Elsewhere on the Web : Candidate Matches?

Sunday November 26, 2006

Now that the chess world has a unified World Championship, what happens next? The scenario foreseen after the 2005 FIDE World Championship, San Luis, Argentina, won by Veselin Topalov, was to have a new World Championship qualifying cycle. The first step in that scenario was to reduce the number of possible challengers from many to few. This was accomplished at the 2005 FIDE World Cup, Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.

The next step was to reduce the number of challengers, collectively known as Candidates, from few to even fewer. This was to be done in a knockout event called the Candidate Matches. The 16 remaining Candidates would compete for four places in the next FIDE World Championship, an eight-player double robin to be held in the second half of 2007. The other four places in the World Championship would go to the top finishers from San Luis, including Topalov.

Sometimes it seems that nothing ever evolves smoothly in top level chess. Between Khanty-Mansiysk and the Candidate Matches, two things happened.

The first call for bids was announced at the beginning of January 2006.

If you follow that last link, you'll see that it is dated 1 March 2006; FIDE's second call for bids used the same Web page as the first call. The deadline of 24 March passed, the Turin Olympiad was held in June, and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was re-elected FIDE President. All the while there was no news about the Candidates Matches. The long, embarrassing silence ended with an announcement tucked away in a FIDE report from its quarterly board meeting in September.

Sudden shifts in direction have been a FIDE trademark throughout Ilyumzhinov's presidency. The reaction of the top players was predictable: disappointment.

There was no further news from FIDE until mid-November.

FIDE's Daddy Warbucks had once again saved the day. Was this the last surprise for the current qualification cycle? Many seasoned FIDE observers expect not. It makes no sense that Topalov is excluded from the current cycle after having lost to Kramnik. It is also unknown whether Kramnik will accept Topalov's place in the eight-player tournament which will follow the Candidate Matches. Why not leave Topalov in that tournament and have the winner play Kramnik in a subsequent match to determine the World Champion?

One reason why not is money. On the minus side, the failure to attract real sponsors for the Candidate Matches was a warning that there is no easy money for world class chess. On the plus side, those matches and the following tournament are already financed; see www.chessmexico.com for the official web site of the tournament. If the players could keep to reasonable monetary expectations, while avoiding embarrassments like the cheating allegations that almost spoiled the unification match, there might emerge a real sponsor or two somewhere on the planet.

Who knows? We can always hope.

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