The classical section of the elite Grand Tour event in St Louis, which ended earlier this week, resembled a peace conference rather than a chess tournament. Well past the halfway stage, less than 10 per cent of the games had been decisive. Something must be done about this tendency and there are various solutions.
The first and most obvious is to switch to considerably faster time limits. There has been a nod in this direction by Grand Tour organisers, with their addition in St Louis of both a rapid and blitz section. Ramping up time limits, however, means sacrificing the games’ quality, which diminishes as the time limits decrease.
The next solution is to turn to shuffled baseline chess — Fischer Random or Chess 960 — where the pieces are arrayed by chance at the start of the game. To me, all such aleatory distortions are heresy. If our traditional chess array needs adjusting, then by all means turn to Xiangqi or Shogi, respectively Chinese and Japanese chess. Indeed, both are excellent mind sports, on a par with draughts (at the less complex end of the difficulty spectrum) and Go.
In my opinion the most satisfactory solution would be for organisers and sponsors to abandon the obsession with aiming for the highest possible rating average for tournaments. Not only does the high average strength of the participants mean that the possibility of draws increases, but because it is always the same magic circle of competitors repeatedly clashing, they become accustomed to the opposition and begin to exhaust their fund of creative new ideas. Furthermore, defensive technique at the elite level is now so refined that even seriously advantageous positions are hard to convert to victory.
The answer, surely, is to leaven the elite composition of top events with noted fighters and imaginative tacticians such as the grandmasters Rapport of Hungary, Vidit of India, and our own David Howell, who is known for struggling for victory to the bitter end.
Meanwhile, here is one of the meagre harvest of decisive encounters from the draw-encumbered event at St Louis.
Nepomniachtchi-Anand: Sinquefield Cup, St Louis 2019 (diagram 1)
White’s defensive plan here involves giving up the bishop for the h-pawn and then liquidating the queenside pawns to arrive at an endgame of rook and knight versus rook which is a draw. 62 Bb8+ Kg4 63 Rg6+ Kh5 64 Rg8 Ne3 65 Rg3 Nd5+ 66 Kb3 Kh4 67 Rg8 Nf6 68 Rg6 Ng4 69 Rg8 Rh7 70 Kc4 h2 71 Bxh2 Nxh2 72 b5 The black pieces are now so far from the queenside that White should be able to complete part two of his plan. 72 … Ng4 73 Ra8 axb5+ 74 Kxb5 Nf6 75 a5 Angling to play a6. 75 … Nd5 Threatening a knight fork on c7. 76 Ra7 Kg5 77 Kc4 A tragedy for White, who blunders just as the draw was within grasp by 77 Kc5 Rd7 78 Ra8, when a6 will soon follow. For the conclusion see today’s puzzle.