Elista 2006: World Championship Crisis

9/29/2006 – Game five was not played, Kramnik foreited and all sides seem unable to give way to compromise. The World Championship and FIDE is in its deepest crisis ever. FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has interrupted his visit to a meeting in Sochi with Russian President Putin and is on his way back to Elista. Will he be able to break the deadlock?

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Veselin Topalov vs Vladimir Kramnik

Twelve games, played from September 23 to October 12 in Elista, Kalmikia. The games start at 15:00h (3:00 p.m.) local Elista time, which translates to 11:00h GMT, 13:00h CEST, 12:00h London, 7 a.m. New York.

Live coverage is available on the official FIDE site and on Playchess.com (with live audio commentary by GM Yasser Seirawan for ten Ducats per day). You can buy them in the ChessBase Shop.

Crisis in the World Championship

The prelude

The Reunification World Championship match in Elista, Kalmykia, is in a deep crisis. It started on Thurday (the free day) with a protest by the Topalov side, claiming that the video surveillance from the rest rooms had revealed that Kramnik had been visiting the bathroom very often, which was "strange and suspicious." The Topalov team demanded that the bathrooms in the rest areas be closed and a public toilet be used by the players, always in accompaniment of an assistant arbiter. In case the matter was not settled satisfactorily Topalov threatened to abandon the world championship match.


Veselin Topalov and his manager Silvio Danailov

The Appeals Committee, consisting of FIDE Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos from Greece, Continental President Jorge Vega from Mexico and FIDE Vice President Zurab Azmaiparashvili from Georgia ruled in favour of Topalov, deciding that the bathrooms in the rest areas should be sealed, and the players should use a public toilet which would be reserved for the two of them.

This morning a second protest was submitted by Topalov's manager Silvio Danailov, demanding once more that the players must be accompaniment of an assistant arbiter when they visited the (public) toilet, and that controllers be posted in the rest rooms of the players. He also announced that Topalov would no longer be willing to shake hands with Kramnik or participate in common press conferences.


Vladimir Kramnik and his manager Carsten Hensel

Finally an open letter to President Ilyumzhinov was circulated by Kramnik's manager Carsten Hensel stating that the demands of the Topalov team were utterly disgraceful and intruding on Kramnik's privacy; that the opponents were using a distraction strategy, which included a parapsychologist whose sole task was to disturb and insult Vladimir Kramnik; and that the Appeals Committee were heavily biased in Topalov's favour. They threatened to interrupt the match if Kramnik's rights were not respected and he was not allowed to use the rest rooms and toilet.

The events of Friday

Game five was scheduled to start at 15:00h Kalmykia (Russian) time. While thousands waited on the Playchess server no moves arrived from Elista. At that time Chief Arbiter Geurt Gijssen announced that there would be a 15-minute delay in the start of the game, "for some reason."


Chief Arbiter Geurt Gijssen announcing that the game is delayed by 15 minutes

At 15:20h Topalov appeared with Gijssen and took his place at the table. The arbiter started the clocks, and Topalov sat in his armchair and started looking around.


Veselin Topalov arrives for game five, and at 15:22h his opponent's clock is started

On the monitor the press corps could see Kramnik relaxing in his rest room, waiting for the bathroom to be opened. Kramnik's second Miguel Illescas confirmed to Misha Savinov that Vladimir will not come out unless his demands were accepted.


The press is also given opportunity to see the images from the rest room


The CCT view of the restrooms of Kramnik (left) and Topalov


Topalov examining the public toilet (with a deputy arbiter)

At 16:22h, one hour after he had started the clocks, Chief Arbiter Geurt Gijssen stopped the game and awarded the point to Veselin Topalov. The official announcement that Kramnik had forfeited the game was made just before 17:00h.


Topalov signing the forfeit gamescore with the match arbiters


Topalov happy to receive the full point for game five


Mission accomplished – Topalov manager Silvio Danailov facing
the photographers after his man was awarded a forfeit over Kramnik.

In the meantime a special press conference was being held by FIDE Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos. At around 17:00h Kramnik arrived to take part in the press conference.


Vladimir Kramnik and Carsten Hensel arrive at the press conference (at the table Polina Tsedenova of the FIDE Secretariat, and Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos, right)

First Kramnik exchanged some words with Makropolous, asking whether there was any reason to suspect that he might be using a computer. Makropoulos stated that, contrary to the claim in Carsten Hensel's open letter, the contracts for the World Championship do not state clearly that the restrooms must be equipped with bathrooms. For this reason the protest was irrelevant.


Kramnik in heated discussion with Markopoulos


Vladimir Kramnik: "Incorrect and outrageous!"

To this Vladimir Kramnik replied that Georgios Makropolous and Zurab Azmaiparashvili of the Appeals Committee were very good friends of Silvio Danailov, and that their actions were clearly biased in favor of Topalov. "The decision to grant Danailov full access to videotapes is incorrect and outrageous," said Kramnik. "I did not sign the contract for acting in a reality show. This goes against all ethical norms and violates my privacy."


The close circuit video surveillance of the players' rest rooms


Arbiter Gejssen running through the restroom videos with Veselin Topalov

"I am ready to continue the match and play the 5th game tomorrow," Kramnik continued, "on the conditions that were accepted prior to the start of the match. My dignity does not allow me to stand this situation. Now I am going to return to my cottage and rest." After this Kramnik, Hensel and Illescas left the building.


Leaving the press conference

Pictures and information provided by Misha Savinov and FIDE

So what will tomorrow bring?

The situation looks very bleak for the Reunification World Chess Championship. The Appeals Committee has awarded a point to Veselin Topalov, who was trailing 1:3 and is now closer to Kramnik at 2:3 points. The forfeit point is particularly valuable for Topalov since it came in a black game. If the decision stands Kramnik would have wasted one of his white games. It is unlikely that Topalov will agree to any solution that would involve reversing the favorable decision of the Appeals Committee.

Vladimir Kramnik will probably insist that game five be played out on the board and that his demands be met. He feels deeply offended by the suspicion that has been raised against him and the intrusion on his privacy. He will remind the officials that a number of very severe checks are in place to insure that the rest rooms are tamper proof. Indeed, electronic noise is being generated to prevent any form of electronic communication within and in the vicinity of the playing venue. It is unlikely that Kramnik will accept the forfeit and continue playing the match at 3:2 on Saturday.

During the entire crisis the President of FIDE (and of the host country Kalmykia) had not been present in Elista. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was in Sochi with Russian President Vladimir Putin, attending a meeting the Heads of the Regions of the South Russian Region of the Russian Federation. In a letter to Vladimir Kramnik, sent before the events of the afternoon, Ilyumzhinov wrote: "I hereby inform you of my full trust in the members of the Match Appeals Committee and their latest decision taken in respect of the appeal of Topalov’s team dated 28 September 2006. I am also asking you in good faith to continue your participation in this match for the sake of the principles of our sport and prevention of the destruction of our long-sought efforts to organize this World Championship match, which is of utmost importance for the whole world."

Ilyumzhinov is in close and constant touch with Putin and his deputy, Alexander Zhukov, who is also President of the Russian Chess Federation. It will be difficult for him to allow the match to collapse and hand a forfeit victory to the Bulgarian player, especially since the decision against the Russian player was taken in his absence on Russian soil by a committee consisting of people from Greece, Georgia, Mexico and Holland. Still, he may decide to support the Appeals Committee, or he may take an executive decision which allows the match to proceed. There is also a possibility that he will give up on chess, after he has invested around $50 million in the game.

In the meantime we hear that Ilyumzhinov has interrupted his visit in Sochi and is on his way back to Elista. Possibly the only chance that the match can be salvaged lies in the hands of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.

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