An Open Debate: The 700lb Gorilla Issue

In the past few days, thousands of chess fans gave their opinions about the recently concluded Candidates’ Matches in Kazan. The main complaint was there were too many draws, over 90%. Even the President of ECU, Mr. Danailov, and the Deputy President of FIDE, Mr. Makropoulos, spoke out about this issue.

As someone who competed in Candidates and World Championship matches, Chess Olympiads, and as an organizer of major tournaments in the United States, I am looking at this serious issue from both sides of the coin.

As an organizer, it drives me crazy to spend so much money and time to organize prestigious events to see short draws. It is also nearly impossible to explain it to the sponsors, donors, and chess fans. I do not like it at all.

This is why in the last SPICE Cup, I instituted the 3 point for a win / 1 point for a draw system, in addition to no draw offer before move 30. Because of this, the 2010 SPICE Cup was more exciting than previous years. Everything came down to the final round. It was a dream for an organizer.

For invitational events where the organizers pay excellent conditions to the players, I full support these measurements to ensure exciting chess.

Now we will look at the other side from the perspective of a player. We must examine this with various types of events. I will select three for this discussion:

1. Open tournaments

Players usually must pay for entry fees, food, hotel, and transportation costs (This is mostly the case in the United States where professional players are usually not very much respected. In fact, they have to even bring their own chess set, board, and clock to tournaments.) when they compete in an open tournament. Once in a while, there may be some small conditions to top level players but this is in the minority.

If someone pays their own costs to participate in an open event, who are we to say that he / she cannot offer or accept short draws, especially when their rent money is on the line? It is the difference between being able to pay rent / mortgage versus being homeless, literally!

The fans can say all they want but if a player can win $5,000, $10,000, or more by accepting a draw versus getting a few hundred bucks or even nothing if they lose, almost every professional player will take the draw. Their number one obligation is to themselves and their families, not to the fans or sponsors since there is usually none in these tournaments (in the United States).

This is the sad state of chess where most professional players struggle mightily financially. This is why so many promising juniors quit chess at an early age, especially in America, because they understand that this is not a way to make a living.

2. Chess Olympiads

National federations usually pay to send their national teams to compete for medals. What is the objective of any team? The answer should be to win medals, especially the Gold medal. I won 10 of them (5 gold, 4 silver, and 1 bronze) playing on board 1. My job was always to put my team in the best position to win. That means playing for 2 results in every game. It is usually up to the team captain to decide on the game by game strategy.

So if this is the case, who are we to say that a team cannot offer or accept quick draws if it helps to clinch a medal, especially gold? Now if there is a sponsor for a national team, would that sponsor prefer to see the team win medals or no short draws?

3. Candidates or World Championship Matches

What is the objective of the Candidates Matches? To advance to the next match and to eventually challenge the World Champion. Most players dedicate their whole lives for this opportunity.

What is the objective of the World Championship match? To win the World Championship crown. This is the ultimate goal for top level professional players. Only a few handful of players accomplish this.

A lot of time, effort, energy, and money are spent in both of these types of matches. Every player has a second and sometimes a team of seconds. They work with the seconds long before and during the matches. These people do not work for free. It is a very expensive process and cycle.

Every player and every team want to win. In this case, who are we to say how they should win? If a player is really ill and on that particular day, he / she has black. If you are in the same position and for whatever reason, your opponent offer you a draw after 20 moves, would you take it when you can hardly focus or see the board? Or would you say no way because I would be letting my fans down?

Again, each player is playing for the ultimate title. Shouldn’t he or she have the right to choose the best path to get to the endgame which is to win the big one?

The other side of the argument from the organizers and fans is if players chicken out and play safe all the time, chess will lose sponsors. They have a point too. When you have boring events, the sport will suffer.

I agree. This is why we have a stalemate.

Some fans suggest that since there is no draw in tennis, basketball, football, baseball, or other major sports, the same thing apply to chess.

Again, let me inject the other side of the coin.

There is no draw in tennis but some players do tank on purpose. If a player is not comfortable on a certain surface, he / she sometimes give half an effort just to collect the paycheck, rest, and head to the next event. It happened on many occasions between the French Open and Wimbledon.

In basketball, football, and baseball, many managers and head coaches rest their starters when their teams already clinched a spot in the playoff. They want to make sure their stars are on their A game when the games really matter. This happens every year.

And in the examples I pointed out above, the fans pay good money to see these games where in chess games can be viewed online for free. So what is worse? Taking short draws in chess or giving only half an effort in other sports?

I am not trying to defend either position. I merely point out the many different angles of this debate. What is your take? How can we solve this serious issue? Please free to offer your opinions but please be respectful to the players, organizers, and sponsors.

Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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