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.


eso es's picture

Very canny move by Carlsen and his fact, absolutely brilliant.....

c.s.eichab's picture

Being no.1 in the world is not a title. There has been nothing dratic on the side of FIDE to necessitate such a move my Carlsen.

What are Carlsen's real fears? I have always respected the exemplary leadership and style exhibited by Anand. Anand never uses chess political issues to sway things in his favour although he was historically in good stead to make use of such weapons. Anand's only weapon is the ChessBoard itself. Historically, he has never enjoyed sweeping priviledges from FIDE as has Kramnik, Topalov and the likes.

The best format to determine a World Champion is in a match. We need to see two of the best players in the world involved in a full-blown idealogical, psychological and personality clash, directly with each other.

reality check's picture

Carlsen is not number one, Anand is again Number 1. See FIDE Rating List November 2010.

Nydrre's picture

Actually the World Champion is number one... a rating is just a rating.

c.s.eichab's picture

What I am trying to say is that being number 1 in the World is not a title. The ultimate title in world chess is that of the World Champion.

c.s.eichab's picture

I dont say that such-and-such is the number 1 player in the world. All I was refering is that being no.1 in the world is not a title.

gg's picture

Indeed, Carlsen knows he could never beat Aronian. He lost in blitz tiebreak in 2007 so he would obviously lose also today, he can't have improved much in these years anyway. For some reason Carlsen wanted the matches to be longer than four games, what reason could that be for such an inferior player? :)

meshrath's picture

And it is not as if Aronian has also not improved in the meantime. I like Carlsen a lot, he is an all time great in the making. But right now, I would not bet on him in a match with Anand or Kramnik or even Aronian / Topalov.

wibble_wobble's picture

@everyone who says carlsen is running from aronian and kramnik, are you oblivious to the fact that magnus is (still) going to play for example in wijk aan zee?

meshrath's picture

@wibble_wobble, Yes we are all aware of that fact. But are you aware that we are saying that he is running from playing a MATCH with Kramnik and Aronian, not a TOURNAMENT game. There is a big difference there.

wibble_wobble's picture

Maybe there is a difference, but it does not come close to "running from opponents" like some people here are suggesting.

Associating a reasonably explainable action of one of the best chessplayers in the world right now by saying he is scared, or going mad(like fisher) really shows their true face, that's all i have left to say ;)

ebutaljib's picture

What are your proposals how the cycle should look like? It's so easy to criticise, but how would you run it?

When we are talking about a World Championship cycle we should keep in mind 3 things:

a) EVERYBODY (including patzers like me) should have a chance to qualify for a final event.

b) It should be fair - seeding the reigning Champion straight into the final IS unfair

c) The cycle should be short and uncomplicated with as few events as possible (but long enough to separate best players from the rest)

Here is my proposal how the cycle should look like:

bondegnasker's picture

Could we have an unbiased poll please? I voted in favor of Carlsen's decision, but with this kind of wording there is no way to tell if the majority really agrees with me.

Stanley Peters's picture

Apparently, Magnus has 3 major grievances.

1. The winner of Grand Prix series (6 tournament series) was supposed to play winner of World Cup 2009 in a match to decide the challenger for the 2012 world championship.

This was changed mid-way through the Grand Prix series, at which stage Magnus pulled out of the FIDE Grand Prix series, and the new ruling was that the top 2 finishers in the Grand Prix series would go on to play a separate Candidates tournament comprising of 8 players. Obviously there had to be some criteria to find those 6 other players, one of them being the winner of the World Cup 2009 and 2 others through ratings.

This solved the problem of accomodating players like Kramnik and Topalov else the world championship would lose its meaning anyway.

But it created the problem of being unfair towards people who were focussed on winning the Grand Prix series as a means of qualification. It was also unfair to the winner of the World Cup 2009. Furthermore, 1 out of the 8 players could be chosen arbitrarily depending on the location of the Candidates tournament.

2. For the Candidates matches, Carlsen wanted a set of 6 matches till the semi-finals and a set of 8 matches for the final. The current schedule accomodates 4 match series before the final and a set of 6 matches for the final.

3. Carlsen wanted a gap of 2 months between the semi-finals and the final.

By writing about World Champion privileges and comparing chess to football in his letter to FIDE, Magnus has managed to confuse everyone and the 3 above grievances have been obfuscated.

But these are the 3 complaints, and apparently Magnus had stated these a long while ago.

It is indeed sad that FIDE chose not to discuss these conditions with other players - I am sure most of them would have agreed to 6 match series and 8 match series for the final. They would have also agreed to a reasonable gap between the semi-finals and the finals.

If the problem was about the logistical challenges, FIDE could have discussed them over the board with the players who had qualified for the Candidates and come to a conclusion. At least, both the parties would have had a chance to understand each others problems.

There is absolutely no doubt that FIDE is responsible for this mess.

Having said, Magnus pulling out of the world championship cycle is still not the solution. It seems a touch too drastic a step. At least we know the reasons though. But in due course, history will see this a selfish protest.

Raj's picture

Well said, Stanley Peters!

SDPrasad's picture

If Carlsen really wants the champion priviledges to be abolished, then why cant he become the champion himself and then give up his priviledge! That would be less hypocritic than asking to change a century old tradition just because he has been no1 ranked player for about a year or so?! Certainly he is yet to prove that he is the greatest player like Fischer or Kasparov (even FIDE didnt accede to their unjust / just demands). Hence he should not really expect others to agree to his demand. Now what would happen if FIDE does not agree to Carlsen's proposal?! Carlsen would then either never play Wch and become a second Fischer (though in one of his recent interviews he said he would never become a Fischer or Murphy) or he would eventually play in the current system which would make him a hypocrat. looks like a loss-loss situation to me!

suplexer's picture

carlsen is ot mentally strong enough to be world champion. By this i mean t is obvious that he doesn't want to put in the effort to surpass Anand and Kramnik level. My estimate is it would take abut another 3 years for carlsen to be as good as Anand is when in world championship mode. Carlsen knows this and will be studying he game intensley for the next 5 years to guarantee he becomes a stronger player.

reality check's picture

I knew Carlsen was bad news when i saw him in a photo sandwiched between karpov and kasparov.

Raj's picture

I disagree with Magnus Carlsen comparing a physical team sport of football/soccer with chess. The World Chess Championships are approached differently and require a lot of preparation after analysing the opponent's games and brilliance is an added advantage, unlike playing tournaments against many players with lesser preparation and where brilliance which would be a key factor. Even if you change the World Championship rules, I feel Vishy Anand would change his preparation tactics and come up trumps. Carlsen in his current frame of mind seems to feel he would lose against Vishy Anand or even Kramnik as his level of preparation may not be able to still match theirs. However, Magnus Carlsen is one of the rare prodigies enjoyed by the chess world. Such controversies, though, are necessary for chess administration to improve.

Tops's picture

I think Magnus Carlsen's next demands will be to exclude all above a certain age, those speak Russian, those of Slavic heritage, players from countries who did not back the 2K team. In short anyone who might defeat him. As the saying goes, cowards live to fight another day.

Kiev1's picture

Carlsen is afraid to play in match play conditions. Ideally he would prefer to win through an internet poll @ chess vibes.

Bala's picture

I think players should just play, always. Rules and procedures are not always fair. You can fight them, criticize them and constructively engage the organizing authorities and influence changes to the rules.

But when a highly ranked player decides not to play, it is just childish and ruins the spirit of the sport. I think Carlson who is a good friend of Anand should learn from him. Anand played all kinds of tournaments in all kinds of conditions (some of them adverse) and became a true world champion in multiple formats.

If you are player, then just play! Otherwise be a spoiled child.

Bobbo's picture

I support Magnus!

Nydrre's picture

Actually the World Champion is number one... a rating is just a rating. Magnus is afraid to play in a match situation where more experienced players will have an advantage. He does alright in tournaments where he earned his rating and he can draw against the toughest players, but when push comes to shove he backs down.

The World Championship is a title that is earned through match play, that's how most previous world champions have earned it. Making the winner of a "World Championship tournament" the World Champion would make the title meaningless compared to all the other supertournaments it is surrounded by. The ultimate goal of every top chess player, as proof of absolute domination as the best chess player in the world, should be to work towards becoming world champion. Everything else is rather meaningless to that ultimate goal. The world champion goes into the match with the advantage... it's the challengers job to prove he is better than the world champion in order to take his title. The Candidates should represent the best players in the world besides the World Champion, however that may be determined, but they also should face each other in a series of matches to determine the challenger to the world title.

Magnus is effectively trying to degrade the importance of the World Championship title, and remove the difficulty required to earn that title. He thinks that his position as the top rated player makes him as good or better than the world champion, but he is wrong. Maybe it's time for him to put chess aside and go to college, at least until the next World Championship.

bhabatosh's picture

what a joke !! 100 years of tradition should be changed just because one lunatic chess genius thinks WC rules are unfair. As if he is been WC for decades and frustrated with FIDE etc etc .... Everyone have their own argument against FIDE but none is just backing out .... I think Topalov did it some time back and figured out he is not gaining out of it so decided to stick with candidates matches in Russia or where ever......... Amazingly Carlsen thinks he is above all rule and things must be changed .............and starts comparing Soccer WC with Chess ......well there are many differences he forgot .... 22 player runs in a field for 90 mins but in chess 2 idiot sits next to each other and play sometime for hours or may be 5-10 mins !!! I dont know how I can compare all these ........... he should play and not worry about rules like his trainer ........... I really expected him to be against Kramnik in candidates but unfortunately we will all miss it badly ...........
very very disappointing ........... for all neutral spectator like me I was hoping to see Kramnik-Carlsen or may be Kramnik-Topalov candidates final ........but half of the excitement is gone already ........... can never support this guy again......... a sportsperson should be focussed on his game not politics ........

Bobbo's picture

Why do you use some many......when you write?

bhabatosh's picture

dont know .............
just a habit may be............. :-)

jazzkoo's picture

if Aronian keeps up his hot streak much longer he may well become world number one thereby making Carlsen's decision look a bit less important....

Wolfgang Remmel's picture

I believe, that whatever the format is for deciding who the challanger is, one should definitely stick to the tradition of deciding the new (old) world champion in a head to head match between champion and challenger.
I have the vague suspicion that Carlsen thinks he is better in tournament play than match play.
Even the pre World War 2 format when the champion picked the challenger, however unjust this was at times, is better than deciding the chess world champion in a tournament.

PircAlert's picture

Importance to #1 rating - A new political invention??

I'm sure everyone would agree rating can at the most be taken as an indicator of one's performance but surely cannot be taken as an indicator of one's strength.

To differentiate performace and strength, I would say strength is like your potential that has more chances to be revealed in a match like situation where two players are given the best opportunity to prove their potential. You could expect both the players to be at their best and the match outcome is an indicator of their relative strength.

Whereas performance largely depends on how you and all your opponents played in unidealistic situations like in tournaments where you cannot expect all players involved to be fully motivated and/or fully prepared against the rest of the field to show their full potential. An arbitrary performance of an individual player could skew the relative strength of the players participated in that tournament, among many other such factors. For instance, say xyz partcipates in a close tournament involving World Champion focuses his preparation more on the WC and failed to focus on others as much, then the performance rating would give a wrong indication of the relative strengths of the players participated.

However, to arrange matches for all players to mimic a close to ideal situation to measure a player's strength in a timely fashion is not even remotely possible. So as a approximation we use one's rating as one's strength. I have no problem with that.

But when it comes to the top seeding/rating and the best player in the world, we cannot just use the approximation to decide who is the best. Not only the rating is not measured from ideal conditions but also it is subjected to foul play possibilities. Say X wants to promote Y and Y is a player of integrity and not into foul plays. But it is always possible for X to go as a betting person and fix individual games without Y's knowledge. For reasons like this, we like huge dollars spent on to arrange world champion cycle to give everyone a fair chance culminating in a world chamionpionship match to decide the best and the strongest player in the world.

As explained when rating is an approximate indicator of one's strength, why would all of a sudden some people want to attach importance to rating and project #1 rated as the best player in the world? Is this a political attempt to create an outside dispute to the world champion title otherwise undisputed using rating? Especially when you see Anand has cemented his place as the best by virtue of winning and defending the undisputed title and the chances are remote to displace him? Can #1 rating make a dent on a World Champion title? Absolutely not!

So, make no mistake. In chess, an undisputed World Champion is the World's Numero Uno, the Best and the Strongest chess player!

Castro's picture

If Fischer could use ratings as Carlsen and lots of other show biz stars, he'd be not only world champion, but Plenipotent President of the World. Even being dead! :-)

(Note that I also think Carlsen is one of the biggest names in chess, today, and that he is extremely necessary. But not "fighting for #1 Elo", of course.)

Patrick's picture

Fail For Magnus.

All Championship cycles since Kasparov has been crap. Magnus recommends doing the matchless cycle? A one-tournament result is just too random. Besides matches being a long tradition in championship cycles, what better way to determine the stronger of two players than to duel in a match?

FIDE used to have interzonal tournaments for qualifying and then matches afterwards to determine the challenger. I think having both a tournament component and a match component is good. The players of this Candidates matches were selected from a variety of things such as tournament results, ratings, and previous challengers, and I think it's a good start. Surely it will change and hopefully be improved, and I agree with all those that want more than 4 games per match. I don't know how much input was given from players, but they should get a lot for future cycles.

Yet with all, it was wrong for Magnus to simply withdraw from the Candidates matches. His opinion carries weight, and he didn't have to do that to express it. It's a loss for the Chess world. What happens next time if Magnus is not completely satisfied with a new format - will he withdraw again? Champions must overcome obstacles, and they do not avoid matches.

Castro's picture

Naive question:

Has anyone already asked Magnus what if Karpov has won FIDE? Would he also retire from WC cycle?

(Naive observation: Karpov is pro-candidates/matches format. That's a positive thing :-) )

Can we have real chess (and no bad smell), PLEASE?

Dave's picture

An important distinction between chess and football is the latter is a team game. The players in a team can change, so it makes no sense to have a system where the existing champions plays challengers. Chess is more akin to boxing, where traditionally a champion has to be beaten for his title to be taken from him.

Very disappointed to hear that we will not have the world championship match we were all looking forward to in 2012. Don't understand at all why MC has refused to play.

han's picture

Carlsen played the right move, just play on and win tournaments, he is the strongest chess player and has the most potential. When, not if, his rating reaches 2850... 2875... 2900 many of you will feel silly and should wish to stfu although I kinda doubt you will.

Brian Wall's picture

The Chess world should have to fight for the right to play Magnus, not the other way around.

Castro's picture


Yes, let's put Anand working to that goal!

Dilip's picture

The MC decision has made me stupefied. A chess fan wants to see some superb games, maybe this is the way best ..... the chess world to fight for the right to play Carlsen

Bobby Fiske's picture

Wow. The poll takes a major standing, almost 2/3 supporting Magnus Carlsen with 1117 out of 1813 votes.

I read that some think the poll is rigged, because of the numerous Carlsen critical posters. Yes, perhaps it’s all manipulated by the Secret Service!

On second thought, it strikes me that it’s less work for one maniac to voice his critic through several handles, than it is to manipulate your IP address in the poll… LOL

moncler's picture

A WC process without the world’s top-rated player would lose legitimacy. So major revisions might ensue to bring him back into the FIDE process. Still, he needs to be careful with the Kasparovian power plays: remember it was only because Gazza took the title outside FIDE that Kramnik was able to duck a rematch indefiinitely.

EvanLoon's picture

If Magnus wants to be a REAL hero:

- he should go through this cycle
- beat the tier-2's
- beat Anand
- and ONLY THEN write the he just wrote.

EvanLoon's picture

+/+ letter

voyager's picture

Just to help see thorugh the smoke screen - Mr Carlsen doesn't want to play 14 games in the candidates to reach the final. He just wants to play 12 odd games with those same players in a tournament and become the World Champion directly!

Two odd extra games made such a big difference? When he can supposedly beat everyone in his sleep?

Gimme a break, he is not being fair here. There is hardwork and sacrifice enroute to glory and hopefully he'll learn this with age.

reality check's picture

Why is It that Carlsen rated World #2 since FIDE published its last rating list Nov, 1st 2010 is still referred to as number one? This is very annoying.

Had he gone un-defeated in his run-up to the top I would've been willing to stomach some of the hype but he didn't. In fact, he got cockey at the Olympiad and was promptly body-slammed by a couple lower rated lesser known chess players.
Why shd the chess world have to "fight for the right to play this --deleted--. @Brian Wall or like minded individual suffering from "selective amnesia".

gabs's picture

He wants to transform the championship into another tournament. He wants to change the rules in his favor.

He doesn´t deserve the simpaty of the real chess fans.

D.M.Modak's picture

Does Carlsen (HEEDING HIS GURU KASPAROV ???) miss the life-time opportunity of being the youngest ever Champion of the World?
The least is Kasparov should persuade Carlsen to go for the Title but I wonder if he will do it?(Baapse beta sawai!)
30th November 2010 1555 hrs.

Remco G's picture

Kasparov trained Carlsen for a few months last year, then they stopped cooperating. You don't need to keep mentioning him...

chuck's picture

Carlsen scared to death of Anand.......

pok pok pokkk pok pok pokkkkkkk cluck cluck cluckkkkk

chuck's picture

Nothing but horse manure. He has to go through the same process as other world champions. Then if he wins, he can then lobby to change the format. I would support him then not if the format was changed to fit his taste. Hogwash.

Bob's picture

Very bad idea. He just a plain chicken, afraid to fight. O well, stick with "number one ranking", pretend "you are the best"..but you are not. Chess World Champion is not like football and any other sport, it's very special, involving ALL aspects of true competition.


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