Posted on June 5, 2016 by Wesley Surber

Hou Yifan’s Withdrawal Shows Need for Reform

Women’s World Chess Champion Hou Yifan shocked the chess community when she announced last month that she had withdrawn from the Women’s World Championship Cycle, citing disagreements with FIDE over how it conducts the tournament process. Chessbase published transcripts from a recent telephone interview with Yifan and Frederic Friedel where she expressed disappointment in FIDE leadership’s continued support of the current tournament format. As it stands, the Women’s World Chess Champion (hereafter annotated as WCC) is often chosen through knockout tournaments where the winner earns the title despite the possibility that they might possess an ELO rating 100-200 points below Yifan, who is currently the highest rated female chess player in the world.

Trouble with the Knockouts

You can read the article yourself via the link above, but the main point of her argument is that the WCC is often selected via a 64-player knockout tournament format. This format places Hou and her counterparts on equal footing and gives an unfair advantage to players who might not qualify to challenge her in any other setting. If the highest rated player in the tournament has a bad game and is eliminated by a lower player, it creates an opportunity for a player to assume the title of WCC without possessing the qualifications. For her, a knockout tournament is not necessarily a bad thing. However, she views it as an unreasonable format for choosing the WCC. I agree wholeheartedly. Can you imagine if Magnus Carlsen’s title was on the line in some 64-player invitational where a single bad day could send the title into the hands of another player?

I cannot see the men allowing such a method to be used by FIDE to determine the champion, and the women of the professional chess world should refuse to stand for it as well.

Hou’s Plan and FIDE’s Silent Stand

Glass ceilings and gender barriers are coming down all over the world, but FIDE remains trapped in its antiquated ways. Hou’s plan for changing the tournament format is, as Frederic mentions in his article, amazingly simple. She proposes that the same format used to select the World Chess Championship title currently held by Magnus Carlsen be used for the WCC. A series of qualification tournaments would send certain players to a Candidates tournament where the winner would advance to challenge the reigning World Champion. As a compromise, Hou has suggested that the winner of the knockout tournament be declared the challenger to the reigning champion, not the champion themselves. The plan sounds simple enough, but according to Chessbase, FIDE has retained the 64-player knockout format because it is popular among the female chess players.

It is not difficult to imagine why the format is so popular…it reduces much of the legacy of the WCC to a lottery.

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Hou Yifan has big dreams for reforming women’s chess.

It is easy to place the blame on FIDE, which is an organization that has a sorted history of cronyism, manipulation, and disregard for what is best for promoting international professional chess. Countless recommendations for improving tournament cycles and gameplay have been provided by some of the world’s greatest chess minds. Yet, those recommendations and ideas have been met with the standard fare that Hou has received for her comments: to be discussed at the next board meeting. As someone who has spent a considerable amount of time in government service, I can tell you that it will probably be discussed at the meeting, but the world stands a better chance of Kirsan’s aliens invading than the board agreeing to change the WCC cycle format. Yet, it is this comment in Frederic’s interview that reveals another troubling element to the situation:

FF: Sounds perfectly logical. However FIDE has said that the current Women’s system is very popular amongst the girls since they get to play a lot of interesting events …

What is going on here? FIDE is, potentially, holding on to a format because it is popular, among the women on the circuit. It might be popular, but is it right for the future of women’s professional chess? Unfortunately, one does not have to look far in cyberspace to see the back and forth with people who believe that women cannot play beautiful chess or do not deserve the respect of their male counterparts. The chess audience on Twitter is notorious for this kind of banter, but does the general consensus of the women’s professional chess world about the 64-player knockout championship actually hurt perception of their ability? I would argue that it does! If the women players are arguing for more recognition and appreciation for their art in one breath, but supporting a tournament format that undermines the legitimacy of the highest female chess achievement, then the fight for equal respect of female chess players is what ultimately suffers. That, along with the countless other young girls who are hunched over their chessboards this morning with dreams and aspirations of being a GM or a WCC.

What to do?

Bureaucracies have a notorious history of taking simple ideas and transforming them into disastrous monstrosities. The fundamental elements that make bureaucracies like FIDE so inefficient are probably what will enable the WCC cycle to retain its imbalanced format (for now). Hou Yifan’s withdrawal from the cycle and her recommendations for changing how the WCC is selected should be a wakeup call for the leaders of the professional chess world, but it will most likely fall on deaf ears. In the meantime, the world will continue to watch as its great chess players are increasingly isolated and ostracized by the organization whose mission is to grow and promote our game.

Gens Una Sumus, without clear direction or a promising future.

Posted on April 7, 2016 by Wesley Surber

Karjakin Withdraws from Norway Chess 2016

Interesting…

GM Sergey Karjakin, who is the current challenger for the title of World Chess Champion against Magnus Carlsen in New York City later this year, has withdrawn from the Altibox Norway Chess tournament and provoked the rage of the tournament’s organizers.

Chessdom and Susan Polgar have posted a series of responses from the tournament organizers that explain in clear terms that Karjakin’s withdrawal from the tournament is disrespectful:

  • Karjakin has a signed contract with us and it does not state that he can withdraw from the tournament if he qualifies for the World Championship in November, states Jøran Aulin-Jansson.
  • This action feels disrespectful to us as the organizers of the event as well as the other players in the tournament, not to mention the entire chess world that were looking forward to the dress rehearsal for the World Championship match between Karjakin and Magnus Carlsen, says Aulin-Jansson.
  • Sergey Karjakin is a great chess player and he is still welcome as a participant in Altibox Norway Chess 2016. He has, after all, won both times he has participated, says Aulin-Jansson.
  • Karjakin obviously has a lot of nerves before his first World Championship match, however, we truly wish Karjakin and his advisors understand that one can not just run away from agreements because it suddenly does not fit in preparation for a match that does not start until about half a year later.

For more information, contact:
Jøran Aulin-Jansson
Board Member
Phone: +47 913 32 242
joran@norwaychess.com

Posted on March 29, 2016 by Wesley Surber

World Chess Championship: Now We Know

Makeup of a Championship

The 2016 Candidates Tournament, which has been mined in controversy, is finally over. In a triumphant return to the world chess stage, Sergey Karjakin of Russia has earned the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the World Chess Championship in New York City. Karjakin finished the tournament with a solid win over American GM Fabiano Caruana. After holding a relatively balanced position for most of the game, Caruana blundered a critical rook move:

Carlsen remains a clear favorite to retain his title, but Karjakin has an opportunity to snatch it away from Norway and bring it back to Mother Russia, whose state-funded system dominated world chess for almost a century. Congratulations and praise poured out from the community following the win.

Vishy Anand, who challenged Carlsen in 2014 and looked poised to return to the championship at certain points in the tournament, showed an amazing depth of class by symbolically passing the torch on to Karjakin via Twitter.

Giri’s Drawing Streak

As if this tournament did not already have enough oddities and challenges associated with it, Anish Giri managed to draw every one of his games in the tournament, a staggering 14/14 drawn games! Family, friends, and fans watched as Giri went from a theoretical challenger to the world champion to the subject of memes and jokes spread across the blogosphere.

Nakamura’s Implosion

Perhaps nothing besides Agon’s coverage policy was as disappointing as Hikaru Nakamura’s performance in the tournament. The American GM, who was among the candidates high on the list to challenge Magnus Carlsen, literally imploded. He regained some ground in the later rounds, but it was not enough to catch Karjakin, Caruana, and Anand who had pulled well ahead of their competitors.

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GM Hikaru Nakamura will have to wait another cycle. (Image Credit: FIDE)


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Final Standings Crosstable (Image Credit: Chessbase)

Now the chess world turns its attention to Norway Chess as the next major tournament gets set to begin in just a few short months. Check out the entire collection of games from the 2016 Candidates Tournament below:

Posted on December 18, 2015 by Wesley Surber

Should Tournament Chess Be Faster?

Chess24 ran a great article yesterday on the organizer of the Zurich Chess Challenge and his desire to speed up the time control for classical chess. I skipped it when it first appeared in my Feedly list, but I came back to it after some thought about how long professional chess tournaments actually last. Regularly I have tuned in to matches and left Chessbase up on the computer while doing a myriad of other tasks. Imagine my surprise when I take my family out to eat, visit the mall, and then come home to find the same game still in progress! People are naturally resistant to change so it is not surprising that not much traction has been made in efforts to change classical time controls.

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For the 2016 edition of the Zurich Chess Challenge, the players will utilize a 40-minute control per player with 10 second increments per move. According to the article, FIDE has not responded to the organizer’s proposal to change the time control definition for classical chess, but I would imagine that with sanctions against their president are most likely a priority right now.

Read the full article on Chess24.

Posted on October 30, 2015 by Wesley Surber

The Texas Chess-Saw Massacre

When Bobby Fischer was king of the chess board it was hard for much of the world to imagine someone who could work harder or bring a greater sense of finesse to the game until the current world champion emerged. Magnus Carlsen has been called the Mozart of Chess and with his recent outburst that name seems fitting! He could be considered some kind of Chess-Saw intent on massacring any opponent that braves to stand in his way, but what is it that makes Carlsen so great? GM Daniel Naroditsky at Chess.com examines the phenomenon that is Magnus Carlsen and how the story of the great chess grinder is less of a horror movie and more of a real-life opera played out on the grandest stage for the world to see.

Read the full article on Chess.com.