27 July 2011

FIDE's Got a Secret

Q: How do you pack a four stage qualifying cycle into three years? • A: You hold one stage per year and let the first stage of a new cycle overlap the last stage of the previous cycle. This is how the World Championship was organized from 1950 until 1990, when the title match for cycle X was held in the same year as the zonals for cycle X+1. This worked for 14 cycles.

Q: How do you pack a four stage qualifying cycle into two years? • A: No one seems to know. • FIDE's solution: You schedule the second stage of the cycle, aka the 'World Cup', every two years, preferably at Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. This fixes the schedule for the first stage -- the zonals and continental championships -- during the months before the World Cup. As for the third and fourth stages, you issue regulations and bidding procedures whenever you think the time is right and hope that someone is paying attention (or maybe you hope that no one is paying attention, thereby sparing you any criticism).

According to Google, the Rules & Regulations for the Candidates Matches of the FIDE World Championship cycle 2011-2013 were published on 16 May 2011. They were unaccompanied by any of the usual marketing nonsense like a press release or a news item on Fide.com. Why let your light shine when you can hide it under a bushel basket?

Why all the hush-hush? One reason might be that we are once again faced with that situation peculiar to today's FIDE that I call Two Overlapping World Championship Cycles. This guarantees that no one can follow the events except FIDE insiders, of whom there are few; it helps them feel important. Another reason might be that we are faced with the exact same format that bored everyone and was roundly criticized in the recent 2011 Candidates Event at Kazan, Russia. Yet another reason might be that FIDE can make changes to the 'Rules & Regulations' whenever they fancy, then claim, 'But it wasn't official!' Still another reason might be the chronic incompetence that plagues FIDE leadership.

I suspect it's all of the above and then some. Come on, FIDE, you've had six years since Kasparov handed you exclusive ownership of the World Championship. It's time you start acting like professionals. Do you really want to be the world's largest *amateur* sports organization?

20 July 2011

Qualifiers and More Qualifiers

Every once in a while I receive an email that reminds me how little I really know about the World Chess Championship. No, it's not the sort of email that points to an error on one of my pages. From time to time I do get these, but they are just as likely to be an error by my correspondent as an error by me. They are instead the sort of email that dumps a ton of information on me and leaves me wondering what to do next.

Lately I've been getting messages from Heinz-Willi Ohl of Germany, a chess history aficionado with a special interest in the World Championship. The messages have been mainly about the zonals and I hope to incorporate them into my pages during the next few months, but the latest message from Herr Ohl was about the post Getting Serious About Qualifiers; (translating from the German:) 'In my opinion you should add to the WCC Index (World Chess Championship etc.) accordingly.'

1887: Steinitz - Paulsen (unplayed match)
1887: Steinitz - Mackenzie (unplayed match) incl. Frankfurt Tournament
1889: New York Tournament
1890: Chigorin - Gunsberg und 1893 Chigorin - Tarrasch s. a. [A]
1899: Lasker - Janowsky (unplayed match)
1900: Gründung Internationale Schachmeistervereinigung incl. Munich Tournament ['foundation of international chessmaster federation']
1903: Lasker - Marshall (unplayed match)
1903: Lasker - Tarrasch (unplayed match)
1905: Marshall - Janowsky (challenger confirmation)
1905: Tarrasch - Marshall (challenger confirmation)
1906: International Chess Federation (Gründungsversuch [B]) incl. Ostende Tournament
1906: Lasker - Maroczy (unplayed match)
1907: Ostende Tournament (World Tournament Championship & Qualifier)
1908: Janowsky - Marshall (challenger confirmation)
1909: Capablanca - Marshall (challenger confirmation)
1911: Lasker - Capablanca (unplayed match)
1912: Lasker - Rubinstein (unplayed match)
1914: International Chess Federation (Gründungsversuch [B]) incl. St. Petersburg Tournament, St. Petersburg rules & Mannheim Tournament
1919: Capablanca - Kostic (challenger confirmation)
1920: Rubinstein - Bogoljubow (challenger confirmation)
1920/21: International Chess Federation (Gründungsversuch) incl. Göteburg Tournament
1921: Capablanca - Rubinstein (unplayed match)
1921: Capablanca - Alekhine (unplayed match)
1922: London Rules incl. London Tournament
1922: Alekhine - Rubinstein (unplayed candidates match)
1924: FIDE-Gründung incl. Paris Tournament
1926: FIDE Masters Budapest
1927: New York Tournament
1928/29: Bogoljubow - Euwe Matches (FIDE-Championship & Candidates)
1928: Amateur World Championship Den Haag
1931: Alekhine - Capablanca (unplayed match)
1931: Capablanca - Euwe (challenger confirmation)
1932: Euwe - Flohr (challenger confirmation)
1936/37: World Championship Disorder (lt. Edward Winter [C])
1938: Alekhine - Flohr (unplayed match)
1938: AVRO Tournament
1939/40: Keres - Euwe (challenger confirmation)
1941: URS Absolute Ch (challenger confirmation)
1945: Pan American Ch & Radio match USR-USA
1946: Alekhine - Botvinnik (unplayed match)
1946/47: Interregnum
1946: Groningen & Prag Tournaments (Qualifier)
1946: USR-USA Match & USA Ch
1976: Karpov - Fischer (unplayed unofficial match)
1995/96: FIDE-PCA WCC Reunification
1998: Linares (WCC Qualifier)
2006: Topalov - Radjabov (unplayed FIDE match)

'Additionally you can add tournaments with the status of a challenger confirmation, for example Monte Carlo in 1904, Ostend 1905 (Maroczy), Cambridge Springs 1904 (Marshall), Ostende 1906 (Schlechter), etc.'

[A] Most Dominant Player to not be World Champion
[B] Google: 'establishment attempt'; i.e. to create a formal organization governing, among other matters, the World Championship
[C] World Championship Disorder by Edward Winter

That's a lot of new material. Where to start? By posting it here and hopefully interesting other amateur chess historians who would like to research these topics.


Chessbase.com recently posted an article relevant to note [B]: Chess Explorations (66) by Edward Winter; 'chronological overview of various pre-FIDE attempts to create an international governing body for chess'.

13 July 2011

Interviews Past and Present

The completion of a major milestone in a World Championship cycle always brings a spate of interviews with the players involved and the recent Kazan Candidate matches continued the tradition. Chessbase.com ran a three part interview by Shay Bushinsky (developer of a former World Computer Champion) with GM Gelfand, Anand's future challenger.

Here are some excerpts.

Q: You are in the cycle for a long time now. Did you actually believe you would reach this stage challenging the World Champion? • A: Yes, and I reached it! I had chances in the early nineties, when Kasparov thought that I was the favourite. But I didn’t succeed then. [Gelfand lost to Short in the quarter finals of 1993, and to Karpov in the semi-finals of 1996]. Then, for ten years, there was no proper cycle. When it reappeared I had two excellent results: I qualified for the World Championship in Mexico, and there I tied for second place. And now I reached the final. So I think I showed that in this system very few people can compete with these results. I must emphasize that unfortunately a lot of excellent players never reached this stage. Players like Keres, Geller, Polugaevsky and Larsen never made it. So I consider myself really fortunate to have managed to get this far. I see it as a privilege and I will do my best to seize the opportunity.

Q: How do you explain your recent success, especially at these elite knockout tournaments? • A: Throughout my career I was in all possible situations – must win with black, must draw with black etc. You know that I’m pretty experienced, having participated in previous candidate cycles. It was probably in the early nineties when I managed somehow to store somewhere all these experiences, and apparently I can retrieve them now, when similar moments occur. It is all unconsciously stored in my brain.

Q: Let’s talk about your age – do you feel its effect on your game? • A: No. The only thing I feel is that it takes me a little longer to recuperate between games, and perhaps it is a bit more difficult for me to achieve consistency, compared to past years. However, by no means do I feel any decline in my tactical ability. When I play I am in full concentration, a condition I attribute to the healthy life style I lead.

Q: How do you assess your chances against Anand? • A: Vishy and I played a lot in the 90’s. I must say that in the first half I had a big advantage, while in the second half he prevailed. If my memory doesn’t fail me it is +1 for him out of the 34 classical games we played, which is by no means a big advantage. During the last decade we played no more than six or seven games, so to be able to play twelve games in one month against such a player will be very interesting… I think that my chances are decent. This opponent is of course extraordinarily strong, but I showed that I can play matches well against the strongest opponents.

Plus much more. An interview with GM Ponomariov, FIDE World Champion in the time period 2002-2004, was posted a few months ago on ChessInTranslation.com and crossposted on Chessvibes.com. I give links to both because Chessvibes generally receives more comments from chess fans.

  • GM Ruslan Ponomariov answers your questions: Part I • ChessInTranslation.com: Part 1, Part 2 • Chessvibes.com: Part 1, Part 2

The interview is excerpts from more extensive material at Crestbook.com, KC-Conference with Ruslan Ponomariov: Part 1. On this last link, the most interesting section to me was '5. The Kasparov Match', with details on the aborted 2003 pre-unification match.

Q: Why didn’t the match come off? • A: I’m not entirely clear myself what the real reasons were for Ilyumzhinov suddenly announcing the cancellation of the match in Yalta. Did he consult Kasparov and the match organisers before taking that decision, or didn’t he? I don’t know.

Plus much, much more.

06 July 2011

The Rybka Affair

Extraordinary events require extraordinary actions. While I normally wouldn't comment on the story reported by TWIC as Rybka banned by International Games Federation, the ICGA action impacts a page I maintain on the World Chess Championship : Computer Chess. The least I could do was to add the statement by ICGA President David Levy to that page, announcing that 'Vasik Rajlich is hereby disqualified from the World Computer Chess Championships (WCCC) of 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010'. Rajlich is the developer of Rybka, the winner of the championships from 2007 through 2010.

Rajlich's first sin was to ignore the ICGA rule that

Each program must be the original work of the entering developers. Programming teams whose code is derived from or including game-playing code written by others must name all other authors, or the source of such code, in their submission details. Programs which are discovered to be close derivatives of others (e.g., by playing nearly all moves the same), may be declared invalid by the Tournament Director after seeking expert advice.
The phrase 'close derivative' requires a subjective evaluation. The most blatant violation of the rule would be to take an existing engine, do nothing more than change its name, and enter it in competition. It's common sense that Rybka wouldn't have won four consecutive world titles 'by playing nearly all moves the same' as its competitors.

Rajlich's second sin was to ignore the ICGA investigation.

The ICGA regards Vasik Rajlich’s violation of the abovementioned rule as the most serious offence that a chess programmer and ICGA member can commit with respect to his peers and to the ICGA. During the course of the investigation and upon presentation of the Secretariat’s report Vasik Rajlich did not offer, despite repeated invitations from the ICGA to do so, any kind of defence to the allegations, or to the evidence, or to the Secretariat’s report [...]

For these two sins, the ICGA punished Rajlich in every way available to it -- stripped of his titles, 'banned for life from competing in the World Computer Chess Championship or any other event organized by or sanctioned by the ICGA', and asked to return all trophies and prize money -- punishments which, in my opinion, far exceed the gravity of the offense. Add to this the damage to Rajlich's reputation and commercial activities, and it is conceivable that the affair will evolve into a civil lawsuit.

I wonder if Levy and the ICGA realize how much their action has diminished the value and reputation of their WCCC. Knowing that the results can be changed at any time in the future, who can take these events seriously? It is entirely possible that one of the newly promoted winners in the years 2007-2010 will one day be judged to have committed the same offense as Rajlich; then the former no.3 placeholder in the tournament will become the 'winner'. I can even imagine that all participants in an event will eventually be disqualified, as though the event had never taken place. As things were, WCCC events got little attention from the chess world. Now they will get even less. Well done, ICGA, (not).