It was some shocking news I received when I turned on my computer to check the internet this morning. On http://www.hegnar.no, a site which is dedicated to news in economics, it was also written about Magnus Carlsen, who has decided to withdraw from the world championship cycle. It’s a major decision, to which, I cannot agree.
The reason Carlsen gives in an open letter to FIDE, given from chessbase, is that the conditions are unfair, and that there has been too much changes. This is at the moment just somewhat true, the conditions for the matches have not been fairer for years. After Kasparov dropped out from the FIDE system in the early nineties the title has been both unfair, and unclear. In the system named classical world championship, there was no cycle whatsoever. Kasparov just decided who to play now and then. He even turned down the one who actually qualified once, when there was an attempt on candidate matches, and decided to play Kramnik, instead of Shirov. The reason: Kasparov claimed that Kramnik was just better even though he lost to Shirov, and a match with Kramnik thus would be “more interesting”. As we all know, Kasparov lost that match, and never got a rematch. Kramnik adopted the way of Kasparov, not to play anyone, and just keep the title.
The FIDE system at the time was not a World Championship, but a lottery, where pure luck was more important than quality of play. This produced world champions like Khalifman, Kasimdzhanov and Ponomariov, players who never dominated neither top class tournaments, nor the rating tables.
Before this the reigning world champion had to be beaten in a match. In case of a draw, the champion kept his title. There were no rapids or blitz game to decide, like to decide the winner of a marathon by a 100 metres race. And if the champion lost, he had the right for a rematch. The title has never been fairer in the history of chess.
Carlsen also compares the privileges of the world champion as if Spain was given place in the soccer final in 2014. But this is not a good comparison, chess is not like soccer, it’s more like boxing, and in boxing you should of course beat the reiging champion, to become the new one. The classical chess championship matches are history of the best chess produced, always remembered, while most of the tournaments are quickly forgotten. It’s a big loss for chess if the matches are abandoned.
It is also a question about chess personality. Long matches favours players with patience, who are hard to beat, and who take their chances when they got some. Tournament chess favours players who take risks, wins a lot, but also loses. All though Carlsen has a style which would fit very well both in tournament play and in matches, the thought fells into mind, that he just want the system where he is most likely to win. A true champion will just win in the system which is offered. Great stars like Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov managed to do just that, in a system a lot more unfair than the one Carlsen complains about now.
In young age Carlsen most of the time has kept his path clean. He has played the game at the board, and made his best moves there to reach the number one spot on the rating tables. If he had stucked to that path, he might well has been the youngest world champion in history of chess. Now he very well might be never a true champion at all. For in mine – and many other chess fans – opinion, the way to be the champion of the world, is to beat the reigning champion in long, hard matches, with many games, so that the title is not dedicated by luck, but quality of play.
Viswanatan Anand is the 14’th champion in this system. I am very sad Carlsen will not be number 15, and I hope he will rethink his decision. Carlsen should play the matches, win the title, and only then suggest changes in the qualifier systems. Until then he has everything to prove.