The Olympiad Tiebreaks Have To Change, Grandmasters Say –

Both the Open and Women sections of the Batumi Olympiad were decided by tiebreaks. Like just about every two years, this led to criticism on chess forums. According to grandmasters Peter Heine Nielsen and David Smerdon, the time has come to actually do something about it.

In the open group of the Olympiad, China and USA went into the last round with 17 match points, and were paired against each other for the final round. A dream scenario, you would say—but not without a decisive result.

As we know, the match ended in 2-2 after all games were drawn. Russia beat France to join the two teams in first place, with all finishing on 18 match points. Complicated tiebreak calculations were going to decide on the medals.

It was the same thing in the women’s tournament, where a nail-biting game between Alexandra Kosteniuk and Ju Wenjun was won by the latter. China scored 2-2 there as well, and tied with Ukraine on 18 match points.

Kosteniuk Ju Wenjun Batumi

Adding to the drama, Kosteniuk-Ju Wenjun included an (incorrect) claim for a threefold repetition. | Maria Emelianova/

This board-one game was the very last of the tournament, so here the tiebreaks could have been calculated already. Nonetheless, when it ended, the Chinese delegation didn’t dare to celebrate too loudly yet.

The most important team tournament in chess, held only once every two years, had finished, but nobody knew who won.


Olympiads, like for instance the European Individual Championship, use the Swiss pairing system, which means each round teams are paired against teams on the same number of match points. As a result, teams who tied for first place after the last round have played against different opponents. Tiebreaks are meant to determine which team performance has a higher value, usually based on how the respective opponents scored.

The main tiebreak system for Olympiads, which is being used since 2008, is “Olympiad-Sonneborn-Berger-Tie-Break without lowest result,” as mentioned below the Chess-Results standings page. What defines the tiebreak score is the sum of all the match points a team scored against each of the opponents, multiplied by the number of board points made against them.

For example, China’s tiebreak score was 372,5 points, based on:

3-1 vs Morocco (12 points) — 3 x 12 = 36
3.5-0.5 vs Colombia (12) — 3.5 x 12 = 42
3-1 vs Peru (13 points) — 3 x 13 = 39
3.5-0.5 vs Croatia (14 points) — 3.5 x 14 = 49
1-3 vs Czech Republic (16 points) — 1 x 16 = 16
2.5-1.5 vs Iran (15 points) — 2.5 x 15 = 37.5
2-2 vs Ukraine (16 points) — 2 x 16 = 32
2.5-1.5 vs Netherlands (13 points) — 2.5 x 13 = 32.5
2.5-1.5 vs Azerbaijan (15 points) — 2.5 x 15 = 37.5
3-1 vs Poland (17 points) — 3 x 17 = 51
2-2 vs USA (18 points) — 2 x 18 = 36

To reach the final number used for standings, the opponent that scored the lowest is removed from the calculations. In China’s case, their opponent Morocco finished 69th, the lowest of all their opponents. Therefore, 36 points got removed from the total of 408.5.

In 2016, USA won gold after having a better tiebreak than Ukraine. In Baku, like in Batumi, the decisive tiebreak numbers depended on the scores of the teams’ respective opponents. 

Two years ago, particularly Germany vs Estonia was a critical after the USA and Ukraine had already finished. If Germany had lost, Jordan would have been counted for Ukraine’s tiebreak, and in that case Ukraine would have won gold. Germany won, and made USA the champions.

Danish grandmaster Peter Heine Nielsen provided with some more details on what happened back then.

Ukraine beat Germany 2½-1½ and Jordan 4-0. Jordan ended up on 12 match points. Before the last round Germany had 11 match points and played Estonia. They won 2½. Lets see the effects for Tiebreaks:

As Germany won, Ukraine got 2½ x 13 tiebreak points: 32½. Had Germany only drawn, they would have had 12 match points like Jordan, and Ukraine would thus be allowed to use Jordan in their tiebreak, meaning 4 x 12 = 48.

These extra 15½ tiebreak points would have been enough for gold.  Note the dynamic: Ukraine loses gold because a team they played wins(!) a game. By any kind of logic you should never be worse of because a team you played improves their score. It goes against any kind of ideas of fairness in a tiebreak system.

A similar scenario occurred in Batumi. Danish grandmaster Peter Heine Nielsen pointed out on Twitter what was going on.

Also for Batumi, Nielsen gave us the specifics:

USA had beaten Panama 4-0 and Georgia 3 2½-1½. Before the last round they both had 11 match points. USA was leading the tiebreaks ahead of China as Panama was calculated in their tiebreaks meaning 4 x 11 = 44. However, crucial was that Georgia 3 would not overtake Panama. The pairings was Georgia 3-Singapore and Panama-Bangladesh.

As it happened, Georgia 3 won and USA got 2½ x 13 = 32½ match points. Had Georgia 3 lost, they would have gotten 4 x 11 = 44 match points, which was exactly not enough for gold. However, had both matches ended 2-2, it would have been enough for gold!

According to Nielsen, an important issue with the tiebreak system that’s being used is that it can work against its own purpose: “In both examples it stands out how a team you played, improving their score, lowers you tiebreak.”

This indeed doesn’t sound logical at all. “It would be much more fair and much less random,” says Nielsen, “to at least count all 11 teams for tiebreaks. Still last games could decide, but with much smaller margins than suddenly removing a 4-0 instead of a 2½-1½.”

The Danish GM, who is also the second of World Champion Magnus Carlsen, thinks there is another flaw in the current system: a 4-0 victory over a weaker team can be more valuable than beating a strong team 2½-1½. This is relevant for yet another Olympiad: the one in 2012 in Istanbul.

“When Armenia won ahead of Russia in Istanbul, they won the tiebreak based on a 4-0 against Thailand which gave them a much bigger tiebreak number than Russia beating Ukraine 2½-½,” said Nielsen. “In my opinion this goes against our feeling of justice. So you could say that my criticism of this part of the system is specifically aimed at the current strength-level of the teams participating.”

Peter Heine Nielsen

Peter Heine Nielsen. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Nielsen can be considered an expert from experience, as he was involved in a similar situation in 2011. At the European Championship, also an 11-round Swiss, he just missed out on qualifying for the FIDE World Cup with the second tiebreak being performance rating. The European Chess Union eventually agreed with him, but Nielsen’s protest came too late to make changes in the final standings. The affected players, including Nielsen, did get a wild card.

“The similarity to my 2011 case is that also there they removed players from tiebreak calculations based on one criteria, without realizing that they used two criteria for awarding tiebreak points,” said Nielsen. “This way it becomes extremely important how you performed exactly against the players removed, instead of what we aim for: How you performed generally in the whole tournament.”

Australian grandmaster and economist David Smerdon agrees with Nielsen. “All of the main tiebreak systems are both mathematically sound and mathematically flawed, in the sense that you can always find an exception where each system isn’t ‘fair’. The trick is working out which system more often works best in which sorts of tournaments.”

But, as Smerdon notes, such considerations can get lost behind a high-profile example of where things went wrong. “I get the feeling that past policy changes have been largely reactionary to isolated events. One system gets replaced by another just because it fixes exactly that situation and calms the noise. The most difficult problem is that it’s much easier to say ’This system is better than that system for this one tournament’ than to think about all possible scenarios in a comprehensive way.”

David Smerdon

David Smerdon. | Photo: Peter Doggers/

Both Nielsen and Smerdon recommend the new FIDE administration to start working towards a better tiebreak system. This process should start with comparison of the main existing (and new) tiebreak methods, “especially by mathematical robustness,” says Smerdon. For this, 2017 a study by Roberto Ricca (here in PDF) can serve as a starting point.

Based on computer simulations of different types of Swiss tournaments, Ricca provided a list of five recommended tiebreak criteria. The study, which has been discussed in the October 2017 meeting of the FIDE Technical Commission in Antalya, should definitely be taken into account in the process of establishing an improved tiebreak system for, say, the 2020 Olympiad. It is not the definite answer yet, says Smerdon:

“I hope it could be expanded to discuss fairness, which is a big topic in economics these days, and to analyse which systems do best for different types of tournaments. For example, systems that do best in the Olympiad, with many rounds and many teams, might not be as suitable for shorter events with fewer teams. What we need are transparent, evidence-based guidelines that are convincing and acceptable to arbiters, organisers and players alike.”

The normal procedure would be that the Technical Commission sends recommendations to the World Championships & Olympiad Commission. It is this commission that has the mandate to change regulations for the next Olympiad. However, it is also this specific commission that hasn’t been very effective in recent years, having met infrequently and having made few concrete decisions.

The question is whether the new FIDE administration can change this. What is clear is that current flaws should be changed, and specifically the adaptation of removing the lowest result.

This specific part of the current tiebreak is intended to do something against the randomness of first-round pairings, in which strong teams are paired against (very) weak teams and the result of these early matches can have long-lasting effects in the standings.

Nielsen: “This is a reasonable concern, but obviously not dealt with properly in the current system. It unintentionally makes it much worse.”

Weekend Break: Astoria Chess Club invites new, experienced players. Your move! – Daily Astorian

Members of the Astoria Chess Club concentrate on the game at Three Cups Coffee House. From left: Oscar Nelson, Amy Lewis, Patty Hardin and Randy Sensing.

Colin Murphey/The Daily Astorian

Members of the Astoria Chess Club concentrate on the game at Three Cups Coffee House. From left: Oscar Nelson, Amy Lewis, Patty Hardin and Randy Sensing.

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A large chess set at the Astoria Library is sometimes used by club members for games.

Colin Murphey/The Daily Astorian

A large chess set at the Astoria Library is sometimes used by club members for games.

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You want to learn to play chess, but you think: I’m too old. There’s no place to learn. Chess is too complicated. I can’t find an instructor. I could never compete with tournament players.

Time to checkmate those doubts.

Beginners need a friendly, laid-back atmosphere to learn chess or boost their skill in the game. Fortunately, there are two places in Astoria that fit the bill: The Astoria Chess Club meets at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays at 3 Cups Coffee House, and 5:30 p.m. Mondays in the Astoria Library’s Flag Room.

The club has been meeting at 3 Cups for about five years, year-round.

“We’re a friendly, non-competitive group,” club founder Amy Lewis said.

Lewis learned the game as a kid, playing with family and having “grudge matches” with siblings.

Two questions every player should ask during game play: Why was a particular piece moved? Which piece can be attacked?

“The queen is the most powerful of the chess pieces. She is the only piece that can move forward, backward and diagonally,” Lewis said. “It’s no wonder new players are eager to put the queen to work early.”

The World Chess Championship is on a two-year cycle, with a championship held every even-numbered year. This year the championship will be played in London from Nov. 8 through 28.

The American championships are held annually in St. Louis, Missouri. In 2019, the games will take place April 12 and 13.

There is an annual scholastic championship in Seaside. Chess Club member Oscar Nelson, of Astoria, hopes to make chess more popular among Astoria High School students so they can be represented in the Seaside tournament.

Lewis plans to have a chess tournament in the spring. It will be open — meaning, anybody can play. Players will be sectioned according to age and skill.

The library has several chessboards that people have donated over the years.

Lexi Lee, another Astoria resident and chess club member, has been playing chess for two years. “I started by playing checkers with my uncle. When he got tired of playing checkers, I challenged myself to learn chess,” she said.

Chess teaches strategy and pattern recognition, which plays a major role in music, physics and engineering.

In addition, when kids play chess, they learn it’s OK to lose a game, Lewis said.

Lee agreed. “I think more schools should teach chess for the reason that it teaches players how to lose gracefully.”


Norway Chess New Format: Armageddon After Each Draw –

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.”

Norway Chess playing hall

Big changes for the Norway Chess tournament! | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

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 “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

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

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.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

Vachier-Lagrave at the 2018 Norway Chess tournament. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

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.

PokerStars Daniel Negreanu, Liv Boeree To Play Hand And Brain Chess Sunday –

PokerStars ambassadors will try their hand at chess this Sunday as six-time bracelet winner Daniel Negreanu and Raising for Effective Giving founder Liv Boeree will play with IM Danny Rensch and WGM Jennifer Shahade.

The two poker pros will team up with the two chess masters to play a “hand and brain” match on Sunday, Oct. 14 at 1 p.m. PDT (4 p.m. EDT). Watch the match live on or

Negreanu and Shahade will play against Boeree and Rensch in the five-game match, where the chess masters will tell the poker pros which piece to move every turn. The games will be played at the blitz time control of 10 minutes plus five seconds increment.

Liv Boeree playing chess at Isle of Man. | Photo: Danny Maxwell

Liv Boeree playing chess at Isle of Man. | Photo: Danny Maxwell.

The joint event between PokerStars and will also showcase the #MyChessPokerGame Platinum Pass contest, where members of the chess and poker communities have submitted ideas for games combining chess and chance. The winning game design will be announced during the event.

“PokerStars Play Chess will be a thrilling meeting of the minds,” said Shahade. “During the stream, we’ll be announcing the winner of the #MyChessPokerGame challenge in dramatic fashion, with one of the six finalists eliminated after every game, until we reveal the winner of the $30K PSPC Platinum Pass. This partner chess game is ideal for pairing celebrity aficionados with chess masters: Danny or I will be the ‘brains,’ and announce which piece to move, while Liv and Daniel will pick the specific piece and the square. This results in a lot of laughs and unintended consequences,” said Shahade.

Jen Shahade playing chess and poker. | Photo: Danny Maxwell

Jennifer Shahade playing chess and poker. | Photo: Danny Maxwell.

The designer of the best game will be awarded a PassPokerStars Platinum Pass to the PokerStars Players No Limit Hold’em Championship (PSPC), which includes entry to the $25,000 poker tournament and travel accommodations for a total value of $30,000, according to PokerStars. Hosts Rensch and Shahade will announce the six contest finalists and the Platinum Pass winner during the hand and brain event.

Further information about each of the finalists’ submissions and creativity behind the game designs can be found on the PokerStars blog. (Scroll down to the #MyChessPokerGame section.)

Two of the biggest names in poker will play chess on Sunday.Two of the biggest names in poker will play chess on Sunday.

The hand and brain match will be played under the following rules:

  • Teams: Daniel Negreanu (hand) and WGM Jennifer Shahade (brain) vs Liv Boeree (hand) and IM Danny Rensch (brain)
  • The brain may say only the name of the piece (one word) to be moved every turn
  • The hand chooses and plays the move on the chessboard
  • With under 30 seconds on the clock, the hand takes over autonomously for the team in time trouble and the brain must remain silent
  • All five games will be played out at a time control of 10 minutes plus five seconds increment, even if one team clinches the match earlier

Throughout the match, hosts Shahade and Rensch will show the game ideas by the six finalist designers in the #MyChessPokerGame contest, demonstrating rules, strategy, and videos of the games combining chess and chance.  

“As by far the worst poker player in the event, I’m glad we’re playing chess!” said Rensch. “It’s been a true honor to help judge the finalists of the #MyChessPokerGame Platinum Pass Adventure and we hope this is just the beginning of more exciting collaborations between the global chess and poker communities.”

The chess match and games demonstrations are expected to run about two hours, beginning live Sunday, Oct. 14 at 1 p.m. PDT (4 p.m. EDT). Watch live on  or

Which poker pro and chess master team do you think will win? Let us know in the comments. 

Key lessons for chess team at World Olympiad – Daily Nation

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Kenya will aim for an improved performance at the next edition of the World Chess Olympiad in 2020, according to Chess Kenya President Bernard Wanjala.

The Kenyan team, which arrived back Tuesday from this year’s edition of the Olympiad held in Batumi, Georgia, won two individual titles in the women’s category.

Sasha Mongeli, who had previously gained a Women Candidate Master (WCM) title during the 15-day event, went one step better and attained the higher Women Fide Master (WFM) title with two rounds to score.

Her score of eight wins out of nine games was one of the best in the Olympiads and the highest percentage score by a Kenyan in the Olympiad’s history.

Compatriot Lucy Wanjiru who also attained a WCM title after stunned her higher rated opponent in a well-played rook ending.

And Wanjala, who was elected Africa Chess Confederation Vice President at the biennial global event, has promised sweeping reforms that will see Kenya become a chess giant in years to come.

“We want to make chess a vibrant sport in the region. We plan to introduce chess in schools’ program that is vital for the growth of the game at all levels,” said Wanjala.

His sentiments were echoed by newly-elected FIDE President Arkady Divorkovich.

“We want to start bringing more success stories in Fide and I want to contribute immensely to this. Kenya is key in our global agenda,” said Arkady.

KCB Group Chief Operating Officer Samuel Makome lauded the team for giving a good fight in Georgia.

“We are proud of what the team has achieved especially the ladies. We should now focus on improving our game playing and resilience,” he said.

How To Watch Wesley So vs Vidit Gujrathi Speed Chess Tuesday –

The next match of the Speed Chess Championship quarterfinals is Tuesday as Wesley So ( @gmwso) faces Vidit Gujrathi( @viditchess). The match winner will play the Polish prodigy Jan-Krzysztof Duda in the Speed Chess final four. 

So is definitely the favorite to advance in this match, but how big a favorite is he? Find out what our statistical predictions think. 

Watch the match live, .

The following viewing options will be available:

  • the official broadcast with IM Daniel Rensch and GM Robert Hesswatch here to see the Twitch chat.
  • watch here to see the chat.

so vs vidit speed chess

The match is the 11th of 15 action-packed events in the main Speed Chess Championship bracket.

speed chess championship bracket

The match format:

  • 90 minutes of 5/1 blitz.
  • 60 minutes of 3/1 blitz.
  • 30 minutes of 1/1 bullet.
  • 3-minute breaks between segments.
  • If a game begins before the end of the segment timer, that game counts fully and will be played to completion. 
  • Higher seed starts with White, and colors alternate thereafter.
  • Highest cumulative point total wins. If points are tied after the bullet segment, a four-game 1/1 tiebreaker match will be played.
  • If the match is still tied after the additional four 1/1 games, a single armageddon game will be played: White 5+0, Black 3+0, Black gets draw odds. The player with the highest blitz rating at the start of the Armageddon chooses his color.
  • Full match rules are available here.

The match prizes:

  • Winner: $1,500 and advances to round three of the SCC.
  • An additional $1,500 split by win percentage.
  • Additional prize funds donated by the Twitch community during the live show will be split evenly between the two players. 

scc prizes

Who’s the favorite to win? 

The SmarterChess predictions call So the 70 percent favorite to win the match and advance to the Speed Chess final four. The model has the American winning both blitz portions, taking a four-game lead into the bullet segment. In the 1+1 segment, the model says that Vidit has the edge, forecasting a one-game margin for the Indian player. 

If Vidit wants to pull off the upset, he will have to keep it close in blitz and then make up the gap in bullet, according to the SmarterChess predictions. 

The SmarterChess statistical model bases its predictions on prior performance by the players in selected events. 

smarterchess predictions

Next up for the Speed Chess Championship is Hikaru Nakamura vs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave: Thursday, October 11 at 10 a.m. Pacific Time. 

Check for results and the full schedule. 

hikaru nakamura vs mvl

You can find all the information on the 2018 Speed Chess Championship here, including rules, format, players, and complete schedule. 

Let us know your match predictions in the comments or on Facebook.