At the 2019 Altibox Norway Chess tournament, players who draw their game will play an Armageddon game right after, forcing a decisive result. The organizers hope to “create more excitement for spectators and put more pressure on the players.”
Each time a top chess tournament sees a lot of games ending in draws, there is a debate on chess forums about whether something should be done. Most tournaments these days use a rule that doesn’t allow draw offers, but the organizers of Norway Chess are taking it a step further in 2019.
In their tournament, to be held June 3-15, players are not done in case of a draw. If they split the point, they will have to play an Armageddon game, having the same color as in the original game. If Black, with less time on the clock, holds a draw, he wins this Armageddon. The following point system will be used:
- Victory, main game: 2 points
- Loss, main game: 0 points
- Draw, main game & loss, Armageddon: ½ point
- Draw, main game & victory, Armageddon: 1½ points
Besides introducing the Armageddon, the 2019 edition of Norway Chess will also see a shorter time control for the regular games. There will be no increment, and players get two hours on the clock for the whole game.
The Armageddon games will not be FIDE rated, and will not affect the rating changes of the classical games, only the scores in the tournament standings.
The organizers stated that the overall goal is “to create a tournament with fewer draws per game, create more excitement for spectators and put more pressure on the players.”
Big changes for the Norway Chess tournament! | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.
The new format is similar to a suggestion made in 2011 by former FIDE world champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov. In an open letter to FIDE, the Uzbek GM wrote that draws in classical tournaments should be abolished altogether:
[Here is how it works. We play classical chess, say with a time control of four to five hours. Draw? No problem – change the colours, give us 20 minutes each and replay. Draw again? Ten minutes each, change the colours and replay. Until there is a winner of that day. And the winner wins the game and gets one point and the loser gets zero; and the game is rated accordingly, irrelevant of whether it came in a classical game, rapid or blitz.”
What the Norwegian organizers are doing has the same idea. Kasimdzhanov commented to Chess.com: “It’s not quite what I had originally proposed, but it’s gonna be interesting to see. With only classical games being rated my best guess is that most players will be relatively relaxed about the outcome of the Armageddon game.”
A few year ago, the Zurich Chess Challenge used a similar setup, which came closer to Kasimdzhanov’s suggestion. In case of a draw, a rapid game was played between the same players, but the score wasn’t counted for the standings of the tournament.
It was also tried at the 2006 Danish Championship. There, after a draw the players played a rapid game with reversed colors. The tournament was won by GM Sune Berg Hansen, who commented to Chess.com:
If that was a draw as well, we would move to blitz and I think up to four blitz games before an Armageddon. There were only full points – which was ridiculous. So I won with six points (I think I scored six and a half with no losses in the normal setup) and that was six wins and three losses. The system was horrible, but would be good for Magnus!
It is very tiring to play rapid chess after normal games. But the suggested format sounds interesting (better) and would probably please a bloodthirsty crowd and make the game easier to sell…
None of the participating players liked it. There was a two- or three-hour break between the normal game and the rapid game. But of course there was a lot of tension in the blitz when one loss means you lose “the whole game.”
Sune Berg Hansen at the 2013 Politiken Cup. | Photo: Lars-Henrik Bech Hansen/Facebook.
With only one Armageddon game, which will be played quickly after the regular game finishes, the players will not have to spend as much energy as in Denmark. Norway’s number-one grandmaster, World Champion Magnus Carlsen, has already stated that he likes the idea.
“It is very exciting and it will completely change the dynamics of the tournament,” he told TV2. “It will be fun to try out. I do not mind trying new things. I think it’s super exciting and I hope everyone wants to take part.”
French top grandmaster and world number-six Maxime Vachier-Lagrave noted that the players will have to adjust to yet another time control for the classical games. He is not against Armageddons per se:
First of all I’m not a fan of the new time control, because it’s so much different from the time controls we have and it requires new adjustments. As for Armageddons, I’m very open to the idea – but I think Armageddon always was viewed as a last case resort and this is too brutal an approach. In practical terms, it’s also unclear whether we found a “balanced” Armageddon time control where chances are roughly 50-50. If, say, White has an advantage at a certain time control, he might decide to take a conservative approach thus making a joke out of the attempted solution.
I was more enthusiastic about Kasim’s proposal back in 2011, but it never received any real echo. With that being said, I am of the opinion that there is indeed a draw problem and I’m welcoming initiatives to try and devise solutions for it. Only experience will tell whether it can work or not.
Vachier-Lagrave at the 2018 Norway Chess tournament. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.
Indeed, it remains to be seen whether their new format will be a success. It does fit in a “tradition” for Norway Chess, a tournament that has introduced new ideas in the past such as the confession booth and having venues at different locations.
Norway Chess is also one of the most successful top-level chess tournaments as it comes to finding corporate sponsorship. The new format might help further in that area.