You know how sequels are usually worse than the original? This is actually the fourth or fifth edition of FIDE's plans for the current and future world championship cycles in the past year or two. First they said matches, then tournament, then matches again, then a world cup, then a unification match, then a challenge match. We had Topalov, then Kramnik, then Kramnik in his own qualifier, then Topalov is back. Now they seem to have done something truly remarkable and have tried to have it all by taking a "one of each" approach in a convoluted and anti-logical new plan. (Which, of course, could also change just as our indigestion begins to pass.)
ChessBase does their best to explain things, and there is a handy diagram that is only lacking a little cartoon guy with his head exploding. The most relevant addition in the short run is that Topalov has been added back into the mix no matter what happens in Mexico City. If Kramnik wins in Mexico, he has to play a match with Topalov in 2008 and then the winner of that will play the winner of the 2007 World Cup (in 2009?). If Kramnik doesn't win in Mexico, he plays the winner in a match in 2008. At the same time, Topalov will face the 2007 World Cup winner in a "challengers match," the winner of which will face the winner of the match between Kramnik and the Mexico winner.
It was obvious at the time of the Elista unification match between Kramnik and Topalov that it was really going to suck to lose. The winner would be the first unified champion since 1993 and hold a ticket to Mexico as defending champ. The loser would be out of the world championship cycle already underway (the 16 candidates had been decided nearly a year earlier) and would have to fight for qualification in the next cycle at the 2007 World Cup just like the piss-ant rabble, god forbid. Both players accepted those conditions and we know that because they both showed up to play. We don't even need to wave the contracts around.
Kramnik won, Topalov lost. Yep, it sucked for Topalov and his many fans. The battling Bulgarian, the #1-rated player at the time, lost his FIDE world championship title and handed his spot in Mexico to Kramnik. In early March, FIDE announced that Kramnik would get a match against the winner of Mexico if it wasn't him (which is as bizarre as it was expected) and that Topalov would get a match against Kramnik if it was. A month later, an interview with Ilyumzhinov confirmed the Kramnik vs Mexico winner match and appeared to disavow the Topalov vs Kramnik match. A later semi-clarification from FIDE said that Topalov would have the "right to challenge" Kramnik, which didn't exactly carve things in the marshmallow that passes for stone in FIDEworld.
The Bulgarian federation has been beating the drums to get Topalov back into the mix quickly instead of making him wait to play in this year's World Cup with everyone else. Why, exactly, Topalov deserves special treatment because he won in San Luis nearly two years ago is not clear. That is, unless you subscribe to the theory that winning any sort of world championship title alters human brain chemistry, instilling a massive sense of entitlement. (Uzbekistanis seem to be immune, to their credit.) Yes, it was sad and in many ways silly that the Elista unification match loser was booted out of the cycle. But they both went in eyes open.
This latest version makes even less sense because it imagines a supernatural bond between Kramnik and Topalov. If Kramnik wins Mexico, Topalov gets a direct world championship rematch, which wasn't in the Elista rules. If Kramnik doesn't win Mexico, a new match is created from thin air, demoting the World Cup winner from WCh challenger to semifinalist in an instant. If Topalov deserves an automatic WCh challenge, why is it only against Kramnik?! (I.e., if these extraordinary matches are to make any sense at all, first Kramnik would get his bonus match with the Mexico winner and then Topalov would play that winner.) Why drag the World Cup winner down? And how about the Mexico winner (if it's not Kramnik)? Not only does he have to play a match against Kramnik, but then a match against the winner of the Topalov-World Cup winner match! Of course that's all good money assuming it can be conjured, so maybe it's the more the merrier. (Which is why it's unlikely the Mexico players will complain much.) But it's likely to be a short time at the top and a hectic year as these matches are squeezed into the calendar. FIDE went with convenience and faux-symmetry over logic.
I'm not saying it wasn't stupid hold a unification match in which the loser was out of the ongoing cycle. It was. And, not unreasonably, FIDE prefers to create new events instead of modifying ones that are already in place. So no expansion of the Mexico City field or fiddling with the candidates matches. And Topalov is an exciting player and one of the world's very best, no doubt at all. But now we've yet again postponed fair play and logic in the WCh process. When they couldn't come up with a way to put Topalov into the cycle, they put him on top of it, giving him the exact same post-Mexico rights as Kramnik, who, you may remember, beat Topalov. If Kramnik wins Mexico, they are both finalists. If Kramnik doesn't win, they are both semifinalists. Why? I'm going to take a wild guess and wonder if some of the money Topalov raised for his rematch challenge to Kramnik didn't come in handy in making a persuasive case to FIDE's finest.
As for the long run, the creation of a Grand Prix sounds dandy, and I'm all for more events and more money, but do we need both a Grand Prix and the World Cup? The announcement says "The Grand Prix series will span a period of two years with one tournament every year in America, Asia and Europe." So either they can't count (three continents, two years...) or that means three events per year wedged into the calendar and in need of sponsorship. That's not impossible, and Bessel Kok is up to the task if anyone is, but it contributes to the Frankenstein nature of the proposal. Why choose a coherent system when we can mix and match two or three different ways of doing it!
This Grand Prix, still a glimmer in FIDE's eye, also raises the specter of conflicts with traditional events and the nascent Grand Slam program proposed by Silvio Danailov and the organizers of most of the world's top events. There is the possibility that these two "Grands" may overlap or even combine, but that's a long way and a lot of "ifs" into the future.