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The Year 2003 in Review
The World Championship

Under the Prague agreement, signed in May 2002, the winner of a FIDE sponsored Ponomariov - Kasparov match would meet the winner of an Einstein sponsored Kramnik - Leko match. The winner of the FIDE - Einstein match would be declared World Champion, and future titles would be awarded only by FIDE.

In January 2003, the agreement hit its first snag when FIDE champion Ruslan Ponomariov balked at signing a contract with FIDE. His objections, which were not completely clear, were summarized as, 'I demand that the standard international legal norms are strictly followed as I share with FIDE the large responsibility for the process of the unification of the chess world.'

FIDE responded, 'While the World Champion by this statement would want to give the impression of his willingness to cooperate with FIDE in accepting the Prague Agreement and playing the consequent World Championship match with Kasparov, his actions are in our view, clearly contrary to this statement'. FIDE also revealed that Ponomariov had demanded that the match 'be played with the new FIDE time control' and that he should 'retain the title in the event of a draw.'

At about the same time, Mrs. Nahed Ojjeh, one of Einstein's primary financiers, 'decided to break all relations with the Einstein group'. Ojjeh, who had offered a prize fund of 300.000 Euros for the Dortmund qualifier in July 2002, charged that 'The Einstein Group, in charge of the event, did not respect its engagement. It did not pay out the whole sum allocated to the players for the tournament.'

FIDE signed Ponomariov in February. FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov announced that the Ponomariov - Kasparov match would take place June/July in Buenos Aires, for a prize fund of no less than 1.000.000 USD.

Einstein, however, failed to make amends with Ojjeh. Einstein issued a press release in May, saying 'We have been unable to secure full sponsorship to cover all the prize fund for the World Classical Chess Championship. A significant number of potential title sponsors have expressed considerable interest, but despite positive negotiations, the amounts to be raised in the time scale have proved impossible'. A few months later, the company filed for administration.

June/July came and went, but no match was played in Buenos Aires. In July, FIDE confirmed press reports that the Ponomariov - Kasparov match would be held September/October in Yalta, Ukraine.

End-August, the FIDE initiative also failed. 'FIDE delivered the Players Undertaking to World Champion Ruslan Ponomariov and Grandmaster Garry Kasparov, to sign before 12 August 2003. Kasparov returned his duly signed contract before the deadline but Ponomariov signed the contract with reservations. [...] FIDE reiterated that the contract shall be signed without reservations and extended the deadline to 25 August 2003. FIDE again extended the deadline to 28 August 2003. Without the signature of Ponomariov on the Players Undertaking, FIDE is unable to move ahead with the planned match'.

A week later, Vladimir Kramnik chimed in with, 'At the moment I do not have any contractual relations either with the Einstein Group or with FIDE. I also did not authorize these organizations to hold negotiations on my behalf. All the announcements concerning my match with Peter Leko in Buenos Aires are far from reality. I regret that the match between Ruslan Ponomariov (FIDE World Champion) and Gary Kasparov (FIDE challenger), will not take place. All this leads to a halt of the chess world reunion that was initiated by the Prague unity agreement.' His closing plea of 'Let the players play!' was addressed to no one in particular and rang more hollow than intended.

Near the end of the year, FIDE announced its 'Regulations for the 2003 - 2004 World Chess Championship', a multistage knockout event.

'The winner of the final match of the World Championship shall be designated as World Champion. Following the spirit of the Prague Agreement and not later than July 2005, he shall play a match against the best rated player GM G. Kasparov for a minimum prize fund of USD 500,000 and the winner of this match shall be declared World Champion. [...] In accordance with the Prague Agreement, the new World Champion will play a match with the winner of the Kramnik-Leko match for the title of the undisputed World Champion. In case this match is not organised, FIDE shall announce its new decision in due course.'

Kasparov had left FIDE in 1993 to organize his own World Championship match, setting in motion the events which would ultimately produce two World Chess champions. He was now on the inside track to claim a title which he had abandoned more than 10 years earlier. FIDE World Champion Ponomariov had been abandoned by the same organization which Kasparov had renounced. The irony proved that good chess players are not necessarily good politicians.

No one loses more through a failure of top-level events than Grandmasters (GMs). The Association of Chess Professionals (ACP), a non-profit international organization chartered under French law, was established in Paris in September, using the motto 'Injustice done to one is a threat to all.' Its Terms of service state, 'The association's purpose is the protection of professional chess players' rights, the practice and promotion of chess worldwide, in particular through the organisation of chess tournaments and other chess events.' French GM Joel Lautier was elected president in December. By the start of 2004, the list of ACP members counted 137 names.

Next : International Events 2003

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• World Championship
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• World Championship 2002