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.


Mejnour's picture

Don't make me cry with your tradition.

the reality is that chess cannot be destroy because it is already self-destructed.

It's not anymore a game of humain mind vs human mind, this is why chess is not interesting for most of human and we can predict that chess will never become more than a apetizer in a meal.

Mejnour's picture

Sorry answer it at the wrong

Castro's picture

It's a wrong move, from chess point of view. But neither option in the poll ais adequate!

Maybe the only benefited with this is Magnus himself, and even that I doubt, and should advice the oposite.
There is no point now in looking for inconsistences. They exist, from Magnus, from FIDE, and more.
But the relevant thing is that his idea (or excuse) of a WC based on a 8-10 players round-robin (world champion included) is not a good one. Even if a doble round-robin!
Chess is no football (although there are people trying chess to emule football, for instance via stupid scoring rules).
A 8-10 players tournament is too much of a game of "chance", specialy when compared with a series of matches.
OK, a winner of a top strong tournament must be a very top player, but we DO have better alternatives for a worthy world champion.
The fartest I would agree (but who am I :-) ) would be to include the world champion in, say, a four, or even eight rounds round-robin for the last four players (3+champ).

So, in my opinion, Magnus is wrong, at least from a chess point of view.
Maybe he is right if he thinks the present cycle to be harder than he'd like, or with less chances for him than a tournament, but that would just reinforce my opinion: He is wrong, and I wish (and even would like, for Magnus' sake) he could rethink this, and enter the matches after all. (Being naive, I know).

It's a pity the poll is not very well designed.

Castro's picture

Just to be precise:
I meant a 4 players all-play-all 4 or (idealy) 8 times each!

luzin's picture

I am very disappointed by the Kid. The worse part is that he does not even offer an alternative, it is quite clear to me that he just tries to do what he thinks best for him (btw, exactly what he stated to his chessbase mini-interview).

His "round robin" idea is a joke. So what if the Champ is to be decided in the last round between 3 players, 2 facing each other and the 3rd facing the guy at the bottom of the table? How do we know that the tail ender will not "give away" the game for some hot amount of cash? The prizes and prestige of a world championship may tempt a professional, and even if they resist evil temptations (i believe most chessplayers do have ethics), people will be able to tell stories anyway!
A World champion coming from a tournament will never be what we have known or what we want.

PircAlert's picture

"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." - Magnus

Who or what decides the best players? A manipulatable rating? And why only a hand-picked and handful of best players, and why not all players, on equal terms, if fairness is what it is all about? Shouldn't then a worldwide open tournament be that solution??

I would like to point out another thing about fairness. A champion getting a privilege is not unfair. His chances of winning/retaining the title is only slightly greater than a one who starts a fresh if you do the probability. The probability of his winning is not 50% unlike many would think but it must be calculated from when he had first started a fresh on his cycle. And champion rightly deserves that improved chance. So asking for abolishing a champion privilege is not reasonable unless that champion is made out from a hand-picked challeger. But Anand is not one such! I wonder how Anand managed to motivate himself through the times when he was repeatedly denied and discredited of his achievements.

Magnus is a nice person but I believe he is misguided and this expectation of Magnus doesn't sound good to me at all. If sponsors are going to withdraw if he were to lose one of those qualification matches, then he would have to just face it. Okay, withdrawing is fine in that case, but making demands like this I think is not good.

Peter's picture

lol, the kid is more impudent than even Kasparov at that age! (j/k)

Why do some think his refusal is brave? What is at risk? Is he going to lose his endorsement because of it? - I doubt it. Is he not going to be invited to any tournaments because of it? - No.

He's not brave - he's playing it safe. I've always thought that there's a real risk that Carlsen couldn't get through and win the championship cycle, and apparently he must think so as well. Otherwise, the best position to effect changes is when he is the world champion. But if he wasn't successful in the matches, then he would be in a "sore loser" position if he complaint about the cycle at that point, so he didn't want to risk being in this position.

Maybe his move will spearhead strong changes in the cycle. Maybe he could have criticized in a different way. Anyway, it's his decision and our loss.

noone's picture

Peter what the fuck? Youngsters are not afraid of challenges Also he does lose money.

S's picture

saying fuck doesn't make your comment plausible noone.

Peter's picture

You're right, Carlsen does give up the chance to make big money if he wins the championship. I may be too harsh on the kid, but I still think he preferred to play it safe. Had he participated and lost a match, his potential claim of being the best player in the world would be significantly diminished, and this could also affect his image.

vooruitgang's picture

Have any of the other GM's participating in the cycle reacted to Carlsen's letter? Will any other GM's agree and drop out?

greenknight's picture

The candidates' knockout mini-matches are really a horrible format compared to, say, an 8 player round robin tournament, a 4 game match really increases the luck factor since one opening prep bomb or blitz playoff blunder could knock a player out.

Personally I suspect Carlsen's sponsors advised the withdrawal though. Since the #1 rating spot appears to be just as marketable as the WC title nowadays, why risk devaluing it in the public eye by taking the large risk of losing a match? Not to mention that hiding all your best opening ideas for months on end inevitably causes a player to lose rating points...

Probably it's a good professional decision for Carlsen's career and I don't think either more or less of him for withdrawing, it's just disappointing that he will not take part from a spectator's point of view.

PircAlert's picture

For argument sake,

Sponsorship money is $150,000 per year provided you maintain top 3 rating and you don't do anything to jeopardize and make your top 3 spot look questionable by losing in a WCh cycle. In 3 years you would get $450,000.

First round qualification match loser gets $20,000. If you win the wch you would get like a million dollar plus the qualification round earnings.

It is a tough choice!

meshrath's picture

Actually its not a tough choice at all. $150,000 per year or $ 20,000 for winning a round. When you could easily lose after 2-3 rounds ( a distinct possibility considering the calibre of Kramnik and Aronian ). I think Carlsen has made the smart choice.

Calvin Amari's picture

How many of those complaining about this decision by Magnus decried Ilyumzhinov stealing another FIDE election and wished that someone had the backbone to take this thoroughly corrupt organization down a notch or two? Now THAT would be an interesting poll !

S's picture

How many people are praising Ilyumzhinov for his false statements and hypocrisy?

ablos's picture

Immature and the boy may not be champion after all. There are still better players than him.

chessrobot's picture


M's picture

Carlsen is right, just play on and win tournaments, everybody knows he is the strongest chess player at this moment.

Nydrre's picture

Ratings are pretty meaningless compared to the Champion title, and Magnus has shown that he can't stand up to the pressure of winning matches. Anand is the true World's number one... because he is the World Champion.

Frank G.'s picture

I have been a huge fan of MC, and I believe that he is wrong here. It is true that FIDE presently takes way too long to carry out the WC cycle, and that the early candidates matches are too short (4/6 games). MC wastes his protest by emphasizing “reigning champion privileges", which is nonsense in my opinion, and by endorsing a single tournament (double round robin?) to determine the champion, which I believe is inferior to candidates matches of reasonable length. In any case, he has squandered the only opportunity he will have to become world champion for many years to come, in favor of a protest of doubtful merit. I am saddened that MC appears to be another chess genius who, a la Robert Fischer, appears to be determined to sabotage his own career through arbitrary demands.

Chris's picture

I think most of the people posting on this thread lack perspective on the world championship (as opposed to the last 10 or 15 years of it).

Steinitz & Zukertort appointed themselves to fight the first world championship match in 1886. There was no systerm of qualification. Thereafter from 1886 to the death of Alekhine in 1946, the reigning world champion decided who could challenge him to a match or what challenges he would accept. This cost the chess world a Lasker-Rubinstein match before World War I. Partly because of the War, Lasker remained champion for a long time when he was no longer the best player. During this period there were constant changes in the format of the matches (number of games, time controls, adjournments, etc.) Alekhine seemed to deliberatly avoid the challengers most likely to dethrone him (2 matches against Bogolyubov but no rematch with Capablanca). So much for tradition !

In 1946, FIDE took over the vacant Championship, & from 1950 it was given the 24 game match format with zonals, interzonals & candidates tournaments to qualify the challenger. Botvinnik was champion from 1948 to 1963 with 2 brief intermissions although during this period he never won a match as world champion (draws against Bronstein & Smyslov, losses to Smyslov, Tal & finally Petrosian). But Smyslov & Tal were only one-year champions because to remain champion you had to win both the initial match AND a revenge match. For most of this period, Botvinnik was no longer the strongest player. When the revenge match rule was abolished, Botvinnik ceased to compete.

In 1965, the qualification system was changed because Fischer (like Carlsen, the strongest player) withdrew from what he considered an unfair qualification system - he said the candidates tournament allowed the numerous Soviet players to compete as a team & ensure that only a Soviet player could qualify. If that withdrawal was legitimate for Fischer, why is a similar withdrawal illegitimate for Carlsen ?

Since Fischer abandoned the title he won from Spassky, there has been a succession of changes in the format (unlimited matches until one player has 6 wins 1978, 1981, 1984; the rise of computers & the abolition of adjournments, changes in the time control, a FIDE knockout world championship, a return to the unfairness of the champion nominating the challenger, ... etc).

The only constant tradition has been that of tinkering with the title system from 1886 to the present. Up until now there has usually been a match between champion & challenger, but there is no reason to think it necessarily fair or good.

Wimbledon Tennis Tournament from 1877_1922 had the defending champion seeded directly (& physically fresh) into the final, while the challenger had to qualify by playing matches for 2 weeks & often arrived in the final physically exhausted. Fair. Good. I think not. As bad as when Karpov was seeded into the FIDE final to face an exhausted Anand.

I think Magnus has the perfect right to do what is right for Magnus. He is not in the world to live up to other people's expectations of him. I, personally, would find it sad were he to stop competing tomorrow, but he has a perfect right to do so.

His aim seems not to be the youngest world champion ever. So what ? Magnus sets his own targets, & doesn't have to answer to us. I think his statement is honest, so please stop looking in it for hidden meanings, or some tosh that he is scared of this or that player, or reasons to believe that his rating is in some mysterious way unjustified because he only wins against weak players (the same accusation was made here about Aronian a week or two ago !!!)

No system will ever be ideal. One that might be given a spin & which I would like to see is to choose the world's top 4 players by rating every 2 years (no lengthy qualification system necessary). The four players would then play 8 games against each other to decide the world champion for the next 2 years. It would take less than a month &

Sanjay Padhee's picture

Whichever you look at it - the fact is Carlsen is not confident enough to go through the process of qualifying through the Candidates. Clear enough from his letter.

No need to justify his actions. Yes, Magnus has a right to chicken out and he has exercised that right. Good luck to him.

reality check's picture

No one has really critisized Carlsens "right" not to take part in the WC qualifiers matches. That's his business.
I get the impression a lot of people are disgusted with the lame excuses and the sly snuff at the WC title and its owner and the implied (but erroneous) claim of being the best player (#1) since peanut butter; when in fact Carlsen is just one of the ten best players out there now; with a rather short run at the very top if you ask me.
The main thing separating him from his peers is not rating points but that he does not have the balls to stick it out. And this essentially separates the men from the boys.

FvT's picture

Stepping out is the best decision.

But an even better decision would be based on the grounds of questioning the sources of the money the player's in the world-championship cycle get paid.
If it is out of Mr. Ilyumzhinov's pockets, it would not be ethically justified to accept it.

Secondly Carlsen should not forget that chess fans grew up with serious matches (K vs K) and this is what they like to see. So a qualifying tournament should appoint the challenger, not the World-Champion; that this means conditions are not entirely equal compared to the status of the World-Champion, that might be, because it should not be so random to become World-Champion by winning one, although very tough, tournament. Chess fans want a real WC not an incidental one. We are not draught player's, are we now?

Chris's picture

I grew up with Botvinnik-Tal 1960.
Does that mean I'm not a chess fan ?

Carlsen has a perfect right NOT to play the World Championship if he feels like it.

OK he won't be World Champion, but that's his right.

Looking at some of the once-great but over the hill players who have remained World Champion (Lasker, Alekhine, Botvinnik, ...) or looking at some of the great players who didn't become champion (Rubinstein, Keres, Korchnoi, ...) he might not think that it's such a great honour that he can't possibly live without it.

Zeblakov's picture

Of course he has the all right not to play. BUT he has to be honest and not give the wrong reasons. He has not to lie. All the fact say that he lies.

Andre's picture

When topalov played anand for wc few months ago he didnt raise this point , now suddenly his conscience has risen from sleep. He has poor overall record against kramnik and aronian , two top seeds in candidates. On top of it he is comparing rating spot to world championship. If rating spots are that important there is no need to conduct wc. One can have best rating even with poor overall record against top seeds. Its a very cunning decision to play safe and brag to world about rating spot.

gg's picture

Sorry, but do you even follow chess or are just in it to hate Carlsen and make up your own facts? Carlsen has a plus score against Aronian, and what do you mean Carlsen should have said when Anand played his title match? That Carlsen didn't want to participate in it?

ultima's picture

@gg, Andre is just into bashing Carlsen, and doesnt care about the actual facts. He states whatever suites his needs.

Andre's picture

Anyone can check overall record on
On todays date, its clearly stated
Overall record: Levon Aronian beats magnus carlsen 12 to 9 , with 19 draws.
Anyone can check today the overall record , he'll know who is making up facts or inventing pseudo facts.

Martin's picture

I cant believe it, more than 65% voters think Magnus withdrawal is good idea/ right decision , in order to optimise "outdated World Championship cycle's regulations".
Man, this kid really has huge impact on people´s mind ! Wake up boys and girls ! He is not Jesus or Mesiah ...! Not everything from his mouth or pen should be accepted like the ultimate wisdom...
Do they honestly think double round robin tournament would be a better idea how to designate fair and worthy world champion ??!! In that case we would have brand new world champion every 2-3 years... Everyone with good form can win such tournament... Some GM can win nearly everything but that WC tournament and suddenly is out of the competetion and this is meant to be fair ????
These candidate matches are by far the most fair and legitimate way how to assign a worthy and well deserved contender for WC match which in my opinion is the best and historically proved version of world championship in chess. Candidate matches are REAL test for everyone and chess history showed us that the cycle used to be won by clearly the strongest contender...
Carlsen should quit chess if he is afraid or lazy to compete with strongest players in the world....

gg's picture

"These candidate matches are by far the most fair and legitimate way how to assign a worthy and well deserved contender for WC match"

Nice, but couldn't they have two game matches instead of four games before they start with the rapid and blitz to make it even more superior to the system they had in the 60s and 70s?

Martin's picture

6 games in classical chess in QF /then rapid
6 games in classical chess in SF/then rapid
8 games in classical chess in F/then rapid
12 games in world chess championship match/then rapid
Why not ?

But the whole world is in such hurry. Hurry up, hurry up like crazy !
shorting matches,process of determining WC challenger, time control, time for a relax before the start of the round etc...
Why such hurry in everything what we do ? Is money everything this world is about ?
But i dont care anymore, im just a regular chess fan not a contender :-) So let them have rules which they want...

Castro's picture

At least he got one stupidly simple celebrity thing: Lots of people talking.
Just sad. He's wrong. Let's honor the present and the next champ.
And yes, I agree, he's merely playing it safe, and chess suffers, because of course we'll miss such a strong player.
But Fischer had much more good reasons to play the star, and for me the loss was greater.
We must respect this type of decisions, but it's bad for chess in general, and particularly (for instance) for the next champion...

Suresh's picture

I think Magnus is playing a long term game here, right now he may be the world's favourite player, numer uno is live ratings but he knows that Anand, Kramnik and topalov are too strong in match plays due to their vast experiences. Match play for World title also involves lots of politics/pshychological maneuveras including terms/discussions with FIDE, opponent, sponsorship etc etc. and he thinks he is not well prepared in any of those fronts. He knows that by just being the elite player in chess won't win him the title and in next 4-5 years Kramnik, Anand and Topalov would surely be waning in terms of chess strength, the kid knows this will happen. Magnus might be critized but he is tryiing to learn the 'GAME' afterall kasparov is his guide. Though I would have loved to see him play against Anand, Kramnik at their best. Even Anand went through various qualifying formats before being WC. Looking at history of chess championships, every worthy champion had to go through the grinding process before reaching the finals. Carlsen would never know what it feels like to win the title if he doesn't go through that 'grinding'. Interestingly I see a few points raised for fairness like tournamnet format as in football which Carlens likes and is quite good at winning them as well. My take on this would be, Carlsen chickend out when the world was looking forward to him dethroning Anand and proving he is the best! Well I appreciate Magnus for his long term plan (world title) and short term (Elo live ratings.

Joeri's picture

I really don't get it. We have got all this fuss with Kasparov stepping out of the cycle in the nineties. Ilyumzhinov then coming up with this knockout WC cycle.

We've come back to matches finally, and now this.

Thx Magnus...

(maybe what I've said has already been said, I haven't read all 300 posts yet)

Mike's picture

The a.m. poll is not totally valid, because it was clearly designed to "influence" people to choose last option: The first four ones are just pathetic and not serious jokes...It seems this site backs the boy's letter and also supports this "chickened out" and some reconsideration on the "outdated World Championship cycle's regulations". The Poll lacks at least one genuine option, so I will write it here, because I want to vote too:
[x] I Agree that World Championship cycle's regulations need a study and decisions for a better architecture regarding nowadays Chess realities, but I did not find in Magnus letter enough justification for a personal withdraw like that.

No one selfish matters more than the Democratic World Chess Community.

inoki's picture

pingpong isnt such a bad choice

Mejnour's picture

Question: Magnus, you've got to feel a bit uneasy about this momentous decision?

Magnus Carlsen: It's been a difficult process. But now that the decision has been taken, I actually feel relieved.

Even if that means you will be missing an entire World Championship cycle?

The World Championship cycle will last for almost five years, and with constant rule changes. It takes too much effort to deal with the political part of the process. 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.

How do you think the chess public will react to your action? Many may think you are throwing away a golden chance.

Well, I understand if they are a bit puzzled, but I have to make the decision that I think is best for me and my career.

Does this mean that you will not participate in a World Championship in the future?

No, no, absolutely not. I hope that there will be changes in the future. It is clear that I will be back in it then. The decision now applies only to the current world championship cycle.

With your decision are you making a special point against FIDE?

No, it is a personal decision based on what I think is best for me.

Castro's picture

A shame...
What if the present cycle, and it's format, becomes a sucess? Not that it is my prefered format, but I hope it succedes for now, and it certainly is better than a (double) round-robin tournament!
Magnus could end up never fighting for WC... But, thanks to the stupid "modern" ("money and show off") tendencies in chess, he grabs what the media raised to be an ALTERNATIVE:

"to defend my position as number one in the world rankings"

Magnus is not guilty (at least not just him), but it's ridiculous!
If Fischer could use Elo this way, in his heyday, he'd be nominated King of the World!

Bartleby's picture

The present cycle? The format? It started with blank signatures for a series of yet-to-define Grand Prix tournaments, which were announced for other dates and venues, then postponed on short notice, and ended up in remote locations east of Sochi and south of Astrakhan. The winner of this very strong tournament series was to play against the winner of the World Cup lottery for the right to challenge the Champion. Only when it turned out that the big names had either dropped out, or never bothered to compete, the candidates' tournament was invented, adding in effect six wildcards with hand-picked criteria to include those big names. Instead of a tournament the organizers preferred mini-matches, again the venue was changed, another wildcard discussed, and who knows what else will happen during the rest of this cycle. A success? Something to repeat?

Castro's picture

You're right in that it will never end up being an organizitional success, because of much of what happened. But the resulting names are very plausible ones, and were almost all unanimously fairly achieved.
You could disregard the merits of the eventual winner, based on the previous organization of things, but you'd be far from realistic, specialy when given the alternatives... Does the absense of Carlsen improves things? Of course not!
It is a very bad move from him.

reality check's picture

It's clear the candidates cycle got off to a rough start and has taken a long time. But now that the experimental opening and ugly middle game are behind us, the end game looks fine-----with or without Carlsen!
Besides the only tangible thing Carlsen had over the other candidates was a relentless hyperbole. I'm not blaming him for it either. It's his business If he allows people to use him for their personal agenda.
As far as I"m concerned, he can take Polgars place in the womens league.

reality check's picture

The truth is Carlsen is just a coward like Fischer and Kasparov. When push comes to shove they all quit. And that's just the way it is.

Daaim Shabazz's picture

However, Fischer and Kasparov were World Champions. They had leverage.

reality check's picture

Ok, i agree Carlsen is a coward without leverage.

Castro's picture


Andre's picture

coward without dethroning the champion , at least fischer and kasparov dethroned world champions.

Dilip's picture

I think the people who deride Carlsen's decision are a frustrated lot like for not participating and proving his worth. Iam a Carlsen fan but a frustrated one who will do Carlsen bashing for his stupid decision not to participate


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