World Championship, anyone?

Vienna is out of the raffle, Stavanger as well, Monaco was never in it. Just over a year before the World Championship match in 2020, FIDE cannot name a host city, not even a potential one. Applicants do not exist yet, only interested parties.

Nevertheless, the World Chess Federation wants to announce where Magnus Carlsen will defend his title on November 1st – a bold plan given there are no candidate cities yet. “FIDE in time trouble,” reported the Norwegian Broadcasting Cooperation NRK.

Christian Hursky (Photo: ÖSB)

“A big event like a World Championship match needs a lot of preparation. Actually, we should already be planning for the 2022 match,” says Christian Hursky, head of the Austrian Association which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2020. Because this anniversary would be a great occasion to bring the world’s biggest chess event to Vienna, Hursky wanted to gain an edge over potential competitors at an early stage. At first his undertaking went well, then international chess policy got in the way.


When Agon was sacked

Already in March 2018 Hursky met with FIDE and Agon representatives at the Candidates Tournament in Berlin to underline the ambition of the Austrian capital. In September, three weeks before the FIDE election, Agon boss Ilya Merenzon and the former FIDE treasurer Adrian Siegel visited Vienna to convince themselves of the suitability of the city. At that time, Vienna was well in the race despite the signs that the Viennese as co-organizers would have to raise considerable funds to make it happen.

It took former FIDE treasurer Adrian Siegel two months to make a comeback in international chess politics. As the new head of Liechtenstein’s federation he is a FIDE and ECU delegate once again. (Photo: Neurozentrum Thalwil)

Then came the FIDE election: Arkady Dvorkovich triumphed and replaced a vast majority of top-level functionaries – including the treasurer who had just inspected Vienna. It turned out that it was more important for the new FIDE president to take away the responsibility for the World Championship from the unloved chess organizer Agon/WorldChess than to find an organizing city early on.

Contractually, Agon and FIDE are still partners (allegedly until 2026), but the Merenzon company operates on a short leash and with limited competences since October 2018. Merenzon’s company went from organizing the whole World Championship cycle (World Cup, Grand Swiss, Grand Prix, Candidates’ Tournament and World Championship match) to organizing the Grand Prix series alone, and even there FIDE seems to gauge in detail.

Vienna dropped out first, followed by Stavanger

At least a recent letter from Dvorkovich to German Chess President Ullrich Krause can be interpreted that way. The German Federation DSB had asked to give the chairmanship of the Appeals Committee at the Grand Prix in Hamburg to Krause. Apparently, it took more than one inquiring email from Berlin to Lausanne until the DSB got word that Krause got the “crucial assignment”. This message came from Dvorkovich’s office in Moscow, signed by the chess boss himself.

The “Museumsquartier” in Vienna. (Photo: Herta Hurnaus)

With regard to the World Championship 2020, FIDE restarted the application process after Agon was dealt with. Thus, in Vienna Hursky’s efforts were obsolete. A potential venue in the much sought-after Vienna Museumsquartier could not be reserved that long. In general “the new framework conditions were not satisfiable in such a short time,” explains Walter Kastner, Secretary General of ÖSB. The Viennese decided not to reapply.

From the point of view of FIDE, the drop out of the Austrians did not yet endager the process. They still hat the application of Stavanger, a Norwegian city with a formidable chess reputation, in which the yearly world class tournament “Norway Chess” takes place. If only the organizers there hadn’t ignored the fact that Magnus Carlsen has no interest in defending his title in his homeland.

Monaco? Just a rumor

Due to public pressure, the Norwegian superstar would see a match in Norway as a competitive disadvantage, a known problem that was muted for months. Then Carlsen quarreled with the Norwegian Chess Federation, announcing in the process that he would certainly not play a World Championship match in Norway. The organizers in Stavanger had no choice but to withdraw their application.

Stavanger’s concert hall. (Photo: Norway Chess)

So, Monaco? The name of the principality as a possible World Championship venue became public when Merenzon visited Vienna in September 2018. But now, when Norwegian media investigated whether there are any World Cup candidate cities at all, they heard from Monaco: “We never tried for the World Championship Match 2020.” In hindsight, it can be speculated whether Agon itself had sprinkled the rumor of a Chess World Championship in Monaco in order to fuel the application process. The dazzling principality with its high density of celebrities and parties would exactly fit Merenzon’s taste.

Two applications to be expected

FIDE public relations officer David Llada confirms that there is currently no application for the Match 2020. But he adds that three interested parties have contacted FIDE. He expects an application of two of them soon and plans to announce the winner on November 1st.

Even if that proves to be overly optimistic, the World Cup match will not be in jeopardy. If necessary, Arkady Dvorkovich can always fall back on one of the Russian chess cities, be it St. Petersburg, Moscow, Khanty Mansiysk or Skolkovo. And who knows, maybe one of them has already applied?

With the Women’s Grand Prix in Skolkovo FIDE tried a new, colourful design. Maybe that is what future World Championship matches will look like? (Photo: FIDE)
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