Reports | December 05, 2008 9:51

Carlsen withdraws from FIDE Grand Prix

Carlsen withdraws from Grand PrixWhat started as a promising series of tournaments has rapidly turned into a sinking ship: the FIDE Grand Prix series. After Doha was cancelled, and Montreux is also out, now top seed Magnus Carlsen decided to withdraw.

Last week FIDE suddenly changed the current world championship cycle by inventing a Candidates Tournament (bidding procedure now posted here). They were heavily critized by Alexei Shirov amonst many others. The top seed of the Grand Prix was also clearly not happy about the situation and after communicating with FIDE, a bit after midnight on Friday his father Henrik wrote on his blog that Magnus withdraws from the Series:

We have just informed FIDE by e-mail that Magnus withdraws from the Grand Prix series due to the dramatic change to these regulations approved by the General Assembly.
(According to the regulations the final decision on changes to the regulations is the responsibility of the FPB - and not the General Assembly - but we have been informed by several FIDE executives that the Presidential Board will endorse the GA decision shortly if necessary.)

Magnus is simply not motivated to continue the GP series with the dramatically changed conditions approved in Dresden, and the uncertainty related to any future changes that may be decided by FIDE.

On November 27th we sent the following e-mail letter to the FIDE office;

"Dear Sirs,
The purpose of this e-mail is to comment upon the recent news about FIDE changing the Regulations for the 2008 -2009 Grand Prix cycle and to request your comments to our questions pertaining to this change.
Chess as a sport, chess as an attraction to sponsors, the situation of top chess players in general and the Chess World Championship cycle, are in our opinion best and only served by a system which is transparent, fair and
Despite a less than impressive FIDE track record over the past 15 years, the implementation of the Grand Prix 2008 - 2009 did seem to offer such a system.
To our surprise and disbelief we have been informed that the FIDE General Assembly has supported a proposed change of the Regulations of the ongoing cycle to the detriment of the Grand Prix players. The planned match of
the winner of the Grand Prix and World Cup winners will be replaced with two spots available from each event into an 8-player world championship qualification tournament or 8-player candidate match cycle, and that this
will be decided on the next Presidential Board meeting.
We are currently considering alternative measures in response to this highly significant change, which includes legal action and the withdrawal from the cycle.

Below please find some questions which you will hopefully respond to in order to shed some light on the current and future rights of players taking part in FIDE events.
Is it your understanding, that ?Ç¬ß 1.4 in the "Regulations for the 2008 - 2009 Grand Prix", in the middle of the cycle, gives the FIDE Presidential Board the right to change the regulations in a way clearly detrimental to the
players as represented by the stipulations described in ?Ç¬ß 2 in these same regulations and also in the "Players Undertaking"?
- If the answer is no, how do you explain the planned change, and how do you justify the harm inherent to the Grand Prix winner?
- If the answer is yes, do you agree that the agreement in effect between the players and FIDE is highly biased with regard to rights, in the sense that the players have no real rights whatsoever (that cannot be set aside
by the FIDE Presidential Board) while having to stick to the conditions agreed to in the Players Undertaking and also additional adjustments made by the FIDE Presidential Board?
And if so, do you consider this a viable policy for future agreements between FIDE and world championship cycle participants?
Lastly we would like to mention that our criticism of the latest change of regulations is not directed at the change itself. Long term this may be a viable alternative to the current match planned between the Grand Prix and World Cup winners. But changing the rules dramatically in the middle of a cycle is simply unacceptable, and this is something that should be rather obvious to anyone involved in business or high level sports competitions.

We look forward to your urgent response to these questions."

The following response was received this morning;

"Dear Mr Carlsen,
Thank you once again for your letter.
The main point of the changes is that instead of qualifying one player from the Grand-Prix for the next stage (semi-final match against the winner of the World Cup), now two players (possibly three in case there is no player
to be qualified by rating) will qualify for an 8-player semi-final tournament. This change has been based on article 17.3 of the regulations and it is necessary as sponsors from Qatar and Montreaux have withdrew from
organising two legs of the Grand-Prix (an unforeseen situation), which puts in danger the system if it leaves the Grand Prix with less than 6 legs and no clear winner. Because of this uncertain situation, and by giving more
qualification spots, FIDE is trying to solve this problem and in the meanwhile is searching to secure, if possible, alternative sponsorship for the remaining GP legs and cycle. As the Grand-Prix has just started this
year with two events completed out of six, no player has yet a clear advantage for first place and we feel that all players are benefited as now two or three places (instead of one) are giving qualification.

Kindly also note that the agreements between the players and FIDE are of course not biased at all. The player's undertaking refers to the Regulations for the 2008-2009 FIDE Grand Prix which can be amended according to its
wording (Art. 1.4). In addition as already said, there are clearly objective and important reasons to amend these regulations in order to save the whole cycle.

We are really expecting your understanding and we are looking forward to even more exciting chess by Magnus.

Best regards,
George Mastrokoukos
FIDE - World Chess Federation "

We do find the response highly unsatisfactory.
To mention one thing, it is hard to understand how diminishing the value of the Grand Prix series can be interpreted as a way of saving the ongoing cycle.

Having withdrawn from the Grand Prix series Magnus does not have to spend more time and energy on the uncertainty involved, and may fortunately now concentrate on playing several well organised and interesting top level events elsewhere. In the first half of 2009 he has agreed to play some Grand Slam events as well as some great rapid events, starting with a rapid tournament in Gj?ɬ?vik, Norway January 2nd - 5th and the Corus A from January 16th onwards.

Henrik Carlsen,
Lommedalen, December 4th, 2008

After the third Grand Prix tournament in Doha was cancelled and hastily moved to Elista, Carlsen's withdrawal is another heavy blow for FIDE/Global Chess. By quoting the email by Mastrokoukos, Henrik Carlsen also confirmed the rumours that the Montreux Grand Prix tournament, scheduled for April-May 2009, would be cancelled. Some magic is needed to save the FIDE Grand Prix Series.


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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.


Jens Kristiansen's picture

Ja, vi elsker dette landet...A strong and consistent move, Magnus!
But the game is still not over and we can expect many more thrilling and unexpected moves. But it will quite likely end up with a checkmate to FIDE.
The deadline for biddings for the candidates (for some reason also called the "semifinal") in 2010 is in less than three months. The potential sponsors will have to guarantee at the minimum 400.000 EU and come up with a 100.000 EU depositum. That is if they only want to stage the candidates. For the WCh-match in 2011 it is 1.000.000 EU extra.. And one of FIDEs arguments is there is an economical chrisis in the world...
And then you may wonder what they think about all this in Motreux and Karlovy Vary. Ok, Erevan has just stepped in to take over the Grand Prix, which was schedulded in Elista, august 2009. What the common people in Kalmykia thinks, seems to be of no importance - so far.

Christos (Greece)'s picture

I think that this is a very clever decision by Carlsen and, because everyone considers him as a potential World Champion, actually it puts a bomb under FIDE's new plan. Carlsen might get the chance to play in the 8 player Candidates tournament without the need to compete in the Grand Prix. Or else the next challenger, and the next champion, will have won a cycle in which Carlsen will have been excluded in a strange way.
What i mean is that if FIDE proceeds as planned with the Candidates tournament, then this tournament will lose much of its high status if Carlsen is absent. If, for example, Kramnik is considered to be invited by a wildcard (as it has already been hinted this is possible), then there will be huge pressure to invite Carlsen as well, because, after all, why should Kramnik be prefered over Carlsen? This is the biggest problem with the wildcard invitation, that players feel less motivated to win the Grand Prix or the World Cup, if someone is going to achieve the same without playing.

val's picture

"Cheerio, unification!" - once again?

Manu's picture

Magnus is a Jedi knight, this is awesome.
I can stop smyling , best news in a while.

JM's picture

Many people will probably applaud Magnus' decision. Personally, I feel we do not really have the right to judge, as we're not the ones to suffer any possible negative consequence. I wouldn't have thought a iota less of Magnus had he decided differently. Nevertheless, I do have the utmost respect for this courageous decision.

Merijn's picture

"Chess as a sport, chess as an attraction to sponsors, the situation of top chess players in general and the Chess World Championship cycle, are in our opinion best and only served by a system which is transparent, fair and
predictable." Well spoken and very true. Excellent decision by the Carlsens!

me's picture

All others should withdraw too, because the Grand Prix is not anymore what it was announced. Everything has changed.

test's picture

I don't expect too many players to follow his example. Most will probably say: "What do we have to lose?"

That's one of the reasons Ilyumzhinov can stay in power, grandmasters have to make a living, they are not united and even if they were, they have no voting power.

morechess's picture

I have a new idol in chess: Magnus Carlsen. He can be better than Fischer with a great personality.

Jerrch's picture

Can someone please explain to me how are they going to choose the Top two Grand prix players to enter the candidates tournament, when the GP cannot be completed?

Ark's picture

wow this is bad news for spectators, but good news for chess? somebody needs to jolt FEEDAE into realization that what they is not OKAE

me's picture

I agree with the first sentence - not everything is FIDE's fault - and I agree with the first half of the first paragraph.

The rest I disagree. There will be even less sponsors if FIDE changes the rules in the middle of the competition. Not to mention that it is unfair to all the GP partticipants, and also probably illegal (or at least it should be). Besides how exactly does this "new" cycle take care of the problems with Grand Prix??? It will still be played, only that it will be even harder to get sponsors since the Grand Prix has been demoted for one stage.

When the 2008-2010/11 cycle was announced I really liked it. It is a mixture of all systems we had before - tournaments (Grand Prix), knock-out (World Cup) and matches (challenger match and WCC match) - so I think everybody should be satisfied with it (there just isn't any perfect system). The one who comes on top can trully be considered as a World Champion since he proved his superiority regardless of the competition system.

So I think the system is OK, what chess world needs is stability! A system that will be used for years. It's those constant changes that are killing the World Championship, not the competition sytem.

John's picture

People seem to be happy to quickly blame FIDE for everything...

It's as if the top players think they're doing the world a "favor" by playing these top-level chess events. Should we forget the hundreds of thousands of euros they are loading into their bank account over the course of the year? No, they are not doing a favor to the world by playing, ultimately they are the ones who are benefitting. They can pull out of an event if they'd like, it's one less whiner! Ideally it would be nice if the GP could stay as it was, but if sponsors pull out and there is no money, what do the players expect FIDE to do? Make money out of air?

FIDE and other organizations have a tough time raising funds for a "sport" like chess because it simply is not an easy task... chess is not football.

The players should step down from the skies and realize that they are making money by playing this game, and they should not be so picky if an organization like FIDE has to change rules to make sure the event can survive when sponsors pull out.

The GP was compromised when the Doha and Montreaux legs got pulled out so FIDE _HAD TO_ make changes to the qualification process to account for the damage that the changes to the GP process would have caused...

If the players are worried about qualifying under the new 8-player system, maybe they should get better at playing. If they really think they are worthy of qualifying, then they should theoretically win in the 8-player system, otherwise if they can't win when facing 7 other competitors, what makes them worthy of being a challenger to the world champion? Otherwise, if they fear losing in an 8-player game, they are merely a pretender to the throne, then that is why they would be concerned by the changes to the qualification.

[I apologize if this seems very harsh on the players, but chess is a game and the players should not forget the difficulty in raising money for a game as difficult to market as this one is.]

Peter Doggers's picture

Well, I think in principle everyone should theoretically be able to qualify for such a Grand Slam tournament then. In Wijk aan Zee that's possible, but elsewhere not.

me's picture

Yes, Wijk ann Zee, Linares, Sofia, Dortmund are "private" invitational tournaments. Organizers can invite/not invite players according to their wishes.

Eiae's picture


val's picture

Why not return to a proven good old system: 1) Zonal tournaments 2) Interzonals 3) Matches? It was fair, transparent and satisfactory to all. This system was particularly undermined by an overambitious rebel champion, who later on called his rebellion a mistake.

Jan's picture

Why not use the grand slam series as a selection for a candidates tournament? It works, because those tournaments (Wijk, Linares, Sofia, ...) are sure of a good organisation and of their existence.

Add to the winners of this the winner of the world cup and some high rated players (the hghest possible off course) and you have a system that can work because those tournaments have a sound organisational platform.

SugarDom's picture

Carlsen is going the way of Fischer, by not playing chess. I hate it when people called him the greatest and refuse matches unless the rules favor him.

ChessGirl's picture

I can just say: HURRAY! It?Ǭ¥s time for FIDE to start paying for all the nonsense and disrespect towards players and public.

Bert de Bruut's picture

FIDE rule = blatant incompetence and abuse through a mockery of democracy. Abiding by FIDE's leadership of the chess world is collaboration. For national federations of civilized countries secession is the only just and honorable option.

Giovani di Gesu's picture

There they go again with these tedious, boring exchange of letters and bombastic announcements. Not a very professional sport.

me's picture

"Not a very professional sport."

My words exactly. As long as the rules won't get followed strictly, chess will be chaotic.

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