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Magnus Carlsen Proposes Different World Championship Format

Magnus Carlsen Proposes Different World Championship Format

Magnus Carlsen has suggested significant changes to the system to determine the world championship title in chess. The reigning champion prefers “moving to an annual knock-out event,” as he wrote on Facebook today.

Carlsen is about to travel to the U.S. where he is planning a training camp in advance of the third Sinquefield Cup. His opponents there will be Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Veselin Topalov, Alexander Grischuk, Viswanathan Anand, Anish Giri, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Levon Aronian and Wesley So.

The world champion dropped a small “conversation bomb” today on his official Facebook page: He reopened the old debate about what is the best format to decide on the world champion of chess.

“I have, for a long time believed - and voiced publicly - that there should be a new World Championship cycle system, which is both balanced and fair,” writes Carlsen. “In short, I strongly believe the chess world should evolve to a more just system.”

The reigning world champion proposes a system thats involves a new champion on an annual basis:

I have long thought that moving to an annual knock-out event, similar to the World Cup, would be more equitable. This change would in effect improve the odds of becoming World Champion for nearly every chess player, with the exception of the reigning World Champion, and potentially a few other top players who would no longer be favoured by the current format. Creating regional qualifying events combined with rating spots, the participation of all the top players in the world and the undisputed World Championship title at stake, I truly believe this would make the World Championship cycle more accessible to everyone.”

In advance of travelling to the US to prepare for the Sinquefield Cup, I felt it important to share...

Posted by Magnus Carlsen on Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The topic is dear to all chess fans, and not surprisingly dozens of comments can be found under Carlsen's post after only a few hours. That includes remarks from two grandmasters, who both disagree with Carlsen.

GM Michal Krasenkow, a former top player himself:

“The K.O. format, with inevitable rapid and blitz tie-breaks, is too much a lottery. The present system, with the WCh match as a climax of the whole chess life, attracting world's media attention to chess, works well. The Candidates tournament is a great event, and the fears of unfair or morally awkward situations prove unjustified so far. The only suggestion I can do is to increase the number of games in the WCh match. 12 is too few after all. Of course, coming back to 24 would be nonsense in modern times but 16 would be perfectly adequate.”

GM Mohamed Al-Modiahki, the organizer of the Qatar Masters, agrees [Quote slightly altered for readability]:

We need to find a system that all agree to: officials players, sponsors, media and fans! We can't change the format all the time...A knock out system is not the best for the world championship title, it will be more thrilling but the quality will be so so...”

Arguments in favor of Carlsen's system is the relatively easy way to explain it to a wide audience, and the successful adaptation in other sports. In football the reigning world champion has to qualify for the new championship. In tennis, the most important events are annual knockouts.

Carlsen's suggestions are not new. As he notes himself, he criticised the format before, and raised the issue of the privileges held by the world champion on several occasions, prior to qualifying for the match in 2013.

The Norwegian player stepped out of the 2008-2010 FIDE Grand Prix series and, although qualified by rating, decided not to participate in the subsequent candidates' matches. Back then he supported his decision as follows:

"After careful consideration I’ve reached the conclusion that the ongoing 2008 – 2012 cycle does not represent a system, sufficiently modern and fair, to provide the motivation I need to go through a lengthy process of preparations and matches and, to perform at my best. Reigning champion privileges, the long (5 yr) span of the cycle, changes made during the cycle resulting in a new format (Candidates) that no World Champion has had to go through since Kasparov, puzzling ranking criteria as well as the shallow ceaseless match-after-match concept are all less than satisfactory in my opinion."

After he won the world title in November 2013 in Chennai, Carlsen said: “It's good for the game that the best player is also the world champion. I feel that for a while I'm the highest-rated player and won a few tournaments but the world title was missing.”

Today Carlsen makes it clear that he hasn't changed his mind on the system.

Carlsen in Chennai 2013: “The world title was missing.”

Interestingly, his manager Espen Agdestein has mixed feelings about today's Facebook post by Carlsen.

“For me as a manager, it is difficult to look at it because he could lose potentially a lot of money and the title. I do not like it,” Agdestein told Sjakboggen. “But at the same time I have respect for the fact that he feels this is an appropriate to change the system.”

Carlsen's system would mean the end of a long tradition. Starting from the first official event in 1886, the world championship title in chess has been decided by two-player matches.

For more than half a century, the world champion faced a player who was considered a worthy challenger (and who could bring a nicely filled bag of money). In 1950 everything changed when the world chess federation (FIDE) introduced the candidates’ matches.

These were a series of relatively short, two-player matches that would ultimately lead to the challenger. Players qualified for these matches from (inter)zonal tournaments.

Soon after Kirsan Ilyumzhinov became FIDE president in 1995, in a turbulent period when a different organization led by Garry Kasparov was holding its own world championship matches, FIDE altered its format.

Four times the FIDE world championship was decided in a knockout tournament that lasted a few weeks -- in 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2004. Twice the FIDE world championship was decided in a tournament, in 2005 and 2007.

Currently the world championship is a 12-game, two-player match. The challenger qualifies by winning an eight-player candidates’ tournament. The participants are the loser of the previous match, two players from the Grand Prix series, two players from the World Cup, two players by rating and one wild card from the organizers.


Do you agree with Carlsen? You can discuss the topic below, or in our survey section where you can vote as well.

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