The MRL Chess Paradigm

The MRL Chess Paradigm tournament takes place this weekend at the Bellville Golf club. Many of South Africa’s top players (including SA champions and Olympiad players, and 4 International Masters) will compete in a 7-round Swiss tournament to be the champion of this unique competition. The MRL format (complete description below) comprises of a subset of 8 of the 960 Fischer Random chess positions and rules to prevent draws. This is the third year of the MRL, with each year getting a stronger field and an increased prize fund. This event is sponsored by CPC Engineering and DDG Slimming and is held under the auspices of Chess Western Province.

The full tournament brochure can be downloaded here: MRL 2013

The confirmed participants for this year are:

1. Henry Steel (IM) 2464 [Defending Champion]
2. Robert Gwaze (IM) 2443
3. Watu Kobese (IM) 2331
4. Donovan Van Den Heever (FM) 2265
5. Stephan Wagner (NM) 2223
6. David Gluckman (IM) 2205
7. Deon Solomons (FM) 2159
8. Johan Strydom (NM) 2138
9. Charles De Villiers (FM) 2135
10. Calvin Klaasen (FM) 2119
11. Lyndon Bouah (CM) 2108
12. Jerald Times (PM) 2083
13. Maxwell Solomon (CM) 2075
14. Bryan Aguirre (PM) 2037
15. Kenneth Willenberg 1994
16. Craig Willenberg 1992


by Lourenzo M van Niekerk (South African Chess Fanatic)*

The MRL Chess paradigm concept is an attempt to challenge and possibly eliminate drawing techniques in Classical chess.

The concept originated as a result of my passion for Fischer Random chess. It also came about due to my interest in Chinese chess (after reading the review of Prof. David H Li who criticised our traditional game). In his article Prof. Li stated that Chinese chess is better than classical chess. Hence, according to him, Chinese players logically excel in classical chess because they first learn to play Chinese chess from an exceptionally young age.

Chinese chess is characterized by no-holds-barred attacks and lots of counter-attacks, precisely because it is so difficult to defend one’s pieces. A key factor that contributes to Chinese chess being so dynamic is that there are not many rules which allow for a drawn result to occur. From a young age, Chinese chess players have the Fischer attitude with an uncompromising style: win or lose.

Despite the lure of the pure attacking minded Chinese chess, I must unequivocally state that I nevertheless prefer Classical chess. Classical chess is more varied with its attacking, counter-attacking and defensive features alongside the psychological, positional and deep strategical approaches adopted by chess players depending on their needs. Comparatively speaking, Chinese chess is an open battle similar to romantic chess, with the king and two advisors (queens with no striking power) that remain in the palace. Although the king with its latent power is limited to the palace, it could still mate the other king with a sole pawn because there is no stalemate (stalemate is considered to be checkmate).

The MRL Chess Paradigm concept does not only tackle the modern day problem of draws by using Chinese chess methods, but also addresses to some extend something that the legendary Bobby Fischer wished for as well.

The draw issue is not only about the time control and scoring system. In my view, it goes far beyond that. Chess players need to have a paradigm shift in their way of thinking in order to accept the new approach.

During the renaissance of chess, lots of concepts were introduced to make the game the way it is today (for example: en passant, castling, the way pieces move, etc). Unfortunately, chess development has stagnated in some respects. Particularly in the era of computer chess where people could play almost perfect chess with the game most likely ending in a draw. With the modern era of chess and computers the game will probably have 15 more years to survive, with kids dominating because it usually favours the young minds with the best memories.

Chess by its very nature has too many concepts that encourage draws, such as stalemate, perpetual check, threefold repetition, peaceful resolution agreed draw, and the Fide 10.2 rule.

I was furthermore also inspired by the view of the great Garry Kasparov on Fischer Random Chess (FRC). According to Kasparov, some FRC positions are not quite practical and he therefore suggested that one should select, for instance, a certain amount of positions from the 960 positions to be played for each year. Fischer’s idea is brilliant but it does not allow for preparation. Preparation, however, is an integral part of our chess culture and is hence one issue that the MRL Chess paradigm takes into account.

In my search to find a balanced approach I have discovered eight (8) key positions in FRC. These 8 key positions will be fixed and each is similar to the traditional starting position in chess, without altering the castling in its entirety as in FRC.

The present day mentality that it is acceptable to play for a win with white and to draw with black is also one of chess’ main drawbacks in striving to increase the win rate. Thus with the introduction of these positions the tendency amongst chess players to play drawing lines from the start will to some extent be eliminated.

The MRL Chess paradigm concept strives to eliminate all drawing methods mentioned above. The idea consists of a combination of static conditions which essentially comprise a variant of FRC and dynamic conditions incorporating various anti-drawing techniques as per Chinese chess.

(a) Static conditions:
Eight core positions of the 960 FRC positions were selected. That was done with exactly the same Fischer objective, namely, to prevent the game being fully played out by computers. But it has the further additional advantage of enabling chess players to prepare as per tradition. The core positions have the two rooks, queen’s knight and king on original squares with starting position whilst shuffling the two bishops, one knight and the queen (exactly 8 positions which are a significant number in chess).

(b) Dynamic conditions:
1. The chess player starting the perpetual check or repetition of moves must break it (similarly not allowed as per Chinese chess).
2. Stalemate cannot be a draw. The chess player whose king is stalemated loses the game. This is also a concept from Chinese Chess where stalemate does not exist. The rationale seems to be that even if the king is not in danger but still cannot move it will eventually surrender because it will run out of food supplies and perish.
3. Agreed draws between chess players will not be allowed.
4. The introduction of the sudden death time control, similar to blitz rules with the addition of ten seconds (excluding 10.2 rules), but the 50 move rule still applies.
5. Insufficient material to mate is defined as K v K; K & Minor piece v K&Minor piece; K &R v K &R; K &Q v K & Q. In the event of opposite coloured bishops with extra or the same amount of pawns, the 50 move rule will apply (no captures and pawn advances).

In conclusion, it is clear that the issue of draws was not specifically addressed on its own. Rather, it was addressed as a combination to a variant of Fischer Random Chess, including Kasparov’s proposal on FRC, Chinese chess and own paradigm shift concept.

Finally, I am firmly of the view that the implementation of the MRL chess paradigm concept will eliminate most draws, and thus make our sport more powerful than ever!

*I specially dedicate this article to my wife, Chantal, who supported me over the past few years in organising various pioneering Fischer Random Chess tournaments. I also dedicate this contribution to my three daughters, Megan, Robyn and WFM Lauren van Niekerk (MRL). I wish to thank Candidate Master Maxwell Solomon of Mitchell’s Plain Chess Club for reviewing this article.


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