Anti-Defamation League, Seirawan, Levy, Keene

by ChessBase
5/25/2004 – Last week the ADL wrote a letter to FIDE regarding the restrictions on Israeli and Jewish players in the world championship in Libya. Meanwhile Yasser Seirawan has replied to Ruslan Ponomariov's proposals, and ICGA president David Levy gives his takes on the situation in chess today. Here are the documents and summaries.

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Once again there is a lot to read. Our special service continues, with us actually going through the documents and providing those of you who lack the attention span – or half an hour of time – a summary of the latest political news items. As usual the full documents are provided at the end of the page, with links in the summaries leading to them.

ADL Letter to FIDE President

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called on the World Chess Federation to ensure equal treatment for the Israeli delegation to the 2004 World Chess Championship in Libya. Although Libya has said that Israel will be permitted to participate in the Championship, restrictions placed on the Israeli delegation by the Libyans will make it virtually impossible for them to compete.

In a letter to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, President of the World Chess Federation, Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, strongly urged "the World Chess Federation to do all it can to ensure that Libya welcomes the Israeli players in the manner in which every other nationality participating in the championship is treated or consider alternate venues." [Full text of the letter]

Seirawan's reply to Ponomariov

Seirawan finds Ponomariov's open letter to be written in a spirit of goodwill. He accepts that Ponomariov's solution held a lot of merit and would be a good means to restore credibility to the unification effort, but he explains why he prefers his own solution. The main emphasis of Seirawan's response is the need for FIDE to reconstitute a parallel event in Malta that would allow Israeli and American Jewish players to participate in the unification cycle.

With regard to future cycles Seirawan feels that the 128-player knockout system was not a format suitable for future world championship cycles. In particular, he notes that Khalifman's idea of a double knockout would not "change a sow's ear into a silk purse." [Full text]

David Levy: A Breath of Fresh Air

The President of the International Computer Games Association says that logic dictates that the protagonists of the reunification world championship match ought to be Kasparov and Kramnik, or someone who defeats them in the match between now and when the reunified World Championship takes place). In essence this was the idea of the so-called "Prague Agreement", but FIDE's failure to organise the Kasparov "semi-final" match has destroyed the original Prague plan developed by Seirawan and others.

"Now a breath of fresh air has been infused into all this strife and chaos, with the arrival on the scene of the Association of Chess Professionals (ACP)", says Levy. He reiterates and agrees with the aims and goals of the ACP, which has aligned itself with the Kramnik-Leko match, and advocates handing over the complete reunification process to the fledgling organisation.

"In my view the ACP should take over control of the reunification process and should, thereafter, administer the qualification procedures and matches for the World Championship. The title could become a title owned and awarded by the ACP, or it could be a FIDE title over which the ACP is given irrevocable control." [Full text]

Addendum: Raymond Keene agrees

The organiser of the World Championships 1986, 1993 and 2000 wrote in to say that he agrees 100% with Levy's analysis. "Everything he writes is correct, and I would not change a syllable of it. Well done!!" [Full text]

Letter from the ADL to the FIDE President

May 13, 2004

His Excellency Kirsan Ilyumzhinov
President, Fédération Internationale des Échecs
c/o FIDE Secretariat, P.O. Box 166
CH-1000 Lausanne-4, Switzerland

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing to you regarding the participation of the Israeli delegates in the 2004 World Chess Championship in Libya.

While we understand that the Libyans have indicated that they will now permit the Israeli delegates to participate in the Championship, the conditions they have placed on the Israeli delegates make it virtually impossible for them to compete.

Unlike the other teams, the Israelis will not be allowed to bring their coaches or spouses and Israeli journalists will be barred from covering the Championship. Moreover, the Libyans will not allow the Israelis to obtain visas in Europe, thereby creating entry problems for the Israelis upon their arrival at the Tripoli airport. The Israeli delegates are also concerned that the security arrangements for the Championship are inadequate.

It is troubling that a country, such as Libya, is given an opportunity to host an international competition when it discriminates against participants from nations that are members of the World Chess Federation. We strongly urge the World Chess Federation to do all it can to ensure that Libya welcomes the Israeli players in the manner in which every other nationality participating in the championship is treated or consider alternate venues.

Abraham H. Foxman
National Director
Anti-Defamation League

Seirawan replies to Ponomariov

May 23rd, 2004

Dear FIDE World Champion, Ruslan Ponomariov,

Warmest thanks for your open letter at the ChessBase website. I thought it was well considered, constructive and altogether worthy of you in your dual capacity as World Champion and chess ambassador. I was particularly glad to see you adopting a more positive approach than you felt able to in a recent interview.

Let me state right away that your proposal has much merit. Indeed, if the players in question accept it, a great event will certainly be created. My overriding interest has been to help heal the split that has existed in our “furious chess world” for far too long. I am not fixed on any particular solution and I am sure that any plan that works by taking the world’s leading chess masters forward will be welcomed by all chess fans. Again, my “Fresh Start” initiative was meant to be my parting gift to the chess world. I have no vested interest in the final format and only wish to see a fair, credible outcome that is embraced by chess fans. The Prague Agreement, while far from ideal, was an excellent effort to unify the chess world. It seems to me that FIDE has taken that Agreement and concocted the worst of all possibilities. Your solution, therefore, is most helpful.

In our search for a fair, credible method of unifying the chess world we are hampered by the format for the Championship event in Libya. The first thing that has to happen, and it is vital, is that that Championship must be a fair competition for all properly-qualified players, so that any subsequent events are built on the proper foundations and enjoy full credibility.

There is a rather rhetorical question that I am tempted to ask you: “Why did you decline your invitation to Libya?” Your public answer has been that you found it against the principles of a fair sporting contest that Garry Kasparov should be seeded into the Finals against its winner. I agree with you and I believe that numerous other top masters declined their invitations on the same basis. While I am not certain that they would change their views if your plan, or my own, were to be adopted, their dislike might continue to exist. We must both admit that regardless of whether Kasparov is seeded into a final competition or is joined by you and others, collectively you will all be enjoying special privileges. Should FIDE adopt your proposal, or my own, the invitations to the players who have enlisted for the event in Libya should be reissued to give the players a new awareness of the changed situation.

However, that is not the major problem with the Libyan event as FIDE has planned it. If Tripoli remains the sole host, properly-qualified players from Israel and the United States who have dual citizenship will be unable to compete. I’ve called for FIDE to reinstate the originally-envisaged parallel event in Malta as a way of giving our colleagues an opportunity to compete under fair, safe conditions. Any failure by FIDE to allow Israeli and Jewish players to compete will be a serious violation of FIDE’s Statutes. How can we unify chess when we are excluding some of the world’s best masters? Do you not find this outrageous? Once again I must stress that if the event is held in Tripoli alone it will be an unfair blow to chess professionals. Unfortunately, FIDE has not answered the specific points made in my letter of May 13th, 2004. With time running out, we are entering a period of no-return. Interviews with FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov that I’ve read have seemed high-handed and dismissive. Such an autocratic stance is intolerable and has no place in an international body which is supposed to be dedicated to protecting the rights of all chess federations and their members.

I’m not sure if you receive GM Alexander Baburin’s newsletter Chess Today, where I’ve recently had an exchange of open letters with Hungarian GM Andras Adorjan. Andras suggested that my proposal was quite naïve, that the winner of the Libya/Malta FIDE World Chess Championship would not wish to play in a tournament competition and, rather, that the new World Champion would be adamant in demanding to play a match with Garry Kasparov direct. You’ll appreciate the irony.

Let’s assume that FIDE officials relent and decide to follow FIDE’s mission statement and Statutes and permit a parallel event in Malta. That would be an excellent first step towards a fair unification process, but what comes next? If all the players affected accept your proposal, I’m all in favor! Please, sign the contract!

Your proposal does have the great advantage that a single event settles all the claims and disputes at hand. An excellent strength indeed! On the other hand, I still prefer my suggested modifications, because we are attempting to reconcile the competing claims. Vladimir Kramnik, the Classical Chess World Champion, represents a line of World Champions that goes back many years. The winner of the Kramnik/Leko match would prefer to continue this tradition – if at all possible. Furthermore, it strikes me as illogical that the runner-up in the match would, willy-nilly, proceed to a new event, a new format that he might win! The chess playing public might be surprised that the player who had just lost the World Championship was able to return a few months later to win the World Championship. Mind you, strange things have become commonplace in our sport.

If we imagine an “Absolute FIDE Championship” event occurring in December 2004/January 2005, this would mean that the two winners would have most of 2005 to compete in a single, unifying chess match. A match that sponsors and fans are sure to find attractive; a grand match for the undisputed title of World Chess Champion. That should not hamper a subsequent cycle.

Thank you very much for your call for a discussion about the World Championship cycle that will follow the unification effort. Such a discussion is well overdue. Again, as I’ve retired from the professional chess world I have no vested interest in supporting any particular system that might be to my own personal advantage. I do, however, have the benefit of knowing the business world, the guiding interests of sponsors, branding, promotion, positioning, commercial rights and, above all, what fans truly want. From all of these perspectives I can tell you with certainty that a 128-player knockout event makes no sense.

As we’ve seen, the only sponsor to have stepped forward to support the knockout format has been its creator, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. No one else at all. The business world has given its clear verdict. It is not interested. If Kirsan were to stop supporting his system tomorrow, there is no reason to think that anybody else would come forward to take it over. The market place is telling us something and we must take heed. Vladimir Kramnik, after initial difficulties concerning his Einstein Television contract, has found a sponsor for his match with Peter Leko. The fundamental point of our sport is that two-game matches are insufficient for determining which of two masters is the stronger. A 128-player knockout event is a lottery and is not a credible format for determining the World Champion. Why isn’t this obvious to everyone? Does the improvement of a double-elimination turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse?

It would indeed be marvelous if our colleagues would be proactive and offer their best suggestions for constructing a viable, commercial cycle that is scrupulously fair. It is high time that the world’s best players had an open, public forum for discussion where their suggestions could be properly weighed and debated. Our Internet age makes such discussions possible and, best of all, they would lead to a greater understanding of the competing points of view.

In trying to come up with the best possible system for determining the World Chess Championship title, keep in mind the numerous constituents that our sport embraces: the World Champion; the top ten players; the top fifty players; the top one hundred players. All of these groups will have their own, competing perspectives. Consider too the national champions. For them, their fans and their federations, a system will be wanted that allows them an opportunity to play in a cycle as the national representative and to be presented with a fair shot – not a two-game or four-game crap-shoot. Sponsors have to see the merit in such a competition and to understand that in investing their marketing dollar they are choosing the right sport and the proper image for their product. Fans have to see the cycle as having credibility. The cycles cannot last for an eternity and must be completed in a timely and efficient manner. As you have properly pointed out, if we fail to set up a well-planned future cycle, we’ll run the risk that a split will occur once again.

With kind regards,
Yasser Seirawan

A Breath of Fresh Air

By David Levy

The ChessBase web site now appears to be the "official" forum for all important discussions relating to the World Chess Championship. It has long been impossible for the world's leading players to get any sense out of FIDE on this topic, with the result that open letters and other postings on the Internet have become the accepted method of airing opinions and new ideas on how to resolve the many problems that currently beset the most important event in the Chess calendar. Most of the Grandmasters who have any realistic hope of becoming World Champion during the next few years have given their opinions, made suggestions and commented on the ideas of others. In addition there have been proposals by some of those not from the group of the very strongest Grandmasters, but who have a genuine interest in seeing the reunification of the world title take place, as well as from some Chess officials and others who claim to be interested in reunification but who, from their actions and statements, clearly are not.

On the basis of everything that has happened in recent years relating to the World Chess Championship and from everything that has been posted on this subject on the Internet, only a very few statements can be made with 100% certainty. ChessBase itself has made one such statement in its May 14th summary of the current situation:

"As everybody knows the world of chess is in strife".

In addition we can add two undisputed facts:

  1. Garry Kasparov is currently the world's highest rated player and has been so continually for the past 19 years.
  2. Vladimir Kramnik defeated Kasparov in a World Championship match in October 2000.

All logic and fair-minded thought should surely lead to the conclusion that the protagonists in the next World Chess Championship match ought to be:

[a] Kasparov (or someone who can defeat him in a match between now and when the reunified World Championship takes place).


[b] Kramnik (or someone who can defeat him in a match between now and when the reunified World Championship takes place).

In essence this was the idea of the so-called "Prague Agreement", but FIDE's failure to organise the Kasparov "semi-final" match has put paid to the original Prague plan developed by Seirawan and others. ["Put paid to" is a British expression for "to finish off; put to rest"]

Up to now the debate has achieved little or nothing because it is not being conducted with or within a body that has any authority. Kasparov has his opinions; Ponomariov has his; Anand has his; the Ukraine Sports Committee has its own views; the US Chess Federation President has her views; different FIDE officials have their views; the FIDE version of the World Championship lacks all credibility due to number of top players who will be absent from Libya.

What do we have from all this? A lot of rancour, dissent, failure to progress, failure to reach an accord that can be accepted and acted upon by all the genuinely interested parties, a FIDE "World Championship" that lacks many of the world's very strongest players and which is scheduled to take place in a country that reputedly denies any intention of allowing some of the invitees to take part. Put simply, we do not only have strife, we have complete chaos.

Now a breath of fresh air has been infused into all this strife and chaos, with the arrival on the scene of the Association of Chess Professionals (ACP). Yes, there have been similar sounding organisations set up before, so why should this one be any different? But this one is different. This organisation is throwing its weight behind the Kramnik-Leko match and its sponsors, Dannemann, giving the match a level of credibility lacked by all FIDE "World Championships" after 1990 and even some of those from the preceding years.

On May 12th, at the press conference launching the Dannemann World Chess Championship match, the speech made by ACP President Joel Lautier provided a lucid and succinct account of the tribulations of FIDE in connection with the World Championship. The only point of issue I would take with Lautier's comments is that he implies that the FIDE rot set in in 1993, when the Kasparov-Short match was played outside of FIDE's control. But it seems clear to me that the rot was started some eight years earlier, on February 15th 1985, when Campomanes stopped the first Karpov-Kasparov match, thereby setting FIDE against the strongest Chess player the world has ever known. What happened in 1993 was the logical culmination of FIDE's actions that fateful February day.

Lautier's speech not only brings a breath of fresh air into one half of the "reunification cycle", it sows the seed for bringing about a complete state of order from the current chaos. Talking of the proposed match between Kasparov and the winner of FIDE's tournament in Libya, the match that is intended to provide the opponent for Kramnik or Leko, Lautier said:

"If nothing definite is announced by FIDE by the end of October 2004, the ACP will seriously consider taking part in the reunification process... Something tells me we might see each other again in the near future!"

This warning has a real sting. FIDE's credibility took a bad knock on February 15th 1985 and has been going steadily downhill ever since. The ACP, however, has become immediately credible in the World Championship process by being aligned with the Kramnik-Leko match. The ACP also speaks with the authority of several of the world's strongest Grandmasters, while FIDE speaks with no real authority on the subject of the World Championship.

If the ACP carries out its threat of "taking part in the reunification process" the Chess world will be the richer for it. The ACP can stamp its own rules on the process, rules created by many of the world's top players rather than rules or edicts given out by Chess politicians, most of whom have never experienced being a professional Chess player. The ACP can replace FIDE as the accepted governing body for organising the World Chess Championship, and as FIDE slides further into its self-induced quagmire so the ACP can float above the chaos. And any player who refuses to take part in an ACP organised World Championship will simply forfeit his right to do so and the process will continue without him. This is how FIDE or any self-respecting organisation should act. First, create fair rules and a fair system, then ensure that the system and rules are adhered to. It is as simple as that. The power in world Chess should belong to whichever organisation has the authority and respect of those who may legitimately be described as contenders for the supreme title. FIDE most certainly does not have either that authority or that respect. The ACP is fast acquiring both.

In this whole debate there is one question that does not appear to have been considered in any depth – Who owns the title of World Chess Champion? I do not mean, who should currently be recognized as World Champion, but who actually owns the title? The way that the title came into FIDE's possession is that it was "given" to FIDE by Botvinnik after he became World Champion in 1948. But was the title Botvinnik's to give? No it wasn't. He won it, he was the holder, but that is all. Botvinnik was never the owner of the title and therefore any "gift" by him of the title to FIDE could have no proper legal status. FIDE was certainly in possession of the title from 1948 until 1993, but not its owner.

Who, then, does own the title? This is more a question for international lawyers than for Chess fans. One can easily argue that there is more than one title – there is the FIDE version, there is the Dannemann version and, as there were in boxing, there could be a few other versions, each version having its own supporters. So perhaps the question of legal ownership is not really the most relevant point, and perhaps the true answer to "who owns the title?" is "no-one". What matters most, surely, is who is recognized by "the Chess world" as being World Champion. The answer to that question depends on what one means by "the Chess world". Is it the world of the politicos, those who are elected or who force their way up the hierarchies of their own national Chess federations, often driven by nothing more than the desire to serve on some FIDE committee or other or to enjoy regular expenses paid trips to FIDE meetings? Or is it a professional organisation, in which the key decisions are taken by those Grandmasters who are at or close to World Championship calibre, in collaboration with their Grandmaster peers? Experience shows that the former does not work, and has not worked properly for almost 20 years. Commonsense dictates that the latter must be the way forward.

So what should be the outcome? In my view the ACP should take over control of the reunification process and should, thereafter, administer the qualification procedures and matches for the World Championship. The title could become a title owned and awarded by the ACP, or it could be a FIDE title over which the ACP is given irrevocable control – a title "owned" by FIDE but on the express condition that it is administered by the ACP. Either way, the Chess world has been waiting too long for a World Championship match that carries with it the respect of Chess fans everywhere. FIDE will not give us such a match, but I believe that the ACP already has the necessary credentials and will very soon command the authority and respect to do so.

GM Raymond Keene, London, UK

Dear ChessBase

I would like to say that I agree 100% with David Levy's analysis of the current world championship situation. Everything he writes is correct, and I would not change a syllable of it.

With FIDE essentially excluding the Israeli representatives from their version of the championship and their evident inability to creat a genuine championship, the ACP must be the logical body to assume control. David's point, that nobody owns the championship – it earns recognition by respect for the strength of the participants – is absolutely key. Further he is correct that if a structure is set up and agreed by the professionals themselves that is seen to be equitable, is respected and able to create public impact, then those that refuse to participate would have only themselves to blame for their exclusion. I hope the ACP acts on his advice.

Well done!!

Ray Keene
Organiser of the World Chess Championships 1986, 1993, 2000

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