Buying a Shot at the Title

Last week’s poll question was ‘Do you have any chess superstitions?’ In general, you do not, but many are fortunate enough to own a lucky pen.


The Russian Federation has proposed (link to pdf of proposal) to reintroduce the World Championship rules from a decade ago, that allowed Vladimir Kramnik to challenge Veselin Topalov for, and win, the FIDE World Championship title, thus unifying the two titles into one. Another match was also planned between Radjabov and Topalov, but was abandoned when Topalov lost his title.
As this Chessdom article explains, the proposal is that “anyone guaranteeing a required prize-fund can challenge the reigning World Champion.” Another key part of the proposal is that FIDE takes 50% of the prize fund.
We have our personal thoughts on this, but would like to know your thoughts. In a world where chess is struggling to find millions for the match at the end of the cycle, but where some sponsors from (for example) Azerbaijan, the US, Armenia, Russia and France might be able to find sponsors for a challenge from their local hero, does it make sense for FIDE to solve part of their solvency problems by adding an additional World Championship match to their cycle or is this taking the wildcard phenomenon too far? It could also lead to more matches that are dramatic and fun to watch.
We presume that the World Champion will have the right to accept or decline such a match; just as we presume (in this poll!) that everything would happen in a reasonable and intelligent way…

22 thoughts on “Buying a Shot at the Title”

  1. I think this is a ludricous proposal, going back to the days of Steinitz and Lasker – why not go one step further and allow the World Championship title itself to be bought? Just like rich persons who could buy the title of earl, duke or count in the 19th century. I.m.o. it would be preferable to take on corruption within FIDE, which is shying sponsors away (at least those who care about their public image).

  2. The selling of one-eighth of the Candidates places is already quite unfair and unacceptable; this proposal simply takes that scandal a step further.

  3. @Keresest
    It seems less unfair than the current system where the organisers choose all of the participants in the top tournaments and those not in favour find it really hard to qualify for anything. Compare this to for example tennis, where all is equal.

  4. @Jacob Aagaard
    I presume you are referring to the Grand Chess Tour? That is not a qualifier for the World Championship, so the organisers can choose who they like. In any case they base their choices more or less on the rating list, so the participants get chosen on some sort of merit; whereas someone as low as 2725 rating can get into the Candidates without having done anything.

    I suspect that this RCF proposal may well have been driven by Kramnik not getting into the last Candidates. Actually, on this basis, it may have a little bit of merit; 2-game knockout matches remain as absurd today as they did when introduced by Ilyumzhinov in 1997. Apart from far too many weak players getting in them, plus the absurd restrictions on the Soviets, what was wrong with the old Interzonals of the 1960’s?
    The correct way forward is to reform the way the Candidates is qualified for, not to extend an already existing scandal.

  5. @ JA . Got the point but it was always harder for top 30 than top 10 to be invited in super-tournaments . At least some have B tournaments and invitations for the next year A one .

  6. When Karjakin mentioned a main reason why Carlsen did well earlier than he did, he mentioned that Carlsen got invited to top tournaments and he did not. In general the World Championship is great because it operates on qualification rather than rating and invitation. The top tournaments – all of them – have the same few players all the time, making +1 and -1. If they had to win rating points in opens like the players right below them, they would not necessarily be able to. Some would, some would not. This is one of the reasons why players that drop out of the top 10 rarely comes back. They now have to win loads of games, rather than survive in the Berlin.

    I think our tournament system outside the World Championship is terribly poor.

  7. Agreed but i think there is no system , only organizers and patrons who do what they want , that is the problem . Otherwise , it seems MVL , Rapport ( and Inarkiev ) gained bunches of points in the last few months, so it is possible to move fast on the rating list .

  8. @Pinpon
    Yes, it is. Obviously. And you cannot keep a Carlsen out. But if you look back through recent history you will see how subjective the selection to tournaments has been. Ivanchuk has been in the cold for years, but did you know he actually was no. 1 on the Live rating in 2007. What happened? He quickly stepped in on a cancellation in Linares, did well and got other invitations. Gelfand was one of the top 3 players in terms of winning tournaments in 2013. In 2015 he was ill during tournaments and dropped some rating points. Recently he has not been getting any invitations. He tied for first in Aeroflot and crushed Inarkiev in a match. Inarkiev immediately won back the points. Boris, as he describes in his book, has been “finished” in the narrative of journalists since 1992. He is certainly getting on a bit, but why would he not be able to do as well at 48 as he did at 45.
    And this is just two examples; there are loads of players that deserve a big chance, but at stuck in trying to win rating points in tournaments where players constantly force a draw on them with White. It can be done, but it is much more impressive than to force a draw on Carlsen with White and then suffer and hold against Anand in the Berlin.
    If we had a better rating system, I would not mind, but we really have a very stagnant and unfair system of tournaments at the moment.

  9. What would be a better rating system? It seems to me that Gelfand and Ivanchuk are genuinely not top 10 in playing strength at the moment.

  10. @Keresest
    With Ivanchuk you are probably right, but with Gelfand neither of us can honestly tell. He was top 10 before he got ill 18 months ago, then he lost rating and the invitations stopped coming. The old “he is over the top” stories started circling again. The normal shot at something would be the European Teams or the Olympiad, but the Israeli federation is imploding because of the familiar idiot problem. So, you might be right and you might not. We have no way of knowing.

    What would a better system look like? Well, for starters, it would not have Karjakin on 9th after winning the 2nd and 3rd most important tournaments in chess. But let us put up a few criteria:

    * It would reward winning on the top board of a tournament over winning on bottom board at a different tournament
    * It would reward tournaments that had some sort of open and fair method of inviting players over the current “the sponsor decides”. Basically, it would give you a chance to win more points there.
    * It would be current, unlike the system we have where Kasparov only needs to play one game to be the second highest rated player in the World.

    It would certainly be a challenge to create such a system and it would cut the link to the past. But this link seems rather artificial to me anyway. Players at 2350 now are much stronger than the 2350 guys I played with 15 years ago, when I was 2350 and blundered one of all the pieces in a closed tournament and…

  11. The right formula remains to be found : we complain about high volatility rating ( K: 40 ) for youngsters and low volatility for elite GM …

  12. @Pinpon
    It is working within the old system, so to me that is just not a very interesting change. I do believe that no one should be allowed a higher rating than their performance rating over a certain period, if on the K40 factor. This would prevent a lot of the mess that is around at the moment.

  13. @JacobAagaard
    The current system could certainly do with a few bugs being removed like your K40 and Kasparov suggestions. But I am not convinced that in principle it is fundamentally unsound.
    Very few of Karjakin’s wins in the World Cup were in classical chess, so this event rightly did not contribute much to his classical rating. Karjakin won the Candidates, but not with a big score (which would have been even less had Caruana not had to win his last game). To balance this, Karjakin has had quite a few less than stellar results; I don’t think his 9th place is unreasonable.
    There would be a lot of arguments implementing your other two suggestions! – and I don’t think the current FIDE would be competent to run it.

    Here’s one idealistic and probably impractical suggestion:
    Instead of the Grand Chess Tour, have a round-robin mega-tournament of 29 or 30 players run in three stages of 10 games (or maybe two of 14). 20-25 places from the rating lists with the remainder from qualifiers and/or special selections of players with potential such as Wei-Yi. This would enable anyone with a serious claim to top 20 status to participate.
    To enable such an event to fly, it would probably need to be given a special FIDE status such as ‘World Tournament Championship’, or something.
    I think it would be great to see again something like the great tournaments they had before World War One that included just about ‘everybody’; or the old Soviet Championships.

  14. This argument that top players would not be able to hold their rating in open tournaments is repeated every so often, but I see no evidence of this. The last Open that I can remember where absolute top players participated was the Qatar Open. The super tournament regulars Carlsen, Kramnik, Karjakin, Giri and So on average gained rating.

    Karjakin stating that somehow he would have gotten less chances than Carlsen is pretty hilarious though.

  15. @Jacob Aagaard
    I think we would need something like a tournament circuit, as there is in tennis, with let’s say 30 tournaments a year, 10-12 players per tournament. A defined way to qualify for that circuit, a reasonable number of wildcards, a standard of organisation.
    Who could set up such a circuit? FIDE (aaaeeeaaam)? ECU (hahaha)? ACP (maybe)?

  16. I actually think this is a great idea by FIDE for a change. Mo WCh matches, mo fun. Also it might allow Aronian to get a match with Carlsen, as I don’t think it looks likely via the Candidates route.

    Maybe a billionaire chess enthusiast would pay for a real WCh match between Kasparov and Carlsen too? Dare to dream.

  17. @Keresest
    Sorry to appear to be rude, but it is out of respect that I say this: Your logic is circular and thus nonsensical. Or you are missing my point. I say that we are not rewarding the winner of the two most important tournaments the last 24 months, while you say that his margin in winning them was not high and that he did less well in other events. Does that not underline my point exactly?

  18. I did say that I did not believe that there would be a positive change in the tournament system and distribution, but this does not mean we cannot talk about what it would look like.

    I have yet to see an open as the Interzonal used to be, where the best players actually played, so Qatar does not come across as a real comparison. Yu Yangui did very well in it twice as well, but has not made it into top tournaments. I generally do feel that the rating system is poor and creates a lot of small injustices. These are all random, to some extent, but just like this Russian proposal, they favour some people over others, because of the favour of a few rich individuals. I do not like that much.

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