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Armageddon is upon us

Armageddon is upon us, but there’s no need for funeral arrangements. In chess, an armageddon is a game where black wins in case of a draw. To compensate for that huge advantage, white is given additional time. In a perfectly balanced armageddon game, the choice between white and black is irrelevant, as the advantage of having white and extra time equals the advantage of winning in case of a draw.

Most armageddon games feature in knockout tournaments, as a last measure to separate players after lengthy blitz and rapid tiebreaks. This year’s Norway Chess is an exception, where it’s implemented to get a decisive result in case the classical game ends in a draw. Two points are awarded if you win the classical game. But if you make a draw, an armageddon game is played, and the winner gets 1,5 points – the loser 0,5.

So far, with three rounds played, Norway Chess’ choice of giving white ten minutes and black seven seems to have worked out excellently: Nine armageddons have been played, with white winning five and black winning four. Finding the perfectly balanced time controls is an incredibly difficult task, especially as different players will have different preferences. Magnus Carlsen has stated that he generally prefers being black, since a draw will suffice. But others may appreciate having the extra time, plus the opening initiative the white pieces can supply.

In my opinion, Norway Chess’ armageddon experiment has been a success so far. As a commentator for Norwegian tv, the extra drama after a drawn game is appreciated, and it does seem like the chosen time control is pretty balanced. But there’s always room for improvement, so I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to figure out a method for determining the perfect Armageddon time control – the perfect balance.

To me, it seems like testing is the only way to do it. And we need to keep in mind that the top-level players are extraordinarily good defenders, which is why the draw rates are so high in their games. So, while 10v7 might be great in Norway Chess, it might not be the right balance if you host an armageddon tournament at your own chess club.

Follow games from the Norway Chess tournament and their Armageddon experiment.

What do you think is the perfect armageddon time control? Do you have a brilliant method of determining it? Leave your input at our facebook page.

Photo credit: Lennart Ootes