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.


john's picture

Carlsen has a point but this is not the best way for him or chess in general. He would have been in a much stronger position to make changes once he had won the title. Now the fact that there are a few players of approximate equal strength around works against him. He will be ignored by FIDE and the shattered cycle will limp on.

Skúli Bernhard's picture

Its my hope that chess will get out of the political trap it has been in for decades. Hopefully this will help.

Martin's picture

It seems to me Carlsen is not convinced he can win all these tough candidates matches ...
He simply realized he clearly isnt that much stronger than Aronian ,Kramnik and Anand. They are roughly the same strenght, at least for now.
I dont think Kasparov approves his decision /I doubt that he stands in the background of this) Playing tough matches against strong opponents can make player only better, Not only from the chess point of view (preparation, experiences...) but it can be also psychologically benefitial. (it makes him mentally tougher)
Maybe some people from show buisness advised him to do so, in order to have more time to do his fashion , commercials etc and thus to earn some extra money for them...
And a responsible preparation for all these matches can certainly take a lot more time than a preparation just for a one tournament...
Carlsen definitely has enough talent to become world champ (even in the current cycle,imo) there is no question about it.
What is more questionable is whether he has enough WILL and SELFCONFIDENCE to be WC...

Andre's picture

No doubt carlsen has the talent to become wc , the way he is questioning the legitimacy of wc playing challenger and comparing it with football in which 12 games are not played to decide the champion. Its like undermining and attacking the legitimacy of all world champions who played challengers to win world championship. We cant even say kramnik is less talented to win wc again , bunch of talented players

Tony's picture

Boxing and martial arts are both good and bad examples of how a WC might be done.
As a fan of MMA I am aware of these matches too.

the top fighter is not allowed to sit back for 3 years waiting for a challenger. basically every match is considered a WC match and they have to defend their titles at least 1x a year and usually 2-3x a year. If a champion is out of the cycle for a medical reason they do get to challenge the interim champion immediately. If the delay is due to legal issues they normally have to fight one or two challengers to prove they deserve the right to fight the WC.
Currently the WC defends the title every 3 or 4 years. Over this length of time too many changes occur in the competitive chess world to say that player X is clearly the WC by defending in a single match against some player that happened to be the best for a very short period of time.

The problem is that matches are clearly the best way to determine a clear champion (ala a boxing match) but the "best" can be a short period of time as well.
My argument is that over a 3 year period of time best shifts a great deal and there are many arguments as to whom is the best player
It would be difficult to raise the type of prize money to pay for a frequent match style tournament as the UFC does. Matches in MMA are completed in a day while chess matches take weeks.
One solution may be a shorter turn around for matches. If the cycle is frequent it would eliminate many problems with players not having a chance to win while at their peak performance level and bad luck can be dismissed as a risk that everyone takes. 2 years would probably be best .
During the year prior to the match ALL players participate in the cycle.
If the match is quick 12 games then it can be completed in 2 weeks and should not interfere greatly with the players normal cycle of tournaments.
Rapid turn over would provide more excitement and may even reduce the expectation of a huge payday since a player could have their chances again in a short time.

Again if someone uses the argument to HONOR the past history this will just lead to the same current situation. NEW thinking has to be used instead of the knee jerk reaction that is currently occurring.
Take a model that works from another sport and USE it. Dont try to reinvent the wheel. Football or MMA both have good examples to follow.
Matches in MMA use rankings (ie ratings) to determine the players who deserve a shot. if your consistently in the top then you get a match. 1 vs 2 1 vs 3 1 vs 4 etc....
but this MUST happen more often than the current cycle.
Use the Football model ala FIFA. The "best" team may lose but there is drama and this is what sells.

The competition is what sells not the truth in the game itself. The drama of the match is what brings us back. Making the game sterile is what is causing the problems right now. I dislike Danilov because of his negative focus and attacks but he gets the drama part.

Andre's picture

But no game can hold world champioship every three months.

Sanjay Padhee's picture

I agree. If one were to look at the world championship from Anand's perspective, it is 3 cycles on 3 years!

2007 - World Championship Tournament

2008 - Title Defence against Kramnik

2010 - Title Defence against Toplaov

SXL's picture

Chess is a mess.

vladimirOo's picture

Deep and realistic analysis! You have strong points here.

chess's picture

Kramnik lost today against Aronian. Gelfand lost too against Karjakin.

Miguel's picture

strange, all so strange...

Harish Srinivasan's picture

I have a feeling somebody is messing with the poll votes. Do we really have so many legal votes (currently 645) for the the "good idea" option and that too just in one day. The majority in this thread dont feel so. Surely something is wrong.

mdamien's picture

It's just a bad and skewed poll. Every poll should have the option at the bottom, "None of the Above."

Andre's picture

they are messing up with polls.

ops's picture

OK. Carlsen can be replaced by Kasparov, when Carlsen does not want to play.

luzin's picture

The kid prefers to defend his rating spot rather than fight for the world championship?? weird goals!
the title of world champion is not about rating, if rating was that important we would not need a world championship match at all :)

and the comparison with football... plain silly.

Andre's picture

Its a very valid point , if rating was that important , there is no need for world championship in any sport.

frogbert's picture

And which came first?

We didn't get World Championship Matches because the rating system was unable to tell who was the better player.

biggy's picture

He could first qualify, and then withdraw from the WC match...that could indeed be an effectual and sincere step...

Mehul's picture

Carlsen for once has shown us he is brainless.

vladimirOo's picture

What about a format where you keep the final match between Champion and Challenger (CC), but where you determine the former on his rating (within two years)?

By the way, it could motivate players to play and win, and discourage drawing attitudes. On the contrary, many tops would try to play lower tournaments to increase their ratings...

Every system has its drawbacks. Carlsen wants one where there won't be any drawbacks FOR HIM.

vladimirOo's picture

Sorry you determine the CHALLENGER on his rating. (the contrary might be plain silly)

Adolfo's picture

Thank you Calvin Amari, you just prevented me from posting an original comment right before the end of the very long thread.
How come nobody said before that Carlsen openly supported Karpov who, as it was public, proposed the following for the WCH system, “The world chess championship, immediate changes must be made. The matches must be extended, to at least 6, 6, and 8 rounds instead of the current 4, 4, and 6. There must be a significant gap between each round to allow the players to rest and prepare properly in order to play the best chess they are capable of. That is how the Karpov administration will propose to organize the candidates matches “ (Source: official Karpov campaign site :
So, that means, that Carlsen supported someone who not only would have kept the current matches system but also extended them in number of games. Would have him withdrawn too if Karpov had won? This is ridiculous.
Beside, one thing is what Morozevich , Carlsen himself before or even Anand have done (among others) in protest in the past, when over 100 players candidate tournaments were held, or cycles during for years, or even worse FIDE made changes during the cycle. That was rightly fully unacceptable, but as far as I am concerned, things have finally turned back to normal much as in Fischer (say “Classical”) times, with some qualifying bigger event, and then the final “Candidates tournament” (by matches), in order to gain the right to fight vs. an undisputed WCH!. Other players like Sutovsky (and I guess the majority of the chess world) think so (
This is not comparable to other sports, and even less to team sports like football. Tennis and boxing are totally different worlds in turn; in the first case there existed a WCH from 71 to 89, but then it changed; in the second it has been divided for years, each has their own story and particular conditions and even if some comparisons may help to design a fair competition, chess has been mainly a single way (with the exception of the period 93-2006) and I believe that the system is rather fair; the lesser evil if you will.
I don’t believe that Carlsen is afraid of losing matches to anyone; to me it just seemes like a childish whim based to an important extent on his number one status. He just forgot that who he supported politically a minute ago was proposing this system and now if the candidates system remain (which is the most likely) he would have to withdraw forever to play to remain coherent and consistent.
I can’t believe that his supporters and sponsors won’t “withdraw” from him now.
This has been a big bad taste joke to the whole chess world.

Regards from Argentina,


frogbert's picture

"So, that means, that Carlsen supported someone who not only would have kept the current matches system but also extended them in number of games. Would have him withdrawn too if Karpov had won? This is ridiculous."

What on earth makes you believe that Carlsen would be AGAINST longer Candidates matches, with more rest between each match?

Did it occur to you that Carlsen possibly _SUPPORTS_ those changes suggested by Karpov? It's also weird that so many think that Carlsen is categorically dismissing any kinds of cup stages, when his criticism clearly mentions the shallowness of the current candidates, with matches of 4 games.

Adolfo's picture

I barely understand your reply. What makes me think that he is against longer candidate matches?. Well, that he is again the candidate matches system; the number of games should be totally anecdotic for someone who considers the whole thing to be unfair.
By the way, I am totally in favour of not only candidate matches (preceded by some big interzonal tournament or so), and longer, much as in Fischer times (6 up to the final, 8 for the final). Not to mention extending the time between them for the players to rest and prepare better. Who can be against that?
And then you said and I quote “…Did it occur to you that Carlsen possibly _SUPPORTS_ those changes suggested by Karpov?.
Did he not make his point clear about the privileges of the current WCH being too high as he has to sit back and wait for the others to kill each other? However, a point of you could too be recognized: Magnus said that the tournament format (like 2005 and 2007) could be “one possibility”, while he openly pronounced against the champion privilege to qualify directly to the final. So, two ambiguous (or not discussed explicitly) main issues should be cleared: 1- Was Karpov proposal of maintaining and enlarging the candidate system designed to select one player to face the WCH (privilege kept), or was he intending to make the current champion participate in the candidate matches from the beginning? (privilege abolished). Although he did not mention specifically that, one should suppose that all the “restoring” rhetoric suggests the first option-i.e. mantain the privilege of the WCH) 2- Would have Magnus agreed to play under the Candidate’s format if Vishy was to be included, for e.g., paired with a Ukrainian wildcard player (as Karpov mentions that too), from scratch?


TM's picture

I have been a big Carlsen fan, but this letter leaves me disgusted! I am shocked.

- Carlsen shows no respect at all for the history of our beloved game! To become world champion, you HAVE TO beat the world champion. How is this possible in a tournament when the champion starts from the beginning? True, other sports have different systems, but chess is chess!

- For the first time since 1993, we now have a (admittedly too long and complicated) system to determine the challenger with ALL top-players having been involved. Now, Carlsen single-handedly destroyed this system, like Kasparov and Short did in 1993.

It's a day to cry! Really, I am really, really sad!


Pearlife's picture

Great decision by Carlsen, and very brave of him to stand up to the corruptness of FIDE. Hope the system changes and becomes more fair and transparent.

vladimirOo's picture

By the way,

Carlsen could have thought about it way before. It is been a serious time the format of Candidates has been announced by FIDE.

What happened meanwhile that changed his mind and determined him to withdraw?

Oh yeah, his games against Kramnik and Anand in Nanjing.

Right after, he goes all out and claims that he cannot play in a corrupted system!
My question is why did not he do it before?

Andre's picture

When vishy played kramnik or topalov played anand for wc carlsen didnt utter a word , how could he see his colleagues becoming victims of corruption.Now after losing games to kramnik and vishy , his chess conscience has risen from sleep.

gg's picture

Eh, so what do you mean Carlsen should have said when Anand played Kramnik?

Calvin Amari's picture

As demonstrated by their lack of courgage in taking a clear public stand in the FIDE elections, the decisions of some of the other players may demonstrate nothing more than their consistent choice to continue kowtow to Ilyumzhinov and the money he has lifted from Kalmykia treasury.

For someone good enough, who also has the guts to take some risks, there are more principled ways.

This would have happened if Karpov won.

Arnold Gregory's picture

I support his decision. I have been an average player but an enthusiastic fan of the chess scene since young Fisher, Tal, Petrosian days. I for one would like to increase the popularity of the game and opportunities for the pros. A larger and larger following is needed and the cycle is too long for the short attention spans of today. I don't know anyone in their twenties who will read a newspaper let alone would follow a years long cycle. Too many other distractions. Sad but reality. I see no reason why tennis is not a perfect model. In tennis every tournament is a fresh start and players are ranked over a year of tournament performance and there is a computer No. 1 declared. Go qualify and you can play too.

"World champion" is an out-dated concept from an era of traveling by boat and communicating with mail. With easy world-wide travel and communications things should happen faster. If more year-end drama is needed pick winners of eight qualifying tournaments and play some super quadruple-round-robin of the best eight players and declare champion. Every year! I admire Anand as much as anybody but as a fan, I want him laying it on the line against the best players like Federer and Nadal in tennis.

I might not live long enough to see Carlsen through a 5-year cycle. I have to think about those things.


jasper's picture

FIDE will just shrug and go on, nothing will change and if Carlsen keeps declining to play in the cycles he will never be world champion.

TM's picture

Carlsen chickened out! His explanations in the letter are laughable, especially given that he himself qualified for the candidates matches via elo-rating, i.e., without going through any qualifications.

The only thing I agree with is that the matches are too short.

What a whiner!

gg's picture

It's laughable that he qualified via rating and doesn't want to participate?

Dave's picture

While I agree that FIDE's current process is too long and unorganized (mainly because of the ramifications of a reunification), I think it's wrong for Magnus to try and change the way champions are decided. If he doesn't like matches that's fine but he has to demonstrate he can win matches if he want's to change them.
Be a champ first and only after that (try to) change things much like Kasparov did or at least beat everybody convincingly over the board like Morphy when he was about the same age as Carlsen, something he has not done against Kramnik or Anand.
In chess, tournaments are not a good way to decide even a challenger (as Fischer demonstrated long ago), much less a world champion.
Chess is not soccer.

Rob Brown's picture

Simplifying the process to determine the world champion is long overdue. Automatically seeding the reigning champion to a super tournament where the top ten rated players playing each other four times, as was done in the Curacao Candidates tournament, would give the reigning champ an advantage, but guarantee a much fairer and considerably expedited process than is in force now.

Dr. Wolfgang Berghorn, Germany's picture

There should be held a meeting of all WCC candidates at Bobby Fischer´s grave! MC´s decision is worth a very unique meeting to change FIDE rules definitely and finally! CAISSA may manage this!

Stanley Peters's picture

@Calvin Amari

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 had 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.

Andre's picture

Its not a 5 years cycle by any means , magnus is inventing his own stories.

ablos's picture

maybe mangus likes reading alien stories, likes to invent one.

TM's picture

I could not agree more with this comment. Exactly right. At the very moment, when---after a 15+ year schism---the chess world is converging back to some kind of cycle, Carlsen is trying to destroy it with phony arguments. He simply wants to avoid the challenge...

What a let-down!

Wouter Otto Levenbach aka Dave's picture

Lol this "reply" feature gone out of proportion, do you have enough room on the server?

Mike Magnan's picture

Now if only the rest of the worlds top GM's had the guts to follow this lead.

cip's picture

I believe Carlsen is slightly biased against the head to head match format for one simple reason: in matches opening preparation is huuugely important.

Just look at the last few matches. Vishy played exclusively d4 against Topa admitting afterwards that to play e4 also would have involved much too much work.

When you play in a tournament with a variety of opponents it is much easier to surprize an opponent/ harder to prepare lines up to the endgame. Play becomes much less mechanical, you don't get to dish out preparation game after game. You do not spend only in 2 minutes for the first 23 moves.

And most important of all, you do not have to work very hard at home just to get an equal, playable position as black, or a balanced-but-interesting position as white were you might outplay an opponent.

Maybe Carlsen is just behind on preparation at this point. Maybe he feels he does not have the homework luggage that his older opponents have. Perhaps Kasparov showed him just how much opening theory a WChamp knows. I honestly believe it would be an uphill battle for him.

And for what? To prove that your team can find the better lines? To prove you have the money to hire the better gms to work for you?
It would be nice to gain a WCh title, but as long as it is very unlikely to win it without tons of preparation and without a team of people sucking the joy out of your game..... or maybe learning opening theory is enjoyable.

If I would be Carlsen's agent, I would also advise him to sit back and wait. The cost to benefit ratio connected to the WCh events are certainly worse for him than most of his other activities.

It is disappointing for us, but we have to just swallow it. As someone else said around here, he has the right to refuse to play and that does not have to mean anything and we have no right to blame him for it.

TM's picture

Very good analysis. I think it was a calculated decision to chicken out. However, I disagree with your saying "we have no right to blame him". Yes, we do! For the first time since 1993, we have something resembling a fair (albeit overly complicated and long) cycle, and now Carlsen is trying to destroy it for his own benefit. It's pure selfishness. For this, we *can* and should blame him. And also, I blame him for disrespecting the traditions and history of our game! Hasn't he studied Kasparov's predecessor books...? How can he say that a tournament is better than a match? Here, hs is just being dishonest...

cip's picture

Ok, you are right, of course. We can discuss his proposal and dismiss it. I agree that we can and should blame him for expressing such opinions and making them public. We can be disapointed by his decisions.

But I still feel that it would just be sentimentalism to expect more from him.

I hardly like his personality myself, but I think he might be on average the strongest player OTB. (or at least top two - to please all the fanatics who may insert their hero above him)

Mejnour's picture

I can just agree with the team stuff entouring the WWC.

Here a vision that have a certain Bobby in a moment of lucidity...

"that because of the progress in memorization of opening books, talented celebrity players from long ago, if brought back from the dead to play today, would no longer be competitive. "Some kid of fourteen today, or even younger, could get an opening advantage against Capablanca", he said, merely because of opening-book memorization, which Fischer disdained. "Now chess is completely dead. It is all just memorization and prearrangement. It's a terrible game now. Very uncreative."[354] Fischer heavily disparaged chess as it was currently being played at the highest levels"

Andre's picture

If some people cant fathom the reality of openings in chess , scrap all classical chess tournaments , replace them with fischer random chess or make games start from middlegames or endgames and destroy the chess completely.

S's picture

All in all I can't get over the feeling that team Carlsen is being a bit hypocrit.
Maybe Carlsen got cold feet shortly before the start of the hardest task?
Losing one of the matches would certainly harm his value, while this Fischer-like "principal" move will surely have its gains.
Maybe it's just a simple calculation of risks, probabilties and rewards. Or maybe I'm just a mistrustful person.

But I do wonder why MC came to this decision only now-with no recent changes in the format-,
and with a story about unfair advantages when he in fact was seeded directly in the candidates after dropping out of the GP, thereby benefitting of ad hoc regulations that went against the original GP -Wcup-qualification rules).


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