Football score system is nonsense

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage
Last week in Romania a tournament was held where a total of three points could be won with one game. Also at the Grand Slam Final in Bilbao, a victory will yield three points. Does this footballization of chess make make any sense? I don't think so.

From June 21 to 29, an open tournament in Mangalia, Romania was held, and won by European Champion Sergey Tiviakov. The tourney was "featuring a revolutionary new scoring system" as the tournament website enthusiastically states. Here's what they did:

If the game will have a winner, he will get 3 points and the loser 0 points. If the game will be a draw the players will play an Armageddon blitz game (white 5 minutes, black 4 minutes, white has to win to get 2 points, in other 2 cases, black win or draw, black will get 2 points and white one point). In this case even the main game is a draw at least the players cannot split the points equally. After the main game the players will have to choose again the colors. A special arbiter will be assigned for those blitz games, which will be played in a special corner of the playing hall, if the playing hall is large enough in order not to disturb the rest of the players, or in a special room, where only these blitz games will be played. The number of victories in the main game is the main ranking system for players with the same number of points at the end of the tournament. The second tiebreak system will be the average of the opponent's ratings.

What on earth does this have to do with classical chess? To start with, I never like it when different types of chess are combined, for example to decide a tournament winner. Because that's what they are: classical chess, rapid chess and blitz are three completely different types of chess, or rather, different games.

Everybody knows that different skills apply in such variants and the Dutch IM Manuel Bosboom might belong to the world's top 25 in blitz, while he's FIDE rated 2439. And so it's ridicolous to combine classical and blitz chess to create a score of "one game". (On a side note: why are FIDE ratings used in the pairings of Swiss blitz tournaments? Because there's no alternative - FIDE's promised to come with a blitz and rapid rating lists years ago, but we're still waiting for them.)

One of the participants in Romania was GM Erwin l'Ami. Here's his opinion about the "revolutionary system":

I only won three games, drew five and lost one. Because of the blitz I managed to finish third, since I won all my five blitz games. :) But still I don't think they should repeat this system because it's not very pleasant - to put it mildly - to hear people playing blitz while you're playing a serious game.

Besides, the desired goal - avoiding quick draws - isn't reached at all. The blitz games didn't incluence the "normal" games at all. And in general I think people exaggarate when avoiding short draws. It seems to be fashionable to avoid draws at any cost, and I fully agree with the article that was written by Arne Moll recently.

Finally, I wonder if it's correct that I'm collecting a prize based on winning five blitz games...

Lastly, we have to talk about those three points for a win. Changing the scoring system to 0, 1 and 2 doesn't make much sense in chess but apparently these days some tournament organizers want to experiment with the football score of 0 for a loss, 1 for a draw and 3 points for a win. In a press release, the organizers of the Bilbao Grand Slam Final stated the following:

For the first time in a world's elite tournament and surrounded by a strong international controversy, the Final Masters is going to apply the football scoring system, earning three points per game won and one point per draw, though players will not be allowed to agree a draw being the competition's referee who will determine it.

Players, journalists and chess fans are almost universally positive about the Sofia Rule. (Although personally I prefer the "no draw offers before move 30" alternative because sometimes it's embarassing to see top GM's blitzing out moves in dead drawn rook endings.) But the Spaniards apparently don't think it's enough to prevent "boring chess".

It's no surprise that the football scoring system is introduced at top level in a football-minded country like Spain, but hey, se?ɬ±ores, wasn't winning the European Championship enough? And, did you notice that it doesn't make too much of a difference, if a win yields two or three points? The Europan Championship would have had exactly the same quarter finalists if a win in the group phase would have earned two points. Go and calculate, and you'll agree.

But of course we should compare it to a chess tournament. The best one to pick is the M-Tel Masters, which is also a six-player double round-robin. Below you will see the final standings of the 2008 and 2007 editions, with the classical system and with the "football system".

[TABLE=318] [TABLE=319] [TABLE=320] [TABLE=321]

Whether one player is playing a fantastic tournament and wins most of his games, or the participants finish very close to each other, in both situations the three-point system gives exactly the same final standings!

Of course it's not exactly the same, because in Bilbao players will know that a victory will make a two-point difference to a draw, but there's no reason to believe that in general they will tend to avoid draws by this. With a draw their opponent and rival in the tournament also just wins one point, right? Since the three-point system was introduced in the mid-nineties in football, it has never been proved whether it had led to more attractive matches.

My conclusion is that the "football system" is nothing more than another publicity stunt, created by Spanish organizers who, influenced by the flush of victory of last Sunday, decided to add a football-ish aspect to the game of chess. Isn't their public aquarium enough attraction?
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Aleksandar Matanovic (1930-2023)

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