“Fixing Flaws and Stopping Draws”

Posted by David Smerdon on Oct 15, 2012 in Chess, Economics, Non-chess |

A lot of my friends often ask me what I do in my studies.  Unfortunately, for the most part, it’s difficult to make what I study sound interesting to a non-economist.  Economics as a field is fascinating and incredibly useful, but the core skills and courses required of a PhD in economics are themselves largely based around complex mathematical models that could send even the more erudite of dinner guests to sleep.

Recently, however, I got the opportunity to tailor one of my assessment pieces to a chessy theme, for a change.  The subject was called “Social and Economic Networks”, a course focussed on a new and emerging branch of mathematics based around network theory.  I decided to write my final research proposal on how the field might be used to develop a new tie-break system for Swiss and round-robin chess events.

I should stress that I’m not really suggesting it as a serious alternative for tournament chess, but it’s definitely true that the current systems each have their flaws – which I discuss in the paper.  My system is based on tallying up a network of direct and indirect wins over all participants in the competition, and has an added perk in that it encourages players to fight for decisive results rather than settle for quick draws.  Mind you, it has its own flaws, but at least it made for a more interesting project than what I’m used to.

You can check it out on the link below, if  you’re interested, though I should add some sort of warning for the mathematical derivations and prosaic language.  As an example, consider the end of the introduction:

 This proposal seeks to address both the inadequacies of current tie-break systems and the issue of ever- increasing draws in chess by introducing a new tie-break system for large tournaments. The system uses a measure based on both direct and indirect wins, and is a generalisation of standard centrality values stemming from the directed network of wins throughout an event.


Still, it was kind of a fun application of some complex math, and I managed to wrangle a bit of text on recent tie-break controversies at the European Championships and also the Commonwealth Championships.  Just try not to be too scared by all the Greek symbols.

(You can check it out here: 01072012 SMERDON – Social Networks Research Proposal )



Oct 17, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Just a thought, but would you get similar results by applying the methods used by Elo and others to compute ratings and thus rankings for a population of unknown strength? So you start everyone at an arbitrary rating 2000 say. You then compute the post tournament ratings from this arbitrary start point. After that you reset all the ratings to the post tournament ones and loop until it converges. Somewhere in the process, you have to handle the 400 point issue.

David Smerdon
Oct 18, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Interesting! The approach is similar in that it starts everyone off on an assumed even level without taking into account pre-existing ratings. As it stands, I think it will give different results to my system, simply because the Elo ratings method of course accounts for draws (mine doesn’t). But it’s possible that if I included draws in the directed network approach, maybe the two systems would spit out similar tiebreak rankings.

Nov 20, 2012 at 1:07 am

Hi David,
You wont remember me, but I remember playing you over 20 years ago at the Gap State High School in a Chess tournament. You beat me 🙁

Peter (not that Peter, the other one)
Dec 3, 2012 at 11:23 pm

Has women’s chess found a way to stop short draws? I only saw one short draw out of the hundred or so games I watched in the recent FIDE Women’s World Championship.

Not that there weren’t draws, but they were fighting draws! None more so, than Anna Ushenina’s “miracle” draw in her semi-final against Ju Wenjun. It completely astounded everyone who saw it. How is it possible for a King and a Rook to hold back a King, a Bishop and three Pawns, all perched ready to queen? Seeing is believing.

What was the women’s secret to preventing short draws? Simple. Have a knockout tournament.

A knockout tournament is more difficult to prepare for than a round robin where you know who your opponents will be.

The champion at the FIDE Women’s World Championship was under that pressure for 21 days, with only a couple of breaks. It was an incredible test at thinking at the board!

Congratulations to Anna Ushenina (Ukraine), the 2012 FIDE Women’s World Champion.



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