24 May 2017

2017 Grand Prix, Moscow

I added the second event of the 2017 FIDE Grand Prix, which took place in Moscow, to my page on the World Chess Championship : 2017 Grand Prix. The first event was documented in my post 2017 Grand Prix, Sharjah (March 2017). As for future Grand Prix events, the last two are scheduled for:-
  • Geneva, Switzerland; 5-Jul-2017
  • Palma De Mallorca, Spain; 15-Nov-2017

In between those, we'll have:-

  • World Cup 2017; Tbilisi, Georgia; 2-Sep-2017

Two players from the 2017 Grand Prix and two players from the 2017 World Cup will qualify for the 2018 Candidates tournament, which is not yet scheduled. In another post from a few months ago, Chess in the 21st Century, I mentioned it was 'clear that FIDE has gone badly astray'. Nothing has happened to change my opinion since then.

17 May 2017

Elo and Edmondson

My previous post on Folke Rogard, FIDE's Consummate Diplomat, ended,
As for Cramer, the most comprehensive biography I could find is now in Archive.org: The Chessmill -> Fred Cramer by Roman Levit.

For convenience, here's the link again: Fred Cramer by Roman Levit. I found a couple of paragraphs particularly noteworthy.

Fred worked closely with [Arpad] Elo. He edited Elo's book, The Rating of Chessplayers Past and Present. He was a delegate to FIDE, and kept after FIDE to adopt Elo's rating system. Then, after its adoption, Fred continued to fight, this time battles with his own federation, who wanted to tinker with Elo's system as a promotional tool to make more money for the USCF. That led to some legendary battles between Cramer and Elo on the one side and USCF Director Ed Edmondson and Bill Goichburg [Goichberg] on the other.

The hostility grew between Edmondson and Cramer to the point where Edmondson had Fred replaced as FIDE delegate with Pearle Mann. (Fred always blamed Edmondson for the difficulties in negotiating the 1975 Fischer - Karpov match, claiming that just when things would be settling down Edmondson would stir up the Russians with insults or other violations of protocol. Fred always believed Edmondson resented being fired by Fischer during the Reykjavik negotiations, and so after that he tried to sabotage Fischer at every turn.)

Another page (undated) on the same site (now defunct), The Chessmill -> Interview With Arpad Elo, expands on both topics. The introduction to the interview starts,

We continue with our plundering of Wisconsin chess history by reaching back into the longest-published of all the local chess periodicals, Badger Chess, for this interview with Arpad Elo, conducted by Dave Brimble. Arpad Elo has influenced the history of the chess world with his scientific approach to the rating of chess players. In name recognition among chess aficionados, he ranks up there with the world champions.

The observation about name recognition is not exaggerated, although some chess players think 'ELO' is an acronym for something. The tie-in with the Cramer topics is later in the interview.

I was continually attacked by Goichburg [Goichberg] for example, for imagined and supposed usurpation of authority about the rating system. He eventually even got Edmundson [Edmondson] on his side and they tried to get me out of FIDE. They made quite an effort to get rid of me but I finally prevailed, I think because the people in FIDE that I worked with realized the integrity of the system and what I was trying to hold up was the integrity of the system. Whereas Edmundson and Goichburg [ditto] looked on it as a means to finagle and promote, inflating the egos of American chess players, that they are better than they really are. They wanted to use the rating system for political purposes, trying to influence the way the rating system worked. Then they would examine under the microscope all the numerical mistakes I would make and make an issue out of them. That was in the late 70's.

Fred Cramer had a run in with Edmundson in 1972 during the Fischer era. His gripe was about how Edmundson tried to manipulate Fischer. I still believe that Edmundson's shenanigans were a contributing factor to the failure of the Fischer - Karpov match in 1975. I think he deliberately insulted the Russians. Averbakh, the Russian master who was part of the negotiating team, who was also a member of the qualifications committee with me and who I became good friends with said that every time it seemed as if they were making progress about the conditions, Edmundson would throw about insults and such, and violate protocol. The Russians are very serious people and want to stick to the rules and when they get insulted repeatedly it really turns them off.

BC [Badger Chess]: So why would Edmundson try to sabotage the match?

Elo: Because he was fired by Fischer as his second back in '72. Edmundson was then the executive director of USCF and used his influence adversely. Fischer made certain conditions of course and the conditions were a matter of debate. Fischer insisted on the condition that in the event of an equal score at a certain point that the title would be retained by the champion and draws would not count and things like that. Eventually those conditions were slightly modified and adopted when Karpov became champion. So Karpov got everything Fischer asked for with minor changes. Of course I don't know if Fischer would have played in any case. I have a feeling that he would have found some other impossible condition. I agree with those who say that Fischer probably could psychologically not afford to risk losing the championship over the board.

Since the Elo interview might well be the source of the Cramer paragraphs, I would like to see these accusations against Edmondson confirmed elsewhere. Whatever I find, I'll report here. Fischer's default of the 1975 match signalled the end of the Fischer boom in American chess.

10 May 2017

FIDE's Consummate Diplomat

The last two posts -- An Organization of Amateurs and Notes on C06 and C07 -- have featured Bent Larsen giving his opinion on Candidate matches of the 1960s. In 'Organization of Amateurs', he was particularly critical of FIDE's Folke Rogard.
Q: To what do you attribute your loss to Spassky? A: The main reason would be the way FIDE President Rogard organized this match. He did this in a way which I can only describe as scandalous. Both players and the organizations were very dissatisfied. He did not even do it through the Swedish Chess Federation or the local chess club -- it was just a private arrangement.

Sour grapes? (Larsen lost the match.) Scandinavian rivalry? (A Dane and a Swede.) Something else? In the interest of fairness, let's move forward a few years to Chess Life, February 1971 (p.64), and examine a long excerpt from 'Folke Rogard of FIDE : The World Chess Federation Comes of Age' by Fred Cramer, 'Vice-President of FIDE, Zone 5'.

[Rogard] was a very promising young player, finishing ahead of Spielmann, but behind Rubinstein, Reti and Bogolyubov (with whom he drew) in a 50-player event at Stockholm in 1920, though aided by a pairing novelty (the IGM's played four games simultaneously!)

But he was an even more promising lawyer, beginning practice in London in 1922, setting up for himself in Stockholm in 1925, and building a prosperous organization with major clients, seven attorneys, and numerous clerks and chauffeurs, which still continues, but smaller now. (No one can ever know how much clerical time, materials, rent, cables, postage, translating expense, and the like this firm gave FIDE at no cost. FIDE's administrative operations far exceed those of USCF, though its budget is about one-tenth!)

Twenty-five years of European legal activity developed his personal magnetism and assurance, gave him a corporation lawyer's bedrock logic and a judge's compassion and fairness, sharpened his command of five major languages, and left him a consummate diplomat. He, if anybody, was adequately equipped for the terrible task of picking up the wracked remains of FIDE in those desperate days of the late forties. He was FIDE Vice-President for the northern zone when Dr. Alexander Rueb of Holland, FIDE's first president, who "for a quarter of a century fulfilled this important office with great skill and diplomacy," (Foldeak), asked him to take the helm, pleading that at 66 he did not feel up to the terrific post-war problems of FIDE. Rogard became the second president of FIDE in 1949, serving through 1970, when he became Honorary President. (Dr. Max Euwe is now President.)

Terrific indeed those problems were. Limping back from the war, FIDE mustered only seven members at its 1946 Congress. It took four years more to restore the Olympiad which, with cutting irony, drew 16 teams (Dubrovnik 1950), just what it drew when it began (London 1927). These were surface symptoms. The real malady lay in the cold war, which permeated every nerve and sinew of FIDE -- political enmity preoccupied most members; chess problems were approached on a political basis; deadlock followed deadlock; confrontation followed confrontation. Many people told Rogard that cold war problems made FIDE'S existence impossible, but others -- with whom he agreed -- advised that world discord presented a great opportunity, one FIDE could use advantageously.

Resolution of the underlying malady is Rogard's monument. FIDE needed a Churchill, and got one. He spoke softly, and he talked tough; he recessed meetings, juggled agendas, ordered cooling-off periods, mediated, bargained, reconciled, pleaded. For much of this the setting was that very lobby-spot where I now sat.

Political problems remained his first concern for three or four years, but a slight easing of the cold war and his resoluteness of purpose began to pay off. The FIDE delegates moved toward our position of today: that chess problems are for us and political problems are for other functionaries, that political coloration of chess matters serves neither chess nor politics, and that while political objectives differ, chess objectives essentially don't, though it takes a lot of time to agree on what they are and how to approach them, within the framework of political conflicts.

As political objectives grudgingly yielded the stage to chess objectives, FIDE began to move. Not that politics has disappeared -- only last year Russia insisted that Israel was an "unsafe" place for student teams -- nor that there have been no other problems. The world championship, after Alekhine's death, is a whole story in itself. Or take that July day in 1954, six weeks before the start of the Olympiad, when the organizers called the whole thing off. (It was held anyway, in another country!)

Perhaps FIDE 1949 was stronger than FIDE 1924 -- personally I judge the opposite -- but unquestionably FIDE 1971 is a maturing and vigorous organization, membership (at 72) up tenfold, functions vastly multiplied and expanded into many new fields. Most significantly, thinks the man who presided over this, the authority of FIDE has come to be recognized.

As for Cramer, the most comprehensive biography I could find is now in Archive.org: The Chessmill -> Fred Cramer by Roman Levit.

03 May 2017

Notes on C06, C07, C27, and C28

In my previous post, An Organization of Amateurs, I gave Larsen's point-of-view on the organization of the Spassky - Larsen semifinal match, Malmo, July 1968. After that match Larsen went on to a playoff match against Tal for 3rd place in the Candidates series of that cycle. In March 1969, he beat Tal 5.5-2.5 (+4-1=3) and had this to say in Chess Life, May 1969 (p.180).
The 1968 Candidates Matches ended with a match between Tal and me, played in the little Dutch town of Eersel (near Eindhoven). According to the FIDE rules, it should have been played in September, but FIDE'S attitude seems to be one of happiness that it was played at all. In fact, the official minimum prizes for this event, 500 and 300 Swiss francs, do not encourage the players to play it. In Eersel, the prizes were better, 1500 and 1000 Dutch guilders, but there is the funny point that in the same place, with the same sponsor (a cigar factory), there was played at the same time a match between Grandmaster Kavalek and the Dutch Champion, Ree (Kavalek won 7-3), with higher prizes, 2500 and 1500 guilders. The Dutch Chess Federation thought it would be considered an unkind gesture towards FIDE to propose such high prizes for an official FIDE match!

This little story well illustrates what FIDE is doing to professional chess masters. FIDE expects World Championship candidates to sacrifice a lot of time and energy -- remember, they must not only play these matches, but also prepare only them -- but it would like them to do it as amateurs. A FIDE World Champion should have a millionaire father or government support!

And he should be ready to let FIDE humiliate him again and again. After losing this match, ex-World Champion Tal, if he wants to try again, must start in the semifinals of the Soviet Championship!! While from other zones players reach the Interzonal who have no chances and no ambitions in connection with the World Championship. What a system!

It's worth noting that in a semifinal match of the previous cycle, Tal had won against Larsen 5.5-4.5 (+3-2=5); see 1964-66 Candidates Matches. Larsen went on to a playoff match for 3rd place against Geller. Larsen won 5.0-4.0 (+3-2=4). In two consecutive cycles, emerged as the third best player in the world, although Fischer did not compete in either cycle.


While I'm touching on the subject of zonal qualification, it's also worth noting that FIDE's World Cup 2017 -- the next step in the current World Championship cycle -- starts 2 September, in Tbilisi, Georgia. The zonal qualifications are still underway. In the previous cycle, I used a series of posts to document the zonal step.

I expect to do the same for the current cycle (C28).

26 April 2017

An Organization of Amateurs

Flipping through old chess magazines I often see reports on World Championship events of yesteryear, but rarely are there comments on their organization. The following remarks were about the 1967-69 Candidates Matches, specifically the Spassky - Larsen semifinal match, Malmo, July 1968. Spassky beat Larsen 5.5-2.5 (+4-1=3). The report is from Chess Life, December 1968 (p.435), 'The Larsen Opinion : An Interview with Bent Larsen' by Ben Crane of Ann Arbor, Michigan, during Larsen's exhibition tour of the U.S.
Crane: To what do you attribute your loss to Spassky?

Larsen: The main reason would be the way FIDE President Rogard organized this match. He did this in a way which I can only describe as scandalous. Both players and the organizations were very dissatisfied. He did not even do it through the Swedish Chess Federation or the local chess club -- it was just a private arrangement. I don't understand why he wanted to organize the match under these very bad economic conditions, with very bad organizers, when he could have had the match in another country under very good economic conditions for the players and their federations. The federations had to pay travel expenses and everything.

The first prize in this match was 1000 Swiss francs, or a little more than 200 dollars. Both Spassky and I were very depressed by this. We had a meeting with Rogard the evening before the match started and he made it very clear that he thought the players should not make any money on these FIDE tournaments.

If that is the way he wants it, I think he'll very soon see that the FIDE's championship is considered a kind of amateur world championship, and then other sponsors might very well get the idea to arrange a professional world championship. As I see it, when there is something like a match between Spassky and me, when Rogard has, so to speak, something to sell, he should not sell it as cheaply as possible.

If you consider the fact that the players probably used several months in preparation for the Candidates' tournament (the matches themselves began in April and the last one ended about the end of September), then it looks a little strange that we should have the smallest prizes possible. During that time it may be difficult for the players to make money any other way. Yugoslavia, for instance, was ready to organize the match with prizes that were much better, with all expenses paid for two persons from each side.

Wikipedia's page, Folke Rogard (1899–1973), informs,

Rogard was vice-president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), from 1947 to 1949, then succeeded Alexander Rueb as president, a post he held until succeeded by Max Euwe in 1970. He was also chairman of the Swedish Chess Federation from 1947 to 1964

Nearly 50 years after the match was played, FIDE's cavalier treatment of top chess players hasn't changed much.

19 April 2017

He Didn't Resign

After a two week break, let's look again at Chess in the 21st Century, where I noted FIDE's recent organizational problems, especially in World Championship events. The tensions within FIDE became visible to outsiders in a story I covered on my main blog: Did He Resign? It quoted a Reuters report that started,
The Russian head of world chess's governing body FIDE said on Monday he was the victim of a plot to oust him but denied a report by his own organization that he had resigned.

Over the following weeks FIDE insiders jockeyed for position before a special PB meeting called for 10 April:-

1. Legality of meeting
2. Powers delegated to the FIDE Deputy President by the FIDE Presidential Board
3. Statement of Mr Kirsan Ilyumzhinov regarding revocation of his powers
4. Resignation of Mr Kirsan Ilyumzhinov ('nobody [...] had asked for his resignation')
5. Misleading Statements to the media by Mr Kirsan Ilyumzhinov

Peter Doggers of Chess.com covered the evolving story in a series of informative news items:-

Ilyumzhinov: "Today I was analyzing everything that has happened, and I have decided to run for another term as FIDE president. I want to continue uniting the chess world. I will be working towards my goal to have one billion people playing chess." Continue uniting the chess world? The man is clearly delusional.

29 March 2017

Chess in the 21st Century

Finishing the actions on the 2016-17 Women's World Championship, I added the names of the 64 players from the 2017 FIDE Knockout Matches to the Index of Women Players. Of these players, 17 were competing in a Women's World Championship event for the first time.

The event was troubled from start to finish. Last October, we had the controversy that I documented in two posts: Hijab Hubbub and Hijab Hubris. The final word was announced shortly afterwards in Visit of FIDE President to Tehran, Iran (fide.com; November 2016).

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov arrived in Tehran on October 24. The next day, he spoke live on Central Television in Iran, after which he held talks with the President of the Iran Chess Federation, Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh. [...] The FIDE president spoke with reporters of Tasnim News Agency. In replying to the question of how he relates to the need to wear hijabs by women chess players, Ilyumzhinov said: "There are 188 members in FIDE, each of them has the right to hold chess competitions. All these countries have their own laws and customs, under which the tournaments are held. FIDE adheres to the belief that these laws should be respected."

Of course, all countries have the right to hold chess competitions. That doesn't mean that FIDE is required to hold prestigious, high visibility events in those same countries. By Ilyumzhinov's logic, even the most repressive countries in the world have 'the right to hold [FIDE] chess competitions'. This might fit Ilyumzhinov's personal interest, but it's clearly not in the best interest of chess.

A few weeks ago, rumors started to swirl that the players had not received their prize money. This was confirmed in List of Decisions of the 2017 1st quarter FIDE PB (fide.com; March 2017), where 'PB' means Presidential Board:-

  • 1PB-2017/3. To pay the prize money for the Tehran WWCC from FIDE money.
  • 1PB-2017/4. To give a two-week deadline for the Iranian Chess Federation to send the money they owe to FIDE failing which the services for them will be frozen.

'WWCC' means Women's World Chess Championship. Not only were the players expected to play under a restrictive dress code, they did so for free. At least one of them got to be called Women's World Champion; they others got zilch.

FIDE's current problems aren't exclusive to women's events. At the beginning of the month, when I reported on the 2017 Grand Prix, Sharjah, I ignored controversies surrounding that event. See, for example, Leonard Barden's FIDE Grand Prix struggling in Sharjah as big names stay away (theguardian.com; February 2017), or Colin McGourty's What went wrong in Sharjah? (chess24.com; ditto). 'What went wrong?' started with...

  • Too many short draws
  • The Swiss system with only 18 players
  • Top players missing
  • The prize fund
  • etc. etc.

...and ended with no.11...

  • A dysfunctional website ('failed to meet the most basic of standards')

And I thought I was alone in detesting the Worldchess.com site. Add to all of this another flap emanating from the 1st quarter FIDE PB, Did He Resign?, and it's again clear that FIDE has gone badly astray. In the 'Resign?' post, I asked,

When was the last time a chess story grabbed so many mainstream press headlines without once mentioning the name Magnus Carlsen?

Now I remember. It was the hijab kerfuffle.