Conference of top players in Elista

by ChessBase
1/3/2009 – It took place on December 27th, an online conference with top grandmasters and FIDE officials, to find out what the players think of the new World Championship cycle. President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who chaired the meeting, has promised to publish full details of what was said, but trouble with the transcript of the audio files is delaying their publication. We bring you the opening introduction of the President and the full statement by Magnus Carlsen.

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Online conference in Elista

On Saturday, 27 December 2008, FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov held an online conference with top grandmasters in Elista, Russia. The participants were World Champion Anand Viswanathan, GMs Veselin Topalov, Vassily Ivanchuk, Magnus Carlsen (represented by his father Henrik) and Levon Aronian. They explained their views to the FIDE officials present, which included Ilyumzhinov, Deputy President George Makropoulos, Vice President Zurab Azmaiparashvili, FIDE Commercial Director & Global Chess CEO Geoffrey Borg and PA to FIDE President Berik Balgabaev.

Present in Elista were Balgabaev, Ilyumzhinov, Borg and Azmaijparashvili (pircture above). The rest of the participants were online or patched in via Spiderphone conference call. The meeting lasted more than an hour and different opinions, suggestions, recommendations and constructive criticism was made by the players. FIDE has promised to provide full details of the meeting, with transcripts of everything that was said. Unfortunately, the sound quality of the recordings is very poor, and so there is a delay in the transcription.

In the meantime we have obtained the opening speech of President Ilyumzhinov and the statement of Henrik Carlsen on behalf of Magnus Carlsen. We also have partial transcripts of the discussion, but have decided to delay their publication until the audio files have been fully scanned.

Press announcement on the conference by FIDE

Opening introduction by FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov

Dear World Champion, dear grandmasters, dear FIDE officials.

Thank you for accepting my invitation to share with us your opinions regarding the World Chess Championship Cycle.

These last few months have been subject to great problems in the financial world, and the chess world has not escaped these troubles. In Dresden, in the FIDE Congress there was a long discussion on the options it had for the Cycle. The General Assembly approved the decision to introduce a Candidates Tournament or Matches, subject to final approval of the Presidential Board. This will be in the middle of March 2009 in Budapest.

After Dresden, we received a number of important letters from the World’s leading grandmasters regarding their opinions about the proposed changes to the Cycle. I would like to thank everybody for this, as it shows a true interest in the development of the chess world.

This is why I felt that we needed to have an open, transparent conference, whereby everybody will have the chance to express their views honestly. All views will be reflected in a press release on the FIDE website.

Address by Mr Henrik Carlsen on behalf of GM Magnus Carlsen

I’m representing my son Magnus Carlsen and would like to thank you for this opportunity to express our views on the world championship cycle.

Speaking for his son: Henrik Carlsen

As communicated earlier we would like to see transparent decision processes within FIDE, and predictability and fairness in the world championship cycles. Transparent decision processes require a democratic and open dialogue with the parties involved prior to making decisions. Important issues need to be raised well in advance of major decision points and the decision process needs to be well documented and communicated timely and widely. The process of proposing to change the current cycle as brought forward at the FIDE General Assembly in Dresden last month on short notice, does not meet these requirements.

Predictability is necessary to ensure the trust and commitment of chess players, chess federations, sponsors, organisers and top players in contention for the World Championship title.

We need to introduce mutually binding agreements in line with the practice in other top chess tournaments. The current practice of having one-sided escape clauses in the championship regulations and/or players undertaking, for instance stating that the FIDE Presidential Board or the FIDE President may change this or that, is simply unacceptable. The many examples from recent years of players that has qualified or is in the process of qualifying for a subsequent step in the championship cycle or for a match experiencing multiple delays or downright removal of rights must come to an end.

Regarding priorities, the focus on money and privileges must be replaced by fairness, reliability and predictability. As many businesses around the world has experienced, if you want economics results you have to excel in what you deliver to your customers and your audience. The results will follow suit. 

Fairness; what does this imply? In addition to having predictability, there should not be arbitrary granting of privileges, well, as few privileges as possible really.

In a future Magnus would like to see a world championship cycle with a minimum of privileges, or no privileges at all. If any it should be early in the cycle and based on rating and not money. The transition to such a situation has been difficult in the past due to the legacy of our history.

We strongly disagree with the way FIDE has tried to remedy this by handing out further privileges. After the unification process from 2005 to 2008, we may be in a unique situation to transcend historical problems and privileges, and it was with disbelief and disappointment we received the news about the proposal to introduce new privileges by creating four new spots in the next step of the 2008-2011 championship cycle.

Next let me mention some features we would like to advocate related to a world championship cycle. Firstly let’s talk about privileges.

What about privileges related to rating? Well, maybe some places in a knock-out stage could be allocated to top rated players as done in the World Cup for many years.

What about the privileges of players backed by strong managers, sponsors or organisers? We don’t believe in these as it promotes cronyism and makes it possible to buy your way to important rights.

What about the privileges of the reigning World Champion? This is a difficult question but we see strong arguments for reducing the privileges drastically or even abolishing them outright. In the past, with the right to a re-match, a reigning world champion had about 75% chance of retaining the title against an evenly strong opponent, leaving only 25% chance for all the remaining chess players in the world. It was ridiculous. Even without rematches, the 50% chance of today strongly favours the reigning champion. This may have made sense in the past when there were few serious contenders for the title, but today, with about 30 top players within 100 rating points of the top, this is no longer fair.

Next, let’s discuss the cycle. The first step needs to be accessible to as many players as possible world wide. Both zonal tournaments and the regional qualifiers for the World Cup have worked well and one of these practices may be continued in the future.

Next Magnus favours a knock-out system with for instance 64 or 128 players mainly coming from the preceding step. When there are eight players left in the knock-out stage, various alternatives are possible and we would like to mention three viable options.

The first is to continue with the knock-out matches, and the final winner is the new World Champion.

Another alternative is to proceed with candidate matches between the eight remaining players at other venues and shifted in time. After two rounds of candidate matches, the two remaining players would fight for the world championship title.

A third good alternative is to stage a double round robin World Championship tournament between the eight remaining players from the knock-out cup.

The World Champion would retain his (or her) title for two years until the next champion is decided.

Now, you may object and ask us: what is new? This is what has been tried for more than ten years without much success, hasn’t it? Well, the main point is that it did not work as long as Kasparov and later Kramnik were outside the FIDE cycle. Currently this is no longer a problem.

The chess world has been united and the only privileges we need to care about are those of World Champion Anand, who had to win both the 2007 world championship tournament and the somewhat questionable 2008 match, and the other is the winner of the 2007 World Cup Kamsky who was promised a semi-final match for the world championship title based on the regulations prior to the World Cup.

A transition from the current situation to a future without significant privileges must of course be organised in a way that is fair and preferably also fully acceptable to these gentlemen. This obviously involves giving privileges to Anand in the next one or two cycles, and privileges to Kamsky in first of the ongoing cycles.

It is a bit difficult to comment categorically on the planned Kamsky-Topalov match as we don’t understand the reason for organising such a match, but neither do we really know what has been discussed or agreed between FIDE and the other involved parties over the last one and a half years. The process has certainly not met our requirement for transparency.

In summary, we want mutually binding agreements governing FIDE cycles, the eventual abolition of privileges in general, and we want FIDE to focus on fairness and predictability and not money and privileges.

Thank you for your attention.

Closing address by FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov

I thank everybody once again for sparing their time and I would like to state clearly that I will take your views to the Presidential Board where we will review them closely. A decision will be taken in Budapest which will represent a fair and balanced view of the best way forward.

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