The new founding fathers in chess?

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage
Henrik Carlsen and Vladimir KramnikIn the first week of 2009, both Henrik Carlsen (representing his son Magnus) and Vladimir Kramnik (since December 28 the proud father of a baby girl) have expressed their thoughts on the current world championship cycle as well as their ideas for a future set-up. It's interesting to see that Kramnik's opinion is diametrically opposed to Carlsen's.

There's much uncertainty about the world championship cycle, that we know. And it won't be solved in the near future - that we also know. In a recent column, co-editor Arne speculated which top player could be the one to stand up and fight for the players' rights. Magnus Carlsen's potential role was diminished for being "too young", but perhaps Arne forgot about the fact that the 18-year-old Norwegian in fact has arguably the best manager of all players: his father Henrik.

FIDE's changes of the current world championship cycle led to protests by several players and that's why President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov invited a number of top players, including Anand, Aronian, Carlsen and Topalov, to take part in a Skype phone conference on December 27th. FIDE promised that the recording of this highly interesting online meeting would be made available to chess journalists but thus far there's been nothing but silence.

However, foreseeing that it was going to take some time, on New Year's Day Henrik Carlsen already posted the text of the statement they made on December 27th. It's a great example of an independent, thoughtful and balanced look at the current situation. The Carlsens stress the importance of transparency in the decision processes within FIDE, and predictability and fairness in the world championship cycles.
Henrik Carlsen watching, in September 2008 in BilbaoTransparent decision processes require a democratic and open dialogue with the parties involved prior to making decisions. Important issues need to be raised well in advance of major decision points and the decision process needs to be well documented and communicated timely and widely. The process of proposing to change the current cycle as brought forward at the FIDE General Assembly in Dresden last month on short notice, does not meet these requirements.

Predictability is necessary to ensure the trust and commitment of chess players, chess federations, sponsors, organisers and top players in contention for the World Championship title. We need to introduce mutually binding agreements in line with the practice in other top chess tournaments. The current practice of having one-sided escape clauses in the championship regulations and/or players undertaking, for instance stating that the FIDE Presidential Board or the FIDE President may change this or that, is simply unacceptable. The many examples from recent years of players that has qualified or is in the process of qualifying for a subsequent step in the championship cycle or for a match, experiencing multiple delays or downright removal of rights, must come to an end.
The third notion that needs to be taken into account according to the Carlsens is fairness. They are sick of all the priviliges that have been handed out in chess history:
In addition to having predictability, there should not be arbitrary granting of privileges, well, as few privileges as possible really. In the future Magnus would like to see a world championship cycle with a minimum of privileges, or no privileges at all. If any it should be early in the cycle and based on rating and not money. The transition to such a situation has been difficult in the past due to the legacy of our history.

We strongly disagree with the way FIDE has tried to remedy this by handing out further privileges. After the unification process from 2005 to 2008, we may be in a unique situation to transcend historical problems and privileges, and it was with disbelief and disappointment we received the news about the proposal to introduce new privileges by creating 4 new spots in the next step of the 2008-2011 championship cycle.
One player who didn't join the Skype conference was Vladimir Kramnik. He had a good reason: as reported by Chessbase, on 28th December, early morning, his wife Marie gave birth to a girl, whose name is Daria. (Congratulations!) As a father, but especially as an expert in the field of world championship cycles, we should expect a grown-up attitude towards the current situation, but we have to say that Kramnik disappointed us this time. In the same Chessbase article Kramnik comments on FIDE's recent changes to the current cycle:
Vladimir KramnikTo be honest, I don’t even understand why it is so much against Carlsen or Aronian, this change of the system. Now if the decision is made, two players will qualify from the Grand Prix instead of one, which might be helpful also for these players. Okay, they have a tournament instead of a match, that is true. But it is not such a big difference; it is the final of the Candidates, just a different format. So I don’t think that the interests of any players who are currently participating in the Grand Prix are compromised.
What's this? Has he lost it? A child can tell you that the chances to become world champion decrease significantly when as a winner of the Grand Prix you suddenly have to play a tournament to qualify for the world title match, instead of a semifinal match. For other players, who have a slim chance to finish second in the Grand Prix, the chances increase, but for players like Carlsen and Aronian, who both already won a GP event and are going for first in the overall standings, the situation has become clearly worse.

Besides, hasn't Kramnik always stated that playing a match is something completely different than playing a tournament? In another Chessbase interview, published on June 1st, 2007, he says about the upcoming World Championship Tournament in Mexico City:
The next match which I will play, if I manage to keep my title or if I play to gain a title, for me – again I don’t want to insult anyone – for me it would be much more valuable than winning a tournament. (...) Again I would repeat that I think that a title which is won in a match to me is more valuable than the title which is won in tournament.
Back to this week's interview. To the question why FIDE changed the current world championship cycle and created a Candidates Tournament, Kramnik answers:
I can only speculate. It is pretty clear that in the new system there are two people who are gaining a lot of advantages. They are Topalov and Kamsky. First of all there is this match between the two of them, which actually should never have happened – it was basically created out of nothing. Now the loser of this match is getting a chance to play, without qualification, in the final stage of the next world championship. That is quite a serious privilege. You can speculate yourself why this was done. I really don’t know.
Here one would expect a critical question by the interviewer, something along the lines of: but Vlady, you must know that with a Candidates Tournament your own chances to get back into the cycle have increased significantly? You do remember the Sport Express interview with Ilyumzhinov (November 27, 2008) in which the FIDE President stated: “Vladimir Kramnik could be nominated by organisers as a participant in the Candidates Tournament in case the event will be held in Russia,” don't you?

Instead, the monologue continues:
The only thing which I can personally say – I mean it is concerning my personal position in the cycle – is that I am very unhappy, to put it mildly, with the situation that the loser of the Topalov-Kamsky match is inside the final stage of the qualification, and I, as the loser of my parallel match with Anand, am not. I believe that is totally unfair. I would like you not to misunderstand: I am not asking for any privileges. The only thing I am asking for and insisting on is that I must have exactly the same rights as the loser of that match. If the winners have the same rights I do not understand why one loser has much less rights than the other. [italics - CV] This is something that has absolutely no logical explanation. The only thing I can understand is that there are certain powers inside FIDE who simply do not want to see me in the cycle. Unfortunately I have to draw this conclusion, because I do not have any other explanation.
Now that he has lost his world title both in a tournament and in a match, Kramnik still feels he should have the right to a "revanche" semifinal match (although he refrains from saying it out loud), despite the fact that he agreed on his current rights when he signed for the 2006 match against Topalov and then agreed to play in Mexico in September 2007.

Vladimir Kramnik is a proud man, and he's got every right to be proud. We're not referring to his baby girl here, no, we're talking about the man who has beaten the best chess player of all time in a match! Kramnik is a great player and we still admire his chess, but his recent remarks concerning chess politics are lacking transparancy, predictablility and fairness.
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