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Hastings 2004/5 - A New Format and Time Control

Last Updated: Thursday October 7, 2004 8:56 AM

The Hastings Congress has always been one of the most traditional in the chess calendar. However, presumably because it is as ever strapped for cash, the 80th in the series is going to feature one of the most boldly avant garde formats yet tried anywhere.

Here's Stewart Reuben's press release: "The Hastings Congress (28 December to 9 January) takes on a unique format this year. The Hastings Premier and Challengers are combined into one knockout tournament. Let us imagine 120 players enter for the event which finishes 6 January. Then 60 players go forward from the first round, with 4 lucky losers. These 64 players play a second round of knockout. The 56 losers play in the Challengers Swiss. The 64 players continue in one game knockouts until there are 8 players left. These 8 play in the Premier of 2 game knockouts. All players knocked out will be contracted to play in the Swiss Challengers, except for the losing finalists. Players when knocked out will carry forward their score in the standardplay games. Of course White would have been a big advantage. Thus White will have 65 minutes and Black 95 in which to make all their moves, with the addition of one minute per move cumulatively from the first. [Editor's note: this time control has now been changed significantly - click here] Where games are drawn, ties will be resolved first by blitz games, failing that an Armageddon play-off. Players will be able to gain title results from either event. The event will be part of the Association of Chess Professionals GP. The weekend tournament takes place 7-9 January."

For further details of Hastings 2004/5, consult the official tournament website at http://www.hastingschess.org.uk

BCM asked readers for their comments. Thank you to those who responded. Here are your comments, views and questions:

Alex Therrien: I believe the people in charge of making the decision to radically change the format of the Hastings tournament deserve massive praise. It may have been a decision made primarily with the intention of creating publicity and renewed interest, but even still, whenever anything that is a part of the BCF makes such a radical, bold decision, i think people should stand up and take notice. Hastings had long since suffered from diminishing returns, and now in its place, a truly egalitarian format that allows improving players (young and old) the possibility to compete against members of the world's elite (or near elite) is something, as British chess players, we should be excited about. British chess compared to other national counterparts has been too rooted in antiquated traditions, and there is something pleasing in seeing the organisers flying in the face of their tournament's long-running, almost mecca-like traditions to create a format that is truly dynamic.

Thomas Henrich (Giessen, Germany): Very sad news. The Hastings tournament won't be continued. It's replaced by a FIDE-like spectacle with marginal relation to chess. Why do they need those pieces? They could draw lots up to the final. Could be done at one afternoon. As I said, very sad news.

Tim Spanton: Can games be officially rated if White and Black have different time limits?

... a very important question which BCM put to Stewart Reuben, who kindly responded, thus... "There is nothing in the FIDE Laws of Chess to preclude players having different amounts of time." BCM comments: This is perfectly true as far as it goes. The relevant passage (readable on the internet here): "For a game to be rated each player must have the following minimum periods in which to complete all the moves, assuming the game lasts 60 moves... Where at least one of the players in the tournament has a rating 2200 or higher, each player must have a minimum of 120 minutes." It does not stipulate anywhere in the rules that players must have the same amount of time as each other. But is this just a loophole which needs to be plugged? Stewart Reuben says not: "There is no loophole, it is simply sensible." If this were a matter of law, a lawyer might well argue that the intent implicit in the words is that each player should have the same time allotment, as that has always been the norm. Such an argument might well prevail in a court of law, but FIDE may not consider itself bound by such considerations. Stewart Reuben is himself a member of the FIDE Titles and Rating Committee.

Roger de Coverly: There's lots of unanswered questions about the practical details of the Reuben hybrid. For example, how will the first round pairings be done? Using the example of 120 some possibilities are:

1 v 120
119 v 2

1 v 61
62 v 2

Accelerated Swiss
1 v 31
2 v 32

61 v 91
92 v 62

In a 10 round swiss, the first round pairings aren't that critical and the accelerated approach reduces the number of one-sided games. Such an approach in a knock-out increases the chances of the top seeds being eliminated early. Regarding the unbalanced times one hopes there are enough digital clocks and that the arbiters know how to program them for this novel time control. BCM Comment: Stewart Reuben tells me that accelerated Pairings are not being used.

More comments added on 24 September...

Kevin Thurlow: Presumably the knockout will be organised so that colours alternate (as far as is possible). So it would be run like a normal seeded Swiss, except you dump anyone who loses a game? It's certainly an interesting idea. I would not want to explain it to some of the people who attend local league AGMs! ... I have had another thought..... Assuming 120 players, suppose 40 win with white, even if lucky losers don't add to that, you have 8 people having white again round two, and so on, for subsequent rounds. There is a real danger of triple whites. Of course, that could happen in any Swiss, but here you are removing half the players every round, which I suspect cuts down your options, perhaps Dr Nunn could confirm there is mathematical sense in this? Of course in the Swiss, which the dumped players go to, there would similarly be people having excess blacks. I guess in the first round there would be so many mismatches that the white and black seekers should even out, but it might happen later. Doubtless, Stewart has thought of this. I think the concept is very intiguing, and it will be very interesting to see how it works in practice.

Paul McKeown: I feel one should be open regarding innovations regarding tournament formats. However I do have some reservations regarding the proposed Hastings format.

a) Despite IA Reuben's reassurances regarding rating, if prior to this proposal one had asked the question "Should one rate handicap games", I would have expected a blunt "No" to be the answer. So I am not at all sure that it is correct to FIDE-rate handicap games. Furthermore no statement been made regarding BCF grading of these games, nor their eligibility for other national rating purposes.

b) Given that White scores about 54% with 1. e4 and 56% with the closed openings, I really don't see how it balances the game by giving Black nearly 50% more thinking time than White. Frankly I would expect Black to score 2/3 in such an unbalanced contest. Perhaps some players with a very thoroughly prepared "serve and volley" style opening repertoire might be able to cope with this handicap, "acing" their opponents along the way, but I doubt that the majority will be able to. Frankly it smells of the sort of "White to Play and win" philosophy that one could read in dreadful opening books by Weaver Adams, or Reinfeld and Horowitz back in the 1950s. Surely no-one today believes that Black's chances are so poor?

c) Anyway 65min + 1min increment/move gives 1:45 for 40 and 2:05 for 60, this tends towards "steam driven" in my view. Most of chess I get in local leagues with similar time controls, I don't see why I would want to play in an international tournament under the same poor conditions - there doesn't seem to be a good excuse when the games aren't taking place in a working-day evening session.

d) Finally can anyone explain what an "Armageddon" play-off is? Does it involve the Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Must one travel to Megiddo to participate? (It means a one-game sudden-death play-off in which White actually receives more time than Black - typically 6 minutes to 5 minutes - but if the game is drawn, Black qualifies for the next round - ed)

I don't want to be a wet blanket, so I would like to wish Stewart the best of luck with his tournament, I just don't feel that it is suitable for my participation.

Steve Giddins: Dear John, Just a brief note of a new tournament I am planning to sponsor over the Christmas/New Year period, to be known as "The What-are-you-going-to-do-about-it? Masters". To compensate for the grossly unfair advantage that they enjoy by having the right of first move, players of the White pieces will be required to give pawn and move odds, and to play blindfold whilst standing on their heads and listening to Britney Spears records on a walkman. They will also be required to record their moves in Chinese script, and will not be allowed to press their clock until they have written the move down correctly, recited four Hail Marys and eaten three pickled eggs. I see nothing in FIDE rules to preclude such games from being rated and besides, even if I am breaking the rules, they don't apply to me because I am a chess organiser. Best wishes, Steve.

Updated 26 September...

Ollie Killingback: I can see why it's been done; I wait to see if the raters rate the games; I think it's a pity it had to be done because Hastings has been about real chess for a very long time. I used always to go and watch the great players I read about, but there have been precious few of the greats in recent years. Let's see what happens when the only acid test is applied - who enters, how many enter, and what they think of it. But I don't expect to be spending my New Year in Hastings this year. Holland looks kind of attractive... P.S. What would Frank Rhoden have said???

GM Nigel Davies: It's always good when tournaments are thrown more open like this as everyone has a chance. It's also good when the organisers show some imagination. That said, there are bound to be many snags with such a prototype, the obvious source being the fairness of scores being transferred from one event to a quite different one.

Was there anything wrong with having a big Swiss tournament along the lines of the Isle of Man? This has proven to be an immensely successful formula and one that is known to work. For publicity purposes I've always thought there would be a lot of mileage in using the battle of Hastings and marketing the chess as a kind of modern reenactment.

Peter Shaw: I've just noticed the information on the website regarding the Hastings tournament. I must admit to checking that it wasn't April 1st! Maybe since I haven't ever played any international events I am not qualified to comment but here goes...

I think it is a good idea to experiment with tournament formats, but I would rather see it tried in a new event rather than messing about with Hastings. However, I think the time control idea is ridiculous. I cannot see how these games could be rated. Surely at least there needs to be a trial first. What happens if Black ends up winning 75% of games? It will be interesting to see how it turns out.


The 80th HASTINGS INTERNATIONAL CHESS CONGRESS will take place at Horntye Park in Hastings from 28th December 2004 and 9th January 2005.

This year an entirely new concept has been devised - The Hastings Knockout. This will incorporate the Premier and Challengers Tournaments - ensuring the continuation of the world's most historic chess event while offering an exciting new format to the chess world.

All players will play in a knockout first round. Winners plus lucky losers will go forward to Round 2 and so on until Round 5. The remaining 8 players will go forward to form the Premier and the players knocked out will continue in the Challengers. The winner of the Premier will be decided by blitz games if the final match is drawn 1-1. Details of the system appear on the congress website hastingschess.org.uk and in the entry form which is now in circulation. First Prize for the Premier Tournament will be £1,500.

This unique system, will provide a 10-round event and opportunities to qualify for titles and for the FIDE Rating List. Such ratings now go down to 1601, so it would be reasonable for any player graded over BCF 100 to aspire to a partial FIDE Rating at this event. The two highest placed eligible players in the Premier or Knockout, not already qualified, will be entitled to play in the 2005 Smith & Williamson British Championship in the Isle of Man.

Vasilios Kotronias (Cyprus), Jonathan Rowson (Scotland), Zahar Efimenko (Ukraine), Bartosz Socko (Poland) and Bogdan Lalic (England) have been invited to play. Kotronias and Rowson were joint winners of the 2003-04 Premier and Jonathan Rowson is the current British Champion.

As well as the Knockout event, there will be Christmas and New Year morning and afternoon tournaments providing four 5-round competitions. The 22nd Hastings Weekend Congress will take place from Friday 7th January to Sunday 9th January. There will also be additional evening events at venues in the town.

The Hastings International Chess Congress is once again being sponsored by Hastings Borough Council. Although the sponsorship has been further reduced for the year 2004-05, the Borough Council recognises that the Chess Congress is one of the key events in the Borough calendar and has pledged its continuing support to the event. This is welcome news in as much as there will be no further reduction in funding. However the current level of funding will make it be difficult for the event to continue unless commercial sponsorship is found. It is hoped that the new look Congress will encourage potential sponsors to come forward.

Eurotunnel is once again offering support with a 40% discount on fares for players travelling to the Congress by car from Calais.

For further information about the event please contact:
Pam Thomas 01424 445348 (e-mail pae123@aol.com)

Stewart Reuben (6 October) responds to the some of the comments and questions raised above:


I was pleased to see readers showing such interest. There was an error on the entry form, also due to reasoned responses and the wish for the event to be part of the ACP Grand Prix (the rules of which were announced after the publication of the entry form), the rate will be 70 minutes for White, 90 minutes for Black for the first 40 moves, followed by all the moves in 20 minutes, adding on 1 minute for every move from the first. Some people clearly do not appreciate the difference one minute add-on makes and how much more civilised the game is. 110/130 for 40 moves is nothing like 1/2 as somebody suggested. Also 130/150 for 60 moves is negligible.

Roger de Coverly asks about the pairing system. It is 1-61, 62-2 or the reverse for 120 players. Accelerated Pairings would not work at all. However, in the knockout the player retain their seeding positions and this is vastly fairer than the normal Seeded Swiss where players at the top of the second half are severely disadvantaged. The players in the Challengers go into a normal seeded Swiss. He asked whether we know how to programme a chess clock. YES.

Kevin Thurlow correctly worries about the colour distribution. Does he not realise this could always happen for any Swiss. It is less likely this time because the lucky losers will be used in round 2 to better balance the colours. It is true for a normal Swiss it is possible to break the score group in order to ensure nobody has 3 whites in a row, but this is not done in the BCF Seeded Swiss System.

Nigel Davies asks why did we not make it a simple masters Swiss of the type I introduced in 1977 with the Lloyds Bank Masters. There were those on the committee who favoured spending the limited resources on a Premier and those who favoured just a Swiss. Like all compromises this has defects. The event will be exciting. Quick draws will be followed by at least blitz games. Do readers really think standard tournaments are attracting the media adequately?

The rate of play is similar to 40/120, 20/45, all unlimited. This is faster than 40/120, 20/60, all in 30 as last year and in the KvK match. But it is vastly better in three respects.

  1. Obviously for a one-day knockout the games have to be quicker.
  2. We will not see players relying on their ability to punch a clock rapidly.
  3. There is no need for quickplay finishes and the arbiter does not have to make subjective decisions.

The FIDE World Champioship knockout would be an excellent idea if the games were slower, there were only 16 players, each match was four games, there was a play-off day between each round and the final took place at a later date. Effectively this is exactly what the Candidates used to be but at a much more leisurely pace.

Of course Hastings would be better if each round were a two game mini-match. There isn't time. Nobody wants two rated games on one day. Stewart Reuben

Note: The following two respondents' comments were written before Stewart's comments of 6 October...

Kevin Bailey (27 Sept): I felt that I had to make comment on the Hastings situation. It is clear that without change Hastings would be no more. You cannot continually ask a council to foot the bill for a chess tournament and therefore the organisers should be looking elsewhere. No doubt they are, but the problem with chess in this country is that the organisation for tournaments and other aspects are run by amateurs for amateurs and that does not cater for your chess professional. I am for change but in a positive way. Good for Hastings that they are prepared to have a go at something different. But a handicapped tournament is a step too far. Nigel Davies made an eminently sensible suggestion of a swiss event and I ask myself what's wrong with that? What you have ended up with at Hastings is a knock-out system which is not my preference but may work together with a ludicrous time control. I would suggest that Hastings get confirmation from FIDE that they will rate hadicapped (time limit) games, never mind the norm opportunities. Has this ever been done before? I was looking forward to playing at Hastings for the first time in the challengers but on reflection think I will give it a miss. The above is my personal opinion and is rather negative but I hope for the sake of the Hastings tournament it is a success. Good luck. Kevin Bailey.

Hans Olav Lahlum (5 October) comments: One should definitely be careful when criticizing other chess organizers for creative innovations; especially when writing from abroad, especially when writing about a tournament organized in the face of serious economical difficulties - and especially if one is writing about an organizer who has done so much good for chess in his home country, as well as on the international scene, as is the exceptional case with Stewart Reuben. But I still have to admit it: I feel happy that I am no way alone, when I am reacting instinctively against such controversial changes for such a great chess tradition as the Hastings one. While I agree from a juridicial point of view it is legal to calculate for FIDE-ELO games in which one of the players gets more time that her/his opponent, I definitely disagree considering it recommendable to do so. Stewart knows this much better than I do, but I still have the feeling that when such uneven time limits are not prohibited in the FIDE rating rules, it is less because of a positive intention to allow it than because no one present when making the rules had the fantasy to imagine any international organizer would ever make such a tournament. For example, both player's entitlement to a chair during FIDE-rated games is not specified either!

But keeping aside my personal feelings against this reform (whether revolution is a more accurate word will not be discussed in the following for space reasons), my obvious but still important main point is that in the end our preferences as chess players will decide what chess tournaments we will have in the future. When I decided to start organizing only round robin and Swiss tournaments played with the same time limits for both players, being at least two hours in 40 moves and one hour for the rest, it was of course because I following my preferences as an organizer considered this the most serious and attractive alternative. But when I still can (and will) organize my tournaments in that format, it is because enough chessfriends are still supporting my view on this point practically - by playing my "classical" tournaments. And fortunately the number of players doing so turns out to be increasing for every year, as is the case for example with the Politiken Cup in Copenhagen. Also in the case of the upcoming Hastings tournament, the format however is very well known in advance: All players registering for the Hastings tournament this time (hopefully) know that they are to play a knock-out tournament in which they will have to decide by playing blitz in case of a draw, and in which they when playing White will get 20 minutes less than their opponent for a FIDE-rated game. On the international chess scene there will be a number of classical alternatives available, for players still having preferences for a traditional format on their Christmas holiday tournament. Obviously if no players want to play Hastings with the new format, chances are very small that there will be another try with the same format next year. If on the contrary players en masse turns out to favour this new Hastings format compared to earlier Hastings tournaments, and/or compared to other tournaments played at the same time with a more traditional format, there is a very good chance (or as I would put it, much too great a risk) that Hastings will go on along that road and that other organisers too will adopt similar formats next year. If so, I will not be one of them, but still I am unusually excited about the number of players taking part in Hastings this year. I might very well be wrong, but my prediction for now is that other tournaments will do better compared to Hastings this year - and I hope Hastings for that and/or other reasons will return to what I consider a more serious and attractive format next year. As I have for many years hoped at least once in my lifetime to play the traditional Hastings tournaments, unfortunately so far without finding the time and possibility to do so. It will definitely not be this year - and I fear it will be no year whatsoever if this year's Hastings format is the beginning of a new tradition for that tournament. But that follows only my personal preference as a player; and of course, seen in isolation, I am not much of a loss for any organizer. Even without me there will still be plenty of room for the new Hastings format - if, but only if, a sufficient number of other players now and later prefer things to be that way. Best wishes from Norway IA & IO Hans Olav Lahlum (hanso.lahlum@c2i.net).

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