Kasparov on the FIDE elections, Carlsen and more
Last week for the fourth time Garry Kasparov played a simul in Antwerp against top Belgium CEOs, politicians and children. Earlier that day he was interviewed by Jan Lagrain of De Schaakfabriek. The 13th World Champion spoke frankly about the FIDE Presidential elections, about Magnus Carlsen and more. Here's the interview in English.
With a confused expression on his face Garry Kasparov walks into the lobby of the stylish Hotel Julien. The Internet connection on the fourth floor of the hotel leaves much to be desired and apparently this bothers the former world champion excessively. The combination of the Internet concerns and the search for the journalist he has agreed to for an interview, seems to make him somewhat astray.
But looks deceive. As soon as we sit down in the meeting room of the hotel, Kasparov is sharp. We meet a passionate and friendly man who is not afraid to speak his mind and who combines every opinion with a matching facial expression. Among other things he speaks about our sports minister ("no intellect"), Ilyumzhinov ("a disaster"), the electoral defeat of Karpov and, of course, about Magnus Carlsen.
"Sorry if I seem a bit confused," Kasparov starts the conversation, "but I've been very busy the last few months. I'm back to normal life now, preparing for my lectures... eight in November. I was on a diet for five months so I have to recover. Because of FIDE, and I was also out of politics for five months. Now I have to restore my normal life routine and also contact people who worked for us in Khanty-Mansiysk, just to keep this war going. You don't want to leave good people behind."
Apparently in this 'normal life' Kasparov is in contact with people mostly through Skype, because just as we've started his 'phone' rings. "Now you see why I don't like it when there's no good internet connection. With Skype as your main means of communication, you have to have internet." With a loud and determined voice he cuts the conversation short. Everything will be fine. The interview can start. Before I get to my first question, Kasparov already starts talking about the re-election of FIDE President Ilyumzhinov.
"A lot of people recognize now that FIDE is in such a deep trouble that we have to do something to change it. It takes longer, we expect it, but if something doesn't work, you should not leave people behind. It feels very important now to help them, to establish the programs, to start work with different federations and with different chess organizations in advance. It is important that they are not disillusioned."
So how is it possible that he got re-elected?
We worked hard against him. Probably time was very short and the fact that it happened in "Russia probably was crucial. Karpov couldn't succeed in mobilizing support of Russian sororities and to the contrary certain support was given to Ilyumzhinov. Arkadij Dvorkovich was fully behind him and there was no political force in Russia that would stop him. The Kremlin was not involved directly but the fact the top aid for Mr Medvedev was breaking every law of the land to help Ilyumzhinov and this sent a very bad signal. We couldn't succeed in destroying this image of Ilyumzhinov as a very powerful man who pushes all the buttons. All they did in Khanty-Mansiysk, especially the General Assembly, was a criminal act of violating literally every provision of FIDE rules. But it was a very strong signal for many delegates of the developing countries that Ilyumzhinov is in charge. I think now, in a year or two, there will be a very painful recovery from this illusion."
Do you think it would have made a difference if the elections were in for example Norway or the United States?
"Absolutely. Karpov would have won in any other country but Russia. Karpov would have won."
You were part of the Karpov side...
"I was running the campaign."
...how do you look at the current chess world?
"The world of chess is not in a good shape and this illness is not a fresh one. The fact is that chess is the only major sport that hasn't any commercial sponsorship. That tells us that something went wrong. I've been fighting for the improvement of global chess for many years and I believe that unless things change, chess will not see any bright future. I also learnt a lot by talking to different federations and different delegates. Many of them I met for the first time in my life in Khanty-Mansiysk and I am more than ever convinced that the current administration of FIDE and the way FIDE has been run make things impossible to improve."
And it doesn't help that in the international press Ilyumzhinov is talking about aliens; it's a strange image.
Unfortunately it's a very precise image of the person that nobody wants to touch. Ilyumzhinov's biography and his record is devastating for any organization that is aiming to attract corporate sponsors. This is something that people should recognize. It takes a little bit more time but I think we already fertilized the ground for the future. In a year or two, maybe earlier, they will see that Ilyumzhinov's promises, they are as unreal as his contact with aliens.
But they already know him for so many years...
"Yes, but it's not only him you know. In many regions we didn't really fight Ilyumzhinov but the people who work with him, like Jorge Vega in America or [Ignatius - CV] Leong in Asia, it's an infrastructure. It's very difficult, you know, to win without having any infrastructure built as an opposition. We started from scratch, we relied on our contacts but in three, four, five months it's very hard to change people's perception. Our message was well received and Karpov's program was offering a lot to federations and they saw it. But in such an intense election people don't want to be on the losing side, they are afraid to be on the losing side. The fear, the terror, the intimidation, those are the key elements of Ilyumzhinov's campaign. That's why I'm saying in Russia they succeeded because they pretended that the Russian regime, Putin's regime, was behind them but in fact this time it was not about Putin, it was about one very arrogant, impudent Russian bureaucrat who had support of some top business people and they put the power behind Ilyumzhinov, and it was quite convincing. It was more about fear and intimidation rather than about a conscious choice for Ilyumzhinov.
What would be your advice to someone who wants to run for FIDE President next time?
"If anybody wants to do it again, you have to start early and you have to show people the alternative. Even if you had the greatest message on earth, having four, five days to communicate it to people and to make them to believe, it's virtually impossible. They have to see that, you know, you can be there around for a while. I think that if any campaign to succeed it should build an alternative to Mr Ilyumzhinov. Not two months before the election but at least two years before the elections."
What is the main difference between Karpov and Ilyumzhinov?
"Attracting sponsorship is part of any international organization. FIDE is the only organization of that size which lives on the account of national federations. The top element of Karpov's program was to reverse the relation between FIDE and the federations and offer finances and to stop receiving any money from federations; eliminate all the fees. That's the number one task of FIDE to attract commercial sponsorship. Under no circumstances this leadership is capable of changing things. Ilyumzhinov's reputation plus the reputation of all others; Makropoulos, other members of the organizational board... they have zero record of raising any corporate sponsorship. This is important: you look at people surrounding Mr Ilyumzhinov and none of them ever raised any corporate money."
Isn't the chaos surrounding the World Championship cycle responsible for that too?
"It's not a separate issue. Of course it's not good that right now the World Championship match is not as an important element of global chess as it was 25 years ago. It's getting a bit better now because Ilyumzhinov actually came back to the matches. People should remember that Ilyumzhinov destroyed the classical system in 1996 and when he talks about unification, that he was responsible for reunifying the world of chess, he's lying. On the contrary: in 1996 everything was ready for reunification, all he had to do as newly elected FIDE President was to follow the agreement approved by Campomanes and signed by Karpov and myself and to organize a Kasparov-Karpov match for reunification. He didn't do that. Instead, he went for organizing a knockout. For ten years the world of chess remained divided because Ilyumzhinov wanted to have some new, crazy ideas. The World Championship cycle recovered a little bit of the ground, of the image, because he came back. So that's the only good thing that happened; after ten years of failures he just recognized that killing the title with so much power and historical relevance was a wrong idea. But it's not enough because the normal system should be restored. The normal system should have a proper selection process and right now the selection process looks like a joke. They're planning to have these three matches in a row and I think it's an insult because how can you expect the best player to win the candidates if you have three matches in a row, 4-4-6... First of all the matches are too short. Four games it's is too short, I mean, for the quarter-final and especially for the semi-final. Let's say in the semi-final a match Kramnik-Carlsen, I mean, I want to see eight-game matches. That is what you should sell, not all this nonsense that playing these top players straight on, which gives a huge advantage to the current World Champion. The chances that the best player wins this competition are not very high. Anything can happen. Too much is given to chance. I can only hope that things will change but, again, not with this leadership. The reason they cannot do that is because there is no money. They don't have corporate sponsors. Karpov's program was very specific: the matches to be restored in normal shape, six games for the quarter-final, six games for the semi-final, eight games for the final, all played in different places, giving players time to rest. That's the way to run it. Again, to organize everything you need to have proper finances."
Suddenly Kasparov interrupts the interview. "If you don't mind, I'll just put on my screen the games in Bilbao." Of course we don't mind. It's the perfect moment to leave chess politics and switch to different subjects, like Magnus Carlsen, the other current top players and the simul Kasparov will give tonight at the Alfacam studios.
You still follow the top tournaments closely?
Yes, I look at all the games quite intensively. Not just because I like to, but this way I can still dedicate myself to chess creatively."
The Boss does more than just follow the games. He really studies them and still updates his database regularly. "I like chess and I can guarantee you that my database is still up to date. I still search for and find new ideas and I always want to know if one of the current top players found the same ideas. So far this hasn't happen very much, by the way," he explains proudly, while looking at the game between Alexei Shirov and his former student Magnus Carlsen.
Carlsen didn't do well at the Olympiad.
"Indeed, but it doesn’t really surprise me. Magnus is a brilliant player, but he really has to want to work hard. Otherwise he won't succeed."
Is that the reason you don't work together anymore?
"No, that's not all. It's a combination of factors. I was very busy with the elections and lacked the time to help him. But I also felt Magnus wanted more freedom. I always gave him advice about openings and it seemed that he sometimes didn't like it when I pressed him to make certain choices."
At the Olympiad he surprised a few times with his opening choice, like in his game against Adams, where he answered 1.e4 with 1…g6 followed by some kind of Pirc and a knight that quickly went to h5. What do you think about that?
"I don't approve of this. In fact I think it's almost an insult to play such an opening against someone like Adams, a well-known top player. In my opinion Magnus deserved to loose this game. But it comes down to a professional approach. Magnus is capable of beating a 'normal' 2700 player without too much trouble, so to speak. He has enough talent to do that. But it's different at top level. Facing Adams, Jobava, Sjugirov is not the same as facing Kramnik and Anand. He definitely doesn't have enough ideas, enough chess mass... He's playing a lot of tournaments now... I'm afraid that by the end of the year he might not be the number one on rating."
Yesterday he was virtually surpassed by Anand.
"We'll see. I feel that it's a great pity because he's nineteen and nineteen there are... temptations in life. I felt strongly that he needed more guidance. But at the end of the day I... I worked with him and I promised to bring him at the top, so I did. He should be responsible for the rest."
What do you think of his fashion model career?
"I have to be honest. I think he did very well, because it's fantastic promotion for chess. But at the same time, if you want to beat players like Kramnik and Anand, you have to be focused 100%. Otherwise it won't work, especially at important tournaments. So it has a downside and I hope he won't forget that his chess career will suffer when he doesn't prepare sufficiently.”
Is it possible that you will cooperate in the future?
It seems unlikely to me now because he has to change his attitude. It depends on whether he's willing to work hard, and whether I will have enough time. Obviously I would like to provide some more advice because advice, you know, it's not a tip. It's really hard work. It needs full dedication. He was dedicated in the spring and summer of 2009. We had a great session in Croatia for almost two weeks so that was a big, big contribution. Then we had a good session in Marrakech, so... it helped, you know. Unless he wants to go back from the fashion world to the hard work... My advice is not like giving advice to a kid you know, it involves work for hours. Unless you work five, six hours a day on a regular basis it doesn't work. In Croatia we worked with him at least five hours a day, this was the minimum. When you have five hours a day for almost two weeks that's a lot of work. Plus, it's not only working hours, but then you do more work, you think about it, so it puts you very much inside the problem."
What do you think about Anand and Kramnik, are they still...
"Look, Anand is forty. It's amazing that the generation after me, they're still on top. It shows that the generation which learnt from Karpov and myself, that grew up with our matches, this generation is still strong. They both work very hard. Kramnik is six years younger than Anand but I think they belong to the same generation, it's the generation after Kasparov. These two guys are on the top now, they're doing great, it's a demonstration. They learnt in the eighties and early nineties. Those players grew up by absorbing the ideas from the K-K matches."
What do the simuls mean for chess?
"It's my job but I think it's good; it promotes the game and especially the event here, it's a traditional event. This is what I like because it's every year, the same time. Actually it's always around my daughter's birthday; it's already her second birthday she's celebrating here. She was two, and now she's four. But it's important because it sends a message around. It's a big thing, with these preliminaries, the simul with Nigel Short, now they're bringing Almira Skripchenko... so it's a good event, which sends the message that chess is a popular game. The fact is that many CEOs and politicians are participating. That also helps to establish the image of the game. I think the organizers do a very good job promoting chess in this part of the world. That's why for me it's more than just a job. It's to help good people to establish a reputation of chess."
It's interesting that you mention this, as in Belgium chess is a little bit in a crisis, not only because of financial problems with the board, but our sports minister recently said that chess is not a sport.
"This is a general problem of FIDE's failure to get full recognition from the International Olympic Committee and this failure is related to Ilyumzhinov's rule. In 1995 FIDE was very close to get full recognition and may have become part of the Olympics. Mr Ilyumzhinov never pushed hard and actually one of the reasons is that he made no efforts to bring the two titles together. Divided titles is one of the curses for the IOC. But even after 1995 he showed no real interest in doing that. Now, for instance with the case in Lausanne, where five federations sued FIDE for a violation of the rules, the real fight was not about the merits of the case but, as we described in our last article on Karpov2010, FIDE challenged the jurisdiction of CAS. FIDE doesn't want to be part of the full Olympic family. It doesn't want to be fully recognized in order to keep their hands free for whatever reason. So it doesn't help of course to recognize chess as a sport in countries like Belgium. But specifically with this case, I believe it's very stupid, those remarks of the minister, they just show the lack of intellect for me."
He says it's no sport because there's no physical activity.
"How does he count physical activity? Are there any physical activities in golf? Or curling? How does he count, is it physical contact? There's no definition of sport. By every element of sport as I understand it, of course chess is a sport. Sport is a fight. Whether it is a fight of intellects or a physyical fight, or just a competition like curling, I could give you many examples of games without any hint of physical contact. This lousy attempt to reduce the definition of sport is for me a demonstration of very narrow intellect. In order to fight these intellectual limitations we need a powerful international body, just to send the message. We need a full-scale recognition on the international level."
On the same day, for the fourth time Kasparov gave a simul against Belgian CEOs and politicians as well as a selection of young players. The kids had earned their spots in preliminary simuls against Nigel Short and Almira Skripchenko. Here are the games:
Game viewer by ChessTempo
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