Our proposal for the World Chess Championships

Carlsen defends his title later in 2020 – we turn our thoughts to avoiding another 12 draws.

There has been a lot of talk about how to ‘fix’ chess – due to preparation with computer assistance being so advanced and the quality of play in general producing many draws. I for one am not concerned – the top tournaments in the world still produce incredibly exciting games – chess romanticism is clearly alive and well. Even in games that end in draws – it is clear that players are fighting. However that is tournaments – where you will have to win games in order to do well. This is different to head-to-head.

Whether the ‘draw problem’ in chess is a real concern or not, it is clear that when it comes to the classical world championships – it is being increasingly settled by rapid chess – not classical – because players are ending up at 6-6. Last time around, Carlsen and Caruana drew all 12 games, but Carlsen-Karjakin and Anand-Gelfand were also decided by rapid after just one win each.

Our proposal for this is a simple and small tweak – and it may well have been suggested before – but I cannot find it:

1. Play the rapid games beforehand

This is best explained by example. Let’s say for arguments’ sake that the chinese number 1 Ding Liren wins the candidates and is set to play Magnus. Whilst Ding is an exciting player the chess world would still be anxious that the match would be yet another draw-fest.

So, a few months before the championship, Ding and Magnus play a mini rapid match. Let’s say it is 4 games over two days, and if it is 2-2 then they play 2 games of slightly faster rapid, then 4 blitz, then finally ‘Armageddon’ (a single game that guarantees a winner – the player with the black pieces gets a minute less on the clock, but if they draw then this counts as a win).

2. The winner gets the ‘draw odds’ for the real match

Fast-forward to the real classical match and the winner of this mini-match gets a slight advantage – similar to the ‘Armageddon’ rule, where they would actually win the match if it ended 6-6.

In past decades this rule was used – but it was the existing world champion who held these draw odds. In effect that meant you had to actually beat the champion to take the throne, which makes metaphorical sense but perhaps not as fair as it can be. Instead, a mini-match to decide this beforehand would be completely fair between the two players.

Clearly this provides a winner after 12 games at most. As players approach the 12th game they will have different goals. Whereas currently both players have the same goal of 6.5, with 6 as a back-up goal, now one player will need 6.5 and one player will need 6. There cannot be a truce.

Other thoughts

This will have an effect on the games leading up to the 12th game of course – as players look ahead to the ‘endgame’ of the match. The exact effects of this would be speculation – but in my view this will be a net positive effect on the excitement as well as the efficacy of the match.

A second benefit of this approach is that the mini-match will be an exciting spectacle in itself – a chance to see how the two best players in the world are performing (and get any trash talk out of the way) and, well-marketed, could be a great addition to the chess calendar and an accessible introduction to world championship chess for new players or burgeoning fans.

What do you think? Let us know if this has been proposed before – we could not find where if so.

Mike Harris – current editor of Bristol Chess Times