25 November 2009

Asleep at the Wheel

I finally got around to updating my page on the 2009 World Cup. I added a link to the official site (the same domain that was used for the, 2007 World Cup). About time, too, since the event started a few days ago and is already in the second round.


While reading various posts on the Khanty-Mansiysk event, I noticed that one well-known, well-respected chess journalist had mistakenly reported that the top two players would qualify into the 2010 Candidates Event, when in fact only one slot is reserved for the World Cup. I'll cut him some slack -- the only people who never make mistakes are people who never do anything, and this particular journalist is a regular dynamo in his reporting on world class chess. Then I noticed that, after admitting the error and correcting it in the original post, the same journalist wrote a second post with the following disclaimer.

Sorry for leaving the erroneous information about the two Cup finalists qualifying for the next stage of the candidates up for so long. Was going from old version of the frequently changed rules (for an event that doesn't even exist yet, of course). In the latest version, only the World Cup winner goes through, which is a relief.

I'm fairly certain that FIDE has never changed that particular rule. A year ago the World Federation changed the structure of the 'Candidates Event' from a two-player match to an eight-player format (a choice between matches or a tournament was later decided in favor of a series of knockout matches), and was roundly condemned for changing the format of a cycle that had already started. Since formally announcing the rules in June, FIDE hasn't changed the seeding of the qualifying players into the same Candidates Event.

It's possible that before FIDE's announcement there were rumors that the list of qualifying players would change. There is no doubt that chess journalism is often driven by rumors -- frequently titled 'Breaking News' -- and that the major chess news services thrive on these rumors to attract visitors to their sites, but these rumors can in no way be considered 'rules'.

After the 2008-09 Grand Prix fiasco, where half of the events initially announced turned out to be imaginary, FIDE appears to have learned not to make announcements until they have signed contracts. A case in point is the Anand - Topalov title match. Widely rumored last month by the chess news services that it would be held in Sofia during April 2010, the match has still not been officially announced by FIDE.

Blaming FIDE for the mistakes of other journalists, or even worse, for one's own mistakes, diminishes the reputation of all chess journalists. It also feeds the headless chicken hysteria (I can't think of a more apt phrase) and the fault finding that inevitably follows the latest rumors.

If I'm wrong about any of the 'facts' I've mentioned here, I'll admit it and take my licks. It wouldn't be the first time.

18 November 2009

1939 Buenos Aires (Women)

I added the PGN for the 1939 Buenos Aires tournament to World Chess Championship (Women) : 1927-39 Title Tournaments. For a discussion of discrepancies related to FIDE's official crosstable, see 'Notes for the 1939 PGN' on the same page.

11 November 2009

A Rigged Match?

While working on the subject of World Championship Opening Preparation (see Between the Lines for the latest post), I've been reading and re-reading all first-hand match accounts that I can find. The Karpov - Korchnoi rivalry was documented by both players in several books, making the three matches a rich source of stories at several levels. Here is a story recounted by Karpov in a book subtitled 'Memoirs of a Chess World Champion'. I'd already heard a similar account of this semifinal candidates match, but Karpov's is unusually direct.
At the candidates' matches in 1971 [Petrosian and Korchnoi's] paths crossed again. It was already clear that whoever won would have to face Fischer, who was swiftly ascending to the chess throne. There was practically no doubt that Spassky would deal with him, but our sports committee decided that that it was better to stop him on his march. Petrosian and Korchnoi were summoned and bluntly asked which of them had the greater chance against Fischer. Korchnoi replied that in the "Fischer age" almost no one had a chance, but Petrosian said that he believed in himself. At that Korchnoi was asked to throw the match to Petrosian, in compensation for which he would be sent to the three biggest international tournaments (for a Soviet chess player at that time this was a regal present).

No documents exist to substantiate this plot. But the mediocrity of Korchnoi's play and the fact that, considering his bitter nature, after he lost to Petrosian he remained on good terms with him implies that Korchnoi let Petrosian win. ['Karpov on Karpov', p.114]

Keeping in mind that the world's top chess players, especially the players who developed in the Soviet Union, rarely have anything complimentary to say about each other, the accusation that 'Korchnoi was asked to throw the match' and the implication that he acquiesced, are still stunning. Here's what Korchnoi had to say.

The match turned out be highly tedious; we played eight draws in a row! [...] People joked that neither of us wanted to win the match, and then meet Fischer. In the West many were thinking the same way, being unable to believe that the match was being played seriously. And only those who knew me well realized that I was trying very hard, but that my play was not coming off. I was most upset when, in the heat of the moment, I overreached myself, and lost from an excellent position in the ninth game. [...]

It was not difficult to guess that the last game of our match would finish in a draw, and Petrosian went through to meet Fischer. By his play against Huebner and me [Huebner abandoned the quarterfinal match], he did not deserve a place in the final candidates' match. But only Fischer was able to demonstrate this. ['Chess Is My Life', p.79]

What about the three international tournaments? According to my page on 1970-72 Candidates Matches, the Petrosian - Korchnoi match was played in July 1971. In the next chapter of his autobiography, Korchnoi mentions playing in the Alekhine Memorial (Moscow, autumn 1971, where Karpov also played), at Hastings (year-end 1971, again with Karpov), at Amsterdam (summer 1972), and at Majorca (November 1972). That corroborates Karpov's story. As for remaining on 'good terms' with Petrosian, Korchnoi's account of the semifinal match continues with the following.

After winning the match against me, Petrosian persuaded me to take part in his preparations for Fischer. For two weeks I visited his ostentatious villa on the outskirts of Moscow. Before his departure for Buenos Aires, Petrosian insisted that I should also go. The question was debated in the Sports Committee. I said that I was a participant in the same candidate's cycle, and so it was unethical for me to be a second, but I could agree if Fischer were to allow me. And I said further that it wasn't always pleasant for me to watch Petrosian's play to say nothing of carrying responsibility for it. In the Committee they did not insist, evidently realizing that the devil himself wouldn't help Petrosian against Fischer!

Karpov continued his account with:

But the idyll [that the players 'remained on good terms'] could not last long. Petrosian had a notorious appetite, and he didn't want to depart from his habits here. Korchnoi knew Fischer well, and in general knew a great deal, so why not make use of this knowledge in the match with Fischer?

This incident is known to me from Korchnoi's own account, although it generally received wide publicity in the chess world. After hearing out the request, Korchnoi could not contain himself and burst out laughing. "Now how the hell can I be Petrosian's second if it makes me sick to watch how he plays?"

This was the end of it. This wasn't just an explosion, but a challenge, and Petrosian vowed to annihilate Korchnoi. And now he was trying to do it with my hands.

That last sentence puts Karpov's account into context: Petrosian offered the young grandmaster valuable advice during the 1974 Karpov - Korchnoi final candidates match, which was a de facto World Championship match.

What do other sources say about the 1971 Petrosian - Korchnoi match? Kasparov glosses over the match both in the Petrosian chapter of 'Predecessors III' (p.108, not even a complete sentence) and the Korchnoi chapter of 'Predecessors V' (p.73, a paragraph)

Plisetsky and Voronkov's 'Russians vs. Fischer' (p.220) quotes exactly the same Karpov passage that I used in this post, with some rewording; Korchnoi's 'it makes me sick to watch how he plays' becomes 'his playing puts me to sleep'. The next chapter is a transcript of documents dated June 1971 that analyze Fischer's 6-0 whitewash of Taimanov in May of that year. That's followed by a long chapter, apparently another copy of an official document, by four Soviet GMs analyzing Fischer's play. It mentions the Fischer - Larsen semifinal match, played in July like the Petrosian - Korchnoi semifinal, leading me to assume that Petrosian had already qualified to meet Fischer in September.

Conclusion: the silence from the two other sources is deafening. Only Korchnoi's account -- 'those who knew me well realized that I was trying very hard, but that my play was not coming off' -- speaks in favor of a match that had not been decided by fiat.

04 November 2009

Who Owns the World Championship?

Since early August, for reasons unbeknownst to me, I've been on a mailing list from one Stan Vaughan of Las Vegas. This past weekend I received the following email, apparently a press release. Except for cleaning up the bullets to make it more readable, I copy it here with typos included.
Subject: Controversial World Chess Federation media conference sees world record set.
Date: Saturday, October 31, 2009, 12:49 AM
From: Stan Vaughan

The World Chess Federation, Inc held its controversial press conference today at the Riviera Hotel Casino.Las Vegas Radio personality John Donovan opened the media conference and the following topics were discussed about current problems in the chess world: After main focus of the upcoming $7.5 million WCF World Chess Championship cycle include upcoming WCF Qualifying Tournament Dec 1-13

The media was given handouts regarding Ilyumzhinov and connections to such corruption as a) Larissa Yudina journalist murder; b) rigged ratings; c) claims to have visted foreign stars with aliens; d) insane time controls of FIDE; e) voting bribes of national federation officials; f) non compete clauses trying to prevent top talent playing in Siberian World Cup from competing in WCF; g) the recent $50,000 Euro (=$75,000 USD) compensation fees for players wanting to change nationality playing for; h) Ilyumzhionov holding FIDE championships in places like Libya where Qadaffi did not allow jews to compete

i) this led to Korchnoi was then attacked by a rabbi as being the root cause of of problerms in chess world by having broken Jewish and Christian law by contacting and playing a chess game from 1985-92 with ghost (spirit) of dead grandmaster Maroczy. The rabbi explained this created a portal whereby an evil spirit in form of Ilyumzhinov took over FIDE and caused Jews as a result to suffer dioscrimination by FIDE and he stated was the cause of failure of Grandmasters Associatiomn, PCA, WCC, Braingames Group and Einstein Group. The rabbi also said Korchnoi selling out to play in Elista rather than supporting WCF did not help matters spiritually for him or Spassky.

j) Stan Vauighan showed letter from Fischer and passed around along with a tie along with photo from Fischer of game played against Spassky in 1992 "The World Chess Championship". In addition. Vaughan also gave out copies of the recent US Trademark office awarding WCF exclusive rights to trademark and tradenames World Chess Championship and The World Chess Championship.

k) Also today GM Raymond Keene confirmed he will be coming to Las Vegas to be master of ceremonies for opening ceremony as well as accept an award from WCF recognizing Staunton as an officially recognized WCF World Chess Champion 1843-1845

l) The highlight was the press conference was followed by Stan Vaughan setting a new world record by playing 57 blindfold games one at a time against 20 different media members albeit none were over 1600 strength, Vaughan went 57-0 to break a previous record held by Koltanowski

The press conference can be viewed in the following video.

WCF World Chess Federation Press Conference 10.30.2009 (9:43) • 'Here is a video covering the WCF World Chess Federation press conference held by Stan Vaughan, inviting chess players from around the world to compete in the WCF World Chess Championship Tournament being held in Las Vegas NV Decemember 1 -13, 2009. For more information contact: Stan Vaughan [plus contact info]'

The bullets in the press release are all provocative and controversial, but I was particularly interested in the statement that 'Vaughan also gave out copies of the recent US Trademark office awarding WCF exclusive rights to trademark and tradenames World Chess Championship and The World Chess Championship.' A search for 'world chess' on the TESS database at uspto.gov revealed that a Word Mark for 'WORLD CHESS FEDERATION' had been registered on 13 October 2009 with 'FIRST USE: 19920901. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 19920901'. The document confirming the USPTO Service Mark can be seen at 3:34 in the video.

I sent Vaughan an email questioning the discrepancy in the press release: 'It appears you have the trademark for "World Chess Federation", not for "World Chess Championship".' He replied, '"The World Chess Championship" is part of the logo that is part of the trademark', and that 'due to the legal documents FIDE's Campomanes signed in 1992 turning over rights to Fischer of "The World Chess Champion", our attornies insist that FIDE Championships since 1992 must be known only as FIDE Championships and not use word World in reference to.' That logo is visible at 0:51 in the video, and again near the end.

Vaughan must have suspected that I was unfamiliar with the 1992 actions of Campomanes, who was FIDE President at that time, and added, 'See books Russians vs Fischer in Averbakh's chapter and Vol IV of Kasparov's My Great Predecessors where Kasparov also acknowledges Campomanes' actions.' I have both of these books and took them out to verify the statements concerning 1992. Plisetsky and Voronkov wrote,

FIDE President Campomanes fulfilled Fischer's main condition [for a match]: he signed and issued the American a certificate to the effect that Fischer continued to be the World Champion. And this in the existence of a live Kasparov, who, upon defeating Karpov in 1985, had been proclaimed the official World Champion by the very same Campomanes! ['Russians vs Fischer' (1994, p.371)]

Kasparov's account confirms this.

To judge by the press reports, a sizable contribution was also made by the FIDE President Florencio Campomanes: he supposedly met the American's main demand, by signing a document to the effect that Robert Fischer continued to be the World Champion. The paradoxical thing about these reports is that in 1985, Campomanes officially proclaimed me World Champion -- and then did the same thing three more times: in 1986, 1987, and 1990! However, everyone understood: for the sake of again seeing Fischer at the chessboard one would sign any paper.

If only FIDE had been so eager in 1975 to sign other papers of interest to Fischer. Kasparov continued his account with a second 'However'.

However, Campomanes categorically asserts that after 1972-75 FIDE never recognized Fischer as the World Champion. Campo was invited to Yugoslavia and visited the island of Sveti-Stefan, where the first part of the 'return match' was held, but he associated only with Torre and Gligoric, and not once with Fischer (and before this they had not seen each other since 1981). ['My Great Predecessors IV' (2004, p.483)]

It appears from these two accounts that the official title of World Champion around the early to mid-1990s depends on a certificate (Kasparov: 'document') that then-President Campomanes might or might not have signed in 1992. (See 1992 Fischer - Spassky Rematch for more about the events of 1992.) This tie-in with the Fischer - Spassky match explains the trademark mention of 'FIRST USE: 19920901'. The press conference kicking off the match was held on 1 September 1992.

Between the creation of the PCA in 1993, detailed in FIDE/PCA Chronology, and the Unification Match in 2006, the chess world went through a bruising period of uncertainty surrounding the ownership of the World Championship. Has FIDE finally secured the rights or not?