The Carlsen team clarifies

PeterDoggers
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The Carlsen team clarifiesMagnus Carlsen's letter to FIDE has caused a lot of confusion. Top players as well as fans have expressed that they don't fully understand the reasons why Carlsen refrains from playing in the 2011 Candidates. We decided to ask Magnus for some more clarification, and today we received a joint reply by his father/manager Henrik and business manager Espen Agdestein.

On November 5th we published Magnus Carlsen's letter to FIDE, in which he writes that he declines participation in the 2011 Candidates matches. The article currently has 524 comments. Yesterday we summarized the comments and published reactions by Aronian, Gelfand, Mamedyarov and Kramnik.

Below you'll find our questions to the Carlsen team, which are answered by Espen Agdestein and Henrik Carlsen, with marginal input from Magnus. Espen and Henrik have expressed hesitation to go into details regarding the weight and importance attributed to each of the factors Magnus refers to.

Re: "The current cycle is not fair because it's not a fight on equal terms..." Question 1: Regarding the analogy to football, which has been received with mixed reactions among chess fans, isn't the difference between a team sport (in which the teams change for every tournament) and an individual sport too big for such a comparison?

We don't think so. The football World Cup is a successful well-established system. Also in most popular individual sports, the participants compete on equal terms for the World Championship. The football analogy may not be perfect, but it is a valid argument as it highlights the overwhelming advantage (of improved odds) given to a reigning champion seeded directly to a final.

Question 2: Your main point is that you are unable to motivate yourself enough to fight in the current cycle. At the same time you state that you wish to defend your number one spot in world rankings. Do you feel, then, that having the highest rating is of similar significance as holding the world title?

The lack of motivation required to do his absolute best, is mainly concerned with the (lack of) quality of the ongoing cycle, not the title itself. The World Champion title and rating rank are not directly comparable. The World Champion title has a long tradition and an important place in the history of chess. At the same time the world of chess has a sophisticated, fair and strong rating system holding considerable merit. You might compare it to tennis and golf.

Question 3: It seems that you are implying that the World Champion should be one of the players in a World Championship tournament. Assuming that is correct, there would be a major problem of how to convince the World Champion -- any World Champion -- who reached his title through a series of matches, to put his title at stake in a tournament, given the history of the sport. How would you resolve this?

We have to go back many years to find a World Champion that had to go through a series of matches to win the title. The recent champions had to go through one match only (or one tournament only). In the letter to FIDE, Magnus mentioned a tournament as one possible way of organizing the World Championship cycle and more alternatives were discussed in our input to the phone conference in December 2008 that Magnus refers to. To avoid an attack on the reigning Champion he specifically talked about future cycles and not the current one.

Question 4: Among pundits and readers alike, there is a natural speculation that this is largely a business decision, related to your sponsorship deals. Can you react to this?

Absolutely not. This was his personal decision, and money was not involved at all. (If it had been, he probably would not have withdrawn.)

Question 5: Finally, many ChessVibes readers feel that to a certain extent the sport is "damaged" by the decision, as it happens at a time when the chess world finally has a unified World Champion. Your letter addresses only FIDE. What would you say to these fans?

Magnus appreciates the chess fans and has no wish to damage the sport, of course not. He signed up for the current cycle (Grand Prix) early in 2008 and it has been on his mind the best part of three years. The frequent changes and lack of predictability is frustrating and has left little to be desired.

He obviously weighed the pros and cons, including the expectations of chess fans, but in the end took the difficult decision to withdraw. (Withdraw might in fact not be a precise description, as we never received any formal information (or contract) regarding his participation. Bearing in mind the frequent changes made earlier in the cycle there was really not much reason to believe that recent FIDE announcements suddenly represented the final say.)

We certainly feel that our sport deserves broader attention worldwide. Utilizing new technology and developing strong competition concepts and formats, we believe chess has the potential to develop into an even more spectator friendly and attractive sport in the future.
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