Reports | December 05, 2011 12:38

The German aftermath of the European Team Championship

The German aftermath of the European Team Championship

After Germany's surprise victory at the European Team Championship, one might have expected positive effects for German chess – even if mainstream media attention was rather limited. However, within a few days it turned out that old conflicts had never been healed and surfaced again. Last Monday this culminated in the exclusion or at least suspension of top player Arkadij Naiditsch from the national team.

Germany won the European Team Championship last month in Porto Carras, Halkidiki (Greece), beating Armenia in the final round | photo © ChessDom

These conflicts go back to at least a year ago prior to the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk 2010, when all four top players (Naiditsch, Meier, Fridman and Gustafsson) declined to play for Germany. Reasons were, briefly, lack of financial support from the federation, lack of chess support and – last but not least – lack of communication between federation officials and top players.

A meeting between both sides could not be arranged because former federation president Robert von Weizsäcker was always too busy. The German magazine Schach quoted Jan Gustafsson

I do not expect from the federation that they make us richer, but they should make an effort to turn us into better players!

– referring to dedicated opening coaches in various other countries.

Naiditsch explained his position in a provocative open letter at ChessVibes, where he attacked several federation officials, including von Weizsäcker and federation coach Uwe Bönsch, whom he considers completely unsuitable for his position.

Things seemed to change for the better in 2011. In June, von Weizsäcker didn't run for another term. His successor Herbert Bastian was greeted with high hopes from the German chess community, probably in part because he is himself a very active chess player. Sponsors were found to secure the participation of the "A-team" at the European Team Championship, and to hire Rustam Kasimdzhanov – former FIDE World Champion, but maybe more widely known as regular second of current world champion Vishy Anand – as opening coach. Bönsch had the function of "team captain", responsible for organizational and logistic aspects – players say he hadn't done anything else at earlier occasions.

At the event, the entire team overperformed. While Bastian said that he expected the team to finish higher than their 10th seeding place, probably noone would have even dreamed of a gold medal prior to the event.

In hindsight, the conflict may have been seeded during the event, centering on the role and merits of Bönsch for the success of the German team. Already before the tournament Naiditsch was almost removed from the team due to a "cynical comment" about Bönsch – which Bastian managed to prevent. During the event, reports on the German federation homepage kept mentioning Bönsch but not Kasimdzhanov. According to Bastian, this wasn't done intentionally but reflects the fact that Bönsch kept in touch with the home front during the event; he acknowledges that such "lack of fine-tuning" was a mistake.

Most controversially, the final blog entry of Melanie Ohme, who played on the women team, was "edited" – without permission from Ohme - before being cross-posted on the federation homepage: The original version says

An outstanding tournament for the German men and their coach Rustam Kasimdzhanov, who certainly made a major contribution to victory.

– the edited version reads

An outstanding tournament for the German men, besides federal coach Uwe Bönsch also theoretical guru Rustam Kasimdzhanov certainly contributed significantly.

After the tournament, the situation escalated on 14th November with a newspaper article quoting Naiditsch:

Of course I hope that our title will have positive effects for German chess, but that's now up to the federation. I am very skeptical. I even believe that most members of the presidential board aren't happy about our victory. Noone has congratulated me. ... He [Bönsch] has a permanent position with the German federation and earns roughly 50 000 Euro per year. But he thinks that he goes on holidays rather than to a European championship.

The same article cites Daniel Fridman on Bönsch:

He arranges the hotel accommodation or makes sure that we always have enough beverages.

The article was mentioned on a German chess blog which led to heated discussions. Herbert Bastian repeatedly joined the discussion, which was met with a mix of surprise, praise but also criticism.

His first official response was posted on the federation homepage 19th November. Bastian:

This hate campaign has personally touched me a lot and made me reconsider my own engagement. I cannot understand at all that, in a country like Germany with its national history, it is still possible to point with the finger on someone and then stones are thrown without any justified reason. And this from chess players who are widely considered to have above average objectivity and analytical capacities!

He mentioned that Bönsch's actual salary is far less than the 50,000 Euro quoted on the Internet. Elsewhere Bastian states that he did congratulate the entire team by phone right after their victory, and also had personal email contact with Arkadij Naiditsch. Bönsch found an additional sponsor, had sole responsibility to select the team and determine the board order, and – after consulting the players – contracted Kasimdzhanov. Bönsch has other responsibilities besides the national A-team; Bastian suggested that the A-team wants another more expensive coach to be hired solely for their purposes, who could only be paid via a substantial raise of amateur contributions to the federation.

Fridman responded with an open letter where he criticizes anonymous Internet insults against both Bönsch and Naiditsch, and also Bastian's reference to German history. He stressed that the quote by the "journalist" (his quotation marks) was taken out of context from an interview that took about half an hour. In the core of his statement, he denies that the national team wants more money at the expense of amateur players, rather suggesting that available money for top sports should be used more efficiently.

The final escalation happened on 27th November when the Presidential Board of the federation unanimously decided that the player's contract with Naiditsch will not be renewed for 2012. Given reasons are recurrent public statements on federation officials which were deemed unobjective and factually wrong. Naiditsch thereby violated "letters and spirit" of his player contract, which specifies that criticism should be handled internally and not via the media.

The decision will be reassessed in summer 2012: if Naiditsch in the meantime documents that he is ready to cooperate with the federation and its representative "in a fair and professional manner" he may rejoin the national team for the forthcoming Olympiad.

The Presidential Board separated sportive success from disciplinary measures against Naiditsch. Accordingly, he and all of his teammates will receive a distinction from the federation (Goldene Ehrennadel des Deutschen Schachbunds) as well as an extra bonus payment for winning the gold medal.

Bastian clarified that Naiditsch will lose some financial benefits from the federation which would allow him to hire a personal coach for training sessions. However, if he is readmitted into the national team next summer, he may also receive all benefits for the entire year 2012. In this respect, current disciplinary measures may be considered a punishment that can later turn into a warning.

Bastian appreciated that Naiditsch, in another interview, stated that "spontaneous statements shouldn't be overestimated" which he considers a step in the right direction. He stated that the latest interview by itself may not have lead to disciplinary measures, but the cumulative effect of many incidents made the decision inevitable. According to other sources, it was Bastian's influence that allowed leaving the door open for Naiditsch.

Post scriptum

This report was, in part, made possible by Bastian's speedy responses to email inquiries. Naiditsch declined commentary, referring to a forthcoming press release. Gustafsson, Buhmann and Bönsch were also contacted but did not reply. Daniel Fridman's email statement may be an appropriate way to close this report:

Unfortunately there are hardly any more reports on the tournament itself, which I regret a lot. I can understand that the current discussion attracts a lot of interest, but please accept that I do not want to make any further statements on this topic beyond my letter published at the federation homepage. It would be nice if, in the future, people will again discuss more about chess and not about persons.

Thomas Richter's picture
Author: Thomas Richter
Chess.com

Comments

SadTruth's picture

Lol humans

TomTom's picture

Even if you are hungry, don't bite the hand that feeds you.

RainPiper's picture

It's really revealing to look at this story from the semi-distance of an international news site. Following the heated discussion on the German chess portals, with its uncompromising and at times even insulting tone, one might be mislead thinking that something deeply important is going on. -- But reading this somewhat reserved account of the whole course of events, I cannot help asking myself: What has all the fuss been about?

sirschratz's picture

that's really the question: "what has all the fuss been about?" the players' complaints basically only seems to be the trigger of a discussion, which touches on deeper problems within the german chess federation.

what it all boils down to is the sad fact that the german chess federation is, typically german as it were, run by technocrats. it's impossible to sum up all the appalling statements of this group of functionaries who would meet in expensive hotels for mere administrative planning of the federation. the amount of money they spend on optimizing administration is simply ridiculous. at the same time they state that there is not enough money for supporting german professionals!

if you judge them by their actions it's even worse. the german championship would take place at the same time like the european championship - the person responsible for making chess in germany more popular bluntly states that this is not possible but at the same time has administered this function for several years! and so on, and so on.... they seriously say that it is not possible for a chess federation to find sponsorhip for chess events.... how incompetent can you be?

the statement of the german chess federation on the naiditsch-case reads almost like an execution. at the same time there's no mention that the federation would even have attempted to talk to naiditsch. cooperatively meeting at a round table is not what these technocrats understand to be their job-description. Even after the best german players had filed their protest in 2010 or was it 2009 (?) it took months until the german technocrats of the federation deigned to talk to them. before that they published sharp decrees or gave interviews in the tone of a monarch talking to his underlings.

the very BORIS BECKER who two days ago opened the london chess classics said at the end of his glorious tennis-career that the german TENNIS federation was ruled by incompetent functionaries.
it is simply frustrating for a german chess player to see so much chess potential in the country wasted by functionaries of the german CHESS federation who in a very arrogant way are in no way different to the functionaries boris becker was so furious about...

that's what it is all about - and that is why, insignificant as this is, i want to clearly give all my respect to mr. naiditsch!

15254's picture

Funny that the officials tend to forget that they represent all of chessplayers, not just a group when they deal with the players. This confrontation could have easily be avoided, and should have, simply just by listening to the players and trying to solve the problem, if unable to solve, before burning the bridges. German federation looks like the Turkish federation now with regards to incompetence of dealing with a top player. The top players should be able to represent their country no matter what (bar criminal acts). The rest is just insignificant details not worth the time. A federation official should be mature enough to act diplomatically while solving the issues, not just make statements.

Septimus's picture

These guys are behaving like little kids. Maybe they are looking to take over the limelight from the Kardashians and their worthless saga?

If the federation does nothing, ignore them and do your own thing. Popularize the game by yourself at every opportunity and make it about the team rather than the federation. Picking a fight with the management never ends well. It makes both sides look really bad. Sometimes it pays to be a rambo (i.e 1 man army) and do your own thing.

sirschratz's picture

but i'm afraid that this is rather simplistic. the federation IS chess. the functionaries tell the best players that they don't get paid for playing for germany and that they don't get any help during team events. naiditsch does fight and so he doesn't accept this.

this is a wonderful example for an administration that regards itself more important than the content. there are numerous examples of the highest german referee who proudly runs around at international tournaments but repeatedly makes a mess of national tournaments - be it the championship or the national cup. mr naiditsch directly confronts this funtionary with his incompetency - and he rightly does so.

one can't just turn away and accept that functionaries get paid for making a mess of chess. countries can't be successful at any sport if the people responsible are amateurs. the german problem is that they are not only amateurs, but feel a strange kind of satisfaction in demonstrating their power over the players.

S3's picture

Septimus, your simpleness never ceizes to amaze.

Septimus's picture

Gotta keep it simple for the simple minded.

guitarspider's picture

If our federation has to choose between an easily replaceable coach and the best player Germany has had since Hübner and Jussupow, there's only one rational choice to be made. Should have known our federation goes the other way though. :(

sirschratz's picture

the same functionaries mr naiditsch fight against have invented a rule a few years ago that makes it not possible for mr. khenkin to be part of the national team. he has got second highest elo-rating is german champion bit is too old to be allowed to play.

this shows the perverted situation in germany. german chess functionaries wouldn't even allow karpov to play in the team because the rule they invented says that he' too old.

the functionaries' rules are more important than playing strength - this is just another example of the mental state of chess functionaries :-)

tonn's picture

They sure know how to celebrate!

Thomas Richter's picture

Dear all (sirschratz in particular),

This may almost become another article - the one above could have been at least twice longer as I left many things out smiley. Notably, the situation about one year ago before the Olympiad is of course relevant background - still IMO it is largely "history": the federation is now under new leadership, and Herbert Bastian should get as much blame for actions, decisions and "style" of his predecessor von Weizsäcker as, for example, Barack Obama for things done by the Bush administration. Of course in both cases they have to deal with what they found when starting their term. BTW "functionaries tell the best players that they don't get paid for playing for germany" was wrong even back then.

The article is in part based on a long phone call with Herbert Bastian - which he suggested and he didn't avoid critical questions. As it was a "chat" rather than a Q&A session, I got answers even to questions I didn't ask smiley. Two points:

- The German championship had been scheduled long before the European Chess Union scheduled the European championship. It was impossible to change dates for the national event at short notice, already because many people involved had to take holidays for the event. This includes amateur players, local organizers and federation officials - most of them aren't paid but have a regular full-time job!

- Khenkin was eligible and under consideration for the national team. Eventually they preferred Buhmann because - to make a long story short - he was considered the better team player particularly for board 5. There seems to be a difference between national team and "A-Kader", even if they often include the same players. A-Kader means special financial support from the federation, and is indeed only available for players younger than 40.

From an email by Herbert Bastian: "We want to meet as soon as possible with the national team (including Naiditsch) to discuss the further cooperation. I am curious who will show up." 

Last but not least: Does a top player really have the right to do _anything_ short of criminal offenses? And while I am at it: I didn't even mention another Naiditsch interview - with chess-news.ru, translated here

guitarspider's picture

It's laudable that Mr. Bastian tries to engage in the discussion and I agree he should not be blamed for the mistakes of his predecessor. He has a lot of problems to deal with, but to me, the way he does it does not inspire much confidence.
How can it be that Bönsch was sent to Greece with the team, when apparently his relationship with the team wasn't the best? In this case it doesn't actually matter what Bönsch did or didn't do, if his relationship with the team is strained, he should not be their team captain anymore (or however they call it now). The trainer is replaceable, the players aren't.
How can it be that forged (or "edited") player diaries are published on the DSB website, and the responsible person doesn't face any consequences? If he did face them, why don't we know about it? Instead this is passed off as a regrettable mistake and the forged quote is still online (6th of December!) .
How can it be that a call to the public to write to the federation about the national team produces exactly one published opinion on the DSB website, and how can it be that that opinion is so biased, it could have been written by the DSB functionaries themselves?
The latest try to get Naiditsch into federation line by not including him in the A-Kader is just a transparent and empty threat, because of the back door they left open. Apparently the DSB is at a loss how to resolve the situation properly, and has been for years. Now they're just hoping Naiditsch caves, which resolves none of the problems.
To me as an amateur player watching from a distance, this is very revealing about the state of German chess. You might call it an Offenbarungseid. Those were not all Mr. Bastian's mistakes, but he is still responsible for them as president.

As for top players, Mr. Naiditsch could of course be more diplomatic (and would serve his cause better if he were). But Germany currently has 1 player above 2700, two more above 2650 and 6 more players above 2600. We aren't exactly spoiled for choice when it comes to elite players, and so we should treat our elite a lot better than we do. And they have a right to say so. Especially when the federation performs at the level it does (just look at the kind of support Meier gets). Would Naiditsch even write his first open letter (clearly a product of frustration), if the federation had been dealing with these issues properly, so that both sides are content? Would he have continued to voice his opinion if the federation had done more than the absolute minimum to get the players playing again? I don't think so. This is as much about the failure of the federation as about Naiditsch's lack of diplomacy. Banning him solves nothing and hurts German chess.

Thomas Richter's picture

Keeping my journalistic distance, I will only comment on "if the federation had done more than the absolute minimum to get the players playing again".

I guess it's safe to say that Kasimdzhanov as opening coach wasn't the absolute minimum. Not mentioned in the report, there were also two training sessions with Karpov - also hardly the worst, cheapest or "minimum" person one could imagine. So even if you put all or most of the blame on the federation (you're entitled to your opinion) this part of your comment seems a bit unfair.

sirschratz's picture

it's strange that khenkin was only under consideration. he's not only german champion but as regards elo clearly in the team.

mr khenkin himself stated in a long interview himself that according to the rule i've mentioned above, he was not invited to be part of the team. mr khenkin is very clear on that point and he's not really known for getting such simple facts totally wrong.
it may be that what he was told is wrong, but that would be just an example for the mess.

"not paid", well.... indeed, even 2 years ago, the players did get money. but the players also (for example mr. hertneck) reported how much they actually got and the amount is very embarrassing - one simply can't speak of payment, rather of symbolic gratitude. indeed, in an interview one of the players compared the sum used for funtionary-meetings and the money used for supporting professionals (per year) - maybe one of the esteemed functionaries would want to publish the exact figures here....

one should not forget that naiditsch & co. went on strike because the support they got was simply a disgrace and compared to european standards ridiculous. mind you, mr. gustafsson didn't play at the last olympiad but then was hired as a coach (theory, preparation etc.) by the danish team - at a time, when it was utterly unthinkable and beyond any discussion for german functionaries to have that for the german team.

last but not least: no, a player is not allowed to say anything. but there has been criticism by one of the strongest german football players. it was amazing to see how professional the german football functionaries dealt with that.
if one reads the statement of the german chess association on the "case-naiditsch" - man, this is a text from the middle ages. this is not how you communicate with or publicly talk about a knowledge worker of the 21st century. this is the text of functionaries who give orders and who need to publicly restore their power.
this text is an example for how you talked to people 50 years ago, but this is also an example how you lose the able and competent people today. it would be nice if the german association didn't have a "leadership" as you put it, but a "management" - the difference is huge, and it's not only words, but mentalities and cognitions which are expressed by these words.

this horrid text was published by the seemingly "new" people, it's about time they begin to understand that they are not leaders, but managers, they would better not order but facilitate...

i think people begin to understand, why chess in germany is so popular and so big and why germany hardly plays a role in international chess.

Thomas Richter's picture

An update almost exactly one month later: Naiditsch's press release has now appeared here (and also at chessbase.de). It is dated 23rd December and closes with "Season's greetings" for Christmas and New Year, but - to my knowledge - was published only 5th January by Naiditsch's lawyer.

Three pages are far too much to translate from German, parts directly relevant to the above story include:

- He wasn't consulted by the federation before the decision of the Presidential Board

- "The interview in which I supposedly return to the topic "Bönsch" was very wrongly represented by the journalist. I talked to the journalist for about half an hour, the topic Bönsch was just a small part of it and I didn't make the quoted statements about him. Apparently Daniel Fridman had similar experiences with this journalist." [slightly free translation from German, best I can do]

- "Tasks [in Greece] were clearly defined: 5 players, Kasimdzhanov as coach and Bönsch as 'Delegationsleiter' (team captain?). All did their job well and the success was grand."

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