Two Birds With One Stone

by admin on May 6, 2014

Two so-called “problems” that some people have with chess: (1) Too many draws. (2) A confusing stalemate rule.

Note: I didn’t say that these are problems for me. I’m happy with chess the way it is. Nevertheless, some people aren’t and it occurred to me this morning that there is a way of addressing both issues. The solution is to score a win as 3 points, a draw as 1 point, and placing your opponent in stalemate as 2 points. (The person getting stalemated would get 1 point.)

First, note that something similar has already been tried: the 3-1-0 scoring system with 3 points for a win and 1 point for a draw. Compared with the 3-1-0 system, my system does not change anything for the person getting stalemated. He still gets 1 point. But it rewards the player with the stronger position, by giving him 2 points instead of 1.

I have two main arguments in favor of this. One is fairness. When I teach kids, it’s hard to justify to them why they only get a draw when in the ordinary course of events, the opponent would have to move his king into check and thereby lose. Usually the side that forces a stalemate has a pronounced advantage over the other side.

That argument really applies to beginners only; experienced players understand how to force checkmate. However, the second argument applies to experienced players. There are quite a few drawn endgames that are only drawn because of stalemate. Examples include king and pawn versus king when the stronger king can’t get in front of the pawn; K+B+RP versus K with the “wrong” rook pawn; and K+Q vs. K+RP or BP with the pawn on the seventh rank. In all these cases, the stronger player would get 2 points instead of 1.

This rule would give players incentive to play out endings where they have a slight but not winning advantage. To me, the workhorse here is the K+P vs. K ending. I suspect that there are lots of endings that would be drawn today that could be turned into “2-point draws,” and one might have to re-learn some areas of endgame theory in order to take advantage of those opportunities. The change could even have an effect on the middlegame, giving players more of an incentive to keep going in positions with a slight advantage. Even opening theory might change, if White could find a way to reliably get 2-point draws from, say, the Berlin Variation of the Ruy Lopez.

As I said, I’m not particularly worried about the draw issue myself, and generally speaking I loathe chess variations or “fantasy chess.” But for those who like to experiment, what do you think about this idea? Is there some obvious flaw?

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Phille May 7, 2014 at 12:00 am

Just like you I never liked chess variations, (incidentally the reason why I’m not into card games), but this change is one I could accept (If it doesn’t split the chess world into stalematers and non-stalematers).
I think there wouldn’t even be too many differences in practical (end-)games. The defender just wouldn’t have the option of going for the “dead draw” in many cases. So more draws by repetition as opposed to trading everything down.
My guess is: Carlsen would be in favour. 😉

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Dan May 7, 2014 at 5:57 am

Interesting idea, but I don’t like systems that create an asymmetry in the number of points at stake in a given game. I disagree with this in principle: why should a win or a stalemate (3 total points) be worth more than a draw (2 total points)? It also opens the door to gaming the system: since the weaker side has nothing to lose by being stalemated rather than drawing, he might allow himself to be stalemated in exchange for money or future consideration. Putting 4 points in play (4-0 for a win, 3-1 for a stalemate, 2-2 for a draw) would mitigate this problem somewhat. That said, I still prefer the traditional scoring system.

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Dan Schmidt May 8, 2014 at 5:53 am

I have seen this proposed before with different numbers (it might have been 1-0 for a win and 3/4-1/4 for a stalemate). I am not a big fan of mucking with the rules of chess but I don’t have a huge problem with this. I’m not even sure it would affect play all that much (and perhaps that’s an issue with it; if it wouldn’t change the way people play then why bother?) except to make people play positions out longer. I do think that the stalemated player should not get just as many points as with a regular draw. For one thing, it makes collusion that much more tempting.

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Ernest Hong May 10, 2014 at 7:50 am

I think this might dilute the game a bit. The object is to checkmate your opponent. Masters who can abandon a game as unwinnable will now be forced to play dozens more moves while pursuing or thwarting stalemate. Imagine problem sets arising with the caption “Stalemate in 15 moves”.

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Mike Splane May 12, 2014 at 12:30 am

I have my own idea for reducing the number of draws, but it will never be adopted. Simply allow the kings to check one another, but only if the checking king is protected by a piece or pawn, and only if the opponent has nothing left but his bare king. This eliminates all draws due to insufficient material and sometimes allows the stronger side to win even when the opponent has the opposition.

Some examples,
WKg6, WPh6 BK h8 White plays 1. Kg7#
WKf6, WPe6 BK f8 White plays 1. Kf7#
WKf6, WPe6 BKe8 White plays 1. Kf7+ Kd8 e7+ and queens.
So all king and pawn versus king endings are won.

King and minor piece versus king can be won, but not by force.
WKg6, WBh6 BK h8 White plays 1. Kg7#
WKg6, WNh5 BK h8 White plays 1. Kg7#

A few other book draws are eliminated. King Bishop on wrong color and rook pawn is a win.King Rook and pawn versus king and bishop is a win. King and two knights versus king is a win.

The king checking king move would only be legal only when one side was reduced to a bare king, because of the problem of what to do with more material and when both kings are protected.

For example. WKf6 WPd4 BKe4 BPd5. After 1. Ke5 can Black play 1… d5 and protect his king? Ironically this would put White into zugszwang and Back would win. And if you add a pair of opposite color bishops to the position, WB on b2 and Black bishop on b7, can both kings stay put while the bishops move?

So the bare king must be part of the rule to make it work properly.

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