Yasser Seirawan: Elista 2006 – Another Perspective

10/21/2006 – A few days ago chief arbiter Geurt Gijssen described the crisis that evolved around the fifth game forfeit at the World Championship, justifying his decisions and criticizing Yasser Seirawan's article "The Layman's Guide to World Chess Match Officials. Now GM Seirawan plays the ball back into Gijssen's court with a powerful volley.

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Elista 2006 – Another Perspective

By GM Yasser Seirawan

Both the content and the tone of Mr. Geurt Gijssen’s article concerning events in Elista are a considerable surprise. He should, I suppose, be thanked for making an effort to present his viewpoint on his crucial role as Chief Arbiter of the recent World Chess Championship match, and before responding in detail to his various assertions I shall boldly state the obvious: He was a first-hand participant in Elista and knows far more about the facts and details that swirled around the match than the rest of us who sat from afar reading the various articles, news reports and statements posted on the Internet. Unfortunately for Mr. Gijssen, that does not mean that his judgments (at the time or afterwards) were correct or that he has provided a proper, comprehensive account of what happened.

He certainly does a fine job of quoting chapter and verse of the 2005 FIDE Regulations, trying to absolve his person of any blame for what happened in Elista. His article reminded me of the French inspector in Victor Hugo’s classic, “Les Misérables.” The inspector would cry, “The Law is the Law. Right or wrong it makes no difference.” So my first dispute with Mr. Gijssen’s article is on a basic principle: Yes, right and wrong are different. All of us should strive to do right. When an injustice is committed it should be righted.


GM Yasser Seirawan

It is striking that nowhere in Mr. Gijssen’s article does he point a finger to assign blame, merely explaining that he was innocent and acted properly, and that experienced match officials were flawless, wonderful, hospitable folk. It must be truly marvelous to live in a world where bad things do not happen and everyone is blameless. Mr. Gijssen seems oblivious that the most important FIDE event since 1993, the unification match between World Champions, nearly blew up, with devastating consequences for the chess world. I envy him his blissful existence.

Mr. Gijssen writes the following:

“As far as I know, the Match regulations were accepted by both teams. Furthermore, I would like to point out that the decision of the Appeals Committee, whether it is wrong or right, is final. No protest against any decision of the Appeals Committee is possible. The notion that the FIDE President can overrule any decision is of course nonsense. First of all, it is not written in the regulations, and secondly, the rules forbid the FIDE President from being Chairman of the Appeals Committee.”

That is quite a quote. It rather takes my breath away and makes me wonder if Mr. Gijssen was even awake while in Elista. As we will see, not only did the FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov become the Chairman of the Appeals Committee; for a time, the FIDE President was the whole Committee. Also, I might add that there is such a thing as the FIDE Congress, the ultimate FIDE authority.

Mr. Gijssen asserts numerous times that the decisions of the Appeals Committee are “final”. It is a word he seems to enjoy emphasizing. However, the regulations were not followed, and match officials failed in their personal roles and responsibilities. In particular, Mr. Gijssen’s article explains the limitations of the FIDE President’s powers. His sentence above containing the word “nonsense” is a real zinger.

In the ChessBase article "Ilyumzhinov: 'You are playing for the entire world!'" we are told the following in the heading:

“The President of FIDE returned to Elista from a summit with President Putin in Sochi. At midnight he met with Vladimir Kramnik, and the next day he spoke with Topalov’s second Silvio Danailov. They agreed to postpone Saturday’s game and resume the match on Sunday.”

In this article, the FIDE President gave the first sign that his idea of final and the “final” of Mr. Gijssen’s world are not one and the same. The FIDE President stated:

“Kramnik did not sign the score sheet. If a political decision from both sides is going to be taken, then the technical loss of Kramnik can be cancelled.”

Let us ponder this one for a moment. A crisis in the match has flared up, and Ilyumzhinov is openly discussing cancelling the “technical loss” of Kramnik. I wonder if Mr. Gijssen told the FIDE President not to engage in “nonsense” or whether he held his tongue.

The FIDE President called on the players to negotiate in good faith and with goodwill. Let us imagine for a moment that Topalov relented, became a hero and said, “Okay, let us replay Game Five.” It is inconceivable that Mr. Gijssen would then have jumped up and said, “No! Such a compromise, agreed to by the players and the FIDE President, is against the regulations. The decision of the Appeals Committee is final!”

What Mr. Gijssen has to understand is that the regulations are not written in stone. They are not a Holy Text to be blindly worshipped. If the players are able to reach an agreement as to how to continue, wonderful, let them do so. If they are unable to do so, then the Match Regulations and the Match Contract are in place to assist in reaching a decision. Unfortunately, in the crisis that arose, the players were unwilling to compromise their positions. The cancellation of the match appeared inevitable.

After the forfeit of Game 5, we were told, there were several rounds of negotiations between the two players’ camps and the FIDE President. On the FIDE website we read:

“The FIDE President has made several proposals for further continuation of the match, which unfortunately were not accepted.”

Clearly, the FIDE President felt that he had the authority to offer several compromises. What were they? Rumors flew. According to one unconfirmed Russian report, the FIDE President offered one possible compromise: If Kramnik would accept lengthening the match by four games, making a total of 16 instead of 12, the FIDE President would restore the score to 3:1 and order the replaying of Game 5. In other words, he would undo the forfeit. (This possible compromise was reported on Susan Polgar’s website, and I would be most grateful if the proposal could be confirmed.)

Was the FIDE President engaged in “nonsense” and wasting his time? This is our first inconsistency concerning the role of the FIDE President and his powers according to the regulations: If he offered a compromise of a 3:1 result in return for lengthening the match by four games he would clearly have annulled the forfeit. Kramnik did not accept the compromise proposal but could he have agreed if indeed it had been made?

Mr. Gijssen lauds the FIDE President for his diplomacy, but he cannot have it both ways. If the Appeals Committee’s decision was final, there would be nothing to negotiate.

The second obvious inconsistency in Mr. Gijssen’s article is why a letter from the FIDE President was necessary at all. If the Appeals Committee’s decision is final, as Mr. Gijssen insists, why should the FIDE President have to write a letter confirming its decision? Do the Appeals Committee members need a pat on their heads for performing their duty?

Inconsistency number three concerns a statement by Georgios Makropoulos, the Chairman of the Appeals Committee, in the Press Conference held around the time of Game 5. From his statement as published on the ChessBase website I quote the following:

“We spoke to President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov before taking a decision regarding the appeal of Topalov’s team and the FIDE President himself proposed to close the toilets in the restrooms.”

So, we are told that it was the FIDE President who “proposed” the sealing of the toilets. The Chairman of the Appeals Committee, Mr. Makropoulos (FIDE Deputy President), accepted the FIDE President’s proposal in the Appeals Committee’s deliberations and ruled in accordance with his wishes.

Mr. Gijssen wrote, “No member of the Appeals Committee can be from the federation of either player.” Yet it was the “proposal” of the FIDE President that prompted the Appeals Committee to lock Kramnik’s bathroom door. It is clear that the FIDE President, a Russian, interfered with the Appeals Committee’s deliberations and proposed to the Committee its eventual ruling. Here is a plain question: Did the FIDE President violate the regulations by proposing to the Appeals Committee how to decide? It may even be wondered whether it was a “proposal” or an edict. Keep in mind that every member of the Appeals Committee owed his personal appointment to the FIDE President. Under such circumstances it is hard to imagine the Appeals Committee rejecting the President’s proposal.

At FIDE’s website there is a letter dated September 29, 2006 from the FIDE President. I quote:

“I hereby inform you of my full trust in the members of the Match Appeals Committee and their latest decision taken in respect of the appeal of Topalov’s team dated 28 September 2006.”

It is no wonder that the members of the Appeals Committee had the full trust of the FIDE President. After all, they did his bidding.

However, this trust didn’t last very long. A short time after Mr. Makropoulos gave his press conference statement the FIDE President either fired the members of the Appeals Committee or accepted their resignations. In any case, he then took on their responsibilities himself. He became, de facto and by fiat, the Appeals Committee until he found suitable replacements. As a Russian, was it possible for the FIDE President to be the Chairman? Can one person act as the whole of the Appeals Committee? I wonder whether Mr. Gijssen pointedly told the President that his actions were illegal and against the regulations. Dare I suggest the obvious: If the FIDE President can appoint himself as the Appeals Committee, he can most certainly overrule its decisions.

What happened next is that the FIDE President reversed the ruling of the Appeals Committee and ordered that Kramnik’s bathroom be unlocked. Forgive me for emphasizing this point: The FIDE President overruled the Appeals Committee. Mr. Makropoulos suddenly found himself merely a “FIDE Observer,” whatever that is.

I freely confess that I was unaware of the most recent FIDE regulations. I based my “Layman’s Guide” on my experiences at the 1981 Karpov v Kortchnoi match and the 1993 Karpov v Timman match. During the terms of Florencio Campomanes as the FIDE President he held the powers I described in my article. In addition, the players could voice their preferences concerning the appointment of match officials. My knowledge was later confirmed by an interview with Anatoly Karpov as accurate but it was, alas, outdated. I acknowledged this immediately after Bartlomiej Macieja’s article was published at ChessBase, by means of a corrective endnote on that same page.

It is, incidentally, of great interest to compare the old and new systems. Campomanes, as we know, aborted the 1984/85 World Championship match. I make no judgment as to the rights and wrongs of that exceptionally complicated case; after all, it threw up so much contradictory evidence that the only fair-minded conclusion is agnosticism on whether or not Campomanes was correct to terminate the match. However, the key point here is that Campomanes’ decision was final. Were the 2005 Regulations an attempt to limit the role of the FIDE President? If so, they failed miserably. He runs FIDE as a vertical power column. He is President, Sponsor, Match Director, Appeals Committee Chairman and Diplomat, as well as a friendly, hospitable host. But perhaps even Mr. Gijssen will come to realize that yes, shockingly, the FIDE President did exceed his authority. If not, Mr. Gijssen will provide a service to the chess world by pointing out which regulation permitted the FIDE President to act as he did.

As I’ve already mentioned, the FIDE President played a huge role both behind and in front of the board. Mr. Gijssen wrote:

“The notion that the FIDE President can overrule any decision is of course nonsense.”

If Mr. Gijssen were less concerned with absolving himself of all blame and with performing a whitewash on what happened in Elista, he might have felt able to write instead what almost everyone else knows:

“The notion that the FIDE President can overrule any decision is of course self-evident.”

Events in Elista were terribly mishandled and nearly led to the cancellation of this crucial unification match. Someone must have been responsible. Why can’t we be told who? Why shouldn’t we be able to discuss openly what mistakes were made, so that steps can be taken to insure that they do not happen again? Once more, Mr. Gijssen cannot have it both ways: Either he held a position of responsibility and accountability or he did not. In my view, the Chief Arbiter holds a very important position and is required to insure that the regulations and Laws of Chess are properly followed. When the Appeals Committee made a faulty ruling that upset one of the players and caused a change to the playing conditions it was time for the Chief Arbiter to step up and take charge. He is not supposed to be a bureaucratic bystander. On that fateful day of Game 5, Mr. Gijssen called for a 22-minute delay. Clearly, he could have extended that delay or called for an official time-out. Perhaps he would have been chastised. Or perhaps he would have been lauded for insuring that the proper playing conditions in place for the first four games were reinstated. We shall not know.

Mr. Gijssen’s feeling that he deserves an apology from me is childish. As we all saw, the events in Elista nearly ended catastrophically. It was solely due to the heroic decision by Kramnik to continue the match, despite the unfair decision to forfeit him in Game 5, that a disaster for the chess world was avoided. It is equally clear that the actions of match officials caused this near-disaster. If Mr. Gijssen feels able to convince himself that he was innocent, that is a matter for his conscience. I stand by the criticism I made in my original article: The Arbiter could have delayed the start of the clock or called an official time-out in case an immediate agreement was impossible. The Arbiter’s decision to start the clock in Game 5 was merely the last step in a series of missteps set in motion by Topalov’s protest concerning his opponent’s frequent trips to the bathroom. If Mr. Gijssen still believes, even with hindsight, that he had no choice, so be it. Next time, a non-thinking robot can be the arbiter. Of course, the non-thinking robot would not have delayed the start of Game 5 by 22 minutes.

Before FIDE officials and match directors follow the example of Mr. Gijssen and engage in odes of glory and hearty rounds of back-slapping and awards and citations for a job well done, I would advise that an investigative committee should be formed to determine exactly what went wrong in Elista and who was responsible. Their findings should be published openly and corrective measures should be taken.

On the more general issues of principle, my own view is clear as to where the blame properly lies: The FIDE Deputy President Mr. Makropoulos altered the regulations to give “his” Appeals Committee and World Chess Championship Committee unfettered powers. He and the FIDE Vice-President Zurab Azmaiparashvili leveraged their posts as FIDE officials into a paying job. The Continental President Jorge Vega received his post on the Appeals Committee as a reward for his political support of the President’s Turin election victory. These political appointments allowed the “Peter Principle” to manifest itself in full glory. That is common within FIDE.

The Appeals Committee was not an independent body. Rather, it was controlled by the FIDE President, who interfered with the Committee’s deliberations and ultimately told the Committee Chairman how to rule on the protest.

The Match Director willingly hid behind the broad shoulders of the Appeals Committee, abiding by the regulations in force that gave it sole custody of how the match would proceed. Mr. Gijssen describes this behavior as “flawless” and even “highly appreciated”.

The FIDE President accepted the resignation of two of the Appeals Committee members and then appointed himself as the Appeals Committee, which was a clear violation of the match regulations. Why Mr. Vega’s resignation was not accepted is an anomaly which has not yet been explained.

The ruling of the Appeals Committee altered the playing conditions that had been in force for the first four games of play. This unilateral ruling angered Kramnik, who protested to the Chief Arbiter by refusing to start Game 5. Kramnik cited the changed playing conditions as a violation of his Match Contract. The Chief Arbiter failed to protect the playing conditions of the players and blindly followed a faulty ruling on the grounds that he had “no choice.” He failed in his duty to insure that the playing conditions remained constant for all the games.

The FIDE President overruled the Appeals Committee’s original decision and unlocked Kramnik’s bathroom, thereby restoring the playing conditions for Game 6 to what had been in place for the first four games. The new Appeals Committee appointed by the FIDE President refused to reconsider the forfeit decision regarding Game 5.

As we know, Kramnik continued the match and earned the admiration of chess fans for his willingness temporarily to accept an unjust ruling, under protest. He made it clear that he would, if necessary, take legal action against FIDE, and it was only on account of his victory in the rapid play-off that a disastrous impasse was averted. Mr. Gijssen would do well to remember that such an impasse would have resulted in him, and other match officials, being called upon to explain their conduct in a court of law.

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