Monday, 23 March 2009

Odd Tie Breaking Systems

A number of years ago the British Chess Magazine observed that the tie-breaks for tournaments played in the old USSR seemed to operate like this: USSR players first, the rest of the Warsaw Pact next, the rest of the players last.
I was reminded of this when flicking through Kasparov's "The Test of Time" and Volume 1 of "Tournament Chess" from Pergamon Chess. Both publications covered the 1981 Moscow Super GM Tournament, and both included a cross table from the event. Karpov easily won with 9/13 and in equal second were Polugaevsky, Smyslov and Kasparov on 7.5/13. Strangely enough, while this was the order given in "Tournament Chess", Kasparov listed the players as Kasparov, Polugaevsky and Smyslov in his own book.
At first I assumed some Kasparov-centric tiebreak system was in operation, and crunched some numbers. The usual tie-breaking system for round robin events is S-B (ie add the final score of everyone you beat, and half the final score of who you drew with), but that only resulted in a third ordering (Polugaevsky, Kasparov and Symslov). As it turns out I was looking in the wrong direction entirely. Kasparov had cunningly used the "Alphabetical" tie-break system, which certainly improved his standing. But to be fair to Kasparov (or his editors), he was happy to place himself behind other players on tie-break when reporting other tournaments in the book.

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