Home Page arrow Chess Life Online arrow 2011 arrow July arrow Greg on Chess: Round Robin with a Swiss Twist
Greg on Chess: Round Robin with a Swiss Twist Print E-mail
By IM Greg Shahade   
July 22, 2011
Greg200.jpgGreg on Chess is a new series of CLO editorials by IM Greg Shahade, founder of the US Chess League and the US Chess School. This article title was modeled after Greg's popular "The Swiss is Terrible" piece, which was ranked #7 in Best of CLO 2007. Greg's opinions do not reflect any official USCF views and we encourage discussion in the comment thread or on CLO's twitter, twitter.com/uschess and facebook fan page, facebook.com/uschess

In my last article I highlighted some of the trouble with Round Robin tournaments. I have many ideas to spice up chess and to make the game more exciting and fair, however I am also aware that the chess community is opposed to change, so I am going to propose a solution that I believe works quite well and won't ruffle too many feathers.

To sum up my last article, the two main problems with the Round Robin format are:

1.       The Round Robin encourages cheating by often having a final round pairing that involves people who are in contention for the championship being paired with people completely out of contention.

2.       The Round Robin is also extremely unfriendly for the media, because in the final round the leaders aren't playing each other.

Now a simple system that looks like it would solve the above problems would be the Swiss system. Unfortunately in smaller fields, most of the top players in the Swiss system have played before the final round, and so you often end up with a lot of strange pairings and other weird problems.

My solution is as follows:

Round Robin + Swiss:

The way to make Round Robins much more interesting, is to hold a regular round robin to start, and then follow it up with a two-round Swiss system at the end of the tournament. The scores from the Round Robin would carry over, and you would have a seamless transition into the second stage of the event, guaranteeing that leaders face off in later rounds.


1. Creates an Exciting Finish In the last two rounds, the leader of the event will likely have to face the two players who are closest to him on the crosstable, resulting in a much more interesting finish. The situation where one player is a point behind, or a half point behind, would occur quite often in the final round. Also there will be more situations with many players in the running, all facing off against each other. Let's take one of my favorite international tournaments, the London Chess Classic. Last year I visited and wrote an article about the event for Chess Life Magazine. Going into the final round Magnus Carlsen was tied for the lead with Anand and McShane (using soccer scoring with three points for a win and one for a draw)in the final round. Anand played Vladimir Kramnik, who was behind by a point. Meanwhile Carlsen faced the tournament's basement resident, Nigel Short who had only scored two draws and McShane faced David Howell, who had clinched second to last. Magnus won and McShane and Kramnik both drew. Seemed unfortunate it to me that the leaders play the tail-enders at the end of the tournament. Using my system, there would be two more rounds. Magnus would have had to replay Anand in the penultimate round, with McShane facing Kramnik or Nakamura, mounting the tension prior to the conclusion.  

2. Scores Carry Over: A similar idea would be to have a match between the leaders at the end of a Round Robin. However, this idea doesn't work as well as the one I proposed because carrying over points doesn't work as gracefully. If you do carry over points, the match could be pointless. If you start the match afresh, if one of the finalists dominated the Round Robin (i.e- they finished a point or two ahead of the 2nd finalist), it would be unfortunate if they ended up losing in a tiebreak. In my system, even if someone is leading by two points, there will still be other interesting games throughout the event. Furthermore, all the other players in the event are still competing, which can make the event more fun for organizers, fans and media.

3. Prevents Cheating This system would also help curb collusion because the chances are much lower that incentives will be imbalanced. It reduces the effect and power of last round cheating deciding the championship, because for the most part the people in contention are going to be facing each other. However it won't completely reduce this effect. The USCF rules state that prearranging a draw is cheating. I think that two players who do not try their hardest to win a chess game is in a gray area and should be considered something very close to cheating or angle-shooting, as we call it in poker.

1. It could add two days at the end of the tournament. However, tournament organizers could make field sizes smaller to compensate for this. 

2. There is still a chance of two players being tied for first going into the last round, and playing a relatively lame final round draw.

3. Another downside might be said to be that the two leaders will probably play in the first round of the Swiss instead of the second, but this could actually have some upside. For example if two people are a point ahead of the field, and they draw in the penultimate round, they are sure to be facing opponents who will be out for blood in the final round, thus resulting in fighting chess all around. Actually the most annoying circumstance would likely be if two players are tied for first going into the last round, since there is often not a serious incentive to win clear first in such spots.

Overall I think that this solution will result in a much more interesting final two rounds, while also resulting in a pretty even playing field for all the players involved. It's unlikely that anyone is going to win the event by playing a significantly weaker field than their opponents, as there will only be two rounds in which they face different players.

I have more drastic tourney format ideas that I think would work well depending on field size and budget. I think this one is a great twist and improvement to a format I never loved, the old-fashioned but ever popular Round Robin.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Who will be the first to try this system, a classic round robin with a Swiss twist?