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Tata Steel Chess Tournament Introduces New Tiebreak Regulations
Anish Giri (left) and Jorden van Foreest playing the tiebreak in 2021. Photo: Jurriaan Hoefsmit/Tata Steel Chess.

Tata Steel Chess Tournament Introduces New Tiebreak Regulations

PeterDoggers
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70 | Chess Event Coverage

Following last year's controversy in Wijk aan Zee, the Tata Steel Chess Tournament today announced new regulations for tiebreaks. The biggest change is that if more than two players tie for first, all of them will be playing in the tiebreak.

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Chess.com's Tata Steel Chess broadcast


The 2021 tiebreak controversy is an unfortunate memory of an otherwise wonderfully organized 83rd Tata Steel Chess tournament in times of pandemic. The end result was that GM Jorden van Foreest won the tournament as he beat his compatriot GM Anish Giri in a playoff, while GM Alireza Firouzja left the tournament rather upset and displeased.

One reason was that the tiebreak was played while the French-Iranian grandmaster was still playing his last-round game, just meters away. More importantly, he was disturbed by the arbiters who suggested he and his opponent GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek move to another table (to be further away from the tiebreak) and soon spoiled a winning advantage. The chief arbiter later published on Chess.com an extensive explanation of what exactly happened.

Needless to say, Firouzja was also not pleased to hear that, if he had won his game with Wojtaszek and ended on the same number of points as the two Dutch players, he would not have qualified for the tiebreak anyway. Only the top-two players qualified based on Sonneborn-Berger points.

Arbiter Votruba suggests to Firouzja to move to another table. Image: still from Chess.com live broadcast.
The arbiter talking with Firouzja. Image: still from Chess.com live broadcast.

Shortly after the tournament, the Tata Steel Chess organizers expressed regret and provided further explanation about how they handled the playoff situation on that last day. The statement came after an avalanche of strong reactions in forums and on social media.

The organizers noted that the situation "unintentionally disturbed Firouzja" and said that they would take "the implementation of a tiebreak into careful consideration to prevent a situation like this from reoccurring in the future."

Today, the fruit of that consideration was published. For starters, the organizers want to "avoid flying pieces" as seen in several armageddon games. The biggest change, however, is that now all players who tie for first will be playing in the tiebreak.

Besides what happened last year, the recent controversy at the World Rapid Championship in December might have played a role here as well when none other than GM Magnus Carlsen and GM Fabiano Caruana—both playing again in Wijk aan Zee this year—missed out on a playoff while finishing on the same number of points as the winner GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov and runner-up GM Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Besides letting everyone play the tiebreak this time, these are the other notable points from the new tiebreak regulations:

  • The single armageddon game has been changed for potentially multiple sudden-death games. For instance, if two players tie for first, they will first play two 3+2 blitz games but if they tie 1-1, they will continue playing sudden-death games (alternating colors) until there is a decisive game.
  • Interestingly, the time control of the sudden-death game(s) is two and a half minutes for White and three minutes for Black with a two-second increment per move. This difference in time without it being an armageddon game seems to be a novelty in chess.
  • If three players tie for first, a single round-robin tournament will be played. In case of another three-way tie there, another single round-robin is played and this continues until there is a single winner or two players in a tie for first. In the latter case, they will play a two-game match as mentioned above.
  • If there are four players in the tiebreak, there will be two semifinal matches followed by a two-player final as mentioned above.
  • If there are five or more players in the tiebreak, one or more single round-robin tournaments are played until there is a winner or a tie among two, three, or four players, when the aforementioned methods for those situations will be used.
  • Irrespective of the outcome, the prize money will be divided equally among all the players in the tiebreak, meaning the tiebreak is only played to determine the tournament winner. All other players (except the winner) in the tiebreak will share second place.
  • The tiebreak games will be played in the main tournament hall if all games in the main tournament (both Masters and Challengers) section have finished. Otherwise, an alternative tournament room will be used, so arbiters won't need to interrupt players anymore and ask them to move.

After the statement from the organizers last year, Firouzja commented in an online stream: "The fact that they understood that they made a big mistake was good. I'm happy that they said it will never happen [again]. In general, it was a great tournament." 

Unfortunately, the organizers could not come to an agreement with Firouzja for this edition, which means we won't see the clash between the world champion and the sensational new world number two. In the December issue of the magazine of the Dutch Chess Federation, Tata Steel Chess tournament director Jeroen van den Berg shared some details about the negotiation process:

"I invited Firouzja, who is assisted for his management by his father, quite soon after the previous tournament but I did not get any response, they are very hard to reach," Van den Berg said. "Then I talked to both of them in Stavanger [during Norway Chess, in September - PD] and they wanted to give an answer after the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss. I said I needed to know right there and then, and then they told me they were still angry and asked for a very high amount, an amount I could not afford."

Chess.com has reached out to Firouzja's father for a comment, but we have yet to receive a response.

Also without Firouzja, the 84th edition is one to look forward to, once again having a stellar field. Besides Carlsen, Caruana, Giri, and Van Foreest, we'll see GMs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Richard Rapport, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Sergey Karjakin, Vidit Gujrathi, Daniil Dubov, Andrey Esipenko, Sam Shankland, Nils Grandelius, and Praggnanandhaa R. in action in the Masters.

You can find all the information here:

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