A new plan for unification

5/16/2004 – The man behind the Prague Agreement for the unification of the world chess championship title, Yasser Seirawan, recently told us about the background of its failure. He was subsequently criticised by Kasparov, and today replies with a new constructive proposal to resolve the mess in the chess world. Read about it in this open letter to Garry Kasparov.

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Once again, as a special service, we provide a summary of Seirawan's letter – for those readers who don't really have the time to read it all, and for those with an attention span of less than fifteen minutes. We would like to mention that our web tells us the exact length, in minutes and seconds, each visitor spends on a report page. Either we are servicing a community of speed readers, or we must conclude that summaries are required. Naturally the full document is included, so that you can peruse subjects that are of special interest to you, more deeply. We have even provided jumps for that in our condensed version.

Summary

GM Yasser Seirawan criticises the form of the recent Kasparov interview by Mig Greengard, who stands squarely in front of his subject, instead of doing a proper questions and answers session. He then goes on to answer, in an open letter, some of the points raised by Garry Kasparov in that interview.

Seirawan crosses historical swords to challenge some of Kasparov's views. Yasser did criticise the PCA when it was founded, but so in retrospect does Kasparov (“the biggest blunder of my career”). However, he admits that once the PCA was founded, Kasparov made a stupendous effort and drove the PCA to the brink of full-fledged commercial chess sponsorship. It seems to him that today chess requires Kasparov's goodwill more than ever.

"Garry, you know that I was hopping up and down from the sidelines that the players for the Prague Agreement had to sign a contract committing themselves," says Seirawan, who drafted the document. In his interview (links at the end of this page) he placed the failure of the Prague Agreement squarely upon the shoulders of FIDE and its officials. Now the FIDE world championship in Tripoli is shaping up disastrously, with most of the world's top ten players not competing. Having Kasparov play the winner of the Tripoli knockout event is against all the rules of fairness and of sport.

Seirawan suggests that Kasparov should step down as the challenger to the Tripoli winner, opening the way for players who have refused to play based upon his seeding. Secondly FIDE must run a parallel event in Malta, allowing for Israeli, Jewish and other players who are barred from competing in Libya to participate. After Tripoli/Malta is completed, the knock-out format should be scrapped.

FIDE should then organize a second competition, which would be for the “FIDE Absolute World Championship.” In that event the winner of Libya/Malta would play a six-person quadruple round robin, along with the five most recent FIDE Champions: Ruslan Ponomariov, Viswanathan Anand, Alexander Khalifman, Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov. These six players would play four games against one another, or 20 rounds. "I am very confident that, if empowered to do so, I could organize this event and have it commercially sponsored."

The final step in the unification process would be simple: the Classical World Champion would play the FIDE Absolute World Champion for the unified, undisputed Chess Championship of the World.

Finally plans should be made for a new, proper, commercial cycle to be enacted to replace the current failed system. The new cycle should be in place for the fall of 2006. "I’ve made plans for an alternative system that I have shared with FIDE officials, sponsors and players and am supremely confident in its efficacy. I would put this plan before the chess community and the players for their support."


Open Letters

By GM Yasser Seirawan

Dear ChessBase Editors and Staff Members,

Please allow me to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your wonderful ChessBase website. I enjoy my daily visits and look forward to reading the articles posted there. A special mention is deserved for the timeliness of most of your pieces.

Compliments aside, I should also like to share a bit of criticism. Firstly, my interview published in two parts was made in November 2003. I know it was published on a ChessBase Magazine CD, but I must disagree with the editorial decision to publish it six months later, in May 2004. I think that chess fans would have benefited from my thoughts regarding the Prague Agreement, and why it failed, earlier rather than later.


Yasser and Mig working together in Prague in 2002

My second criticism concerns the piece “Garry Kasparov On The Record” by Mr. Miguel Greengard. The editors had cleverly raised interest in this production by suggesting the piece was to be far more than what it turned out to be. Rather than an interview, or a statement by Kasparov, readers were treated to Mr. Greengard standing squarely in front of his subject. I was confused as to what Kasparov said versus Mr. Greengard’s interpretation of his thoughts. It would have been far preferable to read an interview that featured questions and answers. I’m sure that other readers were equally baffled.

It wouldn’t be helpful to write further “open letters” of complaint without also offering a practical solution. Thus, I will start this message anew.

Déjà vu

Dear Garry,

Greetings and salutations! Trust all is well and that you’ve recovered from your cold?

You know, we really should stop meeting like this. I have this eerie feeling of déjà vu. First you state your views about recent chess history, getting in a few digs in the process. I challenge those views, we cross our historical swords, and then we proceed to the pressing issues at hand. In the interests of keeping old and new traditions alive, I first answer your views of the recent past and then offer a practical solution for moving forwards.

Yes, you are right. Guilty as charged. I was very critical of the founding of the Professional Chess Association (PCA). At the time that you and Nigel Short split from the Fédération Internationale des Echecs (FIDE) to play your World Championship Match, I felt it was a grave mistake that injured chess enormously. Now, however, after eleven years of deep reflection, I’d like to confirm my opinion. It was a grave mistake.

I’m pleased to say that you too had, most painfully, come to the same conclusions. In an interview with Mr. Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam in New In Chess Magazine, on page 13 issue 1999/2, Dirk Jan quotes a conversation you had over dinner the day before the first round of the Corus tournament:

(GK) “I’ve grown more philosophical lately. Now that I am 35 I look at what I’ve achieved. Thirty-five is an important age.”

(DJtG) “Like Dante started The Divine Comedy at the age of 35, halfway his life.”

(GK) (Imperturbably) “Or, like Henry IV of France became king when he was 36. I’ve made so many mistakes in my life. You cannot correct all of them. But you can think about them.”

(DJtG) “What was your biggest mistake?”

(GK) (Without any hesitation) “The PCA. That was stupid. I should have played this match against Short in Manchester and then express my demands to FIDE. In those years, between say 1991 and 1996, I’ve made so many mistakes, wasted so much energy. I thought I could handle everything and was going here and there doing I don’t know what. Those were five lost years. Many things went wrong both in business and in chess.”

To reinforce the point, two or three years later on your website you described it, the PCA, in similarly stark terms, “The biggest blunder of my career.”

Why are you able to, belatedly, criticize your actions and not allow that Joel Lautier, Carsten Hensel, Stefan Loeffler, others and myself were right in 1993? The poor fans must be confused by your “Garry Kasparov On The Record,” article. Which is it to be? Was the founding of the PCA a good idea or a bad idea? I submit it was a bad idea.


Garry Kasparov, Maurice Ashley, Paul Hoffman and Yasser Seirawan on ESPN during the X3D Fritz computer match in November 2003.

However, once the PCA was founded, all credit is due to you. I was amazed at what a stupendous effort you made with it. I have written articles and have told you personally that it was extraordinary how close the PCA came to full-fledged commercial chess sponsorship. The reason for my praise is based, most especially, upon the great difficulties that you faced. On the one hand, the official chess organization, FIDE, was locked in a battle with you and the PCA for chess supremacy, while on the other hand you had offended your colleagues by causing the collapse of the Grandmaster Association (GMA). Virtually single-handedly and facing the enmity of the whole of chess, you did an amazing job. Even under the best of circumstances, raising commercial sponsorship for chess has been a difficult undertaking. What you managed was truly impressive. I’ve stated this privately to you and publicly in articles I’ve written. Furthermore, I participated, as a match commentator, in the 1995 PCA World Championship Match, doing my best to make sure that the event was well received. I regret that I didn’t do more to support your efforts.

It seems to me that now chess requires your goodwill more than ever.

A further correction of the past and my role concerns FIDE itself. You will remember the days before the GMA, during and afterwards. You will recall that S.W.I.F.T. and various other commercial sponsors had supported the GMA in a measure worthy of commercial enterprises. Garry, I was not a big fan of FIDE at that time. Indeed, the GMA, which you founded, was a necessity born of the autocratic ways of the then FIDE President, Campomanes. I was very critical of the role Campomanes played in 1993 as regards the Karpov-Timman match and the Oman/Holland bid. Campomanes kept the players in the dark and lied to them.

Furthermore, during 1994 I severely criticized FIDE and the reelection of Campomanes in Moscow. And in the years of Mr. Ilyumzhinov as President of FIDE I wrote an article, “Enough is Enough,” which lambasted FIDE’s officials.

I dare say I have not won many friends amongst FIDE’s officials, past or present.

As regards my recent interview on the ChessBase website, to which you referred, I’d like to point out that it was made six months ago. Much of its value has been lost. My goal in that interview was to express how very strongly I supported the need for unifying the chess world. The current mess cannot continue, something must be done and we must, collectively, be resolved to complete such a plan. My hope in conducting the interview was to kick-start the principles for taking proper remedial actions.

Garry, you know that I was hopping up and down from the sidelines that the players for the Prague Agreement had to sign a contract committing themselves. I drafted such a document in Bled 2002 for just such a purpose. FIDE officials did nothing with that document and instead pursued other paths.

You correctly pointed out that following the Deep Junior match in February 2003 a window of opportunity had opened regarding commercial possibilities in the US. You were right; I should have mentioned this in my interview. At that time it was my hope that this newly created momentum would bring the Prague Agreement to fruition and that folks would, at last, concentrate upon its implementation.

However, I stand by my opinion that the Deep Junior match hurt Ruslan Ponomariov and did much to harm future negotiations. The Deep Junior match was a great event that cracked open the window to commercial sponsorship. While I have no way of proving my convictions, I feel that if unification had occurred as prescribed by the Prague Agreement, that window would have been opened wider.

Okay, enough historical fencing. Let’s get to a solution.

Modifying the Prague Agreement

In my interview, I placed the failure of the Prague Agreement squarely upon the shoulders of FIDE and its officials. They broke the Agreement. FIDE also broke its own rules: In Bled, the FIDE Congress approved rules whereby if FIDE World Champion Ruslan Ponomariov refused to play, Vassily Ivanchuk would replace him. FIDE didn’t follow its rules and the match in Yalta was simply cancelled. By this action, FIDE delayed implementation of the Prague Agreement and chess unification.

The Prague Agreement envisioned a single one-off cycle to restore chess unity. It wasn’t meant to institutionalize you as a player waiting to receive a challenger. You, quite reasonably, agree with this view as you state, “First let me say that I don’t think any one player should have a special position.”

If we are all truly interested in restoring credibility to the World Championship title we must agree that having you play the winner of the Tripoli knockout event is against all the rules of fairness and of sport. Most of the world’s top ten players will not compete; Israeli and other Jewish players are to be barred. Tripoli is shaping up disastrously. It is obvious what concrete steps have to be taken.

  • First, you should step down as the challenger to the Tripoli winner. This will open the way for players who have refused, based upon your seeding, to play in Tripoli to reconsider their positions.

  • Second, FIDE must run a parallel event in Malta, allowing for Israeli, Jewish and other players who are barred from competing in Libya to participate. Players’ invitations and contracts have to be reissued. FIDE will then have produced a new FIDE World Champion.

These are two vital first steps. If FIDE is willing to do the latter, I call upon you to do the former. If FIDE’s officials refuse, the players will have to rally and call for a no-confidence vote.

As everyone realizes, except a solitary member of the FIDE Presidential Board, a 128-player knockout event is, arguably, one of the worst formats ever conceived for producing a World Chess Champion. After Tripoli/Malta is completed, this format should be scrapped, used only for Rapid or Blitz Championships.

FIDE should then organize a second competition, which would be for the “FIDE Absolute World Championship.” In that event, I would envision the winner of Libya/Malta, playing a six-person quadruple round robin, along with the five most recent FIDE Champions: Ruslan Ponomariov, Viswanathan Anand, Alexander Khalifman, Anatoly Karpov and yourself, Garry Kasparov. These six players would play four games against one another, or 20 rounds. The venue would be split. Should any of the five players just mentioned win the Libya/Malta event, I would support the inclusion of Alexey Shirov to the FIDE Absolute World Championship. His Candidates victory over Vladimir Kramnik makes him a deserving contestant and I would ask the players for their statesmanship in allowing him a seat. I am very confident that, if empowered to do so, I could organize this event and have it commercially sponsored. My involvement would require the agreement of FIDE and the players.

The next step in the unification process will be taking place in Switzerland, the Vladimir Kramnik versus Peter Leko Classical Chess World Championship Match. There will be a winner.

The final step would be simple: the Classical World Champion would play the FIDE Absolute World Champion for the unified, undisputed Chess Championship of the World.

While this unification process is taking place (and it can be completed in 2006), plans should be made for a new, proper, commercial cycle to be enacted to replace the current failed system. The new cycle should be in place for the fall of 2006. I’ve made plans for an alternative system that I have shared with FIDE officials, sponsors and players and am supremely confident in its efficacy. I would put this plan before the chess community and the players for their support.

Sadly, we must recognize that FIDE has failed in its role as custodian of the World Chess Championship. Whether through mismanagement, incompetence or indifference, FIDE officials have lost the trust of the players. A structure, like FIDE Commerce, must be created that professionally manages a proper cycle while paying a reasonable fee to FIDE so that it may operate effectively its many and varied programs. Chess politics and chess business must be separated, or else the best-laid plans will fail. I cannot endure that again.

By including a unifying cycle that embraces all of our champions, past, current and future, the process will have credibility in the eyes of all chess fans and at the end of the process a new, undisputed champion will be created. The first step has to begin with rearranging Libya. This event is the one opportunity that unseeded players will have to enter the unity cycle. Participants cannot be barred from entry, and it is only through a parallel event that the door is opened.

I submit to you that by allowing Libya to proceed in its current form and by you playing its winner, the credibility of such a competition will ring hollow. Conversely, by supporting a new method, one that creates an absolute FIDE Champion, you, along with all the participants, will again enjoy the goodwill of chess fans, restoring credibility to our lost chess crown.

I would further suggest that a similar “Absolute FIDE Championship” event be created for the Ladies. They too have struggled mightily in their profession and deserve to have a proper crown created.

You will have read the message from our friend, Boris Gulko, at Chess Cafe bulletin board. A voice of resolute dignity, I would say. He deserves our support. After all, our mottos are, “An injustice done to one is an injustice to all,” and “We are one family.”

Sincerely,
Yasser

Cc: FIDE Office

In the next few days we will be publishing a new "open letter" and interview by Ponomariov, reports on ACP controversies against FIDE, and an extensive discussion with Garry Kasparov. At the end of it all you, dear readers of ChessBase.com, can express your opinion on the situation in the chess world today. In order to prepare for the momentous task we advocate, in addition, a careful study of the following documents. Taking a week off your regular job might be in order. But it could be worth your while. Maybe you will come up with a proposal that gains widespread acceptance and solves the problems of the chess world.

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