A brand new tiebreak format in Wijk aan Zee

by ChessBase
1/13/2022 – The first super-tournament of the year is about to kick off, and the organizers have just announced that they will be using a new tiebreak system. After last year’s edition finished with an unpleasant controversy, the organizers of the Tata Steel Masters have decided to avoid chaotic time scrambles to break a potential tie for first place. | Photo: Official website

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Dealing with the problem

Going into the last round of last year’s Tata Steel Masters, three players stood a half point behind sole leader Anish Giri. Fabiano Caruana, Jorden van Foreest and Alireza Firouzja needed a win to catch up with the in-form Dutch number one. Caruana drew Aryan Tari and Van Foreest took down Nils Grandelius, while Firouzja had a better position with the white pieces against Radoslaw Wojtaszek.

By then, the spectators and players that had already finished their games knew that even if Firouzja won his game and joined the leaders, Giri and Van Foreest would be the ones participating in a playoff as they had better tiebreak scores. We do not know whether Firouzja was aware of this, but while he was still trying to convert a sharp position into a win, the arbiters asked him and Wojtaszek to move to another board in order for the Dutchmen to occupy centre stage.

As shown in the official webcams, Firouzja was visibly upset when they asked him to move to another board, as he either thought he still had chances to reach a playoff or was trying to finish a remarkable event with a win over a fellow top grandmaster.

In the end, the then 17-year-old finished his game while Giri and Van Foreest were already playing blitz, and only managed to get a half point in his last-round encounter.

Radoslaw Wojtaszek, Alireza Firouzja

Radoslaw Wojtaszek facing the brilliant Alireza Firouzja | Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit

A public apology by the organizers followed shortly:

Chief arbiter Pavel Votruba offered a more detailed explanation of what had transpired in an open letter published by chess.com.

Given these circumstances, and the fact that Magnus Carlsen recently complained about a similar tiebreak rule at the World Rapid Championship in Warsaw, the organizers have decided to fully adjust the tiebreak rules for this year’s edition.

Unfortunately, Firouzja will not participate this year (he asked for compensation for the 2021 incident and was not satisfied with the financial offer made by the organizers), but with the presence of Carlsen, Caruana, Giri and a host of young talents, we still expect to be thoroughly entertained by the long-standing event.


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The new tiebreak format

The Tata Steel Chess Tournament organization has introduced a new tiebreak format. There are two reasons for this change:

  1. We want to avoid flying pieces, as seen in several Armageddon games
  2. If more than two players end in first place, we want to allow all of them to participate in the tiebreak

Tiebreak regulations Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2022

A. General

  1. If the top two or more players score the same number of points in the Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2022, a tiebreak to determine the tournament winner will be played. All players with this highest score will participate in the tiebreak games. Irrespective of the outcome, the prize money will be divided equally among all the players in the tiebreak.
  2. Tiebreak games are only played to determine the tournament winner. All other players (except the winner) in the tiebreak will share second place. As soon as there is a clear winner, other scheduled tiebreak games will no longer be played.
  3. The tiebreak games will be played as soon as possible after all (potential) players in the tiebreak games have finished their games in the main tournament. Every player will have a minimum rest period of 30 minutes before the start of the tiebreak games.
  4. In principle, there will not be a rest period between tiebreak games, i.e. the next games will be played as soon as possible. However, the chief arbiter may decide on granting a limited rest period.
  5. The tiebreak games will be played in the main tournament hall if all games in the Tata Steel Masters and Tata Steel Challengers section have finished. Otherwise, an alternative tournament room will be used.

B. Time control

  1. The time control of the tiebreak games for both players is 3 minutes with a 2 seconds increment per move as of the first move, with an exception for ‘sudden death’ tiebreak games.
  2. The time control of the ‘sudden death’ tiebreak games (see paragraph C.2) is 2½ minutes for white and 3 minutes for black with a 2 seconds increment per move as of the first move for both players.

The playing schedule of the tiebreak games depends on the number of players in the tiebreak games (see paragraphs C to F). If the top two or more players score the same number of points after a series of tiebreak games, these players will advance to the next series of tiebreak games, following the relevant schedule related to the number of remaining players (see paragraphs C to F).

C. Two players

If there are two players in the tiebreak, the following playing schedule will apply:

  1. A play-off match of two games will be played. A drawing of lots will decide which player will start with white.
  2. If the play-off match as per section 1 above results in a tie, a ‘sudden death’ game will be played. If this game is a draw, the next ‘sudden death’ game will be played. This will continue until a player wins a game. A drawing of lots will decide which player will start with white. The other player will play white in the next two ‘sudden death’ games. After three ‘sudden death games’ the first player will play white in the next two games, and so on.

D. Three players

If there are three players in the tiebreak, the following playing schedule will apply:

  1. A single round robin tournament (following the Berger tables) will be played. A drawing of lots will decide the pairing numbers.
  2. If there is a tie with three players in the play-off tournament as per section 1 above, a new single round robin tournament will be played, with the colours reversed.
  3. If there is a tie with three players in the play-off tournament as per section 2 above, a new single round robin will be played according to section 1 (and 2) above. This continues until one or two player(s) win(s) the play-off tournament.
  4. If there is a tie with two players in the play-off tournament as per section 1 to 3 above, the tie break games continue according to paragraph C above.

E. Four players

If there are four players in the tiebreak, the following playing schedule will apply:

  1. Two semi-final play-off matches will be played simultaneously, following the play-off match schedule as per paragraph C.
  2. The pairings of the play-off matches will be based on the following criteria related to the final standings of the main tournament, where number 1 will play against number 4 and number 2 will play against number 3:
  3. the mutual result,
  4. the Sonneborn-Berger score,
  5. the player with more games with black,
  6. drawing of lots.
  7. The two winners of the semi-final play-off matches will play a final play-off match, following the play-off match schedule as per paragraph C.

F. Five or more players

If there are five or more players in the tiebreak, the following playing schedule will apply:

  1. A single round robin tournament (following the Berger tables) will be played. A drawing of lots will decide the pairing numbers.
  2. If there is a tie with all players in the play-off tournament as per section 1 above, a new single round robin tournament will be played, with the colours reversed.
  3. If there is a tie with all players in the play-off tournament as per section 2 above, a new single round robin will be played according to section 1 (and 2) above. This continues until not all players have the same score after the play-off tournament.
  4. If there is a tie with five or more (but not all) players in the play-off tournament as per section 1 to 3 above, a new single round robin tournament will be played according to section 1 (to 3) above.
  5. If there is a tie with two, three or four players in the play-off tournament as per section 1 to 3 above, the tie break games continue according to paragraphs C to E above.

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fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 1/21/2022 11:31
@MauvaisFou , the majority of positions in chess960 is less favorable to white than the standard starting setup.

In addition, it's easily remedied - just select from a smaller pool of positions. There are other solutions.

Fischer Random will eventually supersede regular chess. The popularity just continues to grow. Practically all the GMs have favorable things to say about it.
Jacob woge Jacob woge 1/14/2022 10:37
"Classical chess is dead."

Why not play bughouse then, both players controlling two boards. Wouldn't that be fun. Lots of memorable games.
MauvaisFou MauvaisFou 1/14/2022 09:50
@Vidmar : Well smashed. I totally agree.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 1/14/2022 08:31
Some people care about a single winner, I (and at least two others) don't. So I guess it's who pays, decides.
ConwyCastle ConwyCastle 1/14/2022 08:17
Exactly - who cares about having a single winner? Shared first is fine.
Jacob woge Jacob woge 1/14/2022 05:40
What happened to shared first?
Vidmar Vidmar 1/14/2022 04:10
Fischer Random is to chess what 52 card pick-up is to bridge.
Serse Serse 1/14/2022 01:34
@lajosarpad Well smashed. I totally agree.
Mr TambourineMan Mr TambourineMan 1/14/2022 12:45
I'm totally in favor of avoiding chaotic time scrambles. A suggestion is to play a Rapid or Blitz tournament before the Classical tournament so we get a list of who is first, second, third and so on. Then if two or more players ends upp with the same points in the final scooring, we already know who will come first, second and so on.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 1/14/2022 10:05
@saturn23 you do not have to watch it if you are not interested. But the fact that you are not interested in chess does not mean that chess is dead. I'm interested in chess and I accept that you prefer some variants, like Fischer random instead of chess. I'm not interested in Fischer random. So why don't we agree that both chess and Fischer random has a place in this world and you will watch Fischer random and I will watch chess?
MauvaisFou MauvaisFou 1/14/2022 09:06
Saturn, you do not seem to understand that some random starting positions are very favorable to one camp. And if you play the two games with the same starting position, then you miss the surprise effect. I only agree with you on the fact that Armageddon is the worst possible thing, especially for a WC.
MauvaisFou MauvaisFou 1/14/2022 09:01
Chess is NOT dead, real chess players are still ready to watch long games.
These tie-breaks are not worse than others, but I still find it inelegant to start before all games are finished.
Why not devote the following day to the tie-breaks ?
cdroid cdroid 1/14/2022 08:23
One idea of breaking the tie is just to call an engine, let it analyze all games of players involved in the tie, the player with minimum error will be the winner.
Keshava Keshava 1/14/2022 07:31
The 'future of chess' will always be what the sponsors are willing to throw hundreds of thousands of dollars at. Rapid chess is getting good sponsorship but classical chess still generates the most money from sponsors because they like their brand associated with something that is 'classic'. This is especially true with the Classical World Championship which has a minimum $2 million dollar prize fund.
Denix Denix 1/14/2022 07:07
This is good for now, but complaints will come again later and this is natural. All Tiebreak Rules are good if made clear before the start of the tournament. Players should have agreed to the tiebreak rules before playing in round 1.
saturn23 saturn23 1/14/2022 01:12
These rules are way too complicated. People don't want to understand that chess needs to adapt. Classical chess is dead. I don't want to watch 5-6 hours of chess where the players make 20-25 computer moves. The future of chess should be Fischer Random with a game lasting at most 2-2.5 hours. Each round will consist of two Fischer Random games where each player gets to play white once. If 2 or more players finish the tournament on the first place they will all be considered co-champions. It's weird to decide the fate of a classical chess tournament with blitz and Armageddon.
Leavenfish Leavenfish 1/13/2022 11:54
Talk about 'bending over backwards'...
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