Levy on Reunification

by ChessBase
11/12/2004 – Recently David Levy, IM, computer expert, author, long-time FIDE delegate, wrote a hilariously satirical piece on the reunification process in chess. But laughter doesn't solve the very real problems that doubtlessly exist in the chess world today. Now David has sent us a dead serious evaluation of the situation and proposals for its resolution.

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In his article David Levy starts off by recalling the background to the current situation around the World Championship reunification process – from the chaos created by FIDE President Campomanes in the chess world to the signing of the Prague accord. For just over two years, following the Prague summit, the reunification process ambled somewhat shakily towards its planned conclusion until Kramnik dropped his recent bombshell by calling it into doubt. David discusses Kramnik’s reasoning, and the consequences of Kramnik’s new suggestion for all the players, sponsors and organisations involved in the process. But the news is not all bad – Levy presents a straightforward solution (which includes Vishy Anand) for completing the current reunification process, and a simple plan for administering the future reunified World Championship title. Finally David castigates Kramnik for his announcement, reveals why, he believes, Kramnik has thrown such a huge a spanner in the works – that the World Champion is chicken – and how he thinks Kramnik, with ACP encouragement if necessary, should extricate himself from the PR mess in which he has landed himself.

A Calm Sea and a Prosperous Voyage


Next February sees the 20th anniversary of the birth of the schism that rent asunder the World Chess Championship. On February 15th 1985, Florencio Campomanes stopped the Karpov-Kasparov match in Moscow in order to save Karpov from defeat at the hands of the world’s strongest chess player. In doing so, the FIDE President created huge dissent in the chess world and laid the foundations for all the argument and chaos that followed and which persists to this day.

February 15 1985: FIDE president Florencio Campomanes terminates the first Karpov-Kasparov match

Before typhoon Campo struck, on that fateful February day, the waters around the World Chess Championship had been relatively calm for decades. There had been some minor storms during the 1960s, when Fischer accused the Russians of cheating and forced through changes in the Candidates’ system. And Fischer once again blew up a few difficulties for FIDE in 1975 when he argued for rules for the defending champion that FIDE was unwilling to grant. But on both occasions FIDE remained at the helm of the good ship WCC, and both times the ship stayed afloat.

The devastation caused by typhoon Campo in 1985 ultimately proved to be irreparable during his period of office. Although Kasparov won the FIDE title later in 1985 and successfully defended it three times during Campomanes’ presidency, relations between the two of them could never overcome the ludicrous abortion of the first Karpov-Kasparov match. Many of the leading Grandmasters lent their support and joined Kasparov in the formation, first of the Grandmasters’ Association in 1986, and later of the Professional Chess Association in 1993. Meanwhile the gulf between these leading GMs and the FIDE President grew wider and wider, leading Kasparov and Short to summon up their own typhoon when they took the responsibility for organising their 1993 match out of FIDE’s hands altogether. The Short-Kasparov match duly took place in London, with “The Times” sponsoring the event to the tune of £4 million (approx $7.5 million at today’s exchange rate) and with FIDE nowhere in sight.

Garry Kasparov vs Nigel Short at the Times World Chess Championship in 1993

Having lost FIDE its most valuable bauble, Campomanes then made a fake one out of Timman and Karpov who played a match split between the Netherlands and Indonesia for the FIDE “World Championship” title. And ever since 1993 there have been two titles, the phoney one controlled and organised by FIDE and the real one organised outside FIDE’s control.

After Kasparov’s win against Short he played another successful title defence in 1995, this time against Anand, in New York. Then there was a five-year hiatus, until Kasparov was once again given the chance to defend his title in London. Anand was the first to be offered the role of challenger in 2000 but this time he declined, not wishing to play outside of FIDE’s auspices. So the baton passed to Kramnik, who took full advantage of the opportunity and became World Champion, defeating Kasparov in a 16-game match.

While Kasparov was defending his title against the strongest opponents of the day, FIDE continued to conduct a “World Championship” of its own. But the idea of FIDE’s event was not to find out who was the strongest chess player in the world at the time of their event, instead it was merely a tournament in which the winner would be designated, by FIDE, as “World Champion”. Whether that turned out to be the world number 2, or number 22, or number 222, was of little consequence to FIDE. The only thing that mattered was that FIDE would have a “World Champion” to call its own.

Kasparov, Ilyumzhinov and Kramnik signing the
Prague Unity Resolution on May 6, 2002

A Fragile Peace

After 17 years of bitterness between FIDE and the world’s élite Grandmasters, most notably Kasparov, a breath of fresh air was provided by Yasser Seirawan in 2002 when he convened the Prague “summit”. Yasser is a highly respected Grandmaster and a great diplomat, who for years had felt frustrated by the effects on the chess world of the schism in the World Championship process. What Yasser achieved was a meeting of minds, involving FIDE (in the form of its President, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov), Kasparov (still the world’s top ranked player), Kramnik (holder of the World Championship title) and many other Grandmasters. The purpose of the meeting was to try to reach an accord on a re-unification process, one that would somehow merge the two titles and bring the World Chess Championship back, undisputedly, under FIDE’s auspices and control, and at the same time to bring Kasparov back into the FIDE fold.

The result of the Prague summit was an accord signed by Ilyumzhinov, Kasparov, and Kramnik (inter alia), under which the following would happen:

  1. The winner of a qualifying tournament, to be held in Dortmund in July 2002, would challenge Kramnik for his title.

  2. The winner of the 2001-2002 FIDE “World Championship”, Ruslan Ponomariov, would play a match against Kasparov, the winner of which would then play a match with the winner of Kramnik’s match against the qualifier from Dortmund, the final winner being the undisputed, reunified, World Chess Champion.

It was as simple as that. Peace in our time. Of course there were those Grandmasters who felt aggrieved at being left out in the cold, but invitations to Dortmund had been extended to all the top players. Yes, the Prague agreement was not perfect, but in the real world there is very little that is perfect.

The Next Typhoon Season

The next typhoon showed the chess world just how far a player will go to damage his own prospects. Ponomariov refused to sign the match agreement to play Kasparov. Of course there are two sides to every argument and so there are those who support Ponomariov’s decision, but the simple facts are that he did refuse to sign, and thereby deprived himself of achieving the dream of just about every successful sportsperson in every sport, namely to take on the world’s number one. Ponomariov was quite entitled to refuse to play Kasparov – that was his right and he exercised it. So his opportunity evaporated.

This particular typhoon was, in reality, little more than a tropical storm in terms of what it meant to the reunification cycle. After all, FIDE manufactures “World Champions” at such a rate than when one of them decides not to play there will be another one along in a moment, just like buses. And so it was after Ponomariov. With the FIDE “World Championship” arranged for Tripoli in June-July 2004 it was a simple and pragmatic decision for FIDE President Ilyumzhinov to announce that the winner would replace Ponomariov in the reunification process, and would play Kasparov for the right to challenge the winner of Kramnik-Leko.

In the meantime another breath of fresh air had wafted in above the storms in the sea of troubles, intending to end them. The Association of Chess Professionals (ACP) had been founded in 2003 and its President, Grandmaster Joel Lautier, had been instrumental in putting together the Kramnik-Leko match for the World Championship, sponsored by the cigar manufacturer Dannemann. At the press conference announcing the match, Lautier referred to FIDE’s obligation to stage a match between Kasparov and the new FIDE “World Champion”, whoever that might be. In his statement, reported on the ChessBase Web site, Lautier:

"… set FIDE a deadline for October to organise the match between Kasparov and the winner in Libya, or they would have to look at other reunification options."

ACP President Joel Lautier at the press conference in Hamburg on May 12, 2004

The meaning of this statement is absolutely clear and unambiguous. Either FIDE would announce, by October 2004, the venue and timing for the match between Kasparov and the winner in Libya, in which case the reunification process would still be on track, or the ACP “would have to look at other reunification options”. Before Lautier’s deadline FIDE did indeed organise the match, with the announcement coming on October 13 that Kasparov and Kasimdzhanov would play in Dubai, in January 2005, for a purse of $1.2 million.

Kramnik proceeded to retain his World Championship title by holding Leko to a drawn match (the defending champion gets draw odds), and chess enthusiasts everywhere started licking their lips in anticipation of a rematch between Kramnik and Kasparov, an event they had been waiting for since October 2000. So the reunification process was on track.

Oh no it wasn’t! Another typhoon suddenly appeared on the horizon.

On October 21st the ChessBase site quoted from an interview given by Kramnik to the Russian newspaper “Sport Express”, in which the World Champion said that he no longer supported the idea of unification in the way that it was already in the process of happening. If Kasparov had played and beaten Ponomariov, that would have been OK. But for Kasparov to qualify for a title shot at Kramnik by playing and beating Kasimdzhanov, that, according to Kramnik, created a whole new ball game.

Weather Forecast – More Storms Coming

The new ball game, according to Kramnik, should go something like this. Instead of the Kasimdzhanov-Kasparov match in Dubai, there should be organised a four-player tournament with Anand, Kasimdzhanov, Kasparov and Ponomariov. And the winner of this tournament should be Kramnik’s next challenger.

But what about the Prague accord? Kramnik’s reasoning is that what he signed up to in Prague had not happened, namely Kasparov had not played Ponomariov. Let us make sure we understand this properly. If Kasparov had qualified for a title match by playing and beating FIDE’s “World Champion” Ponomariov, then Kramnik would be willing to play Kasparov for the reunified title. But if Kasparov, the very same Kasparov, the one who would have qualified if he had played and beaten Ponomariov, not some other Kasparov, if this same Kasparov qualifies by playing and beating FIDE’s “World Champion” Kasimdzhanov, then Kramnik is not willing to play him. Have we really understood Kramnik correctly, or are we missing something?

Rustam Kasimdzhanov, who won the FIDE world championship on July 13, 2004

Let us assume that we have indeed understood Kramnik’s words correctly, and that that is what he means. Consider for a moment the implications. Firstly, what of Kasimdzhanov? In winning Tripoli he has qualified for what might well be the biggest single financial opportunity of his entire life. Even the loser’s purse in Dubai, if he is unfortunate enough to lose to Kasparov, will probably be more than he would otherwise expect to make in a half a lifetime at the chessboard. And if he wins in Dubai he earns not only the winner’s share of the $1.2 million purse, but at least the loser’s share of the prize money from his match with Kramnik. Does World Champion Kramnik really intend to deprive Kasimdzhanov of this great windfall, or is Kramnik planning to reimburse Kasimdzhanov from his own pocket? As a board member of the ACP Kramnik would do well to remember Article 2 of the ACP’s own “Terms of Service”, which states that: “The association's purpose is the protection of professional chess players' rights”, and that includes Kasimdzhanov’s rights.

And what of the sponsors and hosts in Dubai? It is difficult enough to find good sponsors for chess events, and in recruiting the ruling family of Dubai as sponsors Ilyumzhinov has found, for the Kasimdzhanov-Kasparov match, a great sponsor, one who will provide not only an excellent purse but also superb hotel and other conditions. Does Kramnik propose to kick this generosity in the teeth? Does he believe that such an action will endear the rulers of Dubai to Chess and to the sponsorship of future major Chess events? No, Kramnik is very intelligent and he could not possibly believe that, so the answer must surely be that he simply does not care.

Let us now turn to Kramnik’s proposal for a four-way tournament. What will be the format of the tournament? With four players to argue over this question, the number of possible arguments increases six-fold (there are six pairs of person-person interactions, rather than just one). If FIDE takes part in the discussions on the format then the multiplication gets even worse. And of course Kramnik must have his own say over the format, because if he doesn’t like it he might decide afterwards that the four-man tournament was inadequate as a qualifier and that yet another event needs to be created. Even worse, if one of Kramnik’s four players decides not to play, what happens then? Using the same “logic” that he applied to the case of the non-playing Ponomariov, Kramnik will, presumably, declare the four-player qualifier null and void. It is easy to see why Nostradamus predicted a never-ending series of preventative events that would stand in the way of a Kasparov-Kramnik rematch.

Vladimir Kramnik at the start of the Classical Chess World Championship in October

Next let us consider the effect of Kramnik’s new proposal on FIDE and on the ACP. Anything that is likely to make reunification more complicated and more lengthy will be anathema to FIDE, which badly wants to see the completion of the reunification process. As for the ACP, I have great deal of sympathy for Joel Lautier, its President, both for his own personal credibility and for the credibility of the organisation over which he presides. The meaning of Lautier’s statement at the Dannemann press conference is not open to any misinterpretation, and if the ACP and its President now permit one of its board members (Kramnik) to override everything, then what is the ACP worth? What sponsors will be willing to believe in the ACP and trust this organisation in the future? Kasparov said a very wise thing when he commented that it might have been better if he had not been such a powerful figure in the GMA and the PCA, both of which organisations died on the vine. In the same way it would perhaps be wise for the ACP to think about whether anyone who is the reigning World Champion, or a challenger, should be on its board. The ACP exists for the good of professional chess players and, ultimately, for the good of chess in general. Great aims, pity about the conflict of interests.

How to Calm the Seas

One of the great problems in resolving issues surrounding the World Championship is that there are so many different opinions. There is the FIDE opinion, the ACP opinion, the opinions of each of the players directly involved, the opinions of those Grandmasters who believe that they should be directly involved, the opinions of sponsors, both existing chess sponsors and potential sponsors, the opinions of chess journalists. And let us not forget the opinions of chess fans of every strength, for without the audience there is no point in having the gladiators.

But not every opinion can be heard. In fact most of them can not be heard and should not be heard. The decisions should, after all, and in accordance with the way that all sports are controlled, be taken by a governing body that can avail itself of outside opinions as it sees fit. The trouble is, there is no single governing body in the chess world that has sufficient authority. There is FIDE, there is the ACP, but they have not even started dancing together, let alone talked of living together or getting married.

So does this state of chaos mean that Kramnik has created yet another typhoon for the chess world? I believe not. I believe instead that Kramnik risks shooting himself in the foot with his recent statement. Consider the following scenario:

  1. Kasparov and Kasimdzhanov play their match in January. Without intending any insult to Kasimdzhanov, let us assume for the moment that Kasparov wins, thereby becoming FIDE’s World Champion.

  2. FIDE announces the dates, venue and prize fund for the reunification match. Each player is given 30 days in which to sign the match contract.

Kasparov would dearly love to play Kramnik again, so I shall presume here that Kasparov signs. Kramnik, on the other hand, has intimated that he does not agree any longer with the current plans for reunification and we must assume, therefore, that he will not sign. What then? In my opinion there is no real problem. If Kramnik does not sign, FIDE simply invites the highest rated player, namely Anand, who as it happens is the second ranked player in the world today, after Kasparov but above Kramnik. There is nothing heretical about the idea of an Anand-Kasparov World Championship match, and in fact such a match would give succour to the huge number of Anand fans who have been bemoaning the fact that their man has not been given a look-in since the Prague accord. You see, dear reader, something rather ironic has happened in the upper echelons of the chess world. The idea of a reunification process, to do away with the dissent and to bring Kasparov and the World Championship title back into the FIDE fold, these ideas are now becoming a reality, whereas Kramnik now appears to be in some danger of being left out in the cold. After the match in January, if Kramnik does not wish to play Kasparov, so be it. After all, who has done more for the game – Kasparov or Kramnik? Who has produced by far the most publicity for chess? Who has continually been the stronger player of the two? And if the chess world is compelled to survive without one of them in the World Championship cycle for the next 10 years, which of them should it be?

World's number two Vishy Anand

I would be amazed if Anand did not want a title match with Kasparov, played inside FIDE. But if, for some reason, Anand were to decide against playing, then ask Morozevich, who is only two points behind Kramnik in the list, and if he is not available then there is Topalov, only one point behind Morozevich, not to mention Leko, who might have gained enough points from the Kramnik match to push him up to “first reserve” position. So there you have it, the solution. The vast majority of players and enthusiasts in the chess world will accept the FIDE title as the only one that matters, because it is a title which Kasparov is restoring to credibility.

An interesting question arises as to what the ACP will do if Kramnik refuses to play the winner of the Dubai match. The ACP board will surely realise that sponsors will gravitate towards the FIDE title holder because Kasparov is still by far the biggest name in world chess. Yes he is now 41, but do not forget that his teacher and mentor, Mikhail Botvinnik, last won the World Championship title in 1961, the year in which he turned 50, and retained it until he was almost 52. Kasparov is fitter than Botvinnik was, so there could be another 10 years for him at the very top. And Kasparov is unique in the immense publicity that he brings to the game So if Kramnik says “nyet” the ACP will have a choice of following its strongest board member over the cliff into a sea devoid of serious sponsors, or joining with FIDE in bringing about a firm and stable basis for the future of the World Championship, an alliance of strength. If the ACP’s decisions are made on the basis of what is in the best interests of the majority of its members, it will surely try its utmost to work with FIDE while at the same time retaining its independence in case FIDE were to get out of hand, as indeed it has done in the past.

A Prosperous Voyage

In an ideal world FIDE and the ACP should collaborate to create a World Championship cycle that is fair and acceptable to any reasonably minded Grandmaster. There are many formats that could achieve these goals, here is one of them.

  1. The winner of Kasimdzhanov-Kasparov plays Kramnik or his replacement before the end of 2005, for the reunified title, thereby following the general plan agreed in Prague.

  2. A candidates cycle is inaugurated in 2006. Either 4 or 8 players in a series of knock-out matches.

  3. The first candidates event includes:

    [a] The loser of Kasimdzhanov-Kasparov.
    [b] Leko (as the loser of the other half of the reunification process).
    [c] The winner of a FIDE Championship tournament, possibly employing the same format as the recent FIDE “World Championship” tournaments.
    [d] The highest rated player who wishes to take part and who does not qualify through [a], [b] or [c] above. (This means Anand, if Kramnik plays the title match in 2005.

    If the Candidates’ event is only four players, you have them here. If there are 8 players then the other 4 can be selected in a variety of ways, possibly based on players average ratings in the previous few FIDE lists, or maybe one from each of 4 ACP Grand-Prix events (similar to a suggestion of Kramnik’s), or perhaps some combination of the two.
  4. Subsequent Candidates’ events can have their players selected in a similar way: the loser of the previous World Championship match, the second place in the previous Candidates’ tournament, and players selected on the basis of FIDE ratings, performances in the FIDE Open Championship and performances in ACP tournaments. Of course, this depends on there being a working relationship between FIDE and the ACP, but such a relationship can only be to everyone’s advantage. If instead the ACP walks away from the negotiating table to support Kramnik’s opposition to the current reunification plan, then it will surely go the way of the PCA and the GMA before it.

What Should Kramnik Do Now?

Everyone makes mistakes, some of which can be corrected.

I believe that Kramnik has made a huge PR mistake in what he said in his “Sport Express” interview. Firstly, he insulted Kasparov by questioning the world number one’s right to play the match against Kasimdzhanov:

“Why should Kasparov, who hasn’t won a single tournament this year, play in this match?”

Has Kramnik really forgotten that Kasparov is the world’s highest rated player and has been for the past 20 years? Should the World Champion not hold his tongue until the time comes when Kasparov has lost enough rating points to put him below Kramnik in the FIDE rating list? How can Kramnik talk like this?

And if he felt so strongly about Kasparov qualifying by playing an opponent other than Ponomariov, then why did he not say so before Tripoli. It would have taken but a couple of sentences by Kramnik, during the run-up to Tripoli, to declare that he had lost confidence in the system and that, if he was fortunate enough to hold on to his title in the match with Leko, he wanted a different system to be devised to choose his next challenger. Why wait until after Tripoli, when 128 of his Grandmaster colleagues had fought for the right to take part in the final stages of the current process? And why ride roughshod over the words of the ACP, as expressed by its President, extolling FIDE to make an announcement, not later than October, about the match for its own half of the reunification process? What can be the reason for all this? I’ll tell you. In my opinion Kramnik is chicken.

When we make a mistake at the chessboard we cannot take it back, we have to live with it. But this particular chess mistake can be corrected, if Kramnik wants to. He does not have to decide now, he can wait until after the Kasimdzhanov-Kasparov match in January and then confirm his acceptance of the current reunification plan. But when that match is over, and if Kasparov wins, if Kramnik does not demonstrate a change of heart the ACP should say to its board member: “Come out and fight, chicken.” Let us hope that, if necessary, the ACP will have the courage to do so. Kramnik himself may not relish another match with Kasparov, but that is what a huge majority of chess fans all over the world want to see.

David Levy

...is an International Master, an International Arbiter and a former Scottish Chess Champion, who retired from active play in 1978. He served in FIDE for 17 years as the Scottish delegate, and for eight years on both the Central Committee and the Rules Commission. While in FIDE he actively opposed Campomanes and his dictatorial methods, but he withdrew from his FIDE activities in 1993 in order to assist in the organisation of the Kasparov-Short match for the World Championship.

David achieved international fame In 1968 when he started a bet with four AI professors that he would not lose a chess match against a computer program within ten years. He survived for 21 years before being vanquished by “Deep Thought”, a forerunner of “Deep Blue”. David was one of the founders of the International Computer Chess Association (now the International Computer Games Association) and has served as its President from 1986-1992 and from 1999 to the present day. For many years David was a prolific writer of books on chess and computer games. He is currently completing his next book (his 50th) which is on Artificial Intelligence, for publication next year. He lives in London with his wife and four cats.

David Levy was the ICGA representative of the spectacular Garry Kasparov vs X3D-Fritz
staged by Armand Rousso in November 2003 in New York.


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