Looking back at 2008 it has been a tremendous success for Magnus chesswise. Climbing to # 4 on the rating list (Oct 1 2008 and Jan 1 2009) and even enjoying 5 days as the unofficial # 1 during Bilbao, winning Corus (shared), Baku (shared) and Foros, and taking second place in Linares and Bilbao, he has every reason to be happy and proud of his achievements.

Having continuously adjusted his ambitions on his way up, he is not fully satisfied with his performances in the 2nd half of 2008. The good thing is that it may slightly reduce expectations and put him back in “an attacking position”, where he has proven to be very comfortable in the past. His first quarter program is again very tight this year, starting with the rapid tournament “Aker Chess Challenge” between Magnus, Svidler, Nakamura and K.Lie at Gjøvik tomorrow, followed by Corus A starting January 16th (opening ceremony).

Magnus is already at Gjøvik where the drawing of lots and a press conference will be held tonight. The format will be similar to Mainz Rapid with a double round robin qualifier Friday to Sunday and Final / Bronze finals Monday 5th.

The main Open event, with European Champion S.Tiviakov as the top rated participant, is well under way. As are other parallel events, and this weekend the annual Open Norwegian Rapid championship will be held as another part of the broad festival at Gjøvik.

Main organisers Øystein Brekke and Hans O.Lahlum deserves the highest praise for organising such a great festival in Norway. Thank you! The intended change of the 2008-2011 World Championship Cycle has been met by a lot of protests and responding to this, the FIDE President invited some of the highest rated players in the world to take part in a Skype phone conference on December 27th.

Magnus asked me to take part on his behalf, and as he has already withdrawn from the Grand Prix, we decided to focus on World Championship cycles in general.

Prior to the conference we were informed in writing that the recording will be made available to all the internet “journals”… who can reproduce it in full as a voice or transcript it if they wish.

As this may take some time, we have decided to include our statement at the conference below; ” (Dear FIDE dignitaries, dear World Champion, dear top Grand Masters,)I’m representing my son Magnus Carlsen and would like to thank you for this opportunity to express our views on the world championship cycle. As communicated earlier we would like to see transparent decision processes within FIDE, and predictability and fairness in the world championship cycles.

Transparent decision processes require a democratic and open dialogue with the parties involved prior to making decisions. Important issues need to be raised well in advance of major decision points and the decision process needs to be well documented and communicated timely and widely. The process of proposing to change the current cycle as brought forward at the FIDE General Assembly in Dresden last month on short notice, does not meet these requirements.

Predictability is necessary to ensure the trust and commitment of chess players, chess federations, sponsors, organisers and top players in contention for the World Championship title.

We need to introduce mutually binding agreements in line with the practice in other top chess tournaments.

The current practice of having one-sided escape clauses in the championship regulations and/or players undertaking, for instance stating that the FIDE Presidential Board or the FIDE President may change this or that, is simply unacceptable.

The many examples from recent years of players that has qualified or is in the process of qualifying for a subsequent step in the championship cycle or for a match, experiencing multiple delays or downright removal of rights, must come to an end.

Regarding priorities, the focus on money and privileges must be replaced by fairness, reliability and predictability.

As many businesses around the world has experienced, if you want economics results you have to excel in what you deliver to your customers and your audience. The results will follow suit.

Fairness; what does this imply? In addition to having predictability, there should not be arbitrary granting of privileges, well, as few privileges as possible really. In the future Magnus would like to see a world championship cycle with a minimum of privileges, or no privileges at all. If any it should be early in the cycle and based on rating and not money.

The transition to such a situation has been difficult in the past due to the legacy of our history.

We strongly disagree with the way FIDE has tried to remedy this by handing out further privileges.

After the unification process from 2005 to 2008, we may be in a unique situation to transcend historical problems and privileges, and it was with disbelief and disappointment we received the news about the proposal to introduce new privileges by creating 4 new spots in the next step of the 2008-2011 championship cycle. Next let me mention some features we would like to advocate related to a world championship cycle;

Firstly let’s talk about privileges;

What about privileges related to rating? Well, maybe some places in a knock-out stage could be allocated to top rated players as done in the World Cup for many years.

What about the privileges of players backed by strong managers, sponsors or organisers? We don’t believe in these as it promotes cronyism and makes it possible to buy your way to important rights.

What about the privileges of the reigning World Champion? This is a difficult question but we see strong arguments for reducing the privileges drastically or even abolishing them outright. In the past, with the right to a re-match, a reigning world champion had about 75% chance of retaining the title against an evenly strong opponent, leaving only 25% chance for all the remaining chess players in the world. It was ridiculous. Even without rematches, the 50% chance of today is strongly favouring the reigning champion. This may have made sense in the past when there were few serious contenders for the title, but today, with about 30 top players within 100 rating points of the top, this is no longer fair.

Next, let’s discuss the cycle;

The first step needs to be accessible to as many players as possible world wide. Both zonal tournaments and the regional qualifiers for the World Cup have worked well and one of these practices may be continued in the future.

Next Magnus favours a knock-out system with for instance 64 or 128 players mainly coming from the preceding step. When there are 8 players left in the knock-out stage, various alternatives are possible and we would like to mention three viable options;

– The first is to continue with the knock-out matches, and the final winner is the new World Champion.

– Another alternative is to proceed with candidate matches between the 8 remaining players at other venues and shifted in time. After two rounds of candidate matches, the two remaining players would fight for the world championship title.

– A third good alternative is to stage a double round robin World Championship tournament between the 8 remaining players from the knock-out cup.The World Champion would retain his (or her) title for two years until the next champion is decided.Now, you may object and ask us; what is new? This is what has been tried for more than10 years without much success, isn’t it?

Well, the main point is that it did not work as long as Kasparov and later Kramnik were outside the FIDE cycle. Currently this is no longer a problem. The chess world has been united and the only privileges we need to care about are those of World Champion Anand, who had to win both the 2007 world championship tournament and the somewhat questionable 2008 match, and the other is the winner of the 2007 World Cup Kamsky who was promised a semi-final match for the world championship title based on the regulations prior to the World Cup.

A transition from the current situation to a future without significant privileges must of course be organised in a way that is fair and preferably also fully acceptable to these gentlemen.

This obviously involves giving privileges to Anand in the next one or two cycles, and privileges to Kamsky in first of the ongoing cycles.
It is a bit difficult to comment categorically on the planned Kamsky-Topalov match as we don’t understand the reason for organising such a match, but neither do we really know what has been discussed or agreed between FIDE and the other involved parties over the last one and a half years. The process has certainly not met our requirement for transparency. In summary, we want mutually binding agreements governing FIDE cycles, the eventual abolition of privileges in general, and we want FIDE to focus on fairness and predictability and not money and privileges.

Thank You for Your attention.

Henrik Carlsen,
On behalf of IGM Magnus Carlsen,
December 27th, 2008.

” Lastly we would like to mention our appreciation of the statements made by reigning World Champion V.Anand and top players V.Topalov and L.Aronian during the conference. Their comments have raised our hopes. Maybe reason will prevail in the end 🙂

Happy New Year!

Henrik Carlsen,
Engerdal, January 1st, 2009

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