How to save the future of chess

Matt asks:

I saw your post about whether the 12th game draw was wise or not, but I haven’t seen this bit so far – I’m curious what you think the 12 draws mean for the future of classical chess? Have we hit the point where the very best in classical will just resign themselves to draws? Should we look to blitz or Chess960 to determine the very best?

It is now 24 world championship games in a row, spread out over two contests, with only two decisive results.  Games between top grandmasters don’t end in draws nearly so often, so something is wrong with the incentives!  The most common claim you hear is that in a 12-game match it is “too hard to come back from a loss,” so the players don’t take enough chances.  That to me seems under-argued from a “maximize expected value backwards induction” point of view (a given move either boosts your expected value from the game or it doesn’t), but in any case there does seem to be a problem.  (Too much advance preparation of openings?)  On top of that, people are upset that two “classical time control” world championships in a row have been decided by the Rapid tiebreaker.

My first suggestion is to extend the matches to 24 games, but in the event of a tie at the end leave the reigning world champion with the title.  That avoids the arbitrariness of any tie-breaking method, places what is to me a justified burden on the challenger, and seems to be enough games to prevent the reigning champion from simply stonewalling with a long series of draws.  And there is plenty of precedent in chess history for matches that long, was it not nice when the Soviets paid for everything?

That said, I fear that venue costs are too high, the length of the match too variable (try booking a top hall under such conditions), and the drawing out of play would make the match harder to market to corporate and other sponsors, who are more interested in concentrated media attention (“In the future, every contender will be famous for fifteen chess games.”)

Chess960 games I find ugly, counterintuitive, and hard to follow.

So how about this?  Have the openings in each game — say the first eight to ten moves — be chosen randomly, but out of a set of high quality but somewhat riskier than average alternatives (no Petroff!).  This would limit the ability of players to choose intrinsically drawish lines with Black.  It also would steer the games away from paths where both players know the main lines thirty moves deep or more, which of course is boring and also conducive to lots of draws.

I would note that many computer vs. computer matches already are played with such a method, and it does seem to make those games more dynamic.

I don’t doubt this method might cause top players to invest all the more time in preparing openings, to avoid being caught entirely off guard (everyone would end up knowing at least something about the Poisoned Pawn Sicilian).  Still, there are limits to total prep, and the games would end up as more exciting, and probably more decisive, whether the players like it or not.

Let’s do it, and limit the impact of this insane arms race in opening preparation.


The expected-value analysis doesn't address the point of players who "don't take enough chances"; they're not looking to maximize their midgame position, or to maximize their expectations of the +1/-1/0 outcome, but to minimize the probability of loss.

Yes, I agree with Matt F, it seems that Caruana and Carlsen were playing the classical match (i.e. slow chess) "not to lose" rather than to win. Carlsen was rational to do this, since he's a much better Rapid player than Caruana (the tiebreaks were in Rapid, for those of you not chess addicts), but Caruana was stupid to fall into Carlsen's "play not to lose" trap. And sure enough, Carlsen won in the tiebreak in Rapid 3-0.

Bonus trivia: the Petroff is not so tame! See the games by Artur Yusopov, playing as Black, it is his favorite reply to 1.e4

Chess is for cucks. Go hunting, shoot a rifle, race fast cars, bang 20 hot women, but whatever you, do as a man, don't play chess.

Ehh, chess is the ultimate mind game and high status men across cultures and continents respect it: The Klitschko brothers, Bill Gates, Klay Thompson, Priest Holmes, and others. You are apparently just a low IQ beta male cuck, who isn't able to handle the most masculine thing of all: logic. Now grab a shotgun like you love so much and blow those feminine low IQ brains right out of your skull.

I suppose one downside of this is that if one side is forced to randomly play (hypothetically) the Halloween Gambit or King's Gambit, it's going to tilt the match somewhat heavily. There is not a lot of opportunity cost to doing so for supercomputers. Humans get tired. They feel pressure. There's only one world championship, etc. Openings are not all the same. But I agree I don't want to see the Petroff or Closed Ruy Lopez games any more.

I think getting rid of the rapid would be an improvement. I watched the Championship and classical chess is much easier to follow as a spectator than rapid anyway.

Now that I think about it, I really would like to see Carlsen and Caruana play the Halloween Gambit. But maybe its just not the best way to see a world championship decided.

I'm a chess addict and never heard of the Halloween gambit, but thanks for mentioning it, however, sac'ing a piece for a pawn is generally a bad idea in the opening, as Garry Kasparov can tell you (,_1997,_Game_6#The_game)

One approach that might be acceptable to the players would be to allow each player to submit in advance the opening lines they are prepared to play - but to make them put a lot of lines in (perhaps a minimum of 100 of the 500 in ECO?), and then take all the lines that both players agree to and pick the openings randomly from those.

That would allow a player to refuse any opening they think is unbalanced, but force a much wider set of openings making it hard to do the sort of deep preparation on a handful of moves that we're supposing to be the problem.

A different view:

Read what Rogoff has to say about the match, but his "different view" comes from the perspective that scoreless soccer matches are the best soccer matches, while the prevailing view (in America anyway) is that they are worse than watching grass grow.

I agree. Technology has saved chess. You can watch GMs play on Twitch every day. It's become a decent revenue stream for great players. And using Sesse/Stockfish to follow along with Carlsen/Caruana made following the championship better for the viewer!

What if we follow soccer's lead. Make an away goal more valuable than a home goal. Say a win with black gets you 1.5 points, a win with white gets you 1, and a draw only .5. The incentive to win (or play aggressively) might be more. I haven't thought this through completely, so please let me know if there are any unintended consequences of this approach.

I love this idea. Except make it the tie breaker. So, if both sides are tied, wins with black would count more than wins with white. Of course, this would not have changed the previous championship in hindsight, but with these rules in advance maybe it would have.

I like it. Scores could be determined by the inverse frequency of result at GM level, rounded off.

As an avid videogamer, it's interesting to see how chess is now struggling with an issue that videogames solved long ago. That is, how to "patch" itself to fix flaws or improve gameplay. Videogames have the luxury of relatively little historical baggage (although you'd be surprised how crazy some avid fans of certain games can get about specific patches), centralized control by the game developer, and easy online updates.

I'm not sure if chess will overcome these hurdles, or if, despite its current success and cultural cachet, it gradually cedes more and more ground to videogames.

Modern chess is essentially the patched version. Other versions--including other board configurations, number of players, pieces, etc--have existed throughout time. This is the one that we currently have, but there's no reason to treat it as sacred.

One of my favorite modern variations is to take a 4x4 grid, put everything but the pawns and one king in it, and designate random squares that each side needs to get to. You can't capture pieces, and there's only one open square. Where classical chess is an analogue for war, this is an analogue for a dance. You can play this variant solo or against someone, which makes it convenient for someone who travels a great deal.

That's exactly what they do with Checkers.

Rather than 24-game matches, why not "sudden death" if matches aren't resolved after some even number of games? 12? 8? 6?

That's what was done. Carlsen won 3-0 in games played at a much faster time control.

And I'm not GM Alexander Beliavsky, just an acolyte.

That's not what was done. "Sudden death" means if they're drawn after a set number of games (in this case 12), then they would keep playing classical games until someone wins a game.

I'd prefer to see the championship determined by classical chess games (only). In such a case, I suggest that a set of games ending in a tie score would determine that there is no champion for that year. Sitting champions would lose their status and could only regain it by competing the following year. I don't know what sponsors would think of this, but who knows? Maybe we'd avoid ugly draws like in game 12.

Is this not really a Carlsen-specific problem, in that he's so crushingly good at rapid and blitz that he's always highly incentivized to try and take the match that far?

The list of players that can really challenge Magnus in rapid does not have a lot of crossover with the list that are imminently likely to be the challenger. Maybe if Nakamura or So's classical form recovers a lot.

I wouldn't hold your breath on Nakamura's classical form returning. MVL or Levon Aronian are great blitz players that are excellent in classical. Maybe they could beat him in the current format? Naroditsky - it turns out - is the "Rebecca Harris" player on Lichess that has whipped Magnus in blitz quite a bit. Duda and Maghsoodloo are probably the next generation of competitors... once age catches up with Magnus, they will someday surpass him probably.

Why not recognize that chess isn't a spectator sport and leave the few who enjoy it to play it at home.

I'm a chess fan, and while I would not want to watch a game for 5 hours straight, it can be fun to check in on a game every 15 minutes if the games are interesting. Many of the games in the recent match were not.

Yeah, well your comment here just reveals that you're a weak chess player. We had 8 Sicilians out of 12 games, all which were interesting. White had a convincing advantage in 5 of the games, and Black was winning in 2. Caruana was winning in one of his Petroff games. If sharp Sicilian games between the two best players in the world don't interest you, you're definitely not someone who knows much about chess.

Similar to your idea but with a twist - what if there was a ban on repeating openings? So the agency still lies with the chess players but they're forced to not rely on 1 or 2 openings the whole match and instead are force to more aggressive and interesting chess?

I think that trying to eliminate the "arbitrary " from a sport is a fool's errand, and probably means that you don't like that sport. The arbitrary is part of sport. Draws are part of chess. What was wrong with 12 straight draws and then Carlsen crushing Caruana is the rapid phase. It's like people complaining that there isn't enough scoring in soccer. Don't watch soccer then. And, all these people who are sure Carlsen had a winning position in game 12 because their chess engines told them his position was stronger need to address one inconvenient fact -- one significant person did not think that Carlsen had a winning position in game 12, and that guy is the greatest chess player in the world.

Seriously? It's kinda sad when people who should know better believe that a title (Superbowl, Miss America, WBA, ad infinitum) has some extrinsic meaning. Shouldn't you (to be consistent) be judging your wives (gf`s) the same way? Set up some contest and let them compete? Or do they matter less? If 24 is 'better' than 12, then surely 96 is better yet. Isn't there a point at which we can agree that it isn't useful to proceed further? Isn't the REAL problem that these guys are allowed to draw long before they could reasonably know what the outcome is going to be? I find 12 about as absurd as MLB's (or NBA's) 7. Does the "best" win? With what frequency? Wouldn't it be 'better' to pit each against a far superior foe (i.e. a computer) if you really wanted to know who was a stronger opponent? I'm thinking the computer wouldn't be drawing at move 12.

"If 24 is 'better' than 12, then surely 96 is better yet"

No, why on earth would that be true?

In retrospect the only really good winning chances were Carlsen with Black in the first and last games. Caruana's match strategy doesn't seem to make much sense given how easily he was wiped off the board in the tie breaks. Why didn't he play more aggressively in the classical games?

This goes to peanut's point above. We have two Carlsen matches with all draws. The fix here is for challengers to recognize they need to try to beat him in the game they have a chance in. It may be that Carlsen is just too intimidating.

"We have two Carlsen matches with all draws." No, in Carlsen-Karjakin each player won once at the classical time controls.

@Beliavsky - but you notice Carlsen beat Karjakin in that match just after he lost, in the very next game, proving, anecdotally, that Carlsen can play aggressive if he wants to and his back is against the wall. It just did not make sense for Carlsen to play aggressive in this short 10 game match, for the reasons outlined above.

I have a simpler tie break. After the first set of 12 the games they continue with the first to win being declared champion. Defending champion gets the first white game. Then it alternates. This post match advantage replaces the draw odds the champion used to get. At least the championship will be won by a classical chess match. And first to win will produce strong incentives to push hard.

That's a good idea. The fraction of decisive games is low enough that you could have a set of 2-game mini-matches until someone wins a mini-match.

Not bad but a mini-match allows someone to "catch up" from a loss just to get a second mini-match. My system eliminates this and makes the risks bigger. So more enterprising play. It will also make the two less willing to draw the first 12 games I'd say.

In the top American open (Swiss system tournaments), there can be two games at slow time controls played in one day. They could use this schedule for world chess championship tie-breaks. Playing two long games a day reduces the quality of play, but that is more likely to generate a decisive result.

So I suggest daily two-game mini-matches until there is a winner.

This is a nice idea from a competitive standpoint, but for an organizer it's a big problem because you have to book the venue, get support staff (including volunteers) etc. for an indefinite period.

I think it would make sense to have a mix of rapid chess and classical game for the Wolrd Championship. My feeling is that one should be good at different forms of chess to be a true World Champion. And, in this respect, Carlsen really is the WC.

I really like Chess960. To me it's the future of human chess. Some combinations are really extreme but maybe a solution is to let the player playing black refuse 1 or 2 initial combination.

Yawn, Chess960. If you like Fischer Random chess so much, you might love "problem solving competitions" where a group of players are asked to solve a series of chess problems and the quickest and most accurate problem solvers get a prize. Go for it, GM John Nunn plays and wins these events all the time.

I don’t like the idea of changing the format of the actual game of chess, like by prechoosing openings. I think you can resolve the problems by changing the structure of the meta-game, i.e. the 12 classical games followed by rapid.

Why not say the first player to win three (or four?) classical games wins the tournament? No limit on the number of games so no tiebreakers needed. The reason players draw so much is because once they have an advantage they just drag it out or want to get to the rapid games like Magnus. If the players knew they needed to win games at some point, draws wouldn’t get them anywhere.

The problem with this is the first Karpov-Kasparov match where Kasparov did draw it out. Organizers won't take this open-ended risk.

Crowd source the prize? If a million players like chess enough to donate $1 in GoFundMe, then that's a million in prize money right there.

I have another tie-break idea:
Play the rapid game tie-break FIRST, before all the regular games.
Keep the result of this tie-break in the drawer, so it becomes relevant only if the 12 regular games aren't decisive.
This would mean that ONE of the players has a clear invenctive to outright win the regular games. So one side WILL push hard for a win.
This will greatly reduce the tendency for draws. (Witness the last rapid game. Caruana could easily have drawn this game. And he would have settled for a draw if he hadn't known that a draw would bei equal to defeat.)
But the burden will now be on the regular games to produce a world champion. Unlike the current method, where that burden is on the rapid games. Which, I agree, just doesn't feel like for a classical Championship match.

How about the tiebreaker is playing four, or six, or eight simultaneous matches with the requirement that each player must make a different first move in each game they play as White?

Tyler's first suggestion seems to me to aim in the right direction -- not the length of the match in games, which as he says we could not achieve today, but the idea of allowing a drawn match to itself be a decisive match, rather than going to tiebreaks. If the challenger knows that a tie means he loses, he will take more chances. But notice that we can accomplish the same result if we decide that a tie means that the championship changes hands. That second possibility might seem "unfair" but either way, we are making an entirely arbitrary decision. The point is to use the arbitrary decision -- a tied match is won by one of the players -- to encourage the taking of risks.

I should add that I did not find the match boring at all. With a couple of exceptions, the games were complex and hard-fought, and reflected the near-identical ratings of the players.

I think both players need motivation to avoid draws. Carlson has admitted he played passively toward the end knowing he had the advantage in rapid and blitz. If only one player is motivated to achieve a non-draw result, they are the only one really taking risks.

This is similar to how championship checkers works to discourage draws. Personally, I don't like it because I enjoy how each player has their own suite of openings that reflects their personality.

I would prefer that championship chess happen at faster time controls, and that the status of rapid chess be raised in general. We are already seeing nothing close to "the best chess possible" - that is the chess being played by the computers. It is more interesting as a spectator sport if it happens more quickly, and with modern streaming technology this is a bigger and bigger part of appreciating chess. The chess-playing public prefers faster time controls for their own play, as evidenced by the popular formats online. And super-GMs playing rapid chess are still far, far superior to almost all of their viewers at slow chess speeds.

Plus, championship chess already sped up once in the past, and it hasn't really diminished the games. It used to be accepted that "the best chess" could only be played over multiple days with adjournment. Nowadays, with good computers, adjournment really ruins the spirit of the game, so we sped up championship chess. We can do it again.

Instead of Rapid as tiebreak, use chess960 (Fischer Random). And start these if all first 8 games are drawn.

Simple new rule: The only way to score a point is to win as white.

Equilibrium: White plays romantic, speculative, attacking chess looking for a win; Black plays for a draw (as in the status quo).

This doesn't change time controls or the rules of chess. It only changes the incentives, and makes every game 10x more exciting.

Oooh, interesting! Haven't seen that idea before.

Don't futz with the rules of the game, futz with the rules for the incentives.

Specifically, the rules for this championship was that the purse would be split 60-40 winner-loser, or 55-45 in case of going to tiebreak.

You want to see a winner in the classical portion? Change it so that the tiebreaker purse is a 35-30 split (with the other 35 percent not awarded).

Tyler should play Ken Rogoff in a chess match on Twitch. I bet that game gets a ton of viewers!

The solution is well known: Play the tie-break before the match. That way there is always a player who needs to push for a win.

The answer is simple. Penalty shootout (soccer). Best of 5 like in the World Cup. Lots of pluses here. The players are forced to get outdoors and do some physical exercise as part of their preparation. Excitement for the audience. More tension.

Caruana should have taken more chances to win. He knew a tie meant a loss, so did Magnus.

bonesaw ben salmon
its 2018, we don't actually use the bonesaws much anymore unless theres a creepy cancer or vascular compromise or mebbe
a compartment syndrome
like here

we concur
fuck you bonesaw ben salmon
there doesn't seem to a medical indication for the bonesaw in this case

Count the first win in the match as *two* wins. Maybe even count the first two wins as two wins each.

Some cool ideas here. One aspect that I think is new: With AlphaZero, any proposed rule change can be tested out quite fully and quickly, so long as the overall structure is zero-sum.

I feel that an area that DeepMind should look into what exactly makes games "interesting" to humans? In other words, why are Go and Chess more interesting than Tic-Tac-Toe or Checkers, and by how much? Once they have a somewhat objective metric, they could use it to judge various rule-change proposals.

As the only player here over 2000, allow me to correct some misconceptions:
1. "Both players didn't take risks." There were 8 Sicilians played in the match. 6 normal Sicilians and 2 Reversed Sicilians. Both players indicated they wanted a fight in those games. Carlsen chose an extremely complicated and risky main line in the Rossolimo and in the 7. Nd5 Sveshnikov aiming for an advantage. Carlsen did not play to draw with Black, and was significantly worse from the opening in 5 out of the 7 games played. In essence, both of the players took a lot of risks.
2. "12 draws is the result of evenly-matched players." This is false and just shows a lack of knowledge of chess history. Kasparov and Karpov played matches within 10 elo points of each other with decisive results consistently. That has nothing to do with it.
3. "These players just bored us with a drawfest!" The fact that there were 12 draws was just a statistical anomaly. Games 1 (-8), 3 (+1), 6 (mate in 34), 8 (+5), 10 (+1), and 12 (+.5 then later -2) would normally lead to at least 3 decisive results. You can verify the statistics on this. 4 totally won positions and 2 strategically won games (85%+ win chance according to AlphaZero) indicate that the final result was just an anomaly and you've been guilty of results-oriented fallacious argumentation. All of the arguments here were made based on both players taking no risks, the games being dry, and all draws being an expected result. A knowledgeable, strong player is well aware that all of these claims are false.

Points taken, but with all due respect, you really have no idea what anyone here has for a rating or if they even have a rating.

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