Kazan: the aftermath

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage

The Candidates Maches in Kazan, Russia led to lots of controversy: many chess fans and media criticised both the participants and FIDE for the high number of draws. The subject has led to a verbal dog fight between ECU President Silvio Danailov and FIDE Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos, while GM Emil Sutovsky, on behalf of the World Championship and Olympiads committee, has sent a questionnaire to the twenty top-rated players.It's kind of funny that the winner of the Candidates Matches, Boris Gelfand, won two third of the decisive classical games in Kazan. You can probably recall all three easily: Kamsky beating Topalov with Black in a Grünfeld, Gelfand beating Mamedyarov with Black in a Najdorf and Gelfand beating Grischuk with White in another Grünfeld. The 27 other classical games ended in draws. This high number, combined with a few very quick draws in the rapid sessions (especially the 8- and 14-move draws between Grischuk and Kramnik in the QGD come to mind), led to a heated debate in the chess world. At ChessVibes, many reports had 100+ comments and one even 264. What surprised us most was the tone of some commenters, who were really losing their temper and addressed the players aggressively. They, but also some media, might have tried showing a bit more empathy towards the players, who were playing one of the most important tournaments in their career. One that could be life changing, for historical as well as financial value. Great names such as Akiba Rubinstein or Paul Keres never got a chance to play a World Championship match, and that, and nothing less, was at stake in Kazan! Besides, they were not just playing for the prize money in Kazan, but also for their share of the pot at next year's title match. To give you an idea: in 2010 Vishy Anand earned 1,2 million Euros and losing challenger Veselin Topalov took home 800,000 Euros. Think about it. Wouldn't you do everything possible to reach that goal? Even something that sponsors and fans don't like, such as not wasting energy on trying to get through Vladimir Kramnik's bullet proof opening repertoire - something even Garry Kasparov couldn't do? Besides, many of the 27 draws were quite interesting and could have ended decisively. Boris Gelfand said the following during the final press conference in Kazan:

Well, all the players here were strong and it was hard to win. For example, Alexander saved difficult positions against Aronian and Kramnik, while players of a lower level wouldn’t have saved them, and you’d have had more decisive games. You can’t criticise the participants for saving tough positions when that actually bears witness to their mastery. And overall, it strikes me that it’s not important what the result is. The main thing is that the games were interesting. I played 14 games and, all things considered, at least ten of them were very interesting. The draw percentage was high, but to talk about a crisis… Again, it’s like in football: you see that when strong teams play you don’t get a lot of goalmouth action, but when teams in the second league play you can get 5:3 scores, or even more.

It was not just the players, no, FIDE was blamed as well. The system of four classical games followed by a rapid / blitz tie-break was criticised and, well, FIDE is blamed for just about anything these days, even when they organize something reasonably well. The most prolific critic was the President of the European Chess Union (ECU), Silvio Danailov, who used his former campaign website (!) as a podium for the following plea. (It's hard to read his words without thinking about his other job: manager of Veselin Topalov, who was eliminated in the quarter-finals.)

Dear All, I was personally present in Kazan during the Candidates Tournament. These are my conclusions: The current KO system (short matches) for the Candidates tournament is negative for chess. The reasons are as follows: 1. So far we have 27 draws out of 29 games in classical chess, about 95% (!!). Many of these draws were very short – 12,15,18 etc. moves. Even in rapid games we have draws in 8 (!!!) moves. This is shame and disaster for the image of chess and FIDE. The question is, why didn’t the WCOC introduce the Sofia Rules on time? 2. Some of the players were making short draws on purpose, in order to decide matches in rapid chess or blitz. But the point is that if we have WCC in classical chess, why should we decide the matches in blitz? Knowing very well from the past experience that the KO system leads to and tempts with that, why does the WCOC recommend it? 3. The PR results of Kazan are very poor. With probably small exception of Russia, there doesn’t appear any interest from international Press for this event. This also hurts chess and FIDE. Conclusion: The WCOC who is responsible for this system failed, and should resign immediately. The FIDE PB should appoint new WCOC on next meeting in Al Ain in order to avoid before mentioned mishaps and to improve the situation in the future. Best regards, Silvio Danailov President of ECU

Apparently Danailov wrote this text on Wednesday morning, just before the 6th (decisive!) game of the final between Gelfand and Grischuk. Two days later, FIDE came with the following response:

Friday, May 27, 2011 Official response by FIDE to ECU President Dear all, With great surprise we read the announcement of Mr Silvio Danailov on 25 May, accusing the members of the FIDE World Championship Committee as being responsible for the high percentage of ...draws(!) in Kazan. A non-chess reader would really wonder whether the members of the World Championship Committee were the ones playing in the Candidates Matches. Once more Mr Danailov shows no respect to the top players, we hope under his competitive capacity of a player's manager and not that of ECU President. If it wasn't for Mr Danailov 's dual role as President of ECU and manager of top players, no reply would have been necessary to this incredible announcement, as its content speaks by itself for the poor quality of his arguments. Everybody in professional chess knows very well that if two grandmasters desire during the game to draw it, there is no way to force them not to. FIDE has valuated various ideas in the past (for example the "no draw offer before move 30" or the so called "Sofia rule") but the truth is that applying such regulations to a World Championship Cycle needs further input from the top players and their national federations. Mr. Danailov should understand that chess players cannot be whipped to dance to his tune, especially those fighting for the World Championship title. FIDE is in the process of conducting discussions for future improvements on the format of the cycle and the announcement of Mr Danailov came immediately after receiving such a questionnaire (in his capacity as Veselin Topalov's manager) from FIDE WCOC member Emil Sutovsky. A couple of weeks ago Mr Danailov also announced his intention to run for FIDE President in 2014. Seeing the opportunity to promote his own political agenda, Mr Danailov abused his position as ECU President and FIDE's desire for feedback from its top players, to attack through his reply whom he views as "political opponents", instead of participating constructively in the on-going dialogue for the future World Championship cycles. Mr Danailov has not understood yet that he has been elected to the position of ECU President, with a monthly salary accompanying it, in order to serve all European chess players and not only his future political ambitions in FIDE. We therefore ask Mr Danailov to participate in the dialogue initiated by the World Championship Committee in a productive manner as nobody else is sharing his rush to connect everything with the FIDE elections in 2014. We also confirm once more that the interests of all top players are protected by FIDE, of course including those of Veselin Topalov. Best regards, Georgios Makropoulos FIDE Deputy President & WCOC Chairman

The questionnaire that Mr Makropoulos talks about was sent by GM Emil Sutovsky to the twenty top-rated players. Here's the text:

Dear colleagues, On behalf of the World Championship and Olympiads committee ( WCOC ), I'd like to ask your opinion regarding the format of the future World Championship Cycles. As we all know, opinions differ, and it is not easy to find a solution that will satisfy all the leading players. However, we shall try to find a system which will be both professional and realistic. In this regard, I would appreciate hearing your thoughts before the topic is discussed on the next WCOC meeting in the beginning of June and important decisions are taken. As the topic is too complex, I've prepared several questions. It would be nice to have your answers, but of course, you are most welcomed to present your vision as a separate letter. The questions: What is more suitable system for Candidates – matches or double round robin? If the match system is used, what format would you prefer (4+4+6, like in Kazan, 6+6+6, other...) Do you have positive/negative remarks about the format used in Kazan? Should the World Champion's privilege stay intact or should the World Champion join the Candidates in the future cycles? Do you think FIDE should preserve two-year cycle or consider switching to a yearly Championship? I would appreciate having your response before May 30, so that it can be presented on the WCOC meeting. Best regards, Emil Sutovsky
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