Feedback on Kazan – how should the Candidates be conducted?

by ChessBase
5/28/2011 – The opinions range from joke to disaster, to a more balanced "Don't insult the players, they are not there to entertain us, they are there to win." As usual we received a large number of messages on the Candidates Matches in Kazan, while they were running, and on the controversy between the ECU President and the FIDE World Championship Chairman. Food for thought.

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Feedback to the Danailov-Makropoulos controversy

Vladimir Kramnik, Paris (in a letter to Emil Sutovsky)

  • I personally prefer a round robin tournament, because it is more spectacular. In order to became a challenger (to win it) you have to play more agressively, it will make it interesting for spectators. Plus it will be a classical chess Candidates tournament, the winner will be the one who is the best in classical chess, not rapid or blitz. The only problem which should be solved than is a potential problem of buying (selling) games in such a tournament, but I believe it is not a major problem. Otherwise I think the double round robin is the best system.

  • If the match system is used, there must be definately six or even eight games matches, because otherwise most of the matches might be decided in rapid or blitz, like in Kazan, and it makes little sense because it is a classical chess championship. I believe the system used in Kazan was a failure because of this reason and also because short matches provoke players to play without any risk, which leads to big ammount of draws and not very interesting games.

  • Both variations are acceptable for me.

  • I believe a two years cycle is best, more often is difficult to organize and might devalueate the WCh title.

Note: we have conducted a long interview with Vladimir Kramnik, which we are in the process of transcribing. It will appear shortly on our news pages.

Deodutta Modak, Nashik, India
As a keen chess lover and follower I beg to submit my views.

1) The selection should be by matches only in the QF, SF and Final stages. In a round-robin format the following two things can easily occur and cannot be prevented at all.

(i) As In Candidates Ty. of 1959 Tal won by scoring very heavily against the tail-enders, but Keres could NOT achieve the same and finished runner-up. In their individual four games Keres had a plus score vs Tal.

(ii) As In Curacao 1962 players who are on 'friendly' terms with each other may DRAW among themselves without trying seriously to WIN but reserve their strngth to beat the other participants.

More importantly if a player achieves a clear plus in the first half of the tournament he can coast to a win simply by drawing the remaining games in the second half, while others would have to play to WIN amongst themselves in order to catch up with the leader. Thus the second half of the tournament would serve no sporting significance, the outcome being decided in the first half itself. Topalov proved this recently by winning the round-robin tournament a few years ago.

2) The format should be 8 + 12 + 16 games in QF, SF and Finals over a two-year period.

3) The reigning World Champion must join the candidates at the qf stage. Under the present setup the reigning Champion has to win only ONE Match vs his Challenger to retain his Title, but the Challenger had already defeated THREE players in Matches to find himself as the Challenger and has to beat the Champion in another match i.e. to win four matches in all whereas the Champion retains the title by winning only one Match.

If the reigning Champion also plays at the QF Stage, the eventual Champion would have to prove his versatility by beating three players of different styles. Thus a Tal would have to redouble his efforts if he finds himself paired against his nemeses i.e. Keres or Korchnoi. Similarly for Fischer vs Geller, Alekhine vs Yates etc.

4) Having a World Champion every year would be making a crowded and hasty schedule of play for the players. It should be every alternate year with space of several months between the matches.

The winner (the current Champion) and the defeated player of the last championship match should be seeded No. 1 and No. 2 respectively. For the remaining six places two places must be for FIDE Ratings i.e. the top two. For the remaining four places a selection should be made by way of Grand Prix (three places) and World Cup winner (one place) as at present.

Only if this System is adopted we can be certain that the eight BEST players (in the current two-year period) are playing for the title of the World Champion.

Gary Roe, Santa Cruz USA
Silvio Danailov ruined the match Kasparov-Ponomariov, he ruined the match Kramnik-Topalov and now he's ruining the Candidates matches. It is Danailov who should resign as he continues to ruin chess.

Igor Freiberger, Porto Alegre, Brazil
Almost all times, I dislike Danailov's behavior. But put aside any personal questions, he is right. Kazan was a disaster. No other word best describes the worst Candidates Tournament ever played. Of course, this is not just an organizational problem, but also a question of how players behave. One cannot forget that a candidate could risk much more in a longer match, where there are enough games to rescue a bad result. With just four games and in an engine-era, a 0/1 or 0.5/2 is very hard to revert.

The FIDE OC Chairman focuses his answer on Danailov, as usual. I'd like to hear more about concrete measures and less about Silvio's interests. Yes, FIDE is doing something, but if they do not recognize the Kazan format is also responsible for these results, the room for discussion is very limited. And yes, we all know Danailov has personal aims, but FIDE must answer the facts he referred and not his persona. Put simply, we are back to the old offensive dispute while chess goes down.

William Wheeler, Davis, California
There are many things I would rather contemplate, such as getting a case of swine flu, than a choice for FIDE president between Kirsan and Danailov. As for Mr. Sutovsky's questionnaire, I believe it asks the wrong questions. Why not just suggest scrapping all the the changes made during the Ilyumzhinov era and going back to the status quo ante? Chess could do much worse than a system of zonals, an interzonal and candidates' matches (6+6+12) to determine the official challenger for the world title followed by a 24-round title match. That system wasn't broke until Kirsan tried to fix it.

Kajetan Wandowicz, Wroclaw, Poland
Oh my, is this really so difficult to organise a good World Championship cycle? For a hundred years it wasn't – has something changed? All right, the computers play their part, but there are ways of promoting fighting chess. The 30-move-rule is not one of them, in my opinion. As FIDE Deputy Chairman Makropoulos rightly points out, if the players want a draw, they'll draw: you can always engineer a repetition well before move 30. On the other hand, I very much like the 3-1-0 scoring system, like in the London Classic. Remember? Carlsen came clear first in 2010 thanks to a fine display of fighting chess, even though he would have only tied for first with Anand and McShane had the traditional scoring system been used.

A double round robin scored 3-1-0 should be enough to determine a worthy candidate and guarantee a good spectacle. Other than that, matches also don't seem bad to me, but maybe they should be a bit longer (six games at the minimum). And touching the Champion's privilege is simply barbaric. Want to play the Champion? Prove that you'll better than all the others and thus worth his time, than he'll play you. It's simple, logical, and has a long-standing tradition.

Siva Kumar, New York, NY
One of the aspects that no one (including Kramnik) seems to be discussing is the point system; the number of games won't matter (recall first Karpov-Kasparov WC). There has to be incentive to win; just as in the Final when the champion retains title in case of tie. There is incentive for challenger to win. So a point system like in London should be deployed. Blitz does not make a good way to identify a contender for a classical match.

Don Wade, Tennessee, USA
I find it difficult to agree with Danilov. I'm a total patzer, so I do not play at the world class level as those who recently played in the Candidates Matches, but I believe that we, as fans of these great players, should expect no less from them because they cannot reveal their best preparations when they very well might be playing in the next World Championship. So, there is (unfortunately) many drawn games without much fight. No one is willing to show their best lines unless they have to do so.

Duncan Vella, Swieqi, Malta
I propose this method to stop short draws: forget rapid and blitz tie-breaks. Just classical. Match of six games. If the match ends in a draw, the player who drew with white in the least number of moves (in any one game) loses the match. If both players have two games with the same move count, then the first game decides which white player loses the match.

So in the first round the two drawn matches would have seen Radjabov eliminated vs Kramnik because he had the quickest draw with white in 25 moves. Grischuk would have been eliminated due to the shortest white draw in 17 moves against Aronian. In round two, Grischuk would be eliminated for his 16 move draw with white. Gelfand would have been eliminated due to his 23 move draw in white. It may be far-fetched, but it will definately entice the players to keep on playing especially with white.

Baquero, Luis, Medellin, Colombia
Danailov is signaling something that should be solved: short and seemingly fixed draws. But if you miss the main point behind your allegations you are really delaying solutions; and the main point is whether arranged games are fair play and whether short time controls are chess. My answer is no, no. I would like Megabase to let me filter out with just a click fixed games and those played with short time controls, because they exist and I'm willing to give neither a cent nor an instant of my time for them; I would also like Danailov or whoever to change FIDE rules such that they guarantee me that if I invest my money and my time in order to travel to a chess tournament there will be a fight in each game (not only mine) and that the game will be called chess (not blitz, random, rapid or whatever degeneration anyone could design). Until that happens I'll just imagine how delicious it would be to play or replay a hard fought chess game in a hard fought tournament.

Mark Warriner, Richmond, VA USA
I'd advocate returning to the methodology used from 1951 to 1961, including a rematch for the Champion. This produced some of our most enduring and well respected World Champions (Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, and Petrosian). These were far better times with less acrimony! Back to the future!

Brian Wall, Thornton, Colorado, USA
I don't like Danailov but I think his comments about Kazan resonate with over half of the chess world.

Renaud Dejarnac, Prague
I have to say that I am not a special fan of Mr. Danailov BUT for this time, I agree 100% with him. And beside that, I am really outraged by Mr. Makropoulos' reply ("Once more Mr Danailov shows no respect to the top players..."). I think one should be blind not to admit that the top players did not show any form of respect towards us, the real chess fans!

Kevin Cotreau, Merrimack, NH
Regarding the recent matches, I am no fan of Danailov, but he is right about the nature of the matches. THEY STUNK, and real chess fans know that. So to defend them is nothing more than pathetic justification. Clearly we cannot have mixed game formats since that is what was leading to many of the short draws – "playing" just to get to the rapids. They should play four or six games, with one additional at a time. The colors will be determined by coin flip so that will give some motivation to end the match within regulation.

Joshua Franz,Prior Lake MN, USA
I am suprised to agree with Danailov with regards to the Sofia rules. I agree they should have been in effect. I don't think, however, anyone needs to resign or be fired because of this. Simply correct this for the next cycle. I also agree with FIDE you can't stop draws, but the Sofia rules have been shown to lower the number of draws and for the chess fan these rules make a much better impression then a 14 move draw in a candidates match. I am dissapointed that this has become a political issue it seems to me it is an easy mistake to correct for the next cycle. Simply add the Sofia Rule. It shouldn't involve politics or elections at all.

Eugene Kohnitz, Austin Texas
I am not very enthusiastic about Danailov or his posturing, especially in the past, but he does have a point. The KO system is too informal, not very dignified. I'd rather see a Super Tournament (like the Mexico City event) as a Final Four qualifier, then a six round Round Robin. That way, the players do have to be more ambitious, game by game! It's too bad that the old Interzonal-plus system was so cumbersome!

Laurent Pellenc, Lyon, France
Idea: GM's would play the rapid tie-breaks before the classic games. The tiebreak winner would indeed receive draw odds and quick draws would not have anymore reason to be.

Giorgio Chinnici, Milano, Italy
In the top chess events, especially when there are paying spectators, a draw request, be it by repetition, agreement or otherwise should be made only through the arbiter. It should simply be denied if it is clear that the two players just do not want to play. When two top players just do not want to play, it's ok: they just get 0-0, and this does count for the rating, of course.

Edvard Oker Ulefoss, Norway
You pick the 20 best players in the world, according to Elo, and divide them into two equal groups. These groups play a double round robin. Then the two winners play a twelve game match against each other, and the winner is the new world champion. Very simple. No qualification other than Elo points, and no special rules for the former world champion, of course.hat there SHOULD be a rematch. Please correct my comments to reflect that.

Nicolas Croad, Reading, UK
I would say that I totally agree with the sentiments in Silvio Danailov's letter the number of short and contentless draws is totally ridiculus for such an important event in deciding the World Championship. I also agree with Georgios Makropoulos that it is poor form of Silvio Danailov to be the one making these statements in his capacity, but it is totally rubbish for him also to assert that FIDE need to consult with top players before even considering changing the rules of chess.

It is time that FIDE took an interest in the sport for which they are the governing body. If the rules need to be changed in the interests of fairness or competition or to make chess more marketable then FIDE should do this. This will from time to time mean that they must accept criticism for these decisions as well or maybe revise them. But you really can't make everybody happy, especially a bunch of top chess players and trying to do so is really impossible.

Making the rules work for the good of the sport is FIDE's entire remit. It is stupid to blame the players involved in the candidates for trying to maximize their chances, and it is an abducation of responsibility for FIDE to claim that they can't change the rules until they have asked many of the top players. It is my current opinion that all you need to do is remove draw offers from the rules of chess. Players can force and then claim a draw but not agree to one. Draw offers have a significant negative impact to every level of chess in some way or another, regardless of it being uncontested games in the World Championships, fixed results in team matches or fixed results between players leading a tournament or fixed results for players looking for norms or rating results. Some players have even been observed to offer draws simply to annoy their opponent, why have them at all?

Feedback during the Candidates in Kazan

The following messages were selected semi-automatically and at random from the letters that reached us during the Candidates. We manually delete the ones that are gratuitously offensive or those that use adventurous orthography, and slightly over-represent minority views, which might otherwise fall through the filter completely. Naturally the opinions expressed in these messages do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of our news page.

Rob Mcquinn, Canada
When Magnus Carlsen withdrew from the Candidates Matches I questioned his criticism of the match format. Perfect no, but maybe not as flawed as he suggested. Now its clear that the format is indeed very flawed. Though I often follow important matches and tournaments live, for these matches I just check in to see how many moves were played before the draw. Watching paint dry is now more entertaining.

Mike Fellman, Minneapolis, US
The Candidates matches have been a huge let-down. Obviously, the hyper accelerated format is ridiculous, since at the top GM level anybody can draw with white. The result is that a single loss is tantamount to elimination (Topolov), while simply trying to draw all the games and win the blitz is a viable strategy (Grischuk). Now the both the "finalists" have basically decided to draw all the games and go to the blitz games.

If I were the FIDE president I would immediately cancel this match and grant a World Championship challenge to Magnus Carlson (remember how he dropped out, accurately predicting the format would produce chaos). A preferable alternative would be to have a World Championship tournament including Anand, Kramnik, Carlson, Aronian, Topolov and Ivanchuk. Obviously this list could be extended. My dream would be a double round robin between the top 10 to 15 players in the world. However, I doubt this would be possible, because getting all the parties to agree would be a nightmare.

Cristóbal Cervino, Pamplona, Spain
Damn we miss Carlsen so much! He should have been there in the Candidates to show some fighting chess... I'm pretty sure he would have been in the finals, after the pretty average games (and some of them full of mistakes) we have seen so far!

Omar Jebari, Hove, England
Is it right that a candidate for the Classical World Championship is decided on rapid games? There has been a modicum of fighting chess during the classical time controls with more than a suggestion that players are waiting for the rapid tiebreaks to use their novelties and essentially win on time. This is an ugly way to qualify and does not prove that you are a just opponent for Anand. Although it may be impractical surely there are other systems which could have forced more fighting chess during the classical games? It would be interesting to see how many of the latter matches have gone to tiebreak.

Colin Menzies, Edinburgh, Scotland
Don't insult the players please, this is the world championship. They are not there to entertain us, they are there to win. If this was a round robin tournament such as Wijk or Linares (where boring players will not be invited back I assume), and if it had happened more than once, then I would maybe agree with you. As it is, they have not gotten to the top of the chess world by making short draws, so they have earned the right to play this match exactly the way they choose. That includes making short draws. Come on ChessBase, I dare you to find any player who wouldn't take a short draw if they thought it would help them win the world championship. You know, the pinnacle of the chess world, ensuring your name will be put among the all time greats? I couldn't tell you who won Linares ten years ago, but I can sure as hell tell you the world champions over the last 100 years, as could anyone with a basic knowledge of chess history.

Tom Welsh, Basingstoke, UK
As a veteran chess fan who was thrilled by those classic Candidates matches between Spassky and Geller, or between Fischer and... well, everyone, I have been disappointed by the proceedings in Kazan. Chess theory has evolved hugely since the 1960s, and arguably the top players are even stronger. Yet today's Candidates tournament is a Mickey Mouse affair. Instead of twelve-game matches, rivals play four games at a normal time limit. That's few enough that taking any risks is shockingly dangerous: lose a single game and there probably won't be time to equalize, so you're out. Thus the four proper chess games will probably be drawn (unless you try too hard to win and end up losing, as Topalov and Mamedyarov did). So we choose the challenger for the world championship by rapid chess - which is essentially a completely different game. Sure, it may be quick, cheap, and entertaining. But it fails to select the absolutely strongest chess player.

K. Srinath, Pune, India
This is ridiculous news-writing. I can understand and accept your draw-bashing nature; but in a news report you can't allow yourself to be SO damn prejudiced, and allow the draw to blind you so completely. You don't quote press conferences; and just because a game was short doesn't mean it was ALL THEORY; there were nuances to be worked out at the board. If a leading news site such as yours doesn't take up the responsibility of educating chess fans about the beauty of subtle chess, then who will?? Can't BELIEVE you guys acting like rank beginners...

Gearoid MacGabhain, Dublin
Part of the problem is down to the structure of the match. Because of the choice of playing classical, rapid and blitz, the players now have a choice of where they can play and try and win the match. If you want exciting chess there must be a move back to the old structure and play a match of say six games, and if its all square play an extra game till there is a winner, if this is all square play another and so on till some one wins. By playing extra games in batches of one it makes it more important to play for a win. I would also suggest that whoever has white in the first game should have black in the first extra play off game. This would have the effect of making sure that your fist set of whites would be more important.

Esteban A. Estévez, Bariloche, Argentina
Yes, it may be more interesting to see more "fight", but for me the match is not very disappointing. These two players are playing exactly that: a match. So they have to be very cautious. If you look at game three there was a novelty and then the position became (at this level) equal. What is the point to continue 30 moves more to be played in 30 minutes. Game four was not exactly the same (a little edge for white I suposse) but again the time problem it will be crucial. So, have we want blunders to atract sponsors? I guess it is a little (in fact very) naïve to think if there were no short draws we have a queue of sponsors at the front door. Anyway, my congratulations for your site.

Richard Bowes, Canada
Chess is becoming cheapened by the faster time controls. This is especially evident wih the playoff format in the candidates tournaments and in the World Championship match to come. Perhaps Grischuk will beat Gelfand in a blitz playoff and then go on to beat Anand (after 12 boring 13 move draws) in the rapid playoff. He should then be crowned World Rapid Champion.

Jeffery Jones, Pomona Park
I wuld just like to say how horrified and embarrassed I am for chess after these "Candidate Matches"! Look at the lack of care and the disdain these chess players show the game the fans and the sponsors. If this was in the 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s we'd have rousing fights, great TNS and pitched time trouble battles. Now? Fifteen move handshakes. Outrageous! Let's go back to those old candidate matches best of ten, twelve, fourteen, and let's MAKE these players earn the money they get. No short draws, Sophia rules, sad as that is to ask for. this is a total mockery, and worst of all, the players are doing it to themselves.

David Kerrigan, Syracuse, USA
Personally, I find the candidates tournament and most of top flight chess events a joke. I was once an avid chess fan, I went to casual observer and now occasionally I check in on the news to see if chess has got it's act together. Clearly it hasn't. Draw, draw, draw, draw and draw, it makes me wonder why they even bother holding tournaments. I don't even understand why the players are even allowed to agree to a draw. They should play for a win until there is an actual stalemate or not enough material on the board for a player to win (personally, I don't even understand why players are allowed to resign – if they find themselves in an inferior position they should be forced to play it out to checkmate). In any other competitive sport or game, playing hard and for a win from the beginning of a game until the very end is the mark of a true professional. In chess, the professionals seem to be the most adept at minimizing their effort in the actual competitions. No wonder chess has a hard time finding fans and sponsors. The players find so many games boring that they agree to draws to that they don't have to play them. Why should the fans find them interesting?

Derek Jones, Aylesbury, UK
You observe that Grischuk and Gelfand are through to the final on merit. True perhaps - but only within the format chosen by FIDE. Does anybody really suppose that Gelfand and Grischuk would have finished on top had the format been a double-round all play all tournament, or a series of matches of 6-8 games separated by two months instead of two days? And that is before any criticism of a system that did not have Carlsen, Karjakin and Nakumura as participants.

Anandkumar Nandakumar, Den Bosch
I am an amateur chess player and I was utterly disappointed and even angry at the ridiculous 8 and 14 move draws played out between Kramnik and Grischuk in the ongoing candidates matches. These players might have as well not turned up or agreed to a draw without playing! While the intricacies of match tactics may have been lost on a 1600 player (yours truly), it certainly is not a good advertisement for chess. I do believe that top GMs should not be forced to play out a draw like the Sofia rules, but there must be a way to eliminate draws like these and in the first round. If the arbiter thinks that the players are not making an effort to play a real game, can he impose certain rules to ensure that the game goes on? Of course, the smart GMs could then play any number of drawn games/positions from memory, but atleast it forces them to think! – Thanks a lot for providing space to rant!

Edward, Princeton
It looks like the chess world will pay a price for a candidates process that is too compressed. The finalists are worthy but are they the most exciting challengers for Anand?

Aben Rudy, Scottsdale, USA
Perhaps Moradiabadi should get off his high horse until he explains his 23 move draw against Denis Rombaldoni in the Ravenna Open. Sofia rules my eye!

Johan Geyser, Johannesburg, South Africa
Whoever 'wins' this boring spectacle should be soundly thrashed by Anand.

Luis Baquero, Medellin, Colombia
Why don't you promote a world wide question of designing a simple rule that would solve the problem of short draws and in more general terms, of fixed draws? I think that chess enthusiasts all over the world can offer much better solutions than a few negotiators in their Federations.

Daniel Wigley, Port St Lucie, USA
Two thoughts. First, perhaps there could be a rule that requires players to play a two-game rapid match to replace any quickly drawn game. Second, you should explain what may be the reason or strategy behind the quick draws. Why are they doing it?

Igor Freiberger, Porto Alegre, Brazil
I suppose there is just one person in chess world very happy with these matches: Viswanathan Anand. I also believe there is one word to describe all Kazan disputes: ignominious. Even players who usually embrace fight, such as Topalov and Kamsky, were unable to break the spell. In this final, Grischuk applied the "non-play" strategy and Gelfand does not see any reason to take another direction. In some sense, this is an adequate final to a Candidates tournament without any great games.

Is chess agonizing? Did computers help turned it into a drawish scene? Must we expect some emotion only in five-minute games? Must we abolish the Petroff, Berlin and other play-and-draw openings? Multiple draws already produced questions like this in other times. Havana 1921, Buenos Aires 1927, and Moscow 1984 are examples. Nevertheless, I really believe things are getting worse. At the highest level, chess has become an exercise of proving who waited long enough for their chess engine to point out the best solution. If your opponent demonstrates he and his engine found the same, better to draw quickly. Maybe you will be back in time to get some nicer show on TV. After Kazan, who would support a WCh match? Does it make any sense to put a lot of money in these anti-climax games?


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