Tag Archives: FIDE

Tournament Chess Board Options

Choosing the right tournament chess board is a topic I’ve thought about over the years, trivial as it might seem. After last Friday’s post, I decided to share my thoughts and get your opinions as well. Let’s go through different options — what is your ideal tournament surface?

I’m also assuming we’re playing in tournaments where we have to bring our own equipment. I won’t discuss square size because there aren’t a range of options here.  FIDE regulations state that the side of a square should measure 5 to 6 cm (roughly 2.0 to 2.4 in).

Here we go:

Fold-Up, Roll-Up, or Neither

By “neither,” I mean a hard, one-piece tournament chess board like the one I discussed last week. These tend to be the most aesthetically-pleasing boards, but they’re obviously not the most convenient. Choose this route only if you’re driving to a tournament, and a nice playing surface is an important part of your enjoyment of the game.

Personally, I would consider this option if I drove to a tournament and stayed in a hotel for a few days or longer. However, I rarely see players use these kinds of boards in competition.

Another seldom-chosen option is the fold-up board. I imagine the “crease” in the middle of the board is distracting, even though these boards can be very attractive otherwise.

By far the most popular choice is the roll-up board, and with good reason: these boards are cheap, compact, and easier to clean than other types.

Color

Apparently black-and-white is not good for the eyes over a long period of time. Most players opt for a green-and-white surface, but other choices are popular as well. Next time, I might choose brown-and-white — just to be different. I’m tired of green and I’ve never been a fan of blue or burgundy.

Of course, roll-up boards are so cheap you can buy more than one and choose a color that fits your mood…

Material

Assuming you go with a roll-up board, you still have to consider the material of your playing surface.

A vinyl roll up board.

When I first began playing chess in the 1990s, vinyl was the material of choice. I suspect it is still the most popular type of board purchased: it’s easy to clean, easy to roll or fold, and provides a decently-thick playing surface.

 

A mousepad board, in purple.

Recently, rubberized surfaces akin to a computer mousepad have become an option. They lay very flat, don’t move easily during play, and don’t develop creases like vinyl boards sometimes do.

The main issue with mousepad boards is they stain easily and can’t be wiped off as easily as other boards. I primarily don’t like them because of their texture.

 

Tournament Chess Board

A silicone roll-up board.

Another alternative is silicone boards. They can be twisted or mashed into any shape, and wipe off easily, like vinyl. It seems to me that silicone boards grip the playing surface they’re laying on better than vinyl boards do, but not as well as mousepad material.

I haven’t converted to silicone because I don’t like the thinness of the surface, and I’m not a fan of the texture. Still, I do think they will only grow in popularity in the coming years.

A tournament chess board is a very personal thing! You’re going to be spending a lot of hours with it, and I think it’s important to use a product you like. What do you like to play on during a tournament game? Is there anything I have left out? Please comment!

Chess Tactics: Van Wely — Ki. Georgiev, 1997

Loek Van Wely. Photo: FIDE

Loek Van Wely. Photo: FIDE

Loek Van Wely (b. 1972) is one of the greatest Dutch players ever, becoming Champion of the Netherlands eight times so far.

A notable tournament victory was the 1996 New York Open. He is also a fixture at the prestigious Wijk aan Zee super tournaments.

In October 2001 Van Wely achieved a career-high rating of 2714 while climbing to 10th in the world rankings, also a career high.

 

Van Wely wins a sparkling game against Kiril Georgiev, another former top player (=9th in the world, January 1993), and author. This game was played in the first FIDE Knockout World Championship in 1997. This tournament has since become the World Cup.

White to play. How did Van Wely punch his ticket to the Quarterfinals of the grueling knockout?

18. ?

Line Clear

ICCF: Official Correspondence Chess

Intro to Correspondence Chess

Most players are used to over-the-board, or OTB, chess. Correspondence games are played over a period of months or even years, and not in person.

Screenshot of a completed ICCF correspondence game

Screenshot of a completed ICCF correspondence game.

They were traditionally played by postal mail, with each player sending moves to their opponent on a postcard. This is rare nowadays, and most games are played via a webserver — just log in, bring up your game, and enter a move on a chessboard. You can also exchange messages with your opponent if you wish.

Individual correspondence tournaments are round-robins with an odd number of players. You play all of your games simultaneously: half with the white pieces, and half with black. The time control is given as X moves in Y days: for example 10 moves in 50 days. This repeats as long as the game continues and a player has not run out of time.

Many sites offer correspondence chess, and the number grows if we include online servers that offer everything from blitz, to standard, to correspondence-style play. However, there is only one place to play official, FIDE-recognized CC: the ICCF.

 

The International Correspondence Chess Federation (ICCF)

The ICCF logo.

The ICCF logo.

Let’s learn a bit about ICCF’s history, from the body itself:

ICCF is the International Correspondence Chess Federation. ICCF was founded in 1951 as a new appearance of the ICCA (International Correspondence Chess Association), which was founded in 1945, as successor of the IFSB (Internationaler Fernschachbund), founded in 1928.ICCF

And the key part:

ICCF is closely co-operating with the leading world chess organization FIDE. All ICCF titles, championships and ratings are recognised by FIDE.ICCF

Titles

In addition to World Champion, the ICCF offers the following titles for correspondence play (in descending order):

  • Grandmaster (GM)
  • Senior International Master (SIM)
  • International Master (IM)
  • Correspondence Chess Master (CCM)
  • Correspondence Chess Expert (CCE)
  • Note: the Ladies Grandmaster (LGM) and Ladies International Master (LIM) titles have been phased out, as have Ladies Correspondence World Championships.

Normally, to achieve these titles a player must score two or more norms totalling a total of 24 games, similar to over-the-board GM/IM/WGM/WIM titles (two or more norms totalling 27 or more games).

CCE and CCM were added in the past few years, but I don’t think they’re prestigious, even though I have the CCE title and have a very good chance of completing the CCM title in my current tournament.

What About Computers!?

ICCF does not prohibit outside assistance. Players are allowed to use engines, which I freely admit to doing.

Besides ICCF being officially recognized by FIDE, this is the other main reason I chose ICCF play: they don’t pretend to police computer usage in long games played across the globe.

Now, no one suspects anyone else of anything. It would be much worse if computer assistance was not allowed, and some players used it anyway to cheat. I have no doubt this happens on other servers.

And I’ve got news for you: simply turning on the engine and having it do all the work for you will not get you very far when everyone else can do the same thing! This has made ICCF play very different than it was in the past, but I don’t see a viable alternative in the computer age. The vast majority of games end in draws.

I’m not very skilled in ICCF play, and don’t take it super-seriously. My opening prep is slipshod, and I’m nowhere close to being a computer expert. Still, there is scope for creativity in opening choices, directing the line of play, and steering games to the endgame. I find “centaur” (human plus computer) chess stimulating, and in some ways it has helped my standard chess, too!

Have you ever played correspondence chess before? Would you ever try it? And how do you feel about the ICCF not prohibiting engine assistance?

How to Claim a Draw in Chess

Draw claims are less frequent than before

Nearly all games today are played with time delay or increment. As a result, “quickplay finishes” (FIDE) or the notorious claims of “insufficient losing chances” (USCF) are mostly a thing of the past. The players decide the result of the game between themselves, as it should be.

Draw claims are a lot messier when not using time delay or increment. Photo: Caissa Chess Store

Draw claims are a lot easier with digital clocks, which unfortunately means beautiful clocks like the Garde are less common. Photo: Caissa Chess Store

Still, knowing how to properly claim a draw is important for a tournament player in two main instances:

  • The 50-move rule
  • Triple occurrence of position

Note that this is different from offering your opponent a draw — I’ll cover that in a future post.

Draw claims don’t involve the opponent. You call over the Arbiter or Tournament Director, who then makes a ruling.

You can only claim a draw on your turn, with two possibilities: the key position has already appeared, or your next move would bring it about.

The 50-move rule

If 50 consecutive moves (by white and black) have been made without a pawn move or a capture, a player having the move can claim a draw.

Scenario A
50 consecutive moves have already been played without a pawn move or capture.

To claim a draw: Pause the clock, call the Arbiter, and state your claim.

Scenario B
Your next move will complete 50 consecutive moves without a pawn move or capture.

To claim a draw: Write down your next move, pause the clock, call the Arbiter, and state your claim. Do not play the move after writing it down!

In both cases, it is important to not start your opponent’s clock! If you do, it is now their turn and you cannot claim! There are no retroactive claims; If the position changes into one where a claim is no longer possible, you’re out of luck!

Tip
If neither player has made a claim after 75 consecutive moves without a pawn move or capture, the Arbiter steps in and declares the game a draw.

Triple Occurrence of Position

If an identical position has appeared on the board for the third time, the player on move may claim a draw. The position need not recur consecutively, but identical moves must be possible all three times. When thinking of Identical possible moves, also consider castling and en passant.

Scenario C
An identical position has occurred for the third time.

To claim a draw: Pause the clock, call the Arbiter, and state your claim.

Scenario D
Your next move will bring about an identical position for the third time.

To claim a draw: Write down your next move, pause the clock, call the Arbiter, and state your claim. Do not play the move after writing it down!

Once again, do not start your opponent’s clock!

Tip
If neither player has made a claim after an identical position has occurred five times, the Arbiter steps in and declares the game a draw.

Summary

Write down your next move (if necessary), pause the clock, and claim. Do not play the move you have written down, and do not start your opponent’s clock!

May you always make correct draw claims!

The DGT 3000 Chess Clock

What about other options?

Let’s discuss what I see as the two main competitors to the DGT 3000:

When I reviewed the Chronos, I noted that a big factor in its favor early on was its large display in comparison to other digital timers. Not only can other chess clocks now claim this as well, new Chronos clocks are more compact and therefore have a smaller display. I wouldn’t buy one for 110 USD today, but that’s just me.

The DGT 3000 costs roughly 80 USD. Earlier, I reviewed the DGT North American, which can be had for about half this amount.

Who needs to buy the DGT 3000? Anyone who uses DGT electronic boards and broadcasts games online! I was a DGT board operator at the Greater New York Scholastics this past February and became more familiar with this clock.

Features and Benefits of the DGT 3000

DGT 3000

The DGT 3000: officially endorsed by FIDE, and required if you want to broadcast games on DGT boards.

  • The display is huge and easy to see from a distance; much larger than the Chronos or DGT North American.
  • The plungers are large, easy to press, and not noisy.
  • The DGT 3000 seems sturdier than the DGT NA, and I would expect it to last longer.
  • Easier-than-expected to set. The big display provides more scope for the clock to make clear what a player or arbiter is setting. It is very easy to make a mistake setting the DGT NA, and trying to set a Chronos is downright confusing if you’ve never done it before.
  • It can accommodate U.S. time delay rules which its predecessor, the DGT 2010, cannot.
  • FIDE approved. This is important for official FIDE competitions such as World and Continental Championships.

This is all great, but is it worth twice as much as the DGT NA? As DGT itself says:

The fact that the DGT NA, in its display, does not add the delay time to the main time is the only reason why the DGT NA is not FIDE approved. According to FIDE rules and regulations the total time available to a player should be shown on the display at all times.Digital Game Technologies

This is a subtlety I missed in my review of the DGT NA. My bad!

Verdict

A player only competing in USCF tournaments where delay timing is prevalent can stick with the DGT North American — it is the best clock for the money. However, I believe the additional one-time investment for the DGT 3000 is justified.

If I were buying a chess clock today, I would choose the DGT 3000.

Online FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar: How to Prepare

Is the pandemic good for the online FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar?

The COVID-19 pandemic has actually increased the amount of scheduled FIDE Arbiters' Seminars; now they're exclusively online.

The coronavirus pandemic has increased the frequency of the online FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my experience attending the 74th Internet-based FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar organized in early May by the European Chess Union. The course and final exam are a real challenge, and FIDE certainly doesn’t give away seminar norms!

WIth the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, all seminars are being organized online. This has led to more courses, since arbiters don’t need to worry about travel expenses and logistics. I hope this factor leads to increased attendance as well.

Readers’ Mailbag

After seeing my earlier post, a reader sent me a question yesterday:

Hi Andre, How are you? I am attending FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar this weekend and I was wondering how should I go about preparing for the seminar and exam? Is there any thing you suggest I can do in the next couple of days that will help me to get the most out of the seminar? Thanks for all your help.A Reader

They asked not to be identified since they don’t want FIDE to think I’m giving unfair assistance (I’m not; I don’t know this person).

A prospective arbiter reaching out for advice is a very good sign. This eagerness suggests to me that the candidate will be successful in the course. Anyway, here’s my response:

Hi [Name], My main advice would be to download the 2020 FIDE Arbiters Manual and study it well. Especially the Laws of Chess and Competition Rules. Also get into the mindset about being more proactive when running tournaments, which is different from how USCF TDs are expected to be.Andre

You must be fluent with the material to pass the exam with 80%. From my previous post:

The exam is open-book, but having access to everything is not helpful in only two hours without being well-versed in the subject matter!

For USA participants: the biggest adjustment for USCF TDs working FIDE-rated events is being confident and ready to intervene in games. You can’t be afraid of making mistakes. As we say in New York City: If you see something, say something!

Other Things to Know for an online FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar

  • How to make pairings under the FIDE Dutch System.
  • The tiebreaks to apply under each tournament type, and how to calculate them.
  • The meaning of the FIDE rating system, requirements for a player to receive an initial rating, and how to calculate the rating change of a player. For practice, go to the FIDE homepage, search for your favorite active player and study their recent tournament activity with rating changes.
  • Regulations for direct titles, title norms, and title applications for players and arbiters. To practice: visit the titles page, study current applications and the norms that comprise them. Pay special attention to the numbers of rated and titled players, and host country/foreign opponents in a player’s schedule.
  • Anti-cheating measures available to arbiters.
  • Rules about default time, recording of moves, how games can conclude in wins or draws, and claims of all kinds.

Whew! That’s a Lot!

It is. Better to over-prepare than spend several days taking the course only to not pass and have to do it again! Keep in mind also that much of your two hours will be spent typing short answer responses to questions. Usually, you need to explain actions you would take containing several steps. Attention to detail is very important.

Good luck!

Pawn Promotion in Chess

Pawn promotion is one of three special rules in chess. The others are castling and en passant.

First, I discuss some basics about pawn promotion for players just learning the game. Then, a section for tournament players. If you play in FIDE-rated events, don’t skip the last section!

Things to Remember about Pawn Promotion

This is one way to think of pawn promotion!

This is one way to think of pawn promotion!

  • Only pawns can promote.
  • When a pawn reaches the end of the board, it must become a different piece.
  • You must promote to a queen, rook, bishop, or knight. You cannot get a second king, and you cannot leave a pawn on the last rank.
  • The queen is the most powerful piece in chess, so she is chosen most often by far. That is why promotion is sometimes called queening a pawn.
  • The pawn is completely removed from the board, and the new piece replaces the pawn on the queening square, not a starting square!
  • Captured units have nothing to do with your choice of promotion piece. If you still have a queen, you can get a second queen. You could have three rooks or five bishops, for example, if you promote enough pawns.
  • Replacing a pawn with an upside-down rook (“inverting a rook”) is understood to be a new queen. But see below if you play in tournaments!

Casual players can stop here. Tournament players, read on…

Pawn Promotion in Tournaments

  • You are allowed to stop clock and get a tournament director or arbiter to assist you in locating your desired promotion piece if one is not nearby.
  • How to Notate. A white pawn moving from e7 to e8 to become a queen is written e8Q.

Special Rules for FIDE-rated Events

As I recently learned, promotion rules in international play have been updated:

  • If you promote a pawn, leave it on the last rank without replacing it, and press your clock, this is an illegal move. Your opponent receives two additional minutes on their clock, and the pawn is replaced with a queen.
  • Remember: a player loses the game on a second illegal move!
  • The promotion piece is determined when it touches the boardliterally. If you place a rook on the board upside down (intending it to be a queen), the arbiter will turn it right-side-up and it will become a rook!

That pretty much covers it. If you have questions or comments, don’t be shy! I will provide as much assistance as I can.

Olimpbase.org: The Encyclopaedia of Team Chess

Get pleasantly lost for hours on Olimpbase!

I don’t remember how I found Olimpbase.org for the first time, but I’m so glad I did. It seems the site has not been updated for a couple of years, but I still want to bring attention to it for those who are unfamiliar with it. I’ve put it under “Product Reviews” even though it is free.

The Olimpbase.org homepage

The Olimpbase.org homepage.

Wojciech Bartelski has compiled the definitive reference on team chess. As the name hints, it contains extensive info about Chess Olympiads played through 2016. it has not been updated for 2018, and the 2020 event has been moved to 2021.

For each Olympiad (Open and Women), Bartelski includes a summary of the event and the results. These include the standings of the teams, player results, and medal winners. Also, most of the games can be viewed in a popup window, or downloaded as a zip file!

More than Olympiads

In addition to the chess Olympiads, Olimpbase.org has compiled information about all kinds of team chess events, including:

  • World Team Championships
  • Continental Team Championships (African, Asian, European, Pan-American)
  • European Club Cup and various National Leauges
  • Student and Youth Team Championships
  • USSR Team Championships
  • Others: USSR vs. World, Mitropa Cup, Asian Cities Championship, Pan Arab Games, etc.

More than team events, too!

Olimpbase now includes many individual events as well. Examples:

  • The World Championship cycles (from 1886-2000)
  • The World Junior Championships (Open and Girls)
  • Continental Championships and Continental Junior Championships
  • National Championships of the Soviet Union and Poland

Olimpbase has another important resource…

The site contains all FIDE rating lists since the first list in January 1971 up to October 2001! You can find everything since 2001 on the FIDE website. Ratings are a big part of our game, and full rating lists provide historical context. Some interesting tidbits:

  • Only Fischer (1971), Karpov (1974), Tal (1980), and Kasparov (1984) achieved FIDE ratings of 2700 or above before Boris Gelfand joined them in January 1991.
  • As late as July 1987, Artur Yusupov and Andrei Sokolov were ranked =3rd/4th in the world at just 2635! A player rated 2635 today wouldn’t make the Top 100!
  • Judit Polgar was rated 2555 and =55th in the world in January 1989…as a 12-year-old!
  • 16-year-old Gata Kamsky was ranked #8 in July 1990 with a rating of 2650…as a FIDE Master!
  • Only 16 players reached 2700 before the year 2000.
  • Did you know: Michal Krasenkow (July 2000) and Loek Van Wely (January 2001) were not only 2700 players, both were ranked #10 in the World?

Conclusion

Olimpbase.org contains a treasure trove of historical chess information. If you love chess history, the Olimpbase is not to be missed!

74th Internet-based FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar

From May 3-7 I took part in an online FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar organized by the European Chess Union, via Zoom. This was the 74th online FA seminar; I actually took part in the very first one in July 2010. That ground-breaking event was organized by the late Sevan Muradian, whose impact on FIDE chess in the United States cannot be overstated.

I believe I was the only attendee from the USA. This seminar was given in English, but others are given in different languages, e.g. Spanish, French, Russian, German, or Arabic.

FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar?

I recently attended the 74th Internet-based FIDE Arbiters' Seminar.

I attended the 74th Internet-based FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar.

Most fans are familiar with playing titles, e.g. International Master (IM) and Grandmaster (GM), but there is also FIDE Arbiter (FA) and the higher International Arbiter (IA).

Arbiters supervise FIDE-rated events. The USCF requires Tournament Directors to be a Senior TD or higher and pass a National Arbiter exam. I became a Senior TD way back in 2005, but only took and passed the National Arbiter exam in 2019!

After gaining the NA rank, becoming a FIDE Arbiter requires a seminar, passing another exam, and earning three “norms” for assisting in qualified tournaments. I have two norms from round robins in 2019 (here and here). My final norm must be from a Swiss or Team tournament. Contact me, Organizers…

A passing seminar result is only good for four years; my 2010 effort is old news. This time I will complete my FA title.

A FIDE Arbiter can be Chief of most international tournaments excluding World and Continental Championships. After gaining the FA title, four additional norms and you can promote to IA. No seminar is currently required for IA, but the lecturers hinted this might soon change.

Seminar Details

The FIDE Arbiters' Seminar began with ECU-related matters, which I found inspiring.

The FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar began with matters related to the ECU and its Arbiters Council, which I found inspiring.

Sessions ran 8 am to 12 noon, Eastern Time, Sunday through Thursday. The final two hours on Thursday were dedicated to the exam; I know from my prior experience this is barely enough time!

Did I have an advantage from taking a seminar before? Not really. It helped that I knew what I was up against, but so much has changed in ten years.

IA Tomasz Delega (Poland), Chairman of the ECU Arbiters Council, led much of the first day dedicated to ECU tournaments. Sadly, I can’t work ECU events since I don’t belong to an ECU federation, but the discussions were interesting. The ECU process is impressive — especially how it recruits, appoints, and evaluates arbiters.

The Lecturer of the 74th Internet-based FIDE Arbiters' Seminar, IA Jiřina Prokopová (CZE)

Lecturer of the 74th Internet-based FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar, IA Jiřina Prokopová (CZE)

The FA seminar began Monday, May 4. IA Jiřina Prokopová (Czechia) was the main “Lecturer” (as FIDE calls it) with highly-experienced IAs Geert Bailleul (Belgium) and Marco Biagioli (Italy) leading sessions as well.

Jiřina, Geert, and Marco exemplified the demeanor of a top Arbiter! They treated us as colleagues and embodied the team spirit Arbiters need while supervising competitions. All were patient in answering questions, engaged in the Zoom chat, and offered helpful feedback on homework. I hope to work with them in future events!

Tournament Directors (USCF) vs. Arbiters (FIDE)

At the beginning, Jiřina focused our attention on the Roles of Arbiters and Preface to the Laws of Chess. I found this extremely important, because it framed everything afterwards.

Arbiters in FIDE events are empowered to “act in the best interest of the competition.” This is intended to give arbiters considerable latitude to use sound judgment in taking decisions. As the link between organizer and player, we have definite responsibility for how an event is run.

USCF tournaments, by design, are much more hands-off than FIDE competitions. Here directors make pairings and serve as witnesses in case there are disputes.

The simplest example of this philosophical difference? Arbiters must call a flag fall (a player has run out of time), while this is never done in USCF events!

Topics Covered in a FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar

The main topics we covered over four days were:

  • The FIDE Laws of Chess
  • Anti-Cheating Regulations
  • General Regulations for Competitions
  • Standards of Chess Equipment
  • System of Games
  • Tiebreaks
  • The Swiss system and pairing rules
  • Electronic clocks
  • Regulations for ratings and titles (for players)
  • Regulations for Arbiter titles
  • Final Exam

Everything is different! The Laws of Chess have been refined, pairing and tiebreak methods have changed, and we hardly discussed cheating in 2010!

Results

36 attendees took the exam and 9 passed with the required 80% score. The max score was 100 points across 34 questions requiring short-answer responses, in a little over two hours.

The exam is open-book, but having access to everything is not helpful in only two hours without being well-versed in the subject matter! For good reason we were sent a link to the 2020 FIDE Arbiter’s Manual before the course and recommended to study it! I read the entire thing during the course and I’m happy I did.

I passed the exam with a score of 92.5, apparently second-highest (Jiřina informed us that two participants scored over 90 and one participant scored 95.5).

Taking a FIDE Arbiters’ Seminar is worthwhile and you will learn a lot, but it is intense. I’m glad mine is over!

Tiebreaks in Scholastic Tournaments

Many players, coaches, and parents are confused by tiebreaks in scholastic tournaments. So let’s talk about types of chess tournaments and how we decide the winner, shall we?

What is the fairest kind of chess tournament?

Certainly, the round robin (RR). Each player faces everyone else in the tournament, and it’s hard to blame anyone but yourself for your final place! A double round-robin (DRR) is even better, as each player meets their adversaries with white and black.

The largest high-level RRs were the Amsterdam 1964 and Palma de Mallorca 1970 Interzonal Tournaments held as part of the World Championship cycle. Each of these events had 24 players contesting 23 rounds.

“TB” above is Sonneborn-Berger: add the score of each opponent a player has defeated, plus half the score of each opponent the player drew. Today, most wins is sometimes used as first tiebreak. Crosstable: ChessBase.

“TB” above is Sonneborn-Berger. Today, most wins is sometimes used as first tiebreak. Crosstable: ChessBase

The Zurich 1953 Candidates Tournament was a 15-player double round robin — a monster 30-round event with each player contesting 28 games plus two rounds off.

Clearly, RRs are impractical for tournaments with a large number of players!

When are tiebreaks are needed?

A prominent use of tiebreaks in scholastic tournaments is Nationals. Photo: U.S. Chess Federation

A prominent use of tiebreaks in scholastics is Nationals. Photo: U.S. Chess Federation

To accomodate a large number of players, you need to run a Swiss. Large Swiss-system tournaments are bound to have multiple players with the same score. Ties for first place are common, as well. So what determines the final ranking?

This is especially important when we have indivisible prizes like trophies. Money can be divided equally, so most cash events don’t bother with tiebreaks.

What tiebreaks attempt to measure

Take a four-round tournament with 60 players. If five players tie for 4th place with three points, how do we rank places 4 through 8?

The players will have faced different opponents. Tiebreaks try to determine whose result was “better” among tied players, by figuring out who earned their points against the strongest competition.

There are many possible ways to judge “strongest competition.” Either the tournament will spell out the tiebreaks used in advance or, in the United States, it will be the default M-S-C-O.

M-S-C-O?

This is a shorthand way for Tournament Directors to remember which tiebreaks to apply, in order, especially in scholastic tournaments. They are:

Modified Median

Solkoff

Cumulative

Opposition Cumulative

If Modified Median doesn’t break a tie, we move on to Solkoff, and if necessary to Cumulative and then to Opposition Cumulative.

Let’s calculate some tiebreaks!

For reasons that will become clear, let’s start with Solkoff (referred to as Buchholz elsewhere).

For this, add up the scores of a player’s opponents in the tournament. The idea is that a higher-scoring field of opponents represent stronger opposition compared to other competitors with the same final score.

(Unmodified) Median removes both the highest and lowest scoring opponent’s scores in the Solkoff calculation (referred to as Median Buchholz elsewhere).

So what is Modified Median then?

Starting with the Solkoff tiebreak, we have a choice of three possible calculations:

If the player scored exactly 50%, we remove both the highest- and lowest-scoring opponent’s scores from their MM calculation (same calculation as Median score).

For a player scoring higher than 50%, we remove only the lowest-scoring opponent’s score.

For a player scoring lower than 50%, we remove only the highest-scoring opponent’s score.

With all of these, subtract a ½ point from any opponent’s score that includes an unplayed game.

Yes, players on 50% often have lower MM scores than players with less points, but this doesn’t matter because they’re only being compared with other players on the same score.

Cumulative is the cumulative score of the player after each round of the tournament.

The best way to explain this is with an example.

Two players finish a four-round Swiss-system tournament with three points. Player A loses in Round 1 and then wins their final three games. Player B wins their first three games and only loses in the final round. What will their Cumulative scores be?

Player A: 0 points after R1 + 1 point after R2 + 2 points after R3 + 3 points after R4. Total = 6

Player B: 1 point after R1 + 2 points after R2 + 3 points after R3 + 3 points after R4. Total = 10

By losing early, you’re pushed down in the standings and face weaker opponents, while a player who wins early but finishes on the same score faced stronger players throughout the event, and lost to higher-scoring players.

A player who loses early and makes a comeback is sometimes referred to as a Swiss gambit — an early loss (or draw against a weaker player) to face lesser opposition the rest of the event. Of course, an early loss is rarely intentional! If you think someone is losing on purpose, tell the TD.

Opposition Cumulative is the sum of cumulative scores of all opponents a player has faced. This fourth tiebreak doesn’t come into play often, but I’ve seen it happen.

Final thoughts

Calculating tiebreaks in scholastic tournaments is not arbitrary, nor is it voodoo! Having some knowledge of how tiebreaks are applied and why can calm a lot of frustrated kids and parents when needed.