People watch chess tournaments in order to experience the competitive spirit of playing the game in its utmost condition, we want a good battle.
However there have been rumors of fixed draws lately which get in the way of this goal, and which has also led me to make this article.
Do players really pre-arrange the results of the games before their matches? This is a major thing if there is factual evidence available.
Players often pre-arrange draws in elite play as stated by Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Magnus Carlsen, but never has there been a reported case of intentionally losing which would result in either withdrawal from the tournament, a temporary ban, or a permanent ban.
It appears there have been acceptable cases of fixing results in today’s world, but I think that it is not that harmful. However, there have definitely been instances of detrimental determination of outcomes that should be stopped, let me explain.
Is there a case where a chess player admits to fixing a draw?
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov admits to being a part of pre-arranged draws at some point of his career after being interviewed. The interview was caused by Carlsen’s remarks on the potential draw of Mamedyarov vs. Karjakin and how fixed draws happen often in elite games.
Pre-arranged draws do happen in tournaments (especially if the results do not tamper with tournament standings), although it is not the norm.
Players do not openly converse with the determination of the drawn outcomes as well, it is more of a secret thing.
The players do not discuss this issue with the fans in order to avoid criticism, nobody wants to hear that the match they are watching were prearranged draws.
It doesn’t happen as much (since chess players rarely talk with each other during tournaments) but it definitely exists as an underhanded proposition.
This has definitely been highlighted by a case involving an interview of Magnus Carlsen about the game between Karjakin and Mamedyarov, where he accused Mamedyarov and Karjakin of fixing a draw in the past.
This is Magnus Carlsen’s remark during the tournament:
“I know that Karjakin and Mamedyarov have made pre-arranged draws in previous tournaments. So if their game [from round three] was pre-arranged as well, of which I have no proof whatsoever, I would not be very surprised.” –Magnus Carlsen
This is a very bold claim to be made by the world champion, but we must remember that he is a professional who has a lot of experience in the field.
If someone knows about the underhanded agreements before chess matches it would be him since he is on the top of the chess rankings.
The interesting thing is both Mamedyarov and Karjakin have denied the claim for that particular match, although Mamedyarov has verified that he has done it in the past.
He also says that it is pretty common in some tournaments especially if it does not affect the overall tournament rankings at all (players would rather reserve their energy).
Here is Mamedyarov’s reply to the interviewer about them fixing draws:
“Sometimes we do it, yes, before the game. It doesn’t happen every time or in every tournament, but sometimes if you are sick or not in a mood, and you play against White, you think it’s fine. But it’s better for the sport and for the spectators to compete.” –Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
He added at the end that it is better for participants to compete, although has made no effort whatsoever to deny it.
Here is Carlsen’s reply to fixing draws:
“I do not do it myself. It’s very hard to prevent people from doing it, but it’s not the way it should be,” -Magnus Carlsen
This is nothing controversial and this is pretty much expected in a drawn-filled environment such as chess tournaments, as long as both parties agree there isn’t much of an issue.
If you want to learn why there are so many draws in chess tournaments this article (will open in a new tab) shall explain the intricacies of why it is actually a good idea for competitors to draw in tournaments.
Why do chess players pre-arrange a draw before their game?
A draw in professional play is not that uncommon, elite players would rather agree on the result of their games in order to minimize the number of potential lengthy moves that would still achieve a draw, saving both player’s energy.
There are a lot of advantages to both parties for fixing a draw at the start of some games especially if again, it does not change much for the tournament rankings.
Agreeing to a draw beforehand is basically the same as agreeing to a draw within the game, it is just so that the number of moves are limited.
If someone plans to offer a draw without informing the other party, they may play aggressive lines that would give an opportunity to one player (disrupting equality).
It could also be a lengthy game that will require a lot of thinking before the draw can be achieved, draining the player’s energy.
Draws are common in chess tournaments
If you think this is cheating it is not, there is no incentive whatsoever for one side to give a draw since everybody comes to the tournament for their own sake.
They do not earn anything off the prize money for trying to make a draw to certain people and letting them have higher chances of victory.
Most people in chess tournaments are actually sharks, they will act upon their self-interest for the most part to enjoy the rewards solely, which is a good thing.
Being part of the elite means one has to earn their right to be on the stage by having a long and phenomenal performance, basically, they would not waste their career on this.
Fixing draws is a taboo in elite play that a lot of people do, but never admit due to the repercussions. There have not been cases of anyone getting punished with this but will definitely occur if it is done openly, most of the time though it is excused.
As long as it does not interfere with the tournament standings (meaning no one would really report it) then the administrators would usually let it slide.
When does fixing draws in tournaments not acceptable?
Bobby Fischer accused the Soviet chess players of unethically fixing drawn games to increase the standing of a specific player, such is the case in 1962 candidates and 1952 interzonals, where the top soviet players all drew against each other.
During the area of the Soviet Union, prearranged games are being thrown left and right, such is the case in the 1962 candidates for example.
Bobby Fischer throws the fire after seeing that the top 3 soviet players drew all twelve of their games with each other, this case is not acceptable though.
In regular tournaments there is a degree of self-interest, there is really no incentive for letting a specific player win by gaming the system.
However, there is a moment in time where any play you’re from a specific country will count as a win, specifically during the era of the Soviet Union.
In the 1952 Interzonals, the top 5 Soviets drew all 10 games with each other developing a cloud of suspicion adding the factor of the authoritarian government.
The Soviets are having a cold war race against the United States at the time and one of the fields of focus is chess, they want to appear supreme.
So much so that drawing the results so that every Soviet player will have an easy game against each other is a thing, years later it was proven that it happens to a degree.
The players are pressured by the government to either draw or even lose some of their matches in order to ensure that at least a Soviet grandmaster will be at the top of the rankings.
The benefit of drawing a game
The benefits of fixing draws are somewhat controversial, it can give an edge turn for the player by reserving energy while giving opportunities for competitors to take the lead.
If a player drew their game they didn’t lose a single point, yes, but they allowed a chance for the competitors to win some games.
If one can consistently draw on a continuous basis (they have a lot of accomplices) then it can be beneficial since other competitors are likely to lose at some point.
This is why fixing draws in one game or two is pretty much acceptable, but not if done as an elaborate setup.
Does fixing a loss in a chess tournament happen often?
Intentionally losing a game is unheard of in any level of tournament chess, there have been no such cases since hardly anyone can benefit from it, except through bribery, threats, or helping a friend, but it will be subjected to penalty by Fide if proven.
Fixing draws is somewhat acceptable in the top level, but one deliberately losing a game is unheard of and deserves punishment. You see when someone draws, it does not directly affect the tournament rankings unless it is done consistently.
However intentionally throwing the game will put a player ahead artificially, this definitely tampers with other player’s performance and is punishable.
Remember when I said that agreeing to a draw within the game is not much different than agreeing before the game? This is way different from that since nobody agrees to a loss in-game (resignation).
The incentive for intentionally losing
There’s no incentive whatsoever for someone to throw a game, chess players gather in tournaments with winning the prize money in mind.
It is useful to Soviet players for example since the goal is to have at least a Soviet winner, it is different in everyday cases though.
There is nothing in it for a player to willingly put someone ahead of the tournament rankings, especially if it’s going to compromise their own chances of victory.
Some incentives that might push a player to lose their game are bribery, threats, or helping a friend win a title norm.
However as you might imagine this is a pretty one-time thing (or a rare occasion) that could have been associated in a chess game, this doesn’t happen often.
Nobody would bribe somebody to intentionally lose since it wouldn’t really translate to winning a tournament automatically (plus winning a tournament is not that grand since the prize money is not luxurious).
What is the punishment for chess players who fix results?
Fixing the results of any tournament chess game will be subject to a penalty in the form of withdrawal from the competition, a temporary ban, or a permanent ban depending on the discretion of the administration.
Colluding with the results is considered illegal, punishment might be withdrawal from the tournament, a temporary ban, or a permanent ban.
I have not seen any real-life examples that can be used as a standard for the procedures, but I can imagine that the intensity is just like with other cheating methods.
A withdrawal from the tournament can be acceptable if it is a minor occurrence with only a handful of evidence, a temporary/permanent ban is reserved for special cases.
But one thing is for sure, it is questionable how to determine whether a pre-arranged result has actually occurred in the board.
The problem with punishment of fixed chess games
It is very hard to figure if somebody actually tried to fix their games since the decisions that occurred might have been spontaneous. Here is a video about the shortest game of Carlsen’s career when he offered a draw on a very short amount of moves:
The draw did happen, although nobody really suspected the world champion since he is playing against a weaker opponent (no incentive to draw).
His justification is his unstable bowels which is pretty believable, however if this happens to a low-ranking player the case is uncertain.
This just proves that fixing games are more or less difficult to punish since the crime if it did occur is challenging to identify.
Do you now know whether players fix the results of their games?
Some people might be upset by this condition (fixing games) since it is a trace of recklessness unworthy of a competition. And I agree with you, this type of thing should be banned in all of tournament chess, even if it was hard to identify.
But in the current state, I can assure you that this will not affect the quality of the games in any way. It is not indicative that tournament rankings are just artificially made by someone colluding to game the system, the competition does exist and is real.
It is just however interesting to study if this thing exists just for reference, I hope you learn something from this article, sleep well and play chess.