HomeLearn to Play ChessImprove Your GameChess HistoryChess for FunChess Blog

The Saga of Chess Unification (1994-2006)
The events which created the World Championship schism were followed by a string of successes for the PCA.

Introduction - In this corner FIDE, in the other corner the PCA: The events which created the schism in the World Championship (see Two World Chess Champions (1993-1996)), were initially followed by a string of unqualified successes for the PCA. The Kasparov - Short title match and the PCA Qualifying Tournament in 1993, followed by the Intel contract and the Candidate Matches in 1994, gave the impression that an organization that understood players, sponsors, and organizers had finally arrived. Was chess entering its golden age?

Two World Champions are not better than one: After the PCA's initial euphoria and success, reality set in. Potential sponsors were confused when faced with two World Champions and did not want to be party to bickering between rival chess organizations both claiming to be the owner of the *real* World Championship. Talks with the IOC to make chess an Olympic sport also required a single, united front in any serious discussions at Lausanne. The talk of reunification began in 1994.

FIDE election 1994 - Campomanes wins: It is difficult to understand the history of reunification without understanding FIDE politics. After multiple setbacks in organizing the Karpov - Timman title match, FIDE President Campomanes declined to run for a fourth four-year term at the end of 1994. At the last possible moment, he changed his mind and announced his candidacy with the support of his long time enemy Kasparov. The 13th World Champion was convinced that reunification was only possible with Campomanes at FIDE's helm.

FIDE election 1995 - Ilyumzhinov wins: Campomanes was no more successful with FIDE events in 1995 than he had been in 1993-94. He could find no sponsors for the Karpov - Kamsky title match. On top of this the unabashed manipulation of the 1994 election and certain financial irregularities convinced many FIDE insiders that he had to go. A new election was held to replace him. Accepting the inevitable, the Filipino announced that he would resign if succeeded by Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, hitherto unknown within FIDE.

Mr. Moneybags: When you pay the bills, you get your way: Again sidestepping FIDE statutes, Ilyumzhinov was elected for one year. He had the support of Karpov, but was openly opposed by Kasparov. With considerable difficulty, the new FIDE President had the Karpov - Kamsky match played in Kalmykia, where he also served as President. The stage was set for a Kasparov - Karpov unification match, but not as anyone had imagined it. Ilyumzhinov announced that he was scrapping both that match and the traditional FIDE cycle, starting with the 1996 Interzonal.

Ilyumzhinov introduces the concept of knockout cycles based on mini-matches: After the qualifying events known as Zonals, the cycle of Interzonal -> Candidate -> Title Match had been in effect since 1948. Ilyumzhinov planned to replace them with a single elimination event. Starting with 100 players qualified from zonal events, the last person standing would become World Champion. To settle the unification problem, Kasparov and Karpov would be seeded into the semifinal round along with the two survivors of the previous elimination rounds.

FIDE election 1996 - Ilyumzhinov wins again: During its annual Congress, at the end of 1996, FIDE held its third election in as many years. Ilyumzhinov was tapped to complete the remaining two years of the presidential term. The knockout event planned for end-1996 was postponed until end-1997. Would Kasparov and Karpov play? No, the president of the Russian federation revealed during the Congress that both players had signed the 'Moscow memorandum', an agreement to play a unification match outside the jurisdiction of FIDE and the PCA.

Anand wins the first knockout championship, but Karpov keeps the title: For some reason -- lack of a sponsor, insufficient prize fund, or Karpov's relative failures at the Las Palmas and Dos Hermanas tournaments -- the sixth Kasparov - Karpov match never took place. Anand won the first FIDE elimination event at Groningen, but lost the title match to Karpov, who was seeded into the final match after Kasparov refused to play. Kramnik, already a strong player of World Champion strength, also refused to play because of Karpov's overly favorable seeding.

World Chess Council 1998 -> Braingames 2000 -> Einstein 2002 -> Dannemann 2004: At the beginning of 1998, just after the Karpov - Anand match, Kasparov announced he was forming the World Chess Council (WCC). Its obvious purpose was to determine a challenger for a new Kasparov title match. He proposed a qualification match between Anand and Kramnik, but the FIDE runner-up was unavailable because of his FIDE contract. Shirov was invited to replace him. To the surprise of everyone, he beat Kramnik +2-0=7, only to learn that there was no real funding for a match with Kasparov.

The parallel World Chess Championships continue: Kasparov continued to search for an opponent and a sponsor. He agreed to a match with Anand, whose contract with FIDE had expired, and it was announced in June 1999. A few months later Anand's manager revealed that the match had been cancelled for lack of a sponsor. Kasparov's manager responded that it was still on, but the Czech organizer confirmed that there was no sponsor.

In March 2000 another Kasparov - Anand match was announced. Anand declined to sign a contract and the opportunity passed to Kramnik, who grabbed it. In November he beat Kasparov +2-0=13 in a match sponsored by Braingames. Kramnik refused to grant Kasparov a return match, but invited him to join other top players in a candidates tournament at Dortmund, July 2002. Kasparov refused the invitation, feeling he had the right to a direct challenge.

While Kasparov and Kramnik were circling each other, FIDE held three more knockout events: Las Vegas, July 1999, won by Khalifman; New Delhi/Tehran, November 2000, won by Anand; and Moscow, November 2001, won by Ponomariov. Media interest was non-existent.

By now all parties had seen enough and in May 2002, they signed the Prague Unity Plan. The winner of Dortmund would play a match against Kramnik, Ponomariov would play Kasparov, and the winners of those matches would play each other in a title unification match.

Leko won at Dortmund, but lost to Kramnik two years later. After Ponomariov refused to sign the contract to play Kasparov, FIDE held another elimination event -- Tripoli, June 2004, won by Kasimdzhanov -- to replace him, but was unable to secure funding for a Kasparov - Kasimdzhanov match. Disgusted by his treatment from FIDE, Kasparov retired from professional chess. Perhaps by coincidence, perhaps not, FIDE soon announced a fully funded eight-player match tournament: San Luis, September 2005, won by Topalov.

In April 2006, Ilyumzhinov announced that the long awaited unification match, now Kramnik - Topalov, would be held in September.