Radjabov: I won't be tilting at FIDE windmills

1/13/2011 – The Candidates Matches have been sailing through rough seas. The venue had to be changed, the top favorite withdrew, and there were numerous protests. But now, with all contracts signed. things are set to go ahead. Especially after Teimour Radjabov has shelved his concerns and is determined to play. Both he and Garry Kasparov have been talking about the withdrawal of Magnus Carlsen.

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Time line

We jog your memory: back in June 2007 FIDE introduced a new Grand Prix series and a new world championship cycle. After the withdrawal of Magnus Carlsen and Michael Adams from the Grand Prix FIDE decided on a new Candidates format, split the event in two venues (Azerbaidjan and Armenia). After a protest and boycott threat by Veselin Topalov, it was moved to Kazan, Russia and scheduled for May 3 to 27, 2011. On November 5th 2010 the world's highest ranked player, Magnus Carlsen, withdrew from the tournament, and was replaced by Alexander Grischuk from Russia. This brought on a protest by Azeri GM Teimour Radjabov, who pointed to FIDE’s own regulations which stated that if a player withdrew after a certain set date, then his opponent would advance directly to the next round. You can browse through the details of all these developments in our link list below.

In the meantime all eight players of the 2011 Candidates have signed their contracts and the last protester has relented. In an interview with the Azeri news portal Extra Time says he has decided not to tilt any longer at the FIDE windmills but go ahead with the Candidates matches; at the same time he backed Carlsen's decision to withdraw. We take the highlights of this interview from Colin McGourty's very useful site Chess in Translation.

Radjabov: “I didn’t take on the role of a chess Don Quixote, tilting at windmills.”

Regarding the Candidates Matches, you said that you intended to take some sort of action in connection to Alexander Grischuk replacing Magnus Carlsen. Are you still intending to do that or will you prepare for your new opponent, Vladimir Kramnik?

I have nothing but respect for Grandmasters Magnus Carlsen and Alexander Grischuk. I’ve known them for many years and we have a good relationship, which I hope will be maintained in future. The approach of certain FIDE officials to this professional question struck me as a little amateurish. However, the silence and agreement of all the championship cycle participants to the endless changes in the regulations for the Candidates Matches prompted to me to stick to the principle that “one’s as good as none” [lit. “alone on a battlefield you’re not a soldier”]. Therefore I didn’t take on the role of a chess Don Quixote, tilting at windmills.

What’s your opinion on the decision of Magnus Carlsen, your former opponent, to leave the World Championship Cycle proposed by FIDE?

I think that Magnus Carlsen was absolutely right to act as he did. He’s number one on the world rankings, he’s won a large number of super-tournaments (often with a big gap over second place), so he has the image of the strongest chess player in the world. The FIDE regulations mean that he’d have to expose his image to great risk, playing only four-game matches against strong opponents, paired off not according to the actual strength of the players at the current moment in time. In such four-game matches the element of chance is dramatically increased. I think it would be fairer to hold a double round-robin Candidates Tournament, in which the randomness of the result would be reduced to a minimum. I think Carlsen would play in such a Candidates Tournament.

If we take it that your opponent in the Candidates Matches will be Vladimir Kramnik, something which everything points to, despite it not yet having been officially declared, how would you characterise the current Kramnik? In particular, he’s begun to take more risks lately. In your view is that a real attempt to change his tactics, or a smokescreen on the eve of the Candidates Matches?

Well, it’s already 99% clear that my opponent will be the Russian Grandmaster Vladimir Kramnik. I prepared for Magnus Carlsen, and now I’ll have to prepare for Kramnik. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more changes and they gave me another opponent. I’m not planning on any special study of the style of my opponent or on determining his strong and weak points. As the eleventh world champion, Robert Fischer, said: “I don’t believe in psychology. I believe in good moves”. I’m of the same opinion.

You’ve been considered one of strongest grandmasters in the world for many years now. You’ve won a large number of medals and titles. You’ve been the 4th and 5th best chess player in the world and been in the top 10. Are you capable of topping the world chess ratings?

Of course that’s my goal, but in recent years it hasn’t been so easy to dramatically increase my rating. The thing is that when I’ve played for Azerbaijan and for club teams I’ve had the black pieces in a majority of those games, in the interests of the team. Playing as Black against strong grandmasters means more intense preparation and a reduction in the chance of winning. My opening repertoire with Black isn’t based on calm equalising systems, but on complicated and risky forced variations aimed at seizing the initiative. All of that demands great expenditure of energy. Look at how many games I’ve played with Black in team events in the last three years, and how many I’ve played with White. The ratio’s about 3 to 1. I think a considerable number of top grandmasters would have suffered heavy rating losses if they’d played so many games with black.

Besides, I don’t consider ratings an absolute indicator of strength. In my opinion chess ratings are less important than the World Championship title, the number of super-tournaments won, the number of wins against super-grandmasters, and so on. Another indicator of a player’s strength, of course, is consistently being in the top 10, the top 5 or the top 3 in the world rankings. At the moment, however, we’re witnessing a high degree of rotation in the world top 10. A sportsman briefly makes the top 10, but then only a month later he’s down to the top 30 and someone else takes his place. So the correlation between the true strength of a player and his live rating is now quite blurred. That’s how I understand ratings. Many average chess fans, and tournament organisers, are in thrall to the magic of ratings.


Kasparov says that Magnus Carlsen's decision not to participate in the current World Championship cycle is the wrong decision. "At his age and with his development he should fight – on the board." When asked whether he understood the motives of his former charge Kasparov said:

"He is right to criticize the system as unfair. FIDE has created chaos in the whole cycle. I myself do not like the way the Candidates matches are going to be played, without a pause between the quarter-finals, the semi-finals and the finals. Magnus would still be the favourite, but there will be greater physical and psychological aspects that play a role, a certain element of luck. But I think his criticism of the system is an excuse. He seems to feel uncomfortable taking us such a serious challenge."


Garry Kasparov (right), with his former student Magnus Carlsen

So what did Kasparov think when he first heard that Magnus was withdrawing?

"I wasn't surprised. Already at our training camp in Marrakech a year ago he sidestepped the subject when I discussed his lack of experience in match play. I advised him to play a training match against a world class grandmaster who is not amongst the world championship candidates."

When he led the world rankings Kasparov used to lose an average of one game per year, the newspaper says. In the last three months Carlsen lost seven. What is the reason for that?

"He does not work as hard as he should. That is my only explanation. Working means to be constantly occupied by a subject, to keep your wits sharp and active. The way he lost against Anand in London was terrible. He should also have lost against Kramnik. The fact that he won the tournament in spite of this shows that he can do better. He is phenomenal at the board. And if he can work hard enough he will dominate chess."

Kasparov says he cannot imagine coaching Carlsen again.

"He is his own master, he is in the process of becoming an adult. He needs time to think about his future. Everything seems to go his way, but the competition is not sleeping. A year ago he dominated chess, but that is no longer the case. If he had worked hard he could have broken my record of 2851 Elo points. That would have produced great headlines for chess and for him. A player of his talent and medial attraction – the first western player to reach the top of the world rankings since Fischer – would be great for chess. For that he has to prove his dominance incessantly. But he is no longer succeeding in that, and that is not enough to stay in the headlines and to catch the interest of people who are normally not involved in chess. Magnus is twenty. At that age one has to fight. It strengthens character to absorb set-backs and take on difficult challenges. Avoiding them is self-defeating."


ChessBase reports on the Candidates Tournament

Radjabov: And what if tomorrow Carlsen changes his mind?
24.11.2010 – FIDE has just announced the dates for the Candidates matches in Kazan, Russia (3 to 27 May 2011), but leave the replacement of Carlsen by Grischuk as a dangling hypothetical. If it materializes then the pairings change quite dramatically. In a long and eloquent interview conducted during the Blitz World Championship Teimour Radjabov speaks his mind.

Grischuk to replace Carlsen in the Candidates
10.11.2010 – Reacting to the withdrawal of Magnus Carlsen from the FIDE Candidate Tournament to decide the next challenger for World Champion Viswanathan Anand, FIDE has expressed understanding for the reasons he gave – and in fact agrees with some of them. But it says it cannot change its regulations at such a late date and at the request of one player. Press release.

Magnus Carlsen drops out of World Championship cycle
05.11.2010 – The shock on Friday: the world's number one player for most of 2010, 19-year-old Norwegian GM Magnus Carlsen, has decided to drop out of the current World Championship cycle, in which he had reached the Candidate stage of the last eight. The series of knock-out matches is scheduled to begin in March next year, to determine the challenger of the World Champion Vishy Anand. Letter to FIDE.

Karpov proposes Kiev for Candidates matches
13.08.2010 – They were originally scheduled for Baku, Azerbaijan, then moved to Kazan, Russia – in spite of a stern protest by Veselin Topalov. There are still some unresolved issues, e.g. who would fill the wildcard? Now Anatoly Karpov has proposed moving the Candidates matches to Kiev, Ukraine, and nominating former FIDE world champion Ruslan Ponomariov as a candidate. Press reports.

FIDE moves Candidates matches to Kazan, Russia
27.07.2010 – Just days after a request from the Russian Chess Federation to move the 2011 Candidates matches away from Baku, Azerbaijan, FIDE President Kirsan Illumzhinov has announced that the match will indeed now take place in Kazan. If Topalov refuses to play in Russia, as he has threatened, he will (brace yourself) be replaced by Alexander Grischuk. Sport Express report.

FIDE to move Candidates Matches, Topalov threatens boycott
24.07.2010 – The Candidates Matches for the next FIDE World Championship cycle were scheduled to be played in Baku, Azerbaijan. Since one of the candidates, Levon Aronian, is Armenian, and the two countries are de facto at war, FIDE wants to move the matches to Kazan in Russia. To this another candidate, Veselin Topalov, has issued a very sharp protest and threat.

FIDE Candidates Tournament split between two venues
18.10.2009 – The 2011 World Championship challenger is decided in a Candidates Tournament with eight participants (including World Chp and Grand Prix winners). At the 80th FIDE Congress in Greece this week FIDE decided, remarkably, that the tournament, scheduled for 2010/2011, would be split into two parts, to allow candidate Levon Aronian, who is from Armenia, to avoid playing in Azerbaijan.

FIDE decides on a new Candidates format
27.11.2008 – The General Assembly of the 79th FIDE Congress has approved a new World Chess Championship cycle for 2011. It will be an eight-player round robin or knockout (the organiser gets to decide which); and the participants will be two each from the Grand Prix and World Cup, the loser of Kamsky-Topalov; the loser of Anand vs Kamsky-Topalov; the highest ranked player; and an organiser nominee. Details.

Ilyumzhinov: 'Candidates Tournament in Spring 2010'
27.11.2008 – Our previous report describes the new FIDE Candidates cycle. In an interview conducted by Yuri Vasiliev FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov defends the decision to create a new format. "The knockout, the Candidates and the Grand Prix are all my children," Ilyumzhinov says, "and I love them all. But time does not stand still, FIDE must adapt to the requirements." Sport Express interview.

Adams withdraws from Grand Prix cycle
11.12.2008 It was in the air and speculated on by many, especially after his name disappeared from the list of players for the Grand Prix in Elista (originally Doha, Qatar). Now the British GM Michael Adams has issued a formal statement on his withdrawal from the cycle. The reasons he gives are the sudden switch of venues, replacement of players, and the uncertainty of future GP events. Open letter.

Magnus Carlsen withdraws from Grand Prix
05.12.2008 After a week of correspondence with the FIDE office in Athens, and after receiving replies he deemed unsatisfactory, Magnus Carlsen, the world's number four ranked player, has decided to withdraw from the 2008-2009 FIDE Grand Prix cycle. Instead, the Norwegian GM, who turned 18 last Sunday, will "concentrate on playing well organised and interesting top level events elsewhere". From Magnus' blog.

Carlsen on the Grand Prix + readers' feedback
03.12.2008 – The cauldron is on the boil, FIDE has changed the World Championship qualification regulations, Alexei Shirov has lodged a protest. Now Magnus Carlsen, represented by his father Henrik, hints at legal action and withdrawal from the cycle. We bring you a report from his blog and feedback from readers on this and other subjects (including Aronian on women and computers!). A long, interesting read.

Veselin Topalov and the new FIDE world championship cycle
24.06.2007 – At the Presidential Board meeting, which is currently being held in Tallinn, Estonia, FIDE has introduced a new Grand Prix series and a new world championship cycle. With a high-ranking Bulgarian delegation presenting a case for Veselin Topalov to enter the world championship FIDE made some special rules to govern the 2007-2009 stage. We have tried to decipher the new system.

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