The Path of Least Resistance…
How FIDE has Made Winning Easier!
I was going to write a short blurb about Ian Nepomnatchi’s victory in the Moscow Grand Prix yesterday and perhaps include a game. Until I saw the official interview with Ian after knocking out his last round opponent, Alexander Grischuk.
What struck me most was that instead of rejoicing in victory, Ian was almost apologizing for it! True, enroute to his tournament win Ian had managed to win but once out of 8 games played at the ‘normal’ classic time control, but could it be that he did not feel like a real winner?
In any case, it was very perceptive of Ian to put some blame on FIDE’s rules – the system used to determine the winner:
Draws & Tie-breaks:
Why have things got out of hand?
The ‘problem’ of the drawn game and how to ‘remedy’ it has been a center of controversy since the first super-tournament was organized back in London 1883. In my opinion, the solution back then was a lot smarter than what FIDE is doing today.
The wisest men of the day (1883) 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 world’s first Super-Tournament…
I think that things started to get out of hand when chess politicians began to ‘tinker’ with the rules. Florencio Campomanes had been elected FIDE president for less than a year (1982) when it was decided to use the roulette table to break ties in the Candidates Matches!
This was used for the first (and only!) time in the Candidates match between Smyslov and Huebner in 1983. The match saw the regulation 10 games ending in a 5-5 score, each game very hard fought and no quick draws. There followed another 4 games (to break the tie) but these also ended in hard fought draws. The arbiter then had no choice but to follow the new rules and use the roulette table. Smyslov won and Huebner was sent packing.
While I believe that Campo might have been on to a good idea here, the truth is that Campo then just as quickly dropped it, for no good reason. In those first years of Campo’s presidency he made a disaster of many attempts to change the rules: for example,the Karpov vs Kasparov match of 1984 was to be an ‘unlimited’ match and quickly became a catastrophe, also to be unceremoniously dropped some months later.
Campo then resurrected the ‘Candidates Tournament’ in 1985 (and I had the honor to participate!) and then just 3 years later decided to eliminate it, replacing it with a series of mini-matches(!)
I also had the honor to play two of these matches (against Andrei Sokolov in 1988 and then against Artur Yussupov in 1989). The rules were 6 regulation games, and if the score was tied then another 2 games. If the score was then still tied, then a series of rapid and blitz games until a winner was decided.
This I think was the first time that non-classic time controls were used to decide the outcome of a match leading to the world championship.
But Campo did not stop there: he continued along a reckless path of constantly changing the rules and doing so without any real consultation or idea of where he was going. In 1990 the Interzonal became an Open tournament and after 1993 FIDE’s entire world championship cycle was paralyzed and came to a screeching halt when Kasparov and Short left FIDE and took the World Championship with them!
Then along came Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in 1995 and instead of trying to remedy the incredible damage done by Campo regarding the constantly world championship rules and formats, he turned them upside down!
Fast forward to today, and we have what we have: virtually every major qualifying event leading to the world title is being decided by blitz and rapid games! The players don’t fight anymore in the classic chess time controls, preferring to decide everything in the tiebreaks.
Witness the current World Champion, Magnus Carlsen:
In 2016, in the World Championship match in New York against Karjakin, Magnus won 1 game and lost 1 game in the 12 regulation classic time control games. Even worse in 2018 in London against Caruana: every single of the 12 regulation games were drawn, many without any real fight.
Never in the history of chess have we seen such lack of fighting! Can you imagine a tennis final between the #1 and #2 players in the world where neither player wants to hit the ball because…it is TOO risky! (The other side might hit it back and score!)
The Path of Least Resistance
One of the great principles of Nature is that Nature always chooses the path of least resistance. For example, the paths of the great rivers are carved thru the softest rock. And unfortunately, many human actions and behaviours also follow this principle.
As Nepo alluded to in the above excerpt, having the possiblility to decide the match in rapid and blitz games is the path of least resistance. The players need take absolutely no risk in the classic games.
I used to fault the players themselves for doing this, but today I have changed my view and I think the fault lies entirely on FIDE’s door step. The CONSTANT changing of the rules has made it necessary for the players to adapt and do things that protect their own interests.
I believe that we must go back several decades and we should eliminate all tiebreak systems that see rapid and blitz games used. For example, replacing it with the idea of using the roulette table of Campo.
If we can convince the players that it is riskier to play roulette than it is too fight in the classic games, then we will see much more fighting chess. As it is today, the rules that FIDE uses makes it riskier to play classic chess.