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This question's been bugging me since the end of round 13. Firouzja had black vs. co-leader Gukesh, and lost. The result gave Gukesh a half-point lead over the field and strongly affected the last round.

If we look at GM Rafael Leitao's annotations to the game, there were at least two points where Firouzja played for a win: on move 25 and move 32. Given that Firouzja had nothing to play for, playing for the win (and risking a loss) can have a strong impact on the tournament standings. Comparatively, Grischuk said in 2021 in a similar situation:

My plan was to play like a terrorist, to terrorize him with a draw and if he goes for a worse position then I will play.

Grischuk's different approach would undoubtedly have been worse for Gukesh to play against. Gukesh was not in a must-win situation, but a draw against Firouzja would still have led to a 4-way tiebreak.

Can Firouzja be accused of manipulating the tournament by playing for a win against Gukesh? If yes, how would it be proved? If not, why not?

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    It seems a little backwards to blame a player for trying to win a game.
    – Cleveland
    Apr 22 at 2:55

3 Answers 3

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No. The only way you can accuse him of manipulating the standings is if you can prove he deliberately lost the game in order to give Gukesh a victory.

Players are expected to play for a win, so Firouzja playing for one seems like he was doing his job.

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    deliberately lost or drew
    – qwr
    Apr 22 at 23:50
  • Doesn't the scoring imply that players are expected to value a win at twice a draw, and no more? Apr 23 at 3:00
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Laska's and rougon's answers do a good job explaining things from a rules and tournament standing perspective.

Something I've not yet seen mentioned is the prize money. In addition to the money which went to first, second, and third places, each player received 3,500 euros for each half point scored in the tournament. With 5 points, Firouzja took home 35,000 euros. He may have decided to play for a win to increase his prize money to 42,000 euros - along with the increased risk of a loss and staying at 35,000 - instead of settling for a draw and 38,500 euros in prize money.

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    A similar conversation often arises in tennis, where a player with an injury will fight to win a match only to withdraw from the tournament before the next round. Often they know they are unlikely to play / win in the next round due to their injury, but their prize money and ranking is dependent on their tournament performance, so it still matters to try to win.
    – DukeSilver
    Apr 23 at 6:38
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Beyond considerations of FIDE rating, personal pride and in some cases national pride, the objective of the game is to checkmate the opponent's king, and that's what Firouzja and Prag were bravely trying to do in their critical games when they were already out of contention. This is absolutely not tournament manipulation.

However, there is a real issue that one player's free selection of risk level can indeed have an impact on other players' chances of winning the tournament. One comment in the coverage chat, that commentator Danny Rensch picked up on and supported, is that Nepo was maybe happy that Fabi won in the penultimate round, in that it meant Fabi was now committed to playing for a win against Nepo in the final round.

It is also widely considered that in the Soviet era, game results were often fixed (arranged draws & sometimes concessions) to help ensure that desired GMs won events.

Most people would say, I think, that unsporting behaviour consists of not trying hard enough to win: being willing to accept a draw or even a loss.

But even here, there are limits to how much a player can be expected to try to win. Suppose a player has developed a secret opening innovation they are holding in reserve. They can surely be forgiven for not exposing that innovation in a game that does not matter. Or if the choice is between 40%/0%/60% estimated win/draw/loss chance and 10%/80%/10%, then maybe they should pick the latter option, which maximizes the expectation of rating improvement.

This is a difficult area, but it's in the nature of the game. One thing is clear, if a player genuinely tries to win, that can only be commended. I can't find anything in the FIDE Laws which covers this area, but in my opinion, such behaviour actively improves the overall repute of chess.

If any arbiters with their superior experience, would like to comment on this grey area, I would be grateful. A game with similar tournament structures, Magic the Gathering, had a similar challenge. Their resolution was (1) players do have the option to agree a draw before the game is started (2) in the final round, pairings are chosen to match tie-breakers as much as possible, so the motivation for agreeing a draw is as similar as possible. I've been out of tournament play for some years, so it might have changed but this mechanism worked quite well, and I mention it for reference.

I commend the positive spirit with which Firouzja & Prag approached their critical games in the penultimate round, when they were both already out of contention. This was a tremendous tournament, that reflected well on all the players, organizers & commentators.

And what a triumph by Gukesh Dommaraju, only 17 years old. I am humbled.

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