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.


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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.


Joe's picture

My sentiments exactly. If he chooses to ignore this and wins the World Championship by not even playing the regining champion, then he would just be a “minor champion” in chess history. Just like Ponomariov and Kasimdzhanov.
Why do so many people disagree with this view? Its puzzles me.

Jarvis's picture


Sorry but no 'f***' please.

Jarvis's picture

Really sorry, I had been drinking all night!

Peter Doggers's picture

Poll added!

iLane's picture

I really don't like your biased poll questions. You should have a "bad idea..." answer without the "because..." part.

Arne Moll's picture

I miss the option 'Good idea, even though FIDE probably couldn't care less, which pretty much makes it a bad idea after all.' :-)

LMedemblik's picture

Not to be picky but just because of this supposed fact of FIDE probably couldn't care less, this suddenly becomes a good idea after all!

WGIFM's picture

I think there ara a couple of sports where the previous world champion is automatically invited (or the host nation -as in footbal). I think it is not a privilege for the World champ to be present at the finals, and beating the actual champion is possibly a true legitimisation for the future champs.

Nevertheless one can agree MC that the whole Wch circle is rather messy and probably not 100 % honest. However as far as I see in the finals we're gonna meet undisputedly the top 5 players (except of MC). Many comments suggest that it is not only about the Wch, but about FIDE. In that case I cannot take MC's complaints seriouslym, and I think this protest is a rather dull and cheap way of opposing Kirsanism in FIDE.

John's picture

He probably does what he feel that is right for him. As he sayis in the interview, this is a personal decision, even though he hopes things will change for future cycluses.

chess's picture

chess Worldchampion is like a king:) someone must qualify for the match against the worldchampion. Worldchampion must not qualify. its like in boxing. too.

T. Goto's picture

GM Carlsen's decision definitely has reduced my interest in the upcoming matches for now, although once matches start, I am sure I would be very interested. That being said, I personally admire his decision on account of his openness. Of course, not everyone can do this in style as such, but remember GM Adams also dropped from Candidate Tournaments (like Carlsen did) on account of poor handling by FIDE (they changed the format during the cycle...). Of course, both Carlsen and Adams know the importance of the title, thus made their opinions known for the first place. It is admirable of both to show that title is, however, not everything about playing chess professionally. Cheers!

ebutaljib's picture

Adams has never withdrawn from Candidates.

T's picture

Right. It was Grand Prix, which was for this Candidate.

T. Goto's picture

You are right. It was Grand Prix, which was for Candidate. Thanks!

WGIFM's picture

What if we consider the Topa Anand final as a qualification tournament for the next finals?


In that sense Anand has already qualified for the finals.

fun's picture

sorry guys, it was only a late 1. April fool hoax :)

to test you all:)

sure's picture

Radjabov must be angry and disappointed now.

Polizei's picture

I think Magnus should grow up.

Mejnour's picture

I have split thoughts about what's going on.

Sure I like the idea of freshness and equality (justice) concerning cycles.

Withdraw when your at the top (with prime to come) it is pretty couragous but I doubt that it is enough to change things.

I would says to Magnus GET THE TITLE and sit at the table with FIDE, so you can abolish your privilege as world champion. That the way that WISE man work.

On the others hand I don't want to see a other decade of division (refering at the Kasparov PCA time...Kasparov had admit that it was the worst mistake of his career). But I think that not in Magnus intention.

Your are a very successfull and populars tournaments players been number 1 for 2010, but that's is just half-way of the road.

You need to get the WCC tittle then you will have the total power of attention from FIDE.

My 2 cents

Anastasia's picture

1. Carlsen has done the right thing. It's really brave of him actually as a person. 2. Fide would have to rethink 3. Why don't they hold the men's world championship like they do the women's championship? Simple. 4. Kudos to chess vibes for not tolerating even half a swear word. I love you guys for all the great work.

ebutaljib's picture


Do you even know how Women+s World Championship is contested???

Anastasia's picture

They get 64 players to slug it out and the world champion does not get seeded right to the final. She has to play.

reality check's picture

Gee wiz, Anastasia why don't you invite Magnus (Maggie) Carlsen to play in the Womens league. He just might feel at home there; not have to work so darn hard and not hear any cuss words and be rewarded for his cowardice.

meshrath's picture

Sad. I would have loved to see Carlsen play matches in the WCC. Why do I sense from his comments that he doesnt want to sit down and prepare for months for a particular opponent/match. He can play in tournaments and win them handily, but preparing for and playing matches would also be good for his chess development. And besides I dont think that FIDE is going to change anything. Fischer refusing to defend his title, Carlsen refusing to play the candidates cycle....sad for chess.

Geof S.'s picture

Has Carlsen ever played a serious match? I don't recall one, but maybe he has?
Has he ever won a match?

For centuries, the World Championship has been decided in a match between the reigning World Champion and a challenger. Only recently have there been exceptions to this rule, and they have been the result of a completely dysfunctional cycle. Carlsen apparently doesn't feel this time-honored system suits him.

I have always liked Carlsen and admired his play. But I cannot help but view this decision as essentially a selfish one. In fact, as a marketing decision. He feels confident that he can maintain the top FIDE rating, thereby giving him marketability as top rated player in the world. Losing in a semi-final World Championship match to Aronian or Kramnik, or in a World Championhip match to Anand - which could easily happen - would just dilute his brand.

It's one thing for Kasparov to want to change the system from the inside once he's actually won the title. Kasparov got there the hard way. It's another thing for Carlsen, who has yet to prove himself in matchplay, to want the system to change to give him a better chance of winning the first time he participates in it.

Sorry, but I just lost a lot of respect for Carlsen. The toughest games any chessplayer ever plays are games in World Championship matches where only the strong survive. He just chickened out.

ebutaljib's picture

Of course he did. Lost against Aronian in 2007 Candidates after rapid and blitz play-off.

mdamien's picture

Exactly right, Geof. He chickened out and called sour grapes on chess history.

vladimirOo's picture

Good point: what has proved Carlsen so far? That he MAY be the best current tournament player. Then what? What does that prove? Kramnik has not the best style to be a tournament terror (even he succeeds well), Anand spares his energy for the WCC. So what?

Kasparov did prove that he was the best in the world: he won the title and defended it.

Carlsen did not even tried.

Gigi's picture

I think he is kind of doing what he wants because he could have maken the decision earlier..
I think he is right.. I mean the cycle can't last for 5 years.. and Kramnik and Topalov got their world championship matches withouth going through all the other top elite chess players.
and I also dont think that a round robin tournament is the right way to determine a world champion.

Ok, I believe that the regulations should be like that.

1.The world champion has to defend his title at least once every year.

2.Every chess player with a rating over 2800 is capable to challenge the World Championship if he finds the sponsor with a minimum prize fund for the world champion of 1 million euros.

3.For the other players, who are less than 2800 or dont have the sponsor, they can have a World Cup or something to qualify them. This FIDE can do it every 2 years.

Just to start..

ebutaljib's picture

This all has already been done. People weren't satisfied.


Bert de Bruut's picture

To further elaborate upon this point: we don't want a new world champion every year. We are perfectly happy with the few we have had so far (14 or 15 depending on ones point of view, only FIDE thinks we have had 17). We cherish the momentous matches in which the old champions where dethroned and we look forward to the future with anticipation of more momentous matches, preferably with but also without Carlsen.

Bert de Bruut's picture

Make that: 15 or 16, only FIDE 18...

Gigi's picture

I think every other invididual sport has world championships every year.. I dont get the point.. OK, I could also say two years at maximum.
But no way to get a new challenger put a 5 year cycle.

meshrath's picture

Suppose there are 3-4 candidates with 2800+ rating and backing of sponsor, the champion would be required to defend his title every 3-4 months. Ridiculous situation (not to speak of the inequality ) dont you agree? I like the match format ( sorry Magnus ), but yes 5 years seems too long. Maybe FIDE can shorten the cycle to around 3 years. Meanwhile lets hope Magnus does come back into the cycle. A match between him and Anand would be excellent!

Gigi's picture

I was refering that the World Champion has the obligation to defend the title at least once a year if there is a challenger.
If he wants to face more than one challenger is ok.. I mean, he is getting one million euros every time he is defending the title, not bad for him..
It is like in box

brian carson's picture

I applaud Magnus Carlsen for his brave clarity. In 1900 a world champion was the world champion until deposed by the likely best player of the day. Folks we live in a different world now, There are 'top ten' and 'top 100' and many consistently strong finishers in category 20 and 21 events, who deserve equal chances.
Magnus is absolutely right why should the "last time" winner get one of two tickets and the rest of the world fight for the other one?
Imagine the Olympics if all of the "last time we played" gold medalists were automatically seeded into the next Olympic event?
The last Superbowl champions were auto-seeded into next year and everybody else had to fight for a chance to play them?
If you want Chess to become a Sport the rules should reflect it as a sport.

Coco Loco's picture

There is indeed quite an advantage offered the champion. Apart from the obvious one-of-two tickets advantage, he gets to only prepare once and keep whatever novelties he comes up with while the challengers use theirs up on the way to the final. Magnus refers to this in his letter.

Maybe seeding the champ as the top seed in the final eight (i.e., quarterfinals) would be best. Then all eight players would have an equal shot at the title. It would require the champ to win three matches. If he's the best, why not? Maybe Anand can do the unthinkable and suggest it?

brian carson's picture

If you want Chess to be viewed as a Sport the rules must reflect it as a Sport. Not as a privilege Parlor game.

Bert de Bruut's picture

You are wrong Brian, because chess is not cycling where the title of world champion means very little compared to winning the main tours. We hold our world champions in esteem like no other sports perhaps, but we stick to this tradition as is demonstrated by the fact that very few people regard Khalifman and Kasimdzhanov truely as former bearers of the title.

S's picture

Why on earth would anyone want chess being viewed as one of those disgustingly (physical) sports? Chess is special, better!
Besides, if there is an advantage to the WCH it is because he has earned it, by proving he was better than the previous WCH and his advantages together. That is also why Karpov, Kasparov, Kramnik and Anand are real champions and the title means so much more in chess. I don't think the candidates before a match are unfair, and for half a century nobody did.

Nydrre's picture

The World Championship is a title, and the title must be won away from the holder of the title to get a new World Champion.

Stian's picture

Carlsen is absolutely right in withdrawing from the WC. More players should do so. The current system is not fair, and gives the reigning WC to much benfits.

As for individual sports i would like to compare chess with snooker. At the world championships in Sheffield every year the former WC has to play the same number of matches as the rest to be crowned WC. Same format should be applied to chess a well.

This would attract more sponsors to the game and a worthy WC in the end.

noyb's picture


test's picture

This decision and open letter does not make any sense to me.
If he is going to withdraw from every cycle that is not a 100% to his liking he is never going to play for the WC.

About the poll: maybe you could add a voting button with every post in this thread? ;)

nish's picture

carlsen knows he cannot beat kramnik/anand in match play in the next 2 years.
fair cycle is a subjective thing.
carlsen's defnition of fair cylce is one that suits him

Bobbo's picture

I really respect Magnus for this descision, even though it is a pity that the cycle will miss its biggest star.

For him personally I think he will become a better chessplayer. The WC cycle is confusing, timeconsuming an takes focus away from being a better chessplayer.

Keep up the good work, Magnus. Proud of you!!!

christos(greece)'s picture

It seems Carlsen wants to change a system that has been in place for more than a century.

This is not a task that one person can accomplish, even if he is the strongest player in the world. Actually, his idea has been tried recently by FIDE in practice, and we have had the world championship split of the years 1993 -- 2006. The FIDE world champions after 1993 (Karpov, Khalifman, Anand, Ponomariov, Kasimdzhanov, Topalov) were not universally accepted as world champions. However, after 2006 everybody recognized Kramnik and Anand as world champions, heirs of the title of Steinitz. The notion of "the player who won the WC this year" does not appeal so much to the chess public.

Analogies (e.g. with football) are deceiving because they are just analogies, they are not proofs of something.

It is also a pity because he had very good chances of winning the world championship.

Tony's picture

A very brave move by MC relying on his youth to be around AND a dominate force in the next 20 years to motivate a change. Clearly MC is the best thing for chess to come along in a long time, a youthful, European player that is marketable to a new YOUNG generation
A few points. Magnus has a manager, his father, that is looking out for him. So this letter was not from Magnus as much as his team. Magnus was probably frustrated and his family helped draft the letter.

The move is a very bold one but one that due to a few factors might finally spur FIDE to create at least a reasonable format to determine WC.
people often wax nostalgia for the days of lore when a WC was the dominate player in a particular time. This dominance was also a political and social one in some countries where giving the elite privileges was par. They deserved it was how the countries in charge ran things [i.e. USSR] and its became the norm.

This always looked strange to western countries but because the dominate players in chess were always from these countries there was no real point in changing things since they were the main players who could seriously fight for the title, albeit with one notable exception who was unstable and didn't play again.
The WC format needs to be changed at with a view to the future not gazing backwards with glances over the shoulder to see where to go next.

The football comment was a very accurate one. Noone outside true fans have the time to deal with the current extended matches and constant changes that occur due to lack of political or financial support that arise. I do agree that matches are still the critical factor but there needs to be a faster method that allows ALL players to participate.

People want excitement and drama with the WC having to struggle as well. I am struggling to think of one sport where the reigning WC can avoid the qualification process: Olympics, tennis, Football, Basketball, Martial arts etc. Does ANY sport have a format that allows the WC to sit on a throne and wait for the battered challenger to knock on the castle gates?
Why is chess so arrogant to think this is the best format? Why do people use tradition as the argument to defend the current process?
Lets move on! If chess wants financial backing and media support it must get with the program and create something that makes sense to the larger population as a whole.

John's picture

Very well put!

S's picture

You think?
". Noone outside true fans have the time to deal with the current extended matches .."
You want to degrade chess just so some uninterested people will watch it too?
Let's respect the old traditions and logic of a wch match. The current situation with many big tournaments and big names proves that chess already has financial backing, even in a crisis. And at this site you can see we followers are many already. As for the comparisons, chess is not just any other sport. Elitarism is a good thing.


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