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Replies to Seirawan's "Fresh Start" proposal
Readers, GMs, and future commissioners
By KC News
[What follows is a sampling of the dozens of messages that came in regarding GM Yasser Seirawan's article, "A Fresh Start," published at KC on March 25. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. They are posted as received with any editorial comments in italics and brackets. First is press release from Bessel Kok, who Seirawan proposed as one of the three founding chess commissioners.]
PRESS RELEASE REGARDING THE OFFICE OF CHESS COMMISSIONER
Prague: March 5th, 2002
By now the chess world will have read the proposal of chess grandmaster Mr. Yasser Seirawan for a solution to the problems afflicting our game. This proposal offers all the key elements for resolving the current impasse and serves as a basis for negotiating a final fair solution.
Along with the two other proposed Commissioners, Mr. Dato Tan Chin Nam of Malaysia and Mr. Erik Anderson of the USA, I am honoured to have been proposed by Mr. Seirawan and am pleased to announce that the three of us agree to serve as Chess Commissioners. It is our sincere hope that all of the other parties will be prepared to accept the authority of this new office.
I will be contacting direct all the parties concerned to invite them to a meeting on May 6th in Prague, where appropriate facilities will be made available.
Neither I nor the other two proposed Commissioners will be making any further public statements on the proposals until the parties have met.
I hope that all the parties will agree that we have a real opportunity for moving forward in a spirit of goodwill and compromise.
GM LARRY EVANS ON SEIRAWAN'S NOBLE PROPOSAL
Yasser Seirawan's "Fresh Start" is an interesting article with a proposal that cannot be rejected out of hand.
He calls for taking FIDE out of the business of running the world championship and putting into the business of sanctioning it. FIDE would get 10% of the prize fund for lending its name to the title or, more to the point, for agreeing not to run a rival cycle to one overseen by three chess commissioners.
Like all ambitious documents, this one raises questions and concerns. The following points all strike me as pertinent and important:
1. Who will review the decisions of the three chess commissioners? Are we trading a FIDE diktat for a troika diktat?
2. Who appointed these three commissioners in the first place? Seirawan tells us who they will be, and he has presumably obtained permission to use the names of three prominent and worthy men -- Erik Anderson of the Seattle Chess Foundation, Dato Tan Chin Nam of Asian business renown, and GMA co-founder Bessel Kok. Who can doubt that these men are a step up from the likes of Kalymkian dictator Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and Emmanuel Omuku?
Yet I am uneasy about appointing new leaders of the chess world without more debate. The public square was barren of discussion, and even grandmasters were left in the dark. Is this the way to make a "Fresh Start"? Are we not still stuck in the same old groove of consigning authority to those who simply claim they want this authority?
A better way to make this "Fresh Start" would be to use FRESH MEANS. Our chess world needs openness, public discussion, and the give and take that is normal in modern societies. A new chess world -- this "Fresh Start" -- is beginning with secretive means and understandings that are suddenly thrust upon us.
The ends described by Seirawan are apparently noble. Yes. But we are left hoping that the means adopted will not become ends in themselves. We need both a fresh start and fresh means.
3. There is an uncanny resemblance between Seirawan's current proposal and the one he supported at Murcia back in 1989, which would have left the GMA largely in charge of the world title while FIDE would have had sanctioning and caretaker functions. This proposal led to Garry Kasparov's resignation as GMA president.
Seirawan appears to be keeping FIDE at arm's length in 2002, though one wonders whether its leaders will be permitted to participate in future negotiations and use those sessions to create splits among grandmasters and other chess dignitaries. Is it not likely that we will end up back at the a1-square just as in 1989, if FIDE participates in organizational discussions?
4. Where does FIDE Commerce fit into the fresh start? We know that Einstein TV has a piece of Vladimir Kramnik, and Seirawan discusses terms for placating that company. But FIDE Commerce controls the FIDE title. Where will this organization figure in the fresh start? And can there be a fresh start and fresh means if that shadowy company and its principals are sitting at the negotiating table?
One hopes that Kasparov will understand the futility of yet another exhausting round of organizational restructurings if the very persons who created the current chaos occupy positions that they can use to undermine the proposed plan. After all, this plan has as its chief virtue the promise of a "fresh start" which will employ, one hopes and ought to demand, fresh means.
[From Armenian GM Smbat Lputian]
Dear GM Seirawan,
I read your proposal with great enthusiasm. As a chessplayer, I have profound respect and appreciation for your efforts as a chess organizer (such as the efforts you conducted in staging the American championship) and someone who exhibits passion and concern for the game we love. I hope that your efforts always continue to come to fruition and be successful.
I read through your proposal quickly (a first pass) and I wanted to share my opinions. Overall, I believe that this proposal is a big step in the right direction. Here are a couple of suggestions that I hope you can consider:
1) As we all know there is a high degree of luck associated with Swiss-tournament final results. Would it be possible to add one step after the large (196 person) swiss and before the selection of the 5 quarterfinalists? In other words, the qualification of 16 people from the large swiss who play each other in another tournament to select 5 from the 16. This would minimize the luck factor (albeit add another step) and help ensure the ascension of the most worthy players for that cycle.
2) There is concern on my part (maybe it is a result of my unfamiliarity with sports in America and the role of the Commissioner) on the role of the Commissioner's office. I fear that the presentation of the players' problems/concerns/issues/approaches to the 3-person committee may be too tenuous as in practice the Commissioners are too far removed from the players to appreciate their problems. What are your thoughts concerning the formation of a players' union as an intermediary between the players and the Commissioner's office?
Again, I wish to stress my appreciation and respect for you as a sincere chess player and a leader, someone who takes these ingrained problems of the chess world upon your shoulders.
Sincerely -GM Smbat Lputian
[Seirawan's extensive reply to Lputian is below with minor editing for continuity.]
Greetings and salutations!
Thank you for your kind words and thoughtful message. It really is most appreciated! Thank you! Your words make me feel as if my efforts are not in vain. Sometimes though, even the best intentions are not always well received. Smile.
You will appreciate that I feel the strong necessity to try and bring the chess world back together and to heal the rift that exists since 1993. My primary concerns were to establish a format to appease the key players and groups and simultaneously create an opportunity for the world's best players to enter a cycle. Thus, my thinking was that the Swiss Qualifier would at least provide for this opportunity! I did not overly concern myself about this stage as it was more worrisome to establish the steps after the Swiss is completed.
To my mind, it would be very strange if Kramnik and Kasparov play a rematch today. If I were in Kramnik's position I would insist upon a contract guaranteeing a revenge match! Indeed, why not? If Kramnik were to lose a second match, then he and Garry would play a third together. Let us presume that the second match takes place this year and a third next year. That would mean that from 2000 to 2003, only two players are playing for the traditional Championship match. As there was no cycle from 1995 -- indeed Shirov defeated Kramnik in a hand picked match -- it would mean that for eight years (1995-2003) no player outside of Anand, Shirov, Kramnik and Kasparov even has a POSSIBILITY to join the battle!
Furthermore, it is outrageous that Shirov could WIN a qualifier and then LOSE his Challenger status due to a sponsorship failure! This last point is especially relevant to the position of a Chess Commissioner's Office. It would be their primary responsibility to insure that a cycle -- agreed upon by all the parties -- occur exactly as envisioned.
I agree that this "qualifier" stage has room for improvement. The feedback that I have received have questioned the need to include so many women and so many men. For instance it might be better to have 100 men and 50 or even 40 women. With a much reduced field, the prizes would be better distributed, and it would reduce (however slightly) the luck factor.
Another idea is to have 10 qualifiers from the Swiss. Have a candidates match (another stage) reduce the field to 5 players and then invite the seeds... My worry -- as you will appreciate -- is that to much time, money, and energy would be expended to merely get 5 qualifiers. It seems to me that the first cycle at least, needs to get underway as quickly as possible, once an agreement is made, so that a traditional, classical chess championship cycle can begin as soon as possible. To be clear, I do believe that the qualifying stage should allow for improvement -- in the future. But I wouldn't want to push for a change of format in the first cycle.
As you and I were players and competitors in the fide Swiss in manila 1990 and Biel 1993, we can agree that these events were "okay" not perfect, but, they did promote strong players forward. If I'm not to mistaken only the qualification of the Dutch player Paul van der Sterren in 1993 was a bit of a "surprise." a lengthy Swiss - 13 rounds - isn't to bad and it allows time to recover from a bad start.
In my opinion, chess suffers from to many problems to expect that the new office of chess commissioners can magically make them all disappear! Smile. In the first place, the chess commissioners would only concern themselves with the classical chess cycle. Thus, they have no powers concerning fide's rapid/knockout, blitz, Olympiad, junior events or rules, arbiters, ratings and so on. They are concerned with just the classical chess cycle. For example a player may complain that his federation unfairly failed to invite him to the Olympiad. Bad luck, but, that is not a chess commissioner's problem.
What the chess commissioner's do insure is that the cycle functions smoothly. That competitive bids are properly made, received and the events take place in fair and competitive conditions (for example, one semi-final is as well run as the other). If the organizer complains that a player isn't living up to the terms of the agreement -- failed to come to the opening ceremony, refuses requests for interviews -- the organizer is not the person to chastise the player, the commissioner's office is the proper channel. In this way, the relationship between the player and the organizer is not damaged.
To sum up, the commissioners office while a positive step, to help reduce and solve problems, is only one step forward.
The formation of a chess player's union, in my view, is a very good idea. But, as we know, it is very unwieldy and very hard to organize. One person has called a chess player's union like trying to herd cats. It seems we all have our own personalities and we go our different way!
A chess player's union needs many things. It needs structure -- a constitution. It needs rules for officers. Elections. Annual meetings. Communications, newsletters, and so on.
Even more important then the above paragraph -- it needs purpose. In other words, why should a union exist? Should it exist so that the players are represented in discussions with a tv station? Should it exist so that elderly players are able to live in dignity with a pension and health care? Should it exist as a counter balance to the dictates of fide? Indeed are the dictates of fide so terrible, that a chess union is born because of them? You will appreciate that these questions are deliberately provocative only to point out that an organization must have a purpose. A mission statement.
In my view, the single biggest impediment to a chess union is money.
To be clear, a union spends a lot of money! An office is needed. A secretary is needed. Means of communications -- internet, post, fax are all needed. Meetings take place amongst officers. An annual meeting and so on. The grandmaster association (GMA) could not have occurred without the financial assistance and highly skilled efforts of Bessel Kok. While I don't know all the costs that he paid from 1987-1991/2 I suspect the figure was above $500,000 USD. Neither would I be terribly surprised if this figure is actually above one million USD! In my own particular case, I think that I attended 7 GMA directors meetings and at least two annual meetings. Bessel paid all my travel, hotel, meal expenses as well as those of all the other directors and the many advisors who came to the GMA meetings to help us organize ourselves.
I understand that advances in technology would help reduce some costs, but, believe me they are still very substantial. In the case of the GMA, Bessel "charged" the players a very nominal annual fee of $20 per person. You will agree that from such a small figure, the GMA could not survive. Yet, I have letters from GM's complaining that they could not afford this fee. At that time, the players from communist countries were not even allowed to own western currency!
So the first question to ask regarding a chess union is this: what is its purpose? Does this purpose justify its existence? If the answers are both yes, the next question is how will a chess union support itself? You will immediately realize that for a chess union to exist it will need an outside sponsor.
What many GM's fail to realize that when Garry created the professional chess players association (PCA) many of its expenses were paid by Garry himself! Of course he made a lot of money from the PCA events, yet he spent a lot of his own money -- more then anyone -- on its establishment. Yet even with his best efforts, and his own money, he still couldn't make the PCA a viable concern for more then just a few years. And he tried very, very hard!
In closing on this point, yes, it would be very constructive to have a chess union. It would help solve many problems. But how to make it work?
In my view, the only way for a chess union to come into being is if their were unanimous agreement among at least the very best 50 players of the world. That these same 50 very top players were to earn a lot of money, and, they would agree to pay to the union say 5% of their total income. These steps are very hard to take. You will agree that a chess union featuring Kasparov and Khalifman and Salov may not be very productive. Smile.
Dear GM Yasser Seirawan,
I wanted to thank you for your thorough, well thought out proposals, recently presented, for solving the crisis in world chess.
Your ideas are better than anything I have read on the subject. All those who truly love chess, our great game, have been suffering for many years, as politics, greed, and personal agendas take over. It has been 20 years of strife, dating to the election of Campomanes in 1982. The amazing thing is that chess has become more popular than ever throughout the world, in spite of all its problems. Just imagine the possibilities, should chess ever really get its act together!
I believe one point is of paramount importance. Your Commissioner structure is sound, but to emulate the success of sports like golf, top players cannot dominate the organization. For example, although Tiger Woods is the best golfer in the world, he does not run the PGA Tour. The problem that chess had was that Kasparov, the best chess player, wanted to control groups like the GMA and PCA. I believe his omnipotent tendency had its roots in the scuttling of his first match with Karpov in 1985; I think there was a major change in his personality caused by that fiasco. Kasparov became more selfish and confrontational; to a certain extent, this should really have been no surprise given the circumstances.
However, top players have crucial roles to play, so that an advisory board of Grandmasters and Masters should have tangible input into the governance of chess. Players like yourself know more about chess than anyone else, and this knowledge must be utilized to develop the game at all levels. However, to excel at chess requires specialization and enormous hard work with a narrow focus, so many GMs are not among the most rounded of individuals, and hence are unsuited to important jobs like public relations and dealing with sponsors. Also, chess requires and builds strong wills, which makes for acrimonious dealings when personalities interact and combust!
I recommend that you check into the structure of the PGA Tour in the United States, and learn from its successes. An individual sport like golf is a better model for what chess could achieve, than any team sport such as soccer or baseball. (Note that I am a Candidate Master player in chess, and a scratch handicap player in golf [roughly the same as National Master in chess!])
It is important that chess learn from its past mistakes, and forge a new destiny. A spirit of resolution, without playing the blame game, is truly required. Sometimes, when I see the mess of chess politics, I yearn for the Middle East!
Best regards, Frank Dixon Kingston, Canada
[Seirawan, in a letter to many correspondents, later gave his slightly tongue-in-cheek to-do list.]
1) Having the Commissioners issue a positive press release that they are willing to serve and are looking forwards to a meeting!
2) Begin a Letter Writing Campaign to FIDE HQ. They need something to do.
3) Have Bessel issue invitations to all parties for a meeting in Prague planned for May 6th.
4) Get selected chess organizers to issue positive press releases.
5) Get selected journalists to write positive articles.
6) Get everyone at a meeting and knock heads until everyone is either sensible or to dizzy to not care anymore.
This article originally appeared at KasparovChess.com. It has been reused with permission.