Outlook on the Future of Freestyle Chess

By Arno Nickel

The qualifying tournament is history and it's time to take stock. The five winners are to be congratulated on their successes, but none of them will deny that it was ultimately lucky coincidences that tipped the scales rather than better chess. Disconnections, non-appearance of the opponent and mishandling of the computer, finally also the uneven play of Oliver Evan, who played some games quite well, but in two cases (against PublicEnemyN1 and Chess Lion) clearly overstepped the mark.

The sporting result of the tournament is in this respect rather meaningless; we have learned, or rather: must learn the lessons, what does not work for the future, what should be avoided at all costs:

1. Contrary to the previous rules, no more games should be decided by disconnections in the future.
2. Contrary to the previous rules, in the future no more games should be decided by non-appearance of players.
How this should and could work, I will explain later.

However, this solves only a part of the problems and not the main problem of the extremely high draw rate. We cannot - without basic changes (maybe even affecting the chess rules) - simply conjure it away, but only find ways to deal with it better. It is safe to say that players need more thinking time to analyze critical variations and to find out which moves promise an advantage in the long run and seem most suitable to pose problems to the opponent. Therefore, as already planned, it is recommended:

3. The time control should be extended to 120m/30s.

The idea of rewarding stalemate wins and material wins should remain. These are rare, apart from mishandling of critical positions due to lack of experience or knowledge, but they enrich the competition, in my opinion, without major changes to the chess fundamentals, as we could learn from many games and particularly endgames. I am therefore in favor of them:

4. Stalemate wins and material wins should be evaluated not only for the tiebreak, but for the game result in the ratio 3/4 : 1/4.

For the tiebreak, I would like to recommend a brand new idea, namely the introduction of a „B-note“ (or „B-score“), as they are awarded by a jury in some sports. It should thereby be possible to reward good and interesting performances independently of the result; i.e. a well played draw game, for example with an interesting novelty in the opening, with a complicated strategical battle, with an individual signature (say rich human input, not constantly computer main variations) deserves a tiebreak bonus in contrast to a lifeless winning game, that has been decided only by a blunder move. So that would be my recommendation:

5. Good game performances should receive a tiebreak bonus.
How and according to which concrete criteria remains to be worked out in detail. Of course it should be as fair as possible.

With these changes I could imagine the start of the planned Freestyle League.
However, I have to report that there is currently no promise of support from InfinityChess, so no sponsoring and no server updates that improve the playing conditions and the tournament software. Therefore I am not yet in a position to give a concrete start date. For now, we are on hold and discussing.
The rule changes under points 1 and 2 are intended as follows:
1.) In case of a permanent disconnection beyond a certain acceptable duration, the disconnected player will continue playing through a previously named engine with a time penalty. The affected player will receive an additional penalty regardless of the game result; this may affect his tiebreak score or may be a fine (e.g., withholding of regret money). In case of repetition, the player can be completely replaced. - All this still needs to be worked out in detail, but should indicate the direction for now.
2.) The non-appearance of a player should be regulated analogous to point 1, whereby the game is then to be played from the beginning by a previously named engine and the punishment could be a bit more severe.

Suggestions and criticism can be sent to me (arno[at]infinitychess.com) or posted in the InfinityChess Users Forum: