Magnus Carlsen proposes changes in WCh

by Albert Silver
8/12/2015 – Just over a week before the start of the Sinquefield Cup, Magnus Carlsen dropped a small bomb on his Facebook page when he commented, "I felt it important to share with you something I have been thinking about a great deal: the World Championship cycle format." He then follows by advocating a knock-out system as used in the past. What do you think?

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At the top of his Facebook page, the World Champion vented his opinion on the inequity of the World Championship format, and proceeded to describe a format that brings back memories of FIDE's highly controversial KO championships in the past.

"In short, I strongly believe the chess world should evolve to a more just system. What does that look like? I have long thought that moving to an annual knock-out event, similar to the World Cup, would be more equitable. This change would in effect improve the odds of becoming World Champion for nearly every chess player, with the exception of the reigning World Champion, and potentially a few other top players who would no longer be favoured by the current format. Creating regional qualifying events combined with rating spots, the participation of all the top players in the world and the undisputed World Championship title at stake, I truly believe this would make the World Championship cycle more accessible to everyone.

In conclusion, I strongly recommend FIDE look into modernizing the World Championship cycle format."

Magnus Carlsen voiced his desire for change in the World Championship format, and invites
opinions on his idea. See the full post at his Facebook page.

It is certainly true that Carlsen has voiced his dissatisfaction on the system in the past, and even withdrew from the 2008-2010 cycle as a result. What is remarkable is that he advocates a system already used in the past with a rather spotty track record. The problem of course is that in a series of mini-matches as seen in then, just one loss is enough to send the player packing as there is no room for the long term or recovery.

Former top GM Michal Krasenkow says as much, pointing out that it was much more subject to a lottery than other sports that use this system, such as the World Championship of Snooker, where even the very first match is a best of 19 games (and the final is a best of 35). He thinks the current system works well, and draws plenty of attention and all he would change would be to increase the match length to 16 games instead of the current 12.

His voice is not universally agreed upon even by grandmasters, and GM Mikhail Golubev sides with Magnus, "My full support to Magnus Carlsen's proposal. The classical match is currently the least attractive form of the chess competitions."

In hours there were already hundreds of replies,
and hundreds more sharing his post with others

Trainer and grandmaster Jacob Aagard wonders why Magnus does not participate in the World Cup if he favors the format so much. "The FIDE president still has a wild card for Baku. Rather than reducing the prestige of the traditional system, you can personally upgrade the prestige of the World Cup by participating."

FIDE on Carlsen's World Championship proposal: We always listen to the World Champion

One thing is certain, this is bound to bring up enormous discussions on the merits or not of his proposals as well as alternate ideas. What do you think? Post it in the feedback below.



Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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XChess1971 XChess1971 8/23/2015 05:56
Seriously? Knock out matches sounds like lottery. Maybe a coin should be tossed instead. Wanna make it more critical? Probably one qualifying tournament based on ELO should be enough. Then 6 game matches with tie breaks as you pleased. How is that sound?
pocketknife pocketknife 8/17/2015 03:04
I didn't like the FIDE system. For me Ponomarjov, Khalifman, Karjakin, Topalov are not world champions. So I am against this quick format. The former 3 year cycles were good. But at the end the last four player and the champion should play a double roubin for the crown.
AzYz AzYz 8/15/2015 12:55
At one point, we just have to say it: please, dinosaures to the museums. We are living in a world that is not like the past anymore and will never be like it was. Mind it. And what all the old way of thinking chess did to the game of chess ? Don't you forget: We are just nowhere, but ourselves loving this game. Nowhere, after centuries. A great game of mind as chezz but nobody actually cares, but us, chess players wanting the old stuff just to stay old like it was. Like it was brought us nowehere. yes or no ? This is the legacy we have from the past: we are here speaking about how it is supposed to be for a fuckin world champioship in our sport ! Really ? A great legacy we have ? Come on. I am not sure. So... Or we stick to history and think it's ok (and we know we will still be at this point in 100 years) or we start to change not looking back to what was done ? What was done brought us nowhere. We need to make this sport FUN, interesting, we need to make it happen. We won't if we say ''historucally, it's supposed to be like that''. It will suppose to be the way we say and we decide. Change is definitively needed, and yeah if we lose some ''old dino'' on the way, we will win some new chess fans. CHANGE. Past has done nothing for the game. Sorry.
Danaus Danaus 8/14/2015 11:20
In a sense it honours Carlsen that he asks for changes that are clearly unfavourable to him. And as the World Champion one should of course carefully listen to his opinion. That being said, I do not think that the suggestion is a very good one for two reasons. Firstly, there is a great mismatch between the traditional status of a WC in the chess world and the outcome of the KO tournaments. Several of the past winners of this format (Ponomariov, Kasimdhzanov) are outstanding players but clearly not of the same calibre of the likes of Karpov, Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand or Carlsen. The list of WCs reads like a small hall of fame reserved for players of such exceptional talent that they are able to change the game as a whole. This is a big difference to other sports such as football where the prestige acquired much more short-lived (and that despite the longer cycles!). I thus disagree with Carlsen as his proposal would not simply make the system "juster", but decrease the overall value of being the WC. Secondly, the current format is quite attractive in offering plenty of incentives for top players to show their best chess in several events. The mix of the World Cup and the Grand Prix events together with the Candidates Tournament and the WCC match creates four (!) events in which there is not only top level chess but also a great amount of suspense! Replacing this set of events with one single big event (in which the luck factor also plays more role) would therefore not be good for the fans. Yes, the system is complex and sometimes hard to understand, but in the end we see literally hundreds of world class encounters between the best of the best, including different tournament formats and situations to which the players have to adapt. I love it!
I guess one way of taking Carlsen's opinion into consideration would be to grant more places to those performing well in the KO tournament (like 4 spots instead of 2 at the Candidates) or to increase the overall number of players at the Candidates (making it perhaps single rather than double round robin). But overall the system should remain in place!
GregTelepniovsky GregTelepniovsky 8/13/2015 08:36
The k/o system is simply absurd, no need to repeat some of the excellent comments here as to why. Sad to see that Magnus is in some sense such a superficial thinker. I am surprised
Toff Toff 8/13/2015 07:46
Another April Fool's outdated...
The_Jeh The_Jeh 8/13/2015 04:49
The only thing I don't like about the Candidates tournament is that the fixed pairing schedule means that in any round, especially the last round, one tournament leader may be playing someone doing well and trying to do well, and another tournament leader may at the same time have to play someone doing poorly who has all but given up. It would be nicer if both players have roughly the same strength of schedule going forward. Perhaps an 8-player double round robin could instead be played as a 14-round Swiss.
shivasundar shivasundar 8/13/2015 03:48
I see this as a ploy by Magnus to get easier opponents to face in the final so he can be champion forever.
NJD NJD 8/13/2015 01:53
The current format is a lot of work. It might have worked OK up to about 40 years ago when just about all the top players were in Europe and the obvious WC was one of a handful. But now the pool is a lot more global, dozens of top players are potential WC's and too many of the drawn out matches are just draw-fests decided by a single blunder or two. Perhaps it is time to change the whole approach, de-emphasise the title and just have a large "super tournament" followed by smaller playoff tournament (8-10 players) every couple of years. Maybe the WC could get a bye into the final event, maybe not and just get it over with...
VincentM VincentM 8/13/2015 10:47
As often the answer is easy if you ask the correct question:
Do you want to maximize the chance to crown the best player? then use Candidates tournament and then match(es)
Do you want to maximize the chance to crown a surprise WC? Then use the KO format...

And comparing this to other sports is not very useful: Of the football WC winners since '50 (by KO system), we can make a pretty good case that they were indeed the best team each time. Same for the EC (except maybe Greece, the only real surprise). In chess no KO winner would have been mentionned as the best player at that time (except Anand)...
vandahl vandahl 8/13/2015 09:33
A satiesfiable knockout-format is just not feasible. But it is possible to do it the same way as with rapid and blitz: 32 players, 31 games each. The tournament would take 5 or 6 weeks, but every two years would probably be sufficient.
Example123 Example123 8/13/2015 07:42
With FIDE ratings there's no need for a world champ-the player with the highest rating is the best in the world, just like in tennis.
whatamess whatamess 8/13/2015 05:57
By the way, I also agree with werewolf's statement .
whatamess whatamess 8/13/2015 05:55
Absolutely no way would I be in favor of a knockout format of any kind ! I truly believe in the candidates matches of 6 games. If the match is drawn after 6 games then 3 games of rapid at 25 minutes with 10 second increment should be the tie breaker.

It's my opinion, that Mr. Carlsen wants a knockout system so the other players can battle it out while he trains and keeps himself fresh. As a world champion, you should not necessarily play more, but leave the format as is and take on the next challenger. After all Mr. Carlsen nothing to fear ,but fear itself :)
mvh mvh 8/13/2015 04:30
Yes, of course, implement a crap shoot to determine a worthy challenger to the throne. With any luck Magnus will likely face a world top 40 player, rather than a top 5 player. But who knows, he might have his hands full with a top 40 player given his recent Norway performance.
YeOldeWildman YeOldeWildman 8/13/2015 04:26
Well, if you want to truly democratize the process you need to at least start with Swiss open tournaments at the first stage that EVERYONE from novice to the reigning WCC must enter. Ideally, it would be one LARGE Swiss run online and hosted by one of the big chess servers (Chessbase? chess.com? Or ???) If you wanted to gather public interest and attention (and money!) what could be more cool than a world championship cycle open to everyone? What other sport does that? What other sport realistically could?

It would need to be slow, maybe one game a week at one of several fixed times to accommodate peoples' schedules, with pairings decided based on both score and the players being in the same or a close time zone, at least early on. I can think of a number of ways to fairly pick which time slot, although not everyone will be happy.

Once the Swiss is done, you declare a World Open Tournament Champion. Then you take the top 8 or 16 finishers as finalists for the classical WCC matches with pairings according to seeding. How may games and what format per match? That's up for debate, but along with the number finalists that's a balance between the integrity of the WCC title and the economics of hosting the match play OTB.

Obviously, technical issues like preventing cheating would have to be worked out - and some people will be victimized unfairly. But the cheaters will get weeded out in the end (they always do) and the top 8 or 16 will look like a who's who of the top 10 or top 20 with the occasional dark horse to make it interesting.
Roberto Ardenzi Roberto Ardenzi 8/13/2015 03:55
Ridicolous: Magnus Khalifman, Magnus Ponomariov, Magnus Kasimdzhanov... again?! No, thanks.
Peter B Peter B 8/13/2015 03:32
The problem is you need a best-of-8 (maybe a best-of-6) to be reasonably sure the best player wins. A knockout with less players would be ideal, e.g. 8 or 16 players (including the champion) with best-of-8 matches. That eliminates champion's privileges, and the best player should still win.
Blackacre Blackacre 8/13/2015 02:38
No, thank you. No more "world champions" like Khalifman, Ponomariov, and Kasimdzhanov, who were all strong GMs when they won the title, but nowhere close to being the best in the world. If FIDE were still using the knockout system for the men, Carlsen might never have become World Champion. I can't imagine why he wants to go back to the bad old days.
Blackacre Blackacre 8/13/2015 02:34
No, no, no. The knockout system has produced a whole series of "world champions," on both the men's and women's sides, who weren't even close to being the best player in the world. It's a terrible system, and if FIDE were still using it, Carlsen might not have become World Champion. I can't fathom why he's advocating this.
daftarche daftarche 8/13/2015 12:50
i just want to see the champion in candidates and instead of one candidate tournament i prefer to see two but i don't like knock-out systems because they are not fun in chess.
cyronix cyronix 8/12/2015 10:30
A match is where its at!!!
No need on my side for more Khalifmans, Ponomariovs or Kasimshanovs as "Chess Worldchampions"
And always keep it fair and keep a regular schedule, what Kasparov did to Shirov who won the challenger match against Kramnik, should never happen again, also Kramnik who happily agreed to this and after winning the match hided behind his title for years without defending it ... imho. both Kasparov and Kramnik should be erased from Chess history for the title matches in the 2000s, just like the Tour de France winners who commited doping ...
upendra rengasam upendra rengasam 8/12/2015 10:01
it makes real sense but not so long ago there was a controversy when world number 1 and 2 did not play each other will it survive chess politics...
upendra rengasam upendra rengasam 8/12/2015 10:00
it makes real sense but not so long ago there was a controversy when world number 1 and 2 did not play each other will it survive chess politics...
Maturner Maturner 8/12/2015 08:27
I like the old way with WC match every 3 years. I support Carlsen's ideas on reforming the current system.
genem genem 8/12/2015 08:19
The only major difference between the crummy 'knock-out' system versus the 1970's 'candidates matches' system is the quantity of games required for each match or mini-match. With the Soviet Union long gone, the reasonable financial demands by today's players create pressure to keep candidates matches short-ish, maybe 6 games; which is better than Kirsan's knock-out mini-matches.
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But yes, do not determine the challenger the next challenger as the winner of a single tournament, as has been done recently.
Have two grand tournaments (no player can play in both), have on 8 game match between the two tournament winners to select the challenger. These two tournaments would be cheaper than the many Interzonals of decades ago.
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The title called - 'World Chess Champion' - founded by Steinitz and Zuckertort implicitly meant - 'Match World Chess Champion'. All subsequent attempts to warp the implicit to be instead an inferior - 'Tournament World Chess Champion' - are something different, and of faaar less prestige.
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VGerber VGerber 8/12/2015 08:10
It's amusing. The world champion seems to think beyond the 64 squares of the chess board, that's rare. Carlsen becomes more and more one of the most expressionless champions the chess world has ever seen. He is a streamlined young man interested in fashion, football, cars and money, far from the moral courage of personalities like Garry Kasparov or Bobby Fisher, not only famous for their chess skills but also for their never ending struggle against the stupidity within in the world chess federation. It's a pity that he now even works against the efforts of the women's world champion Yifan Hou who tries hard to abolish the knockout system that is still partly in use for the women's world championships.

What is the future of chess? What does it mean to be a world champion? FIDE used knockouts for its men’s title in 1997-2004, but the system was widely derided for its erratic results. Many lists of historic world champions now exclude the KO winners in favour of Garry Kasparov and Vlad Kramnik who played traditional matches lasting several weeks. The men’s knockout is now downgraded to a World Cup which only qualifies its winner as one of eight title candidates. If chess wants to be a serious sport discipline, there should be a championship with the strongest players competing, thus getting the reward for their extremely hard work over the years. The alternative are fairground events with a lot of nobodies who are waiting for a weak moment of the top players, that means championships that remain at the mercy of a single off day. The women's knockout championships show that the public is not interested in events with nameless players, they want to see the best players fighting for the title.
Rafik Kafel Rafik Kafel 8/12/2015 06:56
Why Magnus "Magum" Carlsen is not happy with the current classical championship format? The current FIDE Rating list shows Carlsen as #1 and Anand as #2; therefore, they are currently the best two players in the world, and if the candidates does not determine the challenger (very likely Anand or one of the top 5 on the rating list -- Caruana, or one of the other qualifiers -- then I propose to Mr. MC a format where the top 10 players on the rating list play each other a series of round robin matches sponsored to be played in major venues (more money for FIDE) and the finalist of those matches qualifies to play a 16 games match against the reigning world champion! Another fair system which allows weaker players to become Champion, is to have the continental champions play a round robin tournament to determine WC every 2 years! That would probably give chance to champion of Africa or Asia to beat "The Magnum" and miraculously become underdog FIDE World Champion!
fons fons 8/12/2015 06:52
Making the world championship an annual event makes it worthless.
And to make sure it's worthless let's make it a knock-out.

Maybe he wants to be the last classical world champion.
Can he really be that egocentric?

Or maybe he's afraid of losing his title in a real match.
I guess that's good news for his competitors.
Truthbe Truthbe 8/12/2015 06:04
Not a new idea. And Slightly ill conceived. It favors Carlsen, as the strongest WC match opponent could be eliminated in the knockout tournaments. I would like to see Calsen play in the candidates with the format he is suggesting.
LAMIB LAMIB 8/12/2015 05:51
Why do we need a new format for the World Championship Matches? Those who advocate the Knockout system say that there are too many draws in the old format and chess fans are losing interest in the game. So what happened to all those so called “World Champions” who became Champions in the FIDE Knockout Championships? I remember Khalifman, Kasimdzhanov, Ponomariov etc. With all due respects for them, I do not think any Chess fan is willing to accept these players as successors to Steinitz, Lasker, Capablanca etc. I would rather consider them as some tournament winners than World Champions. In fact, if it wasn’t for Anand who reached the final of the first FIDE Knockout Tournament, this system would have died a premature death. Anyway, FIDE realized their mistake and they returned to the old and trusted match format to decide the World Champion.
One thing we need to realize is that Chess is very unlike any other game that is played at the international level. A win or lose in a Chess game depends not as much on the accuracy of a player but the errors of his opponent. A perfect Chess game will only result in a draw. As the technique of the modern chess player reaches higher levels, the chances of a Chess game ending in a draw increases. In that way resorting to Knockout format is a shortcut to decide a winner of a game but very inaccurate one to find out the best player. I am very happy to see that we do not find many people here preferring the KO system. This means that true Chess fans love the match format where we get to see deep preparation at different levels targeting weaknesses in opponent’s opening & middle game, psychology and even physical fitness. That is how Chess developed into the modern “art, science and sport all rolled into one game” from the old tactical game. We can not allow anybody to adopt artificial methods simply because he thinks that it will “improve” Chess. We already have shorter formats of Chess like rapid and blitz. Let them experiment with those. Leave the Classical Chess as it is. That is why it is called “Classical”.
tom_70 tom_70 8/12/2015 05:28
The whole point of the World Championship match is to get the two best players on the planet to play against each other. Anything that introduces a greater element of luck into that goal, is an inferior system.
I disagree with Magnus on this issue.
ChesssehC ChesssehC 8/12/2015 04:26
We need a new format that will solve all the problems with the WCC to most chessplayers and the public's satisfaction! The problems are: Too little interest in another Carlsen - Anand match; too many draws; too much randomness in a traditional knock-out; too little chance for lower rated players to participate; strange to change the format from long time control to blitz in the mini-matches, etc etc.
Here is my proposal: Use the Armageddon rules, that abolishes draws, but with ordinary time control. This reduces the draws to a minimum. Design tournament rules so that everybody that wants to can play in the WC tournament, but make the first round local; then, after some rounds, the players with the least number of points are cut off. Carry on like that, each round a player is changing to a new opponent, cutting off the players with lowest points after every 3 rounds. Finally there are only 2 players left, that play 11 rounds, (maybe playing in a new location) and this will decide the champion, because all games are decisive (first to 6 wins). For the time control in the armageddon, let black decide black's time and let white be able to swap with black, use 200 minutes for white. The armageddon rule: black wins if the game is drawn, the other rules comply with standard chess (not rapid or blitz chess).
elton babamusta elton babamusta 8/12/2015 04:22
IS there any previous world champion that has not any objection against their respective World Championship Match? I remember,Kasparov,Fischer etc having always something to oppose to the system
mdamien mdamien 8/12/2015 03:57
I have great respect for Carlsen, and he shows class in his proposal to forfeit his own advantage as the sitting world champion. With that said, though, I have a much greater respect for chess history and the tradition of dethroning a sitting world champion through match play. There is no need to "improve the odds of becoming World Champion," as that would only cheapen the title. I believe that Carlsen betrayed an underlying misconception that has probably has fueled his proposal, in saying during the 2008-2010 cycle that the new format is something that "no World Champion has had to go through since Kasparov," as though Khalifman, Ponomariov, Kasimdzhanov, Topalov were World Champions. They were not World Champions. It could be argued that Topalov held the title briefly based on Kramnik's concessions for the tournament in Mexico, but those concessions served only to set up a title match which Topalov, as the challenger, lost.
mcarpinetti mcarpinetti 8/12/2015 03:23
The World Championship title should be an unique position, one that turns a "ordinary" player into a King to the eyes of the common people. Every attempt to make it "more accessible", to improve the odds of every player to get there, only diminishes its value.

In my view, the current system of stagging a World Championship every year has been downgrading it from a position of "the event" to "another tournment on the calendar". To bring the knock-out system back will make the throne look like an unimportant lottery prize.

The difference between Magnus Carlsen and, for exemple, Kasparov, Karpov, Fischer or Lasker is the difference between "the best player in the world" and "a legend". People want to become a King because the want to became a legend. Today's system is already bad to construct that perception. Carlsen's proposition makes it even worse.
LetoAtreides82 LetoAtreides82 8/12/2015 02:36
I disagree with Carlsen here, and agree with the grandmaster that proposed making the length of the championship match 16 games instead of 12 games.

I wonder if Carlsen is not liking the stress and the workload of the championship matches and perhaps he'd prefer to just get it all done and over with in a single day of play.

I see many reasons why his idea would be bad for chess. One that I haven't seen mentioned is the fact that humans sometimes have bad days. If player X is not feeling well on championship day he/she is disadvantaged and will probably not win despite being the strongest player. Whereas in a 12 game match or better yet a 16 game match player X can lose a few games due to not feeling well and still have a good chance of winning the match if he/she is truly the stronger player.
Rational Rational 8/12/2015 02:24
I think the World Championship Match should be sacrosanct. The World title match is clearly where the seriousmoney and any media interest is? I think most chess fans can remember all the World Title Matches but only the most compelling tournaments . Maybe a 2 yearly match though to give more people a crack at the title .
KevinC KevinC 8/12/2015 02:16
NO, NO, NO!

With a knockout format, it adds too much luck to the format. I don't want to see more "World Champions" like Khalifman and Pono. They were not even close to the best players on the planet, and it waters down the title.

Of course, many of the weaker GMs are happy to see this proposal: They may win the lottery.
hpaul hpaul 8/12/2015 01:28
This idea is as bad now as when Magnus first suggested it a couple of years ago. It was panned by most players back then, and deserves the same fate now. Magnus ignores the tradition of chess as a mano a mano martial arts battle. Just as in most martial arts (e.g., boxing), you become world champion in one way: by facing and dethroning the existing champion. By Magnus' suggestion, we would lose our tradition of a linear continuity of the championship and the experience of having the old champion defend his title against the challenger. Instead the final for the championship of the world could be played between two lesser players. We've been down this road before; it's what happened when Kirsan Ilyumzhinov tried this quick knock-out system in the 1990s, and it was never accepted by the majority of chess players. Leave that idea alone; the biennial qualifying tourneys and matches we now have are a good continuation of our chess tradition.