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Needleman Anyway

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I'm not sure if this is tragedy, comedy, or heroism, but FIDE has just approved a request to let 15-year-old Gaston Needleman into the World Cup. This after the much discussed Continental tiebreak tournament in which he finished last and was the one player eliminated. From FIDE:

At the Dresden FIDE Congress, the Argentine World Championship Organizing Committee gave a successful presentation showing that San Luis was ready to welcome players and guests next month. Dr. Alberto Rodriguez Sah, Gov. of San Luis, then requested H.E. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov to consider the possibility to include Gaston Needleman, a promising 15-year-old player from Argentina, in the next World Cup. After deliberation with the FIDE Presidential Board, the FIDE President confirmed his nomination of the young prodigy.

At the American Continental Championship, which ended some days ago, the hero was clearly 15-year-old Gaston Needleman, who tied with seven other players for second but was eliminated only after the tie-break tournament for six tickets to the FIDE World Cup.

While this is a happy ending and a just reward for his excellent performance in the main event (outperforming his rating by 400 points), this is also a perverse twist. It means the entire tiebreak tournament was meaningless. A pity they didn't ask FIDE about this before wasting everyone's time. No one would have complained had they just announced all seven were qualified without a playoff. We can be 99% sure that had anyone other than Needleman finished last that person would be S.O.L.

Wildcards for outstanding juniors are a good thing and hardly rare, but promptly rendering the playoff worthless is a bit warped. Waiting till the other wildcards were announced would have been more polite to the six who qualified.

The Argentine papers have it now, all giving the same quote from Needleman: "Great! This is incredible. Now there's a lot of studying to do." The 2006 World Cup, the next stage of the FIDE world championship cycle, doesn't have a site yet.


Also I'm not sure that FIDE "gave a successful presentation showing that San Luis was ready to welcome players and guests next month".

This decision is borderline scandalous. I don't think anyone will complain, it would look bad when the player in question is 15. But still. Bizarre.

Yah, imagine how much nicer it would have been to "take it under consideration" and then give him the spot with the other presidential wildcards a few months before the Cup.

There is no evidence that Needleman is a particularly good player, either. He is clearly better than his 2242 rating, but I don't think he is stronger than 2400, maybe 2450. Anyone can show a performance 200-300 points above his strength in one tournament with some luck and inspiration. If you go to fide.com and look at Needleman's previous results, they are not impressive at all. I'm sure he will be knocked out of the WC in the first round.

I don't think FIDE's decision has to do with Needleman being 15, as much as it has to do with Ilardo's article and all the bad publicity it generated.

It has even more to do with him being Argentine and the world championship being held in San Luis next month and the man behind it, Saa, being with Ilyumzhinov. Had it been a 15-year-old Brazilian kid I rather doubt this happens.

Because responding to a troll is only slightly worse than trolling. It's all off-topic and a waste of time and energy. Every few years some moron notices the USCF rating I got from (literally) a dozen games when I was 19 was 1800 and starts acting like it's a big deal. Then someone I've played and analyzed with like GM Jonathan Levitt posts that I'm closer to 2400 (I wish), then others say I had a crappy World Open, then a US TD gets my Argentine rating and give me a 2300 (and tells me I can't play at my USCF rating unless I'm willing to forfeit any prize), then people point out my 2500 blitz and 2300 bullet ratings on Playchess, and on it goes ad absurdum until people get bored. None of this has to do with Needleman or anything else.

If people who know nothing about it want to discuss my chess level, yet again, they can go to the message boards and start their own thread or go to the Usenet where it's all been said before a dozen times. I see no reason to do so here just because some baby craves attention. So now I've wasted half an hour deleting the moron's posts and filing an abuse report with AOL with his IP number and my server logs. What a waste of time. (Heh, just noticed he committed the cardinal sin of stupid trolls: posting under someone else's name, mine. ISPs just love identity theft complaints, especially on commercial sites like this one.)

Btw, your IP and other info are logged with each comment, so it's immediately obvious you are the same troll. But keep wasting your time. Follow-ups here will be deleted, of course.

Im also with Needleman. Bravo FIDE!

I think it's ok (that the young feller got in) and not at all unfortunate that the tiebreaker was rendered meaningless. Cause, you know, they all got to play more chess.

Speaking of digressions, forgive me but I can't resist: I am winning the beer bet on the strength of I think four rated games so far this year. (abs(My tournament games - Mig's) = beers owed.) You might think it is unfortunate for me that Mig never accepted this (as they say in France) "challenge". But no, this is ok too as I despise beer.

Mig, why are you complaining about Needleman being one of the President's nominees?

1. There is no doubt that he was among 7 who qualified for 6 spots ... so it is not like he was a rank outsider.

2. There is also little doubt that most of the games between the GMs were short draws whereas the boy had to sweat it out against everyone. While it is a good thing that there was no collusion, what did happen was an implicit "ganging up" against one player, which many have justified as being rational given the players' incentives. While designing the tie-break system, FIDE and the organizers had not considered the possibility that one player could be identified as clearly weaker than the others and hence allow this implicit ganging up. Given the tie-break was not exactly fair to Needleman for the issues discussed above, what is wrong with FIDE agreeing to include the boy? It is an implicit acknowledgement that the tie-break was not designed for the situation that was encountered. It is much better that a President's nominee have qualified (or almost qualified) rather than be ad hoc.

3. And how would waiting and announcing Needleman at the last minute be any more justifiable? What pleasure do you get from making him sweat?

This is an action that FIDE should be applauded for.

I approve of the decision, but the timing is a bit silly. There was nothing to sweat, he didn't qualify. The circumstances of the tiebreak (6/7, ridiculous hour) made this a no-brainer. But rushing to do it at the request of the Argentines is a bit of a smack in the face to the players who did qualify. There was no reason not to wait until the other wildcards were named.

Or, if they want to make it clear this is a whack at the ridiculous tiebreak, they should say so.

Hey, it's "Politics 101". Why would a provincial Governor and the FIDE Presindet want to announce the news sometime next year, when they can benefit from the good PR right NOW?

The timing if perfect for them. The fact that we (some) would have preferred for it to happen sometime next year is nave at best. I guess we're very used to getting screwed and then seeing the problem being solved out of the blue, like in this case... :-P

The Argentine papers have it now, all giving the same quote from Needleman: "Great! This is incredible. Now there's a lot of studying to do." The 2006 World Cup, the next stage of the FIDE world championship cycle, doesn't have a site yet.

I agree with Kogi. The decision seems very debatable, to say the least, from a purely sports perspective, but looks like the kind of thing seasoned politicians do all the time.

I only hope that I few months from now we do not have a case of a 2600 or so GM who failed to qualify for some dramatic twist of fortune and then cannot go to the World Cup because the presidential nominees spots are all given, one of them to a 2200 one-hit wonder kid.


Take your cake and eat it!!!!!!!!!
First people complain about a "shady looking circumstance" now people are worried about a weak player qualifying. Anyways, normally these presidential nominee spots are normally given out closer to the event so this seems it won't be a problem. People like to root for the under-dog, but then when he wins, he's no longer seen as the same long-shot and they don't want to root anymore, give me a break. You guys sound like a blind man picking out his favorite porno.

Sorry for a non-related question for Mig. When are you going to update the US Championship Web site. Who qualified from the US Open in Phoenix?


The issue seems to be not Needleman's age or identity but rather the controversy that surrounded the tiebreak. Under such circumstances, it was reasonable to allow him entry. In tennis, as you may know, they have several wild cards at tournaments for people who don't do well enough to qualify according to regulations. This allows organizers to give a few spots to people of their choice, such as deserving youngsters, people coming back from injury (Kamsky/Fischer? :) ) or old veteran favorites (Karpov). Seems like a good system to have in future chess world cups. Limit the WCs to four so as not to make qualifying ridiculous.

Yuriy makes a good point -- golf uses the same kind of "sponsor's invitation" system to allow injured players or old favorites to participate in tournaments they couldn't qualify for otherwise. E.g. Greg Norman has been the beneficiary of several of these invitations in the current major tournament cycle in golf.

But the key here is that it is good for fan interest in the sport. I have no doubt that more people, especially in Argentina, will now be following the World Cup to see if the boy wonder and fan favorite can catch lightning in a bottle a second time. Probably not, but you never know...

Kogi's right about the timing -- if this isn't resolved immediately, all you do is create bitterness among the fans, anger among the people of the country hosting the current championship match, and ill will between FIDE and a provincial governor of Argentina. It's not even remotely a good idea to delay resolution.

Mig says this "seems like a happy ending" when it IS a happy ending. The suggestion of suspending the tournament at midnight while everyone waits for the TD to contact FIDE for an immediate major decision is an impractical suggestion, to say the least.

Mig says "No one would have complained had they just announced all seven were qualified without a playoff." Not true, there are always complainers, especially when the rules are being violated.

To get Mig's support, it is not enough to do the right thing...you have to take precisely the same steps he would take. I usually support Mig but here he appears to be unwilling to say something nice about FIDE even when they do the right thing.

My support? They don't need my support. I don't see why I need to be 100% behind anything. I'm not a cheerleader. I thought there were flaws in the way they handled it, so what? I even took out the "seems" around four hours ago. Pointing out flaws is useful, pretending everything is perfect rarely is.

There was nothing to resolve, this wasn't a crisis. They should have considered it and waited until the other wildcards were named to see if perhaps someone more worthy was around. Nobody was waiting for anything. It just made good politics to announce it now while the issue was hot. Rather annoying to the other six players, I would imagine, even if they are happy for the kid.

By no one complaining about allowing all seven in, I meant the players. And make sure to tell the 2670-rated player who doesn't get in on rating because an extra wildcard spot went to Needleman that this is a happy ending. Nothing is perfect.

The whole WC selection process is on a par with vote counting in Chicago, so let's not worry about who gets the political freebies. It's like the making of sausages, if you wish to enjoy eating them don't look too closely.

Even in San Luis, Kasimdzhanov gets a place while Ivanchuk misses the cut, just ignore it. If the site doesn't fall apart inside the first hour the games should be worth watching, but as a way to select a legitimate World Champion...?

Hrrrrrm, seems like Kasimdzhanov is the ONLY player who MUST be in San Luis for them to call it a legitimate FIDE world championship. He is the only player who recieved his spot in the tournament by qualification.

Amusingly, Leko and Kramnik were listed as special invitees, not invited by rating. Just to keep the useless semantics straight!

...sounds like rational behaviour by players answered by rational behaviour by FIDE :-))

Horac hits the nail on the head.

I can't get too worked up over the six players who might get annoyed by this. They play short draws to get into the tournament and then they feel annoyed over how someone else got in? I've got the world's smallest violin right here for them.

As for the 2670 player who doesn't make it in, tough. Wild cards aren't supposed to be awarded on the basis of rating -- otherwise they wouldn't be wild cards. There would just be a rule that says, "Additional players will be allowed into the tournament on the basis of highest rating until all slots are filled."

"Rather annoying to the other six players, I would imagine, even if they are happy for the kid."

why shd it be annoying? needleman or anybody else is not taking anything away from them. 2670 player left out? is needleman really taking up a 2670 player's spot? if not needleman it will be some other prodigy, NOT a 2670 player who will get in as a Presidential nominee.

This is beginning to sound churlish. Why should the other 6 GMs even care? And if they themselves dont care, why should we care about their imagined annoyance?

oops DRB said pretty much the same thing ... my bad didnt read his post ..

We don't know where that spot might have gone. That's the point. They could have waited, and should have.

It would be somewhat rude of the players to say anything and I've little doubt they consider this deserved. That doesn't mean they've enjoyed having their names dragged throught the mud for what now turns out to have been a pointless exercise. Being forced to run a race and then being told everyone is a winner sounds annoying to me.

Note that I'm not making a federal case of this. I'm happy they gave him a spot.

"We don't know where that spot might have gone. That's the point. They could have waited, and should have."

This is a valid point ... but is it likely there will be four more guys more worthy?

p.s. I would like to take back the 'churlish' comment. re-reading the posts, they look pretty harmless. I dont know what I was thinking.

I think Frederic Friedel of Chessbase said it best on the Chessbase website (in answer to a reader e-mail):

"I disagree, Charles. FIDE should keep a certain number of places (from the 124) for people who are interesting, for chess and for the media. That is what wild cards and presidential invitations are all about. Not to ensure that the world's number 136 gets to play, but to encourage young and otherwise extraordinary chess players by showing them that they have a theoretical chance to take part in the big league. Inviting Needleman to play in the World Cup is an encouragement to thousands of young chess enthusiasts. Making it possible for the number 136 in the world to participate is monumentally dull and irrelevant. There are also PR considerations. Needleman (as well as Carlsen, Karjakin and a number of female players) are worth dozens of strong GMs in media value. If chess wants to go mainstream it is worth while dramatically enhancing the big events by inviting a small percentage of attractive media personalities. In fact it may be vital to the survival of FIDE and the World Cup event, which needs sponsors to keep it running. Frederic Friedel"

Absolutely spot on. Chess is chess -- and business is business. This (the sponsor invitation to Needleman) is business.

Well, it's not just business...someone like Needleman, or Karjakin, or Kosteniuk, could potentially produce more interesting games than the GM ranked 136...the chances are 136 has been around his ranking for a long time, and it's very unlikely that all of a sudden he would start performing much better than his ranking suggests, while young people are on the rise and may surprise at any time.
i suppose someone like Kosteniuk couldn't be that much of a surprise, but i also find it interesting that there'd be some interesting women playing...again, much more interesting than the 136. ranked GM. Nothing's more uninteresting than world's 136. ranked player :P


FIDE rankings July 2005


All rated 2599

I think you owe these guys an apology.

Big time. Two classics and the two-time British champion, no contest.

One of the ironies, or perhaps just a simple contradiction, is that fans are, for the most part, as Elo-obsessed as organizers. They dismiss great "B" tournaments that don't have anyone in the top ten even though the games may be more interesting than Linares. Everyone likes to follow the stars, which is reasonable enough. And juniors and female players have the allure of minority-as-celebrity. And yet they cheer underdogs like Bologan in Dortmund when they upset the Elo cart.

I know this is old news, but does someone out there have a copy of the original Chessbase story that translated the Ilardo article that sparked this controversy. I don't want a link to what chessbase currently has online, but rather a copy of the story before Mig had it changed as he mentions in the blog "Tiebroken." If so, please send it to my email address.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on August 23, 2005 11:12 AM.

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