18.08.2005 Yasser Seirawan gives his view

What do you think about the cooperation between the ACP and FIDE?

To begin with, a hearty thanks to ACP President Joel Lautier for his leadership as well as that of the whole ACP Board. They are all to be commended on their initiatives. As we know, inertia is the greatest force in the universe with apathy the second strongest force behind gravity on our planet. It is extremely difficult to get chess players organized and inspired enough to take an active role in promoting their sport. Sad but there it is. The emergence of the ACP has given leading players an opportunity to make their voices heard and for that alone the ACP is to be congratulated for having provided a crucial forum. It is a great pity that the leading players have not taken advantage of such an opportunity. I was especially disappointed by the perspective of Garry Kasparov for example. His view was that the ACP came into being to protect Kramnik's title and that ACP's leaders were merely Kramnik's friends. Therefore, he was disinterested in ACP initiatives. In a similar vein Veselin Topalov and Ruslan Ponomariov withdrew from the organization as a single policy didn't reflect their desires. Such views are simply selfish and short-sighted. I take it as a given that any organization will have disagreements over key issues, whether it be a World Championship format, time-control, contractual players agreement and the like. The point is that the ACP exists to protect and defend the rights of the players! Let us agree to disagree! But please give the organization a chance! Be thankful that such an organization exists. Without the ACP, a personal complaint is but a lone voice in a hurricane wind.

What is the prospective of such cooperation?

The answer is that the future will tell. The relationship a year ago was one of imperial disdain. FIDE didn't care one whit about the ACP, its members and views. FIDE leaders dictate for all things in chess. Full stop and end of story. FIDE's approach is, "our assembly has rubber-stamped the regulations that suit our officials best, the players should shut the *#!^% up and play." FIDE has a very long history of dismissing the views of players out of hand. This was rather obvious to everyone when it came to the players undertaking "agreement" regarding Libya. The ACP calls for a more equitable agreement went unanswered. It is only when the ACP grows and establishes itself more clearly as the voice of leading players will FIDE's leaders in turn modify their haughty stance. While I have read the recent meetings between the ACP and FIDE leaders have been cordial and positive it appeared to me that FIDE kept everything it wanted while barely budging on critical issues. These include the WC format itself; uniting the chess world; the "undertaking agreement"; the time control; ratings and even simple recognition of the ACP Tour. In short, FIDE's cooperation with ACP will remain an unequal relationship with the ACP marginalized for as long as possible. In this battle of wills it is quite clear that FIDE believes it has a won position. If outstanding players such as Kasparov, Topalov, Ponomariov, Shirov and others can be so easily divided and cleaved away from the ACP, why should FIDE's leaders pay attention to the ACP at all?

Should the ACP Tour be included into the world championship cycle in some way? What pro and contra arguments should be considered to make a decision?

While I am all for the creation of new and exciting chess events such as the ACP Masters, I do not think this is an ideal solution for the creation and implementation of a proper World Championship format. After all isn't the rating list a "tour" of its own? How would the ACP counter an argument along the following lines: 'Why not take the top eight players on the rating list and invite them to a Masters event at years end? Eligibility would require twenty games. Bonus ratings points would be awarded to those players that play more than twenty games – two bonus points or one for every game above twenty to a maximum of 50 bonus points – and the race is on.' I do apologize for playing the devils advocate on this score but I don't see why the ACP tour isn't vulnerable to such a counter-argument. Actually, the counter argument appears quite powerful to me, we know that many major and minor events are not part of the ACP tour – The M-Tel Masters for instance – because organizers don't know about the Tour, couldn't be bothered to register their event with the ACP or worse of all don't want to be a part of the tour. Hence, the ACP Tour misses a lot of activity that directly impacts its members. Also, with the ACP policy of ignoring the results of none-members the tour isn't representative of events or players. That is a double ouch!

The bad news doesn't end there. If the ACP Masters is to be a qualifier to a match with Kramnik for example, the players in Argentina have agreed not to participate in a competing cycle. In his search for a Challenger, Vladimir Kramnik would have to reach outside of the eight Argentine players. Amusingly enough, Kramnik could easily trump FIDE's cycle by offering a rematch to Kasparov!

Finally, the ACP Tour is no simple task. A lot of people must have spent a good deal of time wracking their brains to quantify particular events, the number of points to be awarded and so on. A big effort for little reward.

As my comments make clear, I do not see the ACP and FIDE as having an equal partnership in the "Classical Chess World Championship Cycles." Furthermore, I do not see why the ACP should want to involve itself in the complete mess that are currently FIDE's regulations by – heaven forbid – actually approving them. As the regulations confuse me and I'm a Grandmaster, the general public has no chance of understanding what is happening. The ACP should limit itself to protecting the interests of its members – the players undertaking – as best it can and should focus its efforts in areas that FIDE hasn't soiled.

Let us be clear the World Championship is not the major issue. Arguably a close second: The real issue is MONEY. The ACP needs money to function properly. It has to brand itself and raise awareness within the chess world and to sponsors. The ACP Tour is certainly one way to do this as it is fairly inexpensive to organizers. However, such activities in my view garner a proverbial drop in the bucket. To be effective and to really impress, the ACP needs to raise serious amounts of money. To begin with the ACP should have an annual budget of at least $250,000 USD which would give it a small staff of full time workers. How to do this? The answers are in fact surprisingly easy! To begin with the ACP needs to create its own branded services and products.

I would start with an ACP rating system that is fully electronic which would embrace the various chess disciplines of blitz, rapid and classical. Such a system would rate players of all strengths. All events would be rated provided that an International Arbiter electronically "sign" the submission of the tournament, guaranteeing the veracity of the event. (Yes, gasp, a FIDE accredited arbiter!) Submissions would all be free. How would the ACP make MONEY from having its own BRANDED rating system? Simple! The ACP Rating system would earn money in two ways: Firstly a company would pay the start-up costs for example, "The ACP-Chess Base World Chess Rating." Secondly, the ACP would create an electronic certificate which a player could download and have printed identifying that player as having achieved a remarkable success. Such downloaded certificates would have a nominal cost. For example one Euro (Ten Ducats the Chess Base currency) from the recipient. The certificates would be attractive in design and would have the recipient running to their local Kinko printer shop. Such a certificate would resemble a kind of a diploma. If we were to consider that such a rating system might appeal to as many as 500,000 persons (annually) all the ACP would need is a small percentage of persons downloading certificates that represent various levels of achievement. For example John Doe may not like to have a rating of 1400 but would be pleased to be recognized as the 241,012 best player in the world according to the ACP, or the fifteenth highest rated player in Bermuda or the outstanding Junior/Senior player in a particular state/province/region/republic or Nation. There are many ways to recognize achievement! Be creative! The certificates would have electronic signatures of the ACP President, various and current World Champions and be a powerful branding credential. The ACP would "reach" into the "base" of chess fans establishing a positive relationship. Such a tournament rating system should be easy to use, it should accept various electronic files from software pairing programs and make it as easy as possible for organizers to have their events rated and online! Such a service is in high demand from players and organizers.

The ACP should create its own "title" system. I'd encourage my colleagues to go to the FIDE website and download its most recent financial statement. You will discover that FIDE makes excellent money from rewarding titles. Which explains why the FIDE Grandmaster title has become so degraded! Similarly, the ACP can create its own title system with its own unique standards. For example, I am impressed by the Bridge World that allows "accumulative points" that aren't lost. An active player might accumulate enough points to become an "honored" or "distinguished" player. (I don't have a complete list of complementary degrees). The game of Go has a unique title system that is completely alien to Chess titles. The ACP should not go out of its way to compete with FIDE's title system but instead concentrate on the base players and brand its titles accordingly.

A completely open area of revenue creation beckons the ACP: Trainer Certification. Holland for example, has a marvelous course that allows players of all strengths to become accredited chess trainers. Wonderful! License the Dutch model and offer online courses where various trainers from all over the world can complete an online test! Put GM Yuri Razuvaev in charge, collect 100 Euros, 250 Euros or 500 Euros for the three degrees of trainer status and give the judges ten/fifteen or twenty percent of the gross (reward their activity!). Yuri and his jury would insure that the trainers are indeed worthy and fashion a truly important certification! The ACP would keep a list of its certified trainers freely available for all to see and download. The ACP would endeavor to put students and schools in touch with certified trainers in their areas. Most ACP members are likely unaware that there are more professional chess teachers than there are professional chess players in the USA. Indeed, many of our GM colleagues are full-time trainers! If 1,000 trainers would take pride in their ACP Certified Trainer degrees per year, the ACP budget would be off to a promising start! And chess trainers of various strengths around the world would use their ACP Trainer Certified title to perform the job they love! A win-win situation!

Another self-evident service is to act as a broker between organizers and players. Players who want to receive invitations for tournaments, clubs, simuls, lectures and the like would register with ACP. Organizers would be able to contact the players directly by sending their offers sent to the ACP. The ACP would have a set of standard rates for players of varied strengths and agreements would be made between players and organizers with the ACP being the guarantor to the contract. The ACP would collect a set percentage for example 5% which would go into an account which would be kept in case one party was aggrieved. Such a clearing house would greatly simply the task of organizer and player offering a valuable service to both. A player, knowing a tour of Asia is in the offing would ask the ACP to solicit offers for lectures or simuls during a particular period of time and would be grateful for the opportunity to earn a little extra while at play, just as a local chess circle would be pleased to know a special guest was in the vicinity. As relations between organizers and the ACP are strengthened, the brokerage fee could be reduced. Conversely, poor behavior by player or organizer would cause them to lose their relationship with ACP and it would warn members of offending parties.

While the ACP must eventually become a full partner in the whole World Championship process, we must bow to reality: FIDE has completely debased its own title. I don't see the possibility of the Prague Agreement being implemented and I don't see another effort at unification being made with FIDE's current leaders. The ACP should make its own way. To my mind, the title of "World Blitz Champion" is completely vacant. Blitz chess is arguably the most popular form of chess in the world. The ACP should "own" this space and rush to brand the ACP World Blitz Chess Championship. These are exciting events that would have broad appeal. I would suggest some kind of "continental championships" be created. The winners prizes would include a seeding into the final 16 KO places, the World Blitz Championship would be played with a preliminary "open" allowing players of all strengths to fill out the final field on site and then the big boys and girls fight to the Championship over a few days. Bingo – a new World Championship title is created. The ACP could earn a sanctioning fee for such a cycle and everyone would be happy. For example, the organizers of the annual Dordrecht blitz event in Holland would be an ideal place to inaugurate such an event. (Although I would see the Championships as being played over three days instead of one as is the current Dordrecht practice.) My suggestion would be a time limit of 3 minutes and two seconds bonus per player. This would avoid the very mad dash of pieces flying at games end.

Also, I find myself increasingly attracted to "Fischer Random Chess" or "Chess 960" as played in Mainz. For me this format is compelling as it does away with the extraordinary opening preparation that professional players must make to stay current. Again, a "Random Chess World Championship" would be quite attractive. For such an event/cycle I would strongly recommend a 25 minute plus 10 second bonus time control. In short, my advice would be to stop banging our heads on the brick walls of fixing the "World Championship (classical) title" but to support new Championships. Let us avoid the pitfalls of seeding the defending Champion to the Final and create fair and proper rules for such events. A great deal of time and energy would be saved as we wouldn't be competing with FIDE, we would create our own events for which we could be justly proud. At least in this instance I've followed my own best advice.

All of these initiatives are promising ways of providing unique services and branded events that would benefit the ACP, its members and organizers. Thrash about those that make the most sense, let us discuss what we would like and just do it.

Are you comfortable with the present situation with two official time controls? Which one do you prefer?

No. My preference is clear a 7-hour time control for "Classical chess." It is absolutely ridiculous that FIDE's leaders insist on two time controls for its, "Classical FIDE World Championship" cycle. Clearly, FIDE's leaders just don't "get it.

Should the compromise control, suggested during the FIDE-ACP meeting (1.40/40, 30 min RG, +30 sec per move) be tested?

By all means, test away! There are dozens of Open tournaments that would make ideal testing grounds, questionnaires can be collected and tabulated. For official events, the World Championships; Olympiads; World Team Championships; "Classical chess 7-hour time controls" should be the standard. Full stop, end of story. If after a test period of say one or two years, a majority of the world's top fifty players prefer a new standard, that would be fine and make sense to me. To my mind, the more thinking time a player has, the better the quality of play. You would think that decades of 7-hour chess would have proven this point. Why fix a time control that isn't broken?

What do you think about possible introduction of a new title that surpasses a GM title? Which criteria should be used to determine 'super-GMs'?

Such discussions make no sense to me. Professional players do not need flowery titles. They need to earn money. A title is a complement. Professional players need an opportunity to earn a high standard of living not to be told that they are "world-class," "super" or even "wonderful." Please! Keep the complement and give me a large check instead!

Let us be clear, chess has NOT been in a crisis. Chess is doing just fine thank you. Professional chess has been in a crisis for over a decade. In April 2005, I visited Tennessee where over 5,000 children were playing in the USA National Scholastic Championships. Attendance shattered all previous records. It would appear to me that such companies as Chess Base, the Internet Chess Club (ICC), House of Staunton (chess set manufacturer), DGT (clocks and electronic boards) Gambit and Everyman (book publishers) are all doing wonderfully. The despair lies with the professional game. That is directly traceable to the World Championship split. I had hoped that the Prague Agreement would solve the mess and it was a keen disappointment that the effort failed. I lay the majority of the blame directly on the doorstep of FIDE's leaders. Too, I feel that Ruslan Ponomariov could have played a more positive role and in my view Vladimir Kramnik could likewise have been more positive. For example, in interviews after signing the Prague Agreement Vladimir stated that the Prague Agreement was not an agreement at all, rather a kind of nebulous set of "principles" with details to be thrashed out. That was an entirely wrong approach which damaged the goodwill that existed at that time. Vladimir had to take a STRONG stance of support: He should have stated unequivocally that he would play his match with Leko, that if he should pass that test that he was ready, willing and wanting an opportunity to clobber the FIDE Champion in a Unification Match. That he was hungry for such a challenge and that the Prague Agreement must be implemented as soon as feasibly possible! While hardly the ideal, the Prague Agreement represented a golden opportunity to heal the crisis for chess professionals. It seemed to me that professional players are completely oblivious to how badly the split in the chess world has injured their sport. I would wish to bash them all over the head and state with an absolute certainty that by failing to heal the division they have cost themselves, their image, their sport, their colleagues a great deal of money due to their selfish attitude. Obviously, the failure to implement the Prague Agreement has meant that the professional players and FIDE's leaders were big losers. While chess fans were disappointed with the failure of the Prague Agreement, chess itself continues despite the conflicts at the top of the mountain.

Unfortunately, it is clear that if FIDE should successfully hold its Championship in Argentina, the current split will not be healed during the following cycle. There is simply no room for Kramnik to reappear. While I have my doubts that FIDE will successfully implement the events for its future regulations, I do hope for the sake of the players and for our sport that FIDE accomplishes the task. Perhaps after the 2005-06 cycle, a new attempt at unification will happen? I think unity is vital for our sport and the only way that happens is that the current FIDE leaders collectively lose the 2006 FIDE elections and are deposed of their positions. Hopefully, the new FIDE leaders would be open-minded, common sense individuals who have the best interests for chess at heart. Well, we can dream!

But this is an interview on the ACP site! Let FIDE run its course. FIDE has many good programs that are integral to the success of our sport. We have to focus upon our issues to insure the success of the ACP, the well-being of our members and that our collective mission of helping chess grow are all achieved. Above I've outlined a range of complementary initiatives that would insure all of these things. There are certainly many more to be considered. It now falls upon our shoulders to decide which ones deserve our focus and to make them happen! If the ACP Masters is the way the board and membership want to go, I bow to their wisdom and will be an ardent supporter. I would argue that the ACP has to create services and events that give it the best opportunity to make money, thereby insuring its programs and survivability and would try to persuade our board to consider the above proposals.

This article is published with permission of Association of Chess Professionals

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