Our guest is Alexander Khalifman
Alexander Khalifman: there should be some positive changes!
Mr Khalifman, how much will Kasparov's retirement affect the chess community in your opinion?
Maybe I misunderstand something, but it is clear for me that Kasparov's return is inevitable. I can't tell how much time it will take, a few months or a bit more than a year, but his return is obvious for me. It could be different in case he wanted to do something else, like teaching, or philosophical research, but considering his new field – politics... Being a public politician does not fit Kasparov. He will only bruise himself, quarrel with all enemies and friends, cease his political efforts saying that nobody appreciates him – and return to chess. Even if his decision was planned in advance and did not happen under the influence of momentary emotions, it is hardly definitive. I wouldn't start discussing the end of Kasparov's career as a definite fact. Let's sustain a pause. I quite like a quote of one grandmaster I've read in the Internet: we should not lament that there will be no new games of Kasparov, as we have not studied yet his old ones well. Let's see what happens.
Do you think Kasparov's criticism of the Russian leadership could negatively affect the development of chess in Russia?
No, I doubt it. Chess is chess, Kasparov is Kasparov. His political extremism should not affect other chess players. Chess is one of a few sports in which Russia is still a superpower, and such a status must be maintained, not destroyed. I am concerned about what happens in Ukraine right now. I do not want to give unwelcome advices, but the situation with the revolution braining its opponents with oranges does not seem promising. Oleg Blokhin's forced retirement from the position of the national football team head coach is simply scandalous. Hopefully in Russia politics will not affect sports to such extent.
In the Internet I saw an opinion that if Kasparov desires political career so much, he should try running for the FIDE presidency. Do you think it was more of a joke, or it could indeed be a possible direction to fulfill his political ambitions?
In any case, achieving such a goal is more realistic. How on Earth one can imagine Kasparov winning presidential elections in Russia? I even don't want to discuss it. On the other hand, Kasparov has a lot of trumps as a candidate for the FIDE presidency. The question is whether his leadership could benefit chess? I doubt it, considering Kasparov's personal qualities as a politician and an organizer. And, of course, I realize that leading FIDE is way too small-scale goal for him. Kasparov got used to solving only the most important problems.
How realistic is in your opinion to break through a current stagnation in FIDE? How should we act to achieve this?
We need new people to come. I do not expect any positive changes in FIDE under the current leadership. We need a strong candidate, considered an authority by both chessplayers and the most progressive national federations, prepared to take the power into his hands and able to bring a professional team with him. Replacing just Ilyumzhinov will not change the overall picture. Even arisen Dr Euwe would not be able to change it, as it is impossible to work with throughout-corrupt FIDE officials. The present FIDE style of running chess must be reconsidered, and all the staff must be replaced. Without this being done it is impossible to make a breakthrough. Such changes can occur at the FIDE Congress, but first of all we need a candidate and a team, and no one has announced yet that he or she is prepared for a campaign. Such a statement will be a step number one.
And is it possible to organize a parallel structure, backed by major national federations and chess players, which would take most FIDE functions upon it?
That will lead to another major split, as FIDE has all the credentials at its disposal. Appealing to the IOC or Sports Arbitrage, blaming FIDE and praising the new structure are possible, but it means a long juridical war. Maybe there will be no choice but to wage war, however, this is indeed the last thing we want to do. Although I do not fully understand the activities of the ACP aside from their Tour, I do appreciate the fact that they do not declare the war to everyone around. This is absolutely correct.
When the initial split occurred, only Kasparov and Short were obviously unhappy with the FIDE, and now the critical mass is growing. Those notorious European championships in Turkey, for instance, added a lot to it...
That's true. There were also great problems with organizing the last chess olympiad. The Spanish chess federation may send out tons of press releases telling how splendidly they've conducted the event. But we were there, and we know the true level of organization. A cramped and stuffy hall, a disastrous transportation – buses were overcrowded, always ran out of schedule, and one had to travel 10 kilometers nearly hanging on steps... They do everything haphazardly, so the critical mass has indeed accumulated. However, the chess players are rather inert people. Surely, 90% will tell that they grew weary of today's disorder and one has to do something. But to do what? Probably, one should use the connections in business and political establishment in order to find a reasonable candidate, able to take over the FIDE. But I would like to repeat that a new break up, even if FIDE does everything to provoke it, is the least desired outcome.
You are the first winner of the FIDE knock-out championship. Later you suggested improving the formula, making it a double knock-out, and your idea was supported by many professionals. From your point of view, which championship formula is the most appropriate in a given situation?
It must be democratic and available to all. You can't cut off someone only because of his or her rating being too low. Qualifying must only be achievable through playing. I am not a firm supporter of the knock-out format and I don't think that all the tournaments should apply it, but I believe that accepting a knock-out or a double knock-out as a basis for the Qualification to the final stage of the world championship is appropriate.
And what should follow? Individual matches, or match-tournament?
I don't think that round-robin is a good solution. With so much on a stake... I am not talking about the fair play violations, of course, but...
The loss of motivation?
Of course. You've lost two painful games and any chances for the top spots as well – so why should you spend time preparing for the next games? Because of five rating points? Hardly a good reason. That's why at a final stage there should be individual matches. Let's say the final stage's lineup consists of 8 players: reigning world champion, two highest rated players and 5 candidates from a double knock-out qualification. If we allow ourselves to dream that FIDE became a democratic organization and announced a poll regarding the most desirable world championship format, a similar idea could in my opinion turn out to be one of the favorites.
A present crisis in chess occurred largely due to the crisis in FIDE, and do you think players themselves bear any responsibility for that? They are, of course, not politicians or managers, so they are not obliged to fight against corrupt bureaucrats. So what could chessplayers do in order to help chess surviving a hard time?
It is difficult to say. The dress code stuff should be left for the elite tournaments – you can't force everyone in a large open to wear a suit. More important for us is to cooperate with the media more eagerly, maybe to display the creativity and to come up with new forms of competition that could attract sponsors and spectators. And conquering short draws as well as wearing suits and ties is useful but not critical.
What do you think about the rule that prohibits any talks between players during the game? It is going to be applied in the forthcoming elite tournament in Sofia.
There is certain logic in this suggestion. The atmosphere should generally be more fighting. A spectator who comes an hour and a half late does not enjoy finding an empty hall and three demonstration boards with "1/2" in complicated opening positions. So, perhaps this new rule they want to test is a sensible solution, because earning 3 points for a win is a very bad idea.
Once again, I don't want to idealize the knock-out, but it cures the illness of uneventful draws. Do you want to have a break and make a quick draw with White? Be my guest. We'll see how you manage defending as Black tomorrow. The number of tactical draws that we so often see in round-robins decreases in knock-outs.
On the other hand, sometimes the players prefer to finish their classical games quickly in order to lurk into a shorter time control...
Perhaps it is a lesser evil. However, what did Teimour Radjabov in Libya – and he definitely is a talented player – made a weird impression. "C'mon, let's play some blitz!" (laughs)... So, let's see how it will work in Sofia.
But you as a chessplayer do not consider this rule an extreme measure, do you?
Well, there is a certain degree of extremism, of course – a symmetrical rook ending without a single idea is boring to play or watch. However, in such positions it is not difficult to create a repetition, players will understand each other for sure... Still, I would prefer a 40-move limit. Playing over one time control usually guarantees a fighting game.
You said you don't understand the ACP activity aside from their Tour. What kind of actions would you like to see?
I am a member of the association since its foundation. I am not a member of the ACP Board, but I took part in some of their projects too. To be honest, I do not understand what the ACP does on a regular basis. I would welcome a monthly information letter, in which the ACP leadership would report the members about the latest ACP actions. I doubt that Joel Lautier is involved in top secret negotiations with Bill Gates, which must not be revealed.
The ACP is a young organization in the making. There are some bright ideas, like the ACP Tour and the Masters. It would be interesting to see the results.
Are you interested in the ACP Tour standings?
Not much – I do not participate in the race myself, because the bread of Swiss opens is not for aging and unhealthy grandmaster. However, the idea is quite good.
What do you think about the Shirov's open letter regarding the modification of the ACP Tour scoring system?
Probably it indeed requires some polishing. It would make sense to invite math experts to work out a better scoring system. However, even the existing one brings on top those who belong to the top...
Right now Kasparov withdrew from chess – and whom could one regard as world's number one? Anand, Topalov?..
There is a group of chessplayers that consistently produce top class results. I do not like a cult of personality. Why there must be an undisputed number one? There are several players of the highest class, and the fans are free to pick their favorites basing on taste. I think this is quite a normal situation. When the general level of chess culture is high, the appearance of a genius that plays significantly better than the others is more of an exception. Does it make sense to say that Topalov is right now the best player, and in January the best was Anand – no, wait, Leko! alas, in February the Hungarian declined for some reason, etc.? Each of them has own peaks of form, strikes of luck and so on. And they all play very high level chess that is interesting to watch without any categorical assumptions.
Will you watch games from Monaco? Is this tournament interesting for you?
The form is appealing, but I am not ready to take the results seriously. Wijk aan Zee and Linares are more interesting.
And the Poikovsky?
This is also not a bad tournament. They seem to have one world champion already... Somehow it feels weird that its organizers did not remember about me in 6 years that have passed since the tournament foundation. I am also a Russian grandmaster, by the way. That doesn't mean that they have to invite me each time, but was it impossible to contact me at least once? Although the lineup did not change much over the years, it's their own business. I can't say I madly regret about it. But it is a good strong tournament.
You don't play much nowadays – is that because of a lack of invitations, or it's your wish to have breaks between the tournaments?
What invitations are you talking about? I got only one in the last two years. There are only two individual tournaments in my calendar – the Aeroflot open and Russian championship, if the latter is held at the same high standard as in 2004.
What is you next event – Russia's team championship in Dagomys? What are your future tournament plans?
In Dagomys I'll play at the 3rd board for a team from Samara, with Gelfand and Bareev. Later this year I am planning to take part in the Russian individual championship, and, quite likely, in the European championship. Considering that the latter will be organized in a more decent way than before. The European championship takes place in Poland; GM Bartek Macieja is among the organizers, so the previous years' incidents are not to be repeated (Bartolomiej Macieja confirmed that the participants will have the right to choose a hotel, and the official hotel will not overcharge them, but provide discounts – M.S.). I don't want to blame Turks, as we are not racists, but the Turkish chess federation has failed the task of organizing the European championships completely. Hope this year's championship will be conducted on a new standard. That's why I consider playing there. One has to support the new organizers – there should be some positive changes!
Questions by Misha Savinov