Chess and Basketball have quite a few things in common in the month of March. There are important tournaments going on in both sports which will determine a path to a championshp. America’s basketball “March Madness” features 64 teams in four brackets of 16 colleges and universities. Chess has a “March Madness” that features eight players who are vying for a chance to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the world title in November.
Grandmaster Maurice Ashley was featured on NPR’s “Only a Game” about the parallel between tournament formats. At this point, chess uses the match format for its championship. He talks about Howard Staunton’s 19th century innovation in chess that was initially shunned. “One of the main flaws was there was no seedings,” said Ashley. Of course, this meant that the strong players could face each other in the earliest rounds thus making the ending anti-climatic.
Of course, seedings are the DNA of an NCAA basketball phenomenon known as “bracketology.” Of course chess eschews using the knockout format for the championships and it stands only as a qualifier. More than 150 years later, it is still seen as not worthy of deciding a champion. Magnus Carlsen has gone on record as an endorser of the knockout format and it was roundly condemned after the apparent flaws in the World Cup were made evident. It’s an interesting discussion.