Tuesday, 13 March 2007

The Times They Are a A-Changing (again)...

My thanks to Steve Fairbairn for drawing my attention to this item on the FIDE website...


This news report, dated 12 March 2007 and entitled "FIDE President meets the World Champion Vladimir Kramnik", includes the following paragraph:

"Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and Vladimir Kramnik exchanged the opinions in respect of time control and concurred that it is necessary to keep the 7 hours control for top level events and some traditional chess tournaments. For all other tournaments a new time control of 1 hour plus 10 seconds from move 1 for each player will be set up. The World Champion supported the idea. This proposal will be considered by the next Presidential Board meeting."

I had to read and re-read this several times in disbelief. I double-checked the date (in case it said 1 April). As we like to say in London, "they're 'avin' a laugh". They can't be serious, surely? If they are, they are completely and utterly insane. I could believe it of Ill-Lunatic (as Kingpin like to call him), but Kramnik has previously shown himself to be a calm and rational person for the most part. If he has been misquoted, he must get something up on his website pretty quick or his reputation for common sense is going to be blown to pieces.

Do I need to spell out the argument as to why 1 hour plus 10 seconds a move is insane? Probably not, but here are a few thoughts. It means that players would have 1 hour 10 mins for a 60-move game - even faster than the time control used for evening league matches in the UK. As it happens, I played a game last night that went to a frantic rapidplay finish, probably lasting about 90 moves, in which my flag fell when I was on the point of winning with K+N+P v bare K. All good knock-about fun between amateurs, and a draw was actually a fair result, but this is hardly suitable for serious grandmaster chess. Our league's time control is 30 moves in 75 minutes, followed by 15 minutes for the rest. That is basically 90 minutes for the whole game - but the FIDE proposal would work out at only 75 minutes for a 90-move game.

The other aspect of this which troubles me is its inherent elitism. FIDE still don't want to go back on their ridiculous shortening of the time controls, but they now have to cope with a world champion (and probably other elite players) who hate the new time controls. So they divide and conquer: they cut a deal with the big boys, but apply the new nonsense to the powerless masses. But the point is that the elite players would never have become great players in the first place had they not had years of playing seven-hour chess. It is utterly odious for them now to pull up the ladder so that a new generation does not have access to sensible time controls. How are young players expected to become good players on a relentless diet of speed chess? And any of them who did make it through the system would then have to acclimatise to long time controls on reaching the elite level. And, of course, it would mean the end of the line for subtly-played endgames. Reuben Fine's Basic Chess Endings could be consigned to the history shelves.

The good news is that I cannot see it happening widely. Most chess organisers are too sensible to give way to the sort of nonsense that FIDE tries to impose on them. For example, Stewart Reuben is a strong advocate of a one-minute increment at his Hastings and Gibraltar tournaments, and the 4NCL is planning a similarly sensible increment-based time control for its future events, designed as far as possible to correspond to the traditional seven-hour session. I'm sure there are plenty of other arbiters and organisers who will continue to do their own thing. But it would be the ruination of FIDE's own tournaments. Sad.


  1. Is this a *minimum* time limit for a game to be FIDE rated, or something like that?! If so it'll surely be a great boon for UK tournaments - the current time limits required for a game to be FIDE rated make it almost impossible for weekend tournaments to be FIDE rated.

  2. I had my copy of Basic Chess Endings in the loo for a while, but thught better of it recently. I now have an Everyman book there instead.

    I'd be inclined to check this story before taking it on face value as it seems so bizarre as to be unbelievable. It's hard to think the idea would have any support among professionals in general. It's a faster time-limit than you'd get in any league of my acquaintance.

    Incidentally, speaking as somebody who plays regularly in a league (Aragón team championship in Spain) using Fischer clocks, I have serious reservations about them. Their merit is that you don't have the situation where you fail to win when you're a piece up for nothing because the clock runs out. But their demerit is that rather than enabling people to avoid time trouble, as is occasionally supposed by people who don't use them, they actually mean you're in permanent time trouble once your clock gets down to the last few minutes.

    But that's another discussion.

  3. Tom's point - I'm not sure what the minimum time limit is for a game to be FIDE-rated, but I wouldn't be in favour of the 1 hour+10 second increment time control. That is speed chess and I wouldn't want my real rating to be defiled with such data. If they want to use such data for a separate FIDE rapidplay rating - fine - but the two shouldn't be mixed up.

    EJH's point about checking the story: the story is on the FIDE website as a press release and hasn't been contradicted by what's on Kramnik's website. Maybe something has been lost in translation - in fact, I hope that is the case. But I fear not. Some of the FIDEistas (notably Makropoulos) are gung ho about these rapidplay time limits.

    Interesting point about Fischer controls. I've heard other people say the same thing. Having never played a true Fischer time control from the beginning of the game, I cannot comment. But it is an interesting debating point, particularly since the 4NCL is planning to move to Fischer time controls ina year or so.

  4. The current FIDE minimum is 2 hours per person for the game without increment - this rules out weekend tournaments from being FIDE rated, more or less - I believe. I also assume that this is the reason that in FIDE-rated countries, its more common to have either one day rapids or week-long congresses than weekend tournaments.

  5. I'm not sure what Tom means by "FIDE-rated countries". Does he mean countries in which ratings are in Elo form rather than completely different (as in England)? I don't think that's got anything to do with the existence or otherwise of weekend congreses, has it? It's not the same as being "FIDE-rated" - there are different ratings issued by national federations.

  6. Some time ago I played in a one day blitz event with the time control of 5 minutes each plus 5 seconds per move (if memory serves).

    At some point during the tournament the organisers asked if people preferred playing with the Fischer clocks or ordinary clocks (say 10 minutes each).

    Almost universally, the players in the top section voted for ordinary and those of us in the average club player section wanted Fischer.

    This suprised me somewhat as I assumed the Fischer clock would reward the stronger player for the reasons EJH gives above. I assumed the stronger you were the more likely you were to want the Fischer clocks. Obviously my thinking was faulty there.

    BTW: the top section was pretty strong. Adams won the event and I think he was ranked 4 in the world at the time.

  7. The preference for non-incremental time by the top players is down to human nature. Just as rich people tend to prefer the way things are while the poor often want political change, strong players are suspicious of anything that might undermine their superiority while weaker players are less likely to be conservative.

    Strong players are also more likely to be more experienced and to have got into a comfortable rhythm of play at traditional blitz
    time limits. Having to get used to a new rhythm of play is a nuisance for them.

    The proliferation of different time limits is ridicuolous. I recall Nigel Short making a very relevant point some years ago that, every time he sat down at the board, he found himself having to get used to a time control that was slightly different from the last one he had encountered. Understandably he found this extremely irritating. What's needed is a universal standard based on the time available for play: one long-play time control for one game per day chess of 4-7 hours (standardplay), one for 2/3 games per day (or evening chess) (let's call it 'multiplay'), another for 5/6 games per day (rapidplay) and one for blitz tournaments ('blitzplay'). These could all be rated or graded in separate categories. Wouldn't it be great... we could then simply refer to 'standardplay', 'multiplay', 'rapidplay' and 'blitzplay' and know exactly what we were all talking about. In the years of transition from analogue to digital clocks, you could have two flavours of each time control (e.g. incremental standardplay or non-incremental rapidplay). Just a pipe dream, of course: due to the lack of sensible guidance from on top, organisers are left having to do their own thing and the result is chaos. We are probably many years away from the adoption of such a standard.

  8. I don't see the possibility of more weekend tournaments being Fide rated as a good thing. Sure it might be justified by Fide reducing the rating list to 1600, but if you are someone who plays in Opens and likes the opportunity to play top players, then those opportunities will become even rarer than they are at the moment.

  9. I recall Nigel Short making a very relevant point some years ago that, every time he sat down at the board, he found himself having to get used to a time control that was slightly different from the last one he had encountered. Understandably he found this extremely irritating.

    Well yeah, but this is only the same experience as club players have when they play in a number of leagues. It's a small pain but it's actually brought about (to some degree) by the fact that different leagues and congresses take place in different circumstances: the availability of rooms until whatever hour, the times by which players can be expected to arrive and so on.

    Of course one could say that there's no compelling reason why any given congress which has three Saturday games and two Sunday games should have a different time limit to any other: or why FIDE-rated tournaments that play one game a day should have different time lmits. Except that they do give people a choice, and some people prefer one time limit while others prefer another: I may dislike Fischer clocks, for instance, but other people may like them a lot. I played two international tournaments in 2006: one, in Marianske Lazne, used them, while the other, in Benasque, did not.

    Which is fair enough, is it not? With the added bonus that it irritates Nigel Short!

  10. BTW, I know it's not much comfort, but this statement could be read as implying that the Olympiad will be reverting to 7 hour time controls.

  11. Surely some mistake? Not even FIDE could suggest such a bizarre time control (and certainly not Kramnik).

    I sincerely hope there has been a mis-translation or typo.

    I'm not a fan of Fischer controls myself, but would be willing to accept a more sensible incremental time control if I had to.

  12. For evening games, we used to do 36 in 1 hr 15 mins then the rest in 15 mins. Then we moved to 'all in 90mins' a couple of years ago. The latter is much better - takes the same time but does without the fiddly setting the clocks back thing and actually it's more logical and leads to better games.

  13. I think if you're only going to play a very short second session then on the whole that's quite probably right. Why do we have short second sessions?