Tag Archives: cheating

Random Musings on Iceland

Before I forget, here were a few tidbits from Iceland that I didn’t work into a post about the tournament itself:

–          Reykjavik is the northernmost capital in the world, and certainly the farthest north I have ever been. The entire country of Iceland isn’t very big, though – it’s population is about 300,000 of which about 60% live in Reykjavik. That is pretty much the combined combination of Fremont and Berkeley, in the Bay Area.

–          The baggage handlers in SFO or JFK decided to search my check-in bag, but they forgot to put the lock back on. I had bought a TSA-approved lock some years back (so they can open the bag without breaking the lock). Sadly, it’s virtually impossible to reclaim that lock from them (they want to see the receipt, proof that it was on the bag in the first place, etc).

–          I should learn how to drive with a manual transmission if I plan on driving overseas. Yury and I drove around for a while the day before the event started, doing a tour of the Golden Circle in Iceland (Geysir, Gulfoss, and Thingvellier). Yury at least had driven stick-shift before, although it took him a little time to remember and he hadn’t quite rediscovered the touch before we got back in the evening.

–          Here’s a picture of Strokkur, the biggest geyser at the Geysir Park that erupts at regular intervals. Geysir itself, the namesake of the park, hasn’t erupted in many, many years. (Click to enlarge)

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–          The recession in Iceland is noticeable, as prices have supposedly come down quite a bit. It is still relatively expensive though – even after the decline, it is probably on par with Manhattan.

–          The global economic woes also seemed to make its effect felt on the store shelves, where the only non-carbonated water I was able to find was from a brand called “Iceland Spring.” The strange thing was that the label meant it was clearly not intended for sale in Iceland. It reads: “Filtered over decades through basalt and lava, the water is imported from Iceland (emphasis in the original), a remote island near the Arctic Circle.”

I would assume that if Iceland Spring went under, they still would have sold off its inventory. I guess a company in the US that intended to buy these bottles must have gone under …

–          The tournament was won on tiebreaks by GM Hedinn Steingrimsson, a 34-year old Icelandic GM. There was one amusing story about him (not sure if it’s true, as I couldn’t find it on the web), related by some Slovakian players. It seems he was an IM for some time, hovering around 2400 FIDE without playing much when all of a sudden he shot up. He played a GM round-robin in the Czech Republic where he was then accused of cheating, ostensibly because he was playing well and going to the bathroom quite often. Well, what did he do? Next time he needed to go, he went right on the stage, in the planter box holding some flowers! Indeed. In any case, the cheating allegations didn’t seem to hold water.

It’s not clear whether that incident prompted the following sign outside the playing hall at Cappelle la Grande in France:img_13731

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On Breaking Ties and Making Offers that Can be Refused

Benasque is an odd tournament in its tiebreak system. While most open tournaments avoid head-to-head playoffs (it’s simply not practical to have a 20-player round-robin for 3rd prize and so on), there is no general agreement amongst tournament organizers about how to break ties.

In the US, they generally get around this by simply aggregating the monies for the tied places and then dividing it equally. Thus, if 5 players tie for first, and the prizes go down from $5000 to $4000 to $3000 and so on, they each get $3000 for their effort.

However, this does not seem all that equitable to me, as it’s quite possible for players to play very different fields to get to the same score. The player who starts out on fire will likely have played all his closest competitors, while someone who loses the first game and comes from behind will likely have played weaker opposition (because they are playing opponents with 0/1, 1/2, and so on).

Many European tournaments eschew pooling money together for a group of tied players and instead assign mathematical tiebreak scores to each player to differentiate those in the same score group. The usual metric is the sum of the opponent’s scores (often a trimmed version, with the high and low scores tossed out). There can also be conditions to calculate an opponent’s score in case the player withdrew from the tournament before finishing.

Benasque does something extra strange, though, in that the tiebreak order is determined by a lottery. Thus, they have a group of 3 tiebreak metrics (sum of opponents’ scores, performance rating, and number of wins), and then essentially randomly determine which one serves as the first tiebreaker and so on.

This also seems unfair to me. The idea that number of wins, in an open tournament, could serve as a primary tiebreaker is ridiculous. For players who lost their first game, they almost necessarily player a weaker field and so can put up many wins to reach the same score as someone who won early and then faced tougher opposition and drew. Thus, for example, after the last round, Players A and B both had 7.5/10. Player A had faced a field with an average rating of 2373 and Player B had faced a field with an average rating of 2174 FIDE. Player A had a higher sum of the opponents’ scores, 45 to 38.5. However, because Player B had lost two games against lower rated players, he continued to play down in all his games and won 7 games. Thus, in the number of wins tiebreaker, he led Player A by a tally of 7 to 6.

Does this seem fair? Admittedly, it is not easy to beat lower rated players, but I would think you’d want to reward a stronger performance (as reflected by the rating or scores of the opposing field).

In a round-robin, using the number of wins as a tiebreaker makes more sense since everybody plays everyone else. Wins generally equal more exciting chess, and from a sponsorship point of view, it makes sense to reward that fighting spirit. In an open tournament though, it makes no sense to me as a primary tiebreaker.

The idea of using a lottery system to choose the first tiebreak is an interesting one though. I think the motivation is so that it makes it more difficult to “fix” the results in the last round, as without knowing which tiebreak will be first, you will be less likely to offer money for someone to lose. I wouldn’t particularly mind if the lottery was only between opponents’ scores and performance rating, with number of wins as the third tiebreak regardless as this seems to strike some balance between preserving the integrity of the tournament and providing a more meaningful separator amongst tied players.

This has special implications for Benasque because of the practice of buying games in the last round. Rumors swirled last year when GM Felix Levin beat GM Azer Mirzoev in the last round to finish on 8/10, and then took first place on the fixed tiebreaks with GM Tamaz Gelashvili of Georgia (the Republic, that is). I don’t have definite proof that Levin bought the game, but I have it on good information that he referred to Mirzoev as a “chess prostitute” after the game. Gelashvili seemingly won his game fair and square, but because Levin won and beat him on tiebreaks, he left with 2nd place and 1000 less Euros than he would have otherwise.

This year, I know an offer was made to my roommate prior to the last round. GM Levan Aroshidze was playing GM Rashad Babaev of Azerbaijan. After the pairings went up the previous night, I received a visit at our hotel room from Mirzoev who was asking about whether Levan was around. While Levan wasn’t, I knew immediately why Mirzoev had come calling. Levan walked in maybe 20 minutes later and said that Babaev had been waiting in the lobby and an offer was made – if either player wanted to “win” the game without it being a real struggle. A win by either player would take them to 8/10 and possibly a tie for first (but even if not first place, at least more money), along with a few extra rating points for the win.

Aroshidze’s response was quite good – he essentially flipped him the bird and told him he’d see him at the board the next morning. Despite having the black pieces, Aroshidze proceeded to beat Babaev and finish on an honest 8/10. Given the tournament tiebreak system, number of wins popped out as the first tiebreak, and with 7 wins (he started the tournament one-round late), he was the leader amongst the 8-point scoregroup and so finished in 2nd place.

Having an actual tiebreak system (unlike in the US) would seem to help dissuade cheating, since the money is not guaranteed. You may know how your opponent’s are doing up through round 9, but you can’t know in advance how they’ll do in round 10, and even more importantly, you don’t even know which tiebreak is going to be in place after the end of the tournament. The organizers are clearly thinking about this problem, but I think it would be bring a seemingly more equitable outcome if the tiebreak choices were tweaked slightly.

Update: Somebody pointed out that an opinion piece about the Benasque tiebreak system was written at: http://www.ajedreznd.com/2008/nvictorias.htm (the author essentially agrees that number of wins is a poor first tiebreak)