The Scottish Championship,
The Olympiad Selection
and General State of Scottish Chess
by IM Jacob Aagaard, CS International Director
August 3, 2006
Recently there has been a lot of discussion about the state of the Scottish Championship. Everybody is in agreement that it has failed and cannot continue in its present form. Therefore some people have suggested that the way to save it will be to select the champion automatically to the Olympiad team. When this idea first surfaced I felt it was my responsibility as International Director to explain why this is a bad idea. My very long list of arguments was completely ignored, but the suggestion was repeated once a week, as if suggested for the first time.
I will here give the arguments once again and slightly more elaborate. You will probably notice that my arguments are based on an analysis of what result that will come from this proposal, and not in any way against the underlying ambition. I too, as I hope all of our members, wish for the Scottish Championship to be improved and for the Scottish Champion to play for Scotland. Only, I think it should be because the Scottish Championship is so strong that you have to be in our top five to be able to win it, or because the selectors recognise your strength and potential when you win the tournament.
A final point before I give the potential problems with the suggestion. It is standard political practice that an administration will not continue if it loses a crucial vote. I have through the last year lost a number of votes and administrated the outcomes without bitterness, but this vote is of such an importance to me, both as a fan of Chess Scotland who wishes the best for the development of our federation, and as a chess player who will have to live with the consequences of the vote, that I cannot be expected to continue as International Director should the proposal be accepted by the AGM.
I do not say this as an argument for or against the proposal, but only so those who think that this major proposal is important will not get surprised if the proposal is accepted and I resign.
I would of course not be bitter. I am a democrat to the core of my being. I would also help a new International Director get organised. This process alone will probably take close to the same time as the post will take the rest of the year, so it is hardly a great loss for CS.
Finally, I think George and Geoff have a moral responsibility to explain in writing in good time before the AGM where I am wrong in my analysis of the outcome of their proposal, which they certainly must think since they have chosen to put it forward.
The proposal is that one out of the five players for the Olympiad team in 2008 will be selected from the Scottish Championship 2008. (And I assume, one out of the five four the European Team Championship 2007 from the Scottish Championship 2007?).
The idea is to make the Scottish Championship more attractive for the top players and therefore more attractive as a whole.
(I will not go into moral arguments, such as this is the national championship or that whether if we should send the best possible team to the Olympiad, as these are probably less convincing than a pure cause and effect analysis.)
1. Obviously the four strongest players will not in any way feel attracted to the Championship as they are going to the Olympiad anyway.
2. The assumption is that nr. 5 – 10 will feel that a week playing in a tournament they currently do not feel attracted to will become worth it because the reserve spot on the Olympiad team is offered. This assumption I feel is frail. I know with myself that I would go to such a tournament with the assumption that I did not win (and I am a very optimistic and proactive person), and therefore would have to feel that the tournament was worth it in itself. The assumption currently seems to be that it is not.
Also: No one in top 12 has been out to support the suggestion of combining the Scottish and the Olympiad besides Andy Muir and Douglas Bryson. Like myself these two would consider playing a weak Scottish Championship anyway.
3. Another assumption must be that other players will want to participate because these stronger players would be there. I find this unfounded. And I cannot imagine that the hope is to go from 20 to 24 participants in the event.
Consequences for the Olympiad team
If a player who is seriously weaker than the rest, qualified for the Olympiad team it would have various consequences. Here are some of them. (Note: in the future, Olympiad teams will consist of five, not six, players.)
4. It would be more difficult to convince the top four to play. This year I managed to send the Scottish Teams to the Olympiad and have training sessions with Mark Dvoretsky for the Open Team and Stephen Mannion and myself for the Women's Team at the same cost as the Danish Federation sent their Women's Team. I am not convinced I can pull that off again. Consider how the demands from the top four players could change if the fifth player was considered seriously weaker.
The result could be added expenses (that could be better spent on the Scottish) or simply that other players from our Olympiad squad would feel lack of enthusiasm by the situation and decide not to go.
5. What about the number of games? This year, board six from India, Sing, lost in the first round to Morocco. Board six for Russia, Rublevsky, lost three games in a row early in the tournament. These two players have two things in common. They both qualified from the national championship - and they were both benched for their efforts.
Should we reach this situation, which is very likely if a weaker player qualified, what will it then mean when we have one and not two reserves for the rest of the team's experience of the event and performance?
Will the price of qualification be attractive if it means 2-3 games in a two-week event?
Or will it have to come with a promise of a number of games, which then will force the team captain to bench a top four player for a player rated potentially 200 points lower?
How will that go down with the players?
It is said that the first major step a chess player can make from begin a home player to becoming a club player is to stop playing “hope chess”. Which basically means that instead of using an analysis to choose the best move, he plays a move with the hope that something will happen. To me this proposal has certain similarities to this. It is based on assumptions and hopes and not a thorough analysis.
This entire discussion was started with two events.
- The Scottish being terribly weak.
- Andy Muir being upset for not being selected for the Olympiad.
Let us look at them one by one.
1. The Championship is suffering.
2004 was as strong a tournament as we can hope for, well organised by the friendly people from Hamilton Chess Club. I think most would agree that the surroundings were not what we would wish for with a Scottish Championship, but at current this is what we can effort.
2005 was held in Oban. The number of participants was fewer. The tournament hall big, but without windows. Besides Andy Muir and myself, no top players were present. Alex was close to organising this event all by himself.
2006 I did not play, and so did very few others. I would have played if the dates were not moved, but again Andy and I would have been the only top players. What about others? Motwani is inactive; Rowson has nothing to play for in the Scottish, Shaw was busy with work. Those who might have played were McNab, Berry and Gourlay, had the tournament been attractive.
2. The fact that other players were stronger than Andy Muir was the sole reason he was not selected. His suggestions to the moral frailty of the selectors and those selected would probably make most people assume that he would never be selected for anything again. But actually, our selectors are very moral people, and this will not be an issue.
It should be noted that no one in top 12 or so besides Andy found the process troublesome.
The real problem
Nothing is for free. The Scottish Championship, when it was best the last few years, did not match up to most of our weekend events in the quality of the organisation. This is not a criticism of Alex or others who did something, but maybe a little bit of those who did nothing, but have been critical of their efforts.
If people want an attractive Scottish Championship there has to be a few factors present:
2) People who want to organise it
3) A strategy
Right now we have this situation:
1) The Championship is not allowed to cost anything. If people insist that the Scottish is not allowed to cost anything they should be happy with the current state of affairs.
2) No one has been willing to organise it – AT ALL
3) Surveys that prove to have little to do with what people really want
From despair to where?
The proposal is put forward from George and Geoff with the best and most commendable intentions, but is likely to have a lot of negative non-intended effects. The correct decision will therefore in my mind be to reject it – or at least to reject the above analysis with counter arguments.
Concerning the Scottish
I do agree that something has to be done. But before the three factors above have changed no real change will happen. In the entire year I cannot find a tournament that is as unattractive for me to play as the Scottish and it is the same with the other top players. Until this change only few of us will participate. (Note: no top player has in any way suggested that Chess Scotland should invest in the Scottish, all I am saying is that if the members of Chess Scotland wants the tournament to be strong, they need to take some responsibility for it.)
To take something from the top players and offer it back to them as a possible reward for doing something unattractive will not improve anything.
Thinking outside the box
If you want to use the Olympiad selection to improve the Scottish Championship I have a much better idea. Why not auction out the five spots among players with more than 2000 in rating. You rating points will help you in the auction so that a stronger player will have to pay less for the space. For instance: 2300 gives you a leverage of £600 over the player with 2000, so he has to offer £601 more than you to get selected. The minimum amount has to be £500, or the space will go to normal selection. The outcome, potentially thousands of pounds, will go to finance the championship. In that way you get the same result with the Olympiad team, where you do not send the best players, but on the other hand you have enough finances to at least get the strongest players to participate in the Scottish, which makes this plan more effective than that suggested.
This suggestion probably seems ridiculous to most. But what if it only includes board five and the minimum amount in the auction is £ 1000? With a £1500 or £2500 first price in the Scottish we can probably attract just more players than G&G's proposal will. And the fifth player on the Olympiad team will be equally superfluous.
Some might say that he has not qualified for the team, but only paid for it. But in the view of most of the top players in Scotland, there is only one way to qualify for the Olympiad team: to be the best player available. For this reason the Scottish Champion is not necessarily qualified in their eyes either. So if board five does not have to be qualified, why not get the best possible championship out of it?