Wednesday, August 19, 2009

That's odd

How has it come to be that a weekend tournament has an odd number of rounds? Since it is a fact that the player with the White pieces has an advantage, it would seem only logical to have an even number of rounds, would it not?
Some years ago the irrepressible tournament promoter Thad Rogers decided to try a four round tournament in Atlanta. Much grumbling was heard about not having enough rounds to determine a clear winner. As I recall, it transpired that there was a clear winner in every section! Because the players realized there were fewer rounds the games were particularly hard fought and there were fewer draws. In spite of this, the experiment was not tried again. Tournaments soon had a Friday night round, followed by two games on Sat & Sun. That was changed to an opptional first round on either Friday night, or Saturday morning. As time went on it became obvious there were not enough players for the Friday night round, and sometimes for the Saturday morning round, oftentimes with only one player in a section, who would receive a full point bye because of not having an opponent in his section.
It has further devolved to faster time limit games in the early rounds. As one delegate said to me at the recent US Open, "G/60 in the US Open is an abomination!" The reason given for the faster time limit games is to get more players to attend. Unfortunately it has not worked out the way it was intended.
It comes down to quality versus quanity. More chess does not translate to better chess. An odd number of rounds gives an advantage (theoretically) to the player having an extra White. Since quanity has been given preference for some time, maybe it is time we gave some consideration to quality chess.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Question authority

The story goes I was in the back seat of the car continually asking "Why?" which seemed to disconcert my father. His mother said, "Well, Ronald, how else is he going to learn?"
The great baseball writer, and thinker, Bill James, made a career out of questioning accepted truths. He was castigated by the so-called 'establishment', but later was asked to join and accepted a job with the Boston Red Sox, who later won the World Championship.
I have many questions concerning chess. Today I will ask about statistics.
Why is it that when I looked at the pairings for the last round of the recent US Open and saw my friend IM Ron Burnett paired with GM Dimitri Gurevich I could not ascertain which player had White and which had Black? There was a letter, 'A' in front of the pairing number. The letter 'A' was before every pairing. Why could it not be the letter 'W', or 'B'?
Why is it a player has only one rating? Like a baseball hitter, who has a different batting average vs either a right-handed pitcher, or a left-handed pitcher, it would seem only logical for a chessplayer to have a rating when playing White and one for when he plays Black, would it not?
I would like to know how some of my chess playing friends have done against GM's as opposed to how they have fared vs IM's. I would like to know how they, and, for that matter, I have faired against Masters; Experts; class 'A', etc.
The great GM Walter Browne, is called 'Mr Six-Time' because he won the US Championship a total of six times. I would like to know how he fared against his opponents, not only in the US Championships, but in other tournaments as well. Many years ago there was an article in CHESS LIFE before the US Championship detailing how each opponent had fared aginst the other participants. I thought it one of the most interesting articles to appear in our magazine. It would have enhanced my enjoyment of this years Championship to have known how, for example, Hikaru Nakamura had fared vs Josh Friedel before the last round battle. It would have also have been nice to have known how they have fared against each other, with each color, and how they have done 'lately'.
As a fan of baseball, I can go to and find an answer to just about any question I may have concerning the history of baseball. For example, I can learn what Mickey Mantle hit vs left-handed pitching in any year he played. Because of I can check on a statement like, for example, "Whitey Ford was used by Casey Stengle mostly against the better teams."
Some years ago while working at the Atlanta Chess and Game Center I met a young couple, Ed and Jillison Parks, who were real chess fans. I gave them lessons and Ed even came to the House of Pain to play in a few tournaments. They enjoyed getting online and keeping up with the Royal Game, just as fans of other games do. Chess needs more fans of the Royal Game. I believe better statistics would enhance the prospect of having more chess fans, and the more fans of chess, the better for those who play the game!
We chess fans can have more, and better, statistical analysis if we demand it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Awarding half points for not playing

Recently the practice of awarding a 1/2 point for not playing the last round has become prevalent. I do not know how it has come to be, but if there is a right and a wrong, then it is, most assuredly, wrong!
I have heard it said that if a half point bye is allowed in any round, then it should be allowed in the last round. A case can be made for allowing a half point bye in the first round for those who must work; or for the third round on Sat night for those (including me) who simply cannot play three games in one day. Some players take a half point bye in the fourth round Sun morning in order to attend church. There are those (including me) who are opposed to a half point bye on the last day. The Legendary Georgia Ironman says, "When I'm at the board on Sunday morning, I am at church!"
The last round is special; different from all those that have come before it. The last round is called "The money round" for a reason. Have you ever heard any other round called 'the money round'?
While working at the Atlanta Chess & Game Center I had one player tell me he loved the last round half point bye because, if he was having a good tournament, he would be paired up in the last round, and invariably lost.
In the recent US Open three of the top five players going into the last round took a half point bye and did not play! Three of them (that's 60%!) took the gift half point bye. The current woman's world champion took not one, not two, but THREE half point byes in the last three rounds. She did not play even one game of classical chess!
Having worked at Daytona, I know NASCAR is the king of sponsorship. I recently made contact with someone who works in that field and described the format of major chess tournaments in the USA and asked him to give me his thoughts. He was incredulous that players did not have to play in the last round, mentioning golf and what would happen if a player could 'opt-out' of playing the last round by taking a par score. There would be no more sponsors for golf!
If you look at the tournament announcement for the Louisiana State Championship you will find this regarding byes: Byes: Up to two 1/2 pt byes available if requested before rd 2, but byes for both rd 6 AND 7 is not permitted.
Because of the wording it was not clear to me whether that meant that a player could take a bye in either the penultimate or the last round, but not both; or whether a player could not take a bye in either of the last two rounds, so I emailed to find out. This is the reply I receiced from Mr. Alex Steger: "A bye is not allowed in round 6 or 7. We don't want IM's to come in and play the 3 day schedule Saturday and Sunday, go home Monday, and win the tournament."
I do not know how it has come to be that a half point is given to a player who choses not to play in the last round, but the USCF should outlaw it, now!