Although Magnus Carlsen’s decision to pull out of next year’s Candidates Matches came as a great shock, perhaps we should have seen it coming. It’s worth revisiting this summer’s press, where Veselin Topalov was making the headlines, but Carlsen’s name kept cropping up.
Back then it was easy to dismiss the mention of Carlsen’s demands and threats – by Silvio Danailov and Zurab Azmaiparashvili – as an attempt to deflect criticism from Topalov, but now it looks like we missed the real story. Below I’ve tried to briefly recount what happened, adding the quotes that concerned Carlsen:
22 July: This awful pun was the headline for Kommersant’s article revealing the Russian Chess Federation’s proposal (read: done deal) to switch the Candidates Matches from Baku to Kazan in Russia. I reported on it here: Candidates Matches once more in turmoil.
The justification was that Levon Aronian would be unable to play in Azerbaijan (because of the conflict with Armenia). Andrey Selivanov of the RCF made a statement he may later have regretted: “If the event’s switched to Kazan no problem will arise with participants refusing to play”.
Topalov, Russia and “that player”
Veselin Topalov immediately published an open letter which included the seemingly clear statement: “I would like to declare that I would not participate in any stage of the cycle of the World Chess Title that takes place in Russia”. GM Emil Sutovsky almost simultaneously published another open letter arguing for a change in the structure of the Candidates Matches.
July 29: Danailov was interviewed by Yury Vasiliev for Sport Express. I translated most of the interview here: “The Russian player we played a match against in 2006 in Elista doesn’t exist for us!” This is where Carlsen comes into the picture, with the first mention of his refusing to play:
And what do you think of the proposal of Grandmaster Emil Sutovsky, a member of the committee for running the World Championship and Olympiad: to play the quaterfinals and the semifinals over six games instead of four? And then after almost a half-year break to have a final over eight games, and already for a different, larger amount of money?
It’s not only Sutovsky who thinks like that. Topalov also holds the same opinion and, as far as I know, so does Magnus Carlsen. But it would be enough for the break between the semi-finals and finals to be 20 or 30 days. In a match over four games the players who are weaker will aim to bring the “long” games to a draw and decide the fate of the match in a tie-break, where the element of chance is greater. In matches over six games it’s harder to do that. Carlsen, as far as I know, won’t sign a contract if they propose playing 20 days in a row in Kazan. If the first and second place players in the world ratings won’t take part in the event then we’ll see what sort of a candidates tournament we’ll have…
But if everything you mention is satisfactory to you then Topalov can travel to Kazan?
Why not? We’ll study the proposed contract, and if everything suits us then Topalov, of course, will travel to Kazan.
But if Kramnik gets to the final, then Topalov won’t play him in Russia. Correct?
Veselin expressed it clearly in his letter.
I couldn’t resist including the “clarification”, but it’s also worth noting that the above gives no absolute guarantee of Topalov’s participation in the Candidates Matches.
July 30: Zurab Azmaiparashvili was interviewed by T. Tushiev for the Azerbaijan website, extratime.az. He comes out with a whole list of Carlsen’s demands, which include the surprising suggestion that Carlsen was unhappy playing an Azerbaijan player in Azerbaijan:
There was also something of a question mark over Magnus Carlsen. The Norwegian is prepared to play in Russia in principle, but demands that everything’s clear. His main demand is that the number of games is increased to 6-6-8. Moreover, the final match should take place separately, a few months later. Let’s say the quarterfinals and semifinals would take place in April, and then a couple of months later you’d have the final match. Carlsen’s second demand is that FIDE provides a guaranteed contract that encompasses the 2012 match with the World Champion, including the prize fund. He doesn’t agree with the existing rule according to which FIDE guarantees a prize fund of 1 million euro i.e. he wants to sign a contract from the beginning to the end, from the Candidates Matches directly to a World Championship match with Vishy Anand. On our side we promised that we’d work on that and all the candidates would be given a contract before the World Chess Olympiad begins.
What was the main reason for changing the location – Aronian’s position or the information about an impressive prize fund of almost half a million euro?
The main point was that the whole tournament couldn’t take place in Azerbaijan because of Aronian’s position, which would mean FIDE had to find a second city. But to find a second city that would declare its desire to run part of the tournament without their own nominee was very difficult. There was also Magnus Carlsen’s letter, where he stated that he didn’t want to play in Azerbaijan against an Azerbaijan grandmaster. But in fact that didn’t have any significance for FIDE, as those are already just whims that bear no relation to reality. Aronian’s problem, though, has some foundation unless the Azerbaijan-Armenian conflict is resolved. As for Carlsen, that wasn’t his official position. He expressed his unwillingness, let’s put it like that, in a mild form, but it was explained to Magnus that he had no grounds for his wish. For example, if the Candidates Matches were held in Norway then neither an Azerbaijan or a Russian player or anyone else would have the right to express an unwillingness to play in Norway. It really would be complicated for Aronian to play in Baku, and that gives him a moral justification.
July 31: Ilyumzhinov was also interviewed by Vasiliev for Sport Express, and responded to the suggestion that something was amiss with Carlsen:
As for Magnus Carlsen, he came to the Presidential Council meeting (in Tromso) and took part in its work, but I didn’t hear about any protest from his side. If there were protests one of the Norwegian organisers would definitely have told me. Besides, I met with Magnus’ father, Henrik Carlsen, and even played in the same blitz tournament. He didn’t express any dissatisfaction with the tournament being held in Kazan either. (…)
So that means there’s no doubt that Carlsen will take part in the tournament in Kazan?
Just as there’s no doubt that the tournament will be organised to a high standard.
“What then?” sang Plato’s ghost, “What then?”
Almost the final twist in the story, until now, was when Anatoly Karpov proposed moving the Candidates Matches, again, to Kiev, Ukraine.
August 7: Karpov proposes holding Candidates Matches in Kiev. Karpov’s justification was a little confusing (or confused) but the interesting point was that when it was formally announced it included a proposal to increase the length of the matches. Given Magnus Carlsen’s support for the Karpov/Kasparov team in the FIDE Presidential Election we have to assume that Carlsen would still have played if Karpov had won – though I’d have paid to be a fly on the wall when Carlsen explained his “Why should one player have one out of two tickets to the final?” idea to the two former World Champions…
In any case, Ilyumzhinov won the election, and we’ve come to where we are today.
A (preemptive) response from Ilyumzhinov
November 2: A few days ago Ilyumzhinov gave an enormous interview to Kommersant. I considered translating some of it at the time, but decided I’d translated enough similar pieces before the FIDE Election. Still, if you applied the policy of the promising new Russian chess site, Chess-News.ru, and produced multiple news items from one interview, you could literally come up with 10 stories. For example: “Chess originated in Bulgaria”, “Ilyumzhinov serious about chess at Ground Zero”, “Europe voted for Ilyumzhinov”, “I invested $60 million in chess (but nothing in the last 3-4 years)”, “Grand Slam wants to be part of FIDE”, “I’ll give Karpov a pension” and… “Someone else will take your place”. The latter refers to Carlsen:
But didn’t it worry them (the Grand Slam organisers) that in FIDE events the rules often change after things have begun? That was how it was, after all, with the championship cycle and the Grand Prix series. Some chess players were upset. The number one player on the rating list, Magnus Carlsen, went as far as to abandon the series.
You have to understand that it’s not a case of I wake up and suddenly want to change something. There are continual discussions with the chess community, it’s simply that the press can’t see that. (Ilyumzhinov goes on to give a long justification…)
Aren’t you afraid that Carlsen might turn into a new Kasparov, in the sense that the Norwegian, by quitting the Grand Prix series, has already demonstrated that he’s prepared to protest if something in FIDE’s strategy doesn’t suit him?
I’d like him to play in tournaments and draw attention. In general I’m against anyone organising protests. But even if there are some it won’t break the established system. It’s working smoothly: Grand Prix, World Cup, Candidates Tournament… If you want to pull out of it – pull out. But your place will be taken by someone else. Gone are the days when Bobby Fischer was able to impose conditions on FIDE: you’ve brought the wrong chair, the prize fund is too small. Today that’s impossible.