Trouble with the turkey

by ChessBase
12/9/2002 – "I have to respond to Mig on Chess #182 quickly before my in-box explodes with congratulatory messages," writes Yasser Seirwan, who was pictured in the article carving up a turkey. Seirawan reveals that the Unity Plan has run into serious problems with FIDE champion Ruslan Ponomariov, who is insisting on draw odds in his match against Garry Kasparov. "If Ponomariov refuses to join the unity cycle, we are back to square one". More...

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An Open Letter

Dear Mig,
Greetings and salutations!

When I saw the picture of myself carving up a turkey, I steeled myself for a "Seirawan cooks up another turkey" caption. How wrong first impressions can be!

Thank you for your overly complimentary article, MIG on Chess #182. In truth, the unification process was supported by so many key figures that it became a global effort! All credit properly belongs to FIDE President Kirsan Iljumzhinov, Bessel Kok, Serge Grimaux, Erik Anderson, Dato Tan Chin Nam, Steve Timmins, Carsten Hensel, Malcolm Pein, Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik, Eric Keyzer, Owen Williams, Miguel Greengard, my grandmaster colleagues in Prague, Jeff Sonas and chess fans the world over. While I instigated the discussions, the reality is that all parties had become exhausted by the conflicts and wanted complete unity in the chess world. I offered folks the idea of reconciling their differences at a peace conference. My role was as an honest broker seeking to bring everyone together in a spirit of goodwill and compromise for the greater good of chess.

GM Alexey Shirov's labelling of the 2003 cycle as a "Seirawan/Kasparov scheme," was amusing for being so far off target. Prior to the unification agreement, Garry Kasparov's "scheme" was simple and can be summed up in a few words: "number one plays number two a world championship match." Full stop. My offering for a World Championship cycle included the participation of hundreds of players and was quite lengthy! Readers are invited to compare my original "Fresh Start" proposal with the Prague Agreement. There was obviously a considerable difference between the two texts. In a subsequent trilogy of articles about the unification process, I explained that the Prague agreement had been made to accommodate World Champion Vladimir Kramnik. His agreement with Einstein TV allowed him to play two World Championship matches per cycle only. If a label were necessary, some would use the term "Kramnik's Plan" to describe the Prague Agreement. As it was a collaborative effort, I prefer simply calling it the Prague Agreement.

Indeed, it was GM Alexander Khalifman who suggested the 128-player double-elimination knockout event versus my offering of a 196-player Swiss qualifier. In Prague, Sasha's suggestion enjoyed widespread support. In fact, there were no complaints! A first for the chess world?

Sasha Khalifman at the Bled Olympiad

It is worth recalling that when I kick-started the unity effort my goals were:

1) To save the classical chess time controls;

2) To create an inclusive cycle and bring back the Candidates' and World Championship Matches, but with a twist: the World Champion would no longer be seeded directly to the Championship Match;

3) To unify the chess world.

These goals were uppermost in my mind and have guided my actions. It is especially this third goal that I considered absolutely vital for the future of chess. To be achieved, it would require a great deal of goodwill on the part of our chess leaders and champions as the unity effort would not be clear sailing. Over time, key FIDE leaders embraced the unity effort with whole-hearted enthusiasm.

It would be helpful to understand how the FIDE World Chess Championship Committee (WCCC) meeting in Bled reached its decision for the second cycle. This committee, appointed by FIDE President Kirsan Iljumzhinov, consists of Chairman Georgios Makropoulos, GM Zurab Azmaiparashvili and Israel Gelfer. They faced a key decision: how to treat the two players who lose the matches Ponomariov v Kasparov and Kramnik v Leko?

FIDE world champion Ruslan Ponomariov

The simplest and most obvious method would be to seed them into the 128-player double elimination 2003 qualifier tournament. In Bled, World Champion Ruslan Ponomariov announced his demand for draw-odds in his match with Challenger Garry Kasparov. For years, FIDE has pushed chess as a sport, removing any in-built advantages of the FIDE World Champion. Especially draw-odds. FIDE would simply not give Ponomariov such an advantage.

Therefore, the WCCC erred on the side of caution. It decided that in order to save the unification effort it would seed the two players who lose their 2003 matches into the second cycle of Candidates' Matches. This decision was made by FIDE in order to do everything possible to make the unification effort successful. In my view, the decision, while exceedingly generous, was well motivated. The WCCC made a tough call, but if unity is achieved these committee members will have performed a great service to chess. (Please note that the entire FIDE General Assembly in Bled unanimously approved the WCCC cycle.)

Unfortunately, the efforts of the WCCC and all others may not be enough. Recently, Ponomariov has repeated his demand for draw-odds, practically threatening to resign his title should he not have his wish met. The situation is quite perilous. I truly hope that he drops his demand and agrees to play. Sadly, despite many efforts, I don't yet see a compromise in the offing.

If Ponomariov refuses to join the unity cycle, we are back to square one and a new plan will have to be considered. Perhaps Kasparov's plan, "number one plays number two" will be regarded as the right way to go. In that case we might have Kasparov versus Anand. Should 2001/02 runner-up Vassily Ivanchuk receive first consideration? Dare I say, there is always my "Fresh Start" proposal to reconsider? Or, as a very suspicious GM Alexey Shirov has suggested, we will all be tricked in 2006. The GM Steering Committee and the WCCC will face challenging times!

The impasse caused by Ponomariov's draw-odds demand causes me to think that in the future FIDE should explicitly state in its regulations the procedures to be followed when a player refuses or is unable to play a certain stage. While FIDE was prepared in 1993, the current unity plan has not addressed such possibilities. A small amount of precaution could save a lot of frustration.

Finally, your report of my becoming FIDE Commerce President is incorrect. Congratulatory messages are filling my inbox! To update interested readers, FIDE President Kirsan Iljumzhinov had offered me this job in the middle of September but a December 1, 2002, deadline for a signed agreement passed unfulfilled and I withdrew my candidacy. Subsequently, FIDE President Iljumzhinov explained to me that FIDE Commerce is undergoing a major restructuring and asked for my forbearance. Coming from a person who has sponsored millions of dollars in prize funds for players, who has done everything he possibly could to support unity, it was a request I'm happy to agree to. But everything needs to move forward speedily. Time is now so desperately tight that I hope the restructuring will be completed by January 1, 2003.

Happy Holiday Wishes to All,


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