15 responses to “Carlsen and the Candidates – a retrospective”

  1. mishanp, do you remember that right after the elections were over Karpov and Kirsan got together “informally” and Kirsan agreed to increase the number of matches to 6-6-8? What happened to that agreement?

  2. Good question, b3wins.

  3. I saw it on chessbase:


    but now I see that indeed they didn’t say it was for the current cycle. ..

  4. I am bemused, but not surprised, that you view Ilyumzhinov’s July 31 unambiguous statement that Magnus was not protesting as a clear sign that Magnus in fact was protesting.

    As with so much on this much appreciated website, thanks for offering light rather than heat on this much confused topic. In fact, Magnus’s criticisms of the the current candidate “process” have been consistent. Indeed, perhaps because these criticisms have been part of ongoing and unvarying dialog, Magnus presumably felt no need to fully recite they yet again in his recent letter, which no doubt has led to some confusion by outsiders now.

  5. I don’t disagree with you, mishanp, about the letter. It references that his views are a consistent with and a continuation of a dialog that began much earlier, namely at “December 27th 2008 phone-conference between FIDE leaders and a group of top-level players.” And, as your main story notes, there have been other consistent and valid criticisms of the current system from the Carlsen camp in the interim that are not fully reflected in the current letter or the December 2008 statement (e.g., short number of games, lack of a gap between matches, etc.). Perhaps the letter could have recounted that past dialog a bit more for clarity, because those critiques of the current system have remained and seem to be very relevant to this decision. Some of the issues that are specifically addressed in the current letter plainly appear to assume that the elements of the prior dialog were already in evidence and hence did not need to be recited again. That is true from FIDE’s perspective, to whom the letter was addressed, but not from the perspective of the public at large, which is why your principal article is quite useful.

    The fact remains, however, that the current odd “process” for the championship that has been cobbled together is a product of FIDE’s general mismanagement of the cycle — with numerous arbitrary and ill-judged decisions, long delays, and characteristic lack of transparency and predictability. I think we can agree that players shouldn’t place themselves above the system, but here we have no semblance of a system whatsoever.

    To say that the “WC cycle is now very clear” notwithstanding the fact it is the end result is a decision-making process that defies any rule-based explanation misses a good part of the point. Perhaps, by reason or happenstance, the process this time is in the mind of many better than many prior FIDE efforts over the last 15 years, but isn’t that damnation by faint praise — an indictment in itself and very relevant to what is occurring now? It is an incomplete analysis to look at only one side of the equation (this version of the candidate cycle) without looking at the other (the nature of the FIDE championship). It is a cost benefit analysis without regard to the benefit. For 15 years, Ilyumzhinov has worked steadily to erode the championship. Apparently wanting to be unencumbered by the natural and rightful influence of a clear world champion, he has strived to demean and diminish the game’s highest title. FIDE under Ilyumzhinov minted as many world champions in one six-year period as there were in the first 60 years of the title. Many view Ilyumzhinov’ behavior in this regard as wildly erratic; viewed properly, it is quite single-minded. In short, rather than the idealic view that many of us unrealistically maintain, Magnus is declining a chance at something of diminished value.

    Beyond that, of course, close association with FIDE, the institution, now hardly brings luster. A recent headline from the largest circulation daily in the UK is not atypical: “Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has dragged chess into ill repute.” (Guardian 9/30/10). There is no need to recite the myriad of reasons that is the case, but events of recent months have only added to that litany of embarrassments. And if everyone acknowledges that FIDE scares off prospects of commercial sponsorship for chess, what do you suppose is the natural reaction to the problem might be?

    You say that you “wonder why [Magnus] ended up so involved in politics when he’s 19 years old.” I am not sure that this is properly viewed as a great political gambit as opposed to simply declining to go into a line with unclear complications and instead simplifying the position greatly. Magnus, who has been a full-time chess professional for scarcely a year, is extricating himself from a politicized process. He plainly says he is not bargaining and accepts that the current process will not change to suit him. He also graciously states that he is only at parity with the best of the elite players and suggests that he just wants to focus on getting better and establishing a clear level of separation between his performance and that of his current peers.

    Is all this cause for disappointment? Of course. That is a given. Fans want their favorite players to play no matter what the circumstances. But if the path Magnus has chosen is better suited for him to reach his potential, I suspect fans will be rewarded in the long run.

  6. That was an excellent comment, Mishanp. It should end all discussions. Carlsen is simply doing wrong here, or more so, so are his advisors.

  7. There are certain criteria of greatness and a true champion:-

    1. You have to beat the best and convincingly.
    2. You have to hold onto your title for a reasonable length of time.
    3. You have to be a true warrior, never running away from challenges.
    4. You have to try, even when the odds are against you.

    Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt, Borg, Sampras, Federer, Schumacher are a few who complied “often enough” to set themselves apart as legends whom the world respects.

    Amongst the surviving chess chamions, there are only three who qualify – Karpov, Kasaparov and Anand.

    Kramnik or Topalov will be there, if either beat Anand in this cycle. Anyone else will be there if they win and can hold on for five years.

    I wish Carlsen had the guts like a rising Anand who valiantly faced Karpov and Kasparov at their peak. Anand fulfilled criterion #3 and #4 in 1995 against Kasaparov at his peak. He could have easily found excuses because the Chess universe was split midway between FIDE and Kasparov’s PCA. Perhaps it was Anand’s credibility in both the FIDE/PCA systems that reinforced Kasaparov’s status as a legend.

    Anand again underwent a rigorous qualifier for his match with Karpov in 1998 who was the rival FIDE champion (Kramnik withdrew). Anand eventually lost in the tie breaker despite being “brought in a coffin” for the match, as he’d later say. Anand basically fulfilled criterion #3 and #4 again. Mind you, Karpov beat Kasparov as late as 2002.

    In the above examples, a young Anand (quiet like Carlsen today) was beaten by Kasaparov absolutely and by Karpov slightly unconvincingly. Yet, you get the feel of a “new King” rising in the ranks and when you see this video of Kasaparov’s eyeballs falling out of their sockets during one of their matches…those are the “forever” moments of Champion vs Challenger that the world remembers.


    Kramnik was finally the one who beat Kasparov in 2000 and fulfilled many of those criterion which make players legends. Topalov earns his place amongst the greats with his recent classic duels with Kramnik and Anand that meet several a criterion.

    I beg to ask you all, whether Anand would have had the same exalted status he enjoy’s today if he had chickened out of those duels with Kasparov and Karpov? Or if he had not proved himself consistently in a much more confused Chess world split between FIDE and PCA or the multiple formats (match, tournament, rapid, blindfold, vs computer etc). That too over so many years? Ditto for Kramnik and Topalov despite all the rivalry. That’s the spice of the game.

    The young yuppie Carlsen knows he can’t win in the face of Kramnik, Topalov or even Aronian and then go on to beat the big daddy of em all – Anand.

    He’s simply chickened out based on weakness / ill advise / immaturity / sponsorship considerations. The only reason why the news is making headlines is because he has been rated World #1 for most of the year despite never being convincing against any top player.

    Carlsen is 21 years younger then Anand (not even half his age!) and he is 15 years younger then Kramnik and Topalov. Therefore, much like Anand beating Karpov today is a non-event; so would be Carlsen beating Anand / Kramnik / Topalov five or ten years hence. Perhaps even I can knock out Muhammad Ali today and my grandchildren beat Carlsen in the year 2050! Carlsen has missed his chance of proving himself against truly great players of a wonderful generation. This was his chance to prove that he is a man and not a boy, a true legend and not merely a pretender, but he lost it!

    A Carlsen that had conquered Anand, Kramnik, Topalov at their peak and the future generation thereafter would have been a much much greater champion then one who ran away from these great players and merely won once they faded away. It will undoubtedly go down in his history.

    Carlsen may yet become world champion in the future – though I think he won’t – he isn’t a true warrior and he runs away from the four criteria of greatness.

    Hope Carlsen still proves himself. I “was” one of his fans.

  8. No question that you make some valid points, mishanp. But you say that you don’t see how any good can come of this action now and that, maybe if Magnus announced before the elections that he’d only play if Karpov won, that might have had some influence. Agreed, but Magnus makes very clear that he is not in the least trying to gain bargaining leverage and, practically speaking, he probably can’t do so effectively acting alone. You seem to acknowledge that FIDE has made its usual mess of things and institutionally is either corrupt, incompetent, or both. However, you give Magnus only two options: work to fix FIDE (beyond being the sole! member of the elite to lend active public support to the Karpov campaign) or embrace it by dutifully jumping through whatever hoops FIDE concocts for top level players. I guess I’m puzzled why keeping FIDE at a respectful but safe arms length isn’t a totally valid and respectable third option. I don’t begin my assessment of this development with the assumption that top players are obligated to jump when FIDE says “jump.”

  9. “I think it’s a little (or maybe a lot…) offensive to say the other players are jumping when FIDE says jump, by the way …”

    I do suspect that (1) some players believe that kowtowing to Ilyumzhinov is their best, or at least easiest, chance at a meal-ticket and (2) FIDE has become accustomed to the leverage that results from this dynamic. However, I most assuredly never came close to saying what you suggest. I said that “I don’t begin my assessment of this development [Carlson’s decision] with the assumption that top players are obligated to jump when FIDE says ‘“jump.'” Indeed, I very much believe this should be the case for all professional chess players. If they decide to play, they should not be deemed to be following a FIDE command in subservient fashion. If they decide not to play, as Magnus has, this likewise should not be deemed an outrageous act of uppity defiance of their lowly status and of what is expected of them. Rather, they should be regarded as unique professionals who may or may not be enticed to participate in a particular event based on whatever decision-making criteria they choose.

    As for my question to Svidler elsewhere on this terrific site, I was, in effect, only acknowledging (in a manner I thought Peter might appreciate) his own extraordinarily playful way with the English language. Among his other atributes, perhaps he should be regarded as the Nabokov of chess commentators.

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