Armageddon Chess Breakdown (Tiebreaks, Is it fair?)

Unlike other sports, a draw is a regular outcome in chess. Due to this, several tie-break methods have been set in place to identify a decisive winner. This is especially important in tournaments where only one player can advance.

There exist a tie-break score that organizers can look at to determine who faced a bigger competition and as a basis for advancement, but there are also other means. One of those means is holding an armageddon game.

So what is an armageddon game? Based from knowledge here is what I know:

Armageddon is a tie-break format intended to break continuous draws made by the players participating in a tie break. It’s a condition that gives white a total time of about five minutes while black has around four, where white has to win the game as a draw is counted to be a victory for Black.

Most of you will probably never encounter this in your whole competitive experience since this only applies in most high-end tournaments. However if you are following a famous competitor, then knowing this is important so you can understand the stakes on their armageddon games.

The definition of armageddon in chess

First, it’s important to understand what is Armageddon actually? Of course as the thing I’ve talked about in the intro, Armageddon is a chess tie-breaking breaking format intended to give a decisive winner. It can be described by the 3 C’s (characteristics of an Armageddon chess) which are the following:

a.) Color- first characteristic in armageddon chess

There are several arrangements for how the setup will be played, but usually follow similar trajectories. White will have an allotted time period to think longer than black, but the said color (white) is obligated to win the game.

The one wielding the black pieces is not required to win in order to score, a draw is already considered a victory. Due to this most players opt for black since a win is easier to acquire even though there is lesser time, most results from top games after all end in a draw.

b.) Chess time- second characteristic in armageddon chess

Another characteristic is the amount of time granted to each player. There are various time controls that this tiebreaker can apply, but mostly in blitz chess of about five minutes. White is given 5 minutes while black only has 4, so a one-minute higher. There are other variations such as 6 minute time for White and 5 minutes for black.

In some modified Armageddon formats, the time actually reaches even above 20 minutes, which makes it almost classical (longest time format).

c.) Coin toss (Draw lots)- third characteristic in armageddon chess

Lastly, what method is actually used to decide which player gets which color? A coin toss of course! Not kidding. A coin is tossed is a game where a player gets to predict the outcome as either heads or tails,
where if the forecast is correct then it’s a win, if it’s not, then it’s the other player’s win (you know regular coin toss stuff).

The one who wins the toss gets to decide which side to play in, contrary to a regular setup where the organizers get to decide the colors. Another format exists like that of the draw lots, where players draw a piece of paper to identify the victor that gets to select the color.

Why tie breakers exist, the need for the armageddon format

Usually, tournaments are not mandated to crown a sole winner where multiple players can have victory at once, Such is only applicable when prizes are on the line. There are tournament wins necessary to qualify for a bigger playing field where only one can advance, a tie break mechanism has to kick in during such scenarios.

This also applies to competitions where a title is at stake, the world chess championship challenger for example where there is only room for one. There’s actually a system that breaks ties without playing a game, the tie break score.

The tie break score and how it contrast to the armageddon format

The tie break score is a numerical rating used to determine which player has been through bigger competition, therefore better deserving the award. It is calculated by the total score points of all the opponents defeated by the player where only half is accounted for draws.

This system allows a player to come up on top even if the actual score is tied. No further games are required to break the tie score, only the metric gathered from the actual tournament.

The one who faced better players and won will naturally have a higher tie break score than the one who played under weaker conditions.

This kind of tie-breaking scheme is used in top tournaments too, there are specific conditions however where this cannot apply. Like a showdown of two players (a bracket format) that gets into consecutive games where no prior wins can get calculated into the tie-breaking score.

Why can Nakamura never win against Carlsen? Solved!

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Which color is better in the armageddon time format?

Let’s talk a little bit about the actual perks of using a particular color. In a regular game of chess, White has a more inherent advantage due to the prestige of having the first move. This is a special scheme however and therefore warrants a different evaluation.

Perks of the White pieces in the armageddon format

Having white in an armageddon setting will give the following advantages:

● Tempo- White still being the first to move has the benefit of tempo (speed) over black.
● Time- a longer time control only even a minute in blitz is critical since there is not a lot of time to begin with.
● Blitz- the format in which most armageddon games take place (speed chess) has a higher likelihood of giving a decisive result than longer time controls.

White still gets to keep its inherent specs, since even in armageddon it still gets to play the first move. A position desired by the player would likely be created and therefore could deliver decent winning chances.

Along with an increased time of 1 minute which may not seem much, but it actually is in a 5-minute game where every second is crucial. Even with all of this, top players are still more likely to prefer black over white, why is that the case though?

Perks of the Black pieces in the armageddon format

A regular game of chess generally offers more options for white than black. If you want to learn more about which color is actually better overall then it’s worth checking out my other article. It’s an in-depth guide to chess colors in order for you to better understand the context of this case.

I would leave a link here (will open in a new tab) if you want to check it out. Anyway, what is the summary of benefits when playing black in this case? Black gives:

● Easiness- Black pieces can afford to make safer moves that avoid complications.
● Intimidation- The one playing white is usually under heavy stress due to the necessity of winning.
● Win condition- the most important of all! It’s just relieving to play with Black since it’s easier to draw than to actually win.

So in technical terms, white should still have the advantage. But we shouldn’t forget that chess is also a psychological game; the fact that you’re playing for a draw makes it more friendly to the players.

Alternatives

Interestingly, there are other methods that exist apart from Armageddon to determine a victor when a tie break score is not eligible. Such includes:

a.) Continuing time as an alternative to armageddon

In a few editions of the U.S. chess championship, an interesting tiebreaker was introduced. It’s a continuing time! Both players with the same score play consecutive games on an agreed time format. The catch is that you actually get to keep the time!

If one player wins or lost the first time, then ok the game is set. But in situations where a draw persists, the game is reset and will be continually played. The previous time on the clock will still apply to this particular game!

This will get lower and lower as there are more games that will be played until a winner is identified.

b.) Modified Armageddon time format

This can take the form of various similar armageddon formats but is not actually an armageddon by itself. It can be designed in a variety of ways like having a longer time control when playing armageddon. Since it is usually played in faster time control, this added factor makes a formula that is completely unique and warrants a different approach.

Bidding as an alternative to armageddon

There’s actually a new system starting to become popular in dealing with tie breaks. It’s to actually bid for time. The arbiter after all can’t always dictate what is fair even if it differs from the player’s perspective, which is important in this case.

Both players will negotiate their proposed time controls in hopes of playing black. Let’s say there is a player A and B. A proposed 6 minutes for White while only 5 for Black. B then even goes further and requests 6 for white while having 4 for black. B won the bid, therefore B will play as Black with 4 minutes while A is White with 6.

Final thoughts

Deciding which player wins the tournament during tie-breaks is crucial. These players have been training and playing countless hours and therefore would like to see an accurate result. The system will be improved and enhanced over time to further perform this function.

As for now, armageddon is a good deciding tool that we need to adapt and appreciate. Sleep well and play chess.

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