Saturday, September 22, 2018

Quicker part 2

A couple of months ago at the blog of LSV questions were raised about why some out-dated rules of the federation weren't adapted to modern society. We see that big changes only happen after some big disaster. The board of most clubs consist of older players not willing to give up their comfortable positions.

On the other hand nothing stays the same forever. There are continuously small changes which don't cause much resistance as most people consider them insignificant. Sometimes only after a decade we see how those little things have accumulated to a big shift. Chess isn't anymore the same. Everybody has adapted to the new situation except a few wondering if playing chess is still interesting.

In part 1 I wrote that the Bruges masters of 2006 was the first Belgian tournament using the quick standard-tempo G90 + 30 seconds. This year so 12 years later all the other remaining big tournaments in Belgium have adopted this tempo. The Zilveren Toren, Open Gent and Open Leuven made the change this year to this fast standard-tempo. So there are no more big tournaments in Belgium left where you can play at the old slower tempo. For the majority of the players this is a logical evolution. However I also hear a few other sounds of disappointment and even bitterness as players can't choose anymore between tournaments with different tempos.

Initially I was also against this quicker tempo but gradually I started to appreciate the advantages. No more enormous blunders due to playing moves with only seconds on the clock. There is also no need anymore of an arbiter to decide if somebody is not making any winning attempts. The games are shorter which is something I welcome in my hectic time of life. Even in Gent I noticed this. Games played at the new tempo of G90 + 30 seconds were averagely quicker finished than games at the old tempo of G120 + 0 seconds. Finally players enjoying the analysis don't need to worry about the recording of the game. You don't have to rely upon a good memory or live-boards. My game played in the 5th round of Open Gent against the tournament-winner Elshan Moradiabadi shows those benefits clearly. Already very early in the game I was down to 2 minutes on the clock but thanks to the increment I was able to avoid making big mistakes and to maintain recording of the moves.
Nevertheless there are some disadvantages too. Because of the increment we never know when a game will be finished the very latest. Theoretically the game can go on forever. 1 very long game can disturb the planning of a tournament. So this is annoying for the organizers but also for the participants it is no fun. Players have to wait longer between the rounds played at the same day and often don't get any time to prepare themselves. I noticed that the tournament-winner of the Bruges Masters 2018 the Spanish grandmaster Oleg Korneev of Russian origin was trying to get around this issue by deliberately being late to a game so he could still prepare for the crucial encounter. The Belgian international arbiter Geert Bailleul will try to discuss this at the imminent Olympiad of Batumi, Georgia. Can this be considered as cheating? Afterall Oleg did consult chess-software during the game.

Just like in 2006 we see that the Bruges Masters is today again a pioneer. For the first time in Belgium a mechanism was introduced to stop the very long games. After 4h40 minutes of play the arbiter can decide to abolish the increment and give both players an additional 5 minutes which transforms the tempo to QPF (quick play finish). At first sight this doesn't make sense as we return the old headache of playing without increment. However if we look more closely then we see that you need to play already minimum 100 moves with G90 + 30 seconds to have a game lasting 4h40 minutes. Games of more than 100 moves are extremely rare (I have in my personal database only 2 out of + 800). So I believe the gain of comfort for the tournament fully compensates the very limited reduction of quality in a couple games.

Still at the first implementation of the new system there were some childhood diseases. The switch from increment to QPF had to be done manually so took a lot (too much) time. I assume the arbiter got more experienced with it after a few times but it is still a very disturbing activity. It was neither clear what exactly should be considered as the duration of a game. Should we start counting from the official starting-hour or from the real starting-hour? As often happens in opens we see that the first round starts delayed. As a consequence the first round-game between the Belgian international master Steven Geirnaert and the Belgian FM Frederic Verduyn was already switched from increment to QPF at move 87.
The involved players weren't happy about this. We still need to get used to this but maybe we should also try to optimize the mechanism. I think it should be better if the clock can do the switch manually. I don't know any clocks able to do what needed to be done in the Bruges masters but we can try to make a compromise by making the switch after x number of moves. So x would be 60,80 or 100. Each player gets in return of cancelling the increment y = 5,10, 15 minutes extra. However only some clocks can execute such switch and they are not often available. I guess it is not easy to buy 100 such clocks for one tournament as this is not cheap at all.

A less visible disadvantage of the quicker tempo which I already mentioned in my article the scoresheet is that the play becomes more superficial. Players thinking for more than half hour at 1 move, is not possible anymore. That would be suicide with the current tempo. This also leads to poverty in the endgame. In my article practical endgames I already warned that endgames would be reduced to instincts and some minimized calculations. However in the recent summer-months I detected another alarming threat of those quicker games. Our youth doesn't know how to play some very basic endgames. I still can understand that my 9 year old son Hugo spoils the endgame below as he lacks experience of playing endgames.
The self-destruction of the very talented young player Enrico Follesa in the next game is more serious. I still accept the small mistakes in the queen-endgame but not the deliberate exchange to a completely lost pawn-endgame. I even warned about this in my article queen-endgames part 2. You have to be very careful about the transformations from queen- to pawn-endgame. It is almost always better to keep the queens on the board if you are not 100% certain about the evaluation.
Finally my own game against my most talented student Sterre Dauw played in the last round of Gent is the most shocking example. Sterre exchanged rooks while hardly thinking about the resulting pawn-endgame. I immediately knew that white has excellent winning chances with his 2 against 3 islands of pawns. Black escaped because I only had 2 minutes on the clock remaining so I missed a last devilish trick.
We can conclude that the youth is just gambling in the endgame. Before one could easily invest 15 minutes or more at 1 move in the endgame and gain some experience. The introduction of the increment has stopped this. Only by analyzing endgames at home we can still get the necessary skills but who (of the youth) does that? Yes I still do but my students were very surprised to hear in my most recent course that I sometimes spend several hours analyzing just 1 endgame.

Brabo

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