Credibility and the World Title

It may seem churlish to bring this up before people have even finished offering Vishy Anand his most well earned congratulations on winning a hard-fought FIDE World title, but as we stand at the end of the year 2000, recent developments have made the title of World Chess Champion a genuinely confusing affair. 

Previously, ever since Garry Kasparov and Nigel Short broke away from FIDE in 1993, there had been a degree of confusion over the title, but never as much as there is now. For most the situation had been clear enough: the FIDE title lacked credibility and Kasparov, clearly the best player in the world, was regarded as the true champion. Things have changed. 

First Kramnik defeated Kasparov in the Brian Games Network match in London and then Anand won the FIDE title, defeating Shirov in Tehran.

There are now three players who stand out as a cut above the chasing pack. I list them in no particular order:   

Two out of three isn't bad
and it's a nice trophy but 
Anand did not compete in London

(photo Jon Levitt)

The chasing pack is not that far behind either, with the likes of Peter Leko, Alexander Morozevic, both still developing players, the steady Michael Adams and the unpredictable Alexei Shirov (who sadly looked a touch exhausted in Tehran) all breathing down the neck of whoever might lay claim to the ‘true’ world title. 

What can be done? The public deserves some sort of clarification. Publicity and sponsorship will presumably flow more easily if there is just one champion. A further hurdle is that it will be difficult for BGN and FIDE to reach a mutual understanding (I can only hope I am wrong). Both sides will have a problem recognising the legitimacy of the claim of the other’s representative as World Champion and there are economic considerations that make it even harder for the two sides to compromise. I wish them the best of luck! It should ultimately be in everybody’s interests for the chess world to unite, but it will take statesmanlike leadership and behaviour from all involved to make it happen. 

My suggestion for a possible unification: I would like to see a four-player contest decided by means of two 12 game semi-final matches and a 16 game final. A fourth player needs to emerge to join the three listed above, either as the best-placed player in some super-tournament (where such a qualification has been agreed in advance, of course) or, better, by means of a special open (BGN internet?) event. I would also arrange it so that Kasparov could not play Kramnik at the semi-final stage. 

This is just one idea in a sea of possibilities. Agreement of all the interested parties (the three players, FIDE and BGN) will be essential for whatever does transpire. Kramnik and Anand may both need (and certainly deserve) a little time to enjoy their success and relax before facing the unpleasant reality that they cannot both be World Champion simultaneously! 

Why not just have a match between Anand and Kramnik? They would prefer that to what I am suggesting, since then they would have a better chance of becoming the unified champion (given they would ‘only’ have to win one match not two). But the four-player system has three main advantages: 

1)      It gives a new player a chance to shine. More open and more ‘democratic’.

2)      Kasparov is included. He does not get a ‘rematch’ for the title, but he gets a ‘last four’ situation.

3)      Most importantly, credibility. Say Anand and Kramnik play a match and say Anand wins. He would then hold the unified title having never overcome Kasparov. Questions would still remain, which is exactly what we do not want. Anyone who came through the four-player system I am proposing would deserve the recognition of everybody as the true World Champion. The tradition of the World Title could be honoured and some sort of continuity regained. 

Of course a match between Kramnik and Anand would be much better than no resolution at all, but somehow it would not entirely settle the issue for many in the chess world who would want to wait for the cycle after that (with Kasparov involved) before believing in the world title with conviction once again. 

For now all eyes will be focussed on the forthcoming tournament in Holland, where all of the key players face each other over the board. Wijk aan Zee starts on January 13th.


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