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.


S's picture

p.s. bewildering logic to say that dropping out of a set of difficult candidate matches is a "bold move".
I think the ones participating not less courageous.

Nydrre's picture

As someone previously stated, a World Championship tournament would be far less interesting than having an actual World Champion... the true World's number 1. It would just be another tournament, and would lose its meaning amongst all the other high level tournaments. One might say that a certain player has won the World Championship tournament, but what makes him any better than a player who won any other top level tournament?

Dilip's picture

A very bold move by MC, this is going to change the chess world for good or bad. The world champion is the chess computer for every person is referring to these. The scenario of chess has changed from where the world champion was respected for the champion contributed much to chess. Nowadays it is more to take advantage of the slips the players make due to time pressure than anything else. Ofcourse the super GM.s are a class apart

monoceros4's picture

"...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."

This reminds me uncomfortably of a situation occasionally seen (for instance) in American baseball when a star player, recently signed to a lucrative contract but one that's less lucrative than a rival player's, goes to the press and says silly things like, "I'm not sure if I can give my game 100%" unless his contract is amended to give him more money.

Tarjei's picture

Umm, obviously this is not a money issue.

S's picture

Hmm, funnily I was thinking exactly the opposite.
After all, MC is the most hype-made/marketed player in the history of chess. For a reason, I'd say.

monoceros4's picture

It's the "I'm not sure I can play well" comparison I'm making. The reasons are different, but the implied threat is the same.

Calvin Amari's picture

Surprise, surprise. Actions have consequences, and the FIDE election is no exception. Who believes this would have occurred had Karpov, who Carlsen very publicly supported (uniquely, I think, among the elite players who otherwise seemed to hedging their bets), prevailed? And remember, that a fair robust, match-play system for the championship was a key element of Karpov's platform.

Face facts. For 15 years, Ilyumzhinov has worked steadily to erode the championship. Apparently wanting to be unencumbered by the natural and rightful influence of a clear world champion, he has strived to demean and diminish the game's highest title. FIDE under Ilyumzhinov minted as many world champions in one six-year period as there were in the first 60 years of the title. Many view Ilyumzhinov' behavior in this regard as wildly erratic; viewed properly, it is quite single-minded. In short, rather than the idealic view that many of us unrealistically maintain, Magnus is declining a chance at something of greatly diminished value. Beyond that, of course, close association with FIDE, the institution, now hardly brings luster. A recent headline from the largest circulation daily in the UK is not atypical: "Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has dragged chess into ill repute." (Guardian 9/30/10). There is no need to recite the myriad of reasons that is the case, but events of recent months have only added to that litany of embarrassments. And if everyone acknowledges that FIDE scares off prospects of commercial sponsorship for chess, what do you suppose is the natural solution to the problem?

Kasparov set an example of ultimately being content to be the "People's Champion" rather than the FIDE Champion. While the circumstances are different, Magnus is well within reach of achieving the same status. In his letter, he graciously states that there is rough parity among today's small handful of chess elite. Among those, however, only Magnus shows regular signs of significant additional potential to take chess to an even higher level. “Before he is done,” Kasparov says, “Carlsen will have changed our ancient game considerably.” If Magnus accomplishes what he has set out to do, and does so with continued integrity and honor, that will be reward enough, although others will come. Does anyone believe that being handed a laurel by Kirsan Ilyumzhinov adds so much more?

mdamien's picture

It is not Kirsan's laurel to hand over -- it never has been. Anand holds it until he is defeated. The title is not diminished unless you buy into FIDE's circus; otherwise, it's an illustrious list to join, from Anand through Kramnik, Kasparov, and Karpov, back through the history of champions.

Magnus is at least five years now, from achieving the status Kasparov had, not as the "People's Champion" but as the World Champion, plain and simple.

Calvin Amari's picture

"The title is not diminished unless you buy into FIDE’s circus."

The layers of self-contradiction inherent in this statement precisely underscore the dilemma Magnus faced. He has chosen not to buy into the FIDE circus, but one can't have it both ways.

mdamien's picture

It's only self-contradicting if you consider it FIDE's title; no doubt, some reflection would have revealed the distinction. It is true that FIDE is currently managing the title, and that's the dilemma.

Stanley Peters's picture

Between 1995 (the last time Kasparov played a legitimate world championship in people's eyes) and 2004 (when he retired), Kasparov won the Chess Oscar 5 times and lost the hastily arranged Braingames match to Kramnik in 2000.

During the same period (1995-2004), Vishy Anand won the Chess Oscar 4 times and also the FIDE world championship knockout in 2000 where every top player in the world played except Kasparov, over-the-hill Karpov and Kramnik who by then had grabbed his opportunity to play Kasparov for the Braingames match.

So from the Chess Oscars perspective, both Anand and Kasparov were People's champions during that period.

As for the world championships during that period, both PCA (rather Failed-PCA cum Braingames) championships and the FIDE championships were contentious - Braingames because it was arbitrary (even dictatorial) and FIDE because Kasparov and Karpov were not playing, albeit for very different reasons (Kasparov because his ego din't allow him and Karpov because he knew he couldn't hold his own any longer against the then Elo 2700 players).

When Kirsan Ilyumzhinov introduced the knockout system as being more modern for the world championships back then in 1998, people criticised him for destroying the sanctity of world championships (I was certainly one of them).

As was to be found out later, no one had a better idea to resolve the aftermath of the personal stand-off between Kasparov and Karpov (the chess world has certainly paid a heavy price for the personal agenda followed these two chess players).

Now comes Magnus, who many millions of us have thought to be the next great world champion of chess, who wants a "fair" system of world championship and compares chess with football.

On top of that, Magnus gets his maths wrong. World championship is a 5 years cycle? Unless of course he is referring to his failed attempts since 2007 and expects to fail in his 2012 attempt.

Magnus Carlsen failed to qualify for the 2007 round-robin world championship where Anand won. Magnus failed to win the World Cup (if he had won he would have played Topalov for the right to contest Anand in the 2010 world championship) because Aronian got the better of him.

Which 5 years is he referring to?

He had already qualified for the 2011 Candidates and had every opportunity to clear the this field and take on Anand in 2012 - why has he chickened out? Unless he fears he won't clear the Candidates field. Kramnik, Aronian perhaps? If he is so fearless, why not play them and beat them.

The chess world may never have a true leader who can make a difference as a world champion (Kasparov calls himself one but he probably has done more damage than any good). But it certainly does not need someone, especially now, who is averse to taking up challenges.

If Carlsen had a problem with FIDE, he could have made those suggestions to FIDE and worked a way out. Now, it seems he has just chickened out.

Everything else is matter of individual opinion. But I do hope, like of millions of chess fans, that good sense prevails and Carlsen participates in the Candidates battle.

Calvin Amari's picture

What 5 years? - Kamsky is among the competitors because he won the 2007 World Cup. How about the rules for the cycle have changed multiple times since it started? Well, even you wouldn't argue with that. The seedings in the matches are “puzzling?” E.g., Topalov, who lost a title match to Anand earlier this year, is seeded No. 1 and plays Kamsky, the No. 8 seed, while Carlsen, the No. 2 seed, would have had to play Radjabov, the No. 7 seed. The matches will be played one after another, with no breaks? When candidates matches were part of the world championship cycle from the 1950’s to the 1990’s, there were several months between matches for opponents to prepare for each other.

Umesh's picture

Very well said.

Umesh's picture

@ Stanley Peters

Very well said.

My earlier reply was to Stanley Peters and not Calvin Amari.

frogbert's picture

It's probably only a small matter of getting the maths wrong: Slightly depending on when in 2012 the match will be held, it will have lasted for somewhere between a little less than 4 and a little less than 5 years:

2008 First games played April 21st in Baku
2009 WCC won by Gelfand
2011 Candidates (?)
2012 WC Match when?

Note that the 2007 WCC was one of the qualification events for the FIDE GP - in fact Carlsen qualified for the 2008-2009 GP via the 2007 WCC, as did Karjakin, Kamsky and Shirov, but Shirov refused to participate in the Grand Prix, as did Kramnik, Anand, Topalov and Morozevich.

What was FIDE's reaction when Kramnik and Topalov didn't want to play the Grand Prix? (Note that if Kramnik would've beaten Anand in 2008, we would've been talking about Anand and Topalov instead)

FIDE gave in for the "pressure" implied by the non-participation of Kramnik and Topalov and arranged a way for them to participate anyway - the new "Candidates" event, originally suggested as EITHER a tournament or as a cup.

Mike's picture

OK, Mr. Magnus, but, historically, one thing is what strong candidates say BEFORE eventually becoming World Champion.....Another thing is what they say AFTER becoming World Champion....It seems you want to expose the actual 40 yr old champion to extreme fatigue, before you can meet him with more easy...

Nutos's picture

Plenty of sports have a similar WC system to chess - whereby the champion defends the title against a challenger - mainly in Boxing and Martial Arts. There is nothing wrong with this, and it seems that the majority of ordinary chess players agree. I think the current system for finding a candidate is absurd. Perhaps a return to the 1948-1993 system is required. Zonal (usually National) tournaments providing qualifiers for Interzonal tournaments provide players for either a)a tournament or b) candidates' matches to decide the challenger.

Or even simpler...seeing as any future champion is already in the top 100 why not a one off super tournament for anyone in the top 100 who wants to have a pop at being challenger. The top 8 into Candidates'? I don't know but it doesn't have to be complicated!

krish's picture

carlsen is just scared of kramnik

Mike's picture

@ Nutos...You are right...The only accepted format for the World Champion is a Classical Match between the reigning Champion and the best possible challenger. The only question is: What is the best format in order to establish the best Challenger? I vote for a classical and Democratic cycle based on double round robin tournaments, each one based on rating lists, say 8-10 best players: 1) National Selection 2) Continental Selection (zonal) 3) Super Continental Selection (Inter-zonal) which winner would be the Challenger, or the best 2-4 would decide in classical matches. The problem is that, nowadays, we really need a shorter cycle, say 3 years, not five.

Dr. Wolfgang Berghorn's picture

Hopefully one or the other candidate will drop out in the next weeks, too!

S's picture

I don't mind..Enter Ivanchuk!!!
(or Grischuk, Karjakin, Ponomariov, and so on).

S's picture

Fide will have to be quick though, 4 months IS a little late.

vladimirOo's picture

Ivanchuk is always reading, even called the day before! go Chuky!

Andre's picture

Carlsen wins tournaments by beating lower rated players and drawing or losing to vishy and kramnik , he wants to become world champion without beating the current champion but by winning a tournament where he has strategy of drawing against vishy , beat others and win tournament. Look at his career record against vishy and kramnik , he has lost more games than he has won.In a tournament one can even become wc by losing to current champion and winning all other games. It would be ridiculous to become wc in a tournament by drawing or losing to current champion , kinda dubious champion.He is comparing football to chess , tommorow he would say I want team of 11 players to play chess against current champion. When vishy played kramnik in wc match , he could have put the same arguement , make kramnik to play tournament to qualify as finalist.

ultima's picture

This is just stupid.. The last 2 years(2009, 2010) Carlsen actually has a plus score against Anand.

Andre's picture

I'm talking about head to head career record not last 2 months or 2 years.

ultima's picture

You do know that one of those heads are 19 years old?

Andre's picture

19 years old is not a child , full grown adult.

Andre's picture

Vishy was in elite competitive chess at 17 , you are rueing about 19.

Andre's picture

Its idiotic to twist facts and quote few years ignoring complete records.

ultima's picture

Sure, but counting the head to head record from when Carlsen was 15-16 years old is really not fair. And stating that Carlsen is only beating lower rated players and drawing or losing to Anand is just stupid considering the record for the 2 last years.

Andre's picture

Vishy's games when he was 15 or 16 years old are counted while considering records of other players , but giving special privilege to carlsen its idiotic and biased , quoting selected years is equally unfair.

ultima's picture

My point is that your statment that only beating lower rated players and drawing or losing to Anand is proven utter lie, regarding the result the last 2 years. And this is not counting blitz or blindfolded. So the one twisting the facts her is not me, mate..

Andre's picture

Even if you consider blindfold and blitz , krannik , vishy and aronian has plus overall score against carlsen , he is comparing rating spot to wc ,then there is no need to conduct world championship at all , just give world champion title every month according to rating.

frogbert's picture


the interesting thing is the players' current strength. You're arguing that Carlsen has worse result against these players NOW.

Anand faced no world elite players at 16. His head-to-head records against others are none the less irrelevant.

If you want to gauge how Carlsen fares against other top players, then you should consider the record from the reached roughly his current level. Carlsen reached top 10 in April 2008, for the first time with a 2750+ rating (which he's had since).

If you want meaningful records, saying something about current strength relationships, I suggest that you consider head-to-head records since 2008 - or preferrably april 2008. Before that you're certainly comparing Anand (or anybody else) to a different player than the current Carlsen.

Andre's picture

dont twist facts to deny overall records , and replace them with your selected years records.

rogge's picture

Thomas: "For some people (at least for Carlsen fans) voluntarily dropping out of the WCh cycle might look better than playing unsuccessfully? Maybe I am a Cro-Magnon"

Throwing insults at Cro-Magnon, are we? Who do you dislike most, Carlsen or Carlsen fans? Yet another stooopid Thomas comment. Don't bother replying.

S's picture

Childish Rogge. You only want to hear your own opinion (no matter how biased)?

Andre's picture

Its way better to avoid kramnik and aronian in candidates who have good overall record against him and brag to the world about his rating spot.

inky's picture

Magnus showed courage and cunning in his decision. He will not suffer monetarily; he is invited to all the best tournaments. He also has sponsors and right now is probably the best known, most followed active chess player.

I doubt that the other players will follow suit. So, Magnus will just be replaced by whomever Kirsan favors at the moment. But he is correct about everything except for the Champion defending his title, and in this case he is right because of the length of time this cycle has taken.

The title could easily be defended every two years with a series such as Mike mentioned and that had been happening like clockwork until Kasparov and Short bolted from FIDE, and Kirsan decided to act as though they never existed. I think all the changes have been to make sure that this never happened to him (Kirsan) again.

Except for the Olympiad, FIDE is not needed at all at this point. Anyone can take over the rating list and after a few years have gone by, we can start again a proper cycle to pick a World Champion of Chess.

S's picture

If he will not suffer by it, and can do it risque-free, then why is it a courageous move?

Thomas's picture

"Magnus will just be replaced by whomever Kirsan favors at the moment."
I may be (proven) wrong, but for the time being it looks like Grischuk will get Magnus' spot - before he was mentioned as a replacement for Topalov if the latter refuses to play in Russia. If that's the case, it doesn't make him a Kirsan favorite, he simply is next in line based on finishing third in the FIDE Grand Prix series.

BTW, as you (and some others) say 'Kirsan': Would a FIDE president Karpov have made substantial changes to the _current_ cycle, in line with what Carlsen mentions to justify his decision? We know that Karpov wanted to move the event from Kazan to Kiev, and replace wildcard Mamedyarov by wildcard Ponomariov - the Ukrainian federation supported his candidacy, just saying ... . If he planned bigger changes, why didn't he say so before the elections??

Andre's picture

Karpov himself played challenger , he didnt play tournament to become finalist in first karpov kasparov wc match. No FIDE president should twist wc cycle just because carlsen doesnt likes it.

Andre's picture

If beating a challenger is not the legitimate way to become world champion according to carlsen , then it questions legitimacy of all world champions.
He want to twist wc cycle to suit his interests.

Skúli Bernhard's picture

It does depend on the challenger. You agree?
Check out boxing titles, for reference.

TM's picture

I agree 100%. Carlsen shows no respect for for former world champions! He shows no respect for the tradition of the very game that he plays. How sad!

Nydrre's picture

He's practically spitting on Anand.

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