10 December 2008

Groan Prix

That's not just how a French speaker would pronounce 'Grand Prix', as in 2008-9 FIDE Grand Prix, that's also how an English speaker might understand it. The Franglais homonym well describes the current status of the series of six World Championship qualifying tournaments.

Less than a month before the Doha leg was scheduled to start, FIDE announced that the venue for the third Grand Prix event was to be the FIDE President's home town, the fallback of last resort for every troubled chess event since Ilyumzhinov became FIDE President, and itself the announced venue for the fifth event in August 2009.

  • Next Grand Prix Event in Elista • 'The change is due to the withdrawal of the Qatar Chess Federation from the organization. An alternative location for the Grand Prix event in August 2009 is being negotiated and will be announced in due course.' [Fide.com; 23 November 2008]

Then FIDE announced that the Grand Prix would not lead to a two-person match to determine the 2011 World Championship challenger, but would instead lead to an eight-person candidates event with the same purpose in mind.

Later it announced that a replacement had been found for the original Elista event.

  • FIDE Grand Prix in Yerevan • 'FIDE is pleased to announce that the Armenian Chess Federation has agreed to organise one of the FIDE Grand-Prix tournaments from 8th to 24th August 2009 in Yerevan.' [Fide.com; 5 December 2008]

The sudden, last-minute shift of the Doha event was already a signal that FIDE's current World Championship cycle was out-of-order, but the bait-and-switch technique to change the format of a cycle already in progress was more than the top players could countenance.

  • After Dresden and on the Grand Prix • 'What really stole the attention of Magnus and many others during the latter part of the Olympiad was of course the news from FIDE about changes to the Grand Prix cycle. First came the short notice cancellation of Doha (about two weeks after we had been told everything was all right and could go ahead and buy plane tickets (which we did). Later the really big issue came up. Without proper prior notice, and on the last day of the FIDE congress, a proposal was approved by the (people still left in the) General Assembly to degrade the GP midway by introducing a new qualifying layer'
    [blog.magnuschess.com; 2 December 2008]

Magnus Carlsen, just turned 18-years old and a world top-10 player, is widely considered to be a future World Champion. The success of an event like the Grand Prix depends on attracting and keeping top talent, especially attention getters like Carlsen, but a few days later he announced his withdrawal from the event.

  • Magnus withdraws from the Grand Prix 2008 - 2009 • 'We have just informed FIDE by e-mail that Magnus withdraws from the Grand Prix series due to the dramatic change to these regulations approved by the General Assembly.' [blog.magnuschess.com; 5 December 2008]

An exchange in the comments to Carlsen's announcement left no doubt who the young Norwegian grandmaster held responsible for the fiasco. First there was a comment by GM Alexei Shirov, himself a former world top-10 and contender for the world title.

I have posted a lot in Russian forums these days, so I'll try to make a brief summary for English speaking readers. I have mixed feelings about your decision. It's good to feel that chessplayers are no longer FIDE's puppets and that Kirsan's and Makro's personal behaviour should change as quickly as possible. But I still wonder what's Kirsan's fault in what happened with Grand Prix when it was Borg and Kok's project. And what is wrong with Russian winter for Norwegians. And why not to look for a more suitable compromise if your criticism is not directed at the change itself. On the other hand FIDE need to take a real lesson about the transparecy and fairness and I'd like to thank you for giving it to them. - Alexei Shirov

This was answered by Carlsen's blogmaster, his father Henrik.

Alexei Shirov, thank you for your comments! I would like to respond briefly on some of them. The two organisers that have cancelled their GP events are firstly a friend of Kirsan (Montreux) and a secondly represented by a FIDE VP from Qatar (Doha). Taking into account the control FIDE has over GlobalChess, Kirsan's ownership in the company and the link FIDE - Doha/Montreux organisers, we do put the responsibility mostly on FIDE (and not on G.Borg in GlobalChess). As Norwegians we don't mind Russian winters and Magnus has indeed been to Khanty-Mansyisk twice and in Moscow many times during the winter. As communicated in more detail to FIDE after the change from Doha to Elista our main concern was the safety hazard involved in travelling through Moscow, flying Moscow - Elista and not least travelling by car within Elista for two weeks in wintertime. - Henrik C.

Montreux is the scheduled venue for the fourth event in the Grand Prix and its mention gave weight to the rumor, still not confirmed by FIDE, that it would suffer the same fate as Doha.


At some point after the first appearance of the details for the Next Grand Prix Event in Elista, FIDE added a list of participants. Of the 14 players originally scheduled for the event, four names were missing: Carlsen, GM Michael Adams, GM Mohamad Al Modiahki (the nominated player of the Doha organizers and a forced withdrawal), and GM Yannick Pelletier (the nominated player of the Montreux organizers). The four were replaced by GMs Vladimir Akopian, Evgeny Alekseev, Pavel Eljanov, and Ruslan Kasimdzhanov.

What happens with the departing players and their substitutes is described in Regulations for the 2008 - 2009 FIDE Grand-Prix [grandprix.fide.com].

4.2 If a player withdraws after completing 50% or more of the games, the rest of his games are lost by default. In case a player completes less than 50%, all his results are annulled.

6.4 If a player withdraws from the GP for any reason whatsoever, less than two weeks prior to the commencement of the GP series or even during the series, then FIDE reserves the right to select one or more players, as may be required, to compete 'hors concours' in the withdrawn player's GP tournament schedule. The replacement players selected will be from the top 40 players and will only compete for the prize money within the specific tournament. They will not earn ranking points and their results will be used for any potential tie-break as specified under Article 7.2.2. The players selected will be varied from tournament to tournament and no replacement player will participate in more than one event.

Since Pelletier hadn't yet played in a Grand Prix event, while the other three players had played in only one of the four events they were expected to play, their results should all be annulled. Unfortunately, those aren't the only clauses in the FIDE Regulations that apply to this complicated situation. There's also a mention of penalties for withdrawal.

6.2 Players that fail to provide a satisfactory reason for withdrawal from the Grand Prix during or even before the series, after they have signed the player`s undertaking, may be excluded from the next World Championship cycle, apart from any other action that FIDE may reserve the right to take.

18.3 Should a player withdraw from a tournament or the GP series without proper justification to the WCCC, then a penalty of [Euro] 10,000 will be imposed on the player and the player may be excluded from the next World Championship cycle'

Will FIDE consider the withdrawals to be for a 'satisfactory reason'? Will chess's top bureaucrats fine both Carlsen and Adams and exclude them from the next World Championship cycle? Given FIDE's recent record of major blunders and indifference to the top players, the possibility can't be dismissed.

No comments: