the Official Magazine of the Catalan Chess Federation "El Butlletí d'Escacs"
What does Yasser Seirawan think about World Championship cycle and matches?
I don’t like the FIDE cycle at all. I think it is foolish, without sense, which is negative for sponsors, the public and for the players.
Let us start with the obvious, chess does not have a “Premiere League,” a “Grand Prix” or a “World Cup.” We are without a ‘season’ which exists in most sports. What we do have is a “World Chess Championship.” In my view, this should be an annual event. Full stop! Once you think about this and reach the same conclusion questions start popping into mind, such as “how would an annual cycle work?” As well as other questions.
So let us step back and think of how would we create an ‘annual cycle’ with the ‘tools’ that we have in hand today?
First we come to the obvious question, “What would the ‘final’ competition look like?” Should we have a ‘traditional’ one-on-one match? Or should the ‘final’ competition feature a tournament with a double round robin or quadruple round robin final? If you stop and choose one or the other, there will be complaints from one set of fans who prefer one type (strongly) over the other. Once that awareness seeps in, the answer is obvious, you have both.
Today, we have a ‘strange’ cycle to say the least. Let us be generous, and say that today’s cycle is a “fixed” two year cycle where we have “continental championships” bringing “qualifiers” who compete in a 128 player Knockout event, the World Cup. The top three players qualify for a Candidates Tournament, alongside three highest rated players (other than the existing World Champion), the runner-up to the previous Championship match and a nominee “wild-card” from the Candidate’s Tournament organizer. From the Candidate’s tournament a “Challenger” emerges and then a match is played. All of these events are staged in a two year cycle (or so). It is what it is and these are the tools we have today. I think the cycle is stupid. Why?
First of all, let us think about the role of the World Champion. Let us presume that the World Champion is the strongest, most interesting chess player in the world. That the fans, the public, the media all love him/her and thrill to their every contest! How exciting! Well guess what, in this entire ‘two year’ cycle the World Champion does nothing! He/she does not play. Not in the National Championship, the Continentals, not in the Knockout, not in the Candidates. The World Champion waits. When a Challenger is ‘born’ at long last, the World Champion comes out of the cacoon to play a 12-game match. Doesn’t that strike you as a silly system? It certainly does me!
Imagine, if Barcelona won the Premiere League in Spain and was declared so good, they wouldn’t have to play in the League anymore. No, the team would wait for a Challenger and Barcelona would play a ‘match’ against the Challenger. That’s all. The public would be confused. It is with a similar ‘confusion’ as this example that I, a professional player, look at the world of chess. We have a stupid system for determining the World Champion. If it makes no sense to me, then how can I ‘sell the system’ to a sponsor? For chess it gets even worse!
Let us look at the World Chess Championship and the elite world of chess today. We all know and love Viswanathand Anand. We couldn’t ask for a better chess ambassador. Vishy is a prince and a deserved World Champion! No questions. But is he ‘head and shoulders’ above his colleagues and nearest rivals? I don’t think that even Vishy would make such a claim. Rather the contrary, that he does feel that he is an ‘elite’ player with a few, ‘very close rivals.’ Yet Vishy is separated out of this ‘elite’ group and put on a pedestal and removed from playing.
The world’s number one player, Magnus Carlsen, considers the system ‘unfair’ and withdrew from the cycle. This is terrible for chess, for the public for sponsors. This is important to understand: Magnus is right! Vishy is but one player in an ‘elite circle’ of company that includes, Carlsen, Anand, Aronian, Kramnik, Topalov, it is simply wrong that by winning this or that event, the World Champion is put on a pedestal above all the rest!
Again, if I were ‘chess dictator’ I’d change the system dramatically. First, I would have an annual World Championship title event. I would keep the two year cycle as is, with the following changes, I would make the “Candidates Tournament”, a double round robin of the eight players, a World Championship tournament. In this case, what I’d have in mind is that the World Championship plays in this event, alongside 7 other players. Three from the Knockout (World Cup); three from the rating list; one organizer nominee.
(Eventually, I’d scrap the nominee and include the winner of the Grand Prix.) All players would be encouraged to play in the World Cup.
Every other year there would be a 12 game World Championship match. It would feature the world’s number one rated player and the world’s number two rated player. Full stop.
Before we stop and complain, let us think about the above for a moment and elaborate things in greater detail.
First let us suppose the winner of the World Championship ‘tournament’ is neither the number one or number two player in the world by the rating list, that means the (tournament) World Champion would NOT play in the following World Championship Match next year. The privileges of the World Champion don’t exist. To win, defend, or keep the title the World Champion has to compete and perform! If the World Champion ‘falls out of form’ and is surpassed by others, this is sport! With an annual championship event, the player will have opportunity to ‘get back into shape’ and compete soon again.
So, every second year, there would be a 12-game match for the world championship, for say one million Euros, minimum, featuring number one and number two. A fine pay day. The entire public would understand: number one versus number two. Simple. In sport, if a player is unable to compete, due to physical injury, the player is scrapped and replaced. Simple. If number one or number two doesn’t want to compete, number three is invited and so on. There must be a competition!
Some will complain that the above match is “too elite” or perhaps doesn’t feature the existing World Champion. They are wrong. Becoming one of the highest rated players in the world is the most democratic thing in chess! Everyone, everyday, has opportunities to raise their rating. Just go out and compete! Win a high number of games – and you too may one day become the highest rated player in the world! No one is stopping you. Everyone has a chance to gain a high rating!
Next, I’d put in the rules, that a ‘high rated player’ could not ‘sit’ on their rating. An ‘activity requirement’ of at least thirty games, played three months prior to the match is needed to be eligible to ‘accept’ an invitation to the match. A player MUST be active. Indeed, thirty games in a twelve month period can hardly be considered ‘onerous.’
Too, I’d require that any player, in either the Match or the Tournament for the World Title, is required to compete in their National Championship – only if the National Championship is a round robin – as well as for their nations Olympiad Team. This is a quid pro quo agreement. A player that is able to play in the Tournament and Match will be very well paid. It is not too much of an ‘ask’ that such players support their National Championships and National Team. This is a ‘give back’ to their own countrymen and colleagues!
So the way the World Championships would work is that one year, a double round robin of various top ranked players and qualifiers would play for the World Championship. This would mean that every person would have two clear pathways of qualifying: Become one of the top three rated players in the world or win the Continentals and place in the top three of the World Cup and you are in.
This type of cycle is what the world of chess needs and what sponsors would support! Knowing that there is a World Championship every year at stake is wonderful for chess. The chess world wants to see a ‘showdown’ between the top two players; the world wants to see opportunities for their national champions to compete and to know who is the world’s best ‘tournament player’ as well as best in ‘match play.’
The system is fair to everyone.
In time, the process for the Tournament World Championship should be clarified and made more uniform, but if we go in this direction, chess will grow and more sponsors will be ‘discovered’ along the way.
There are emerging younger and younger chess geniuses every day. What do you think about this?
Marvelous! The more the merrier! And I totally agree, new talents are emerging from all over the world and they are better and stronger and younger than ever before. Welcome!
Which of these young players have the potential, in your opinion, to become a World Champion, if any?
Well, my goodness, all of them have the potential. Smile. Seriously, to mention just a few names without slighting in any way those not mentioned, Magnus Carlsen, simply will be WC one day; Sergey Karaiakin of Russia; Timor Radjabov Azberjian; Hikaru Nakamura USA; Le Quong, Vietnam; Anish Giri Holland; all of these names and many others stand out in my mind as likely WC’s.
About the time controls Mr. Seirawan thinks that…
I’m disgusted with the time controls! My chief complaint is that they are not standardized. To my mind, there are three ‘types’ of chess tournaments: Classical, Rapid and Blitz. Honestly, I don’t care what the time controls for these three disciplines are, only that they should be the same for all tournaments! Today, a “Classical” tournament will have all kinds of different time controls. It is terrible. For a professional, they are constantly recalibrating themselves for all these controls which can be different from event to event in the extreme. This too, has been a failure from the FIDE, official Federations and the Professional players. In fact, it is just stupid.
If I were chess dictator I would say, “For the next two years we will play our three disciplines with these and only these ‘standard’ time controls. Full stop. At the end of two years, we will review the results. If we discover that some ‘tweaking’ is necessary, we will change the standard and practice them for two years…” And so forth and so on, eventually ‘settling’ on the three standards that we all like best, which works for all parties, including organizers.
I would start with a Classical time control of 90 minutes for 40 moves with a thirty second bonus for all moves made at move one. For the second time control 30 minutes for 20 moves (with the thirty second bonus) for the third time control 15 minutes (with the thirty second bonus) for the rest of the game. My reasoning for this time control is that a Classical game, will obviously be the longest of the three disciplines. A player has physical needs, such as nutrition, drinks, visiting the restroom and so on. The three distinct time controls, allow the player to ‘comfortably’ meet their physical needs. It is simply intolerable to be sitting at the board, with a strong physical need to go to the restroom and being unable to do so because you are playing on ‘increment time’ only.
For Rapid Chess, I’d start with 20 minutes for all the moves of the whole game with a 10 second bonus for each move made.
For Blitz Chess, I’d start with three minutes for all the moves of the whole game with a 2 second bonus for each move made.
Again, at the end of a two year period, the results should be reviewed and tweaked if necessary. If not tweaking is deemed necessary, the standards are kept for the next two years.
The whole point is that such a banal thing as time controls should be standardized around the world.
|Yasser Chatting with GM Spraggett|
What would be your advice to young people who are just starting to play chess and take it seriously?
Have fun. Enjoy what you are doing. Take your work seriously. If you get too stressed, take a break. If you apply yourself, you will get mentally tougher, much more disciplined, feel a greater sense of personal empowerment and learn to succeed in anything you want to do. Believe in yourself.
You have played so many interesting and legenday opponents that others only dream to meet. Which player impressed you the most both chesswise and in personality matters?
My goodness! So many to mention. Bent Larsen was my personal hero and I’m much indebted to Victor Kortchnoi just to mention two. There at the board manners of Alexander Beliavsky, Jan Timman and Judith Polgar are simply exemplary. In terms of writers, Mikhail Tal, John Nunn and Jeremy Silman are all superb. There are so many others as well. Chess is full of fascinating personalities and interesting people!
Do you coach people? If so, who are your pupils if it is not a secret?
In general no. I’ve trained with Victor Kortchnoi and Jan Timman. I’ve done some work with Daniel Stellwagen and recently Ivo Timmermans. Much of this work is on a friendly, although serious basis. Perhaps in the future, I’ll ‘become’ a chess coach, but for now, it hasn’t happened.
What are your plans for the future, besides passing the 2700 hurdle?
I’d like to help the USA team at next year’s Olympiad.
A thousand thanks, Mr. Seirawan, for the indescriptibly interesting interview. I could not miss your numerous fans´chance to ask you a few questions as well. Got many, chose three. So, here they go…
The Bonus Questions from a fan:
GM Marc Narciso: “Mr. Seirawan, are the supposed hypnotic forces of Mihail Tal over his opponents a mere legend or did you also feel them?”
They are both! More legend and yes I did feel them as well. When I played against Karpov and Kasparov both, you could feel their ‘energy and determination’ to defeat you. At times they would look in my direction, not necessarily to ‘disturb’ but at such moments, you understood they wanted to win!
“What is your opinion about Viktor Korchnoi and chess longevity in general; how is it possible to play so well at 80? What would be your explanation of the phenomenon?”
Sadly, I have no answers. Victor is just fantastic. As by the way was Smyslov. They just knew where the pieces had to go and put them there! Perhaps Victor doesn’t have the same energy at the board as he did decades ago but anyone who plays against him today knows that he is burning with desire to win the game!
“Taken the Golden opportunity that you are so familiar with these two great men, could you please make a comparison between Fischer and Kasparov, their weak and strong sides, the key of their successfully dominating in their times, respectively?”
Sad to say Bobby gave up the game when I started to play, so my ‘comparison’ of Fischer versus say Karpov or Kasparov wouldn’t be helpful. I can say that Bobby had an extraordinary capacity for hard work and probably spent more time ‘honing’ his game than anyone previously had. He was truly profesional in his choice of openings and so on. People like to say “Bobby was the best chess player ever!” Such words make them feel good or even knolwedgable. I might ask them really? In which time frame was Bobby the best player ever? Think about it for a moment.
Before Bobby entered the cycle that culminated in his historic 1972 World Championship match victory, by his own agreement, in 1970, he allowed Bent Larsen to play board one ahead of him in the match versus the Soviets. To repeat, in 1970, the great Bobby Fischer, himself, thought it correct that Larsen play ahead of him.
Before Bobby defeated Boris Spassky in their match, Bobby had never beaten Boris and in fact, had a bad score against his rival. If we are generous, we could say that Bobby was the best player in 1971 and 1972 and then he quit. Hmm. That doesn’t sound like solid grounds to me to make the claim that he was the best ever.
Were Bobby impressed, truly amazing, was his incredible Candidate Match results as well as the final margin of victory in the 1972 match. Bobby was always good against ‘the lower half of the field’ in round robin events. He wasn’t always ‘dominating’ against the top half of the field at all.
Anatoly Karpov was a remarkable world champion. It always seemed to me that victory came ‘to easy’ for Anatoly. From 1975 – 1985, essentially Karpov won everything. For Anatoly ‘gold’ was important and he accepted it with minimal effort. He wasn’t trying for “Fischeresque” results, he was happy to simply win first prize. And win he did! People really don’t understand how good Anatoly truly was. Just consider that while I believe that Garry Kasparov was the greatest player ever, in 1984 Anatoly was giving him a drubbing of 5-0 before the match was aborted. Imagine, leading the greatest player ever 5-0 after thirty games. Furthermore, imagine it was only a chess genius like Garry Kasparov that prevented Karpov from dominating for another decade!
My goodness! Thanks and thanks again, Mr. Seirawan…