A slightly edited version of the following piece is due to appear in the excellent British Chess Magazine. My thanks to the editor, John Saunders, for agreeing to share the piece with this website:
Viswanathan Anand of India, the FIDE World Champion, had a disastrous result in Dortmund.
While normal human beings like you and me are allowed the occasional bad or even disastrous result, those hoping to be regarded as the world's very best player, or champion, really cannot afford such a luxury.
Before Dortmund all three of the 'contenders' - Kasparov, Kramnik and Anand - had been having a great year in 2001. Kramnik and Anand had lost very few games between them and Kasparov had not lost at all (except in quickplay - to Kramnik). Kasparov maintained his position at the top of the rating list while the FIDE and the Braingames Champions also lost no ground near the top of the food chain.
Now (after Dortmund), the balance of power has shifted slightly. Anand's disaster is great news for Kramnik, who must now be regarded by an even vaster majority as the current 'True World Champion' (TWC). It is also great news for Kasparov, who again looks like the most deserving contender to challenge for Kramnik's new crown. The two K's now stand out at the top of the rating list with a gap developing before Anand in clear third.
Something to smile about: Vladimir Kramnik
(picture by Tinni Levitt)
Where does this leave the big three?
Kramnik can afford to await developments. Will the new Braingames' plans materialise? Will Kasparov and Anand consent to going through hoops for the right to play Kramnik? It is hard to tell. Kramnik's credibility is currently running pretty high. Assuming no really bad results it will stay high for at least a year. Only by the middle of 2002, if matters have not already come to a head, will pressure begin to mount on Kramnik to defend his title. If there is still no legitimate qualification cycle, that pressure may be for a rematch with Kasparov.
Anand is now in a delicate position, one seriously compromised by his recent showing in Germany. He was reluctant to accept an offer of a match with Kasparov in 2000. If he gets half a chance to get a Championship match with Kramnik, he should grab it. FIDE should let him grab it - it might be their best chance of reaching their desired goal of having the FIDE champion recognised as the true champion (should Anand win, that is), a situation that has not existed since Short and Kasparov broke away almost a decade ago.
Unless he has some fantastic results in the immediate future, as brilliantly positive as Dortmund was negative, Anand's standing as a legitimate contender for the 'TWC' title will start to slip rapidly downwards in the public perception. If he acts quickly maybe he can angle for a direct match with Kramnik, but if he hesitates he probably wont even get such an offer. He will need to qualify for the privilege, like it or not.
Kasparov still has a strong hand and is playing it close to his chest in the hope of getting his own straight match against Kramnik. He has good chances of winning any reasonable qualifier, but naturally would prefer not to have to do so if at all possible. Despite not playing, the Dortmund result strengthens his position, but hardly secures it. I hope he agrees to play should the aforementioned reasonable qualifying cycle be organised, but the devil will be in the small print when it comes to deciding what is 'reasonable'. It is unlikely that Ray Keene's opinion (the Braingames recipe) will match Garry's, but you never know.
As the battle for the leadership of the Conservative party here in England demonstrates, the best man does not always win through to the top position. Political manoeuvring is often not fair and sometimes downright ugly. Let's hope the chess world gets its true, unified and recognised champion next year, but for now anyone without a few million dollars to spare can only await developments.
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