Draw Death?
By Joel Benjamin   
November 16, 2006

In order to make chess more exciting, reduce draws, has anyone explored the idea of making a win 1.5 points? This makes a win worth three times that of a draw and seems to me good way to incent playing for win. You could also only use this system for the last round of the tournament. That would really insure on-board fight till the very end. They have done it in soccer (3 for win, 1 for draw, vs. 2 for win before change), so why not chess?


The idea of changing the scoring system to dissuade draws has been bandied about for some time. Your suggestion has simplicity on its side, and the analogy to soccer is thought provoking.

I doubt that any alternative scoring system will work fairly in a Swiss system event, where pairings are based on scores. The player with more wins is not necessarily the one who has played better, or even more energetically. Lets consider two rounds from a Swiss: Grandmaster A is upset in the first round, then beats a low rated player. Master B draws with GMs in the first two rounds. Clearly Master B's achievement in the first two rounds is greater, but the Grandmaster gets a 3-2 edge in your scoring system.

Recently a Seattle-based company called Slugfest.org sponsored a significant tournament, the GM Slugfest with a modified scoring system. Designed by Clint Ballard, "BAP" awards points per game as follows:

Black wins = 3 points
White wins = 2 points
Black draws = 1 point
White draws = 0 points
Any loss = 0 points

Victor Mikhalevski bested a field of five other GMs and two IMs at the GM Slugfest to take home a whopping $5000. He had a final tally of ten points from six rounds, and his "conventional" score of 4.5-1.5 would have taken first place as well.

The system certainly provides for an exciting last round. With three points available to some players, the standings can change substantially in one round. With so many permutations of scores, the likelihood of the massive ties so common to Swiss system events is greatly reduced.

I don't know if BAP will be successful as a draw deterrent. Certainly White is disinclined to take a draw under any circumstances, but his opponent may feel just the opposite. Playing for a draw with Black could become a more attractive strategy to some who hope that their opponent will go crazy to avoid a draw.

It doesn't seem right to put so much of the onus of fighting on White. Are Exchange Variation mavens more insidious than Petroff purveyors? And shouldn't a player who draws with White against a grandmaster get something for it?

Mr. Ballard could also have guaranteed a fighting tournament by simply requiring a move count before draws could be agreed. This approach has been used successfully in tournaments organized by Maurice Ashley and Generation Chess. Internationally, the 30-move requirement is known as the "Sofia rules." Skeptics believe that players will just maneuver around and agree to a draw when they can, but evidence so far does not support that claim. It is pretty difficult to avoid risks for thirty moves or more. Any players who are obviously trying to subvert the rule would risk future repercussions.

The bottom line is - the bottom line. Events with big money (large prize fund Swisses, round-robins, matches, tournaments with financial conditions for players) can set any rules they want. For small events like weekenders or club tournaments, players will go for whatever result is in their best interest - and they should be free to do so.

BAP events could lead to increased exposure for chess and I would certainly not want to discourage them. In general though, I feel the system is not currently "broken." Grandmasters have received the message that increased promotion and financial expansion of chess depend on fighting play. Artificial methods like alternate scoring systems should not be necessary.

No system will eliminate draws. They are ingrained in the fabric of the game, a part of chess theory and culture. Games between stronger players will always have a higher percentage of draws than games contested between weaker players. Grandmasters play the opening better and make fewer mistakes. Willpower alone cannot ensure a decisive result.

Joel Benjamin