In the middle of the media storm that the impending World Championship has been whipping up,the world body FIDE made a restrained announcement that they had awarded Peter Svidler the eighth and final spot in the Candidates tournament to decide next year’s challenger.
It is possible that Svidler (rating of 2752) merited the selection on the basis of his show at the previous Candidates tournament,where he beat Magnus Carlsen in the final round and finished just half a point behind the Norwegian and Vladimir Kramnik. The suave Russian is certainly a popular choice,but FIDE’s decision (communicated as a one-line release on their official website) only ended up highlighting what needs to be fixed in the improved but still imperfect World Championship cycle.
Apparently,the final choice was between Svidler (ranked 13,age 38) and Alexander Grischuk (ranked 5,age 30),but the Russian Federation chose to go with the former instead of bringing the players together in a match setup to decide between them.
It is not just the higher-ranked Grischuk (who at 2785 is close to peak rating and is placed higher than Anand),but other young hopefuls like Fabiano Caruana (aged 21) and Hikaru Nakamura (25) who have missed out. Caruana has had a stellar year during which he has beaten both Carlsen and Anand,with his rating almost touching the historic 2800 mark. Nakamura too is at his peak rating (2786),and is ranked fourth in the world.
There has been persistent criticism that the world title bouts haven’t been indicative of the strength of the field (the accusations were especially shrill in 2012 when Anand,ranked fourth,beat Boris Gelfand,ranked 20th) and the decision to overlook several younger,better ranked players in the championship cycle will do little to ease that charge. Also,it is imperative that the most coveted prize in a sport is also standardised to a large degree. It is for good reason that the format of the football World Cup hasn’t changed for more than half a century. It is only of late that chess has brought some stability to the championship cycle with the introduction of the Grand Prix series,but leaving one of the eight sought-after spots open to a wildcard and then proceeding to elect that wildcard in an arbitrary manner gives up some of the hard-earned credibility.
Raakesh is a principal correspondent based in New Delhi