The World Chess Federation (FIDE) has recently posted some rather astonishing announcements on its website, FIDE.com.   A press release dated 12/26/00 included the following:

In line with the decision of the FIDE General Assembly in Istanbul and based on the consensus of opinion of the overwhelming majority of top players at the World Chess Championship in New Delhi the Board unanimously approved the new time control, with effect from 1 January 2001.  Instead of the existing format (40 moves in 100 minutes, 20 moves in 50 minutes, 10 minutes for the remainder of the game with an increment of 30 seconds), the new time control to be used in all FIDE events and international title tournaments will be 40 moves in 75 minutes, 15 minutes for the remainder of the game, with an increment of 30 seconds per move from move 1.  

For many organizers around the world, this radical rules change came as quite a shock.  First, the "new time control" is so fast that it was not even legal for norm purposes until now.  FIDE rules specify a minimum of three hours per side for title norm events, and  nothing faster than 23 moves per hour.  The "new time control" translates to 40/95 and 60/120, quite a bit faster than 23/1, and the players have three hours each only if they reach move 180, which happens about as often as a Master loses to a Class E player.  

This is a controversial change for the World Championship, favoring players with quick reflexes (Max Dlugy and Kamran Shirazi come to mind as typical of this type, though not of world title caliber) over others who may react more slowly but also, given sufficient time, may plan more deeply (such as Pal Benko or Alex Ivanov), and if I was a strong GM without lightning-fast reflexes, I would be outraged.  It is true that the faster time limit tends to be more popular with the media and thus may attract more sponsorship, but rather than abolishing the traditional slow time control World Championship, why not simply add a new World Game/120, Game/90, or Game/60 title event?

Even more far reaching was the decision to require "all FIDE events and international title tournaments" to use the new FIDE time control.  This is telling the world's organizers that 40/2, SD/1 (by far the most popular time limit in the USA) is no longer acceptable for norm purposes.  That the stodgy old 40/2, 20/1, 20/1 without sudden death, still seen in some places, can no longer produce norms.  That other slow controls such as 30/90, 20/1, SD/1 cannot result in norms.  WHY? Norms made at any of these controls are perfectly valid as indicators of ability.  FIDE appears to have an obsession with compelling every tournament to be exactly alike, with no regard for each nation's customs or traditions.  It's another example of the type of rigid FIDE thinking that would declare tournaments nonratable because they use USCF rules, even though the latter rules have evolved from decades of Swiss tournament experience and are far more efficient for open events than FIDE rules, especially in the area of time claims (where USCF rules put more pressure on players to keep score).  

Following is an e-mail I sent to Carol Jarecki, with copies to the USCF rules discussion group.

Subj: FIDE goes beserk?

Date: 1/1/01 4:27:26 PM Pacific Standard Time

From: Recmate

To: cjareck@attglobal.net, rules-discuss@64.com


It has been called to my attention that the FIDE website states that new FIDE rules have been adopted to the following effect: "The new time control to be used in all FIDE events and international title tournaments will be 40 moves in 75 minutes, 15 minutes for the remainder of the game, with an increment of 30 seconds per move from move 1."

It sounds like FIDE is continuing to press on with its ridiculous campaign to completely standardize and control every aspect of chess. First, USCF's time forfeit rules are deemed by some in FIDE to be illegal, now they seem to be saying that an international title Swiss run at a control such as 40/2, SD/1 is no longer acceptable. Maybe the next step will be to specify the exact prizes, entry fees and round starting times of every tournament?

For the past few years, I have organized a number of Swisses offering FIDE norm possibilities- the World Open, CCA-Chesswise International, and (2000 only) Continental Open. All these events have allowed at least 3 hours per player for the game. 40/75, SD/15 with a 30 second increment may be a fine control for those wishing to play quicker, but it requires time increment clocks which most players do not have, is much faster than many players wish to play (a 60 move game allows only 2 hours per side), and is much different from what American players are used to. It will seriously hurt entries in any events that may try it.

I have no intention of using this new FIDE time control, and therefore probably should not announce "norms possible" for any future CCA tournaments. And it will no doubt not be too long, the way things seem to be going, before the "new time control" is required for all FIDE-rated tournaments, at which time organizers wishing to run 40/2, SD/1 events (a time control which has been voted most popular in player surveys) can forget about FIDE altogether.

Bill Goichberg

Carol complained to Stewart Reuben of England, who is very influential regarding rules matters, and who expressed the opinion that the new time limit would be mandatory only for events run by FIDE.  And apparently our complaints were not the only ones, for on January 4, FIDE issued a clarifying press release:

The Board realises that it is now incumbent on FIDE to move with the reality of our changing world.  It is no longer realistic to expect that in the modern world of today where with the advent of computers and advanced soft wares, the professional chess player cannot in all reality claim that he does not have the assistance of these appliances in the preparation of his matches.  Therefore the Board resolved in the larger interest of the game and its future to heed the advice of the vast majority of the top 100 players of the world present in New Delhi to revise downwards the current time control for FIDE competitions.  This decision has the added advantage that sponsors and organisers will consume less time to organise their events and with less costs.

Finally, what the Board has done is merely to lower the barrier for the time controls.  At the same time, it realises that there are many federations and chess organisers who may not have the resources to apply the cumulative time control of additional thirty seconds from move one.  Therefore, there is no compulsion involved here for organisers to use this mode in the transitional period so long as there is substantial compliance within the limits set out by the Board.

What to make of this?  The FIDE Board now realizes that mandating the new time limit, effective instantly, is not going over too well, so it will not be required for now.  Good.  "The limits set out by the Board" are not stated; presumably they are the existing FIDE time control rules, which would also be OK.  But  the phrase "the transitional period" is ominous.  It sounds like FIDE still intends, as soon as feasible, to persevere with its absurd agenda to compel every FIDE rated tournament in the world to be completely identical in time control, rules, and no doubt other things as well. WHY?  In USCF we allow various time limits if they meet a general standard, and we specify alternate rules and procedures that may be used as variations if announced in advance, recognizing that the methods that work well for a Master round robin may not be the best for a large Swiss or a scholastic. And the experimental rule of today may become the standard of tomorrow. What in the world is wrong with a little variety?