Beauty in Chess IV: What we can learn from ski jumping

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Samual Bak - Quite ClearIn his fourth column about beauty in chess, Michael Schwerteck was inspired by the recent German championship, as well as by ski jumping.

It has always bugged me that the scoring system in chess is so primitive. As everybody knows, there are only three possible results: 1, 1/2, and 0. However, there are so many different ways to achieve them!

Let’s compare two different kinds of games: in one game the players are full of fighting spirit, both strive for the full point, blow meets counterblow, and finally, after a tough 80-move battle, there are only two bare kings left. On the neighbouring board, meanwhile, the players have reproduced 10 moves of well-known theory, shaken hands and spent the rest of the day at the beach. The result is exactly the same: half a point for everybody.

Another example. Somebody plays a brilliant attacking game, has his opponent completely on the ropes, but suddenly suffers from chess blindness, hangs a piece and has to resign. He gets exactly the same thing (zero points) as someone who makes mistake after mistake, blunders one piece after another and gets mated quickly, at the same time overstepping the time limit (yes, these are real-life examples!). Isn’t this totally unfair?

They say that chess is not just a sport, but also an art. However, artistic play usually gets little reward. Perhaps we could learn from ski jumping: there it does not only matter how far you can jump, you also get points for style. I don’t know much about the details, but let’s say for argument’s sake that a nicely performed 110-metre jump is worth more than a 115-metre jump with a botched landing.

I’m not saying that an ugly win in chess should be worth less than a beautiful draw. Still, it would be nice if there were higher rewards for good style in chess as well. This does not necessarily mean that you have to sacrifice loads of pieces. As far as I’m concerned, you could just as well display some excellent endgame technique. It’s not so easy to give a precise definition of „good style“, but those who read my articles probably know what I mean.

At least there are some tournaments, if only a few, where best game or brilliancy prizes are awarded. At the recently finished German championship, for instance, the general public was invited to vote for their favourite game via internet. The winner of each round got 100 €. This is not a bad idea, but sometimes the outcome was quite surprising and I have the nagging feeling that some people voted not for their favourite game, but for their favourite player. There shouldn’t be any doubt that the jurors are both competent and impartial. Thus I prefer the system that was introduced in Wijk aan Zee: there it was GM Ivan Sokolov who awarded best game prizes (250 €) and there can be little doubt that his choices were justified. It would be a good idea to implement this system in other top tournaments as well.

Still, I wouldn’t be completely satisfied. There can easily be two or three equally great games in the same round, and if there is only one prize, what can you do? I would go even further: why shouldn’t „style points“ even influence the results, as they do in ski jumping? One idea is to use them as a tiebreak system (at least in round-robin tournaments): if several players have the same number of points, priority is given to those who played the most attractive chess. For particularly well played games you can gain style points. If, on the other hands, you make boring draws and show no fighting spirit, points should be deducted.

Now you might say: what about the Sofia rules? Don’t they prevent short, uneventful draws? Well, to a certain extent, yes. However, if the players really want to make a quick draw, they can always find an opening line which leads to an early move repetition or perpetual check. E.g. the following line is very useful: 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.f4 Lg7 5.Nf3 c5 6.Bb5+ Bd7 7.e5 Ng4 8.e6 fxe6 9.Ng5 Bxb5 10.Nxe6 Bxd4 11.Nxd8 Bf2+ draw. When this was played for the first time, it was brilliant. When it was played for the next thousand times, it was a disgrace.

Let’s go back to the German championship. In the last round the leader Michael Prusikin (6.5 points) played one of his pursuers, Klaus Bischoff (6), and the other pursuer, Arik Braun (6), was paired against David Baramidze (5,5). Since Braun had the better tiebreak (rating performance), a draw was a dangerous result for Prusikin. One would have expected him to at least keep his game going for a while to see what would happen in the other encounter.

Alas, he made a draw after 12 moves with White! His decision was duly punished when Braun, who chose a highly complex and risky opening, eventually ground down his opponent. However, this game could just as well have ended in a draw and Prusikin would have been rewarded for his non-game - quite annoying in my view. If you want to win a chess tournament, you have to play chess, for heaven’s sake. Admittedly, my above-mentioned idea wouldn’t have changed much in this case. Perhaps our readers can come up with even better ideas?

I’m glad that Arik Braun won in the end, because he certainly has an attractive playing style – aggressive, dynamic, not afraid of complications. I’ll give you one of his games with light comments:

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