In Chess, the Truth is Overrated

As I mentioned in a recent blog post, I’m currently writing a chess book about the top 25 games from Bobby Fischer. In my research for this book I have referred to quite a few other books, and it helped to remind me of the reasons why I want to write this series. I see quite a few problems with modern chess books, and they mostly fall under the same categories:

  1. There is too much reliance of computer analysis
  2. There are too many variations that are completely irrelevant to the point of the game and that provide no instructional content or learning moments
  3. The authors are unable to accurately judge whether a human being is capable of finding a move that the engine’s suggest
  4. They are too long.

Let’s talk about these points one at a time:

First, the reliance on computer analysis is mostly a bad thing, and this is closely related to point #3. When an IM or GM writes some computer analysis variation and starts giving the moves “!” and “?” based on this analysis, the weaker player is often going to be unable to discern whether or not the lines are realistic or not. While looking through a lot of recent analysis of Fischer games, I see moves getting all kinds of random annotations due to computer analysis. In many cases my first instinct is: “No human being in the world would ever find that move and it’s completely impractical”. However I am an International Master, while most readers aren’t. Instead they will come away from the book with a misguided feeling that this is important information. My belief is that when you write an instructional book, you should try to explain the key moments of the games as succinctly as possible. If you need to point out a line because it involves human patterns or human calculations, you should go ahead. But if it’s just a 15 move line of computer analysis, including it detracts from the book (unless it’s an opening book of course).

Secondly, I mention that there are too many irrelevant variations. My favorite series of books are Mark Dvoretsky’s School of Future Champions series. Why is that? These books are transcribed from actual chess camps held in Russia, for some of the top young players in the country (and world). What you notice about these transcripts is the very fact that there are not endless streams of pointless variations, because this is not an effective way to teach. If I’m going to hold a class and demonstrate a game to talented young players, and not include these endless variations and computer lines, why should they then be included in a book? Just because I have more space I need to use it, even if the information I add to the book distracts readers from the real lessons to be gained? Dvoretsky and Yusupov feel no need to do this in an actual class or in any of their wonderful video lessons that can be found online. What you need to do is nail home the most important lessons and concepts of the book, and not muddy the issue with the objective “truth” of a position. What matters more, in the large majority of cases, is the “practical truth” of a position. What I mean by that, is that if you play a certain way in a game, it will be likely to lead to success, and whether it is a pattern or concept that can be repeated and understood.

That doesn’t mean that there are no such thing as good long variations, there are certainly many moments where they should be mentioned, but I find that most authors overdo it. If you want to include a variation it must be logical and practical, and if it isn’t, it should be pointed out that it’s not.

Thirdly, it is extremely important for an author to understand what a human being is actually able to understand instead of just spitting out computer lines. If a computer tells you that one move is correct for some insanely complex reason, yet 10/10 top Grandmasters would choose a different move, it’s probably more instructive to understand why the Grandmasters chose that move, then to pretend that we can analyze like an engine. Gregory Kaidanov has a very wise method of dealing with “computer” moves. Sometimes while analyzing a game, a computer would suggest some move. He wouldn’t even pay any attention to it and would instead say “That move doesn’t exist”. His point is that the move is so impractical and illogical, that even though it may objectively be the best move or best defense, in a practical sense you can behave as though the move doesn’t exist, because there is no realistic possibility of playing or noticing this move under game conditions.

In many cases in my book I will reference these lines, and specifically point out why I believe that they are impractical and that there is nothing concrete to be gained from exploring them.

My last point is that many books are too long because people have this feeling of “getting your money’s worth”. The point of a book is not to make it really long. If you are reading this, I can almost guarantee you that you’ve started to read more chess books than you’ve ever finished. At my U.S. Chess Schools, a lot of kids are an expert on the first chapter or two of the latest books. However if you throw in a few chapters from the middle or the end, they suddenly “didn’t get that far into the book”. I too have finished very few chess books in my life, but I have read the first quarter or half of many of them.

My goal is that the reader reads the entire book, and in order for that to be true, it should aim to be condensed with only the most critical and interesting information. Every time I add a line just to demonstrate some objective truth about a mostly irrelevant sideline, I sidetrack the reader and lower the chance they will finish the book. I don’t want any lines to be skipped and I don’t want any words to feel irrelevant.

As Grandmaster Arthur Yusupov said in a recent video on Chess24, which was taken from a famous Albert Einstein quote: “It’s best to explain something as simply as possible, but not simpler”. That will be my goal with this book and therefore I don’t care whether the book is 150 pages or 300 pages.

I’m in the middle of annotating the final game of the book right now, but while referencing other annotators, the above points struck me so many times that I felt it was important to address it. These books will be written in a similar format that I would use if I was demonstrating the game to a group of the most talented young chess players in the United States.

How to Create a Vibrant Chess Universe

For those of you who know me, you know that I think the future of chess is in faster time controls. However I want to be quite clear that I don’t think that classical chess should be completely eliminated, despite what some of my past blogs said (although I do think it should be sped up a little bit).

However my main issue is with the lack of respect and development that rapid and blitz chess receive. In order to have a complete and vibrant chess universe, there needs to be an official rapid and blitz champion.

“Wait a minute Greg” you may say. “There already is a rapid and blitz championship, held every year.” But in my view, just because you slap the title “World Championship” in front of something, doesn’t make it a serious World Championship level event.

What if we just had some random 11 round Swiss and called that the Classical Chess Championship. No one would take it seriously of course, because this is not how you determine a champion if you are trying to take it seriously.

What the chess world needs is as follows:

  1. A World Classical Champion and a serious cycle to determine the next challenger (we already have this)
  2. A World Rapid Champion and a serious cycle to determine the next challenger (we don’t have this)
  3. A World Blitz Champion and a serious cycle to determine the next challenger (we don’t have this)
  4. A Worldwide team event in which clubs and cities from all across the world can compete (We haven’t had this until now, as the PRO Chess League, with nearly 50 cities competing around the world, is starting on in January)

We absolutely need to fulfill #2 and #3 on this list and stop pretending that a 20 round Swiss is a reasonable Championship tournament. It’s just one fun tournament, nothing more.

How would I envision the “perfect” chess world?

1 – Every one of the above titles rotates on a 3 year cycle. For instance: the Classical Championship happens in 2018, the Rapid Championship Match happens in 2019, the Blitz Championship Match happens in 2020.

2 – Every 3 years there is a Candidates Tournament for each of these events. The format can vary a bit for the faster events, as because you can fit in many more games, you can use all kinds of more interesting and exciting formats

3 – Every 3 years there should also be an Interzonal Tournament, in which players from around the world compete in order to get the last few spots in the Candidates tournament

4 – Every year the PRO Chess League takes place (this is already slated to happen!)

For those who love Classical chess too much, I’m also fine with it continuing to occur every two years, and the rapid and blitz both taking place in the off year. Because those can be run in fewer days, and require less intense preparation, it should be less of an issue on people’s schedules.

How could the World Championship work in these new formats?

World Rapid Championship: Time control of 25+5, 4 games per day for eight days, for a total of 32 games. I am of course fine with a longer event, or even slightly shorter (24 games would be ok). But this would be the general idea.

World Blitz Championship: Time control of 5+2, 10 games per day for six days, for a total of 60 games. This seems like plenty to determine a definitive champion. But anywhere from 48-80 games seems acceptable

How could the Candidates work in each format?

Rapid: 8 player double round robin (14 games) played over 4 days

The top 4 finishers get seeded into brackets with 1 vs 4 and 2 vs 3. They both play four game minimatches, with the players who did better in the Round Robin stage advancing on a 2-2 draw. The two winners meet in the finals for eight games over two days, and again the player with the better record advances on a draw. The total event time is 7 days, or 8-9 if you add a rest day. The top 4 finishers also automatically qualify to the next Rapid Candidates and the other four spots are up for grabs in the Rapid Interzonal

Blitz: 16 player double round robin (24 games) played over 3 days

The top 6 finishers qualify for the playoff rounds. 1+2 get byes to the Semifinals, 3 plays 6 and 4 plays 5 in 10 game matches, both held in a single day. Better performance in the Round Robin earns draw odds

Then they get reseeeded again into the Semifinals for another 10 game match, and then the finals will be a 20 game match to be held over two days with the remaining two competitors. This also takes seven days, or eight to nine if you include rest days. The top six finishers would all automatically qualify for the next Candidates Tournament, and the other ten spots would be up for grabs at the Blitz Interzonal.

Of course the above is just a quick outline of how it could work. There are many different ways to go about it, but the point is that there should be an organized, consistent and seamless cycle in place for both of these time controls.

If anyone out there who has lots of money and resources wants to make this a reality, I’m very happy to help organize. The chess world needs to drastically raise the prestige of rapid and blitz chess, and this is the way to do it. Single one off tournaments are pointless endeavors and will do very little for the prestige of any time control. Until an organizer actually takes these time controls seriously, which in my opinion no one ever has, they have no chance for real success.

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.

New Book Series: Lessons from the U.S. Chess School

I’ve always felt that I should write books on chess, but I’ve typically been too lazy to do it. However after the 37th United States Chess School, held in New York City a few weeks ago, that all changed.

This camp was a special one, as it was held in New York at the same time as the World Chess Championship match. We even had a special theme for this camp: We went through all of the World Champions one by one, and I presented a lesson themed on each of them.

This work helped me to realize just how much I love chess history and studying the games of specific players. I enjoy it so much that I had an idea for a book series, and wanted to share it here. The books will probably be titled: Lessons From the U.S. Chess School – Learning from the Greats

First off, let me preface this by saying that I believe Mark Dvoretsky to be the absolute best game annotator in the business. Most annotators either use too many concrete variations without explanations, or they use too many ridiculous and superficial explanations that don’t really help a serious player get to the heart of the position. In my opinion, for an annotation to be most useful, there has to be interaction. Therefore there must be many moments for the reader to stop, think, and solve some problem. Dvoretsky uses this method in nearly all his annotations. My goal is to emulate the annotations of Dvoretsky as closely as I possibly can. I am sure that I have my own style, and I don’t think I will ever be able to be as thorough as he was, but I’m hoping that people will like it.

Here is the general theme of the books. Each book will take one great player from history (or in some cases even from modern chess). I will then go through all of their games, and rank them in order from #1 all the way to #25. I will present these games with detailed annotations, and with many moments for aspiring students to stop, think, and come up with a solution. At the end of most games, there will be supplementary exercises based on important themes from the games.

Why is this something I really want to do?

1. No book specifically like this has been done before. What is Kasparov’s best game? Fischer’s best game? Capablanca’s best game? This type of format is guaranteed to start discussion, and I’m sure some people will be miffed if their favorite games don’t make the book, or get ranked too low. It will interest not only serious chess players but also chess history buffs.

2. This series will help instill chess culture into aspiring players. They will have it laid out to them exactly which games are the most important to understand, and the most important ones will be right at the front of the book. This is important because I can’t tell you how many chess books I have read the first 25% of and then put aside. I intend to make books like this for basically all famous players, and therefore by buying these books every young player will be able to absorb the most important historical games and concepts in the most interactive and fun environment a book can provide.

3. I hope that these books will be extremely useful for chess coaches and make their jobs a lot easier!

4. Because I intend to eventually do this for all strong players, I plan to get the community involved. After each book is released, I will let the public vote on who the subject of my next book will be.

I can tell you already that I’m starting the series with Bobby Fischer. I feel like he’s modern enough that everyone has something to learn from him, and I personally really wanted to know more about his games. I felt there was a danger that if I used a much older player, top younger players may find the work not quite as valuable and may be less likely to purchase the book. I hope that the first book will be good enough that in future volumes people will gladly buy them whichever player I write about. If you look at Dvoretsky’s annotation of the famous Zukertort – Blackburne game (from School of Future Champions, Volume 1), you can see how possible it is to provide instructive commentary to even the oldest games.

I have already ranked my top 25 games of Bobby and have started annotating and creating lesson plans for the highest ranked 13 games. The rankings are still fluid though, as after annotating one of these games, I decided it didn’t even belong in the top 25! I have no idea how long it takes to finish something like this or when it will get released, but right now I’m working pretty hard so hopefully it won’t take forever. What you can do to help me right now is the following:

  1. Tell me which games of Fischer are your favorites. Are there are any lesser known Fischer games that you like, that haven’t been covered in many other works? If so, why do you love those games?
  2. There will be a more official vote at some point in the future, but who would you love to see as a subject of this kind of book?





The Women’s World Championship in Iran

Both Jacob Aagaard and David Smerdon, recently came out with opinion pieces that supported the Women’s World Championship in Iran. These two outspoken chess players join the voice of Susan Polgar, who also is in support of the tournament.

David’s piece is well thought out and articulate as usual, and I usually agree with his thoughts on various chess related issues, but I find this one troubling. First off, let me state that I’m sure it’s fun for all the women in the chess world to see lots of prominent men giving their opinions nonstop, but unfortunately, with the approximate 95-5% male to female ratio in chess, it’s going to be hard to avoid this.

Here’s David’s main point:

Too-long-didn’t-read version:  I don’t support a mass boycott of the upcoming women’s world chess championships in Iran, or removing Iran’s right to host. My reason is that it will hurt, not help, gender equality, particularly in Iran. This will probably make me unpopular.

Here’s why I find this troubling: Imagine for whatever reason the Candidates Tournament was being held in a questionable place. Then imagine that two or three out of the eight participants refused to play for reasons that had some degree of validity to them. Would we then turn around and say “I don’t support a boycott of the Candidates because the tournament will help, not hurt, the general conditions in whatever country we are talking about”? Of course not, because people take something like the Candidates or the World Chess Championship, too seriously.

What people seem to be doing here is taking the Women’s World Championship, and making it more of a question of whether it’s good for gender equality in Iran, and forgetting the point that we are talking about the freaking Women’s World Championship!

Whether it’s good for gender equality or human rights in Iran should not be the main concern. We should instead recognize that the Women’s World Championship is an important tournament, and place our concern towards ensuring that the participants in this tournament feel comfortable and safe playing in the tournament.

Some of these authors have pointed out the numerous other chess tournaments that were held in questionable locations and which also involved boycotts by certain players. Jacob Aagaard specifically pointed out chess tournaments that were held in brutal dictatorships in which none of the players had any qualms about playing. I agree that in many of these cases, it would have been really nice if the tournaments weren’t held in the locations that they were. I don’t believe that failure to protest or be concerned about one thing, means that you shouldn’t be taken seriously when you are concerned about another thing. I also believe this is the first time the concern/suggested boycott is specifically gender related.

If one or two of the participants out of sixty four have a problem wearing the hijab or feel threatened being in Iran, I’m not sure what the correct course of action should be. However if a significant percentage of them don’t feel comfortable playing there, they should not have to. This is the World Championship; it’s main purpose finding the strongest female chess player in the world, it’s not about doing whatever we can to fight for gender equality in Iran. And when we base our main arguments around anything other than the competitive aspect of the Women’s World Championship, I think that we are showing that we don’t completely respect the event and the players involved.

Note that I actually have no idea just how many of the invited participants have an issue with playing in Iran. My main point is that if many of them do, then there is a serious problem and we should not be trying to coax these women into playing for the good of Iran or for the advancement of gender equality.

So while I think I agree with the basic tenet that women playing in the Women’s World Championship would be good for Iran and gender equality, I also think it’s unreasonable to treat this as a priority when we are talking about an event as important as the World Championship. This is a tournament these women have worked their whole lives to earn the right to play in, and they deserve to be able to play in it without having to go against their values and without fearing for their safety.

I can certainly understand how it might be objectionable for women to feel forced to wear a hijab. I’m sure as hell not going to start listing all of the logical reasons why I think they should go ahead and play anyway.



Chess vs Poker vs CrossFit

Ten years ago, if you said that there would be a new sport that involved lots of weightlifting, everyone would have told you that this sport would be filled with almost all men. You’d hear people tell you that no matter what you do, men are just more naturally inclined to weightlifting, and sometimes you just have to accept it.

I hear these same things all the time in the chess and poker communities but I think that the phenomena of CrossFit proves that this line of thinking may not be true.

CrossFit is very close to 50% male/female participation. At any CrossFit location around the world it’s not surprising to see a dozen women in the room throwing around heavy weights. If CrossFit solved the problem of “women just aren’t that into weightlifting” and has become a worldwide phenomena with hundreds of thousands of athletes from around the world, maybe chess and poker can do it too.

What makes CrossFit so appealing to women? The first thing that stands out to me is the way that female CrossFit athletes are treated by those who have the most power in the CrossFit community. When you watch the CrossFit games, you will never hear a disparaging word about a woman from the commentators. You won’t hear little quips about her outfit, how the fact that she’s on her period might affect her performance or how she looks like some girl you’d expect to be hanging out at the mall.

All you will hear is appreciation and respect from the announcers and when the people at the top of the food chain treat women with respect, it trickles down to the community as a whole. When a participant from the Bachelor recently had something misogynistic to say to CrossFit women he was immediately crucified by the entire CrossFit community. The message was clear: Do not degrade our women, it will never be tolerated.

There is no such ethos in either chess or poker. The latest insult to women’s chess was dealt today, as FIDE, the international governing body of chess, decided that the World Women’s Chess Championship tournament would be held in Iran, and that the women attending would risk imprisonment or violence if they didn’t wear hijabs while they played. The chess world is already no more than 5% women, and when the people in power make decisions like this, it’s not hard to figure out why. However this is not the only insult that female chess players go through on a regular basis.

It’s normal for top commentators for a women’s world championship tournament to dismiss a bad move by saying “oh what do you expect, it’s women’s chess”. Maybe a few people will say “hey that’s not cool”, but the thought will quickly pass by and the commentator will continue getting top level gigs. In fact the very top players in the world have said pretty nasty things about women in chess chess.

Gary Kasparov, one of the best chessplayers in history, said this about women:

“Women, by their nature, are not exceptional chess players: they are not great fighters.”

Bobby Fischer said: “They’re all weak, all women. They’re stupid compared to men. They shouldn’t play chess, you know. They’re like beginners. They lose every single game against a man. There isn’t a woman player in the world I can’t give knight-odds to and still beat

and more recently, Nigel Short, a one time contender for the World Championship, had this to say: “It would be wonderful to see more girls playing chess, and at a higher level, but rather than fretting about inequality, perhaps we should just gracefully accept it as a fact”

We see all of the strongest and most powerful chess players saying the most degrading things imaginable about women in chess, yet we sit around and act surprised that there aren’t many women playing?

Meanwhile at major televised poker tournaments they often have scantily clad women as the hostesses. Poker Pro Cate Hall, who refused to have her photo taken with them at the final table, had this to say about them from an interview with Card Player magazine: “Few things so clearly signal that poker is a man’s game as the Royal Flush Girls. I think that the poker community in general is a bit retrogressive in terms of gender issues. It is really hard for people within the community to see that because it is all they know. When I bring up things that I have a problem with at the table I’m frequently met with, ‘That’s just the way it is’ as an explanation,”

On Facebook, Maurice Ashley, one of the top and most influential chess players and commentators in the world, posted a photo of himself at the beach, standing beside three attractive young female chess players, aged 21 or younger. The photo got about 100 comments from male chess players, with the majority of them being misogynistic. Here are a few examples and keep in mind these were mostly men aged 30-60 and they are talking about much younger women.

  • Wow, is the girl on the right single?
  • Is that a bishop I see in your swim trunks Maurice?
  • Maurice got game
  • Wow looks tough Maurice, if you need anyone to help give me a shout.
  • I want to go to the beach with the one wearing pink.
  • Are there little chess pieces on your bathing suit? I was really hoping to see a little bishop or knight.
  • Are U sure the Royal Queen at Home won’t find out that “King” is messing up his position.

These men are all active chess players and therefore are the same men these women would expect to see at chess tournaments. Is this a world you should expect lots of women to want to spend time in? The chess world is so messed up that I was literally the only person to speak out against the behavior.

I think that it’s really important that we do something about this type of behavior and try our best to bring the ratio of female players up as much as possible. As someone who is involved in the chess, poker and CrossFit community, there is absolutely no question that the CrossFit community is a more positive and healthy place to be. When I am at an adult poker or chess tournament, I feel like I’m surrounded by a few too many antisocial weirdos, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in feeling that way. I almost never feel this way at a CrossFit class.

Chess playing men have made many women uncomfortable during tournaments. All of my close female chess playing friends have been stalked or harassed multiple times during their chess career. Quite a few have even been molested or raped.

At one of my U.S. Chess School programs, the young girls in the class spoke to the legendary chess coach, Elizabeth Spiegel, about all the different kinds of harassment they face at chess tournaments. This was a group of 10-17 year old girls spending 1-2 hours at a chess camp talking about how to deal with harassment. Meanwhile many men in the community typically act as though it’s not a big deal and that things are just fine for women. That is not a positive community, it’s a toxic one.

Meanwhile here is a eye opening blog by well known poker pro Justin Bonomo, outlining some of the horrible mistreatment that women endure in the poker world. The blog details how women poker personalities are constantly insulted for their physical appearance on poker messageboards, tales of sexual harrassment, and even attempted rape. The poker community, for more reasons than just this one, is a really toxic community.

Of course I’m not saying that it’s impossible to make real true and lasting friendships in chess or poker, or that it’s not possible to have a very healthy experience in these communities whether you are a man or a woman. For certain women, the lack of other women can be seen as a positive, and these are probably the few women who stick around. Here of some of the plus sides of being a woman in a male dominated field, as pointed out by 12 year old chess master, Carissa Yip, in the New York Times:

“It’s much better to be a girl,” she said. “In chess if you’re 2200 and you’re a guy, that’s not really important, but if you’re 2200 and you’re a girl, that’s pretty good. You get more publicity if you’re a girl and you’re the same strength.”

Also let me make it clear that I am not saying that there’s never been any sexism at all in the CrossFit community. You can find a few examples here. However I don’t think any sane person would compare the typical female CrossFit experience to the chess or poker experience.  At my gym I asked a few female athletes “have you ever felt any sexism at the gym”, and all of them said “no not really”. Good luck finding a group of female chess or poker players who would say the same thing.

Now it’s time to talk about solutions. Here are mine:

  1. People should continue to speak out, and speak out loudly. The sexist bullshit needs to be relentlessly crushed. Yeah, sure you’ll annoy a few people with your constant social media posts, but staying silent is never going to help. Every single sexist comment by any authority figure needs to be dealt with head on and the men of the community must join in as well. When a community is already 95% men, then if you don’t have the male support, this type of behavior will continue forever. Anytime men start saying to a woman “oh you complain too much” or “you should fight against sexism this way instead”, they should be shut down.
  2. There need to be consequences for people who say or do sexist things. If you want to say some sexist crap about women on air, then sorry, you don’t get to do commentary in major events anymore. If you’re a top player and you want to make a degrading comment about female chess players, well then sorry, you’re not going to get invited to the top chess tournaments for a little bit because the organizers of those tournaments find your comments tasteless and bad for chess.
  3. We must have hope that it’s possible to equalize the gender gap. The idea that we are so sure of what women like to do has already been proven wrong by CrossFit and other activities (rock climbing is another good example). A lot of the time when you start debating about how we need to do X in order to get more women into chess, a bunch of guys will respond “listen, it’s obvious that you’re never going to have lots of women playing chess, so I don’t see the point of spending so much energy on it”. And like I said, if I told you I was creating a sport in which there was squatting, deadlifting and a whole bunch of other movements involving heavy weight, you would have said the same thing. And you would have been wrong.







The Format for the Chess Olympiad is Stupid

I don’t know why the chess community can’t get the following extremely simple concept through their head:

“Major chess events should conclude with a climactic showdown between the two top players or teams”

This extremely basic concept, which is used in nearly 90-95% of all major sporting competitions, is seemingly lost on the chess community. In fact to even suggest that “hey, maybe instead of Team 1 playing Team 4, and Team 2 playing Team 7 in the final match, how about they just play each other?”, you’ll be treated to a litany of people spamming your blog post to inform you that you’re the biggest idiot in the world.

Will these people write to MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, the Olympic Games, The World Cup, The Champions Cup, The Euro Cup, The NCAA and basically every major sporting competition except for National Soccer Leagues, to tell them how dumb they are?

We just witnessed the Olympiad ending in ridiculous fashion, with USA playing Canada, while Ukraine played Slovenia. Neither team had any chance of getting first place, yet here they both are, determining which team will be Champions of the world. But that was not the most ridiculous part of the final round. The most ridiculous part was after the USA and Ukraine unsurprisingly dispatched their much lower ranked opponents, the result then came down to the match between Estonia and Germany.

Germany and Estonia came into the final round of the event in 54th and 70th place. All eyes were on them as because of some absurd tiebreak format, the USA needed Germany to win in order to win the gold medal.

Let me counter the normal argument that the chess fans all scream in unison:

“But wait Greg, in the NFL there are dumb tiebreaks all the time that determine what teams make the playoffs, so how is this not the exact same thing”

It’s not the exact same thing because we aren’t talking about which borderline teams just squeak into the postseason. We are talking about which team will win the gold medal! You don’t determine who wins the Super Bowl by watching the Cleveland Browns play the Tennessee Titans.

Here is exactly how the Olympiad should work:

There should be 9-11 rounds of play. At the end of these rounds, the top four teams go into a four team playoff, with 1 vs 4 and 2 vs 3. Do I care that the fifth place team didn’t quite make the cut because of a tiebreak? Of course not! I’d rather see a tiebreak affect 5th place than 1st place! Let the teams fighting for first battle it out head to head.

If the playoff matches are drawn, there is a team tiebreak match at rapid time control. If it’s drawn again, speed up the time control again. Eventually someone will win. Then the two winners play in a grand championship match.

What I have just proposed above is exactly how any sane sporting organization would run an event like this. But it’s not the way chess does it, and they haven’t for years, so people will complain about how the current system is better. The current amazing system in which the final round consists of a bunch of mismatches and then sitting around and watching the 70th place team to see who’s the champion, if we can even figure out the tiebreak system to begin with.

Can the chess world for once just admit that the rest of the world isn’t insane or delusional, and actually knows how to run sporting events? Ukraine and USA should have played today. They both went through the tournament with a 10-1 record! And the winner of their head to head match should have been champion. This is absolutely basic.

But at least for all the U.S.A fans, the tiebreaks fell on our side this time.


Amazing Comment from my Last Blog Post

I’m reposting this comment as a blog post because I believe it’s all pretty much the truth and I don’t think I could have said it better myself. I have very little to add to it. It’s referring to blitz and rapid time controls for chess. While I definitely think there are some obvious ways to improve blitz and rapid tournaments like this one, the event still seemed like a big success. Thanks for the great thoughts “A French Chess Player”

“The actual numbers of viewers turned out to be way greater than Dailymotion’s (Vivendi group) best expectations. The same phenomenon was noticed for the world rapid and blitz championship in Berlin and in the Zürich chess tournament. In my opinion, rapid should replace classical as the main time control, for several reasons :
* It will make chess more popular, and more people will watch top events (they outnumber the advocates of classical chess), because the games will be shorter and less games will be drawn.
* The importance of the preparation will diminish. In rapid chess, obtaining an advantage in the opening does not matter as much as in classical. Pure chess skills will prevail.
* The best chess players in classical are the best chess players in rapid. Carlsen won both last rapid championships. Anand finished undefeated in Dubaï while Kramnik finished undefeated in Berlin, in 15 rounds. Other top players finished in the top places, and not the 2600s.
* It helps fighting against certain forms of cheating (going to the toilets at each move, talking with a stronger player during when the opponent is thinking, …).
* Those who point out that the quality will greatly diminish should be reminded that chess tournaments are competitive, and not about theoretical chess. You play your best chess under time constraints. By the way, top players can still play amazingly well in rapid.
* More amateurs will play in chess tournaments. I know many people who stopped chess when they started working, because they do not have much holidays as before and cannot spend 8 consecutive days playing chess. We need tournaments lasting around 3 days (they exist, but being >2200, I cannot play them …)
Fortunately, some top players are of the same opinion. Anand said this week-end that “the old wisdom of playing classical chess is dated”.”

Can We Please Start Formatting Chess Tournaments So People Will Watch Them?

I love blitz and rapid chess, and think that it’s a great idea to have serious top level tournaments with faster time controls.

As we speak there is a rapid/blitz hybrid tournament taking place in Paris for the Grand Chess Tour. Sadly it seems that the organizers have done everything in their power to make this tournament as unfriendly as possible for the chess fan to watch.

First let’s talk about a few important features to a live show:

1. It should not be unreasonably long.

No one except for the most die hard fans are going to sit and watch a 5-7 hour show from beginning to end. I know it may sound crazy, but my goal would be to put together a product that people will want to watch at the start, and stay until the very end. With blitz and rapid this is your chance to make this a reality.

My feeling is that a 3-4 hour show is ideal, although I’d try to lean towards the shorter side of that window. For the Ultimate Blitz Challenge in St. Louis, which was incredibly well run, I set aside the time every day to watch the show. I was able to do this because it had a reasonable running time of about three hours.

2. There should not be constant prolonged periods with zero action

After a few blitz games it makes some sense to have a break of 10-15 minutes. However to do this after every game is suicidal to your viewership, and is just going to result in large throngs of your viewers stopping to do something else.

One great thing about rapid and blitz chess is it’s the perfect way to normalize chess events. Instead of these ridiculously long 5-7 hour coverage of slow chess games, that you will never convince people to watch and stay engaged with from beginning to end, you actually have a chance to engage chess fans nonstop for 3 hours.

Instead the schedule for this tournament is:

Day 1 – 7 hours

Day 2 – 5.5 hours

Day 3- 5 hours

Day 4 – 5 hours

It could have EASILY been at least 2 hours less every single day. It’s almost as if the organizers are begging people not to follow the tournament live.

Let’s talk about what I think the key mistakes are:

1. Rapid chess should be a little faster

Something in the range of 15+3 seems much more appropriate than 25+5. The key is that if you need to have five games in a day, you should make it so that you never expect a game to go longer than 40 minutes. Then you can start the next round after the 45 minute mark.

So if you have 5 games in a day it should be something like:

Game 1 – 2 PM

Game 2 – 2:45 PM

Game 3 – 3:30 PM

now the players will get a 15 minute rest after their games…

Game 4 – 4:30 PM

Game 5 – 5:15 PM

This results in a playing day of under 4 hours, minimizes downtime, and makes it a digestible package for fans to follow at home while still using a rapid chess time control.

Instead the Grand Chess Tour is using a crazy schedule where the first round is at 2 PM and the final round is at 8 PM, for what turns into a 7 hour schedule. This is just an insane amount of chess in one day that no one can even dream of following.

Even worse, it’s absolute torture for the players. Players don’t play well or appreciate it when they are forced to suffer through such barbaric playing schedules.

2. Nine games of Blitz should not take 5 hours!

When you look at their blitz scheduling it’s even more laughable. For some insane reason, they decided there should be 30 minutes in between every single blitz round! With a time control of 5 2, the games should take about 10-15 minutes on average. Why in the world do they want 8 periods every single day where there is 15 minutes of nothing? What do you think your fans are going to do every time there’s nothing happening for 15 minutes?

The Ultimate Blitz Challenge, which was widely hailed as one of the most thrilling chess events in modern history, was a 3 hour show every day with nine blitz games per day. The Paris event is somehow a 5 hour show every day with nine blitz games per day. This is complete lunacy.

What should the blitz schedule be?

5 minutes to start with a 3 second delay, just like the extremely exciting Ultimate Blitz Challenge.

How should the schedule work?

Round 1: 2:00 PM

Round 2: Begins 2-3 minutes after Game 1 ends

Round 3: Begins 2-3 minutes after Round 2 ends

10 minute break after Round 3 and then continue on.

Chess players are capable of playing blitz game after blitz game, anyone who has played chess knows this. I would argue that the long breaks actually make it more tiring for the players.

By giving this unnecessary rest time, you are severely damaging your show and you are basically begging everyone who’s watching at home: “please find something else to do, because there’s going to be no action for the next 15 minutes, and will repeat this process 8 times during the show”.

3. It’s exhausting for the commentators!

Do you know how hard it is to talk about chess for 5-7 hours in a row? It’s absolutely mind numbing. It’s a testament to the great commentators in St. Louis that they still manage to put on a good show with such insanely long running times, but I guarantee you that they are suffering. The quality and energy level becomes so much better if you manage to make it a 3 hour show.

Especially in blitz+rapid, the games should be shorter, the rest times condensed, and the show running times reduced. Players and fans alike will appreciate three hours days.

I’m just so tired of chess organizers making no effort to make their events fan friendly. Let’s please just try to ask ourselves before a chess event “What can we do to actually encourage people to watch our show”, and then after asking that question, let’s do it.







When Common Sense Loses to Slow Time Controls

I have just finished attending three National Championship Scholastic Chess Events. One thing I’m generally pretty good at is thinking to myself “if I wasn’t a chess player and wasn’t already immersed in this community, what would I think about things?”

Here’s what I’d think:

“What kind of insane person decided that a child in 3rd grade should be playing chess from 9:00 AM until 11:00PM?”

I know that as American chess players most of us are obsessed with making the game as slow as possible and squeezing in as many hours of chess as possible in a given day. It fits in with our culture of fetishizing those who work 10-12 hour days. But you know what?


I don’t care what values you have or how important you think having two hours on the clock is. The moment you tell me that an extremely young child should have to stay up until 11 PM in order to play chess, I stop listening to you as a rational person.

Jason Wang, the #2 ranked 9 year old in the nation, rated 2120, has a bedtime of around 8pm. Of course Jason is one of the most talented kids in the country. Now we are asking him to stay up 3 hours past his bedtime? This is complete lunacy. His father agreed and therefore Jason took a half point bye in Round 5.

How much sleep should children get? From the age of 7-12, ten to twelve hours of sleep is recommended. This is made completely unrealistic with the schedule we currently have in place.

The father of Maximillian Lu, the #2 ranked 10 year old in the nation at 2180 USCF, asked me “why do they use these time controls? It’s too much chess in one day”. On day 3 Max played multiple consecutive four hour games. Needless to say he was completely exhausted for round 5. After the tournament Max’s father wrote me an email to point out that “Max played 22 hours of chess over 7 games”.

The parents of Nate Shuman, the #3 ranked 9 year old in the country at 2050 USCF, were very passionate about how cruel the time control is. Nate’s mother gathered opinions from other top players who agreed and presented them at the Scholastic Meeting. GM Max Dlugy and GM Alex Lenderman were some of the most vocal opponents. Max said “absolutely no professional player would play under these conditions, why are we forcing children to do so?”

I’m telling you about the personal opinions of most of the parents of the top 9-10 year old players in the country. But I shouldn’t have to. Because any person who has common sense should realize that you shouldn’t ask anyone, much less a child, to play chess from 9AM until 11PM.

At the National Junior High Championship one player took a draw in Round 5. I asked why in a post game interview and he said “I’m just so exhausted, I can barely think”. This is a chess tournament, not a contest to see who can stay up the longest and focus without proper sleep.

If you asked Magnus Carlsen to play in a tournament like this, he’d look at you like you were crazy, and then laugh you out of the room. We can’t keep doing this to children.

There has to be a limit to what you force people, especially children, to endure in order to preserve this mythical “quality of chess” obsession. To ensure that kids feel like they got enough bang for their buck in the National Championships, it’s required to have seven games over three days. So since reducing the event to six rounds isn’t an option, this simply means we MUST speed up the time control. Here is my proposal for the time control and the games on Saturday.

The time control would be 90 minutes to start with a 5 second delay.

The schedule would be:

9 AM – Round 3

1 PM – Round 4

6 PM – Round 5

I added an extra hour break in between Rounds 4+5 because that is when kids will be most exhausted and this way they can be assured a decent dinner break and maybe even a short nap. Note that in general I would always try to ensure a full two hours rest in between rounds, but I think an exception probably should be made for one round on Saturday to ensure that kids expect to finish their games no later than 9:15 PM.

I admit that this schedule is still likely to be the most demanding schedule in the nation of any serious tournament and I would never dream of using it for any tournament I organized, but let’s use the baby steps method to end this madness.

The good news? When this topic was brought up at the Scholastic Meeting, it was met with unanimous support. The bad news? There is some overly complex and strange process needed to make the most obvious common sense change one could imagine.

Stop making children play chess until 11 PM! This is not rocket science. We are trying to promote something that’s good for children, not look like out of touch, one dimensional weirdos.