Friday, 3 May 2013

Of World Championships, Both Men and Women


The very existence of FIDE, the World Chess Federation for those who still do not know this, is owed to the World Chess Championship and its basic reason for existence is completely dependent on it!

FIDE only gained legitimacy when with the death of Alexander Alekhine it ceased to a personal property of the holder, and they took full opportunity to organise a World Championship tournament with all the top players invited, and from which the first of many Soviet World Champions, Mikhail Botvinnik emerged.

Much later, world chess again had a crisis when Gary Kasparov (who if rumour would have it, would be running for FIDE president next year), with the Professional Chess Association, held his own title matches but after a period when we had two championships in parallel, everything became reunited again and in fact, like many, I see the continuing line of Fischer-Karpov-Kasparov-Kramnik-Anand as correct.

But what is certain is that since the time of the Kasparov-Short match, FIDE has chosen to have very strange and every changing ways to determine its World Champion and worst the qualifying process has been largely a lottery too.

Is it money or the people in FIDE? Maybe only God knows!

From what I see, the World Championship Match is too short and the Candidates, if not reverting back to match format should also be longer and if because of too many games being too difficult, then what is wrong to have it in two parts with a break in-between? Maybe in today's fast paced world we have forgetten the huge events of yesteryear where the tournament would go on for months!

It is worst for women chess. They alternate every year between a tournament and a match??? I know the argument that maybe it does not make sense for women to have a separate championship but this is already the same in all sports so such reasoning might only fly when talking about  FIDE player titles such as GM, IM, and FM.

What I find ridiculous is the men do not have to defend a title every year and would not ever agree to such a system.

Something is also very wrong when there is no alignment with its own ranking system, in this case the FIDE rating system. I can understand small differences or a challenger who is one or two places behind others due to a couple of elo points but for the men, Carlsen as challenger is No. 1 on 2868 well ahead of champion Anand ranked No. 5 at 2783 and for the women, Ushenina at No. 19 and 2491, of course a good player but still only ranked No. 2 in Ukraine, is defending her "accidental title" against Hou who at 2617 is a clear and massively stronger No. 1 (amongst women who also play women).

Look at other sports. Have a points ranking system like Tennis or Golf.

In recent weeks there is the flurry of activity to confirm India as the host of the World Championship match based on a promise made by FIDE to give it first right of refusal after taking its better bid away last time around to give it to Russia (who had very conveniently upped their bid once the amounts where known).

Well, everyone knew it was going to be India after Anand retained his title against Gelfand so Carlsen can complain all he likes but if he does not play we should logically see a Anand-Kranmik match (or perhaps even a default) and once again the claer No.1 player is not the world champion (even if he is not now there is a difference because he is able to play for it).

I find this particularly ridiculous because Anand was agreeable to defend his title in Bulgaria against Topalov who enjoyed the full support of his people in his own country and now Ushenina is happy to play Hou in China where a tough match is only going to be so much more difficult.

Yes, it will not be easy to play in India but I think (like too many now) that whatever the conditions, if Carlsen plays anywhere as he can, he will beat an Anand who is now clearly and sadly past his best and who at his age is now making mistakes in games that he never did before and it is not so much he loses much too often but that he is not closing out games often enough. It is also not helping that many of his long serving team is deserting him too.

(My apologies to a great champion I have known since he was 14 years of age and those from my generation might remember that once, so many years ago, when I ran the Selangor Open, Anand came as our guest of honour).

Of course, what a great thing it would be for India to have Anand beat Carlsen in his hometown - they are pulling all stops to help their greatest son - but on the flipside, I cannot imagine how it would be for them to have put up all that money and raised everyone's hopes and instead they witness a passing of the torch from one generation to another.

In chess great World Champions have always stood out. I fear for India but have to welcome the Carlsen era should he decide to start it this year.

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