Chess formats: What does the future look like?

JUNE 23 ― In the last 10 days, chess players have been largely torn between watching the games played by the world's elite at the Paris Grand Chess Tour or the soccer matches of Uefa Euro 2016.

For the less informed, the Grand Chess Tour was originally three major events ― Norway Chess, Sinquefield Cup, and The London Chess Classic ― which came together to award prizes for its overall winners and was seen by some to be an alternative to the World Chess Federation (FIDE) Grand Prix which was held largely in Russia, as well as ex-Soviet and Arab countries.

This year, however, Norway decided to go it alone as the organisers and sponsors wanted more control over the development of its individual brand and with no new takers, it was decided to add two Rapid cum Blitz events in Europe.

Chess today is played with many different time controls ― arguably too many ― but they fall into three clearly defined categories and these are Standard, Rapid and Blitz where Standard has the slowest time controls and carries the most prestige as the purest form of the game and with only one round usually possible each day while Rapid is about games lasting abut an hour and an event finished in a day or two while Blitz is anything between one and five minutes per player!

While the gold standard for chess is still Standard, FIDE has now also introduced Rapid and Blitz rating lists and with few exceptions, the top players are not the same!

It seems that players are not always equally good in all formats of the game notwithstanding World Champion Magnus Carlsen who made history last year by holding all three titles. It also seems that it is with Blitz where the likely winner is most uncertain although there are still clear favourites with every competition.

The game today is faced with unprecedented challenges of technology and cheating or at least the fear of it is rampant and a serious consequence has been unfounded (unproven) accusations. While FIDE has reacted with all sorts of measures and even set up an Anti-Cheating Commission, its actions can often be said to be amateurish when not ad-hoc and almost always very poorly thought through.

For increasing numbers of chess players, it is in Rapid where the future of the game seems to be as it might be the balance between too long as in Standard when all the opportunities to cheat are present and too quick as in Blitz where chance is too big a factor.

Of course whatever format used still requires some additional tweaking as to how points are scored and matches decided to ensure its full acceptance.

FIDE is at the same time seemingly moving ― perhaps much too quickly ― to merge all three forms of the game into one universal rating list while also looking to integrate the games played online as well.

We have an example of another sport which has flourished with having three formats of play and I am of course referring to cricket which has Test Matches played over five days, one day and 20/20 where in some two hours or so, there is a result.

Like chess, each has its specialists and those who can play equally well in all forms and more importantly they all bring something different to the game as well as attract their own audiences and sponsors.

So what will it be? To keep all formats and build upon their unique propositions (whatever that might be given no one has really managed to monetise that) or simplify and increase accessibility by merging the game?

The answer might simply be when FIDE, which is no longer the organisation formed to run the World Chess Championship, understands it cannot be everything in chess.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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