It all began in 1986 in Dubai. Mohammed Ghobash, a FIDE VP of that era, fell asleep during a game played at the Olympiad in Dubai (back then they lasted six hours plus adjournments), and after waking up he asked Campomanes, the recently re-elected FIDE President, to establish a commission for promoting events with games lasting under an hour.
The baby was born in 1987 with a project for a World Championship with continental qualifiers. The FIDE of that era talked of “active chess”, a name that didn’t trip off the tongue of either pundits or players, and which was replaced by rapid chess a few years later.
FIDE had many other plans for its baby: not only a championship, but also titles for the best players and, of course, Elo ratings.
The first hitch
The top players, gathered together in the GMA (Grandmasters Association), denounced the interference and lack of seriousness of FIDE for undertaking such an action, and in an open letter they demanded that FIDE abandoned any project to introduce new titles and ratings. It has to be said that back then there were no more than 200 GMs and the title still meant something. It wasn’t like today when rating inflation means there are 1300… Almost none of the top players, apart from Karpov, agreed to take part in the championship, and as expected the Soviet player won the boycotted championship easily, beating his compatriot Gavrikov in the final. It also needs to be remembered that the event, held in Mexico, ended in a complete fiasco when the organiser ran off with the money, leaving FIDE to foot the bill for prizes – one hundred thousand Swiss francs for the two finalists!
FIDE took a long time to get over that, and decided to shelve the project, leaving it to the PCA (another players’ association created in the early 90s after the implosion of the GMA) to organise two Grand Prix events sponsored by INTEL, before also collapsing in turn a few years later.
The second hitch
In early 2000 the new president, Ilyumzhinov, proposed establishing rapid ratings that would be based on the Elo ratings, but avoid confusion by only having three digits. The project lasted two years before being withdrawn for lack of “interest”… Although Adams, Shirov and Anand, top players at the time, would no doubt tell a different story.
During the same period FIDE proposed its own Rapid Grand Prix, but that also collapsed for financial reasons after only two tournaments, in Dubai and Moscow.
The first true World Championship
In 2002, at the suggestion of the French Federation, the first “true” World Championship was organised… 19 years after its creation. That was in Cap d’Agde in 2003, by our friends at the CCAS (the French Electrician and Gas Workers’ Society). Garry boycotted the event, but everyone else agreed! It’s an event that’s lived long in the memory of chess fans, and saw Anand crowned champion after beating Kramnik in the final. Although it looked as though that was just the beginning, nothing followed, and the project was once again locked away in a draw.
And what’s going on now?
At the last FIDE Presidential Board Meeting in Al Ain, Ilyumzhinov explained that he’d had enough of grandmaster draws and long and boring games that attracted no more than a handful of people. Something had to be done, he said, or soon even those remnants of interest would disappear. He talked about changing the format of certain FIDE events to rapid, while continuing to hold classical tournaments.
It’s obvious that chess needs another Fischer or Kasparov, and that the media will be more interested in a rapid show than in long and boring games. It’s an eternal debate that’s been going on for more than 30 years now, though it’s still to produce anything concrete.
After decades of FIDE caring only about the elite, perhaps it can stimulate the mass interest of millions of fans by providing hundreds of “budget” rapid tournaments that will provide a new direction and lead to a greater audience.
Rapid chess and FIDE: a long love story without any particular passion!