There was a spate of short draws between the highest rated players in round five of the British Championship today. As another chess journalist put it to me: "they have reverted to paying appearance fees to titled players at the British this year - their reward? These short draws."
The fault is probably the swiss system format itself. It is flawed because it only gets truly competitive and interesting on the final run-in. Accidents suffered in the early stages can easily be remedied. I'm reminded of one of those cycling 'pursuit' races where they seem to spend most of the race pootling around the track like elderly district nurses and then only pick up speed and race properly on the final lap.
It doesn't have to be like this, but some experienced players appear to exploit the inadequacies of the swiss system. It is possible to aim for a score of around 6/8, and then bank on a good run-in over the last three rounds to get 8 or 8½. How you get to 6/8 doesn't matter, and they don't knock themselves out trying to beat other leading players when there are plenty of lower-rated players available to play against. Draw against a big guy, beat a little one = 1½/2. Multiply that by five, add one for luck, and you've got a championship-winning score. Well, that seems to be the plan, anyway.
A few years ago Julian Hodgson and others used to try and blast their way to the title by going for it in almost every round. I think Jonathan Rowson sets out to do this as well, but he tends to have accidents along the way (another famous Jonathan - Penrose - had a similar track record). Each of Rowson's championship wins has included one loss, but his determined approach seems to bring its own reward in the final stretch. All three of his title wins have been richly deserved.
We put up with the swiss system out of necessity. To be fair, it's not a bad way to produce a winner and I've got nothing better to suggest. It's just that the order of the also-rans tends to be meaningless, and it also allows strong players to coast to a runner-up prize without fully exerting themselves until the last lap. Consequently, at the moment I cannot think of anything very inspired to say about the British (other than to congratulate the various 'Davids' who have defeated 'Goliaths') but of course things should hot up eventually and I look forward to a lively second week.