Carlsen bolts Championship Cycle

Magnus Carlsen has written FIDE a letter expressing his intent to exit from the World Championship Cycle. Photo by ChessBase.

Magnus Carlsen has written FIDE a letter expressing his intent to exit from the World Championship Cycle. Photo by ChessBase.

Magnus Carlsen, one of the top contenders for the World Championship crown, has decided to drop out of the cycle. This is the first time since Garry Kasparov that such a top three player has decided to exit the cycle. Thus, Carlsen’s championship ambitions will have to wait. This decision could have a potentially damaging effect on his career and aspirations.

Many disappointed fans around the world will question this decision and whether the Norwegian really has the mettle to become a successful match player. He has proven himself by becoming a dominant tournament player, but seems to take issue with match play in the current system.

ChessBase carried his letter to FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in which he stated,

To: FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov & FIDE World Championship Committee

Reference is made to the ongoing World Championship cycle.

The purpose of this letter is to inform you of my decision not to take part in the planned Candidate Matches between March and May 2011.

After careful consideration I’ve reached the conclusion that the ongoing 2008–2012 cycle does not represent a system, sufficiently modern and fair, to provide the motivation I need to go through a lengthy process of preparations and matches and to perform at my best.

Reigning champion privileges, the long (five year) span of the cycle, changes made during the cycle resulting in a new format (Candidates) that no World Champion has had to go through since Kasparov, puzzling ranking criteria as well as the shallow ceaseless match-after-match concept are all less than satisfactory in my opinion.

By providing you with four months notice before the earliest start of the Candidates as well as in time before you have presented player contracts or detailed regulations, I rest assured that you will be able to find an appropriate replacement.

Although the purpose of this letter is not to influence you to make further changes to the ongoing cycle, I would like to take the opportunity to present a few ideas about future cycles in line with our input to FIDE during the December 27th 2008 phone-conference between FIDE leaders and a group of top-level players.

In my opinion privileges should in general be abolished and a future World Championship model should be based on a fair fight between the best players in the World, on equal terms. This should apply also to the winner of the previous World Championship, and especially so when there are several players at approximately the same level in the world elite. (Why should one player have one out of two tickets to the final to the detriment of all remaining players in the world? Imagine that the winner of the 2010 Football World Cup would be directly qualified to the 2014 World Cup final while all the rest of the teams would have to fight for the other spot.)

One possibility for future cycles would be to stage an 8-10 player World Championship tournament similar to the 2005 and 2007 events.

The proposal to abolish the privileges of the World Champion in the future is not in any way meant as criticism of, or an attack on, the reigning World Champion Viswanathan Anand, who is a worthy World Champion, a role model chess colleague and a highly esteemed opponent.

Rest assured that I am still motivated to play competitive chess. My current plan is to continue to participate in well-organised top-level tournaments and to try to maintain the no 1 spot on the rating list that I have successfully defended for most of 2010.

Best regards,
IGM Magnus Carlsen

Carlsen seems to believe the tradition of match play in the Candidates tournaments is inadequate and prefers World Championships to be decided in tournaments. He suggests that the reigning champion should not be automatically be given a slot in the next championship final match, but should play in a tournament every time he wants to defend the crown. This is a strange admission and he uses an even stranger football analogy.

The cycle format has been a subject of debate for many years and FIDE has attempted several formats: knockout, tournaments and matches. Anand has won the championship in all three formats. One thing is for certain… Carlsen will lose some fans on this decision and could risk losing his appeal as other young players are on the rise.

There was a time when a young player had to follow the rules of the system and work his way up to be the champion. In these days, every potential champion seems to want a system that benefits his strength. Anand has been a great champion and more players should take his lead and prove themselves. This is a tragic day for chess.


  1. FIDE statement concerning the Candidates Matches 2011

    FIDE respects that every player makes his own decisions and regrets that GM Magnus Carlsen has expressed his desire to withdraw from the upcoming Candidates Matches. It is always a big loss for any event when a player of Magnus Carlsen’s strength is not participating. FIDE’s policy is to review regularly the World Championship cycle after consultation with the top world players. At this point in time, the current cycle is in its final stages and it is not possible for FIDE to change its regulations. In the case of GM Magnus Carlsen not participating, according to regulations GM Alexander Grischuk from Russia will be his replacement.

    The match system for the World Championship has been in place for around a century with some slight variations such as in 1948 or 1999-2007 when round-robin or knock-out tournaments were also used to decide the world title. FIDE has always been sceptical about World Championship matches instead of tournaments. Ten years ago, FIDE established that the World Champion should not have any privilege when entering the World Championship Tournament (knock-out or round-robin), in accordance with the current suggestions of GM Magnus Carlsen. After 2007, FIDE discussed the format with a number of top players and many of them, including former World Champions Anatoly Karpov, Gary Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik still preferred a match to decide the winner of the title instead of a tournament. FIDE accepted this change and returned to the classical system of a World Championship Match but without the privilege of the World Champion keeping his title in case of a tie.

    As a matter of principle, FIDE cannot change its regulations upon the wish of a single player, even if this player is the World Champion or the No.1 or No.2 of the world ratings. On the other hand, FIDE is always open for suggestions which can be applicable in the future and which would also support or increase the marketing value of the World Championship.

    Best regards,

    Georgios Makropoulos
    FIDE Deputy President

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