08 February 2012

The Last, Lost Interzonal

In my previous post, Canadian Zonals in the 1990s, I mentioned, 'I'm not aware that the cancellation of the 1996 Interzonal, which was the action that caused the problems for the CFC, has been documented anywhere.' Since the cancellation was woven into the events that followed the Kasparov - Short match, I put together a timeline based on my own FIDE/PCA Chronology and Mark Crowther's The Week in Chess (TWIC) reports from the mid-1990s.
FIDE/PCA Chronology: December 1994 • 65th FIDE Congress, Moscow. Campomanes re-elected FIDE President, with the support of Kasparov, "to end the current confusion in world chess". J.Durao and B.Kouatly are appointed honorary vice presidents.

The Interzonal was alive in mid-1995.

TWIC 33: 14 May 1995 • According to Egon Ditt there was a FIDE Executive-Council-Meeting on the 22nd-23rd April. Some decisions were: [...] The Interzonal Tournament will be hosted by Armenia at Erevan; the date is not quite clear (because Russia wants first to have the national championship in December 1995), but should be in September/October 1995 (or in March/April 1996). In any case, the Council does not want to damage any of the big events like Horgen or Linares.

Due to the general disruption of FIDE World Championship events, the scheduling was problematic.

TWIC 48: 10 September 1995 • There will be various announcements made on Friday 15th Sept about the FIDE men's and women's [title] matches and the Interzonals in the next cycle. There was some confusion for players like Speelman who will have to play in the upcoming zonal in Spain because he is uncertain whether he will be automatically qualified for the subsequent Interzonal. The decision will be made a few days AFTER the zonal finishes.

Meanwhile, Campomanes' days as FIDE president were already numbered. He lost the support of his own federation.

TWIC 49: 17 September 1995 • There is at the moment a ferocious battle for control of FIDE. 61 countries, digusted by the inaction of FIDE since the re-election of Campomanes in Moscow, have tried to convene a special meeting in France. This heads off a conference in Qatar where it is supposed that Campomanes will have more influence over the delegates.

Kamsky meanwhile is still trying to get backing for his match with Karpov. Raymond Keene said on TV yesterday that Campomanes is deliberately sabbotaging the Karpov-Kamsky match as part of the deal he made with Kasparov in Moscow. It appears from recent FIDE documents that the Philippines Chess Federation has also stopped supporting Campo. The documents appear at the end of this section of TWIC. [...]

FIDE Material and related releases. [...] • Letter from PHILIPPINE CHESS FEDERATION president to FIDE • 8 September 1995 • MR FLORENCIO CAMPOMANES, President FIDE • Mr President: • The Philippine Chess Federation requests that the Extraordinary General Assembly be convened in France within the next two months, in application of Article 4.15 of the FIDE statutes and for the following additional reasons:
  1. The FIDE-PCA Agreement for the reunification match did not materialize as announced;
  2. The match for the Men's World Championship, Karpov - Kamsky, has no organizer;
  3. The match for the Women's World Championship, Xie Jun - Zsuza Polgar, has no organizer;
  4. The Interzonal tournament set in mid-1995 has been postponed to 1996;
  5. Communication to member-federations regarding important matters has not improved; and
  6. Chess will not be a demonstration event in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics as announced in Moscow.

In that litany of complaints, the Interzonal might seem like small potatoes, but it was important to all world class players who had even a small chance of qualifying for the championship cycle. Campomanes was ousted in November, but it came at a price.

FIDE/PCA Chronology: November 1995 • 66th FIDE Congress, Paris. Questions of financial irregularities arise. Campomanes announces that he will resign if he is succeeded by K.Ilyumzhinov, President of the Republic of Kalmykia. The delegates vote 95-3 that Ilyumzhinov is elected FIDE President for one year and that Campomanes is appointed Honorary Chairman for one year. [See also TWIC 59 & 60]

Ilyumzhinov was a relative unknown, especially in the chess world. It soon became clear that he had his own agenda and that world class chess would never be the same again.

TWIC 64: 2 January 1996 • A letter widely circulated on the internet has come from Willy Iclicki the FIDE treasurer. It shows a President who is both energetic and full of ideas. However his ideas for a knock out for the World Championships are I think almost Universally regarded as ill conceived. They cannot possibly produce an undisputed champion. To my mind a World Championship match tournament of say 4 players playing 8 times against each other, or 6 players playing 4 times would have much more validity and would be even more exciting than his proposals. (there is a problem of how to deal with Kasparov and the FIDE champion equally)

However the cancellation of the Interzonal seems to indicate that the President is set upon this course. Initial reactions to the early days of the Presidency suggest that the President will want his own way. It will be interesting to see how this conflict will be resolved. Here is the letter:

To All Federations, From Willy Iclicki, FIDE Treasurer

As FIDE received many complaints during 1995 of failure to communicate to its members, I have decided to give you, say every two months, a letter to you giving some news and personal views about our organisation. We have now a new FIDE President with new ideas and fresh energy.

First Presidential Board, Singapore 20-22 December 1995 President Kirsan Iljumzhinov invited on his own expenses all members of the P.B to Singapore. The idea behind such an early meeting was to discuss with the PB about ideas regarding about the working of our organisation and the implementing of a new World Championship program.

Opening speech. The President summarised his activities of the last three weeks.

  1. Creating a image.
  2. Recreate the family - Gens Una Sumus.
  3. Popularisation of Chess.
  4. World Championship.
  5. Chess and Politics : elections at FIDE Congress, Armenia 1996.
  6. Campomanes' final speech.
  7. Other business.
  8. My conclusion.

I've eliminated the details behind each of the bullets. In the next issue of TWIC, Crowther repeated the fourth bullet and added his own comments.

TWIC 65: 7 January 1996 • 4. World Championship. 'FIDE is there to promote chess and should be above all other chess organisation'. With these words the President clearly replies to the PCA concerning the World Championship matches. He wants G.Kasparov to return to the FIDE's cycle for the sake of unity and as best for chess.The President proposes to create, starting at the end of 1996, an annual 21 days Knock-out Championship tournament. Two to four games to decide each pairing.Some players will qualify directly into round two and some to round three. ( The schedule and list of players is already fixed) Kasparov and the winner of Kamsky - Karpov will go directly to the semi finals though they will be paired together only if they reach the final. For the first event the prize fund will amount US$ 5,000,000!! This new idea accepted unanimously by the P.B, will have the direct effect that the Interzonal scheduled for Yerevan, Armenia in April-May 1996 is cancelled.

COMMENT: This proposal is unacceptable. I know of virtually no-one who will speak for it. Questions such as: Does Kirsan Ilyumzhinov have the power to cancel the Yerevan Interzonal? Was the Interzonal unlikely to take place for some reason? Firstly come to mind. As to the annual 21 days Knock-out Championship tournament this event is imaginative and potentially exciting but ... this is not a system capable of producing a meaningful World Champion. I'm sure many would welcome it as an annual event (scheduling problems against other events apart) but it cannot reunite the titles and just no-one would recognise the winner as World Champion. I have for some time thought reform is necessary but this is not a solution. It has been shown when used as a format to produce random results not fully based on ability. Below this section I have proposed such a solution.

By the time the next special, off-year election took place, FIDE had failed to organize the knockout tournament for December 1996.

TWIC 101: 14 October 1996 • FIDE Elections Yerevan 1996. It was very difficult to make sense of yet another complicated FIDE Presidential election. Further stories and accounts are now available. [...] The FIDE Congress in Erevan - by Søren Bech Hansen (President of the Danish Chess Federation) [...] As I experienced it, several times, president Iljumzhinov tried to be re-elected in a few seconds. An example of this was when Andrei Makarov suddenly read aloud a contract, apparently signed by both Karpov and Kasparov, claiming that a match between these two K's should be played for the world championship title. Andrei Makarov ended his speech by saying that only Iljumzhinov could make this happen and that he (Makarov) hoped for a re-election. This speech was immediately followed by the following comment from the FIDE President, chairing the meeting: "Any other suggestions for FIDE President?".

I had the impression that the delegates had to be very quick to prevent this kind of "blitz elections". Actually, Florencio Campomanes was elected a full member of the Presidential Board in exactly this way. It was suggested by Professor Kurt Jungwirth, the European continental president, and followed by a "Comments? No, next one!" from the chairman of the meeting. I believe it took less than five seconds from the time of the suggestion to when Campo was elected. [...]

One of the first acts of the re-elected FIDE president after the elections was to announce the postponement of the World Championship Knock-out tournament with a 5.000.000 USD prize fund originally scheduled for december 1996. Iljumzhinov mentioned december 1997 as a possible time for the tournament. This resulted in quite a few questions from the delegates that represent countries that expected to organize zonal tournaments in 1997 - Denmark is one of these countries. Considering the current state of the FIDE World Championship, Denmark will not organise a new zonal tournament in the near future. Those who qualified in the zonal tournament held in Reykjavik in February 1995 still do not know what to do with their qualification. The World Championship of FIDE seems like a total mess to me. [...]

Here is another account, this time by the Canadian delegate.

TWIC 109: 9 December 1996 • HIGHLIGHTS OF THE 1996 FIDE CONGRESS • by Phil Haley, FIDE delegate and Zonal President, Canada [...] • The 1996 FIDE Congress was held in Yerevan, Armenia from September 24 to October 2, 1996. Generally speaking the meeting was another poor one. The Central Committee was far too large and ineffectively chaired with no recommendations being made and everything being deferred to the General Assembly. The first session of the General Assembly was an hour late in starting and no one from the executive advised the delegates what was going on, why the delay or when the meeting would start. When the meeting of the General Assembly finally started it also was ineffectively chaired with little effort to stick to the topic or to progress through the agenda. Similar to the meetings in Moscow, 1994 and Paris, 1995 the whole congress was highlighted by political intrigue and night long maneuvering. On the other hand, as is always the case, the various technical committees worked long and hard and deserve commendation for their efforts. [...]

The 1996 World Championship knockout tournament with a $5 million prize fund as proposed by President Kirsan Iljumzhinov will not be held. This is doubly unfortunate in that the 1996 Interzonals had been unilaterally canceled in favour of the new World Championship tournament. It is now planned to hold the first of these events in 1997 and hold them every two years alternating with the Olympiads. No sponsor has as yet been found although President Iljumzhinov assured the Congress that this would not be a problem. [...]

I raised the question of the rights of the zonal winners to have either progressed to an Interzonal or to take part in the 1996 World Championship where they would have been guaranteed a minimum of $6,000. (U.S.) even if they lost in the first round. I also pointed out that Canada now has winners of two zonal tournaments qualified for future events and noted that the fact that the 1996 World Championship knockout tournament would not be held would create problems. The General Assembly referred the whole question of the World Championship to the Presidential Board for review and decision in conjunction with input from the World Championship Cycle Committee and the Organizers Committee.

All the players who attended a talk by President Iljumzhinov had been given "goodie bags" each containing a bottle of Kirsan vodka, a tub of Kirsan black caviar, a gold plated stainless steel Kirsan watch, an excellent hardcover book covering the Karpov-Kamsky match, a paperback on Kirsan Iljumzhinov plus a dramatically written comic book with the life story of President Iljumzhinov. Members of the press and those delegates, including me, who attended a press conference by President Iljumzhinov were given similar gifts.

I understand that President Iljumzhinov, with both his talk and his gifts, made a favourable impression on the members of a number of teams. On the other hand at least some of these players will not be happy that the 1996 Interzonal Tournament was unilaterally canceled, that the 1996 world championship knockout tournament has been canceled and that the future of zonal tournaments is in question . [...]

New elections will be held in Elista in 1998. In the meantime we will see whether President Iljumzhinov can win the respect of all FIDE members while at the same time being successful in resolving FIDE's financial problems as well as all the questions that remain following his unilateral canceling of the Interzonals and the late decision not to run the World Championship Tournament in 1996.

The knockout tournament was eventually rescheduled for December 1997.

TWIC 127: 14 April 1997 • FIDE KO Tournament to start in the Netherlands. FIDE are to co-operate with the organisers of the Groningen Chess Festival in the Netherlands over their knockout event that is to be held at the end of the year.

The Republic of Kalmykia, over which FIDE President Kirsan Iljumzhinov rules were granted the rights to hold the event. In return for this they promised to guarantee the prize money. If the entire event had been held in Kalmykia it could have had very serious affects on Dutch Chess. The traditional events of Groningen and of Wijk aan Zee were both threatened by the participation of many of the best players in the FIDE event. Johan Zwanepol (director of the Groningen foundation) entered into the kind of negotiations that brought the PCA qualifier (their approximate equivalent of the Interzonal) to Groningen in 1993. Zwanepol offered Groningen as a venue and promised to meet the organisational costs.

Also involved in the negotiations was Joop Haasbroek of the Hoogovens Wijk aan Zee tournament. They were obviously very keen to safeguard the Hoogovens tournament in January. The event in Wijk aan Zee is celebrating its 60th anniversary. The FIDE event will finish no later than January 9th to allow players to travel to that event. Groningen will host all the stages of the FIDE event up to and including the quarterfinals.

About the FIDE KO Championships Here are the details, as I understand them:

Dates: 17th December 1997 event starts in Groningen. 9th January 1998 Closing ceremony Elista in Kalmykia. There is the possibility that the semi-finals or finals could be contested in Lausanne Switzerland. This is as a product of the ongoing negotiations between FIDE and the International Olympic Committee which might see chess being included in the Olympic games Indeed it is possible to envisage how the FIDE model might be adapted to produce an Olympic event. [...]

The first round will consist of zonal qualifiers who would have played in the Interzonal tournament that has been cancelled. There will be other players such as the World Junior Champion, Women's World Champion and invitees. In the second round these will be joined by leading players determined by their ratings and players determined by their position in the last FIDE cycle. The third round will see one additional player enter. That will either by Gata Kamsky or if not then Valery Salov based on their position in the last FIDE cycle. If either Kasparov or Karpov choose to play then they will enter at the semi-final stage. Contracts for invitees to the event will be issued in June and the players will have a few weeks to consider their participation, additional reserves will be called up if the number of places is not filled up. [...]

The idea of a knockout World Championships has been around for a few years now amongst some FIDE officials. The replacement of Florencio Campomanes with Kirsan Iljumzhinov allowed them the opportunity to float the idea again and he has taken to the idea with enthusiasm. The World Chess Championships gradually became the most important element of FIDE finance during Campomanes' reign as president. The importance of this income lead to Campomanes trying to reduce the influence of the players over choice of venue for these matches. The economic crisis of the early 1990's put severe pressure on this. When FIDE had to reduce the prize fund of the Short-Kasparov match from that which had been expected the percentage that FIDE took of the money became an issue. This was the prime reason Nigel Short wanted to hold his match outside FIDE. He was pushing at an open door with Kasparov who was intending to split from FIDE after his match with Short anyway.

The split of the authority of the World Championship title between the PCA title of Gary Kasparov and the FIDE title lead to financing problems in both cycles. Kasparov called his match against Anand a disaster in financial terms, FIDE had even less interest in holding their World title match between Karpov and Kamsky which was only resolved when the event was held in Kirsan Iljumzhinov's own home state. FIDE's lack of income has precipitated a dreadful financial crisis. FIDE had already tried to move from matches every three years to match every two years before.

The Knockout Championships were envisaged as an annual event although this doesn't seemed to have been stressed in the recent press conferences. If an annual event can be organised then it might be the solution FIDE's financial problems. In this first Championships they have additional problems. They hope to reunify any claims to the title. They have offered semi-final places to Kasparov and Karpov with the guarantee of $375,000 for even taking part. There are other restraining factors such as they need the support of the players to hold the Championships and they have a lot of players qualified for an Interzonal that is no longer taking place.

In the past players entered the World Championships because winning it was the ultimate achievement, now there will be many winners, many opportunities but it is not an event to establish the best player definitively. FIDE hope that the event will attract mass publicity for chess (a reason for holding it over Christmas and New year is that it will not clash with other sporting events) and that the format will produce exciting chess. It also answers the objections of those who question the balance of prize money in previous World Championship cycles (a huge disparity between the winner and those who are eliminated just a few stages earlier) with good money throughout the event. However it is certain to produce decisive results but to the purist seems guaranteed to produce chess of very poor quality. [...]

Five such knockout World Championships were held, resulting in a number of FIDE World Champions who would never have won the title if the old system had still been in use.

TWIC 162: 16 December 1997 • FIDE World Chess Championships. The opening ceremony for the FIDE World Chess Championships took place on December 8th 1997 in Groningen in the Netherlands. The event was opened by FIDE President Kirsan Iljumzhinov and expressed the hope that a great challenger will emerge from Groningen to beat Anatoly Karpov in Lausanne.

Prior to the first round 2 players originally in the starting line-up couldn't make it. Esam Mohamed could not make it due to visa problems and earlier 16 year old Taisuke Ichikawa wasn't allowed to play because his headmaster believed the game is not "serious" in the light of Kasparov's loss to Deep Blue. This left the unfortunate Jon Speelman missing out on the Championships. He was assured prior to the zonal tournament that he had already qualified to play in the World Championships so did not play and was the victim of the change of format. Nevertheless a few players did make it by agitating behind the scenes. For instance Smyslov wrote to the FIDE President to ensure his participation. [...]

To read the complete documents from which I've extracted above, plus much more, see the FIDE Archive hosted on the USCF's USchess.org.

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