Anticlimactic Altibox 2019
I don’t understand why people start with the premise that a draw is bad.
When the premise is erroneous then everything that follows cannot be right. The way too many attempts at tinkering with the format of chess tournaments has led to mediocre at best results. The rationale has always been that the change is in order to make chess more televised, but that never happened.
Norway Chess saw the last attempt at “making chess more exciting.” But if people don’t find chess exciting as it is, no “end of the world” change will make it more exciting for them.
Still, with private endeavours the organisers are free to do whatever they like and they pay the fiddlers, so they will play.
And played they did. Even until the end of the world. I’m glad we saw “the end” very early in the tournament, in Round 1. The video of the Armageddon game between Aronian and Grischuk speaks louder (pun intended for the Spanish commentary) than words.
I have always seen chess as a game with dignity. And where is the dignity when the noble game is reduced to panicky piece throwing and chasing with seconds left on the clock? Why are we reducing ourselves and our game to park hustling? Why do we expect that by dumbing down our game and making the players clowns we will be able to sell it to a wider, usually not very interested, audience? If we don’t respect ourselves, do we really expect the rest of the world will?
The format of the tournament followed the same idea. A win in the classical game is worth 2 points and a win in the Armageddon 1.5. So why sweat for hours for an extra half a point when you can make a quick draw, Grischuk’s 15-move draw with So an exquisite example, guarantee yourself half a point and then pray to the gods of television to give you the extra point, even by drawing with Black in a completely winning position.
Following up on the absurdity of the point system, Ding Liren scored an undefeated +2 in classical, the same results as winner Magnus Carlsen, and yet finished 6th (!) behind players who had 50% score in the classical. Surely the classical should weigh more? But probably not.
The most absurd was of course the draw with Black counting as a win. By trying to eliminate the draw the format in fact encouraged an even more bizzare occurence – the players offered draws in winning positions because a draw was in fact a win! That’s Armageddon indeed. If I can somehow understand the need for it after a lot of played games at different time controls in a World Cup, here it was just a mockery of the game and the players. I read a good joke in a forum that suggested that the draws in the Armageddon should be replayed with classical time control.
I am sure that there were many who enjoyed watching these games. I didn’t. Because I don’t like to see the game and the world’s best players dragged down and paid to perform to a whim. Does anybody still remember the “new classic“? That one was also inspired by the same ideals of making chess “more interesting” and we see now how it ended.
History has shown that there is no shortcut to making chess popular or interesting to the masses. It has always been the game of kings. Changing the rules, the formats or putting players in VR suits are cheap stunts that don’t work. What works is a long-term strategy of education and positive public image by emphasising the benefits of chess. By doing this long enough we will start to see our game become even more popular. Unless we shoot ourselves in the foot too often and induce the end of the world prematurely.