Hybrid Chess

Hybrid lessons

During the next weeks we see many more arbiter-supervised, cheating-proof competitions. What has been learned so far about hybrid chess is summed up by Stefan Löffler in ten neat lessons for organisers, arbiters and players.

Tiger Hillarp Persson competed in the first Hybrid Cities Cup with a Malmö team from a theatre in Malmö, while his opponents Romain Edouard, Johan-Sebastian Christiansen and Jergus Pechac were in Barcelona, Oslo respectively Bratislava.
Tiger Hillarp Persson competed in the first Hybrid Cities Cup with a Malmö team from a theatre in Malmö, while his opponents Romain Edouard, Johan-Sebastian Christiansen and Jergus Pechac were in Barcelona, Oslo respectively Bratislava. (photo: TePeSigeman Chess)

1. Electronic boards are not yet ready.

The overwhelming majority of players in the first Hybrid Cities Cup told us in the questionnaire that they would prefer to play on a reliable electronic board rather than interact only with a screen. However, during the same event the electronic boards too often failed to pick up moves, and the platform was punishing unsuspecting players by letting their time run. DGT and Lichess are both working towards making their combination more reliable. Millennium 2000 has announced the release of an electronic board that displays moves thanks to an LED for each square. But for the time being, electronic boards are not ready for hybrid chess.

2. Tornelo is the most suitable platform for hybrid chess.

FIDE requires online and hybrid chess to be played through an accepted platform. With the risk of technical interference, you want arbiters to be able to interrupt a game, restart it and compensate time if necessary. Tornelo is the only platform that allows all this, because it has been developed for tournaments and with arbiters in mind. Tornelo also provides a directed acoustic signal and visualizes efficiently when an opponent’s move is in.

3. Provide strong, reliable internet connections.

At hybrid chess you should see your opponent and the surroundings in which he or she plays. FIDE recommends the integration of a videoconference in online and hybrid chess. Some playing platforms have started to integrate video, and others are working on it. In any case, substantial bandwidth is required for a hybrid chess venue. Even though hybrid players must not be punished for a connection failure, organisers should prevent them and have a backup wifi.

4. Give extra time for play on the board.

Hybrid chess allows you to think and move on a real, three-dimensional board. One downside of online chess are mouse slips. If you make a mouse slip at hybrid chess, your move can be corrected because your intended move stands on the board. In order to keep physical distancing, the opponent moves should not be made by an assistant but by the players themselves. Since their time starts to countdown from when the platform transmits a move, the players need to be compensated. Adding 5 seconds to the usual 30 seconds increment per move in the first Hybrid Cities Cup didn’t seem enough. Adding 15 seconds to make it a 45 seconds increment in a match between Berlin and Vienna felt more fair.

5. Give the players flexibility in time trouble.

Requiring the players to write their moves helps them to focus on the game and bring them into classical chess mode. However, making a move on the board, then entering the move into a computer, and yet writing it down, altogether became too much for the players when they entered in time-trouble. They were allowed to skip the notation once they were below 5 minutes. They were also allowed to skip the board and just think and move on the computer screen.

Bernhard Riess was supervising arbiter of the Hybrid Cities Cup and will speak at our webinar on Thursday.
Bernhard Riess was supervising arbiter of the Hybrid Cities Cup and will speak at our webinar on Thursday. (photo: private)

6. Arbiters must have online experience.

Each hybrid chess venue needs an arbiter and ideally also a second arbitter or assistant that looks after the technology. Hybrid chess arbiters should be familiar with online arbitration and with arbitration on the chosen platform. Players may not yet be familiar with Tornelo, but it is easy to handle. The local arbiter could set up a blitz or rapid game to familiarize the players with the platform before a hybrid event.

7. Arbitration should be proactive.

Unlike in otb chess, when chess arbiters assume full knowledge of the rules, they should be proactive in hybrid chess. They have to monitor if the moves are picked up by the platform without delay or distortion, and they have to compensate time when necessary. They should observe if players are insecure because of the new situation and be ready to assist.

8. Arbiters must cooperate through a fast and reliable channel.

The tests have demonstrated the need for the arbiters to agree and coordinate their actions. Whatsapp worked okay. The Zoom or Jitsi videoconference can be used if the sound is reliably disabled on the computers of the players. Discord is another option.

9. If you want to play at the board, avoid the screen.

The Berlin – Vienna match combined rapid games played directly on the screen with one classical game on a regular board. Several players later reported that they were unsecure if they should think at the board or the screen. Switching irritated them. It seems recommendable to avoid online play on the day of a hybrid match and be mentally prepared to switch from the board to the screen in case of time trouble.

10. In your first hybrid event you are unlikely to play your best chess.

Several players told us that they were not able to concentrate fully. The whole setup needs getting used to. Worries to waste time if one didn’t notice an opponent’s move or if the system failed to pick it up, was the biggest source of irritation. Before you play a World Cup qualifier in May, you should experience hybrid chess with little or nothing at stake.

Does your club or federation want to test hybrid chess?

Can you assemble a team of four players with an average rating of at least 2300 (substitutes are fine) and an arbiter with online experience? We are looking for city teams to participate in Hybrid Cities Cup events in May. Please contact sl@chesstech.org

Thursday, 15 April, 17.00–18.30 CEST Hybrid Chess with Tornelo. A webinar with Helmer Wieringa (Tornelo), Bernhard Riess (FIDE-Arbiter), Stefan Löffler (ChessTech). Registration on Ticket Tailor.