Classical Chess Matches - Start with the Tiebreakers!
© Frank Low

Classical Chess Matches - Start with the Tiebreakers!

GM Illingworth

After watching the Carlsen-Caruana and Ju-Lagno World Championship Final matches, and many other World Championship matches in my time, I feel very strongly about the best future direction for classical chess matches.

Put simply, I believe all classical chess matches should begin with the final tiebreaker (what we currently call the 'Armageddon' game, where Black has less time but draw odds), and work backwards to the classical phase of the match, where the winner of the 'tiebreaks' will have draw odds for the match. So, the first day of the match would have the following, in order:

- Armageddon (final tiebreaker)
- 2 Blitz games (third tiebreaker)
- 2 Slower Blitz games (second tiebreaker)
- 2 Rapid games (first tiebreaker) 

I can only see advantages to this approach:

- The players know what result they have to play for in the next phase of the match. It's not a big deal if you lose the Armageddon game. If you win the rapid section, the previous sections become moot, and you enter the classical phase with draw odds. 

- The match will be much more interesting for spectators, who are guaranteed a day of fast chess (which modern audiences generally find more exciting than classical chess), regardless of the result in the classical phase.

- The games will be more interesting, as the player who doesn't have draw odds has to win a game to win the match. The modern game theory of minimising the chances of losing in short classical match becomes much less relevant in such a situation. 

- The match situation is more interesting for spectators, as there will always be a player 'behind' in the match (6-6 being a tie for the player who won the tiebreak section). 

Naturally, the spectator advantages are also advantages for the organisers, who would obtain greater viewership at no additional cost. 

One may remember that in the past, the defending champion retained the title in the event of a draw, and these matches, along with 'first to 6 wins' have generally been considered more exciting (see, for instance, the recent articles ranking the World Championship matches). 

One could certainly debate other elements of the World Championship Match, such as how much longer the World Championship Matches should be (I would recommend 24 games, as in the 'good old days'), and the merit of deciding a classical match by quickplay. However, if one removed the rapid/blitz tiebreak component of the World Championship Match, the only other fair options would be to share the title (which I doubt would attract many followers) or play an indefinite number of extra games, which could lead to a repeat of the aborted Karpov-Kasparov 1984 match. In short, it's hard to find a solution that's both fair and practical, aside from the quickplay tiebreak.

I predict that viewership of major classical chess matches will at least double if my recommendation of starting with the fast tiebreakers is applied universally.