How to Make the World Chess Championship Games Less Boring

For anyone who’s following the World Classical Chess Championship it’s obvious that some of the games are incredibly boring. Sure there have been quite a few interesting games as well, but there is one thing that is generally clear in nearly all of the games:

The players take very little risk.

This, just like the Candidates Matches that no longer exist, can be attributed to one thing. The existence of the rapid tiebreak matches.

I think that just one relatively controversial rule adjustment could make the matches drastically more interesting.

Just as in the 20th century, the Champion should retain the title on a drawn match.

There should be no rapid tiebreak. If you want the title you need to beat the reigning champion. All of the most deserving World Champions throughout this game’s great history have managed to do so, and I don’t agree with giving anyone the chance to become World Chess Championship by tying a Classical match and then winning some rapid games.

Here are the reasons why I think this should be the rule:

  1. At every moment in the match, someone will be behind on the scoreboard. When someone is behind, that player cannot play the most boring openings and moves imaginable game after game. Instead every single draw specifically hurts someone and there is incentive for them to fight harder every game.
  2. It is much fan friendlier to put the players in a situation where they have to fight. No one is happy to pay a lot of money for tickets to this final game, and see the game fizzle out into a 30 move draw.
  3. I just find it unseemly that any player could join the ranks of the great past champions without winning the Classical Match. I’m going to say this, and it’s not going to sound nice, but Sergey Karjakin does not deserve to be World Champion.He does not belong in the category of Alekhine, Capablanca, Kramnik, or any other of the number of the great champions who had to knock off someone who was thought to be nearly unbeatable. Even Euwe, who is considered one of the weakest World Champions, beat the great Alekhine. If Karjakin wins the rapid playoff, which he probably won’t, I personally consider it a bit of a farce. Yes he has played solid and good chess, but holding someone to a drawn match over 12 games does not mean you should be the World Champion of chess. You could say the same thing about Magnus Carlsen, but Magnus has clearly earned his right to be considered one of the elite players of all time. He has beaten Anand decisively in two matches. If you want to be a chess legend, you need to beat the Champion.

The counterpoint is that this gives too big of an advantage to the defending champion. But what is wrong with that? The title of World Champion carries such major historical importance and in nearly all cases was achieved by decisively defeating the current champion. I don’t want this title lineage marred by someone who clearly hasn’t been able to achieve what the previous World Champions have.

I know this may sound like an odd viewpoint coming from someone who is a big supporter of rapid chess, but I take the World Championship and the history of the title very seriously. Kasparov didn’t get the title on a tie, he had to win a match against Karpov, and he worked his ass off to do that.

I am rooting hard for Magnus Carlsen tomorrow because I think that allowing Sergey Karjakin to become the Classical Chess World Champion by winning one single game out of twelve is a mockery to the title and the great lineage of Champions.

But no matter who wins, please bring back draw odds for the Champion. It will guarantee more interesting chess and also a more deserving World Championship title holder.

16 thoughts on “How to Make the World Chess Championship Games Less Boring

  1. Greg, I basically agree with your article. Though, we have to consider, that Karjakin is one of best defenders of nowadays, if not the very best. Is important to play “interesting matches” for fans, or strong tactical battles with as little mistakes, as possible? Hard to judge, but it seems, that second option brings much more success today.

    In the future, rules should be definitely changed. At least Sofia rule should be applied, and maybe also draw should mean, that reigning champion will hold his title, but I don`t agree, that Karjakin`s possible win will be undeserved.

    I don`t wanna meddle into politics, but it`s the same, as with Trump. According to rules given before competition (=election), Trump wins, and only thing, that can be changed are rules for next elections. And if Karjakin will win according to rules given before final (it means, that after indecisive result after 12 games rapid games are played), we should respect Karjakin as the new world champion.

    But I hope, that at least rapid games will be much more interesting. 🙂

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  2. In some sense, the match (no one takes risks when the score is tied) is a macrocosm of the typical modern game (no one takes risks when the position is nearly equal).

    it’s been said before, but changing chess so that the mutually-agreeable “draw” is not a valid result (e.g. give black draw odds, and White some sort of advantage by clock or opening ballot) would massively change the incentives, though of course would likely also massively reconstitute “chess” (elite level) as we know it.

    Some such discussion comes up every time a draw-fest occurs, but there’s never been enough of a kick in that direction to force any changes. The closest experiment I can think of was Basque Chess in 2011 (Donostia), though that had faster and faster time controls if the 2-game simul was tied (it would make more sense game-theoretically to have 4 or 5 simul games with White the same player in each, and Black having overall draw odds). Something like correspondence chess, where draw rates are 90% and most decisive games are dropouts, has looked into the more drastic routes though.

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    • I kind of like this idea (not completely seriously, but it does sound fun). We can make it like Bid-A-Note in Name-That-Tune.

      “I can beat you (in a match) if I get White in 10 straight games (you get draw odds).”
      “Well, I can beat you if I get White in 7 straight games.”
      “OK, I’ll say six.”
      “Five.”
      “Let’s play.”

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      • More workable would be to have a 14 game schedule say, one player gets White every game, and they bid at the opening ceremony as to how many points they would score. Probably +1 is the “right” bid among equals (25 Elo, when stats say White is about 35), but +2 is possible. Still, the effect of having one player be White every game would not be the best for spectators in my opinion. The “tennis” solution (3 sets of 5 games each, switching up colors the first two WWWWW:BBBBB) might work, though if the sets end 2-0 it’s not so interesting, and logistically more difficult. Other sports handle best-of-X that don’t go the distance reasonably well, but they likely do so at a relative loss, and chess can’t afford that so much.

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  3. All of this is nothing new. If you look at the historical Candidates, the first two runs had a number of decisive games in each match, but then there were Petrosian 1-0 over Korchnoi (9 draws) in 1971 semifinal, Polugaevsky 1-0 with 11 draws (1977 quarterfinal), Spassky 2-1 over Hort (13 draws) in double OT (1977), Portisch-Spassky 1-1 with 12 draws undecided in double OT so “most Black wins” was used, Smyslov 1-1 with 12 draws (2 OT) and a roulette victory, …

    Were Short-Gulko and Adams-Tiviakov (PCA) the first to use rapid tie-breakers?

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  4. “At every moment in the match, someone will be behind on the scoreboard”

    That’s a brilliant way to put it

    “The counterpoint is that this gives too big of an advantage to the defending champion”

    Well, then give the Candidate the white pieces in the first game. That would balance things a little bit…

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    • Given the modern drawishness of chess, it equally well might be reasonable to state that “someone will be *ahead* on the scoreboard”, and thus conversely have increased incentive to draw. Though I’d have to agree that having ONE player with less incentive (tending to zero) to draw is probably more important in the equation, as now quite frequently BOTH players have high draw incentive.

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  5. Any rules to settle ties ,in any sport, are controversial. The NHL made changes recently for OT procedure and people decry penalties in soccer.

    However, drawn matches leaving the champion retaining the crown leaves an equally bitter taste. Imagine if that were applied to other sports…… it would be widely hated. Split decisions are, more often than not, extremely controversial in boxing!

    Better is if most black wins is taken into account, or playing 4 games of Fischer Random to settle matters. Or just play more classical games.

    You should not forget that Magnus played for the draw today, not Sergey. The drawn tone of this WCC was arguably set when Magnus played a drawish line in game 1 for the purposes of making a (lame) joke- the Trompowsky. Magnus played for the tie breaks in game 12 knowing that Sergey had already beaten him with black and was unwilling to risk a repeat again today by stretching for a win with white.

    I dislike the Rapid tie breaks. Reducing time just means an error or blunder will have the champion crowned in a more magnified sense than in a classical game.

    I genuinely favour including Chess960/Fischer Random in settling the match. Take away the theory and memorization that gives us the draws. Play what is in front of you.

    I also would contend that Magnus is not one of the elite players of all time. He is boring. His opting for the draw line he played today shows that he is concerned with preserving status instead of reaching out for greatness.Faced with the same situation it is hard to imagine Fischer or Kasparov choosing to play a30 move drawn line to go to tie breaks. Magnus has been held to a 12 game drawn match by the world #9…… Also he is petulant, storming out of the press conference….. earlier in is career he left the table without shaking hands after a defeat by a female player….. he stomped off after Ivanchuk beat him. It is hard to cheer for a man who conducts himself this way after defeat. One can only wish more defeat upon him in the hope that he one day learns how to better handle it!

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    • How about, instead of chess 960, choosing white and black’s first moves at random. They would be chosen from lists of reasonable first moves and reasonable replies for each. (If White wishes to choose a move not on the list, such as 1.g4, he can do so, but then Black can play as he pleases. Similarly Black can choose to play a move not on his reply list.)

      This way, the winner can be World Champion of chess instead of World Champion of the Ruy Lopez. I know this is a bit radical for the WC, but I think it’s worth a try in some exhibition matches or tournaments.

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  6. I really enjoy Gregs articles but I disagree greatly.

    Look at several other major sports where there is a good possibility of draws-ties.

    1) World cup soccer is decided by penalty kicks in the event of a tie. Many games have been decided by this format and the excitement grows greatly. Watching penalty kicks is exciting. The viewer counts are very very high during this time.

    2) US College football has a rule that if tied each team gets the ball on the 20 yd line and a sudden death continues until a winner. The viewer counts are very very high during this time.

    These two competitors have studied for years to get to the point they can take the worlds best and neutralize them. Each had winning opportunities and didn’t capitalize.

    I feel people fall in love with a Tal or Fischer attack from the top 50 games book and think all games are like this. Look at the Kasparov vs Karpov infinite draw match. Was either of these competitors unworthy of the title?

    The faster time controls really bring out the players ability to discern the position quickly and show their raw non-memorized talent. It matches the player’s quick brains head to head like matching two video cards on a First Person Shooter game. Many people have argued that faster time controls are needed to keep chess exciting in the modern computer aided world where computers add less value.

    I for one am very excited for Wednesday. I guarantee Greg will be watching and his heart rate will be going strong. Imagine the reaction to the blunders that might happen.

    I’m hoping for something like https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHv1zswY8bI
    There is no way you are a chess fan and didn’t enjoy this game which didn’t go into deep theory or last 6 hrs.

    The only issue I had with this tourney is the announcer opposite of Judith. Im sure on day 2 he was regretting going into work. Or maybe he didn’t realize how much he took away from the quality of broadcast.

    In closing… Look at the Kasparov vs Karpov infinite draw match. Was either of these competitors unworthy of the title?

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  8. Greg,
    I agree with your thoughts. I think if draw odds were given, then maybe a slightly longer match – perhaps 16 games – would be good. That way, some match strategy such as resting up for a big push by the challenger would still be in play, but the clock would still be ticking with every draw.

    Great article!

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