Chess World Divided Around World Rapid Tiebreak Controversy

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)

rc. cut fed Name rtg points TB1 TB2 TB3
1 59 GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov 2593 9.5 103.0 109.0 2674
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
5 3 GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda 2801 9.0 98.0 103.0 2679
6 14 GM Levon Aronian 2728 9.0 96.0 100.0 2544
7 2 GM Hikaru Nakamura 2836 9.0 95.5 102.0 2650
8 15 GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 2727 9.0 92.0 98.0 2588
9 174 GM Gukesh D 2050 9.0 91.0 95.0 2619
10 10 GM Richard Report 2750 9.0 88.0 94.0 2592

(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.

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:

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:

FIDE Vice President GM Nigel Short asked the merits of anyone in a tie playing a playoff:

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, noted:

Sutovsky noted that having a higher number of rounds can lead to other problems:

Norwegian grandmaster and 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.

A chess arbitrator had a very different take on the tiebreak situation:

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.

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:

Another arbitrator pointed out that perhaps the best place for players to make their points is the FIDE Athletes Committee, rather than social media.

What would be your ideal size and best way to determine the winner of the rapid world championship? Leave your opinion in the comments!

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