Round-Robin Chess Tournaments Are Dead!
A round robin.

Round-Robin Chess Tournaments Are Dead!

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At the end of the last century when I played one of the big American open tournaments (I think it was North American Open in Las Vegas), I stumbled upon a very interesting book at the concession stand.

Well, since the book was written by GM John Nunn, I guess the words "very interesting" are redundant. Indeed, we don't usually say "sweet sugar" or "boring Berlin Defense."

The newly published book that I bought was called Secrets Of Practical Chess and Nunn was discussing the subjects tournament players face on a regular basis.

Secrets Of Practical Chess
Secrets Of Practical Chess.

In the chapter "Using a Computer," the author discussed chess engines:

It should run under the current version of Windows. DOS is dead; forget anything running under DOS.

That was a big shock for me. My laptop had a pre-Pentium processor and its RAM was so small that it wouldn't support any version of Windows. Yet I was quite satisfied with my DOS-based applications (databases and chess engines) and was not planning to change anything there.

Lo and behold, about six months later I became a proud owner of a new, shiny laptop with Windows 95. Only then did I understand what John Nunn meant when he said "DOS is dead." I enjoyed the transition from DOS to Windows so much that even though Windows 95 is long gone, it will forever be my favorite version.  

It seems to me that we have a similar situation with round-robin tournaments. The organizers just refuse to see the writing on the wall.  Nothing could pronounce "round-robin tournaments are dead" better than the recent World Cup.

Let's see what we are missing watching endless, elite, all-play-all tournaments.

1. Drama

We all love a bit of drama, don't we?

Every single day of the World Cup brought tons of drama. Who could forget the tragedy of Nihal Sarin? When qualification to the next round looked all but assured, the Indian prodigy made a blunder that will appear in his nightmares for a very long time!

2. Blunders

Talking about blunders, we have to admit the obvious fact that there were plenty of them in the World Cup. Was it a bad thing? Yes, if you are the player who has committed the blunder. But spectators loved them (see our point number one, drama). Here is how a young Russian grandmaster blundered horribly twice on the same day:

3. Variety of Openings

The World Cup clearly demonstrated that there are more openings in chess than just the Italian Game (Giuoco Piano) or the Berlin Defense. Almost all known openings were played in Khanty-Mansiysk, even the most bizarre ones:

4. Unique Events

The World Cup has produced something even rarer than Yeti sightings.

Is this the Yeti?

Years from now people will dispute if it even happened, and I am sure there will be conspiracy theories just like with the moon landing. It is something that we will be able to tell our grandchildren.

I know, it still sounds unreal, but a game between grandmasters  Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Teimour Radjabov produced a winner!

I could go on talking about the obvious advantages of the knockout format, but you might be wondering if round-robins are still organized, then maybe the players love them.

Not really. If you screw up in the beginning of the tournament and have to keep playing a hopeless event, there is not much of joy for you there.  

GM Vladislav Tkachiev was a second of Kateryna Lagno in the 2019 women's Candidates' Tournament. Even though Lagno tied for third place in this all-play-all tournament, she lost realistic chances to win halfway through. Here is what Tkachiev wrote on his Facebook account after the event:

This format for the Candidates' Tournament doesn’t have any right to exist. It is an inhuman and sadistic experiment over the participants and all others included.

I already expressed my opinion about modern elite tournaments, and it looks like the players don't really like the round-robin tournaments either.

So why do we still have them? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. 

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