Maya Chiburdanidze proposes a new tournament system

Maya Chiburdanidze proposes a new tournament system

Aug 17, 2016, 12:17 AM |

Part of an interview by Evgeny Surov,, 13th June 2016

I met Maya Chiburdanidze in the Tbilisi Chess Palace, where  an experimental tournament is held, using a system she'd come up with.

Maya Chiburdanidze: Let us start from the beginning. When I played at Olympiads and many other team tournaments, I felt a lot of pressure. Preparation drains the most energy from you - all nervous strains, all stressed happen during preparation. When you play, you're more or less calm. And the most terrible thing is preparation before the game. You have to look up your opponent's games, analyze them, decide on the opening you're going to play, then repeat everything, then hold lots of variants in your head: this is worse, that is better, this doesn't equalize for Black, this does equalize for White but doesn't give any advantage, etc. Such stresses are an integral part of chess players' life. Many don't know that, but we chess players know that any game for us is like sitting at an exam for most people. How many university exams does an average person pass in their life? For us, each game is an exam, which makes you spend a lot of nerves and energy.

Evgeny Surov: I think that you spend even more energy.

Of course! This affects chess player' health adversely, wears out the nervous system. We must do everything to make chess players more healthy and to turn chess into more than just a game - an interesting creative exercise that develops the sharpness of mind and can show a person's talent and skills.

When I was still actively playing, I'd often think, wouldn't it be good if they just gave me a position, and I went to play, without any preparation. Later I, of course, forgot this idea, it all seemed unreal; honestly, I've never thought of this too seriously, it was just a dream.

But lately, when I organized this tournament together with Georgi Giorgadze, he asked me, "Perhaps you can come up with something new and original?" And I suddenly remembered this idea. I shared it with Georgi, he liked it and started working.

What's the essence of my system? Preparation is reduced to zero.

Let us clarify: you mean preparation for the particular game, not chess preparation and education in general.

Yes, of course. For a particular tournament game. Then, computers don't play any role, its importance is basically reduced to zero. You just come to the game ten minutes before the clock start (of course, you know your opponent already). And before the game, you are randomly assigned a number that refers to a particular position. You show the number to the arbiter, the position is set up, and the game begins. In this system, both White and Black can move first, depending on the position.

Which positions? Where do we get them?

I create them. My idea is making them roughly equal, or White slightly better, as it usually happens. But, of course, not much worse for Black. The position must also be original, not widely-known. These days, everyone knows the Queen's Indian, the Nimzo-Indian, other openings where the computer already did all the work. And I'm trying to create interesting positions that don't occur often.

You create each position yourself?

Yes. I created 120 positions for this tournament. None of them should repeat during the tournament.

Middlegame positions?

No, these are positions that could occur from moves 1 to 15. The position may begin at move 4, or 12, but not more than 15.

So, more like opening positions?

Yes. I choose the undetermined positions, where one should choose the way of development, I give the players a choice. Talent, erudition and wide opening knowledge play the main role here. Because if you don't have that, you'll always lose. And if you have a good positional understanding, if you really know chess - you should know chess, not learn a lot of computer variants by heart.

What do we get from that? The chess player is free from stress, and his operative memory works under much less pressure. Seventy percent of this energy is free up for creative work. Your head is free, you don't know which of, say, 5,000 positions you're going to get, and so you're free, and you're only thinking on how to handle this particular position. Your professionalism increases: a chess player should be an erudite, they should know many positions, they should know chess. Let us imagine a triangle: chess player, coach and computer. In the earlier times, chess players led the way, and coaches and computers helped them. Now it's all turned on its head: computer is at the top, and players and coaches are at the bottom. From servants and helpers, computers turned into masters and move chess forward. And here, the role of computers is diminished to zero. The coach's functions change too: they prepare their players, teaches them chess and gives them general education (with computer help, of course). A musician shouldn't know only Chopin, or only Mozart, they should be able to play anything...

You need skill to play even Yuri Loza...

Yes, anything! And chess players should understand any positions. I think that it's the true purpose of chess: developing the players' minds, skills, mastery of the game. Creative work and talent should play the main role. And learning by heart... Modern chess is more like various computer programs playing each other. If your program is stronger, and you know more plus or minus evaluations, and my computer works worse and doesn't show as many variations, then you drag me into your favourite positions and, of course, win. Now a master can play on equal terms with a grandmaster, if they prepare and look through their repertoire. They'll just play Queen's Indian or something up to 25 computer moves, and then it's impossible to win. And here, it all will be very clear: weaker players will lose, and the real players, with understanding, will start winning.

I anticipate a logical question: There are already Fischer's Chess960. How is your system better than Fischer's?

My system isn't "better" than Fischer's. My chess begin with a common position, but with several moves already played.

Can't these positions be already known to the players?

No, it's impossible to know them all. I currently have 120 positions, and it's already not simple for the players in my tournament. For instance, if you usually don't play King's Indian, and you see the position for the first time, you'll have to work with your head. The games will be more spectacular. You can immediately see the strengths and weaknesses of all players, how they struggle to adapt - it's very interesting! This will increase their professionalism, they'll study chess better. I think that this can save chess, in a way.

The work of coaches will change too: they'll teach both kids and adults only up to a moment. During the tournament, the coach doesn't interfere - there's no preparation involved.

So, during the tournament, the seconds and coaches will be out of work?

Of course not. They should prepare the players mentally, know their opponents, study chess in general. I think that forcing your opponent to play your limited repertoire is unfair. Everyone should be on equal ground. And then everything depends on your strength, wits, talent, chess mastery.

So, now you're playing a pilot tournament of sorts, but you want your system to be used in more serious tournaments?

Yes, I want this very much. This system is especially tailored to serious chess with classical control, not rapid chess. This would be great for the Olympiad: there's so much stress now! Ten, fifteen teams actually compete for the prizes, and all others play more or less just for fun. Why then should they prepare painstakingly? Let them just play chess. You should prepare at home.

Another question: how to come up with enough positions for the Olympiad? There's a lot of teams and games.

It's very easy. I'm ready to create 5,000 positions myself. Nobody can learn 5,000 positions by heart. It's like Chess960: you push a button, get a position and set it up. A ten-minute random position assignment, then the arbiters set the pieces up. This system makes chess more popular, more entertaining, more interesting to watch!

And the tournament itself can be played by any formula? Round-robin, Swiss?

Yes, of course. My system can be used in matches, in Olympiads, in any kinds of tournaments.

How long did you work on positions for this tournament?

For a month and a half. It wasn't too difficult.

But what if some player gets a very simple position, while some other gets something very complicated?

I've tried to make most positions difficult enough. Went through most openings. I couldn't, for instance, use Scandinavian, because White have a clear advantage. There are other openings that are much worse for Black. I'm trying to maintain some balance. It's very interesting to watch the players actually using their minds to play! You should see the look on the face of someone who'd played 1. d4 for their whole life, and then got assigned the Caro-Kann!

And what if I'm a specialist in this particular line of Caro-Kann? I'll have an obvious advantage.

Well, you might get Caro-Kann once in a thousand games, by a lucky chance...

How many rounds were already played in your tournament?

We're playing men's and women's double round robins. Three rounds were played today.

Which time control?

35 minutes. 30 minutes, plus 5 minutes for studying the initial position, plus 3-second increment.

What were the reactions?

As I see, the players use 30 minutes for their first 10 moves, and then they begin to blitz out the moves. A very interesting system, just watch.

You know, there's a lot of retrogrades in the chess world. People who say, "We've been playing the same chess for all our life, and we don't need anything new."

But that's the same chess. I don't place the pieces randomly, as in Chess960, I'm just setting up a prepared position for you to play. Because it's unfair when you study just a couple of things and try to outprepare everybody else. If I played only with you, this would have worked. But when you use a computer, when there's a lot of coaches, and the computer gives you ready-made lines... It's hard to play under pressure and stress. I want to free the players from this stress.

To get the intellectual struggle back into chess.

Yes, and for the computers not to kill the creative approach and thinking of chess players. Let computers help study chess, analyze the positions. But it should not interfere with playing.

Let's imagine that your system becomes widely adopted. How will the chess player's preparation change? Will they stop studying openings from the very first moves?

Why should they? They might study any variants, systems, schemes. The openings are still the same. Let them learn the main ideas, systems, directions. For instance, they could study the positions with isolated Queen pawn, or King's Indian schemes. They'll have a wider perspective, their repertoire wouldn't be so limited, they'd be more professional.

Someone, can't quite remember who, offered another way: play by normal rules, with openings, but assign opponents randomly before each round.

Yes, I've heard of this approach, but it's harder. You can't play a round-robin tournament that way.

That's true.

And my system shows all the variety of chess. I am very happy now. I'm even happier now than in the day I've won my first World Championship! It's all so interesting and fun. I like this idea, I think it has a future.