Reports | November 05, 2010 16:10

Magnus Carlsen steps out of World Championship cycle

Magnus Carlsen steps out of World Championship cycle

By declining to play in the 2011 Candidates matches, Magnus Carlsen has decided to step out of the current World Championship cycle. In a letter to FIDE Carlsen expresses his dissatisfaction with the current cycle, like "reigning champion privileges, the long (five year) span of the cycle and changes made during the cycle resulting in a new format (Candidates) that no World Champion has had to go through since Kasparov." Poll added.

The following letter, signed by Magnus Carlsen, dated November 4th, was sent to FIDE. We received a copy from Carlsen's manager Espen Agdestein.

To: FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov & FIDE World Championship Committee. Reference is made to the ongoing World Championship cycle. The purpose of this letter is to inform you of my decision not to take part in the planned Candidate Matches between March and May 2011. After careful consideration I’ve reached the conclusion that the ongoing 2008 – 2012 cycle does not represent a system, sufficiently modern and fair, to provide the motivation I need to go through a lengthy process of preparations and matches and, to perform at my best. Reigning champion privileges, the long (5 yr) span of the cycle, changes made during the cycle resulting in a new format (Candidates) that no World Champion has had to go through since Kasparov, puzzling ranking criteria as well as the shallow ceaseless match-after-match concept are all less than satisfactory in my opinion. By providing you with 4 months notice before the earliest start of the Candidates as well as in time before you have presented player contracts or detailed regulations, I rest assured that you will be able to find an appropriate replacement. Although the purpose of this letter is not to influence you to make further changes to the ongoing cycle, I would like to take the opportunity to present a few ideas about future cycles in line with our input to FIDE during the December 27th 2008 phone-conference between FIDE leaders and a group of top-level players. In my opinion privileges should in general be abolished and a future World Championship model should be based on a fair fight between the best players in the World, on equal terms. This should apply also to the winner of the previous World Championship, and especially so when there are several players at approximately the same level in the world elite. (Why should one player have one out of two tickets to the final to the detriment of all remaining players in the world? Imagine that the winner of the 2010 Football World Cup would be directly qualified to the 2014 World Cup final while all the rest of the teams would have to fight for the other spot.) One possibility for future cycles would be to stage an 8-10 player World Championship tournament similar to the 2005 and 2007 events. The proposal to abolish the privileges of the World Champion in the future is not in any way meant as criticism of, or an attack on, the reigning World Champion Viswanathan Anand, who is a worthy World Champion, a role model chess colleague and a highly esteemed opponent. Rest assured that I am still motivated to play competitive chess. My current plan is to continue to participate in well-organised top-level tournaments and to try to maintain the no 1 spot on the rating list that I have successfully defended for most of 2010. Best regards, IGM Magnus Carlsen

The next step of the current World Championship cycle is formed by the Candidates matches, which are scheduled in Kazan in the Russian republic of Tatarstan in the spring of 2011. The winner of these matches will meet Viswanathan Anand in a World Championship match, which will probably be held in London in 2012. FIDE has confirmed to have received Carlsen's letter. "Currently we have no comments on this matter. We must treat it in the World Championship committee first," said FIDE Executive Director David Jarrett of FIDE to VG Nett.

Now with such breaking news and a discussion that's going at top speed, we added something we wanted to do for a while already: threaded comments. You can now reply directly to certain comments instead of using the '@' symbol. Let's see how this works.


Share |
Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.


Jeroen's picture

I've heard that the cooperation between Carlsen and Kasparov has ended about 4 weeks ago so there might be some influence from The Master but I guess this must be Carlsen's own decision. The future will have to judge about it, but I'm sad for missing the chance to see him play against the best of the best at this moment.

LMedemblik's picture

@Thomas: What ever has this to do with winning and losing?
This has nothing to do with EGO tripping! Thats what I mean..Cro-Magnon!

Thomas's picture

IMO it is OK and quite logical (rather than "Cro-Magnon") to search for possible reasons of Carlsen's decision. At the very least, I don't get it that some people praise him or consider him a hero ... even if his decision is understandable, it isn't heroic.
As many brought up a Kasparov connection: There is a historic precedent - Kasparov refused to play the Dortmund qualifier for a match against Kramnik (eventually won by Leko). Maybe he also thought: "If I refuse to qualify for a WCh match (and rather insist on a rematch privilege), Kramnik's title is devaluated." Some similarities with the current situation as of today!?

P.S.: Thanks Peter/Chessvibes for the new reply function!

Dan's picture

Wow. This is the first time I find myself completely disagreeing with Carlson. The reason 'no world champion since Kasparov' has had to go through candidate matches before playing the world champion is because the world championship has been in constant upheaval for the past decade. As a chess fan I long of a return to the traditional system with the traditional privilege for the world champ of playing a single challenger for the title. And I find a concomitant longer world championship cycle perfectly reasonable (although 5 years is pretty long). Really, the adoption of annual world championship tournament is the last thing I would want to see happen.

Nydrre's picture

I agree with you wholeheartedly Dan

Antonius's picture

His main point is not the "Tournament System" (where he would probably be the great favourite), but the fact that the WC should not have the privilege of just playing the final.
I don't think he would leave the cycle just because of the matches.
I see someone behind the scene wanting to change the Chess World and FIDE, but the solution seems a bit drastic

chess's picture

NOO:( i want see Carlsen playing now the wch 4finals and so on. We have to force Carlsen to play now the wch like with bobby fischer?
maybe Carlsen want have 6 games and not 4 ?

or no1 in the ratings is really the real worldchampion.
what say Kasparov about it?

LMedemblik's picture

@Harami: He's not just withdrawing...learn to read please:

"After careful consideration I’ve reached the conclusion that the ongoing 2008 – 2012 cycle does not represent a system, sufficiently modern and fair, to provide the motivation I need to go through a lengthy process of preparations and matches and, to perform at my best"
"The proposal to abolish the privileges of the World Champion in the future"
says enough for a lot of people.

This is the last think I will write about it:

Nydrre's picture

The World Championship title should have privileges above and beyond any other player.

Bob's picture

LOL. Russian Revolution 1917, USSR?

Anthony's picture

One never knows what is really going on behind the scenes. Maybe Kasparov has had some influence, but on the other hand I guess Magnus is quite capable of handling his own stuff.

The letter is a wonderful example of modern communication. He is not attacking anybody. Not blaming anyone. He is just taking his own responsibility. Good for him.

He is right too. Five years is really very long. The continuous changes of rules is boring and annoying. The political infighting is to the detriment of the characters of all involved, as a century of WC tradition has shown.

Carlsen is showing yet again his great independence of mind. Vishy managed to do without all the fuss for 20 years. He suffered for it, but he never lost his dignity and after more than 20 years at the top he is the only top player of the old era whose reputation is still fully intact.

It seems Carlsen is might manage to maintain his honor also. And just like Vishy, he will be Champion one day. In the mean time, everybody will understand who's who, whoever is holding the title.

Eivind Salen's picture

You have a strange view of history. What about players like Ivanchuk, Adams, Leko, Shirov and really a whole lot, except just maybe Kasparov, Topalov and Kramnik, in fact the ones who actually got to be champions. The difference is that all those players made their moves after they become champions. And before that, they accepted the conditons they had to overcome, and did. Carlsen is fighting by escaping. And besides, to be the true champion in chess you have to beat the champion. Carlsen cannot just decide for himself an easier path. I think he with this move has made his path unclean, and has started to play more off the board, than on it.

say_m's picture

Exactly, let Carlsen first be the world champion and then he can discuss what priveleges the world champion should relinquish.

Tom's picture

Whomever wins the World Championship now will not be a legitimate Champion. But I guess we have gotten used to that.

Ray's picture


LOL at you saying Carlsen is only about beating tier-2 players. I bet Anand, Topalov, Kramnik, Aronian etc. will be surprised to see themselves labelled as such.

The world champioship stopped being purely about chess and more about politics a long time ago. If Carlsen wants to play chess instead of politics, who are we to criticise him? He does have a good point about the champion already having a place in the final. I can't think of any major sports, football, baseball, basketball, anything really where they say 'ok you won it last year so you don't even have to play anybody to get into the final this year'!!

Coco Loco's picture

"I can’t think of any major sports, football, baseball, basketball, anything really where they say ‘ok you won it last year so you don’t even have to play anybody to get into the final this year’!!"

1. Ali vs. Frasier
2. Ali wins 8-player double round-robin

In my opinion the "classical" way of deciding the title for such an individual game as chess has been vital to the popularity of the game. Think of Fischer-Spassky, Karpov-Kasparov, etc.

Perhaps it is indeed the case that the top players are so close to each other in strength that a match format isn't as important anymore. It's funny that Carlsen should be the one bringing such ideas into discussion when some are hoping he will stand head and shoulders above the rest: "...does not represent a system, sufficiently modern and fair, to provide the motivation I need to go through a lengthy process of preparations and matches and, to perform at my best"

I would be very interested in a real philosophical discussion on what the "right" way to choose a chess champion should be - comparing to other sports like boxing, tennis, go, etc.

Jan-Kjell Andersen's picture

Boxing as example? I guess you mean pro-boxing .. (The amatuers have a democratic way to qualify for the finals.)
Pro-boxing and chess have the most undemocratic rules among acknowledged sports today in finding the world champions..

Ganesh's picture

Of the players you mentioned, Carlsen has a winning record against only topalov.. so i dont think it will be correct to say that Carlsen has been beating them...

Ray's picture

Carlsen has beaten all of those players recently.

Ganesh's picture

They have also beaten Carlsen whats the point here...

Guillaume's picture

I doubt it's going to tear down anything. Even if others followed Carlsen, which is already quite dubious, Kirsan is just not going to care. He'll replace whoever leaves by the next in the line, down to Khalifman or Kazimzhanov is he has to. The last thing Kirsan wants anyway is a charismatic, powerful and rebellious figure like Magnus to catch the title and do whatever he pleases with it, like Kasparov did in the past. Kirsan is probably thinking right now: good riddance to him.

Peter Doggers's picture

Now with such breaking news and a discussion that's going at top speed, we added something we wanted to do for a while already: threaded comments. You can now reply directly to certain comments instead of using the '@' symbol. Let's see how this works!

Peter Doggers's picture

(And this is a test of a second-level nested comment.)

TMM's picture

Does a third-level nested comment also work? :-)

Guillaume's picture

Apparently, four-level nested comments are not possible (there's no reply button to TMM's reply). Great design, however! Nested comments are a welcome addition to Chessvibes.

LMedemblik's picture

Well..maybe I was wrong saying that you have to tear something down till the last brick in order to start something new...:-)

Creemer's picture

On a side note: did you know brain volume of the Cro-Magnon exceeded ours? Their works of art show amazing spatial perception and communicational skills.
I think Carlsen would lose onay match against a half-trained Cro-Magnon. This has not been a case of survival of the fittest... We were simply more lucky. Now, back to the very important discussion about why a guy who compares football to chess and thinks they are the same and therefore denies himself a shot at a world title that may be his last chance because he won't be the youngest top 5 player for long...

Guillaume's picture

Cro-magnon was our ancestor, unless I'm mistaken. We did not compete against them, they became us. Perhaps you meant the Neanderthal?

Creemer's picture

Of course. I must be the only surviving Neanderthal (with significantly smaller brain) to make a mistake like that...

R.Mutt's picture

Actually, the Neanderthals were the ones with the larger brains...

Jan-Kjell Andersen's picture

Brain size is proven to be irrelevant... . Yars ago. The only ones who use this as an indicator are willy-whale defenders - and you.

chess's picture

Bobby Fischer does not become the worldchampion in the first try also.
So there is not much to lose for Carlsen, when he plays.

chess's picture

but his chess opponets have something to lose:)

Stanley Peters's picture

This is not good for the world of chess.

There is no doubt Magnus, with his live rating and the backing of sponsors, and his views have a great influence in the chess world in general. And that's why this decision of his is sad.

A system to be fair, has to be fair to everyone and not just Magnus. After years of upheaval (even Karpov being the world champion was contentious for his first years but through no fault of his; Bobby Fisher was to blame), we finally have a way of working that is accepted by everyone in the chess world and considered fair enough.

Kasparov, despite his status of self-proclaimed chess messiah, didn't do any justice to the chess world by choosing Kramnik as his opponent for the 2000 match.

It should have been Shirov, but the true candidate at that time was Vishy Anand. Shirov deal fell through because of politics, gamesmanship and lack of sponsors. Anand refused to participate because he did not like the terms and conditions of the contract and didn't trust Kasparov and his coterie.

Kramnik defeated Kasparov, but then refused to give him a re-match and rightly so from a personal perspective since that's how Kasparov had framed the contract, but wrongly so in terms of the interest of the chess world.

Kramnik's match with Peter Leko was a sham, and cannot be called a "world championship match" by any standards. Vishy Anand and Topalov were by far the most successful players at that time.

Then a tournament decided Topalov as the FIDE world champion, and for all intents and purposes he was the 1st genuine world champion after a long time.

Thankfully, Topalov and Kramnik agreed to play each other for the title of undisputed and unified world champion. That was fantastic for world chess.

It took another tournament in 2007 and a few years to untangle all the rubbish surrounding the undisputed world champion title and finally we are at a stage where we can look to the future and Carlsen has now thrown a spanner in the works.

It is not about who the world chess champion is, but to have a world champion who is deemed to be a worthy world champion and accepted by everyone as a world champion. That is critical to the survival of chess and the continued sponsorship of chess as a sport.

Despite the super strong field at the Candidates, it is likely that Magnus Carlsen would have cleared that field and gone on to beat Vishy to be the world champion in 2012 and after being the world champion Magnus could have made whatever suggestions he felt it necessary for fairness as far the world championships are concerned.

Now it seems he is not very confident about his success in the candidates match! Or maybe the sponsors don't want to risk the reputation of their client - the best way to do this is for Magnus not to participate in the candidates match. That way he and his sponsors can continue to tout him as the best player in the world.

A sad loss indeed - Magnus dethroning the current world champion (or failing to do so) in 2012 would have been great for chess.

An undisputed world chess champion either has to overcome all the hurdles thrown his way like Vishy Anand has done ( and Kramnik and Topalov have tried to do) or provide extra-ordinary leadership (no has ever done this) by getting all the top players together to forge a new legitimate way forward (this would force the current world champion to follow the agenda set by the group). It is difficult anyone doing the latter, and Carlsen is clearly shying away from the former.

We have granted the status of 'genius' to Bobby Fisher (even Kasparov idolises him) for NOT playing. My best wishes to Magnus for following in his footsteps.

Loss for the chess world. Good for Magnus's sponsors - Artic Securities - in the short term.

Waste of time following world chess. Good game to play as a past-time.

Eivind Salen's picture

I perfectly agree here. As I have written in my blog, the candidate system for the title is now more fair then ever, and it is impossible for any organization to make everybody happy. You cannot just refuse to play unless you get absolutely your terms of conditions, as Carlsen here is actually doing. He wants a system which is "more fair", but this "fairness" as it now stands actually favours him as the most dangerous challenger for the title. Every real great player has first gained the title, and only then made demands and got priviliges.

What does he excpect, that Anand or any other rightly won world champion should accept to set the title at risk for free? Besides, a huge majority of the chess world still wants to see title matches, and tournament play can never be the same.

I am very disappointet with Carlsen and his advisers, and their strange descision to refuse to try to become the world champion. I am afraid Carlsen has lost the tread a bit as a chess player, and hope he will get back on track and start doing what he does best, play games and win at the board.

frogbert's picture

"it is likely that Magnus Carlsen would have cleared that field and gone on to beat Vishy to be the world champion in 2012"

If you consider a 10% chance to emerge the eventual winner in 2012 "likely", or a ca. 20% chance to win the candidates "likely", then you're right.

But it's much more likely (ca 80%) that somebody else would win the "candidates" when organized as the candidate-equivalent of an "armageddon" tie-breaker.

Ark's picture

He meant to say that Topalov was an unworthy challenger?

reality check's picture

Carlsen and cronies simply want to McDonald-ize chess. The LiveRating, Kar/kas etc is all part of a poor plan. Fast food, junk food for the chess masses that's what they want.
I honestly think Carlsen has fallen prey to all the hype around him. So sad. Another Fischer in the making.

harami's picture

I think FIDE made a mistake by not including Nanjing for Nov ratings.., now Carlsen is pissed.. lol

VietLion's picture

I am trying to decode this Carlsen move and I think I ve got his idea:

He realized that being WCh is a too great responsibility. Preparation to a match is much more time comsuming than to tournaments. A match is an war, the WCh and his family are frequently attacked by his opponent. The WCh title also has bad influence to the quality of the champ chess. He, having to hide his preparation to the match, plays bad chess in tournaments.

So a WCh title is not worth for an young man to waste his all life for. Better is to stay uotside the WCh until 30y and then fight for it. Very clever philosophy!

chess's picture

But Karpov played good chess in tournaments as he was worldchampion.

VietLion's picture

Okey, but in turn Karpov earned and defended the tittle in very doubtful circurmstances. So he had to play good chess in tournament to reassert his tittle.

john's picture

MC "I would therefore like to focus my energy on developing my skills as a chess player, and to defend my position as number one in the world rankings."

Good decision! He has reached the highest rating, he just has to play against weak opponents in Club tournaments and Olympiad to increase the ELO points and remain in the top avoiding the candidate matches or the championship matches where one has to face well prepared opponents.

wibble_wobble's picture

@john, Yeah we have just seen exactly that ofcourse..............Carlsen losing rating points at the olympiad and winning the next top tournament he plays. Maybe you should stop and think before you decide to post nonsense, this is still a chess site (you know, that game which revolves around logic)

crapo's picture

@Ray "I can't think of any major sport, football, baseball, basketball..." All these sports are not individual sport, can't compare them to chess. But boxing comes to mind : the worldchamp doesn't need to eliminate other candidates to keep his title. He just waits for the challenger. And it doesn't seem to be shocking.
If candidates aren't fine, although I really like these chess duels (remember the 60's matches), what abour a candidate tournament to design the challenger, like 1953 Zurich, what a torunament it will be, and the winner will be legitime to fight for the crown.

ebutaljib's picture

Boxing LOL.
How many "World Champions" do we have in boxing? And how does one become a challenger??? (answer: through good promotor, not performance)

Yeah, 3 or 4 more "world champions" and more Danailov's who will decide who fights for the title, is exactly what chess needs.

Boxing has even less structure than chess!

Boxing. LOL

crapo's picture

Less structure than chess but great impact on public ! An chess needs that ! Good promotors to get chess out of his confidentiality

daniel's picture

I second that. Very well said.

fgdfd's picture

"he just has to play against weak opponents in Club tournaments and Olympiad to increase the ELO points"

As shown by the latest events of that sort

iLane's picture

Magnus' letter raises a question I was thinking about for long time: What is more valuable (for media, sponsors, professional recognition) being world No. 1 or being WCh? I really start to think that the answer is not easy... :o


Latest articles