the Champion would be much better (the idea being that, when you're the challenger you must prove that you can beat the Champion, and not simply play at his level - to imagine a match with 12 consecutive draws, and then the Challenger winning the match by drawing the 13th game with Black wouldn't seem at all satisfying, in my opinion).
PaulClerc PaulClerc 11/29/2016 05:40
Very thoughtful and insightful article from Mr Seirawan.
I am, when it comes to the huge disappointment caused by a quick draw, always reluctant to being quite critical. I understand it was here quite a bit of a cooler (being myself a Magnus fan, I would have liked to see him win it on the spot, or give it a go). Let us remember now how little we know about each party's team strategy. What did each of them want prior to the match? It if fair to say that Magnus believes to be the #1 player in the world, whilst on the contrary for Sergey to have survived through Svidler in the World Cup, and afterwards having convincingly won the candidates goes to show he is not here for fun. My point is there are far more people who think it a shame they didn't have a titanic battle on the last round than people who react to the satisfied looks on Magnus's face right after the game, calling it "cool" to play on his birthday, as if he had a way of bagging a third crown regardless of what could happen. This 12th game, so to speak, seems to be the visible part of the home prep of an exciting playoff to come. Whether this "randomizes" the final outcome is, after all, neither my nor quite a lot of people but two's problem.
mc1483 mc1483 11/29/2016 05:27
18 games, and the champion retains the title in case of 9-9. Problem solved.
ehsfrac ehsfrac 11/29/2016 05:25
Play 18 games with full time control.

The Challenger must win the match to knock out the Champion.

That means - to become the new World Champion you must actually BEAT the old champion.
OK - it's a little unfair to the Challenger, but the alternatives are worse. We don't want to have a marathon match and there has to be enough games to allow for at least one or two won games.
slickfish slickfish 11/29/2016 05:18
Yasser, the sad observation on the chess world (us!) is that your simple, very workable solution, would even be considered "radical". The current tie-break system, that we will see on Wednesday, might well lead to a farcical end to as you call it, the crown jewel event of chess.
KingRadio KingRadio 11/29/2016 05:11
I like this idea. I like Yasser's original thought of 18 games better (18 seems like a fair length, one loss is not unrecoverable with that number of games), but barring that, draw odds in game 13 is interesting.

Always wonderful see read Yasser's articles.
bbrodinsky bbrodinsky 11/29/2016 05:04
Seirawan always had great ideas (and a positively entertaining book that I read: Chess Duels). I like his idea. I say the champion gets his choice for game 13 (which I imagine would usually be a selection of Black). Of course, the best solution is to go back to 24 games, but that isn't going to happen.
Globular Globular 11/29/2016 04:56
I like this idea. I would add a slight variation. Instead of the colors being drawn randomly, give the reigning World Champion the "match draw odds" with black in the extra game. I feel the Champion should have *some* advantage in a match.
RHMLuck RHMLuck 11/29/2016 04:52
Draw odds in a game 13 doesn't seem right either at this level. Longer matches and a drawn match going to the champion still allows for more opportunity to see wins and forces the challenger to take some risks to win which probably results in more decisive games. I like having to reach a certain number of wins, but we've seen how that can fail, though coupling that with a maximum number of games limit might work.