Why the candidates have the right 8 people and why this is the best system so far – An entirely personal opinion

I promised to put this up and thought it would be more fun here than at position 37 on the discussion.

The candidates system is the best possible system at the moment as it does what it is determined to do: get the right winner. We saw that in London, Mexico City and San Luis. A lengthy match-cycle as the distant past might look better to some, but it takes too long and gives us less World Championship matches as well as no promotion.

The players in the candidates are found in a fair way:

* The World Cup gives everyone a chance to qualify. Which this time meant Andreikin made it through. I cannot see that this will lead to Aronian or Kramnik not having a fair shot at the top spot, but it makes the system democratic, as in the past. Remember that Short beat Gurevich with Black in the exchange French 1990 in order to qualify to play Kasparov 1993!

* The Grand Prix gives 20+ of the best players a chance to qualify based on 44 games each (4×11 – please correct me if incorrect number). No one are more deserving than those qualifying there.

* Rating guarantees that the two best players (other than World Ch.) in the World participates, even though one of them failed in his attempt to qualify (Aronian).

* The loser of the World Championship match cannot qualify by other means as he is busy preparing for the match.

* The show needs funding; thus a free space is a good idea. In 2013 it was the World’s no. 4. In 2014 it is a 7 times Russian Champion and no. 3 in 2013 candidates.

Somehow, the idea that it is an unfair system when some top 10 players are not playing is the same as saying that the whole qualification should be based on rating. I do not believe that Nakamura’s ability to beat lower rated players more often than some other top players is relevant to who is the World Champion.

And the criticism of Karjakin, at the time of qualification no. 5 in the world is qualified on rating is weird too. If there was no World Cup, he would have qualified directly on rating anyway. Things have moved, but everyone knew when the date was to qualify on rating.

Despite my immense respect for Nakamura, I think he just got it wrong on this one. The biggest threat to Carlsen is someone who qualifies under a fair and open system, not the one picked by journalists. In the same interview Nakamura also tried to portray his defeat of Kramnik in London as a great achievement, rather than to admit that he was outplayed and then got lucky. I guess it characterises an optimist and is a great assett for the US no. 1, but winning lost endings in rapid does not make you a challenger for the crown…

72 thoughts on “Why the candidates have the right 8 people and why this is the best system so far – An entirely personal opinion”

  1. I must respectfully disagree with much of what you say here.

    “If there was no World Cup, he [Karjakin] would have qualified directly on rating anyway”. I am quite baffled as to how you arrive at this conclusion. For example, suppose the two World Cup places had been allocated to third and fourth places in the Grand Prix. Then the two rating places would have gone to Kramnik and Aronian. Please tell me how Karjakin would get a rating place under this scenario (or any scenario that doesn’t have the World Cup, unless you increase the number of places by rating).

    “The World Cup gives everyone a chance to qualify…democratic.” Yes it does, but there are far better ways to do this than through what many top players regard as essentially a lottery. Yes, a lottery is a “fair way”, so is a roulette wheel (eg Smyslov – Hubner 1983) – it does not mean it’s a good way.

    “The show needs funding”. Yes, under Ilyumzhinov it does because his reputation is so bad that it’s the only way to get sponsorship. This is a major reason he needs to be defeated at the upcoming FIDE election.
    A free space is not a good idea. It is inherently unfair to those who come from countries that do not have a large support of chess. Inherent unfairness at this stage of the process is not a good idea. If necessary, it would be better to have a smaller prize fund and greater fairness.

    The Grand Prix is far better than the World Cup, but not that great. It is far too long-winded; also uncertainties because of sponsorship problems. Also there are problems like top players that have no chance qualifying withdrawing from the final leg, thus making it easier for those that remain to get the necessary points.
    What is wrong with a single qualifier like the 1960’s Interzonals (suitably modified)?

    No, the whole qualification should not be based on rating. But at present it is far too skewed towards luck and what country you come from, rather than merit.

    Although I do not agree with everything that Nakamura says (certainly not his defeating Kramnik in London comment), I think he has largely got it right on this one. It is ridiculous that this Candidates will be a two-horse race instead of the four-horse race that it should be.

    Also, are you sure that having so many World Championship matches is a good thing? We hardly see in tournaments anymore a World Champion that isn’t preparing for a World Championship or recovering from one.

  2. @Maxwell Smart
    In football (soccer for our American friends) it’s perfectly accepted that the host country has a free entry ticket to the World Championship, so what’s so different from chess? And furthermore, I really don’t understand the point about lottery. Can anyone please explain that to me? Maybe it’s just my ignorance. My personal preference is the old system with zonal tournaments, interzonal tournaments, candidate matches and a worldchampionship match with the classical tempo (including adjournment) and winner the first to win 6 games (so draws don’t count), but I guess it’s not commercially attractive in this day and age :-(.

  3. Why must there be a World Championship every year ? The top players will be too busy to play much of anything else. Every two years seems like a better idea to me. I fear people will get fed up of the World Championship matches if they are too frequent.

  4. @Ray
    In football, the host country getting in free takes only one place in 32, in the chess Candidates, it’s one place in eight – an unacceptably high proportion. The football country that was excluded by the free place is hardly likely to have been a serious threat to win the thing; in the Candidates the player that was first reserve, and thus has effectively been excluded by the free place (Caruana), would have been a significant threat to first place.
    The free place given to a player of a country that holds a Grand Prix event is more or less acceptable.

    The “lottery” aspect of the World Cup is because of the incredibly short matches (only 2 games). One mistake, and you can be out of the entire event. Whereas in, say, a 16 player round-robin, a top player who loses a game still has a good chance of recovering and winning the event. The top-rated player in the last World Cup, Aronian, was out at an early stage – ridiculous. There is a strong chance he would have placed in the top two had it been a 16 player round-robin.
    I suggest you find some articles that Jeff Sonas did around the time of the Dortmund 2002 “Candidates” about the probabilities of the best players qualifying under various formats [they are probably still on the Net]. There he showed convincingly just how extremely bad the knockout system is; with the 4-player tournaments system also shown up as being quite bad. It was not for nothing that Kasparov refused to play in these sort of events!

  5. @Maxwell Smart
    to continue the football analogy: there have been 3 recent European Championships organised by 2 countries, which is the same ratio (2 out of 16)
    and my impression of Aronian at the World Cup was that he didn’t care much about the tournament, he was qualified to the Candidates anyway (but ok, that was just my personal impression)

  6. @Maxwell Smart
    I do not see where the big crime is in no. 5 in the World enters the Candidates. Two places by rating is not too much.

    I also do not see how entering Svidler or Radjabov into the tournament will fault the World Championship; we are talking about the bottom entries.

    You may want to criticise FIDE at the moment, but remember that Kasparov could find no sponsors for his 1998 match; did not happen. And then did not play Shirov, because he could not find a sponsor. I did not say ideal; I just said best ever.

    Or you can go further back and have fictitious prize funds in Russia.

  7. @Maxwell Smart
    This “lottery” was won by Anand twice, Ponomariov, Khalifman and Kasimdzanov, Gelfand, Svidler and Kramnik. The middle ones were defined by the absence of many of the strongest players.

  8. @Jacob Aagaard
    I agree that two places by rating is not too much. This is a good provision.
    However, these two places originally went to Kramnik and Aronian. I still cannot see how Karjakin gets one of them if there is no World Cup.

    But we are not just talking about who is in the tournament (Svidler), but also who is not in it that otherwise would be (Caruana). I (and I suspect quite a few others) think that he (Caruana) would be the third most likely to take first place if he were in the event – so I don’t see how talk of “bottom entry” is justified.

    Kasparov did find a sponsor for his 1998 match (a match for which the result was a foregone conclusion if it had been played, thus quite unattractive to sponsors) – in Los Angeles. But Shirov turned it down, saying the prize fund was too low, and that he could find better – he didn’t.

    Nearly half of the World Cup winners (Ponomariov, Khalifman and Kasimdzanov) have never been anywhere near true World Championship standard. Of course a strong player will occasionally win it as well.
    In 1999, when Khalifman won, only 3 top players were missing. Only 3 of the top 15 players that were in this event reached the quarterfinals. Khalifman was ranked 44th in the world at the time.
    In the 2002 event, which Ponomariov won, the only top players that were missing were Kasparov and Kramnik.
    Before the last World Cup, Svidler (I think) in an interview decribed it as a lottery. Why would he say this? Kasparov of course thought the same, as did Kramnik. As do probably many other top players and many of the chess public.

    I’d be interested in opinions of others – it looks like the poll is showing considerable support for Caruana and Nakamura.

  9. Excellent discussion. Thank you. I am learning. I find Agent 86’s (Smart) reasoning quite convincing.
    Question: what is up with Khalifman?? There is a poster at Fell’s Point Chess club, an old one, that lists chess world champions and Khalifman is so listed. Is he considered a champion in the same sense as Fischer, Karpov, Kasperov, Anand, kramnik, MC?? Or was there some qualifying asterisk that should be next to his name? I somehow failed to notice his reign.

  10. I sometimes wonder whether Naka knows what some of his statements sound like. Kind of hard to root for the guy even though he’s from the USA.

  11. @Jacob Aagaard
    I agree the present system isn’t ideal, but indeed we’ve come a long way compared to the times of Alekhine and the like, when a world class player like Rubinstein never had the chance to play for the title and the world champion had excessive rights and could basically more or less determine his next challenger himself (if I remember correctly the ‘first world champion’ Steinitz was even self-proclaimed). If we want all contenders to have a chance a knock-out system seems the only viably option, but then people start complaining about the ‘luck’ aspect. By limiting the number of contenders inevitably you have to introduce some selection criteria which are always to a certain extent debatable. If I look at the line-up however, it seems absolutely fine to me.

  12. If Caruana and Nakamura wanted to have better chances of qualifying, why didn’t they participate to the World Cup as Gelfand did for example?

    In my opinion there is nothing unfair if the system is reasonable (it is), if it is there for a long time for people to understand it and gives a fair chance to everybody (all the above are true). Nakamura would have liked to participate based on his rating, Vachier-Lagrave could argue that if would have been more fair him to play as he reached the semi-finals of the Word Cup (he didn’t of course, i am just presenting a hypothetical example). Everybody can raise an argument based on his beliefs as “fairness” but in reality all of them are just excuses for not making it (imho of course).

    About Khalifman now. He played in a tournament whose winner would have been a World Champion of FIDE. Everybody knew that, so that’s why lots of big names participated. Khalifman won, so he deserves a credit for it. Maybe instead of being at a list with all the other “undisputed World Champions” a more fair way is to be in a list called “Fide World Champions” as this is exactly how it was in the book “Carlsen’s Assault in the Throne”.

  13. @Mark Moorman

    Khalifman was a world-class player that simply didn’t have the chances or the will to play in closed top-level tournaments. You didn’t notice his reign because there is no more any reign to see. Even Carlsen has no reign to show as he isn’t as stronger than his opponents as was Fischer or Kasparov. Don’t forget Carlsen qualified for the world championship with a lose in his last game. Nobody disputes the title of Petrosjan or Euwe, so why question Khalifman? He was world champion and not only “Fide world champion” as Fide is the only organization legitimate.

  14. Nikos Ntirlis :
    If Caruana and Nakamura wanted to have better chances of qualifying, why didn’t they participate to the World Cup as Gelfand did for example?

    well, they did participate…

  15. @Maxwell Smart
    And Ponomariov was rated 4th in the World six months later, coming 2nd in Linares if I am not mistaken. I am not saying he was a worthy World Champion. But he was worthy a place in an 8 player candidate tournament. So was Khalifman when he won and so was Kasimdzhanov (no. 12 at one point; beat Topalov and Adams in 2004), who beat Anand in San Luis.

    All I am claiming is that having these guys in the last 8 candidates have not proven to be wrong.

  16. @Nikos Ntirlis
    In the Carlsen book we just took the Wikipedia view. It looked clear adn easy to understand. We did not take a stand on principle and have different opinions in the office.

    Nakamura was of course not rated that highly on the date used for the qualification for the event. He really wanted to play it and I really wanted to see him in it, but I do not see why he should not qualify.

    Regarding giving the Grand Prix four spaces, rather than using the World Cup and/or rating. I think we should be afraid that the World Cup not comes to dominate the circuit too much. Otherwise we have problems with our 4-5 other big events having Carlsen and a lot of guys who do not think they can qualify for the candidates anyway.

    It is possible to criticise the system at the moment; possibly tweak it. But it is better than anything we have had ever, as far as I am concerned.

  17. Criticizing is easy. Actually specifying a system more open and fair than the one for this cycle … is harder.

    I hope one day soon we will replace the champion’s rematch privilege with a seeding into the qualifying tournament, just as in soccer. I think Magnus is the man to do it. Let him not become an entitled dictator like all the dictators before.

  18. @Jacob: Reasonable people can disagree about match versus tournament. I’m suggesting that even if there is a match, the champion should not be directly seeded into that match. S/he should be seeded into the qualifying tournament (or knockout or whatever), that will determine two players for the final match.

    The analogy in soccer is that 2010 champions Spain are seeded into the “final 32” of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but not into the final game of the tournament.

  19. @Ashish I think I disagree with you on this point. I think the current champion should simply have to defend his title against the best challenger (chosen somehow). Why?? (1) It would be a perk of being champion. The champion would defend by having to prepare for 1 opponent not 7. (2) I think in chess people sort of like the idea of a long reigning champion—a “great” like a Capablanca, or Karpov, or Kasperov. It is more analogous to golf or tennis than soccer (I am aware in those sports you don’t get put in the final automatically)—people prefer a Tiger Woods or Nicklaus, or Federer “era” to an era of parity and rotating champions. In short, I think your proposal would make it more likely that the chess champion would be different every two years—a potential string of Khalifmans, and this would diminish chess and the present era. By contrast, if Carlsen, or some other, can hold the champion’s seat for a decade, or some such, it allows for a feeling of continuity with chess’s past—a manageable list of great names from Capa forward. Even if he can’t there will still be a more manageable narrative, as there is now, between champions (like Euwe) and true greats (Fischer?? Kaspy?? Capablanca for sure). A kind of succession—MC beats Anand, X beats MC, Y beats X is better than A beats Q, then R face D, etc., etc..

  20. There is no “more fair” way to determine the world champion than rating, so why even bother with any of it? The WC is the highest rated player.

    Now, if you don’t like that, then there is a process in place to become WC. Whether you agree with it or not, it seems to be about as fair as any other alternative.

    Caruana and Nakamura could have qualified just like everyone else, but they failed. They’ll have another opportunity next time. Even Bobby Fischer had to wait, and ultimately go through the process, to become WC.

  21. I agree the present system is an improvement on what we have had in recent times. However, call me a traditionalist but I would prefer a two year cycle where the top 40 in the world based on rating are eligible to participate (call it an interzonal) and the top seven from this tournament (plus the loser of the last world championship match) play in a series candidates matches and the winner becomes the challenger. This has the advantage that none of the top players are excluded. I think a championship every 2 years is enough. You don’t see a regular world championship in other sports such as rugby and football.

  22. I love this set up. Hope it was as exciting as the last candidates. The only player I would like to see play who is not is CARUANA. I thought I rembered when CARLSEN was asked he said Caruana and Kramnik where his future compitition or something like that. I like Kramnik and Carlsen. Think Kramnik head to head would be the best test for Carlsen. And how impressive was Kramnik last time. Should be some very exciting chess.

  23. @Michael
    It depends what you call exciting – personally I was not very excited by the match Anand-Carlsen, and though Kramnik and Carlsen are of course formidables chess geniusses, I’m just not so attracted by their ‘dry’ technical styles. I’m missing Kasparov!

  24. @Grant: sounds nice, but I don’t think the sponsorship for such a cycle is there. Look at the cities the current Grand Prix is held in.

  25. @Remco G
    Why decide that “top 40” by rating?
    We have the continental championships where you can qualify for the worldcup
    We have also the Grand Prix series. So noone is left out and the top players have three chances to qualify (Rating, Worldcup, Grand-prix). If they still fail, it’s their own fault.
    On the other side it’s an open system, and everyone has a chance.

  26. @Grant
    Here you face a practical problem. You cannot finance it now and I am not sure anyone ever could. It was certainly financed by ficticious prizes to Soviet players for matches played in the Soviet Union. Also, it takes quite a long time.

  27. I agree that the current system is better (I agree with everything Jacob wrote in the blog post, word for word).

    Just pointing out that first of all Grant’s idea is unlikely to be organized regardless of other merits.

  28. @Ray I totally miss Kasparov too. He is my favorite player!!!
    looking back at Anand vs Topalov 2010 that was an exciting match.

  29. @Jacob Aagaard
    And Kamsky. I think the World Cup winner fully deserves a place, but I am not so sure about the loser of the final. Maybe a 3rd spot from the time-consuming Grand Prix series would be fairer.

  30. @Jacob Aagaard
    But whether the Grand Prix has two or four qualifying places, won’t it still take up just as much of the tournament calendar?
    However, I very much agree with what you say in the rest of this paragraph; I would like to see some tournaments with ALL the top players participating. The qualification process is far too long-winded, the guys have to get themselves up for 5 events (4 Grand Prix plus World Cup), is this not ridiculous? Why not just have one single main event as the qualifier?, this would also save on sponsorship problems.

    Further above, you say Ponomariov, Khalifman and Kasimdzhanov would have been worthy of a place in the last 8. Possibly, but it should be remembered that the World Cup qualifies TWO players for the last 8, not just one. This is too much.
    I would like to emphasise just how bad this knockout system is in determining the best player. Sonas did an analysis in 2002 called “Championship Chessmetrics Analysis” [Put that into Google]. He analysed 13,000 different formats. The knockout system came in at 12,671 – almost right at the bottom as worst. This very deficient system probably has some support because of the entertainment value. But we should not mix up entertainment with a serious way of qualifying the best players.
    The fact that Andreikin got into the Candidates by winning just one(!) classical game surely points to a serious problem here.
    [Disclaimer: please understand that I am not attacking Andreikin, Karjakin or Svidler personally; I am just questioning the system itself.]

    “the system…is better than anything we have ever had”. It is certainly monumentally better than anything we have had since Ilyumzhinov destroyed a still reasonably functioning system in 1997. Whether it’s the best ever is debatable in my opinion – however, to me, all the systems there have ever been have had serious flaws.

    Ashish said: “Criticizing is easy. Actually specifying a system more open and fair than the one for this cycle…is harder.” Ok.
    I have thought about this occasionally in the last couple of years. I believe I have something which ticks all the boxes and streamlines things considerably.

    Firstly, two parts of the current system which are very good:

    (1) Two places by rating. An extremely good provision. It ensures the very best players participate. Who wants to see one of them miss out because he might be ill at the critical time, or have a one-off loss of form, etc?

    (2) The loser of the World Championship is automatically in. This has (rightly) always been the case. As you said, he cannot qualify by other means as he is busy preparing for the match. In any case, his past performance has earnt it. I found it difficult to believe that a considerable number of posters on various forums were virtually demanding Anand give up his place. I’m glad Anand decided to participate.

    FIDE are to be congratulated on these two aspects.
    However, how the other 5 places are decided is very faulty in my opinion. Here is my suggestion. Reasoned criticism welcome:

    Have a 15 player round-robin “Candidates Qualifier” from which the top 5 qualify.
    [An odd number of players so that the colours are even. 17 players would be even better, but would probably be objected to as making the event too long.]
    About 9 of these to be seeded from the rating list. This ensures that all the really top players are in and don’t miss out due to illness/one-off loss of form, etc. Also it means that they do not have to play in an excessive number of qualifying events.
    The remaining 6 or so participants to qualify from a large 14 round Swiss. Entry to this Swiss could be determined by the same sort of means that entry into the World Cup is now.
    This would be a much better way to give “everyone a chance to qualify/democratic” than the lottery knock-out system.

    Surely this would produce a far better outcome as to who qualifies for the Candidates, and no top player could complain about unfairness.
    There would also be far fewer events to have to finance and it would free up the calendar.

    I realise of course that under the current climate, this is but a dream. But with the right will, I really don’t see why it would be far from realistic.

  31. Fantastic start of the candidates, I have not checked the games today, but Anands play was really impressive (at least for a mere mortal), a demonstration of the power of the bishop pair and domination ! Cristal clear play.
    Chess at his best !

  32. @ Maxwell Smart
    Applause from the peanut gallery. Your reasoning appears sound, just, balanced and non-belligerent. I am fully in accord with your conclusions.

  33. @Maxwell Smart
    your proposal is interesting but I don’t like a 15 player tournament where the top 5 qualifies, it won’t be the most interesting chess because players will think: I just need to win 2-3 games or so and safely draw all the rest and I’m fine
    but replacing the World Cup knockout system with some Swiss system seems advisable if I read the chessbase article by Sonas correctly

  34. @Mark Moorman
    Hi Mark, thank you very much for your compliment; also the one further up.
    I agree with nearly all of the comments you have posted, too.

    An interesting issue was discussed by you and Ashish regarding the World Champion’s privilege.
    My view is that it depends on the system that the Candidates is run under. I believe that the World Champion should lose his Title in a match, not in a tournament. So if the Candidates is run as a tournament, as now, then the World Champion having his ‘privilege’ is necessary.
    However, I do not believe running the Candidates as a tournament is the best system. Tournaments have more of a luck factor than matches and there can be other well known issues as well.
    Therefore I think the Candidates should be run as a series of matches of at least 10 games with Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and Final as it was from 1965.
    The problem here, however, is that the World Champion’s privilege becomes too large. He only has to win one match to retain his title, but his challenger has to win four to take it. For example, Spassky lost the World Championship match in 1966 to Petrosian, who by that stage was generally considered inferior to him. But Spassky was exhausted by three tough Candidates matches the previous year.
    My answer to this would be to require the World Champion to play in the Candidates at the quarterfinal stage (joining 7 others). This would mean that the final match is in fact the World Championship match.
    Some would object that the World Champion may not get to play in the final match. I do not have a problem with this; I think the two players who have proved themselves to be currently the best should be playing this. For example, some have complained that the last two World Championship matches have been a real letdown. I agree with them, and I think a large part of the reason was that in neither match were the two best players in the world at the time playing the match.
    [I would have a system of seeding such that the top two rated players are in opposite halves of the draw so that they do not meet before the final.]

    Personally, I do not believe that the World Champion should have a privilege over his nearest competitors (why should he?). But I also do not believe he should lose his title in a tournament. This system solves both issues.
    Carlsen himself said before taking the Title that the World Champion should not have a big privilege. Now that he has the Title, I don’t know what he thinks, but in any case it is not under Carlsen’s control.

    Some would say this system would be too difficult to finance. But when we consider that the final is already the World Championship match, this leaves only the quarterfinals and semifinals. This is versus the Candidates Tournament now, so there is not too much difference.

    I would have 10 games for the quarterfinal, 12 for the semifinal, and 16 for the final (or possibly 12/14/18). Having only 12 games for the World Championship as it currently is is quite ridiculous.

    Such a tough series of matches would be quite exhausting and occupy a fair bit of the calendar. So I think it should be done on a 3-year cycle (this would save on financing problems, too).
    I think the 2-year cycle even under the current system is dubious. The World Champion spends 6 months preparing for a match and another 3 months recovering – it doesn’t leave him with a lot of the calendar to participate in strong tournaments without distraction (the London Classic is becoming one victim of this).

    Some would complain that a 3-year cycle would ‘leave too big a gap where nothing interesting happens’. I suggest the following to cover this:
    Set up an annual ultimate “Trophy”, “World Cup”, “Championship” – whatever it is decided to call it.
    In year one, all the Candidates matches including the final one are played. The winner of the World Championship takes the “Trophy” for that year.
    In year two, the “Trophy” is taken by winner of a mega-tournament along the lines of the old Soviet Championships. Say a 17 player round-robin tournament with 12 seeded players and 5 qualifiers. With the ANNUAL “Trophy” at stake, this would hopefully attract ALL the strongest players.
    In year three, the “Trophy” is taken by the winner of an 8-player double round-robin [now that there is no such Candidates Tournament]. At least 6 to be seeded. Again, hopefully, ALL the very top players would be attracted.
    I believe that if this system was implemented, we would see interesting competition at the top level the like of which we have rarely seen before.

  35. @tony
    Hi Tony, thanks for your comment; and good find in spotting Nikos’ mistake!

    Would this event be very different from the Interzonals of the 1960’s and 1970’s? There was considerable fighting chess in those.
    Also from my description of how the event would be composed, it is clear that every participant would be extremely strong. So from whom would the 2-3 wins come?; I doubt it could be ‘planned’.
    You may be right of course (I guess only a test would tell; and it’s one reason I would prefer a 17 player event!), but nevertheless the players able to get those 2-3 wins would likely be the strongest ones and thus the main object of the tournament would be achieved.
    I cannot be certain, but I think even a bad case scenario here would be better than the mish-mash we currently have.

    You read the Chessbase article by Sonas correctly!

  36. @ Maxwell Smart
    I like all of your thinking except I still believe that the chess champion title, like a boxing title, needs to pass from one champion to the next even if this means that the current champion enjoys a few advantages by virtue of being champion. I hold this belief, as I said, because it makes for an improved narrative for chess history. So, one can say “Carlsen beat Anand, the lost to X, and X reigned 10 years and lost to Y. Rather than—“oh yeah, 2016 the year Carlsen did not make it out of the candidates to defend and Adreilkin beat Khalifman.” Just my opinion, I can see how one could see it differently.

  37. @Maxwell Smart
    I like the certainty you have for your system, which is really really bad. You kill our tradition, you kill the great link all the way from the Regional Qualifiers to the World Cup, that helps to keep 50-100 professionals alive. You remove the Grand Prix, which is great for the players in top 10-40, who do not get a lot of invitations, but get decent tournaments there where they can prove their worth against those who get all the invitations.

    At the end of the day, you end up with a system that discontinued because it could not be properly funded, while decimating our chess tradition and the biggest earner for the World Champion and FIDE alike, the World Championship match.

  38. I think he was trying to devise a system that produces the strongest pool of challengers. I did mention where I disagree with him. If other goals must be added, e.g., a welfare state for the top 100, or social engineering for the less frequently invited then such goals need to be made explicit. It raises the question: where is the line where realistic chances to win should be drawn, or, where is the Super GM/ ordinary GM line?? To use a baseball analogy we want the All-Stars in, not the ordinary major leaguer, or AAA player. Granted I believe being AA, AAA, or “ordinary” is an extraordinary accomplishment—like being a titled chess player of any kind (FM, IM, GM), but not all need a crack at the title. [There, I used some “goose and gander” language—sort of fun). 😉

  39. History suggests winners of candidates tournaments might be better than winners of candidates matches.

    Tournament winners and subsequent world championship match result:
    Bronstein, drew
    Smyslov, drew
    Smyslov, won
    Tal, won
    Petrosian, won
    Topalov, lost
    [Anand, won, but not sure if this counts]
    Carlsen, won

    Match winners and subsequent world championship match result:
    Spassky, lost
    Spassky, won
    Fischer, won
    Karpov, no match
    Korchnoi, lost
    Korchnoi, lost
    Kasparov, match terminated
    Karpov, drew
    Karpov, lost
    Short, lost
    Anand, lost
    Shirov, no match
    Leko, drew
    Topalov, lost
    Gelfand, drew

  40. @Steve
    It is a bit rich to call San Luis 2005 a candidates tournament (though I get where you are going), just as I personally do consider Topalov as unified World Champion 2005-2006, from the moment where Kramnik signed the contract making him the challenger to the World Championship 2006. Obviously, this is a personal principled view, and not a QC view. John is the boss and decided that we would go with the Wikipedia view, as this is the most common view, though I disagree with it. For that reason Anand does count in your calculation.

  41. @Steve
    If your intention is to compare long match play Candidates series versus a Candidates tournament (and given the context of the discussion re my posts, presumably it is), then you need to adjust your list a little:

    Leko and Gelfand won knockouts.
    Shirov was only one match (so in effect he was given a free Candidates final berth), and in any case he was a replacement for the stronger Anand.
    Topalov was also given a free Candidates final berth against an opponent who had won a knockout.
    These should therefore be removed from your list.

    However, more importantly, it needs to be looked at who these Candidates winners were up against!
    Almost all in the tournament list were up against Botvinnik. Botvinnik was already 40 when he defended his title against Bronstein in 1951. Botvinnik’s strength in 1951-1963 was far less than previously – he was well past his prime.
    Now looking at who remains in the match winners list. Most were up against Karpov and Kasparov in their prime! – and were thus MUCH stronger than 1951-1963 Botvinnik.
    So you are comparing apples with oranges.

    It would be better to determine how each method fared in producing the strongest player of those who participated. Both methods seem to perform extremely and about equally well. The only cases where it is not really clear the best player prevailed are Petrosian and Short, and even with these it cannot be said that any of the others were better at the particular time.

    If, however, we compare the knockouts, we know very well that Gelfand was not the strongest of those who took part in his event.
    Thus the knockouts continue to produce a record of only about 50% at best of producing the best player.

  42. @Maxwell Smart
    If you want to do a real analysis, you should include the length of the matches. Aronian, Topalov and Kramnik were eliminated in very short matches.

    But the interesting thing is that if Anand wins the candidates this time around, then this puts the close matches with Topalov and Gelfand in a different light. I thought Anand was simply not given a chance to shine against Gelfand and that more credit of this should be given to Boris, rather than Anand be criticised for it. Watching him in Moscow was like seeing Kasparov fighting for the initiative against Kramnik in London 2000. No one criticised Kasparov there; everyone praised Kramnik…

  43. @Jacob Aagaard
    Apart from the World Champion playing in the Candidates, why is my system very different from that which prevailed from 1965 to 1996? Are you saying that system was really really bad, too?

    “You kill the great link all the way from the Regional Qualifiers to the World Cup”. I think this is unfair criticism. I said in my proposal that “entry to this Swiss could be determined by the same sort of means that entry into the World Cup is now”. There is no breakage of the link from Regional Qualifiers to possibly becoming a Candidate.

    I am a little disappointed that you seem to refuse to acknowledge what a very poor format the knockout system is.
    Ushenina becoming women’s World Champion is another example of the disastrous outcomes this system produces.

    As regards the Grand Prix, so what you are saying is that we put the players that have a serious chance of becoming a Candidate through a zillion hoops so as to provide welfare for those that have little chance of becoming a Candidate and virtually none of becoming World Championship challenger? So the World Championship system is to be mangled so it can be prostituted to provide income for those that are not strong enough to play a serious part in it.

    As regards the free place for a player of the host country, I maintain that this is not fair – period. Players like Caruana and Nakamura are forced to compete for only 4 remaining places instead of 5 with next to zero chance of getting the fifth – no way is this a fair system. See the Chessbase article “Candidates Rd 1: The Madras tiger breaks Aronian” fairly near the bottom under ‘The Wild Card’. They express it better than I can.

    If it really is necessary to compromise the World Championship system in order to secure funding [though I am skeptical that this would be so under honest, reputable and competent FIDE leadership], then so be it. But in that case, it should be said as such, not that the system is nearly perfect with no major flaws.

    As regarding the old system being discontinued because it could not be properly funded, well firstly we had the same incompetent leadership then too. But also, very importantly, the real World Champion and by far the strongest player at the time was not part of it [this being mainly the fault of FIDE], and also the FIDE version of the title was not recognised by most of the chess public as being the real World Championship title. So it is not surprising that it did not attract much funding.

    As for the “non-traditional” idea of the sitting World Champion not necessarily being in the final match, this is not some kook idea that I have come up with. Seirawan had this exact provision in his “A Fresh Start” proposal in 2001. And it was a serious proposal by him. Also FIDE has done the same in the past – Karpov (their Champion at the time) was made to play in a semi-final in 1995.
    It might be tradition, but traditions can get outdated and irrelevant. I can’t say I was particularly enthused by seeing in the last two World Championships a lame duck Champion defending his title in a boring match.
    We don’t see the sitting Wimbleton tennis Champion coming into the final match not having played a single game.
    The final “Candidates” match in my system would be the World Championship match. As such, it would be treated just as seriously as any other World Championship match, and bring in just as much income.

    I do agree, however, that this is the most controversial part of my proposal. It is also the least important part in terms of being necessary, so would not be a total disaster if left out.
    This does mean, however, that the Candidates needs to be a tournament rather than long matches, and this is not ideal. Nevertheless the 8-player double round-robin is quite good. If it must be a tournament, this is the about best there is (the other possibility being a 10 player one such as in 1950 and 1956, but this would probably be considered too long).

    Even under this scenario, I would like it to be a 3-year cycle so as to free up the calendar. When will London see the World Champion again? And last year Caruana had to give Norway Chess a miss to concentrate on the Grand Prix.
    I would like to see some tournaments with ALL the top players. Do we really have to go all the way back to AVRO 1938 to see this for a tournament of more than 6 players?
    If we stick to a 2-year cycle, what is your suggestion to get tournaments that have ALL the top players and including a World Champion and Challenger/potential Candidates who don’t have a heavy distraction on their minds?

  44. @Maxwell Smart
    There are a few things that I disagree with:
    I do not remember Karpov playing any semi-final before his match with Kamsky. Am I wrong? He played a final against Timman and then defended against Kamsky and Anand. It was with the knock-out that he had to start in round one.

    Kasparov leaving FIDE: ok this is a long discussion. To put the blame only on FIDE without comments is too simpliscit.

    The major point is that Kasparov did not manage to fund a cycle from 1995 onwards. He even could not fund a match with Shirov; though we only have his words for how hard he tried.

    The absence of super tournaments is a fair argument.

    The stuff about “prostituting the World Championship” is probably a reaction to my strong words. It seems rather over the top.

    Obviously we need to debate what the main point of the candidates system should be. I would say it has a few functions:

    * Find the strongest challenger
    * Entertain chess fans
    * Improve the conditions for chess players

    We clearly disagree about the third point. The first two I cannot see are in danger. If Caruana and Nakamura cannot qualify in the Grand Prix; sorry, you cannot convince me that they are favourites to win the candidates or have a bigger right to be there than anyone else.

    Clearly with an 8-player candidates; at most times a few of the players will be bit players. To use these to create opportunities for 100s of chess professionals instead of a handful is in my opinion a great thing. You can choose to disagree, but I think we will have to say that then we have such a difference of priority that we cannot really have a meaningful discussion about other aspects.

  45. @Maxwell Smart
    You do know that the wild card needs a minimum rating of 2725? Maybe the bar should be raised even higher, but several people talking about this wild card make it seem that just about anyone can be the wild card with enough funding.

  46. @Jacob Aagaard
    I presume you mean Anand, not Aronian.
    I confess to being a bit puzzled about the relevance of your post. The matches that Kramnik and Topalov lost don’t count in the list anyway, so we are left only with Carlsen beating Anand.
    What sort of analysis could be applied to this?, I’m not sure what can be done. Or should it just be disallowed as being too short?

    I think it is far too early days to talk about Anand winning the Candidates yet. Not sure if he can keep it up. I am glad he is doing well so far. On another forum about 2 months ago, when many were beying for Anand’s blood, I said that I thought the only player capable of having any sort of significant chance to stop the Kramnik/Aronian duo would be…Anand. But it’s much too early yet, we will have to wait and see.

    The World Championship matches at 12 games are ridiculously short – they should be 16 or 18 games. It’s hardly a proper World Championship at all.
    I think Anand would have done a bit better against Gelfand in a longer match. Gelfand subsequently proved he was a bit better than I thought, but not remarkably so; I think the match was a confirmation of Anand’s decline as well – it wasn’t just the Topalov and Gelfand matches, but also his poor tournament results as well.

    Probably Kasparov was not criticised in 2000 because Kramnik was the clear No.2 in the world; and Kramnik praised because he was beating the No.1.
    Probably Anand copped criticism because Gelfand was No.14 or something; while Gelfand did not get praise because Anand was clearly out of the top 3 by this stage. I think Carlsen would have made mincemeat out of both these guys. My interpretation, anyway.

  47. looking back at the Grand Prix tournaments, if Caruana had played 14…fxg6 instead of 14…hxg6? against Nakamura in Paris, there would be a lot less fuss about this
    or if he hadn’t messed up against Ponomariov in Zug (57…f6?)

  48. @tony
    That seems a pretty low bar to me. Lots of players could get in that shouldn’t. The bar should be 2760 at a minimum.

    Once again, it’s the unfairness that gets me. If you come from a country that has truckloads of oil money to spend on chess, you have a much better chance of becoming a Candidate than if you don’t. How is this fair? No one except Mark Moorman has yet answered this.

  49. Maxwell Smart :
    Lots of players could get in that shouldn’t.

    this is not a great argument, then you should exclude everyone below 2760 from any tournament where they could have a chance of qualifying for the candidates, as “they shouldn’t get in”

  50. @tony
    That’s very true.
    Which is why I said “If it really is necessary to compromise the World Championship system in order to secure funding, then so be it. But in that case, it should be said as such, not that the system is nearly perfect with no major flaws”.

  51. @Jacob Aagaard
    Put “World Chess Championship 1996” into Google. It’s there on Wikipedia.
    Karpov beat Gelfand 6-3 in one semifinal. Kamsky beat Salov in the other.
    I remember this and at the time thought it was quite an interesting idea.

    Seirawan produced “A Fresh Start” in 2001 to try and resolve the impasse of Kramnik insisting on a knockout for his “Candidates” and Kasparov understandably refusing to play under such a format. I thought it was a really great proposal. Everyone bar one agreed to it, including Kasparov and Ilyumzhinov! But it was torpedoed by Kramnik. I was very disappointed. Had it gone through, the chess world and its Championship would have been a far, far better place in subsequent years.

    Kasparov leaving FIDE, yes a long discussion. Briefly, reasons for blaming FIDE: for the upcoming World Championship match Kasparov-Short 1993, FIDE broke their own rules by not consulting Kasparov and Short about choice of venue. This was the trigger after immense frustrations of many previous years. To my mind, FIDE had lost any real legitimacy to be custodian of the Title by illegally stopping the first Karpov-Kasparov match in 1985.
    FIDE have been rotten to the core ever since Campomanes took over in 1982. That’s 32 years now, a generation! I remember when the strongest player in our club (an IM now) came back from playing in the 1982 Olympiad in Lucerne. He said Campomanes had truckloads of money and was going round bribing everyone. “Just a crook”. I was rather surprised at him making these comments because he was rather left-wing and a great fan of Karpov, so I thought he would have taken the Russian line. So if even he was saying this…
    I am not a blind follower of Kasparov – he has significant faults and has behaved very badly at times. His crazy proposal to include all types of games – Classical, Rapid and Blitz – into the rating system is very disturbing. But whatever problems Kasparov might bring, it is essential to get rid of Ilyumzhinov is chess is to seriously progress. The poll results confirm this sentiment here. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely – Ilyumzhinov knows to perfection how to rort the faulty voting system.

    Well, for raising funds Kasparov did not have the authority that being the world body of chess brings. It might be a different story if he was FIDE President. There are no guarantees of course.
    About the Shirov thing: See ‘The Week in Chess’ No. 206, 19th October 1998. [Google it]
    In it is an interview with Kasparov. In it, he says with respect to a match with Shirov “Our saviour came in the form of a firm offer from Los Angeles to play in November 1998. Even though I agreed, Alexei Shirov would not play because the prizemoney was not high enough. We then went back to the drawing board and opened various old negotiations but at this stage Alexei Shirov said that an attractive offer from Catalonia might be forthcoming and that we should not deal with the others while talking to Barcelona and Tarrasa. ‘Fair enough’, we said and a deadline was set for September 15th, later moved, I believe to September 22nd. The end of September came and went and no match has been proposed nor are any of us aware of one that is likely.”
    Mig Greengard said basically the same thing on his ‘Daily Dirt’ blog some years ago. Of course he might be “biased”, but I very much doubt that he would outright lie about such a thing.
    And again, it should be remembered that the result of such a match would have been a foregone conclusion had it been played. How attractive is that for sponsors?

    To me, very much the MAIN point of the Candidates system should be to find the strongest challenger (and the strongest candidates). To me, for THIS event (not necessarily others), the other points you mention are secondary and the integrity of the system to achieve this primary purpose should not be compromised to further these secondary points.
    The knockout format is not a serious one; it is mainly for entertainment purposes and is thus quite inappropriate for something as serious as determining Candidates qualifiers. And indeed, I would be better entertained if I know that the right 8 players are in the Candidates.
    As for improving conditions for chess players, well I have not cut out the Regional Qualifiers system; just the Grand Prix. In this one case of the latter, yes I think we need to look elsewhere. It could be possible for example to use the sponsorship money freed up by having no Grand Prix [this funding has been pretty insecure and ropey anyway, continually being bailed out by Ilyumzhinov’s Russian and Chinese friends; will it actually even continue?] to have another prestigious Regional Qualifiers system for the qualifying places in my proposed ‘Soviet Championship’ type mega tournament. That’s just one suggestion which might overall improve the opportunities over what there is now.

    I have never said that Caruana and Nakamura have a bigger right to be in the Candidates than anybody else. By the same token, I do not understand what rational right Svidler and Karjakin have to be there over them. They both failed just as badly in the Grand Prix and the World Cup. So why are they there? It just doesn’t make sense.
    All I ask for is a fair, rational, reasonably streamlined and SCIENTIFIC system that has the best chance of producing the most worthy qualifiers. At present, we certainly far from that.

  52. @Maxwell Smart
    Karjakin is there because he was rated 5th in the World at the cut-off date. To say that this does not give him any right to be there is odd.

    About the invitational space: Radjabov was 2793, no. 4 in the World. Svidler is not showing bad form either. I do not see the problem.

    Kasparov has always done a good game talking, but his record is incredibly poor. Kirsan has always been a big embarassment, but his record is somewhat better. The whole Kasparov dream and the cycle of the past illusion dies when you remember that he did not find funds for a cycle after 1995. And when he did find the money,

    Seirawan and his solution does not impress. It never did. To me it was always about bending to Kasparov’s ego, rather than having a qualification system. As Kasparov was entirely unpredictable and had a poor record of keeping agreements, I think it is unfair to criticise Kramnik for holding the candidates he had agreed with Kasparov, in the contract they both signed for London 2000.

    Gelfand, after he lost the match, was no. 6 in the World. He won the same amount of top tournaments as Carlsen in 2013, if you consider Chennai a tournament. He does have a rather safe style, that means that matches are better for him than tournaments and rating. Recently he was ill in both Wijk aan Zee and Zug and did not perform well; though before that he obviously did quite well at the London Chess Classic. Rating has never been his force; as he does not beat “Van Wely” as often as Nakamura or Aronian does. But is this really a worthy way to decide who is best?

    All I ask for is something that gives all the top players a chance to fight for the World Championship in a clear, predictable system. I want a fair final. I want the cloud of the World Championship to benefit more than just 4-8 players. I want to see a lot of great chess.

    I get all these and I am happy. If more money were available, we could think of a better system, but at the moment, they are not.

  53. I think I am closing this treat for myself and Maxwell; we have both had our say. If others want to chip in, they are very welcome.

  54. @Thomas
    In the sense that an analysis be done like Jeff Sonas did in 2002 to determine mathematically the best way to determine the qualifiers.

  55. @Jacob Aagaard

    re Karjakin, Svidler: I said “rational” right. They are there by an irrational right. (In Karjakin’s case by the irrational decision to make Kramnik and Aronian play in the World Cup when they were already in the Candidates anyway.)

    The selections for the invitational space have not been bad. Still unfair if you do not come from an oil-rich country though.

    Kirsan’s sponsorship record may be somewhat better. That’s because he’s a billionaire [wealth obtained somewhat murkily after the collapse of the Soviet Union], so has been able to afford to sponsor from his own money. This is partly what has kept him there. Money talks.

    I am not criticising Kramnik for holding a Candidates, this was the right thing to do. I am criticising that he made it a knockout (especially given that he knew what Kasparov’s attitude to those were).

    Gelfand Number 6? Don’t get where that comes from. Match was 10-30 May 2012. Before it, Gelfand 20th (May 2012 list). After it, Gelfand 16th (July 2012 list).
    Gelfand also had some very bad tournaments in 2013 (something Carlsen didn’t); and when it counted. He did badly in both the Grand Prix and World Cup.

    Be interesting to know what others in your office think about all this.

    I’d better let you get back to writing books. Otherwise I will never get to see GM6B! (and I will never get any work done). Thank you for your time in replying.

  56. He’s just playing with numbers. What has this got to do with chess?

    Moreover, as he constantly confuses players many of his numbers are nonsense.
    Just one example: A certain Juan Carlos Gonzales (*1917) played in Havana 1952.
    As he confuses him with the Mexican Grandmaster (*1968) he has him listet as the strongest ever player aged 85. Wonderful!

    But even if he had the numbers correct. Do you really want to compare Steinitz to Karpov? Does this make any kind of sense?

  57. Another fine example of Sonas’ wonderful number magic:

    The player Celso Golmayo Zúpide (1820-1898) has had mainly mediocre to disastrous results. (0,5: 5,5 against Mackenzie for example, or 0:5 against Steinitz – ok, some are a little bit better). Sonas list him with a peak rating of 2612, winning 50 points in 1893/94 without playing a single game, making him a top-30 player at the age of 74.
    Yes, that’s crap.

  58. @tony
    There is no “science” to measure playing strength. This is only statistics, and depends on many presumptions. There is no sense in it. Of course you can also compare the number of storks with the birth rate. But that’s not science.

    Even more so, as he has so many wrong numbers.
    My two examples were gathered together in 5 minutes. How many more are there?

  59. Thomas :
    There is no “science” to measure playing strength. This is only statistics, and depends on many presumptions.

    That is exactly how science usually works, depending on many presumptions.
    Probably Sonas’ analysis can be improved, but it seems perfectly possible to analyse this scientifically.
    And we were talking about his article on “Championship Chessmetrics Analysis”, I don’t see how your comments are relevant to this analysis.

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