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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HappyGrandPatzer HappyGrandPatzer 9/19/2018 06:53
Don't use games (rapid or blitz or Armageddon) as tiebreakers. Use rules as tiebreaker, 10 levels deep if necessary.
Crystalman Crystalman 9/19/2018 06:39
I believe that the World Championship shouldn't be modified to a odd number of games.

I believe that maybe with 16 games the match will be decided already.

In case of tie I don't like tiebreaks with rapid and blitz, however is beneficial for the organizers for the level of excitement (like a penal definition in soccer).

In case of tie I would recommend that the champion keeps the title. Carlsen beat Anand convincingly in both matches. Karjakin tied with Carlsen so I believe he didn't deserve the title or the tiebreak.
sotovkin sotovkin 9/19/2018 06:07
Chessbase! What?!!

This decides a classical match, and influences *THE WHOLE THING* with rapid and possibly blitz games at the "prologue" instead of the match.

Real solutions are as follows:

1. FIDE modernizes it's organization and gets real sponsors. Then it is *good* if the match keeps going on - money will be made with each game on advertising commitments. Look at the NBA playoffs - everyone involved wants more games.

And don't put the cart before the horse. These complicated match reals are prohibiting sponsors from coming on in the first place.

2. Until then, when venue time is limited - keep it simple and honest. Set number of games 12, 16, 24 you pick. Champion must be beaten to have their Title taken. A drawn match does not forfeit the crown.

Rapid, Blitz, or Ping Pong does not decide the Classical Chess Championship. Done.
melante melante 9/19/2018 04:59
I like the idea in principle but I also agree with rolyata47 and his concerns.
The rule the current champion retains the title in case of a drawn match has its logic (the challenger needs to win to be proven worthy of the title) and nobody really complained in the past but 12 games are not enough for a "proper" match...

IMHO, I would have 15 games, champion retains the title in case of a tie but the challenger has one extra white to compensate for this in a relatively short match. No rapid/blitz craziness at the end: best to lose because failing to win the actual match than because of making the last blunder in a blitz armageddon game that has little to do with chess as it is all based on nerves.
temujin64 temujin64 9/19/2018 04:50
Why must there be a winner? Chess, after all, should end in a draw. Forget all of this rapid and blitz nonsense unless you want to have world champions at classical, rapid and blitz time controls. For the classical or long time control world championship the following proposal is simple and makes the most sense: odd number of games, say 15, I think 12 or 13 is too few, the challenger has an extra white and is white in all of the odd number games; the champion has draw odds. It is not perfect. I believe draw odds is more of an advantage than an extra white, but it gives the challenger something.
kommissar kommissar 9/19/2018 04:49
I wish they would go back to 24-game matches with the champion keeping the title in the event of a 12-12 tie. With 24 games a tied outcome is less likely (even if historically not uncommon), the stronger player is more likely to prevail, and we get more chess!
Achse Achse 9/19/2018 04:37
Lets imagine for some reason that both players feel confident about winning with the extra white pieces, say due to good novelties up the sleeve on white side during the prep etc. Its possible that the prologue then turns into a charade where one/both players are trying to lose to get the advantage. Imagine the helpmates ! The condition should be that the winner of the prologue gets to choose if he/she wants to start with the white pieces or have the half point odds.
rolyata47 rolyata47 9/19/2018 04:12
This proposal still decides the championship, in the case of a tie, on rapid and blitz games. It's just that the rapid and blitz games come before the match rather than after. I don't see how it avoids the issue that it sets out to avoid. The real question is whether it's better to have the rapid and blitz games before the match, or after the match, to decide a tie. It seems undesirable to me to have the rapid and blitz games precede the match. I think that they would adversely affect the mood during the match for the prologue loser. It might even demoralize the prologue loser. It would certainly affect the strategies of both players. I think it's better to have the rapid and blitz games after the match, that way both players can enter the match on equal terms (as opposed to the unequal terms suggested by a prologue loser and a prologue winner, where one player is more desperate to win). And to be honest, rapid and blitz are exciting, and are becoming more and more a part of the game. One of the most exciting games of the 2016 match was a blitz (or was it rapid?) game, where Carlsen conjured a beautiful checkmate at the end.
americo64 americo64 9/19/2018 04:09
why not 3 points for each won game? and who wins more games with the black pieces is the champion? also not draws before 25 moves?
Logos Logos 9/19/2018 03:34
I like the proposal - it contains an interesting idea by setting the "tiebreak" (or "prologue") ahead of the classical match. One challenge with the proposal is that at the top level these days, it is harder to win with white ("The advantage for the prologue loser is that he has white in the first and the last game"). I am not sure if having white at the top level is as big as it used to be; otherwise, the proposal contains ideas worth considering.
GrayDuck GrayDuck 9/19/2018 02:50
The idea that the World Chess Championship is the "World Championship in classical chess" was debunked on Chessbase long ago by Maurice Ashley. The term "classical world championship" was created to differentiate the title from the FIDE world championship, not because of the speed of play. With that blunder as its basis, the proposal does not deserve much consideration.
Marblerevealer Marblerevealer 9/19/2018 02:37
Why not simplify it by lifting out the tiebreaks and move them ahead of the match as a separate event? So when the match starts the tiebreak winner has been decided. The tiebreak event could be, and maybe should be, played a long time before the match, and not necessarily by the same organizer as for the actual match. I am sure there would always be interest to organize such a rapid-blitz-armageddon decider, a teaser for the upcoming match that may or may not have importance for the match itself.