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FIDE World Championship 2004 : Background
Tripoli 2004 : Controversy, previous knockout events, participants, important rules.

(June 2004) As we write this article, the 5th FIDE World Championship knockout tournament is getting underway in Tripoli, Libya. The ill-starred event is one of the most controversial chess competitions ever held.

Not even on the calendar a year ago, the tournament was conceived and organized after the Kasparov - Ponomariov match collapsed in August 2003. That match was one of the cornerstones of a plan to reunify the World Chess Championship title, in dispute since 1993. When FIDE World Champion Ruslan Ponomariov failed to sign his contract, FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov announced that a knockout tournament would be held to determine a new challenger for Kasparov.

Ilyumzhinov's decision upset many of the world's best players. Why should Garry Kasparov receive special treatment from FIDE? It was Kasparov, after all, who had opened the title rift by refusing to play his 1993 title match with Nigel Short under the auspices of FIDE. After losing his title to Vladimir Kramnik in 2000, he no longer had any legitimate claim on the World Championship. And now, in 2004, FIDE was planning a tournament to determine a new FIDE World Champion whose first responsibility would be to play Kasparov!

The politics around the championship was not the only problem with the event. FIDE's decision that the tournament would be played in Libya provoked considerable controversy from the moment it was announced.

The country's past support for international terrorist activity was one big concern. In Summer 2003, Libya had agreed to pay $10 million to each of the 270 victims of the 1988 bombing of Pam Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. That prompted the United Nations, and later the United States, to lift many of the sanctions which had been imposed on Libya since the mid-1980s. Why not wait before awarding a World Championship to a country which had so recently been designated a rogue nation?

Libya's frigid relationship with Israel ('the Zionist enemy') was another concern. Israel is the home of several top chess grandmasters, including former citizens of the Soviet Union who emigrated to Israel.

Terrorism and discrimination are not compatible with FIDE's official motto 'Gens Una Sumus'. Why hold the event in Libya? FIDE Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos explained, 'Libya was the only country which had offered to finance the organization of the World Championship.'


The idea behind a knockout tournament is simple and is similar to pro tennis tournaments. Each round is a mini-match between two players. The player who wins the match advances to the next round. At the end of the last round, one player is left undefeated and is declared champion.

The format is often criticized because of the great element of chance. One bad move can mean elimination. This defect is compounded when the many games played in a short period inevitably lead to exhaustion for the competitors who survive into the last rounds. If chess is ever considered a sport, it will be because of the knockout format.

The format was used in the first great international tournament : London 1851. Adolph Anderssen defeated Marmaduke Wyvill in the final round and is now considered the unofficial World Champion for the 1850s, between Howard Staunton (1840s) and Paul Morphy (late 1850s). Anderssen had defeated Staunton in the penultimate round. Staunton finished 4th after losing a last round consolation match to Elijah Williams. The knockout format was rarely seen after London 1851.

Soon after Ilyumzhinov was first elected FIDE President in 1995, he broached the plan of a World Championship reunification tournament with as many as 100 players participating. The reunification idea fell through, but the first FIDE knockout tournament was held with 98 players in December 1997, in Groningen, Netherlands. Although promoted as a title tournament, the event instead produced a challenger for then-FIDE World Champion Anatoly Karpov. Viswanathan Anand won the Groningen event, but lost the title match to Karpov a few days later in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Unlike Groningen/Lausanne, the winners of subsequent knockout tournaments were crowned FIDE World Champion without having to play the previous champion. The following table shows the outcome of the first four knockout tournaments.

Year Venue Winner Runnerup
1997 Groningen Anand Adams
1999 Las Vegas Khalifman Akopian
2000 New Delhi/Tehran Anand Shirov
2001 Moscow Ponomariov Ivanchuk

The final round has been scheduled under varying conditions. The 1997 event saw an exhausted Anand play a fresh Karpov, in a match which was widely deemed unfair to Anand. The final rounds of the 1999 and 2000 events started a few days after the previous round, so that both players were equally affected by the grueling schedule. The final round of the 2001 event was held more than a month after the semifinal round, giving both finalists a break and allowing them to prepare more carefully for the opponent. The Tripoli 2004 event reverts to the 1999/2000 format, the last two players having no more than two days before the final round starts.


The final list of participants for Tripoli 2004 has 128 names. Since half of the players are eliminated each round, the event will take seven rounds to complete. [In the days preceding the opening ceremony, held 18 June 2004, there was still considerable doubt whether all players would play. The following facts are based on the full list of 128 players as published by FIDE.]

Of the 128 players, 46 are competing in a FIDE knockout event for the first time. Of the other 82 who have competed in a previous event, 14 players -- Adams, Azmaiparashvili, Barua, Beliavsky, Dreev, Georgiev, Hamdouchi, Ivanchuk, Krasenkow, Milos, Rublevsky, Short, Tkachiev, and Topalov -- have participated in all previous knockout events.

Of the top-100 FIDE rated players (on the April 2004 rating list), 61 are playing in Tripoli. The top-10 are not as well represented. Top seed Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria is ranked no.5 in the world. The 2nd and 3rd seeds, Alexander Morozevich (Russia) and Michael Adams (England), are ranked no.7 and no.8.

The youngest competitor is Magnus Carlsen (Norway, seeded 95th), who celebrated his 13th birthday in November 2003. He is 10 1/2 months younger than Sergey Karjakin (Ukraine, seeded 84th). Along with these two, 12 other players are still teenagers. The highest rated is Teimour Radjabov (Azerbijan, seeded 18th), who celebrated his 17th birthday in March.

Of the 122 competitors whom FIDE lists with birthdays, the oldest is Rafael Vaganian (Armenia, seeded 37th), who will celebrate his 53rd birthday later this year. Two other competitors -- Alexander Beliavsky (Slovenia, seeded 20th) and Carlos Garcia Palermo (Argentina, seeded 117th) -- are in their 50s. The average age across all (122) competitors is 30 years old.

Finally, 56 different countries are represented in the event. Chess powerhouse Russia is represented by 19 players; Armenia by 7; and China, India, and the USA by 5 each.


Let's look at some of the most important rules governing the matches. The quoted paragraphs in this section are from the FIDE Regulations issued when the competition was announced.

How many games are there in a match? Rounds 1 through 5 are 2-game matches ('regular games') between each pair of opponents. Round 6, the semifinal round, will be a 4-game match and round 7, the final round, will be a 6-game match.

What time controls are used in the regular games? The time control for the first 40 moves shall be 1 hour 30 minutes followed by 15 min till the end of the game and an incremental time of 30 seconds per move from move one.

What happens if a match is tied after the regular games? If the scores are level after the regular games, after a new drawing of colors, two tie break games shall be played. The games shall be played using the electronic clock starting with 25 minutes on the clock and the addition of 10 seconds after each move. If the scores are level after the games in paragraph, then, after a new drawing of colors, 2 five-minute games shall be played with the addition of 10 seconds after each move. If, the score is still level, the players shall play one decisive/sudden death game. The player, who wins the drawing of lots, may choose the color. White shall receive 6 minutes, Black shall receive 5 minutes, without any addition. The winner qualifies for the next round. In case of a draw the player with the black pieces qualifies for the next round.

What are the stakes? In addition to the title of FIDE World Champion, the winner will receive 100.000 US$, the runner-up 70.000 US$. The total prize fund is 1.508.000 US$. All of these numbers are before FIDE claims its portion, which is 20% of a prize.

The eventual unification match with Kasparov should also be worth even more in prize money. The winner of that match will face the winner of the forthcoming Kramnik - Leko match for the title of unified World Champion and an even bigger prize fund.

The competition is tough and the stakes are high. You can follow the action live from the official FIDE site (see the link box at the bottom of this article).

 Related Resources (offsite)
• Reunification
 Elsewhere on the Web (offsite)
• Official FIDE site 2004
• FIDE Knockout Events
• 2002-03 Unification