Hangin's take on Topalov interview in Libya


 Topalov full interview. More information about the FIDE KO in Libya 2004 can be found at


Question: Is there a dilemma in the chess world?

I think there are two main problems. Life is like chess a lot but I think chess does not change as quick as life. We have still many rules that come from 19th or 20th century. But we live in the 21st century! As a result we have this understanding that the world champion has to be the strongest player in the world. But now it is very relative Ö.. you know who is the strongest. I think there is a need for change.

Before in the history of chess, there were many moments that the world champion was not the strongest. Okay, for me the definition should be that the world champion is the person who won the world championship, and the strongest one is the number one. It means that these two persons may be the same person or different persons.

It is like this already in many different sports. For me, it is not really important who is the world champion. It shows who the strongest person was at the moment the world championship was organized. For many people, they do not believe that the winner should be recognized as the best. I do not really agree with this argument.

The point is that if you look at Anand, when he became the world champion in India, in his next tournament he was the last! You cannot say that during his tenure, he was the best player in the world, but he was the world champion and this is the important point for me. Also during the 20 years of Kasparov as number one, of course he was not the best player during many moments in this period.

Certainly, you cannot organize the world championships every day. That is only a definition and we have to change our frame of mind, we have a champion and also we have number one, number two Ö the position can change a lot. That is the point in tennisÖ they do not have this problem. In chess, before, we had three year championship cycles and there were not so many tournaments.

Chess was not changing so much, but now in one year we have as many tournaments as we had for all the five years before. We have to change. Things are changing and we may not stay with the previous cycle as it was before. Of course, the objective should be there will be a championship every year, I guess. Okay, maximum two years maybe, but you may not give a title to a guy for five years to say that he is the world champion.


 Hangin's take:

     Well during the reign, the world champion does not have to be the best player in the world. However he /she should be in the top of the rating charts. In recent times I believe Garry Kasparov the challenger was rated higher than world champion Anatoly Karpov in 1984. Also back prior to the 1972 world championship match. Bobby Fischer was rated higher than Spassky.  We should not get hung up on whether or not the world champion is the best player in the world during his/her reign. However we should feel confident that the world champion is a top player and  deserves the title. We should feel the champion represents the best of our kind.

    The road to the world championship should not be an easy one. The champion must be seriously tested by another tough player. A challenger who should also be a top rated player who has shown the chess world he/she is the best of the rest. Every one should respect the world championship process. A challenger must prove that he/she is worthy to hold the crown. If you review the tough world championship road that Spassky, Fischer, Karpov, and Kasparov took, you no doubt will come away respecting them as a great player and a true world champions. The issue of whether or not they are the best player during their reigns is of no importance. Bobby Fischer was clearly the best player in the world in 1971, 1972. No one should have had a problem with Spassky being the world champion then, after all Spasskyís road to the title was the toughest in history. In the glory days of the world championship, 1966-1993, a successful run to become a world champion established the championís dominance over the other players. The process took 2-3 years to complete. In order to become a champion you needed to play at a high level chess for a few years. As a reigning champion you establish your dominance be defeating the best of the rest in match play. The champion should also follow the great example of Karpov and Kasparov who dominated tournament chess as well during their reigns.

     The current FIDE KO takes about three weeks to complete. Itís an exciting tournament. It is not tough enough to produce a world champion. The road is not rocky enough. The test is not hard enough. There is not forging of iron to steel.  Even when the KO produces a champion in the top of the rating charts, there is always the nagging  question of , well he didnít beat Kasparov or Kramnik. Anand won both(1997, 2001) of his KOís with just 8 wins against 6 opponents.  Thatís just not enough winning. There are numerous other problems with the FIDE KO. Even if a world championship produces one false champion, a player unworthy of the title, the system is flawed and cannot be used.

    When Spassky, Fischer, Karpov, and Kasparov became the champions, no one questions it. Everyone respected how they got their titles. Even though Karpov did not play Fischer, you had to respect the road he took to win the right to challenge for the title. Karpov was given the title because Fischer would not defend it, even though he got all but one of his demands. Karpov reaffirmed his greatness by winning all those tournaments in the 1970ís and early 1980s.

  The KO championship wears off after the next poor tournament result. This is because the challenge is not difficult enough.

     A world champion should have a 3 year reign, a champion needs to promote the game round the world The champion needs to take part in simuls, in computer matches, in top tournaments around the world, and in world championship matches.. Having a world championship is like having a presidential election. If the president of the US had to campaign every year to get reelected, nothing would get done. World champions need time to promote the game around the world.

    Chess needs to preserve its rich tradition of the man who beat the man who beat the man. Chess like boxing can trace its great champions back to the beginning, with a few exceptions. The champions in chess and boxing fight hard to earn their titles and fight hard to keep them. The title should only be taken away from the champion in a hard fought contest against a worthy challenger.


   The FIDE KO is an exciting tournament. It has its merits. But lets not use it for Classical World Championships. Lets get back to the serious world championship process. The old process that produces champions no one questions.



Question: A number of players were unhappy with Kasparov being given some special rights. What is your opinion about that?

Topalov excerpts:

  I also have the same opinion but the point is that I understand this Prague agreement and all this is a result of the FIDE decisions that were taken. But I think that FIDE did the same thing in 1997 with Karpov. They have put Kasparov directly into a final match and you never see this in any other sports. Even Brazil have to play in the qualification matches to play in the finals of the football championship.

I think this kind of privilege has to be stopped. One of the biggest problem of the chess world, is that world champions have too much privileges. I understand that Kasparov is a big legend and a great name in chess, but his performance from 2002 to date show that he is not getting the best results.

So, if you do not show the best result, I think you should not say that you are the strongest. If you say that Anand has to play or Ponomariov has to play in the final, I think they have the same opportunity to win as Kasparov does. I think you are a really strong organisation or if you really are an organisation, you cannot depend on one person. Now what we see that the truth is, it depends all on one person. I do not think this is good.

Anyway, the knock-out system is very nice, but maybe not 128 players since it becomes very long. But, you have to put all of the best players in the tournament. Because if you are really that strong, you donít have to be afraid. If you are really the strongest, you show it, you do not hideÖ.


Hangin's take:

   What rights should a world champion have, well the champion should have to defend his title every three years against an opponent worthy of holding the title as well. Upon losing the title, the ex champion should be automatically seed in the candidate quarterfinal match in the next cycle. Garry Kasparov has yet to exercise his rights as an ex world champion, one match removed from his title. Other ex champions have had greater rights. We can blame Kasparov or the Prague agreement to reunify the title.  Prague was designed for a quick reunification. The game plan was to have Garry Kasparov play the last FIDE KO winner Ruslan Ponomariov. The winner would face the winner of the Kramnik vs. Leko Brain Games championship. Unfortunately Ponomariov made to many demands and lost his great chance. Kramnik lost his sponsorship when the Brain Games team went out of business. Well FIDE successfully completed a new KO tournament and now has a replacement for Ponomariov. Garry Kasparov will now was play Rustam Kasimdzhanov. Current World Champion Vladimir Kramnik  has found a sponsor for his match as well. It will take place in September of 2004. So the reunification after losing its wheels seems to be churning slowly towards reunification after all.`




Question: But there are some arguments that 2 games are like gambling. If you lose one game you lose everything. They think that the world championship must be different. What is your opinion?

Topalov excerpts:

    Yes, that is true but also there were good prizes here and we see the number one seed reaching the semi-final, losing the tie-break and the number two reaching the final. If you look at what happened in India, the top 3 players reached the semi-finals.

If you look at these type of knock-out events, top seeded players either won or reached the semi-finals. You cannot argue that Anand was twice seeded as number one and he has twice won. You cannot really say that it is causality.

Also, if you play a match with 24 games and after 20 draws it becomes very decisive and after 20 games the physical strength of the player becomes more important than his chess strength. So you cannot find the perfect system.


 Hangin's Take:

      Well, this is why the players like the FIDE Knockout, good prizes and any one in the top 1/3 of the draw can win it. I like the FIDE KO; itís an interesting and exciting tournament. There is much to like about it. The knockout system forces players to play. As GM John Fedorowicz says, players have to take advantage of their whites. However this format introduces too much luck for it to be a viable World Championship format. None of the players, with the exception of Anand, who have won the FIDE KO, have proven to be world championship caliber. Only Anand has won major tournaments since winning the KO. Also the KO is well suited for Anand rapid game. Anand, the number two-rated player, is the current rapid world champion. To many of the final showdowns in the KO have been decided in the rapid/blitz phase of the match. In Libya 2004, Kasimdzhanov defeated Adams in the rapid phase of the match. In 1997 the KO final round was decided in sudden death. Anand defeating Addams.  Khalifman, who won the 1999  Las Vegas KO, was top 40 strength. I consider this a casualty of the system. The world championship must find the strongest player in the world. If the system produces one champion who is unworthy of being placed with the great champions of the past, then its no good. Also Anand won the 1997 and the 2001 FIDE KO by winning just 8 games against 6 opponents varying in strength from 1 to 128 seed. Thatís just not enough to be considered a world champion. The world champion system must never fail to produce a champion who is not worthy of the title. As far as the old best of 24 game matches, hey those matches were always fought by two of the best players in the world. It doesnít get any better than that. After those matches completed, you could feel good about who the champion was, except for the drawn matches in 1987 , 1954, and 1951. Moreover those long championship matches, got daily press coverage all over the US. Thatís not bad publicity for the game.