Axe Soup

Время публикации: 14.12.2015 19:27 | Последнее обновление: 16.12.2015 06:57

If one asks my sincere opinion, without any diplomatic equivoques, about both GP series, I'd say that it makes me sick.

In Russian, there's a saying "axe soup" that arises from someone allegedly having promised to make a good soup out of a simple axe, which the person did by putting an axe to boiling water, and then adding there all the ingredients necessary for a good soup. Both FIDE Grand Prix and the Grand Chess Tour (especially the second one) are luxuriously organized events, but in both the chess part is the very same axe. With its high level of organization and all the fuss created, I don't think they would be less interesting if the central activity were a block championship in yard-cleaning or dishwashing.

A Grand Prix series consisting of mixed Swiss events like Qatar Open, Aeroflot Open, Gibraltar, etc., and the final round-robin, would probably make sense - but not the current format. Almost everyone, including those players, has been pretending (maybe because when one gets paid well one feels obliged to pretend?) that something great is going on, even if the Berlin is used in 30% of the games and novelties happen at move 36. But even without the Berlin, watching the same 10-15 players facing each other again and again is unbearable.

The other point is that while the elite cult is on, the majority of ordinary GMs around 2600 (like me when I was an active chess player) get no real chance in their life to face the top 10 in classical chess even once. This is utterly unjust and not in the spirit of sports at all, isn't it? Meanwhile, it's not that the very top are uncapable of losing to middle-class GMs: remember just the recent European team championship in Reykjavik, where Carlsen lost to Pelletier and couldn't beat other supposedly mediocre GMs; Giri "the Unbeatable" was demolished by Babula, Adams (9 draws in London) lost to Solak. Again, this kind of unexpected rivalry makes mixed events much more attractive in the eyes of spectators, including yours truly.

So, I'm for more and more open tournaments with both top and middle-class players present, probably Swiss ones. At the same time, the number of closed elite events should be reduced to the minimum. In my opinion, the chess world needs Wijk aan Zee, at least because it's a huge tradition; we need maybe another one or two, but no more than that. In no way the closed elite tournaments help promote chess, whatever their organization; on the contrary, they intensify the wide public's impression of chess as a very boring activity for the few. In fact, such events are likely to be pushing the already endangered game further towards the brick of extinction.



I remember John Nunn having

I remember John Nunn having an article/comment at ChessBase maybe 10 years ago, where he said that some years previous there was talk about having a Grand Prix of open events, and one of the main reasons why the plan never materialized was the very real possibility of dumping games (I think the article was actually about short last-round draws, which were not so much a worry according to Nunn). Probably the culprits would be smart enough not to win the tournament straight out, but would connive for the lower prize amounts.

That makes sense, of course,

That makes sense, of course, but what makes us think that such things are not happening in these super-ultra-elite round-robins?

In the most recent Grand Prix

In the most recent Grand Prix event, at the press conference Giri said he sometimes wondered if Grischuk-Karjakin games were legit. Perhaps it's just Giri talking, but...

Mark: first of all, following

Mark: first of all, following this logic, all open Swiss events should have been cancelled and forgotten long ago, but for some reason it hasn't happened. Moreover, we've been getting new and stronger ones, like Millionaire Open or Qatar Open. The organizers purportedly don't think it's a big danger, and right they are, in my opinion.

Secondly, the remark by Elmir makes sense - I doubt that dumping games and similarly indecent behaviour could be excluded whatsoever irrespective of the system used.

Thirdly (in addition to what I've said in the article): as to me, the division of players into "the elite" and "tourists", as Kasparov had done notoriously once, is now quite artificial and obsolete. If one glances at the rating list one can notice that the top 100 is now very dense in terms of the ratings, and the difference between the 10th and the 100th player is not really big. Two decades or even a decade ago, it wasn't like this. The times have changed, and basically everyone has now similar resources - an access to powerful engines and databases, opportunities of working with overseas coaches via the Web, etc. Yet the elitism, with those GP and GCT series, tend to grow. To me, it seems really controversial.


P.S. It'd also be nice if you provide the link to the article (or comment) by Nunn, as I couldn't find it after quick googling.

With Millionaire, one measure

With Millionaire, one measure they take against dumping is the Final Four KOs.

The Qatar Open has rather low prize money (100000 total) for the strength of the field, with the superelites (and even ordinary 2700ish elites) presumably receiving hefty appearance fees, that when added together much exceed the prizes. Maybe I projecting my beliefs, but I would guess that one reason for this disparity is to make dumping less of a danger. As a data point (that says nothing much either way), looking at last year's final round, there were 8 games between players on 5.5 pts, with each getting approximately 1300 from a draw, and 7000 for a win. Only 2 games were decisive, so at least there was little sign of extemporaneous dumping. Of course, "smart dumpers" don't operate in the final round against unknowns, but whenever they happen to meet a "friend" during the tournament.

I also tried to find the Nunn link, but he's written so much at ChessBase over the years I couldn't readily locate it by search. Maybe I'm misremembering, but I'm pretty sure of the content, and that it was Nunn. I will try again to find it later. (OK, maybe it was Friedel himself, editorial note of November 6, 2007 --- at least this is close to what I was remembering.)

If collusion really is a (major) consideration then a knockout system would eliminate it (at least until betting on chess becomes popular, and thus gambling syndicates get involved), though I think some specifics need to be rethought. I have an idea about this, and will write something up about it. For superelite round-robins, perhaps organizers figure that guys at the 2750+ level are less likely than guys around 2650 to throw games (though they might be more likely to prearrange draws in my opinion), possibly as the elite guys don't have as many monetary concerns that could override competitive instincts. Maybe also they think it would be more noticeable in a group of 10 than a group of 100 if/when it happens, but I doubt organizers could really tell anyway.

Here is the quotation from

Here is the quotation from Friedel (citing Nunn in part), particularly point #2. It was not quite so oriented at open tournaments as I remembered, but certainly written in that context.

Many years ago we were involved, in a peripheral advisory sense, in a breakaway chess organisation called the PCA – Professional Chess Association. The many-million dollar funding of its chess activities, which included world championships, came from Intel, and the sponsors were eager to hear about any solutions to the perceived draw problem. For this reason we did some basic research, consulted some learned experts (whose name, as always, was John Nunn) and came up with the following results. ...

2. The real problem is often not short draws but cheating, which is very real in the many open tournaments that are staged all over the world. It is often to be observed that a group of strong players will take part in an open as a team. One player elected to score maximum points and take the biggest possible slice of the prize fund, which is then presumably shared according to a pre-arranged system with the other "team members", who lose all their games to him. [Personally, I see no reason why this is specific to open events, other than that payouts depend more on results in them; moreover you are assured of meeting the other "team members" in a round-robin.]

3. The introduction of a 3-1-0 scoring system – yes, that was seriously considered at the time – did not really solve anything, while it certainly magnified the problem given in point 2. A team of players who are able to hand out three-point gifts to the designated winner have an easier task than in the traditional scoring system. ...

On a related note, Mestel has pointed that 3-1-0 in round-robins can lead to agreements that A beats B beats C beats A, rather than make 3 draws among them.

Maybe the real story is that Kasparov did not want open events, and so convinced the PCA and their sponsors that collusion was a problem with them (but somehow not in round-robins).

Thanks for this useful piece

Thanks for this useful piece of information. Actually, when I began to read the excerpt above and saw "PCA", the first thought occurred to me was the one I found a few seconds later in your last paragraph!

See also this blurb from

See also this blurb from Seirawan and Adams about a Swiss in the context of the World Championship cycle, especially #4 ("and all the players complained about it" [the very suspicion of collusion, not necessarily the reality of it]).

I had long conversations with many of the players in Prague, including Michael Adams, the sixth highest ranked master in the world. Like most players, Mickey liked the future cycles but was less than happy with the Swiss system as a qualifier. Many players shared Mickey's view, statistics notwithstanding about its efficacy. The Swiss system has a few downsides and in no particular order they include: ...

4. The darkest side of the Swiss, and all the players complained about it, is the very suspicion of last-round collusion. A player who wins with Black in a must-win last round game causes eyebrows to be raised and no one likes to be double-guessed as a cheat.

FIDE had run 13-round events in Manila 1990 (64 players) and Biel 1993 (73 players), which Seirawan has termed "OK" in other writings. The first 2 problems listed by Adams (variable opponent strength, color allocation) are more typical of a situation with Candidates qualification (where perceived fairness is quite important), and #3 was short draws once qualification becomes feasible by doing so. Similarly, deciding 10th/11th on tiebreaks, when a Swiss already does not sort lower rankings very well, can't be said to be the optimal system in this context.

Looking it at from the

Looking it at from the organizer's point of view, some ballpark money expectations are 5000/game for a superelite player, 2000/game for someone around 2750, and 1000/game for a 2700 player, with contingencies for travel, etc. If you want a world-class event, necessarily you need some superelites to attend, and you need to pay their rate.

However, the statistical sigma over 9 games is about 75 Elo, which makes it hard to concoct a prize distribution that simultaneously is sufficient to attract the top 5 without "overpaying" the expected rate for lower-rated players. Thus you take the solution of "bribing" some superelites to attend by paying them an appearance fee, which allows the prize fund to be kept lower. But once you start paying out side money in significant amounts, why not just make it a closed event, with perhaps an open event attached to it?

For Qatar, one answer to that question might be that they want to give local players a chance to compete with the best. It's also only their second year (attendance actually down from last year), and the specifics could change next year depending on how things pan out. I'm not convinced by this "compete with best" argument really, as the chance of a typical mid-range GM playing a top 10 player is not really that high, unless by luck of the pairings in an earlier round. Salem had nice run last year, but he would make a suitable "wildcard" for a closed event in any case. I'm not saying that they shouldn't keep it as an open event, just that the incentives to do so might be largely philosophical.

For Gibraltar, I don't think the appearance fees are yet the dominant outlay, and the sponsor seems happy with an open event as it's a travel location so having a wider base increases tourism. Millionaire Chess has its own paradigm under its current patronage, with low appearance fees if they exist at all, and with the Final Four format helping to move money toward the elite end of the spectrum.

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