The Greatest Game Deserves Certainty

The Greatest Game Deserves Certainty

Jun 7, 2008, 11:03 PM |

An aspect of deliberate living is creating certainty in your life. You should live in such a way as to destroy all excuses for failure. I learned this a few years ago when learning how to sell real estate in 21 days or less. I learned that most people tend to sabotage themselves by leaving little trap doors so that in case they fail, they can blame it on that, whatever that is. For example, a person might scrimp on advertising a home sale and then when too few people come into the house, the person can always blame the poor turnout on the low advertising attempt. This makes the person feel better and he can enjoy himself wallowing in his own mediocrity (archenemy #1 in my books!). Eliminate all excuses for failure and the only alternative is success.

Chess is a game of certainty. No chance determines the outcome of play. It’s only one player’s mind against another’s. The outcome depends upon the perception of those two players. No dice to screw up the outcome. No cards to shuffle. Just good ol’ certainty. Arthur Henry King explained:

Chess is a moral game—if things go wrong they’re our own fault, not luck. In contrast, games of chance are immoral because success is not predicated upon ability but on the luck of the game.

The United States Chess Federation, the governing body over one of the most perfect games ever invented, has allowed its tournament culture to be inundated with uncertain methods of deciding a champion. The US championships in Tulsa last month illustrates this in stupendous fashion. The women’s section ended the regular rounds in a veritable tie between defending champion Irina Krush and Anna Zatonskih. This sent them into a playoff series of ever quicker games, two each of 15-minute games and 5-minute games. These games saw each contestant winning one game each. This brought on a so-called Armageddon game in which the play was extremely fast, confusing, and controversial. This game ended in a mad scramble for time where both players were making simply random moves just to beat the clock and stay in the game. Eventually pieces were flying off the chessboard and finally Irina Krush knocked her king off the board and exited in disgust. The Federation named Zatonskih the champion.

Several days later, Krush protested the outcome of the playoff with an open letter to the Federation. This protest has been denied with the following explanation.

I think it is clear that the committee, and most people who have seen the video, sympathize with Irina’s grievance. A playoff that ends in a time scramble like this is never going to have a satisfying result. This experience calls out for the USCF to determine and create guidelines for an optimum system of playoffs for important titles….

The response indicated that both players agreed before-hand to the types of games that would be played and that had the outcome been reversed, it very easily could have been Zatonskih who protested instead of Krush. Here is where the Federation has failed its players: it has neglected to establish a system that determines a champion with certainty. It is the equivalence of the NBA finals ending in a tie and then being decided with both teams lining up at opposite ends of the court and racing each other to the other end of the court, the first team to get a majority of its players to the other end of the court first winning. It is mass chaos. It does not demonstrate a superior mastery of the skills of the game, and proves nothing about who should be the champion. An Armageddon round of chess is simply a mad dash of pieces from one square to another in a vain attempt to keep one’s timeclock from expiring. It means nothing regarding the making of a champion. It only means one’s hands are faster than the other’s. The certainty of the outcome simply is not there.

If the result of the game is not “satisfying,” it turns the entire tournament into a debacle. The Federation loses credibility. And arguably the most perfect game ever invented resembles a slug-fest rather than a cerebral celebration of beauty and charm. Something more certain must be done. The game must be decided on the board, in a rational way.