Features Nov 4, 2014 | 4:39 PMby chess24 staff

Tkachiev on Carlsen's alternatives to Sochi

In the first article for his new blog, ChEsSay, Grandmaster Vladislav Tkachiev asks what the alternatives were for World Champion Magnus Carlsen if he hadn't signed the contract to play a match against Vishy Anand in Sochi. What was the potential carrot great enough to risk splitting the chess world in two yet again? Vlad's investigation led from theories to the discovery of a website set up for a match between Carlsen and another Top 10 player.    

Chess, money and two smoking barrels

5-move retrograde analysis

by GM Vlad Tkachiev

The Opening Ceremony of the Carlsen-Anand match will be held in Sochi on the 7th November. That sounds trite, doesn’t it? But don’t worry, there’s more to it than that. Two months earlier the chess world was almost plunged into another split. More interesting already? Here, then, is my first piece of investigative journalism devoted to that mysterious recent episode. Or rather, to what never actually happened…

So then, on the 7th September, after weeks of agonising hesitation, Magnus Carlsen went ahead and signed the contract for the second match with Vishy after all, accompanying that event with the comment:

Hmm, it sounds almost deliberately casual, wouldn’t you say? That was actually the starting point for my investigation. I ended up with the following retrograde analysis with an unexpected but totally logical conclusion. However, let’s take things one at a time:


On that same day, 7th September, there was an intriguing series of tweets by Mig Greengard, who calls himself the “Hand of the King” - Garry Kasparov. So then, here was his first tweet after the signing:

And one written earlier: 

And one more:

And my favourite:

On that same famous day, and the day before – 6th September – Mig retweeted two curious comments by two well-known chess journalists:


It’s now time to recall that as early as mid-August the Carlsen camp expressed doubts about the upcoming match, giving as reasons the worse financial conditions (1 million dollars less than in Chennai), sanctions against Russia and the venue – Sochi. Magnus publicly supported the candidacy of Garry Kasparov in the FIDE Presidential Election.


And now let’s draw some preliminary conclusions:

  1. The group close to the 13th World Champion, or simply sympathetic journalists, clearly counted on Magnus refusing to play the match in Russia.
  2. Caruana’s winning streak in Saint Louis interfered with some plans.
  3. There’s hope (among the same group), that after the anticipated victory over Anand the World Champion will be able to prepare a better “move”, since he’ll have more time and opportunity.

At this stage of the investigation two key questions arise all by themselves: just what calculations were disturbed by Caruana’s winning streak in Saint Louis and what masterstroke is he perhaps counting on pulling off in future? Or to put it more simply: what alternative was beckoning for Magnus if he refused to sign the contract and brought about an inevitable split with FIDE. After all, the proposed carrot had to be big and lucrative enough for the Norwegian’s coveted scrawl to end up on paper only at the very last moment. In terms of Fabiano everything is relatively clear – the way he crushed his opponents in the Battle of Saint Louis meant that for the first time in a few years it was possible to talk about an obvious crown prince of the chess kingdom. Before then Carlsen had long been the obvious leader, while the throne was surrounded by a crowd of suitors, none of whom could be singled out – if only because no-one really believes in Anand’s chances and Aronian doesn’t shine in head-to-head encounters with Magnus.

What if here we switch to the next piece in the puzzle – by stepping onto the World Championship bandwagon did Caruana perhaps cast doubt on the idea of the Norwegian holding a match with someone else? At the very least it’s a logical hypothesis, but it still required proof and the expansion of the scope of the investigation.


On the 31st August another campaigner from Kasparov’s camp – Norway’s Morten Sand, set out what he considered significant reasons for refusing to play the match in Sochi:

Alas, that lively post also failed to shed light on the mystery that intrigues us but, continuing to travel counterclockwise, it was nevertheless possible to pick up the thread:

29th August, Leonard Barden, The Guardian:

If Carlsen does default, many will still regard him as the true champion. He crushed Anand last year and is ranked No 1 by a wide margin, while Karjakin is only No 7. Carlsen might arrange a match with the No 2, Levon Aronian, and there could be a high-profile series against Hikaru Nakamura, the US No 1 and world No 6, financed by the St Louis billionaire and chess benefactor Rex Sinquefield.



We’re no longer messing around. If you recall the hype that was raging in Saint Louis in early September we can assume that they looked – and seriously – at the project of a match between Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura (after all, he’s a member of that city’s chess club and supported the necessary candidate in the FIDE Election). It would be paid for by billionaire Rex Sinquefield – the same one who financed Kasparov’s campaign. It’s a neat idea. And now it becomes clear that it wasn’t just Caruana’s spectacular rise in the space of a week that interfered with someone’s plans. After all, in the same tournament Naka finished in clear last place, which just doesn’t cut it for the status of World Championship challenger. At least in the public’s opinion.

Nevertheless, the mosaic still doesn’t fit into a single picture – how was it possible to justify Carlsen’s decision not to play against the legitimately qualified Anand and instead take on the number six in the world rankings – Nakamura, who didn’t even take part in the qualification event? Easily, and on the 15th May this year FIDE itself, in a sense, provided that argument:

On the 15th May rating lists were published with the Top 100 in rapid and blitz. In both cases Nakamura was the leader, while Carlsen was 4th. chess24 reported:

If Garry Kasparov becomes FIDE President we may have to deal with more such issues, as he plans to combine classical ratings with online blitz.

At the same time one of the points of Kasparov’s presidential campaign was to unify the ratings for various time controls into one universal rating. Taking into account the American was first in no less than two categories, you might assume he’d end up somewhere around no. 2 in the world.

Source: Kasparov's Program on his 2014 FIDE Election website

You object that the quotes given above are only about online ratings? Not at all…

Thomas Richter: I (also!?) don't like Kasparov's plans to change the rating system, hence I asked him when I got the chance at his press conference in Wijk aan Zee. In fairness to him, he apparently ("this still has to be decided" or something like that) wants to use weighting factors, something like 100% for classical time controls, 30% for rapid and 10% for blitz.

So then, having – not without difficulty – convinced myself of the reality of what almost happened, I decided to google “Carlsen – Nakamura 2015”. And just look at the result that awaited me.


All that remained was to clarify who created this site and when…

The match was most likely initially intended to be a contest between the players in three different disciplines: classical, rapid and blitz. You can’t deny it’s a very bold idea. It’s just surprising how much effort was required to discover it.

The End?

P.S. In conclusion I’d like to note that in this article I have absolutely no intention of accusing or criticising anyone. I don’t feel I have any right to do so either from a legal or an ethical standpoint.

At the end of the day it’s politics, but politics cubed – both chess and world politics. It simply struck me as strange that NO-ONE had gone into any detail on the universal split that once again almost occurred in chess. The previous one, if you recall, lasted from 1993 until 2006 – 13 years.

Translated with permission from the Russian original

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