December Grand Prix moved from Doha to Elista

by ChessBase
11/24/2008 – In February FIDE announced its Grand Prix cycle, which contributes to the nomination of the challenger for the World Championship. The Third GP was fixed for Dec. 13th to 29th 2008 in Doha, Qatar. But now the organisers there have withdrawn and the event will be staged in Elista. Here's FIDE's terse press release together with a radical proposal to simplify the World Championship cycle.

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Press release

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Next Grand Prix Event in Elista - Press Release

The next Grand Prix tournament will be hosted in Elista (Kalmykia, Russia) between December 13th and December 29th, 2008.

The change is due to the withdrawal of the Qatar Chess Federation from the organization. An alternative location for the Grand Prix event in August 2009 is being negotiated and will be announced in due course.

Peter Rajcsanyi
PR and Marketing Director

The above terse little message is causing considerable turmoil amongst the players. In February this year FIDE announced the following dates and venues for the 2008/2009 Grand Prix Tournaments:

2008   April 20th May 6th Baku, Azerbaijan
2 2008 July 30th August 15th Krasnoyarsk (or other Russian city), Russia
3 2008 December 13th December 29th Doha, Qatar
4 2009 April 14th April 28th Montreux, Switzerland
5 2009 August 1st August 17th Elista, Russia
6 2009 December 7th December 23rd Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic
  Reserve cities are Istanbul and Teheran.

Some players are now balking at the prospect of travelling to Kalmykia instead of Doha in a couple of weeks, and may drop out of the Third Grand Prix. Since this is part of the World Championship qualification cycle they may be out of that as well. One also wonders what the FIDE President thinks about a solution that seems to come up whenever there is a problem: "Right, we stage it in Elista and you pay for it."

More than three years ago a wise man – GM Dr John Nunn, to be precise – proposed a radical simplification of the FIDE World Championship qualification cycle. It involved staging an eight-player double round robin of the best players in the world, selected on the basis of their (weighted) Elo ratings, with added bonus points for activity. Such a world championship has been staged twice by FIDE, in August-September 2005 in San Luis, Argentina (Veselin Topalov won); and in September 2007 in Mexico City (Viswanathan Anand won).

These world championship tournaments were quite successful, but chess fans were still clamoring for the head-to-head match which has been characteristic for world chess championship throughout history. The success of the World Championship match between Anand and Vladimir Kramnik in Bonn last month must be taken as a vote for this system to stay in place. With this in mind John Nunn has outlined a modified proposal for simplifying the World Championship and the qualification cycle. We have submitted his paper to FIDE for consideration, and in fact discussed it with FIDE Vice President GM Zurab Azmaiparashvili, who is responsible for players' interests in the World Chess Federation. We debated it with Zurab on one of our TV ChessBase broadcasts from the Olympiad in Dresden, and he promised to give the proposal due consideration. The same promise was made by Georgios Makropoulos, Deputy President of FIDE. Here is Dr Nunn's proposal.

The Nunn Plan for the World Chess Championship

Introduction: I first proposed a new plan for the World Championship in 2005, and this is an updated version of the plan which takes into account developments in the chess world since then. I have also taken into account comments by players and others in reaction to the original plan.

Background: From 1948-1990 the World Chess Championship was organised by FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs), the International Chess Federation. During this period, the FIDE World Championship was universally recognised as the legitimate world chess championship. However, in 1993 a breakaway World Championship was founded, and until recently the chess world has been divided.

After 1993, FIDE continued to organise World Championships, although there have been frequent changes to the system used. In 2008, Vishy Anand won a World Championship match against Vladimir Kramnik, and as a result Anand is currently regarded as a fully legitimate world champion continuing the historic tradition of such great players as Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Botvinnik, etc. This universal acceptance provides a rare opportunity to create a system for the World Championship which will provide a stable structure for many years to come.

The main criteria for a World Championship system are as follows:

  1. The system should be seen to be fair.
  2. The system should give opportunities for credible challengers to compete for the World Championship.
  3. The system should be attractive for potential sponsors.
  4. The system should be simple and easily understood.
  5. The system should not oblige players to take part in an excessive number of events, which would effectively prevent them from taking part in competitions outside the World Championship cycle.

The solution:

1. General

A World Championship should be organised once every two years. It would consist of two events, a Candidates Tournament to determine the challenger and the World Championship match itself, between the current title-holder and the winner of the Candidates.

The arguments in favour of deciding the World Championship in a match are:

  1. A head-to-head match is easy for the public to understand.
  2. The success of the Anand-Kramnik match shows that a match attracts a great deal of publicity and is attractive for sponsors.
  3. Collusion between players is impossible in a match.
  4. The World Championship has historically been decided by a match.
  5. Talking to the players, I have the strong impression that most believe the World Championship should be decided by a match.

The Candidates Tournament would consist of an eight-player tournament in which each player meets each other player twice. It should take place sufficiently far in advance of the World Championship so that the challenger is known in advance of determining the venue for the World Championship. Ties in the Candidates and World Championship match can be broken by rapid games.

The system of a Candidates Tournament followed by a match was used to decide the World Championship from 1950 to 1963, but was abandoned after accusations of collusion between the Soviet players at Curaçao 1962. The possibility of collusion between players from one country is now very much less than in 1962. The top players come from a wide range of countries (Russia, Norway, Ukraine, USA, Israel and others) and in the current competitive environment even the players from the same country are not noted for collaborating with one another. Therefore the problems which caused the abandonment of this system after 1963 are very unlikely to arise again.

2. Selection of players

For the Candidates Tournament, the players should be selected on the basis of Elo ratings. Elo ratings are regarded of a reasonably reliable indicator of current chess strength, and a credible challenger for the World Championship would almost always be in the top nine places in the list (one place presumably being occupied by the world champion). Thus these days it is not necessary to have an elaborate and time-consuming qualification system as was used in the period 1950-63.

An obvious problem with a qualification system based on Elo ratings is that once a player has achieved a high rating, he may choose not to play further in order to ensure qualification. It seems to me that if someone wishes to play for the World Championship, then his qualification should be based on actually playing rather than sitting at home, so the figure used would be the weighted average of the player’s Elo rating over the preceding 12 months plus an activity bonus. The activity bonus would be the total number of rated games played over the preceding 12 months but would be limited to a maximum of 50 points. Thus a player who has been active recently would be ranked higher than an inactive one, even if their Elo ratings were the same.

This system stimulates chess activity in general, and it particularly encourages young and improving players who might qualify by being very active. It also ensures additional publicity by creating a race for qualification in the several months before the event itself. It is important to note that the activity bonus is only used for the qualification calculation; it does not affect a player’s Elo rating and Elo ratings would continue to be calculated in the usual way.

The calculations would be made five months prior to the event and invitations and player contracts issued as soon as possible thereafter.

3. Schedule of World Championship cycle

I will imagine a World Championship match to take place in 2012 (for the first such match, in 2010, some special arrangements might be necessary).

  • May 2011: Calculation of ratings for qualification to the Candidates Tournament and invitations issued.
  • October 2011: Candidates Tournament takes place.
  • September 2012: World Championship match.

and so on with a cycle of two years.

4. Does this system satisfy the five criteria mentioned at the start?

Firstly, I think the system is fair; selection is based largely on Elo ratings which today are regarded as reliable indicators of chess strength.

Secondly, a credible challenger for the World Championship should have an Elo rating in the top nine and so would be included in the Candidates automatically.

I think the system is attractive to sponsors. The Candidates Tournament will include all the top players in the world with the exception of the champion, and the match itself will inevitably be appealing.

The system is certainly simple. Instead of a having a number of events and struggling to find sponsors, I think it is much better to have just two really high-profile events which can be professionally organised and attract a lot of publicity. The World Championship is the chance for the chess world to attract attention in mainstream media and good press coverage which raises the profile of chess is beneficial for the whole chess world and makes it easier to find sponsors for other events.

John Nunn, November 2008


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