V.Toporov. COULDN'T BE BETTER!
The soon-to-start world championship is going to beat all the conceivable and unconceivable records of absurdity in advance. To begin with, Veselin Topalov has been barred from competing. This is probably the only occurrence in history when the winner of the first championship is not allowed to participate in the second one! The second, third and fourth prize-winners of the same tournament, left far behind by a man who has become a world champion as a result of it, are admitted, though!
Oh yes, of course, Topalov, by playing his match against Vladimir Kramnik (and by signing the regulations, according to which the unsuccessful party loses the right to participate in the following tournament) seems to have agreed to such a development. So the FIDE authorities appear to be right in not including Topalov into the championship: they have never broken their own rules.
But is this really so? While accepting to play the match against Kramnik and agreeing to the absence of a right to a rematch in the regulations (the inclusion of this clause itself would have meant a moral concession to his rival, who had appeared "completely knocked down" at the time) Topalov was absolutely sure of his guaranteed right to a rematch according to the rule of "Elo rating higher than 2700 points plus a million dollars" even in the worst-case scenario. And he did have this right! But when, immediately after losing to Kramnik, Topalov raised this unquestionable claim, the newly-fledged ex-champion was blatantly and cynically cheated. Allegedly, there was no time for Kramnik – Topalov rematch because it would have unavoidably concurred with the Mexican championship!
But if you cannot give the ex-champion what has been guaranteed to him beforehand – and thereby go back on your own words,- well, at least go back on them in another respect too by including the winner of the previous championship into the next one!.. They have broken their word, the regulations have been changed in a dozen different ways (especially with regard to the World Cup), - but still there is no place for a winner in the championship. Instead Topalov, who had managed during his term of championship to prove himself a true friend of FIDE (and paid just for that), was left hung up on a double hook of a match to be played no one knows when and against whom. And in this situation, disgusting as it is, Topalov has been threatened with a one-year (to begin with) suspension - so that he should sit tight and not stir.
Thus, should Kramnik win the tournament, he will have the right to play a match against Topalov. And should Kramnik fail to win, should he just plain mess it up (the latter case is, of course, unlikely), then he would play a match against someone whom Topalov has already defeated once. And they just did not let Topalov to do that for the second time.
It's not regulations, it's not even politics, even if a short-sighted one, it's street swindling of the first water!
That's how matters stand from the legal point of view. It is still worse with common sense. With all due respect for brilliant GMs Peter Svidler and Alexander Morozevich, it is difficult to accept that their successes in San Luis two years ago have been weightier than Topalov's champion's title won in the same tournament. With all due respect for the candidates' matches winners Peter Leko, Boris Gelfand and Alexander Grischuk, their achievements obviously pale before Topalov's regular (with extremely rare setbacks) triumphs... Of course, the rating leader Viswanathan Anand and World Cup holder Levon Aronian are the indisputable challengers for the world title, as is Kramnik, but the moral right (as distinct from the sporting one) of the other five participators of the two-round Match Tournament is far from being equally evident. Especially if we consider the absence not only of Topalov, but also of Vassily Ivanchuk, who has greatly impressed the world of chess with his breathtaking winning series but failed to get aboard this Mexican cruise liner as well.
Anand, Aronian, Ivanchuk, Kramnik, Topalov – this is the top five (in alphabetical order) now. The sixth one, considering his former services and his recent powerful play in Elista, is Leko. Teimour Radjabov is the seventh. Carlsen will be the eighth – tomorrow if not today, and as for now this is practically the only vacancy at issue. Having compared this hypothetical lineup of the world championship with the actual one we will see, that the comparison of the starting competition with AVRO tournament or 1948 world championship (and even with 2005 world championship too) is obviously not in favor of the former event.
But that's not the half of it. The glaring violation of both juridical and moral norms manifested, in particular, in concession the right of rematch to Kramnik as well (and irrespective of the place taken; previously in similar situations only the alternatives with the right of rematch in case of an incumbent champion becoming a runner-up, and finishing no more than half a point behind a winner at that, have been studied), is, to my mind, capable of seriously distorting the whole course of the tournament. And we are not necessarily talking of some collusion at all; the matter can be decided on the subconscious level. Remember the classic phrase: "If you failed to win, than you never wanted to at heart".
Does Kramnik want to win in the championship? No doubt he does. And what about playing another match against Topalov, who had completely outplayed him in the previous one and lost his victory only as a result of three mistakes obviously not forced on him by his opponent? I doubt it.
So if he does not wish to play against Topalov, who does he like to play against?
Against Anand, maybe?
It seems unlikely as well. Despite their comparative equality, Anand somewhat excels Kramnik in many components, and the closer they get to rapid chess which is to be played if the main part of the event ends in a draw, the more tangible becomes the advantage of Indian-Spanish Grand Master's over Moscow-Paris one.
Still, Anand's nervous system is not very stable. This would hardly tell on him during his match against Kramnik, which – let me remind you – Anand can play only as an incumbent world champion, i.e. the winner of the tournament, but it will almost surely affect the obvious favorite in the course of the tournament itself. Especially if he is "lent a helping hand" just a bit.
As for the players representing the "creative" pleiad – Aronian, Grischuk, Morozevich, Svidler (not to mention Gelfand) – Kramnik would have played a match against any of them with great pleasure. His chances for final success would have been very good too. But the victory of any of them in the competition where "the men of technique" will set the fashion is practically ruled out. Surely, every one of them is capable of "going off" (and I sincerely wish them, especially our fellow-townsman Peter Svidler, to do just that) – but not all of them at once. Nevertheless, their "upper limit" for now is approximately to share the second or third place for Svidler (with Anand) and to take the fourth place for Morozevich, as he has done in the championship of two years ago. But most likely all of them except for Aronian and maybe Grischuk will remain in the lower part of the table.
There remains only Leko, who now restores his former power (or has done this already), still young and hungry for the champion's title. He has already won the candidates' competitions (according to the truncated "Kramnik" version, though) and played the match for the world champion's title. More than that, he has drawn this match and almost won it (to be more precise, he has not won it only by miracle). And – last but not least – he shares a common manager with the incumbent champion! I remember late Leonid Gvozdev accusing the drawn Kramnik – Leko match of being fixed in the press. Of course it was not so, but surely both participants did not mind a draw – subconsciously again.
So now Kramnik would not mind to play another match against Leko. I mean, it is best to manage without any match at all, but if this is not possible, then, choosing between Topalov, Anand and Leko, the champion would have surely prefer the young Hungarian as his opponent. And the latter quite understandably wishes to win the tournament and get the champion's title as he has already won all the rest.
And all this taken together turns Leko into a chief favorite of the tournament – into a shadow favorite, as the public prefers Anand, or Kramnik, or even Aronian, but into a chief one none the less!
I'd like to stress once more that I do not talk about any collusion or rigging (although some elements of coordination between two players having a common manager are quite possible). Both Kramnik and Leko will share a common tournament strategy – "to dry up" the play, a common hope for some of the "creative" players beating and thereby demoralizing Anand (and the Kramnik - Leko tandem is perfectly equal to this task, too!) – and, if everything works out well, they will take the first two places in this, as a matter of fact, "double round-robin Dortmund". And above all, they will impose on the tournament the very image not even of Linares, but of two-round Dortmund, in part turning it into a Curaçao for two...
By the way, both of them play extremely well in Dortmund. As distinct from Anand.
And who will be the first and who the second? Pursuant to all above-stated, Leko will be the first, and Kramnik the second (or the third, or the fourth – Anand and/or one of the "creators" can still "squeeze in"). And then they will play another, but this time official, match for the world championship.
As for Topalov, he will join battle with a World cup holder (provided he is not disqualified for some imprudent statements).
They've been thinking it over for a long time, so the results just couldn't be better!