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Nor­we­gian grand­mas­ter Mag­nus Carlsen shocks chess world by with­draw­ing from Can­di­dates matches.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LEISURE - QUAH SENG SUN

IF you are wait­ing for the next world chess cham­pi­onship match to be played be­tween Viswanathan Anand and Mag­nus Carlsen (pic), you can for­get about it.

It’s not go­ing to hap­pen any time soon, not af­ter the gifted 19year-old Nor­we­gian (he’ll be cel­e­brat­ing his 20th birth­day on Nov 30) pulled out from the Can­di­dates matches that are due to be played next March.

It was a de­ci­sion that shocked the chess world. The Nor­we­gian grand­mas­ter is cur­rently the high­est rated player in the world. Cer­tainly, a match be­tween him and de­fend­ing cham­pion Anand would have cap­tured the world’s imag­i­na­tion.

But in or­der to reach Anand for the ti­tle, Carlsen would have to go through the se­ries of elim­i­na­tion Can­di­dates mini-matches. First off would be the Can­di­dates quar­ter-fi­nal match and if he was suc­cess­ful, then the Can­di­dates semi-fi­nal match and then the Can­di­dates fi­nal match it­self. The win­ner earns a ticket at a tilt with Anand in 2012.

Last week, Carlsen in­formed the World Chess Fed­er­a­tion (Fide) that he was with­draw­ing from the Can­di­dates. He claimed that the cur­rent world cham­pi­onship cy­cle was un­fair to him. Also, the rules were not suf­fi­ciently mod­ern enough. As such, he would not be able to mo­ti­vate him­self to com­pete.

What Carlsen wanted was an end to the Can­di­dates matches. He pre­ferred an eight to 10 player world cham­pi­onship tour­na­ment to de­cide who would be the world cham­pion, like what was played in 2005 and 2007. He didn’t like the idea of a se­ries of knock-out matches.

Well, maybe to a teenager, the matches are not ex­cit­ing or ap­peal­ing enough. But to the rest of the world – and when I say the “rest of the world”, I mean the top-ranked pro­fes­sional chess play­ers – the re­turn to the Can­di­dates matches were what they de­manded and re­ceived from Fide.

Few of the pro­fes­sional chess play­ers wanted the world cham­pi­onship ti­tle to be de­cided on tour­na­ment play. There are tour­na­ments a-plenty to sat­isfy the pro­fes­sional play­ers through­out the year but a true test of a wor­thy cham­pion, they said, is the abil­ity to go through a se­ries of games in a match with his chal­lenger. For ex­am­ple, if two play­ers were to play for the very high­est stakes, would they want to stake ev­ery­thing on only one game or on a se­ries of games?

Therein lies the other ar­gu­ment in Carlsen’s with­drawal: the world cham­pi­onship is not a fight on equal terms. While play­ers have to slug it out in the Can­di­dates quar­ter-fi­nals, semi­fi­nals and fi­nal matches, the cham­pion only needs to sit pretty and wait for a chal­lenger to emerge.

Why should one player have one out of two tick­ets to the fi­nal, which is to the detri­ment of all re­main­ing play­ers in the world, he asked. Cu­ri­ously enough, he then made a puz­zling com­par­i­son. Imag­ine, he said, if the win­ner of the 2010 Foot­ball World Cup di­rectly qual­i­fies for the 2014 World Cup fi­nal, while all the rest of the teams fight for the other spot.

To me, this com­par­i­son with the World Cup is sim­ply not spo­ton. World cham­pi­onship chess and the foot­ball World Cup are two dif­fer­ent crea­tures. World cham­pi­onship chess is a con­test be­tween in­di­vid­u­als whereas the World Cup is a team game.

In any tour­na­ment for in­di­vid­u­als, the play­ers do not change once the event had started. In team events, the play­ers in a team do change from game to game. Even if two foot­ball teams play each other in quick suc­ces­sion, in all prac­ti­cal like­li­hood, the make-up of the teams on the two oc­ca­sions would be dif­fer­ent. Thus it makes lit­tle sense to make this sort of com­par­i­son.

An­other of Carlsen’s ar­gu­ment was that five years was too long to com­plete a world chess cham­pi­onship cy­cle. To me, this is cer­tainly true. How­ever, one must un­der­stand the turmoil that the world chess had un­der­gone in the last two decades.

Since the days of Wilhelm Steinitz (the year was 1886), there had been a long chain of undis­puted world chess cham­pi­ons. This chain snapped in 1993 when Garry Kas­parov and Nigel Short chose to play their world cham­pi­onship match out­side Fide. For 14 years, there were two par­al­lel cham­pi­onship cy­cles.

Al­though uni­fi­ca­tion of the two ti­tles even­tu­ally hap­pened in 2006 af­ter a lot of in­tense ne­go­ti­a­tion, the stake­hold­ers still had much to de­mand from Fide. You can say that Fide had to tread a fine line to sat­isfy ev­ery­one in­volved and that needed time. But even­tu­ally, ev­ery­thing set­tled down and there is now again one ac­cepted for­mat and one undis­puted world chess cham­pion in Anand. It was a tough les­son learnt. Would any­one want to re­peat the same mis­take?

But of course, it is all up to Carlsen. If he chooses to with­draw from the Can­di­dates matches, that is up to him. No­body can force him to ac­cept a sys­tem which he dis­likes. So with­out him play­ing, there is no po­ten­tial Anand ver­sus Carlsen world chess cham­pi­onship match to look for­ward to.

Nev­er­the­less, the sit­u­a­tion is still okay by Fide. All this had been an­tic­i­pated and one or two days later, the world body an­nounced that Alexan­der Grischuk has re­placed Carlsen in the Can­di­dates.

The Can­di­dates matches will be world class with or with­out the Nor­we­gian grand­mas­ter. Only dif­fer­ence is that it will have less glam­our.

In fact, come next year, I’ll be look­ing for­ward to Ve­selin Topalov vs Gata Kam­sky, Vladimir Kram­nik vs Teimour Rad­jabov, Levon Aro­nian vs Alexan­der Grischuk, and Boris Gelfand vs Shakhri­yar Mam­e­d­yarov.

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