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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Of Managing Time in Running Events

It was an interesting overview made by Tse Pin with regards to the recent CAS Quarterly Allegro that was conducted in DATCC. It was an interesting perspective indeed but maybe, it can be improved.

To a certain extent, running weekend events using incremental time control is not overly disadvantageous unless the organizer has to maintain a dead set closing time especially when inviting VIP for the closing, and for the Muslim, if it comes too close to Maghrib praying time. During the 2010 Chess Festival, we conducted a Rapid event using incremental time control and it ended almost 8pm - overstepping the Buka Puasa time. But lucky for us, there was no formal closing ceremony hence, we were not pressured to complete the event within the timeline. The significant setback was that many players left the event early (mostly Muslims) when they realized it is almost breakfasting time and they had no chance of winning prizes. The minor setback was the crew and I had to stay late to rearrange the tables and chairs for the next day's event.

Ironically for the organizer, the main disadvantage of using incremental time control is that, time is not within their control. From the start of the event, Arbiters/Organizers are always on their toes, praying that "the round will not go on for so long". Imagine having two seasoned players playing and both feel and think they can win the game especially when the point is crucial. And at that point of time, patience is a virtue that the Arbiters/Organizers need to have.

Taking into account that the event will run beyond time (if it were done 7 rounds), Tse Pin opted to run a 6 rounder instead - a logical solution that will allow him to manage his timing better! The significant setback is that a 6 rounder may not be enough to crown an outright champion if there are more than 64 players playing, but with potential draws being recorded, there is a good chance that 6 rounds would still be adequate - fingers crossed!

Looking back at Tse Pin's recent event, the higher rating category had 24 players but, the lower category had 65 players - just one above the 64 player "limit". The actual number was 81 but due to some withdrawal, it became lesser but, just imagine if the final number had actually hit 81 or higher?! There could exist 2 joint leaders that never played one another - a small issue but regardless, an issue.

For the Category 1 event, 6 rounds was more than enough to obtain an out right winner for the 24 players competing. The only (minor) setback was that, the rating gap used was too wide as Tse Pin had set 1400 rating points as the floor rating for the higher category - thus those who are in the 1500+ and 1400+ bracket, may find the outing a bit too tough for them especially when playing a player who are rated 2000+. But there are not many highly rated player playing so, all seems fair but again, imagine if it were not the case? Of course, we can always say that it is good to play a better player in order to improve (a "David against Goliath" ideals) but, on the tail side of it, if a player gets constantly hammered, it might also deter him (or her) from playing in future events.

Based on the rating spread of the players playing in the CAS event, it would probably make sense to spread them in 3 categories instead of 2 (suggestion) and divide them in the following rating category i.e. above 1500 (Category 1), between 1200 and 1500 (Category 2), and below 1200 (Category 3). Unrated? They can choose which category they want to play. Based on this spread, for the CAS event, there would be 13 players in Cat 1, 39 in Cat 2 and 15 in Cat 3 with 22 players unrated. Administratively, it maybe a challenge to manage 3 groups but, at least the spread of "strength" and number of rounds given seems fair and enough to crown an outright winner. To make it more interesting, we can name the category Super, Premier Division and Challenger Division - whichever suits your fancy

An incremental time event is still good for the longer classical type tournament i.e. Chess Festival, National Closed, etc. as rounds are scheduled far apart - at least 6 hours different from start to start. So, there is a good chance that a game can finish before the next round starts. Potentially, there would still be an overlap of rounds (where a game can extend more than 6 hours - in the Chess Festival history, as far back as I can remember, this almost happen once!) and pairing can come out as late as only 30 minutes before the next round starts (or lesser!). 

It may not be easy to overcome this issue but for pairing purposes, maybe we can deploy the adjournment rule - consider the game as drawn and continue the pairing for the next round (in order for it to start on time). If the two players are playing, let them continue playing while the next round starts (we can think of the mechanics later since it might "disturb" the players that are still playing while other players are adjusting to their seats, etc.). For the players that are still playing, they can start their rounds with their respective opponents, slightly later (and hopefully then can catch on with the following rounds). Issue may arise where these players that are still playing, are able to "see" their next round opponent even before they finishes but I believe, this is a minor "compromise" to balance the time management of the event. And of course, once the players have concluded their game, the results can then be readjusted. I am not saying that this is the solution, but a plausible work around to save time - instead of having to start a round later - at the cost of 100 players waiting instead of only 4. Alternatively, ask both players to adjourn the game and continue at a later time - to avoid chaos in starting the next round. For a one day weekend event, this may be a bit far fetched idea but then again, we can always give it a try - would we not?

Managing a tightly run event especially where there is not much time in between the rounds (and incremental time control event gives you unpredictable time gap) is a challenge. Somehow, I beg to differ slightly when Tse Pin mentioned that the Arbiter's burden is being lessened by the fact that the claim of draw under the 2 minutes rule has become almost non existent, because the fact remains that the Arbiter still needs to be around (and run around) when players raised their hands requesting for assistance i.e. games still need to be observed, and players may still request for the arbiter to declare a game drawn because the position may have repeated a few times (not in consecutive order and in the absence of a recording sheet). 

Somehow for me, a one day weekend event is meant for guillotine type rapid event where games/rounds must finish within a specified time i.e. 25 minutes to finish. And with the timeline set, it is much easier to plan for the closing, lunch, breaks, etc. Of course, the main challenges will be there - for an arbiter to declare a game drawn (or otherwise), or run all over the hall to peek at games but then again, it is what makes the Arbiter's job interesting, satisfying and challenging. And, it also provides continuous learning experience for the Arbiter to improve. A bit of help (aided by a small team of effective co arbiters, assistants and helpers) would definitely makes the job easier, but that is a given clause - whatever assistance that the Arbiter can get, will definitely be helpful.

In summarizing, perhaps an incremental time control for short rapid events (25 minutes or 30 minutes game) are best conducted over 2 days on a single weekend and to make it worthwhile, the rounds can be stretched to 9 instead of the usual 7 (or 6) rounds - 5 rounds on day 1 and 4 rounds on day 2. Of course, there will be an increase in costing but at least, there are more chess to be played, and organizers/arbiters will not be in a rush (and pray) to start the following round on time. The other setback about running an incremental time tournament, since the rounds are scheduled far apart to allow for lengthy games, is when by stroke of luck all the games surprisingly finished earlier than expected and due to this, the waiting for the players (and organizers) before the next round starts can be excruciatingly boring.... The Malay saying comes to mind: Penantian itu satu penyiksaan.... Don't you think?


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