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Friday, September 20, 2019

Evans, Kramer and Shainswit: Unbelievable, Revolting, Unforgivable

     After the frivolity of yesterday’s post it’s time to get back to serious stuff and talk about the blight that has ruined modern day correspondence chess and has also become the bane of modern championship chess...draws. 
     In the 1920s Capablanca believed that within a few decades games between GMs would always end in draws so he enlarged the board and added two new pieces. Then came Bobby Fischer who turned his back on the old chess and only played Fischer Random, “The old chess is dead, it's been played out.” he said. 
     Back in 2013, I did a post on the 1948 US Championship that was played in South Fallsburg, New York. It was the championship that Andrew Soltis described as “The Largest and the Least,” adding, “It was the best of championships, it was the worst of championships.”      
     Recently I came across a letter to the editor, Montgomery Major, in the November 5, 1948 issue of Chess Life that was written by Richard W. Wayne who was the tournament director and at one time served as director of the Ventnor City tournaments. Apparently Major, a cranky character anyway, had castigated the TD for allowing so many short draws. 
     Wayne claimed no one in the chess world was more opposed to or more disgusted by short draws than he was and trying to place the blame for the short draws on him showed “a complete lack of experience in the tournament field.” 
     Before the tournament Wayne had discussed the draw matter with Fred Reinfeld and it was concluded there was absolutely nothing that could be done about enforcing a 30-move draw rule. If two players wanted a quick draw they could just continue to play “making farcical and ridiculous moves” or just repeat the position three times. 
    In particular, Major’s ire had been raised over an 11 move draw between Larry Evans and Walter Shipman in round three. The game is given at Chessgames.com but it’s 13 moves, not 11. Also, Wayne stated that it was Evans who offered the draw, but in the game Shipman (playing black) made the last move so one would suppose it was he who made the offer. 
     Wayne also stated that Evans had “a much superior position” so Shipman hardly had any choice but to accept the offer. For his misdeed, according to Wayne, Evans deserved “the most scathing criticism” that either Wayne or Major could offer. 
     Did they play 11 moves or 13? According to Chess Life's account it was 13.  Chess Life stated, "16-year old Larry Evans gave a sorry account of himself by offering a draw after 13 moves to Shipman. The latter, who should know better, accepted at once.  Chess play or horseplay?"  Also, Stockfish doesn’t show any significant advantage for white after either move 11 or move 13. 
     According to Wayne, even more revolting was the round 11 game between George Kramer and George Shainswit...absolutely unforgivable. Wayne stated that both players were much more experienced (at that time) than either Evans or Shipman and both of them were “in the thick of contention for one of the high prizes.” 
Shainswit in the Army (1943)

     Shainswit, a player of “tremendous ability” drew harsh criticism for having long had a reputation for his willingness “to accept a draw in the middle of the fight.” Shainswit tied for 5th-7th with a score of +6 -1 =12.
     As for Kramer, his actions were a “horrible exhibition” and his acceptance of a draw in the final position was “almost unbelievable.” Actually, the final position was nearly equal...perhaps just a smidgen of an advantage to black. 
     Chess is a unique game in that it’s the only one where the players can agree to a draw at any time for any reason and over the years there have been attempts to discourage draws, but none have been successful. In the first international tournament in London in 1862, drawn games had to be replayed until there was a decisive result. 
     In 1929 the first edition of the FIDE laws of chess required 30 moves to be played before a draw could be agreed to, but it was discarded when the rules were revised in 1952. 
     In 1954 FIDE rejected a request to reinstate the rule, but it did state that it is unethical and unsportsmanlike to agree to a draw before a serious contest had begun. FIDE stated that the director should discipline players who repeatedly disrespect this guideline, but it was ineffective. 
     In 1962 FIDE reinstated a version of the rule against draws by agreement in fewer than 30 moves unless the director approved. Penalty was a loss of the game by both players. As Wayne pointed out back in 1948, a threefold repetition came to the players’ rescue. Besides, directors wouldn’t enforce the rule...they no doubt understood that it was impossible. 
     The following year FIDE got tough. Directors had to investigate draws by repetition of position to see if they were to circumvent the rule. The rule was dropped in 1964 because it also failed. 
     In 2003, GM Maurice Ashley proposed that draw offers not be allowed before move 50. The 2003 Generation Chess International Tournament in New York City had a rule that draws could not be agreed to before move fifty; threefold repetitions and stalemate, were permissible at any stage. Thirty moves or fifty, it made no difference. 
     In the World Championship 2016 between Carlsen and Karjakin they were not permitted to agree a draw before move 30. No matter. Out of 12 games 10 were drawn. And, in the 4 playoff games, 2 were drawn. In the 2016 World Championship there were 12 games with 10 draws. The outcome came down to blitz. It seems no matter what draws keep snowballing.

     There have also been proposals to alter the scoring system so that a win is worth more than two draws, but they have also been unsuccessful. 
     Ecclesiastes 1:9 applies, I guess... What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 
     One thing that made this tournament interesting was the fact that the wide disparity in playing strengths lead to some amusing miniatures and even instructive games. Instructive because they demonstrated how strong masters can so easily crush the not so strong masters. 

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