World Championship – out of the box

by Frederic Friedel
9/19/2018 – The match for the highest title in chess is always very exciting. But it is somewhat spoiled if the result is a tie. In previous times it meant that the reigning champion kept his title; later a tiebreak was installed, with rapid chess games, blitz and then Armageddon. Not a satisfactory solution, with the championship not decided by classical games. Werner Keym, a chess problem composer, has an alternate solution, one that like most of his problems is out of the box. Tell us what you think.

Endgames of the World Champions from Fischer to Carlsen Endgames of the World Champions from Fischer to Carlsen

Let endgame expert Dr Karsten Müller show and explain the finesses of the world champions. Although they had different styles each and every one of them played the endgame exceptionally well, so take the opportunity to enjoy and learn from some of the best endgames in the history of chess.


A proposal

Recently we published an article on a unique personality: Werner Keym, a teacher (of French and Latin) and a musician, who in 2010 was elected Mayor of the German city of Meisenheim. In 2014, at 72, he retired from that post to devote more time to his family — he has five grandchildren — and to his hobbies. The foremost of them is problem chess. Keym sent me a signed copy of his most recent English language book, Chess Problems out of the box, which has given me immense enjoyment ever since. 

Werner Keym is one of the most creative problemists I know. He specializes in chess puzzles involving castling, en passant captures, pawn promotion and retrograde analysis. For many years I have enjoyed his problems, which I often encountered. Many have the advantage of not being prone to instant solution by chess engines. They force you to think. Go buy a copy of Chess Problems out of the box — it's just €10 / US $12 (plus €2/$4 for postage). Outrageously good value for money. 

On page 184 of his book, Keym makes an interesting out-of-the-box proposal regarding Chess World Championship matches. It was (partially) brought on by the 2016 match in New York. In the final twelfth game Magnus Carlsen, to the surprise of many, allowed a quick draw with the white pieces. It was a clever decision: the reigning World Champion felt that he was stronger than the Challenger, Sergey Karjakin, in rapid chess, and he proved that this was indeed the case by beating the Russian in the following tiebreak. "I have no objection to this outcome," Keym says. "There has to be a decisive outcome, and that can be achieved with rapid chess, blitz, Armageddon, etc. But it makes me feel uncomfortable that the World Championship in classical chess is finally decided by non-classical games..."

So Werner Keym has made a proposal to modify the way the Championship would be decided: if the result is a tie, don't have the reigning World Champion retain the title, and don't have rapid, blitz and Armageddon games, in the end, to decide who gets the crown. There is another way (we quote directly from his book)...

The Chess World Championship match should be decided neither by rapid chess nor by blitz chess nor by Armageddon, but instead by classic chess. 

Proposal: The competition consists of two parts, prologue and match.


  1. Who plays White in the first game is decided by lot.
  2. There are then 4 rapid chess games. If one player gets 2½ points, the prologue is over.
  3. Otherwise, the result is 2:2, and now 2 blitz chess games will follow. If one player gets 1½ points, the prologue is over.
  4. Otherwise, the result is 1:1, and now further blitz chess games will follow. The first win of a game will end the prologue.
  5. We now have a prologue winner and a prologue loser.


  1. There is an odd number of classic chess games (e.g. 13).
  2. The prologue loser plays White in the odd-numbered games (1, 3, 5, ... 13).
  3. If the prologue loser gets 7 points, he will be the champion.
  4. If the prologue winner gets 6½ points, he will be the champion.


  • The conditions for the champion and the challenger are equal.
  • The prologue will take 2-4 days.
  • The advantage for the prologue loser is that he has white in the first and the last game.
  • The advantage for the prologue winner is that he wins the championship in case of tie.
  • The championship match is decided by at most 13 classic chess games and there may be much excitement towards the end: in the 13th game the prologue loser has White and must win, whereas the prologue winner has Black and must draw.
  • The match will end by a fixed day. This is important for organizers, sponsors, media, and audience.


This proposal is interesting. In the prologue phase, a relatively minor condition for the main match is established, with rapid and blitz games. After that, the match is decided with classical games. It is easily possible that one of the players loses the prologue and gains the title by winning one more game than his opponent. A vaguely similar system was tried in the 2018 Altibox Norway Chess Tournament: it started with a blitz tournament which determined which five of the ten players would have one more game with White in the classic tournament. Fabiano Caruana qualified for the extra white game and won the tournament, ahead of Carlsen, Nakamura, Anand and Wesley So, all of whom had also got the extra White.

One possible modification of the Keym proposal: in closer keeping with the current system it might be better to start with just two rapid chess games and eleven (instead of 13) classical games. This could be the schedule:

  • Saturday: two rapid games, if necessary blitz deciders
  • Sunday: Rest day
  • Monday – Thursday: four games (1-4)
  • Friday: Rest day
  • Saturday – Tuesday: four games (5-8)
  • Wednesday: Rest day
  • Thursday – Saturday: three games (9-11)
  • Sunday: closing ceremony

The match would last two weeks, and in the final (11th) game, if it is necessary, White would need to win, while Black could keep or win the title with a draw. But the outcome would be decided in classical chess.

Naturally, it is of special interest to know what our readers — and chess experts around the world — think of this proposal. Please use our feedback section below to express your views.


Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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