Trouble brewing for World Championship 2014

8/27/2014 – The match between Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand is scheduled to start in a little more than ten weeks from today. The champion is unhappy with the venue and the financial arrangements and has requested a postponement – which FIDE has rejected. Now he has until Sunday to sign the contract, otherwise we may just see a title match between Anand and Karjakin.

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In case you do not speak Norwegian, the above NRK report headlines say "Magnus Carlsen must sign a contract to play World Cup in Sochi by Sunday. Otherwise he loses his World Championship title."

Last week the reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen requested a postponement of the match against challenger Viswanathan Anand. This match is scheduled to start on November 7, 2014, i.e. in a little more than ten weeks from now. He was on his way to Saint Louis to play in the Sinquefield Cup and did not want to be pressured to sign contracts in the middle of that event. Mainly Carlsen seems to be unhappy about the venue and the finances.

The venue for the World Championship is not too far from a very volatile political region

The venue of the match is the Olympic Village that hosted the Winter Games in Sochi. It appears
to be a bit of a ghost town, as this startling photo report by Alexander Valov would suggest.

The title match this year has a budget of US $3 million, with $1.5 million reserved for the prizes. This is one million dollars less than the funding of the 2013 match in Chennai. Further the money appears to be coming from Aleksander Tkachev, who is Governor of the Krasnodar Territory and one of the leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. For this reason Tkachev has been blacklisted by the European Union, together with other key Russian officials from the region.

"Carlsen's magager: This is very unfortunate". In this NRK report from 21.8.2014 Espen Agdestein said that the tense political situation in Ukraine was one of the reasons wanted they wanted a postponemen. But that was not all. "There is much uncertainty about the actual event," he said, "uncertainty about the company that bought and will organise the World Championship match. Magnus Carlsen and his team know very little about this company." This probably refers to AGON, a company that still owns the commercial rights to events that are part of the world championship cycle. "FIDE will not even say who owns AGON," says Agdestein.

The response came quickly: on August 21 Itar Tass reported that FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov had rejected the request in a press conference, saying that a postponement was not possible. "I received a letter from Carlsen's manager," said Ilyumzhinov. "I want to emphasize that the issue raised is not about the venue, but simply the postponement of the date. So I do not believe this issue is a political one. However, FIDE has already issued an official response saying that the rescheduling was not possible. This match has been part of the official tournament calendar since last year, and a postponement could lead to problems with the current calendar."

Ilyumzhinov also said that if Magnus Carlsen would not play the match, he would be forfeited. In case this happened Anand would likely be playing Russian GM Sergey Karjakin, who finished in second place behind Anand at the 2014 Candidates Tournament.

"Carlsen require thinking time after threats of default", says the headline of this NRK report from August 25. "Just eleven weeks before the start of the World Championship match there is a serious conflict. And Carlsen has traveled to the United States – without signing any contract." On Sunday Magnus plays the world's number two Levon Aronian with black in Saint Louis. It is also the deadline to sign the contract and accept the original FIDE plan. It will be a very tense day for the World Champion.

Addendum

We have learnt (on August 28, 2014) that FIDE has reset the deadline to Sunday, September 7th, 2014, which is the final playoff day of the Sinquefield Cup. This was apparently done after the Association of Chess Professionals sent a letter to FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov saying:

We all know, that it took a lot of time and effort to find a venue and funding for the World Championship Match. Finally it was announced that the Match will be staged in Sochi, Russia. In the absence of other bids, the prize fund was decreased almost by 50% , compared to the last World Championship Match, but, no less importantly, there are still quite a few uncertainties regarding the Match, that led to a deadlock - as a result, the contracts have not been signed so far. Unfortunately, I have to admit, that even being a member of the Commission for World Championships and Olympiads of FIDE (hereinafter referred as WCOC), yours truly is not updated with the real situation, and greatly concerned about the lack of transparency and the possible consequences.

Mr. President, I call you to make everything possible in order to resolve all the disagreements, and not to let the chess world divide, as it happened in the recent past.