The Arena - First Impressions
It was yesterday at 2:00pm CT that Chess.com debuted their new free-for-all tournament style called the Arena. At the beginning there was confusion, not everyone was sure exactly how this tournament was going to play out. Questions had gone unaswered before the start, like "How are aborted games counted in my points?" but the countdown was on to the start of the battle. By the end, there was a victor, and everyone had fun.
This inaugural coliseum contest attracted 130 members before its conclusion. Where it had started with 80 or so, the Arena has a unique feature where members can join late. As will be explained later in this article, the point system allows for tardy entrance to the event. Of course, it doesn't benefit anyone's winning chances to join near the end, but if you're a few minutes late you're still very much in contention for the top spot. Those 130 members were of all different ratings, from 700 to 2400+, beginners and Masters playing together.
So how does the point system work? First, the Arena is timed. It has a continuously running clock, not unlike the GM Showdown and Titled Tuesday events streamed on ChessTV, set for 1 hour. Each game you play still has standard time controls, which can be set to any of the regular bullet, blitz, or rapid settings, with or without bonus. As many games as you can finish within the allotted time, that many will count towards your point total. You score 2 points for a win, 1 for a draw, and 0 for a loss. That's nothing out of the ordinary or special, is it?
But wait.. there's a catch. The scoring system for the Arena rewards consequent victories. If you win multiple games in a row, you score extra points, and losing resets your streak. So, where in a regular tournament, you would score 4 points for two 2-point wins in a row, the Arena would score you 6: 2 for the first win, and 4 for the next win. If you win another game in a row, the Arena awards you 6 points, bringing your total to 12; 8 for the next win in a row; 10 thereafter, and so on. Until you lose, which grants you 0 points, and your next win starts the chain back at 2 points.
And that's why the Arena is so exciting. Matches can go any direction, no matter what the players are rated, and you're auto-matched with players in the field closest to your own rating, just like Live Chess seek graph, so you always have balanced winning/losing chances from game to game. If a GM joins the fray and wins-loses-wins-loses-wins-loses-wins-loses, they wind up with a measly 8 points. But if a player rated 1000 joins and loses-loses-loses-loses-wins-wins-wins-wins, they wind up with 20 points, blowing the GM out of the water. They both played 8 games, won half and lost half, but the lower rated player was able to pull off more wins in a row, clinching the victory.
So it levels the playing field significantly. Remember those players 700 - 2400? Well, the top-rated played did come up with the gold medal, but guess who was in second place? A player rated 1248. And for third place? A player rated 1500. It's obvious that the top-rated player has the best winning chances because they won't have to face anyone rated higher than them, but the opportunity for a much lower rated player to stand atop the podium beside their Fide Master chess-idols is such a wonderful experience. I like the point system. I wound up tied for 5th place with Chess.com staff member FM MikeKlein (2264 in blitz)! How cool is that?
The only other criticism to be leveled against the Arena is that rewarding consequent wins seems irrelevant to the game of chess. The previous example of the GM who wins and loses alternately, vs the 1000-rated player who loses 4 then wins 4, might lead one to question "What is the inherent value in winning or losing in blocks, that would lead one be crowned victor?" Indeed, it is an accomplishment of skill to continue playing at the top of your game, just like the 60+ winning streak of the favorite future World Chess Championship contender GM Wesley So. But what about the losing streak? For any player who churns out hard-earned and beautifully crafted checkmates, may feel jilted by the system who awarded more points to a player who happened to win a few lucky games in a row because of blunders or timeouts. It may leave some feeling a little frustrated.
But clearly it was not the intention of Chess.com developers to offer a new skill-only contest. The chess world already has lots of that. Too much maybe? Perhaps the one thing that defines the global chess community, in terms of board play, is the idea that similarly rated players play each other. The Arena was designed to level the playing field. An actual arena where everyone is equal, but the game of chess, in all its wonder and appeal, is still preserved. In my opinion, this was achieved. The Arena is a fun, uplifting, and encouraging tournament style. I'm glad Chess.com developed it. Kudos Chess.com, and thank you!
As an after-thought, I do find it an interesting idea to meld the Chess.com-developed Arena tournament style with the Chess.com-developed CAPS rating system. Points could be awarded based on each individual performance measured by the CAPS system. Sounds like higher-rated players would have an edge? Perhaps.. but I have had games analysed by the computer with a pretty high CAPS score, such as the one below with a CAPS score of 98.43, which, according to the article published by Chess.com rating all the best chess players in history with the CAPS system, is higher than the average of Mikhail Tal, Spassky Smyslov, and the host of historical World Chess Champions. Rather surprising to me being so low rated. Obviously, I wouldn't win in a game against any of these players, but that's the point - it would be another way of leveling the playing field.
What do you think? And what do you think of Arena? Did you play in the very first one? Do you plan on making all your tournaments Arena style?