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.


Daaim Shabazz's picture

What is more important, being WCh or #1? At this time, Carlsen is neither.

TMM's picture

Virtually he is already #1 again, see

say_m's picture

Live rating is not official, and cannot be considered when stating ratings at tournaments. Carlsen is now world no. 2.

harami's picture

I tell you, back in the 90's it used to be privilege for young players lie Gelfand, Ivanchuk, Anand and Short to get a chance to play in the Candidates, let alone dream of facing the World Champion in match. The kids of today, MY..OH MY ..what arrogance they seem to have, declining to play the World Championship even before starting the Candidates is just disgusting to say the least. Has all the hype and fashion got into his head? Not appreciated at all Magnus ...

blueofnoon's picture

1. In his letter, Carlsen only criticized the current system, and he did not attack any individual. No one should be offended by his statement.

2. As an independent man, Carlsen, like anybody else, is entitled to choose which tournament he will play and which he will not.

All I can say is this is just his personal issue, and we should leave the matter as such.

I don't understad those who are saying Magnus should do this and should not do that.

Or, is this new kind of fanboy-ism turning to rage against their hero?

Tarjei's picture

Right at the spot, blueofnoon

EvanLoon's picture

Nothing of the sort! Being the number one in chess, he should be aware of his responsability towards the game, his colleagues and the fans.

ops's picture

Fischer played the matche because someone gave him more money:) too.

Philipp's picture

I like Magnus' decision!
He says: I don't want to part of a long, dirty cycle with changes of rules, I want to be the winner of a fair competition.
He is a sportsman, and I can feel his relieve gained by withdrawing.
I hope that FIDE will provide a structered cycle in future, and put some more effort in. Currently they proceed day by day, year by year, and try to get some worldchampionship matches going. It is clear: this is not sufficient.
It is not pleasent to give up the WC title, but what if you not agree on way you are supposed contending for it? The Nr1 spot is worth aiming for. Meanwhile.

ebutaljib's picture

Having said that he wants a fair cycle, he really had no other choice but to withdraw.

Remember that he has already withdrawn from this cycle in 2008 when he left Grand Prix. It was after this that FIDE cooked up all this Candidates business to bring players like Carlsen, Kramnik, Topalov,... BACK into the cycle.

All of the above mentioned players had their chance to take part (first in the Grand Prix, then in World Cup), but all of them refused and willingly eliminated themselves from the World Championship. So FIDE brought them all back by creating Candidates matches, which is very unfair to all the players who did take part in Grand Prix and World Cup.

So if they want a FAIR cycle, then they don't really have any other choice but to withdraw like Carlsen did. If you want fairness, then revert back to what it should have happen in this cycle: Aronian vs. Gelfand challenger match, and the winner facing Anand.

After that all should be locked into a room to decide how future cycles will look like. They can nopt leave the room until they come out with a cycle that would be acceptable to everybody. and then this should be written into a stone.

This is how it should be done.

Bobby Fiske's picture

A very brave decision by young Carlsen.

BTW: The Candidates mini-matches is very short, only 4 and 6 games. If not beating Aronian and Kramnik, at least he could played to a draw and won the tiebreaks, based on his superior rapid and blitz skills.

-In other words: Magnus is really sacrificeing a serious shot for the WC title here.

Peter's picture

Wow, I'm just surprised by this news. Magnus Carlsen is certainly his own man.

I'm disappointed with his decision. We finally got an undisputed World Champion in Anand. He not only won the tournament, but he defeated both the Classical World Champion and the FIDE World Champion in separate challenger matches, which should have removed all doubt of his title. And just when there was a semblance of a coherent world championship cycle, Carlsen makes this decision. Of course the cycle isn't perfect by any means (4 game matches are too short) and needs to be improved upon, but it's a start and will most likely be modified for future cycles. Carlsen's protest by refusing to participate seems a bit selfish to me.

I was very much looking forward to a Kramnik-Carlsen match. If I was forced to pick a favorite, I would probably pick Kramnik by the slimmest of margin. Now that Carlsen has chosen not to participate, it will be years before he gets into the cycles and try to become World Champion. Who knows if Anand, and maybe even Kramnik will be near the top of their game or even be active anymore! A pity.

Guillaume's picture

I couldn't agree more. It might be good for Carlsen, but it's very likely to be bad for chess. It's so disappointing.

john's picture

Carlsen's rating becomes a lot more important to the same week he loses the top spot! lol

Olav's picture

He is still on top. The live rating is the ONLY rating that matters. The other, "official" is too arbitrary to be taken seriously. End of discussion. :)

Tom's picture

What I think we really need now is Topalov, Aronian, Kramink & Anand to also withdraw, and some very rich person to set up a New World Championship for them to slog it out in.

victor pastrana's picture

you can see the hand of kasparov in the determination the kid took!

Zeblakov's picture

Agree, a kid can not take such decision alone where the aim is to question a whole WCC format. Fisher asked +2 score for the WC, and it seems that Carselen is asking -2.

Brecht's picture

I think Carlsen is dropping out of the Word Championship cycle in order to be able to do more catwalks , together with Naomi Campbell and Heidi Clum

Brecht's picture

Be honest...what would you prefer, chess or half naked top models...?????

blueofnoon's picture

Expressing your disappointment is one thing, but bashing Carlsen for being "coward", "selfish", or "puppet of Kasparov" is totally different.

Those who maintain the latter are probably from countries where you don't have a right to make your own decision. I can only feel sorry for them.

Yetispotter's picture

Boycot FIDE!

Brecht's picture

Maybe time for NEW FIDE elections...LOL :)

Joe's picture

The comparison with soccer and the World Cup is ludicrous. Isn't it the culture of chess that in order to be World Champion, you have to defeat the regining Champion? I actually felt that the new cycle by FIDE was in the right direction, and everyone was excited about it. You can argue that it is a personal decision by Magnus and that he is missing out, but the real casualty is the chess fan. Shame on him.

ebutaljib's picture

Who defeated Alekhine? Who defeated Fischer?

meshrath's picture

The previous world champion died in office, so a tournament was played to pick the successor and Alekhine won. Anand is very much alive and kicking. Fischer refused to defend his title. Anand is very much willing to defend his.

ebutaljib's picture

But this is then not "to become a champion you must defeat the champion". You can become champion in a different way too :)

By the way, who judges if a champion is really willing to "defend" the title and whether there is a "proper" title defence or not? Kasparov refused to defend the title against Shirov and rather played with Kramnik (who got defeated by Shirov in a challenger match!) So my question is: Was Kasparov willing to defend his title properly or not? If not, then he was not the "real" champion after this, and subsequently neither was Kramnik.

mdamien's picture

The principal of defeating the sitting champion is that you can't say you are better than he is until you beat him in a match. That principal is intact when the sitting champion dies, since the title of world champion is contested only by living players. In the case of Fischer, he officially resigned the title saying he wouldn't play; had he instead offered Karpov a shot outside of FIDE's auspices, we would have had a situation much like Kasparov's in 1990, where FIDE would no longer control the world championship.

Your question of who judges is a good one. Is the champion himself the sole judge? Can someone still claim to be the champion after 20 years of hiding? Is the controlling organization the judge, no matter how corrupt, simply because it jumped at its chance to organize a tournament when Alekhine died? Is the fan base the judge, when it disagrees with itself? Is judgement solely based on the contracts signed when negotiating the match? These are not new questions, and they do not have easy answers. The London Rules of 1922 ( were an attempt by leading players to provide regulations for World Championship matches.

ultima's picture

If the Champion himself isnt able to qualify to the final on equal terms as his opponents, I would regard him as defeated. Why should the reigning Champion have such privileges? This is not competing on equal terms..

Joe's picture

Say what you want, the only champions in the public eye after Kasparov is Kramnik and Anand, precisely because they toppled the regining champ. If he chooses to ignore this and wins the World Championship by not even playing the regining champion, then he would just be a "minor champion" in chess history. Just like Ponomariov and Kasimdzhanov.

ultima's picture

I beg to differ. A cycle that bring the 2 best players at the time to the tabel for the final, would the fair, way to do it, and give the most interesting final. As it is now, you could have a champion thats been drunk the last three years and still be qualified for the final.

Bjorn's picture

Who or what is "Cro-Magnon"? i guess i missed something here.

Peter Doggers's picture

Ancient people who, for instance, didn't know how to google. ;-)

Bjorn's picture

aaa funny thought i missed a new political movement or so. historical knowledge updated :)

Holland Chess's picture

It is crucial for every sport to have rules and regulations that are established democratically and have good and broad support.

In this way the sport will invite to excell and will florish by default, as the contestors feel comfortable and at home.

It has become clear that one of the strongest chess players we have to date, feels uncomfortable with the present rules and regulations for the worldchampionship cycle.

Apart from Magnus several other (very) important people in the chess world have expressed their concerns and discomfort as well in the past.

Would it not be an excellent opportunity to think through the cycle again, giving room to thinking through the various suggestions form the past and present?

My kind suggestion to the FIDE would be to organise a seminar on this. The participants should be, amongst others: the top-30 ranked top-grandmasters including the present World Champion, the former world champions as well as vice world-champions, and the representatives of the chess federations that are a member of FIDE.

Excellent opportunity for the FIDE to write histroy here, adn solve the worldchampionship cycle issues once and for all.

ebutaljib's picture

Thats 35 players vs. 150 politicians. It's a no contest. What difference would that make???

ebutaljib's picture

Or in

Brecht's picture

or perhaps...Carlsen is going into Politics now?

voyteck's picture

Who will care about another tournament? Chess is chess, must be based on tradition, prestige, feel of uniqueness. I don't understand how one can compare it to football... Football has a different tradition and, more importantly, most players behave in a way that insults what's left of it, not to mention numerous fans, they don't need tradition, really, they need it to be loud, that's it. Moreover, in football, there is one such tournament every four years, in chess, on the contrary, it would be just another one, maybe a little more interesting because of the field. Only a little, and maybe, I would expect some boycotters...

info's picture

history of candidates matches and tournaments:

matches are more interesting

chessklok's picture

team events are different as players change across 4 years. so ridiculous example given by magnus. individual event where a title of world champion exists all have the same format where current champion must be dethroned.

Momomomo's picture

Nonsense: Individual sports where you have to compete from the start to finish.
1. Cycling (all kinds actually)
2. Skiing (all kinds actually)
3. Running
4. Shooting
5. Fencing
6. Any other sports except boxing.

Happy now?

Coco Loco's picture

But they're not played one-on-one.
Tennis is, but then you have different surfaces, etc. Although... I would personally love to see a 12-match Federer-Nadal world championship :)

The parallel with boxing, though derided by some, is not so superficial. The idea is "this person (heavyweight boxing champ / chess champ) is able to beat anyone else on the planet in a one-on-one match". This sort of supremacy really existed in the past, in both chess and boxing. It seems to be dissapearing now, so, who knows, maybe we could do away with the matches or with the title altogether. I bet Nadal isn't complaining that he's not "the world champion". On the other hand, having the grand slams and countless other tournaments to prove yourself and make tons of money at helps a little.

It seems to me that chess is transitioning to this "Grand Slam" approach (Danailov is the devil, but the devil is not dumb), but there are so many kinks to work on, like a real qualification system - think tennis (say, Wimbledon) again, a few wild cards, but so many players get a chance to get into the tournaments. Of course, all the kinks could be solved in one $weep...

john's picture

Kramnik regaining the title just become a LOT more probable imo!

Daaim Shabazz's picture

After decades of instability and at the end of unifying the crown, Carlsen comes along and throws doubt into the cycle once again. Think about the damage to chess. If he has a bad tournament in London, his decision may look a bit presumptuous. The pressure will be even greater now since he now will have detractors. Very few every get a chance to compete for the World Championship. Who knows what tomorrow brings?

Philipp's picture

damage to chess?!?!
this is a sort of an abstract thing that comes its way very unconcretely. What was hit? How many where injured? Where is the nurse?
Secondly, I believe the public will distinguish between a federation and chess in itself. There is a lot credit for the best players, and thats because they're good in what they're doing.

gg's picture

"Carlsen comes along and throws doubt into the cycle once again"

Yeah, Kirsan would never do such a thing, Carlsen is the bad guy!

Poker's picture

Carlsen is scared....over the time Aronian will become too strong for him...this is the time kid...

Yasif's picture

Carlsen is chickening out,plain and simple.

mdamien's picture

What a pity. Magnus, you are a victim of FIDE's machinations, if you think tournament titles and rankings have any meaning compared to the traditional title and Kramnik's previous claim to it. No champion since Kasparov? There have only been two champions since Kasparov: Kramnik and Anand. That's the longstanding and steadfast tradition of chess, that the sitting champion must be dethroned in a match. FIDE for all its efforts could not circumvent that; hopefully, you will accept that you cannot circumvent it either, or for all your talent you will just be a footnote in chess history.


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