The reunification of the professional chess world has quite literally gone down the toilet. Background: In 1993 Garry Kasparov and Nigel Short broke away from FIDE, the professional chess player’s association, to form another association. In 1999, FIDE started a new format for the world championship that nobody took seriously. In 2000, Kasparov, as the guy everyone recognized as champion, lost a championship match to Vladimir Kramnik in London and everyone recognized Kramnik as the new world champion. FIDE never agreed, and last year they held a tournament to decide a new champion, with a better format than the knockout they were using since 1999 to determine the FIDE champion. Veselin Topalov won convincingly and now the status of world champion is up in the air. So now the head of FIDE (Kirsan Ilyumzhinov or whatever the spelling is) has managed to arrange a reunification match between Kramnik and Topalov, which is underway and, in principle, is still ongoing. It is probably the only thing Kirsan has gotten right running the chess world since 1994, and it comes years too late. There is a popular perception that Kirsan and his cronies are irreparably corrupt, incompetent, and have not done anything to improve the profile of the game worldwide, even now as it is more popular than ever, have not been able (probably because of their corruption and incompetence) to secure long term corporate sponsorship for chess, and in fact have done enormous harm to the game by trivializing the nature of the championship and taking various steps to try to get chess in the Olympics and on TV that end up doing more harm than good.
Got that? Good. So now that we finally have a reunification match underway. Topalov, as the guy everyone thought would likely win because Kramnik has not been playing well for a couple of years, loses the first two games because he made a bunch is mistakes in winning positions. Topalov’s manager complains that Kramnik has somehow been cheating because he has apparently used the bathroom upwards of fifty times in one game. Coincidentally, the bathrooms are the only area of the playing hall without any kind of surveillance, though they are apparently swept by local officials before each game. Each player, by the way, has their own restroom and bathroom. So Topalov’s team somehow got access to the surveillance tapes, which Kramnik’s team doesn’t like, and found out that he went in and out of the bathroom between his moves dozens of times. They filed a formal complaint, they never explicitly accused him of cheating, they just left that impression, trying to argue that it was necessary to ensure full confidence in the integrity of the event, and would FIDE pretty please with sugar on top put a stop to this. Kramnik’s team says that he likes to walk and the restroom is too small so he uses the bathroom to walk as well (and he might be having the odd cigarette as well, according to speculation). This morning FIDE decides that both players can use the same bathroom and their original bathrooms will now be locked. Kramnik is not happy about that because he thinks that the conditions now imposed by FIDE are different from what he agreed to. So now he pouts in his restroom for two hours without showing up to game 5 and forfeits. Topalov is photographed smiling as he signs his scoresheet. Kramnik decides this game should not count and tells everyone he looks forward to playing game 5 (the one he just forfeited) tomorrow.
Still following? Good. The idea that a bunch of grown men cannot resolve their differences over how often to go to the loo is – well, as silly as grown men being unable to resolve their differences over how often to go to the loo. Now, there’s been a long history of mind games being played during pretty much all the world championship matchups, and to some extent it makes for great entertainment. But this is just one of the lowest points that the professional chess world has ever hit, and there have been plenty in the past twenty years or so. What Kramnik may sound silly but was probably understandable if he believes that the original contract has been violated. The cheating suggestion are pure rubbish, of course, since Topalov himself made the mistakes that cost him the first two games, and in any case this is only a psychological ploy. The problem is that if Kramnik now forfeits, nobody is going to take Topalov seriously as champion considering he was losing the match and considering that there is a widespread perception that Toppy’s team is willing to use any kind of sleazy tactic to win, even if not by winning any actual game. It seems like everything FIDE does eventually turns into a farce.
Reading over this post, it’s even more of a sick joke than I thought at first.
Neverending coverage of this at chessbase.