Chess is broken. A game can be broken and still be popular, entertaining and beautiful. Chess is still a beautiful game, and is even growing in popularity. But that doesn’t mean that it’s perfect or that it doesn’t need fixing. What we are doing to this game by refusing to make any changes is terrible.
Every major video game in the world does regular “balance changes”. These are just standard changes that are made to the game to make it more interesting or fix it because something about it is broken. There are so many things that are not ideal about chess, that the chess community refuses to address due to adherence for tradition, lineage and an obsession with sitting in the same spot for 6 hours.
Magnus Carlsen himself, the World Champion of Chess and number 1 player in the world, even admits it in his latest interview. He says “In general it’s good to incorporate more rapid and blitz in the world championship because to some extent it is a purer form of chess because preparation plays less of a role”.
I have lost all patience with the diehard “never change anything about chess” crowd. They are dinosaurs and are making a mockery of what a game should be
What are the main problems with chess:
- The draw rate is absurdly high at the top level. Do I have to see another article at some major super tournament where the author writes a glee filled headline because a few games actually ended in wins? A perfectly designed game should not be a tie as frequently as chess is and this is super obvious. The drawing margin is too high, and you can get away with too many mistakes and still draw, especially with the White pieces. Yes some of the draws were interesting, but how about create a format where it’s not a draw every single time? Maybe that would be even more interesting!
- Computers have taken a lot of the life out of the game. Chess players are no longer willing to play any risky looking moves in the opening, because they fear their opponent’s computer preparation. They know that it will be absolutely perfect and that they will stand no chance if they walk into home prep in a complicated position. This could be seen in Game 2 of the most recent World Championship match, in which Magnus intentionally avoided what looked to be the critical line. He knew it was the critical line, but he also knew that Fabiano would know everything about it. Magnus didn’t want to play against a computer, so he played a tamer line and was satisfied to just play for equality.
- The games are too long. The top players play exceptionally well in faster time control games. Give them a time control of 90+30 and they will still play near 2800 level. But for some reason we have to add an extra two hours so that maybe they will play at 2820-2830. It’s so ridiculous and a complete misuse of time and resources. You have to be so stuck in the past to think that a three or four hour chess game just isn’t enough, and that it simply must be six hours. The extra benefit is that when the time controls are faster, even just slightly faster than they are now, people win more frequently.
- There are almost no more memorable games in World Championship Matches. We have grown up studying the great games in the matches with Capablanca vs Alekhine, Botvinink vs Tal or Kasparov vs Karpov. Tell me one memorable game from the last 6 World Championship Matches? They will basically all be forgotten. You can pretend that Carlsen’s fortress defense from Game 6 will be remembered, but it won’t. Actually I take it back…..there was one extremely iconic moment from a recent World Championship Match that I don’t think will be forgotten easily. It’s when Carlsen played the beautiful 50. Qh6!! to win the title against Karjakin. It just so happens that came from a rapid game! Once rapid chess starts getting taken more seriously, we will see that the games and ideas are so much more beautiful and much more digestible to 99%+ of the chess audience. Players will once again be able to go for speculative sacrifices against the best opponents in the world.
- The current format is not likely to determine who the best chessplayer is! Because classical games end in draws so frequently, even if you increase the match length to 24 games, you are often going to see someone win the match with 2 wins to 1 and 21 draws. This does very little to differentiate who is actually the better player. Sticking to the low number of games, slow time control format, increases the chance that the weaker chess player will win.
I have already written my solution in a previous blog but I’ll reiterate it one more time, with a small change, because I do think it’s the perfect balance of retaining that classical chess tradition, while not allowing all of the life to get sucked out of the game:
This is how a chess game would work:
You play one game at 90 minutes plus a 20 second increment. The winner gets 10 points the loser gets 0
If that game is drawn you reverse colors and play one game at 20 minutes plus a 10 second increment. The winner gets 7 points and the loser gets 3
If that game is drawn you keep the same colors as the rapid game and play one game at 5 minutes plus a 3 second increment. The winner gets 6 points and the loser gets 4. If this game is drawn, both players get 5 points.
A perfect mix of Classical, Rapid and Blitz. The Classical game is still worth 5 times as much as the blitz game. The Classical game is worth 2.5 times as much as the rapid game. The rapid game is worth 2 times as much as the blitz game. But all the games count, and all forms of chess count. Every single player will need to be equally versed at Classical, Rapid and Blitz chess to consider themselves the best in the world.
The best overall chess player will almost always win handily with such a format. If it’s truly very close, then we will see some really tight and exciting matches. Right now everyone is so good at the top and the draw rate is so high, that most matches with absurdly long time controls are going to end with the majority draws and maybe one or two wins sprinkled in.
I think that Fischer Random is also a great idea, but there is something beautiful about the starting position in chess, so I decided to retain that chess tradition in favor of simply speeding up the time controls. But Fischer Random has the added benefit that Computer Preparation is rendered almost meaningless.
The chess community needs to wake up. The World Championship was just all draws. The one before it was 10 out of 12 draws. The idea of making the match even longer so that eventually someone wins is ridiculous. Where exactly were players avoiding risks? You could say it was Carlsen in Game 12, but I believe he only got that position because Caruana was so hell bent on trying to win and avoid the rapid tiebreak. This is all so stupid and it’s so frustrating to be part of a community who can’t see it.
Everyone loves to resist change, and they eventually get left in the dust because of it.