Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Galway Chess Congress 2015 - a strange idea

I just published my tournament schedule one week ago, but it already seems that there is an issue with one of my tournaments. It is the Galway Congress, and the issue is the new structure the organisers are considering, as it is explained under the link:


They write the followings:

We are thinking of changing the format of the tournament by adopting an exciting new structure. This is in response to feedback last year from a few people who thought that being required to play in sections was too rigid, particularly if they were near the top of a section.

Last year we got a fair number of requests to ‘float up’ by players who were well below the appropriate rating floor; when these were refused, some did not enter. It also appeared from a discussion on a blog that there were other players who did not consider entering because the ratings bands did not suit them. Being generous to those who want to float up is not the answer, because we then get complaints when players have to play opponents below the rating floor. (At one congress last year, someone in the over-1600 tournament ended up with 5 opponents out of 6 who were under-1600; he complained and said he wouldn’t be playing again – he paid his money to play in an over-1600 tournament, he said, and was upset not to get one. He had a point.)
Most people welcome the opportunity to play people stronger than themselves, and that possibility is not there for those who are stuck at the top of a section: for instance, last year one had to go down to the tenth seed in the Major, and ninth in the Minor, before getting to somebody who had played anybody higher rated than they were. It seems that sections based on ratings bands are rather rigid, and are not giving some possible entrants what they would like. So we have wondered whether we should consider adopting a system of what could be called “porous”, rather than rigid, rating bands. This would allow people to float up automatically by winning their games. We have constructed a way of doing that, which is essentially a system of accelerated pairings; the technical details are below. We have also done a hypothetical test run to check how it might work; the cross-table of that is below.

The details
In essence, this is a system of accelerated pairing in one large section. The field is divided into four sections. (It can be any number; four is just a suggestion, and there may be something to be said for having six sections.)
In round one, everybody plays somebody in their section, as at present. In round two, the winners in the top section play other winners in that section, as at present; so do players who draw. But the losers in the top section play the winners in the second section; the losers in the second section play the winners in the third section, and so on. The losers in the bottom section play against each other.
This system carries on like that, with players who continue to win against opponents in a higher section continuing to float up to get higher-rated opponents, in rounds 3 and 4. Then, in rounds 5 and 6, players revert to playing in their sections, so that a section winner is obtained. That would allow the excitement of having a winner in the lower sections determined by a head-to-head game, rather than by results against others, as currently with grading prizes."

I find the idea rather strange. First of all, if I understood right, this would be a brand new tournament structure - so why test it immediately on their biggest tournament?! Wouldn't it be wiser to run a few blitz/rapid tournaments with it and apply it on the big one only after that? If the new system turns out to be wrong, it can damage the reputation of the Galway Congress for years.

Second, the simulation run by the organisers is unrealistic, as they created a list of imaginary players with exactly 10 rating points difference between them - but this is a best case scenario that never occurs in practice. It is much more common to have 100-200 rating points gaps on the cross table, and exactly that causes problems.

For example, my rating is about 2250 now. If I check this simulation, I find 21(!) persons in the 2150-2350 rating range. Do you think I would ever complain under such circumstances that I can't get the right opponents?

But if we check the 2014 Galway Congress cross table, how many players are there with 2150-2350 rating? Only two... :(

These are entirely different situations, entirely different tournaments - so why don't they run a simulation with a realistic starting list? Why don't they just use the starting list from the 2014 Congress?

But that would be all fine. My biggest concern is really the idea of changing the whole tournament to please a few complainers, while hurting the interest of the others. "Most people welcome the opportunity to play people stronger than themselves" - very true, but what about those strong opponents? Will they also welcome the opportunity to play against significantly weaker players who just floated up from a lower section? What is the point for them? Their disastrous rating average or the unchallenging games they get?

The whole idea is really a "squeaky wheel gets the grease" scheme. Some people complain and walk away, the organisers feel pity for that and are ready to change everything to statisfy the complainers, even if it is bad for the silent majority. I really hope that they will drop the idea, as it is quite weird, in my opinion.

For those people who "are stuck at the top of a section" and complain bitterly to tournament organisers year after year, I have a revolutionary idea: instead of trying to change the world around them, how about changing themselves, i.e. pumping up their rating? There are two simple ways to do that:

- Working a bit on their game
- Playing a few tournaments abroad in countries where ratings are higher, e.g. Germany, the Czech Republic, etc.

And bingo, problem solved. Just following the example of Muhamad...

"Mahomet cald the Hill to come to him. And when the Hill stood still, he was neuer a whit abashed, but said; If the Hill will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet wil go to the Hill."

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