'Double knockout' for world chess?

by ChessBase
8/22/2002 – After signing the Prague agreement to unify world chess Vladimir Kramnik still has some residual doubts about it. "Why not include Anand and Ivanchuk in the cycle," the classical chess world champion says impassionately, "It is still not too late." He speaks eloquently and in carefully enunciated English on this and a new system he is proposing for FIDE which involves a very interesting double knockout tournament mode. Read and listen to this exclusive Kramnik interview.

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Kramnik on World Chess


From June 20 to June 24, 2002 Vladimir Kramnik and Viswanathan Anand played an Advanced Chess match in Leon, Spain. Immediately afterwards he answered questions on Advanced Chess, his upcoming match against Deep Fritz and the general situation in the chess world. This video interview appears in ChessBase Magazine 89. We bring you excerpts here.

CBM 89 interview with Vladimir Kramnik (Part two)

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ChessBase: Is the final result of the Prague unity agreement what you wanted?

Kramnik: For my part yes. From Einstein's point of view there was less necessity to do anything, it was just a matter of good will. I thought we need some reunification. It would be good for chess, and nobody would lose from it. It is a chance – not more than that. The current situation is simply hopeless. It's not because of me, it's not my fault that it happened, but I'm trying to do something to normalise things. Believe me or not, this was my only intention, my only interest. Because from Einstein's point of view everything was fine anyway.

Is your main interest to unify the chess world or simplify the formula?

The main aim is to reunify. Of course under certain conditions, which are from my point of view: classical time controls; a clear system of the world championship cycle; and permanent, once and for ever, well at least for two or three cycles. We would have a very clear situation, like from the fifties to 1985. That was my main interest, to have a normal system, a normal structure, a normal professional organisation. Bessel Kok more or less guaranteed all of this. He took on a lot of responsibilities, but he is an experienced man and I believe that he will do it.

There were complaints by a lot of people that Anand and Ivanchuk were not included in the reunification cycle.

Not only them, but also other chess players who are at a level where they should play in a world championship cycle. But it was a long story and the basic point of negotiation in Prague, because I was happy with all the other points. In this point I am not satisfied, because I believe that if we start some completely new process, a revolution in the world of chess, then we should try to involve all players, everyone who is strong enough. Not just Anand and Ivanchuk, but also Karpov, Girschuk, Khalifman, Svidler, players from the top twenty. You need to put them into the process. But it is the responsibility of FIDE, and unfortunately they were not listening much to the players and not listening much to me. They said very clearly to me in Prague, okay here is your cycle and here is our cycle and we do it the way we want to. I could not insist, because at the moment it really isn't my cycle. It is a parallel cycle which has unification at the end. I did not like the idea that many players would be out of the cycle, but it was a difficult choice for me.

At one point I could not sign the agreement at all, but on the other hand I did not want to prolong the situation. So I was hesitating, whether I should or should not do it, because it is of course not democratic. It looks very strange, because the principles of FIDE in the last years, when Illyumzhinov was president, were to include as many players as possible. They insisted that there should always be a very sportive system with qualifications. They criticised Kasparov because in his cycle there were not so many people involved. And now they are doing exactly the same with Kasparov against Ponomariov. It looks a bit strange, I would say. But it is not my responsibility, and what can I do?

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Of course there should be a way to please both Kasparov and Ponomariov. I don't really care where they are seeded and what they get, but there must be a way to find a consensus, to try to involve Anand and Ivanchuk, and also some other players, to make everybody happy. They should do it, I believe they should still do it.

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If you had to design their cycle how would you do it?

I very much like the system invented by some players, which is very good for everybody – really for everybody. During the Prague meeting they explained the system to FIDE and Bessel Kok. The point was first there is a qualification, with thirty, forty or fifty players, just to make sure that all top players are involved in the process. It would be a double knockout system.

What is "double knockout"?

This was proposed by Khalifman. The idea is that in order to be eliminated you need to lose two matches, not one. If you lose one match you still have a chance.

The second match is against a different player?

Yes. Once you lose two matches you are out. This makes sense, because the main problem of knockout is that there is a big chance that something will happen. One mistake and you are out – of the world championship cycle, for which many people may have been preparing for years. Here you have to make two mistakes. If you lose one match you are not yet out. In this way I think knockout can be a reasonable system. Everyone, including me and Kasparov, liked this double knockout system very much.

How does it continue?

Well, let's assume four or five players qualify from this double knockout tournament. They join the seeded players, let's say Ponomariov, Kasparov and Anand, maybe Ivanchuk (or he is seeded to the very last stages of the qualification). So you have eight players, in a double round robin tournament, and the winner is FIDE world champion.

And he plays the winner of the second cycle...

Yes, but that is the same as we have now. FIDE has accepted the other cycle. First they were sure that something was going to happen, that somehow it would collapse, but when they realised that the Einstein cycle is simply going to happen, and that it will be big and good, then they started to go for compromises. For the other cycle it was much more difficult, because they had many signed contracts which you cannot change. The whole system leading to the reunification match is very long and a bit artificial, but what can we do? I was always ready for negotiations and conversations, but nobody came to me with any proposals.

Kasparov came to you with a rematch proposal.

Yes, but first of all this is not reunification, and secondly I think that to play a rematch is simply out of the question. I myself can guarantee that I am not going to ask for a rematch, in whatever system I am going to play. Because it is totally wrong, total nonsense. Imagine I play a rematch with Kasparov. If he has this right for a rematch I should have it also. I lose and claim a rematch, then I win and he claims a rematch. We can play forever like this. The rematch is total nonsense in my opinion. The last rematch was I believe in 1961, if you don't take the 1986 rematch into consideration, which was a special case, under certain circumstances Karpov managed to get this revenge match because the match was stopped.

Kasparov had to play a rematch not after the match that was stopped...

Yes, I told you that was a special case. In the negotiations after the match that was stopped Karpov got the rematch right because he was leading five-three. But in the FIDE rules it says very clearly there is no rematch. Also I must tell you that we both signed contracts before playing in London in 2000, that if we lose we play in a qualification, an eight-player tournament, as a seeded player with seven others, and the winner plays the world champion. We signed it, you know. Normally – not normally, always – if I sign something it means I agree with it and I do it simply. It means that if I lose my title some day I will go and play in the qualification. It's that simple. As a world champion I now have the possibility to organise the chess world in some respect, and I am trying to do it in a way I think is right. I think this right of a rematch is simply something from the last century. It shouldn't exist anymore. So it is out of the question, it was never on the agenda. Not because I don't want to play Garry. You saw I did it in Moscow without any necessity. I am not afraid, there is no problem for me. I think that conceptually it is wrong.

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If I can come back to the system proposed by some of the chess players. I think it is really the best solution. For Ponomariov and for Kasparov I don't think they cannot be sure that to play a match is better for them than to win a tournament. Maybe for Garry it is even easier to win a tournament, because you know he is very strong in tournaments and so far not so convincing in matches. For Ponomariov, if he has to choose between a match against Kasparov and a tournament in which Kasparov participates, with two or three other strong chess players, you cannot say that this is worse for him than the match.

The system could include Anand, which is incredibly important, because he has been a very top player for the last ten years. How can you just eliminate him? Also it could include Ivanchuk, who was in the final of the last FIDE world championship, and who couldn't play in Dortmund only because he had a contract with FIDE. He agreed to play in Dortmund, and I know very well that he wanted to play, but he had certain obligations. Legally he had no problems, but he felt morally obliged to stay with FIDE, and this was the only reason why he did not play in Dortmund. So it is at least a moral responsibility of FIDE to include these two players in their cycle. Also some other players, like Khalifman, who was FIDE world champion, and Karpov, who was also FIDE world champion, and some new players like Grischuk, Radjabov, Svidler. It's possible, so why not try? I think they are looking for some new ideas, because they did not expect so much criticism of the Kasparov-Ponomariov match by the players and the chess community – really massive criticism.

You are speaking as though it might still be changed.

I think so. In Prague I was fighting for a few hours to have it changed, which was strange, because I had no direct interest in it. I just thought that if you do something you should try and do it as well as possible. They were not listening very carefully. The maximum of what I could get was a clear statement by Illyumzhinov that they were going to consider the interest of all chess players in the process.

In this cycle?

Well, it was not very clear, but it was not specified that it would be for the new cycle. I tried to get it on paper but I did not succeed. I spoke with many chess players after the meeting in Prague and they understood the situation. I got many positive statements. They understood that I was trying to protect their interests without any profit for my side.

I think it is still possible to change many things. We signed this unity plan in Prague, which is a very general paper, and there are many things which are completely unclear. They still have to be worked out – for instance time control, sponsorship, what is the structure? FIDE is practically licensing the title to the new organisation and are out of the world championship cycle, which they have been organising for so many years. I spoke with Bessel Kok after Prague and he said we still have many points to discuss with FIDE.

So I don't see any reason why the new system cannot be introduced. It is not damaging to the interests of Ponomariov or Kasparov, it improves FIDE's position a lot, this kind of event would be much more suitable to their principles. This is what made many chess players uncomfortable: they just could not understand why not. I tried to ask the same question in Prague, to everybody, Bessel Kok, Illyumzhinov: why not? What is the problem with it? Nobody ever explained to me what the problem was. I believe there is no problem. A few days before the Prague agreement we explained our proposal to Yasser Seirawan. He was very enthusiastic and said yes, this is great, nothing can be better than this. But then he probably could not reach an agreement with the other parties – with Kasparov, Kok or Illjumzhinov, I don't know. I don't know the details. Maybe we should ask him why this proposal did not come to reality.

Einstein has a very clear system. Everyone from number one is invited, then you go down the rating list. There cannot be any complaints. Everyone has a chance, all top players are invited.

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It's not perfect, but at least it is a system, some kind of system. I was always in favour of a very clear world championship system. It does not favour the player who has the title. For me or anyone who has the world championship title it is most profitable to have no system at all, and to choose whatever you like. But for chess it is very bad. My main goal as world champion, apart from the chess side, is to finally make a normal system, or to try at least to do it. Not just for the time when I am the champion, but also for the future. I can assure you that this is my only intention. We've already gone too far in the wrong direction.

The interview was conducted by Frederic Friedel.

If you have strong opinions on what Vladimir Kramnik says in the above interview, please share them with us. In order to balance your information sources we urge you to read the following articles before you draw your final conclusions:

And if you really want to go for a PhD on the subject, here are the links to a full-scale History of the Prague agreement:


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