Sunday, October 01, 2006

ML1: Mismanagement Lessons

This is about mismanagement, and the lessons one can learn from chess.

The World Chess Championships are on in Elista, a beautiful town in the former Soviet republic of Kalmykia. The two contenders are Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria, the FIDE (International Chess Federation) champion who is ranked #1 in the world, and Vladimir Kramnik, the PCA (Professional Chessplayers Association) champion who is ranked #4 in the world. It might be seen as a clash between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance, if you're into that kind of comparison. The stakes are high: whoever wins will be the undisputed chess champion of all the world, unifying both titles.

Unfortunately, the match has stalled after the fourth game. Kramnik, with two wins and two draws, was leading 3-1 when the Topalov team complained he was spending suspicious amounts of time in the toilet. They managed to convince the arbitrators (quite against the rules of the match) to lock Kramnik's toilet up. Kramnik did the legal and correct thing in such situations, and refused to continue play. The fifth game was then awarded to Topalov by default.

Now, the whole situation is threatening to get out of hand. Veteran grandmaster and elder statesman John Nunn has written an excellent piece on the matter. 'It's about imposing your will on the opponent,' Nunn says, showing why the situation is unjust towards Kramnik.

There are several lessons to be gleaned from Nunn's (as usual) well-written argument:

1) Be just - or at least, show that you support fair dealings. You must provide high-level arbitration from qualified professionals, if you want to have a high-stakes match with a respectable process and result. 'Qualified' in this case means 'seasoned, with neutral provenance and experience with world championship matches'.

2) Be sensible - think about the appropriateness of your responses. If you stall the most important match in the world because of a toilet complaint, it is likely to make you look stupid. Internationally so. This is a lesson for nit-pickers. Nunn thinks of this whole incident as 'Chess shooting itself in the foot'.

3) Be impartial - and appear that way to everyone. Favouring 'your man', or someone seen to be in favour with the organizers, against 'the other man', will automatically cause most people to realise that you are evil and biased - even when you're not. Then again, if you are evil and biased, you will have been discovered (or uncovered).

4) Do not cave in to special interests - if you do, and thus inflict a harmful decision against one of the players, you will look weak and untrustworthy. This is especially true if the player so afflicted seems to be winning legitimately and is respected for his previous victories against other respected players.

Giorgios Makropoulos, Zurab Azmaiparashvili and Jorge Vega constitute the Appeals Committee who handled this PR disaster. Public perception has now labelled them as three incompetent buffoons who are old, tired, silly and out of touch. The reality is that they are not, but it is hard for the outsider to see that. This is what public opinion says.

In the court of public opinion, others think of them as sly, conniving, corrupt and venal. This is not necessarily true either, but it appears so to many. The most likely truth is that they are just trying to run this show with insufficient experience of the traditional World Championships, and that their collective wisdom has not sufficed.

At the moment, their esteemed boss, President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov (of both Kalmykia and FIDE!) has flown back in urgent haste to try to resolve the issue. Elder statesmen of the chess community such as Yasser Seirawan and other respected auditors are being brought into the mess.

And that is the bottom line. It is a mess, a lesson in mismanagement. The only positive aspect as that we can all learn from this, strive for the best, and hope not to emulate the worst.


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