The tiebreak rules at the World Rapid Chess Championship, which ended yesterday in Warsaw, Poland, have been heavily debated on social media. This report provides an overview of the different opinions expressed online.
The World Rapid Championship ended in a four-point tie for first place on Tuesday between GM’s Nodirbek Abdusattorov, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Magnus Carlsen and GM Fabiano Caruana. All four had scored 9.5/13, but not all qualified for the play-off.
Rapid 2021 World Championship | Final standings (Top 10)
|2||4||GM||Ian Nepomniachtchi Ian||2798||9.5||100.5||107.5||2699|
|3||1||GM||Magnus Carlsen Magnus||2842||9.5||97.0||103.0||2691|
|4||6||GM||Fabiano Caruana Fabiano||2770||9.5||95.0||100.0||2649|
(The full final standings here.)
The rules state that only the top two players on the tiebreak will play the blitz play-off to determine the champion. The first tiebreak, pointing in the direction of Abdusattorov and Nepomniachtchi, is “Buchholz Cut 1”, meaning the total of the scores of each of the opponents they played (minus the worst score), multiplied by the team’s own score. player. Simply put, Abdusattorov and Nepomniachtchi’s 9.5 is rated more highly because their respective opponents had played better than Carlsen’s and Caruana’s opponents.
This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Five years ago, in Doha, Qatar, GM Vasyl Ivanchuk took the quick tie-break title (without play-off) after finishing in a tie for first place with GM Alexander Grischuk (silver) and Carlsen (bronze), pointing out that the first tie-break criterion then the opponents’ average rating worked unfairly against the player with the highest rating.
FIDE listened in and introduced a blitz playoff the following year, but for only the top two players in the tiebreaker. At the 2017 Rapid World Championship in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Nepomniachtchi missed the playoff after tied for first place with GMs Vladimir Fedoseev and GM Viswanathan Anand, who eventually won the playoff and the title.
Back then, the tiebreak wasn’t much discussed, but this time around, the situation has sparked a significant debate, first sparked by Carlsen himself, who knew he’d just lost his chance to keep his title.
Interviewed on Norwegian TV right after the final round, he said: “It’s a completely idiotic rule. Either all players with the same number of points enter the play-off or nobody does.”
GM Ben Finegold on Twitter pointed to a somewhat similar situation that occurred during the 2018 Sinquefield Cup.
A few years ago there was a four way tie for first (unless it was 5 🤷♂️🤷♂️)… in the Sinquefield Cup. They had the same rules, but Carlsen, one of the top 2, said, “Everyone plays the playoff, or I don’t play!” After a meeting of the organizers, they agreed that no one would play. Integrity
— Ben Finegold Ⓥ (@ben_finegold) 28 Dec 2021
Since the tweet has received quite a bit of attention on Twitter, a little explanation of what happened then is needed. Also at that tournament, only the best two players on the tiebreak would play the play-off. But the various tiebreaks failed to break the bond between Carlsen, Caruana and GM Levon Aronian. A draw had to eliminate one player. When Caruana refused to enter the playoff, Aronian and Carlsen preferred to cancel the playoff altogether and share the title, which they did.
Back to 2021. Carlsen’s description of the tiebreak rules as “utter idiot” was backed by multiple grandmasters on Twitter. Aside from the tiebreaker regulations, which effectively sidelined two of chess’s biggest names, Carlsen and Caruana, FIDE’s decision to reduce the championship from 15 to 13 rounds was also criticized:
Time to agree with a world champion https://t.co/O5yOekQ6Vm
— Sergei Karjakin (@SergeyKaryakin) 28 Dec 2021
It was an oddity to see the World Rapid Championship go from 15 to 13 rounds, but seeing these tiebreak rules for a “World Championship” is beyond laughable.
— Hikaru Nakamura (@GMHikaru) 28 Dec 2021
Only the top 2 qualify for a tiebreak,
a blitz tiebreak after the fast world,
and a lot of other weird rules. Ridiculous. #WorldRapidChessChampionship https://t.co/f4frAiHao2
-Benjamin Bok (@benjamin_bok) 28 Dec 2021
In 2014 I lost a World Cup title on tiebreak because in the last round the Russian IM I beat lost to the Italian IM I didn’t play. That’s ridiculous enough, but it’s even worse when some of the like-minded people make the playoffs and others don’t. Bad luck Magnus & Fabic
— Keith Arkell (@Atomrod) December 29, 2021
Two FIDE officials have joined the debate on Twitter. First, FIDE Director General Emil Sutovsky argued that a playoff is generally not a good idea, and he also pointed out that new decisions can be made after top players have been consulted:
Playoff in a big Swiss is a dubious idea. What if 5 or 11 players tie? Play 2-3 hours longer? Also unfair to those who have stronger opponents everywhere – it’s not RR! Rules were not only known, but were used in 2017 – no one ever complained. FIDE to poll and re-evaluate players.
— Emilchess (@EmilSutovsky) December 29, 2021
FIDE Vice President GM Nigel Short asked the merits of anyone in a tie playing a playoff:
Congratulations to Nodirbek Abdusattorov on an exceptional victory in the #FIDE World Fast Chess Championship! The late criticism of the tie-break system is broad. For example, if 10 players split the 1st, it just isn’t practical to have a playoff involving everyone.
— Nigel Short (@nigelshortchess) December 29, 2021
The reason to keep the play-off as short as possible by having only two players seems to be mainly organizational. Carlsen’s second GM Peter Heine Nielsen, who criticized the Olympiad tiebreaker rules in a 2018 article on Chess.com, noted:
Reducing the event from 15 to 13 rounds increased the likelihood that multiple players would finish first.
Play 2-3 hours longer? Yes!
The World Cup match was decided in a match that ended after midnight.
That was an epic drama, followed by millions, not a problem to be avoided. https://t.co/yI7zAuvkKZ
– Peter Heine Nielsen (@PHChess) December 29, 2021
Sutovsky noted that having a higher number of rounds can lead to other problems:
Increasing number of rounds has its drawbacks. A – it’s really hard to play even 15 rounds in 3 days (many complained). B – there must be a ratio between the number of players and rounds. Imagine round 14 – pairs would be a mess as almost all leaders already played against each other
— Emilchess (@EmilSutovsky) December 29, 2021
Norwegian grandmaster and Chess.com commentator Jon Ludvig Hammer suggested adding a day to the fast-paced tournament schedule. It should be noted that for scheduling reasons, it will probably be impossible to add a day if the tournament is held in the last week of the year, as many players will not be able to get home in time for the New Year’s celebrations.
I think adding an extra day to the quick championship, in addition to a KO with all players in first place, would take away most of the concerns.
– Avoids the rough schedule of 5 games/day.
– Giving byes on KO (if odd numbers) retain any advantage of superior tiebreaks.
– Jon Ludvig Hamer (@gmjlh) December 29, 2021
A chess arbitrator had a very different take on the tiebreak situation:
If we look at the head-to-head results of the top 4 finishers of the @FIDE_chess #WorldRapid, only one game was not played. So, yes, there must be a play-off: @MagnusCarlsen in return for @FabianoCaruana – and for third place! #WRBCC2021 #RapidBlitz pic.twitter.com/XPiuMaYzCL
– Ana Srebrnic (@velemojstrica) December 29, 2021
When interviewed for Norwegian TV, Carlsen also said: “A play-off for the win is very much as it should be at such a prestigious event, something you should of course have with the candidates as well.” A day later, FIDE announced that this has indeed been arranged for the Candidates.
Pursuant to the decision taken at the FIDE Council meeting on December 27, a play-off has been introduced for the Candidates Tournament and the Women’s Candidates Tournament to be played in the event of a first place tie. pic.twitter.com/qRgFMDwTt9
— International Chess Federation (@FIDE_chess) December 29, 2021
Some have made the point that criticism tends to show up when it’s too late to complain. Two tweets, one by a grandmaster and one by an arbiter:
Why do top GMs always complain about tiebreak rules AFTER the tournament? 🤔
-Eugène Perelshteyn (@EugenePerel) December 29, 2021
It’s okay not to be happy with the tiebreaker rules for a tournament, but the time to bring that up is when the rules are published, not after the last round has ended! #WorldRapidChessChampionship
— Chris Vogel (@ChrisBirdIA) 28 Dec 2021
Another arbitrator pointed out that perhaps the best place for players to make their points is the FIDE Athletes Committee, rather than social media.
Well, I like to think that I wasn’t appointed to an unelected committee for political reasons to bring the quality down…
There is now an Athletes’ Committee. I hope players deal with that, instead of complaining about things via Twitter, which isn’t very professional IMO.
— Alex Holowczak (@alexholowczak) December 29, 2021
What would be your ideal size and best way to determine the winner of the rapid world championship? Leave your opinion in the comments!