Pono's plan – a new proposal for unity

5/20/2004 – A week ago Garry Kasparov made some interesting remarks on how he would go about unifying the world championship title. Some days later Yasser Seirawan chipped in with his own ideas on the format. Now another key player has submitted his views on the subject or unification. Here is FIDE champion Ruslan Ponomariov' proposal.

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Garry Kasparov

The situation is as follows: according to the Prague Agreement, signed by FIDE, Kasparov, Kramnik and Seirawan, Garry Kasparov would get to play against the FIDE knock-out world champion, Ruslan Ponomariov. The winner of that match would play against the winner of the classical chess world championship between Vladimir Kramnik and Peter Leko for the unified title of world champion.

Unfortunately the Kasparov-Ponomariov match did not occur (all links for the historical details are given at the end of this report). Kasparov retained the right to play against the winner of the FIDE world championship in Tripoli, with the winner of that match proceeding to play against the classical chess world champion for the unified title.

Yasser Seirawan

On May 11th Garry Kasparov discussed the current unsatisfactory situation and indicated that he would be willing to relinquish his right to a million-dollar match against the winner of Tripoli and play in an eight-player tournament for the unified title. A few days later Yasser Seirawan replied with a two-stage reunification process.

Today Ruslan Ponomariov sent us his own proposals, which suggest a one-stage six-player reunification process. Essentially Ruslan wants to see a match-tournament, like the one conducted in 1948 to determine Alekhine's successor. The players involved would be Kasparov, Anand, Ponomariov, Kramnik, Leko and the winner of the Tripoli championship.

According to Ponomariov's plan the reunification process would be completed by January 2005, after which a two-year world championship cycle would be instituted, with the double knockout formula proposed by Alexander Khalifman applying.

FIDE world champion Ruslan Ponomariov

Open Letter to Yasser Seirawan

Dear Yasser,

I read attentively your comments as to the current situation in the chess world at the ChessBase.com web site. I am glad to note that you believe it is necessary to review the Prague agreement although you have yourself advocated the unification idea and took a lot of efforts to implement it. Now you are not only criticizing the situation, you put forward constructive plans to overcome the crisis.

Allow me to express my view of the issue. An idea is hanging in the air, and it has been suggested by many people: to conduct a match-tournament. History has seen a successful world championship conducted in that way in 1948, when the chess world was left without a champion. I support the idea, too. I think the participants of the tournament can be Viswanathan Anand as the quick chess world champion, #2 in the world ratings charts, and the chess Oscar winner for 2003; Garry Kasparov as #1 in the ratings charts; Ruslan Ponomariov as the FIDE world champion; and the winner of the tournament in Libya, provided that the issue is settled between its participants and FIDE. I believe Vladimir Kramnik and Peter Leko should also be in it. They are soon to play a match for the world championship in classical chess, and although one of them will win and the other will lose, I believe both should be included. Kramnik is meeting his moral obligation by defending his title four years later. They are now busy preparing for the exciting duel, and the loser will have no time, after the match, to go through the preliminary rounds for the match-tournament.

I consider this approach logical and acceptable for FIDE. The match-tournament can be carried out in late 2004 – early 2005, and I am sure that afterwards no doubts will remain whatsoever as to who the best chess player is in today’s world.

I read with interest your new suggestion as to how the current division can be overcome. By all means, it deserves attention. I think however that your approach has a significant drawback as the unification process will have to undergo several stages: first the match-tournament, then its winner will play against the winner of Kramnik-Leko match, and it will not be over before 2006. With such a long period, all kinds of unexpected situations can happen, as history shows us, and the unification may never take place. Besides, the other chess masters who do not participate in the unification process will have to play the role of mere observers for two years, or maybe more, and wait for a long time till a new cycle of the world chess championship starts.

It is not accidental that I mention the new cycle here. I would like to bring this matter up as it is hardly ever discussed now. What is going to happen after the unification? Will we have more discussions and conflicts? Many problems could be avoided if we had clear rules for regular world championships. I have no idea now as to how the title of the world champion will be disputed after the unification, what formula, time limits, and intervals it will have.

What if the unification, in its presently suggested form, will not come true for any reason? Who can answer then the inevitable questions, namely, how to compete for the FIDE world champion title, or play against the Classical Chess World Champion?

Therefore it is necessary to discuss the rules of the world championship now, irrespective of the unification process. Otherwise it cannot be excluded, and it is quite possible that the new world champion may not agree to the new formula of the world championship, leave FIDE and start a new organization. As a result, we will be facing the same problems!

It is evident that there is no ideal model for the world championships. Many systems have been tried throughout the chess history, but I find the most reasonable idea at this point the one that has been put forward by Alexander Khalifman, the double knockout formula. Why? It is rather doubtful that even one tournament can be presently conducted on schedule, let alone grandiose plans to have a large number of preliminary competitions. One tournament, however, is quite a realistic option in my view, because if it is not, then what are we discussing at all?

The biggest shortcoming of the knockout tournament is that when one plays two games one can make a fatal mistake and have no chance to correct it. The double knockout format allows one to continue playing even if one loses.

As to the time interval for the world championships, I believe that conducting them once every two years can be the best model for the players as well as for potential sponsors.


  1. Such a tournament can be fair and comply with all the sports principles as everyone would play against everyone, with equal conditions, so logically the one who gets the best aggregate result could be declared the absolute world champion.

  2. The tournament can be carried out in December 2004 – January 2005, which can allow the unification of the chess world in the shortest possible terms, removing any doubts as to who the best today’s chess player of the world is. According to the model advocated now by FIDE, the unification will only be possible in two or three years.

  3. In terms of organization, it is easier to have a match-tournament as this is but one event instead of a complicated system of preliminary rounds. According to the FIDE plan, the winner of the knockout event in Libya is to play Kasparov within a year, the place and the exact conditions remaining unclear. Subsequently, a match for the Absolute World Champion title will have to be organized with the winner of the Kramnik-Leko match. Therefore two matches will have to be arranged.

  4. Such an event as the match tournament is unique, so it would be interesting for the world chess community and more attractive for the sponsors.

  5. The match-tournament would take place in December 2004-January 2005, and it will thus not be in the way for the knockout tournament in Libya in June 2004, and the Kramnik-Leko match in October 2004. Hence the agreements will be honored, as well as the contracts signed between FIDE and Libya, Kramnik and Leko, and Dannemann tobacco company.

  6. Chess history has already seen a match-tournament for the title of the Absolute World Champion in 1948. The chess world was left then without a champion after Alekhine died. FIDE suggested then to settle the issue through a match between Euwe and Reshevsky, but the Soviet Chess Federation protested against that decision and a match-tournament was conducted with participation of Euwe, Reshevsky, Smyslov, Botvinnik, and Keres.

  7. The tournament would settle the conflict between FIDE and the world players, and that would enhance the prestige of world chess and the authority of FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.

I would be happy to hear any comments on the issues I have mentioned, and I call upon my colleagues to be proactive participants of our “beautiful and furious” chess world and not just passive observers of experiments on themselves.

Respectfully yours,
Ruslan Ponomariov


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