What they thought of draws in the late 19th century
I first published this article in early 2010 but the subject matter is sufficiently topical and relevant to merit it being reproduced yet one more time.
The 2017 London Chess Classic has many fans of the game up in arms with the astonishing 95% draw rate. Are the players colluding against the organizers or is it the nature of the game itself that favours a well contested struggle to end in a draw?
Few people today know that the first serious attempt to deal with the question of the draw took place in London during the preparations of the London 1883 International Chess Tournament. The wisest men of the day were summoned by Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria’s youngest son, to try to ‘solve’ once and for all the question of the draw. Leopold was the principal patron of the tournament.
The London 1883 tournament was the world’s first super-tournament by today’s fickle, exaggerated standards…though I somehow think that the tournament organizers of that day would have found this classification somewhat vainglorious…a truly great tournament should stand on its own merits. Today everything is about Elo.
London 1883 was a better tournament in those days than the Tal Memorial, or the Sinquefield Cup, is in today’s chess world. The players may change, the game naturally moves on with time, but the question of dominance remains the same.
The London International Chess Tournament of 1883 was held at the prestigious Victoria Hall in the Criterion. Some tidbits about the London International Chess Tournament of 1883, where the use of the chess clock was introduced for the first time in tournament play.
7. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays are days fixed for play, on each of which days every competitor, from the commencement till the termination of the Tournament, must play with the antagonist against whom he is drawn, during the hours for play.
8. Wednesdays and Saturdays are bye-days, but on those days all players who have made a drawn game must play again with each other, and should the game again be drawn they must play for a third time, when the draw will be final, and scored one half to each other. The first move will be taken alternately by each player in the second or third game under thse circumstances. All games unfinished on play-days must be played off on these bye-days, and when a player has to play out an unfinished game and a draw the former will have the precedence, but such player must play off the draw as soon as he has completed his unfinished game….
9. Play will commence daily at 12 noon, and continue till 5 pm. There will then be an adjournment of two hours, when play will be resumed until 11 pm. Throughout these hours of play, both on play-days and bye-days, one member of the Playing Committee will be present, to be referred to by the players in case of a dispute…
10. The time limit is fixed at 15 moves an hour, and will be regulated by stop-clock
11. The player who exceeds the time limit forfeits the game, which will be scored as as won by his opponent. …
12. The clock of the player who does not appear at the hour fixed for play , or after the adjournament, will be set in motion by the member of the Playing Committee present, and after a delay of one hour the game will be lost by the absentee under the time limit. If he arrives before the expiration of the hour he must make 15 moves in whatever interval of time is left at his disposal. Should neither player appear within one hour of the fixed time, the game will be counted as lost against both….
13. At the hour fixed for adjournment, the player whose turn it is to move must deliver his next move in writing , in a closed envelope, to the member of the Playing Committee present…Consultations and analysing moves on a chessboard during adjournaments are strictly prohibited, and any competitor proved guilty of the same will be expelled from the tournament, and will forfeit his entrance-fee and deposit.
14. All the games are the property of the International Tournament Committee. The winner of a game and the first player in a drawn game are bound to deliver , at latest on the second play-day, a correct legible copy of the same to the member of the Playing Committee present in the room. The non-compliance with this rule involves a penalty of 1pound, at the discretion of the Playing Committee.
15. Each player is bound in honour to play all his games with his full strength, and in behalf of other competitors no player is allowed to waive any exaction of a penalty, either under the rules of the Tournament or the general laws of Chess. All arrangements which may influence the final result of the Tournament , unless sanctioned by the Committee, are prohibited , and all parties proved guilty of the same will be expelled from the Tournament, with the forfeit of entrance fee and deposit.”
The Rule 8, above, caused a great deal of controversy before the tournament began. Many protested the idea that a drawn game counted for nothing and had to be replayed on a rest day. If the next game was also a draw, then it too had to be replayed,…but if finally the third game was again a draw then the point would be split evenly.
Continuing with excerpts from the introduction:
”As regards drawn games it was felt by all the members of the Sub-Committee who drew up the rules that the previous practice by which a drawn game was final and counted one half to each was most unfair to the strongest players, as it compelled them in effect to give the odds of the drawn games to the weaker competitors.
The latter would be perfectly satisfied with such a result against a leading master, while he could not afford to risk the loss of his position by drawing against one of the weaker antagonists, and in endeavouring to win in a drawing position might even lose the game.
The best remedy for the evil was to consider a drawn game , as it is called in French, a nullity, and to continueplaying till one or other won.
But as this would have entailed a greater expenditure of time than could be given to an International Contest, the compromise of accepting the third drawn game as final was agreed to , and experience has shown that the object which the Sub-Committee had in view, to give skill its fair advantage, was realized by the arrangement made.
It is a singular fact, considering the strong opposition that was afterwards raised to the scheme, that in the close discussion in committee on the Sub-Committee’s proposals a proposition made by one member that drawn games should be final, and count one half to each, failed at the time to find a seconder, and the scheme which the Sub-Committee had so much at heart was passed at the time with practical unanimity….”
”The prospectuses and rules for the tournament (ks) having been decided upon and published, the most urgent solicitations were made by a section of the English Chess players, supported by their partisans in the Chess Press, for the alteration of Rule 8 of the Programme, which had introduced the new principle for the treatment of drawn games.
A strong section of the Committee who had originally supported the scheme, were induced to become advocates of its opponents, and as Mr. Hirschfeld was at the time absent from England, the brunt of the battle in its defence fell on Mr. Minchin, who regarded it as a vital matter of principle whether the highest prizes should go to the highest skill, or an element of chance should be allowed to vitiate the truth of the test, and a second-class player by such means be enabled to carry off the highest honours.
He was able to show that no foreign expression of opinion adverse to Rule 8 had been elicited, and that while such was the case the Committee would stultify themselves by withdrawing terms published to the chessplayers of Europe in obedience to the dictation of a section of the English Chess community.
It was determined, therefore, to obtain the opinion of all probable competitors in the Major Tournament, and when this was received there was found to be such a preponderance of approval of the new system, that its strongest opponents on the Committee acknowledged that they could no longer propose its alteration.
”The experience of the Tournament has shown that the new plan answered its intended purpose, but to obviate the needless protraction of the contest it should on future occasions be modified in one important particular. Where two opponents have drawn, and are satisfied with that result, the draw should be allowed to be final, as it is mere pedantry, if not cruelty, to make those players play again for a second and third time with a moral certainty of arriving at the same result.
The object of the plan is to give skill its legitimate chance, and to save a first-class player from the necessity of playing to win a drawn game by allowing him a second and a third opportunity of showing his superiority.
Where two players are content to draw, no rules that the wit of man can devise can prevent their obtaining their purpose: the men are changed off rapidly, no attack is attempted on either side, and on the first decent opportunity a draw is offered, and accepted when the astonished spectator imagines that the real struggle is about to commence.
Numberless instances of this mode of proceeding will be found in the present Tournament. It certainly cannot be called Chess, but it cannot be prevented, and no possible advantage is gained by requiring the operation to be done through thrice instead of once.
The sole reason for which I supported Rule 8 in committee was my conviction that such a system was necessary in a Tournament where the prizes were higher than had ever before been contended for, and where the championship of the Chess world was at stake, to insure the highest prizes really falling to the best players.
One opponent of Rule 8 naively expressed his objection to it on the ground that it crushed the weak. I consider it our duty to devise rules that should most effectually crush the weak, and discover by selection the strongest….”
End of Excerpts
What ever your opinion might be regarding draws and how to effectively deal with them, I for one am delighted that those rules were in place during the London tournament! Some of the prettiest games of chess were played in that tournament.
On 4th of May 1883 Blackburne and Zukertort played to a draw, and therefore they had to replay the game on the following day (5th of May), and what a magificent game was played!
Steinitz himself wrote ”…one of the most noble combinations conceived over the chessboard…one of the most brilliant games on record.”
As a direct result of the brilliant success of Zukertort in London, a world title match was later organized between himself and Steinitz for the World Title.
Johannes Hermann Zukertort was an extra-ordinary human being. He spoke 14 languages! He filled his relatively short life with a wide range of other achievements : as a soldier, musician, linguist, journalist and political activist.
Zukertort died at age 46 of a cerebral hemorrage, after just finishing a chess game. Undoubtedly one of the most brilliant players in the history of chess. The following notice appeared shortly after the death of Dr. Zukertort:
June 24th, 1888.
He was also noted for heavy drinking of Scotch whisky, especially during exhibition games, and this became the subject of many anecdotes. However he occasionally became violent when drunk, and his victims included other chess players.”-wikipedia
Photo at header of article is of the Café de la Régence, Paris, 1874. “Dessin de M.Horsin-Déon d’après photographies / Graveur L.Chapon Le Monde Illustré du 7 mars 1874”