Playing Tournament Chess for Money

The United States Chess Federation’s Official Rules of Chess (7th Edition, 2019) contains unusually detailed and precise rules governing how chess tourneys are to be run. And there is tournament software available that implements these rules.

I’ve been experimenting with one of these software packages to see if it can be adapted to run a backgammon tourney that I’m going to be directing early next year. In doing this, I’ve run across a rule about the distribution of prize funds that I find, frankly, bizarre.

USCF Rule 32B3 begins thus:

If the winners of different prizes tie with each other, all  the cash prizes involved shall be summed and divided equally among the tied winners …

To see how this works, here’s an example from the help file of WinTD, the software package I’m looking at:

Take, for instance, a situation where there are available $300 and $200 overall prizes and a $150 youth prize. Suppose first that there are four players tied, with one of them qualifying for the youth prize. If we sum the amounts that the players can “bring in,” we get $650. Divided by four gives $162.50 each, … the correct way to distribute the prizes in this score group. Note, by the way, that all four players, in effect, “share” the youth prize. This confuses a lot of people, but in this case it is the only way to fairly distribute the money available, as the youth player is entitled to a fair share of the more valuable overall prizes.

The logic of this result flows from two other rules. 32B1 states that no player may win more than one cash prize, and 32B2 that players who are tied share all prize money equally. Each of these rules seems sensible, or at least workable, in itself, but the combination of the two leads to the absurd result. If none of the tour winners were eligible for the youth prize, each would win a quarter share of $500, or $125. But because one of them happened to be a youth, now they each get an extra $37.50.

Suppose the talented youth had done a bit better, and won the tourney outright. He then would have won the $300 first prize, and whoever was the second-best youth would have won the $150. But no, because of the tie, the youth prize gets sucked into the prize pool for the tied winners, and the second best youth gets nothing.

Presumably the youth prize is offered because the tourney’s organizers want to encourage young players to enter, or at least to acknowledge the relative excellence of those who do. But only $37.50 of that $150 goes to any youth – the rest is a windfall for the older players.

The may be considered the only fair distribution of prize money at chess, but if I used a similar method to calculate prizes (including side pools) for a backgammon tourney, I might be tarred and feathered.

2 thoughts on “Playing Tournament Chess for Money”

  1. At least in the cited example, the youth received more than he would have received had he finished worse than the other 3. If you put the youth prize equal to 2nd place in that scenario ($200), that leads to a 4-way split of $700, or $175, which would be $25 LESS than what the youth would have received had he finished with 0.5 fewer points (presuming that the youth runner-up didn’t finish just e.g. 0.5 points behind the Youth winner). I wouldn’t be surprised if the USCF has another rule that prevents pay structures that would lead to that scenario, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t either.

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  2. Yes there is – in fact it’s part of the same rule. I left it out because I wanted to focus sharply on the odd result. The rule goes on, “unless any of the winners would receive more money by winning or diving only a particular prize for which others in the tie are ineligible.” So if the youth prize were $200, the youth winner would get that $200, and the other three would split the $500 for the overall first and second prizes. And there is some additional complexity beyond this, too.

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