Chess for Success – KATU


by Angelica Thornton, KATU News

After retiring from working as a special education teacher, Michael Malone now teaches kids chess. (KATU Photo)

Just about everyone has a favorite teacher — someone they talk about years after they’ve finished school.

That’s why we’ve launched the series, “Leaders in Learning” to recognize them.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Michael Malone spent 31 years as a special education teacher before retiring from Vernon School in Portland, but he didn’t stay away for very long. He’s back in the same school using chess to teach kids lessons about life.

To the students, it’s just a game, but for Malone, the game is life.

“Believe it or not, chess is one of the few games that’s not driven by chance,” Malone said. “In chess, everything is up to you. You have to make a decision about every move on the board that’s connected to your survival as a player or how you’re going to be able to attack and get your opponent in checkmate.”

As a program manager for Chess for Success, he travels to more than a dozen schools around Portland mentoring teachers on how to coach the after-school club. Malone says he loves chess because it teaches students skills that help them succeed inside and outside the classroom.

“It’s an amazing thing. Chess actually changes the way they think, Malone said. “It changes the way they look at life. For example, some things they’re faced with, they feel like there’s no way out, but because they play chess, they realize that sometimes you can afford to take a small sacrifice in order for a bigger gain later on.”

As students stoically stare each other down, contemplating their next move, their brains are getting a rigorous workout in problem-solving and critical thinking. Malone says that makes them smarter, nicer and happier.

Brenda Gutierrez, a first-grade teacher at Vernon School, saw the changes in her own kids when they learned to play chess, so she signed up to become a coach. She’s thankful Malone is teaching her the ropes.

“I think he just has a lot of passion — a lot of zeal and love for kids — for the community and for helping kids find something they can feel good and passionate about themselves,” said Gutierrez.

Malone could be traveling and crossing things off his bucket list, but this is how he chooses to spend his time. He loves helping kids tackle their problems by mastering the game of chess. Malone says he can’t imagine a more rewarding retirement.

“That’s something I wouldn’t see on a cruise ship, I don’t think.”

Do you know a teacher, coach or mentor who’s doing great things for local students? Email us at leadersinlearning@katu.com and tell us their story.


How this Granada Hills Charter High senior gets her champion chess game on – LA Daily News


It’s not unusual for young people to join the military to “See the world.” But for a Porter Ranch high school senior it’s the game of chess that has taken her across the United States and into South America, the United Arab Emirates and Russia.

And on Tuesday, she’s headed to Chalkidiki, Greece for the World Youth Chess Championship 2018 and face off 600-plus competitors.

Julia Sevilla, a 17-year-old Granada Hills Charter High School student, is a chip of the old block, taking up the game her father started teaching her when she was quite young.

Granada Hills Charter High’s Julia Sevilla is the No. 2 17-year-old female chess player in the United States and will compete in the World Youth Chess Championship in Halkidiki, Greece. (Photo by David Crane/Los Angeles Daily News-SCNG)

He showed her the moves, but she has taken it to a higher level earning a few thousand dollars in cash prizes and a scholarship to a Midwestern college.

She describes traveling as tedious, but once she arrives at her destination the competition, food, culture and the welcoming people make it all worth it.

“Each place is unique in its own way. I’m grateful for chess as an asset and to go to different places because of it,” she said.

But it’s the lure of silent contemplation, strategy and the social interaction of competing while maintaining a 4.0 GPA with challenging Advanced Placement classes simultaneously on her plate that entices Julia.

She uses various techniques to energize her game.

Challenging opponents in online games, study other players’ strategies and tuning into and studying other tournaments are among her modus operandi.

She also has a chess coach and practices the game every chance she gets.

“Everything in chess is calculating,” Julia said. “If you make a mistake, you make a mistake.”

Playing chess tires the brain, so building stamina is vital.

One way Julia builds brain stamina is by strengthening  her cardio stamina on the treadmill at a nearby YMCA.

“Physical stamina is just as important as mental stamina,” she said.

Julia, the oldest of three siblings, is ranked among the top youth chess players in the United States.Trophies are strewn throughout the family’s two-story house, on tables and in her bedroom.

“She’s very hard-working. She excels in everything she puts her mind on,” said her mom, Emmaliza Sevilla, a certified public accountant with the Los Angeles United School District.

Emmaliza said her daughter racked up straight A’s every year of elementary and middle schools and attributes Julia’s discipline to the family’s culture.

Dad, Fernando Sevilla , a licensed general contractor is Filipino and part Chinese, and mom is Filipino.

The Sevillas came to America as adults.

“Our culture promotes education,” Emmaliza said.

Chess isn’t Julia’s only game.

She likes playing online video games like most teens, dabbles in drawing figures and people, plays the piano and tennis and messes around a lot in her backyard with her dogs.

She describes her demeanor as calm but hesitant and has a modest attitude about her middle-ground ranking in the upcoming Greek competition.

“So there are things I might miss and it will effect my games a little later,” Julia said.

But for her, chess parallels life.

There’s time management, variables and logical problem solving in both.

“We have a time limit in chess and in life,” Julia said on Friday. “

Upfront her strategy is to take control of the center of the board.

“(This is when) it’s going very fast. You think you know what your doing,” she said.

Then the game slows down in the middle where the strategy can get out of control.

“There are more possibilities of different positions occurring. In the end game, there are less pieces … you can bring out your king and be more open with it, but it’s the most difficult stage because there’s a lot more theory …  more logical choices,” she added. “The plan is more ambiguous and even though there are a lot less pieces, there are more options for players.”


Delhi makes winning moves, emerges as new chess hub – Hindustan Times


It is late afternoon and Puneet Jaiswal is explaining to his students — children aged 7 to 12 years — the concepts of ‘isolated pawns’ and ‘pawn islands’ on a wall- mounted magnetic chess board. The children are a picture of concentration as they sit at their desks with chessboards laid out before them.

Soon, the theoretical lesson ends and the children get busy pushing the pawns ahead as part of a practice game. Jaiswal sits at his desk, which has a projector and a laptop. A bookshelf next to his desk has dozens of books on chess.

Jaiswal started his academy, Champions Chess Centre, at Delhi’s east Patel Nagar three years ago with 10 students. Located in a brightly-lit basement, the chess school today has over 150 students. “Delhi is playing chess like never before,” said Jaiswal, a well- known chess instructor.

“Parents are realizing that chess is a game that teaches lessons about life such as decision making and foresight. One of the most profound lessons we learn through it is understanding the consequence of our actions,” he said.

Children learn Chess in Champions Chess Centre at East Patel Nagar in New Delhi on October 10, 2018.
(Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)

Chennai has often been called the chess capital of India, what with its vibrant chess culture and the record of producing the maximum number of Indian grandmasters, including former world champion Viswanathan Anand, but Delhi has emerged as a major hub of the board game in the past few years.

The capital , which until a few years back had only five chess academies, today has over 50, where one can see children and teenagers with bumfluff beards learning to make winning moves. Delhi is also home to six grandmasters and as many international masters. Women’s grandmaster Tania Sachdev is also from Delhi.

Growing recognition of the fact that chess improves children’s cognitive and academic skills has helped popularise the game and spurred demand for instructors in schools, said Bharat Singh Chauhan, president, Delhi Chess Association. “In the past three years, we have trained over 300 school teachers and other staff to work as chess instructors ,” said Chauhan.

Chess in schools

The All India Chess Federation, the apex body of chess in India, has also been instrumental in popularising the game through its ‘Chess in Schools’ programme, which seeks to introduce it as a teaching activity, said Chauhan. Over 1000 schools in Delhi-NCR have adopted chess as a sport in the past few years .

“Parents are as serious about their children’s progress in chess as in any other subject. During PTMs (parent-teacher meetings), they are very keen to know how their wards are doing in chess, and how they can improve. For many parents, chess is a way to connect with their children” said Jitendra Kumar Choudhary, who teaches chess at Delhi Public School, Mathura Road.

The number of chess instructors has grown exponentially in the past few years—about 200 chess coaches are working in schools, academies, offering private tuitions, and giving online lessons. Sandeep Chitkara, 42, the founder of Genius Chess Academy in Chittaranjan Park said, “When I started playing, we used to look for children interested in chess, but now children look for us.”

Players during Chess tournament at sector 44 Chandigarh on October 05, 2018.
(Karun Sharma/HT Photo)

The chess culture in Delhi has picked up thanks to availability of quality instructors and increasing number of tournaments, said Vaibhav Suri, who started playing chess at the age of seven and became a grandmaster at the age of 15. “Parents are encouraging children to play chess at a young age,” he adds.

Delhi now hosts over 100 tournaments a year – most of them organized by the growing number of academies. The city’s biggest event is Delhi International Open Grandmasters Chess Tournament with a total prize money of ?1.01 crore. Organized by Delhi Chess Association in January every year, it saw the participation of 2,400 players in 2018, making it the largest chess tournament in Asia.

“Now we have many corporates coming forward to sponsor tournaments,” said Chauhan. “We are also getting a lot of support from the government; chess is a priority sport in the country.”

Hobby players turn pro

It is 6.30 pm and Jaiswal’s class has concluded. Most students say they joined the class at the behest of their parents, who are convinced that chess can be a game-changer for their academic performance.

“Before I started playing chess, I just could not focus on what the teacher was saying in the class; I would look at the classmates or the walls, but now I focus better on lessons and my performance in class has improved,” said 8-year-old Saransh Varma. Ayaan Sachdeva, his fellow student, added, “My mother sent me here because she feels it will help improve my concentration.”

Matrix Chess Academy in south Delhi’s Malviya Nagar prides itself on producing several top-ranking players, including two grandmasters. On a Wednesday evening, about a dozen students, mostly teenagers, are preparing to participate in the first Goa International Open Grandmaster Chess Tournament. The Academy’s founder and coach Prasenjit Dutta said most of his students are those who want to play chess professionally—and many come from outside Delhi, and rent room near the academy.

“My students have won many national and international tournaments under different categories. Many of them joined as hobby players and went on to play chess at international level,” said Dutta, whose academy offers coaching for beginners, and at the intermediate and advanced levels.

Walls at Matrix have the posters of world chess champions and his famous wards such as Vaibhav Agarwal, who won the Millionaire Chess Open in 2015 in Los Angeles, and of grandmaster Vaibhav Suri, who is described as ‘Academy Pride’. One of the rooms has dozens of trophies won by the academy’s students in various tournaments. Many of Dutta’s current students have a FIDE (World Chess Federation) chess rating of between 1,700 and 2,000. “I want to be an international master and am here to improve my present rating which is 1,400,” said Rahul Yadav, 18, a student of the academy.

Spectacle of the mind

Founders of these academies are chess players themselves and some of them, like Dutta, and Jaiswal are FIDE-certified instructors. Dutta and Jaiswal had FIDE ratings of 2,317 and 2,284 respectively. Dutta was also the coach of India’s under-16 at World Youth Olympiad team, in 2017, which won a silver medal. “Every instructor has his own techniques of teaching. I focus on teaching positional judgment,” said Dutta.

Chess lovers say their favourite game may not offer the physical spectacle of outdoor games like football or cricket, but it involves an invisible spectacle of the mind. People have been fascinated by the stories of grandmasters playing the games blindfolded, and playing several games simultaneously. Chess has had exalted status in popular culture too — several movies have been made on the lives of players such as American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer, including the 2014 Pawn Sacrifice, which chronicles Fischer’s struggle between genius and madness, and how he finds himself caught between the two superpowers during the Cold War. Well-known author Stephen Fry wrote in a review of Child of Change: an Autobiography by Garry Kasparov, “Only music and mathematics share with chess the phenomenon of the child prodigy.”

According to Vaibhav Suri, “ Chess is not so much about intelligence as it is about the discipline of the mind and ability to think critically. Chess has helped me develop a disciplined approach to various issues in life and taught me to make informed decisions.”

Chess, which has variously been described as a game, a sport, art, and science, has had its share of critics too. American author Raymond Chandler once said: “Chess is as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you can find outside an advertising agency.”

But that is not what thousands of young aspiring grandmasters in Delhi think. Ask the students of Champions Chess Centre to name their favourite grandmasters and they reel off the names: Magnus Carlsen, Viswanathan Anand, Bobby Fischer, and Garry Kasparov. “I want to be a genius like them,” said seven-year-old Chehan Singh Sethi.


First Published: Oct 14, 2018 08:12 IST


The Olympiad Tiebreaks Have To Change, Grandmasters Say – Chess.com


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/Chess.com.

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.

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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 Chess.com 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/Chess.com.

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/Chess.com.

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.”




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Norway Chess New Format: Armageddon After Each Draw – Chess.com


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/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

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/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.