KC-Conference with Ruslan Ponomariov: Part 1


We’re now publishing the first part of the answers of International Grandmaster Ruslan Ponomariov to the questions of chess fans, posed as part of the “KC -Conference” project. This conference is the eleventh since the project began and the second with a truly international character: the questions came not only from the Russian KasparovChess forum, but also from readers of the English language site Chess in Translation. The conference itself is being published on our site in both Russian and English.

In the first part of this “people’s interview”, the 2002 FIDE World Champion responded in detail to questions on his outlook on chess, his career, his chess-playing colleagues and chess politics. For the first time he also gave an in-depth response to questions on the sensational cancellation of his match against Garry Kasparov in 2003. This is supplemented by a biography, the best games of our guest commentated on both by himself and analysts from our site, and Sergey Shipov’s traditional short essay. Ruslan was also kind enough to provide us with photographs from his personal archive.

The second part, containing answers to questions on internet chess, chess books and journalism, the principles of preparation and improvement, openings, non-classical forms of chess, other games, and also simply “on life”, will appear on our site in the near future. Discussion can be continued: in Russian – in a thread on the KasparovChess forum, or in English at Chess in Translation.

Short Biographical Sketch

Ruslan Ponomariov (Ruslan Olegovich Ponomariov) was born on 11 October 1983 in the town of Gorlovka, Ukraine. He’s been an International Grandmaster since 1998, and is also an Honoured Ukrainian Master of Sport. His current FIDE rating is 2744 (January 2010, 11th place on the FIDE rating list). His highest place on the FIDE list was 6th (2743 – April-July 2002, and 2738 – April 2006).

Ruslan learned to play chess from his father at the age of 5. At 9 he became a Class A player, and in September 1993 he moved to Kramatorsk, where he lived in the family of his namesakes. The head of the family, Mikhail Nikitovich Ponomariov, was the director of a chess club, and then the Head of the famous A. V. Momot Kramatorsk School. His son, Boris, became Ruslan’s trainer. There was no need to wait long for the talented boy’s results. As a ten-year-old he finished third at the Under-12 World Championship in 1994. At 12, Ruslan won the Under-18 European Championship in 1996. A year later he won the Under-18 World Championship. Finally in 1998, at the age of 14 years and 17 days, Ruslan became the youngest grandmaster in history, beating the record then held by Bacrot by a year and a half.

Ruslan Ponomariov has won or finished among the prizes in many international tournaments, including Kiev 1997 (1), Donetsk 1998 (1 – zonal tournament, where Ruslan won one of two places in the FIDE World Championship in Las Vegas), Kharkov 2001 (1), Kramatorsk 2001 (1), Pamplona 2005 (1), Cuernavaca 2006 (1-2), Poikovsky 2006 (2-4), Karlovy Vary 2007 (1-2), San Sebastian 2009 (1-2). His super-tournament successes include: Linares 2002 (2), Moscow Tal Memorial 2006 (1-3), Moscow Tal Memorial 2008 (2-5) and, finally, the recent Dortmund 2010 (1).

Ruslan’s greatest achievement was winning the FIDE World Championship in the Moscow knockout tournament in 2002, where he beat, in turn: Li Wenliang, S. Tiviakov, K. Georgiev. A. Morozevich, E. Bareev and P. Svidler. He met Vassily Ivanchuk in the final match and won convincingly (4.5:2.5), thereby becoming the youngest World Champion in history. Ruslan was also successful in a number of knockout championships that followed: he’s a two-time finalist of the FIDE World Cup – 2005 (losing to Aronian) and 2009 (losing in the blitz tie-break to Gelfand). In the 2007 World Cup he got to the quarterfinals, where he lost to the future winner, G. Kamsky. In 2001, Ruslan was runner-up at the European Championship, losing out to E. Sutovsky on a tie-break.

As FIDE World Champion, Ruslan Ponomariov should (as part of the unification process established in the “Prague Agreement”) have played a match against Garry Kasparov, with the winner then playing the winner of the match between Vladimir Kramnik and Peter Leko. The match should have taken place in September 2003 in Yalta, but was called off at the last moment – for reasons that have never been fully clarified.

He’s played successfully on the Ukrainian team. Back at the Olympiad in 1998 in Elista the 15-year-old Ruslan helped his team to a bronze medal (as the “second reserve” he got a medal for his individual board result and also won the decisive game in the final round). At the 2000 Olympiad in Istanbul, Ponomariov won the gold medal on board two. In 2001 in Yerevan the Ukrainian team, with Ruslan on board two, won the World Team Championship for the first time in their history. Finally, at the 2004 Olympiad in Calvia, Spain, he was in the winning Ukrainian team. For a few years he didn’t play for his country due to a conflict with the Chess Federation, but after a change in management he was again a member of the team that won the 2010 Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk.

He’s been awarded the Order of Yaroslav the Wise (5th class) and the Order of Merit (3rd class). He won the “Chess Hetman” prize in 2005 and 2009 (it’s judged by voting amongst Ukrainian grandmasters).

Ruslan is a universal chess player (according to some experts – “Karpov-like”), known for his uncompromising fighting spirit and principled character.

He enjoys an active lifestyle, liking to travel and play sport.


Sergey Shipov on Ruslan Ponomariov

Ruslan Ponomariov reminds me of the hero of Harry Harrison’s books – the one made of stainless steel. An extremely tenacious, self-possessed and resourceful fighter. Lost positions don’t exist for Ruslan. He fights to the end, and often does the impossible. The impossible for other players.

The Ukrainian grandmaster is flexible and technical, versatile and fearless. He can, and this is a very valuable asset, play in different styles. His opponents can never accurately predict his actions.

When I first saw the young Ponomariov I was stunned by his unchildlike seriousness. He played and reasoned like a worldly-wise adult. One well-known trainer, also shocked by the impression produced by Ruslan, predicted an inglorious future, saying the boy’s nervous system wouldn’t be able to cope… I, believe it or not, argued with the maestro. And turned out to have been right. Ponomariov’s junior successes smoothly grew into victories in adult tournaments – right up until the Championship summit. And, to be honest, there was the impression that wasn’t the limit. It seemed as though all the great Ks would soon be left behind, but…

The rest is an enigma, which I hope Ruslan himself will untangle.

And I’ll also note that 27 isn’t old for a chess player. After his first impressive victories Fischer also spent a long time in the shade, but then, approaching 30, he pulled off another spectacular rise. Anand won a title match at 40, while Steinitz proved his superiority over the rest of the world at 50! So everything’s still ahead for Ponomariov. I really hope I can commentate on a World Championship Match he’s involved in… I assure you, it’ll be interesting.

Selected Games

All the commentary, for now, is in Russian.

Ponomariov - Grischuk (Szeged 1994)
Ponomariov - Movsesian (Zagan 1998, commentary by Ruslan Ponomariov).
Dreev - Ponomariov (Yerevan 2001, commentary by Ruslan Ponomariov).
Ponomariov - Ivanchuk (Moscow 2002, commentary by Ruslan Ponomariov).
Short - Ponomariov ("Top Secret" smiley - Yalta 2003, commentary by Ruslan Ponomariov).
Ponomariov - Gyimesi (Moscow 2005, commentary by Roman Vilyavin).
Ponomariov - Topalov (Sofia 2005, commentary by Ruslan Ponomariov in "Informant" style).
Ponomariov - Comp Fritz (Bilbao 2005, commentary by Ruslan Ponomariov).

Ponomariov - Riazantsev
 (Dagomys 2008, commentary by Anatoly Polivanov).
Movsesian - Ponomariov (Donostia 2009, commentary by Anatoly Polivanov).
Ponomariov - Vallejo (Donostia 2009, commentary by Valery Aveskulov).
Ponomariov - Ivanchuk (Dagomys 2010, commentary by Anatoly Polivanov).
Svidler- Ponomariov (Astrakhan 2010, commentary by Ruslan Ponomariov).
Nisipeanu- Ponomariov (Bazna 2010, commentary by Ruslan Ponomariov).
Ponomariov - Kramnik (Dortmund 2010, commentary by Ruslan Ponomariov).
Le Quang Liem- Ponomariov (Dortmund 2010, commentary by Ruslan Ponomariov).
Ponomariov - Spasov (Herculane 2010, commentary by Anatoly Polivanov).
Fressinet- Ponomariov  (Khanty-Mansiysk 2010, commentary by Ruslan Ponomariov).
Ponomariov - Morozevich  (Moscow 2009, commentary by Vasily Lebedev).
Ponomariov - Bacrot (Khanty-Mansiysk 2009, commentary by Sergey Shipov).
Ponomariov - Gashimov (Khanty-Mansiysk 2009, commentary by Sergey Shipov).
Ponomariov - Leko (Dortmund 2010, commentary by Vasily Lebedev).
Ponomariov - Naiditsch (Dortmund 2010, commentary by Alexander Shershkov).


*** The questions posed in English at Chess in Translation are marked as [CiT].

1. Chess

vasa: Hello, Ruslan! I’ll allow myself to ask the traditional, not too creative but interesting (for me) questions:
- Ruslan, tell me, why do people play chess?

Everyone probably finds their own reasons for undertaking one activity or another. When I was five years old and my father taught me to play chess I simply found it very interesting to play. Then, thanks to chess, I had the chance to travel to events in different countries and meet new friends. And when I became World Champion at 18, I thought: why shouldn’t chess be my profession? I haven’t yet been able to give it up smiley

- Do you think chess can be exhausted?

From a mathematical perspective, yes, I think so – given that the chessboard, in contrast to the Universe, is limited to a space of 8 x 8 squares, and there are only 32 pieces. Six-piece endings have already been fully analysed. But I think there’ll be enough chess for our epoch!

- What is chess nowadays – a sport, a science, an art, or something else?

For me chess is, first and foremost, a sport. I know people who use chess for scientific research. It’s quite hard for me to imagine chess in a pure form, as an art. You can quite often see chess in advertisements, however, and adverts can be filed under “contemporary art” smiley 

Jazzman: Ruslan, do you think there’s nevertheless an element of luck in chess? If yes, then what is it?

I’m not really sure what you have in mind when you use the term “luck”. It strikes me that everything in life happens for a reason, and chess is no exception. It’s another matter that it’s not always possible to explain logically. Why, for example, does a chess player blunder a piece in a won position? Or why does the fair-haired man always beat the dark-haired man? smiley  [Translator’s note: A reference to the famous chess-lecture by Ilf and Petrov’s con-man hero, Ostap Bender, in the comic novel, “12 Chairs” ]. An element of uncertainty and unpredictability does exist in chess. And that’s very interesting!

ChemaAnton: What’s your opinion on the advance of computer technology in contemporary chess?

I really like H. G. Wells’ novel “The Time Machine”. There’s one point when the Chief Morlock is talking about evolution. For me the progress of computer technology is just such an evolution smiley
Versus Aronian

2. Career

vasa: Who taught you to play chess?
Harish Srinivasan: I read that you learned to play chess from your father at the age of 5 and at 9 became a Class A player. That is quite amazing for that age. Could you tell us more about that along with the following:
- What attracted you most to chess at that age?

My father introduced me to chess when I was around six years old, but I can’t say that I started playing and studying chess immediately. At first it was really just a new interest, a game.

In my childhood I really loved playing with toy soldiers, and I’d even collect different military figures of “Romans” and “Indians”. And then there was chess! You’ve also got figures, and the chess battlefield, and its own rules. Something new and much more entertaining! smiley [Translator’s note: in Russian “figura” means “figure”, but also “(chess) piece”, and “polye” means “(battle)field” but also “square” on a chessboard.]

- Was your father your only coach during those 4 years? [CiT]

My father was never my coach, and even subsequently my parents never travelled with me to chess events. I inherited my father’s interest in chess: he subscribed to various chess magazines (“Chess in the USSR”, “Riga Chess”), bought books – although even today he still doesn’t have any sort of rating or chess category.

He tried every means he could to encourage me to study on my own. I remember, for example, that it was summer and in September I was going to go to school for the first time. I still didn’t know the Russian alphabet, which was meant to be taught in the first-year school programme. But my father and I concluded, as it’s fashionable to say nowadays, “a deal”. [Translator’s note: Ponomariov uses the English word] I learnt the whole alphabet that summer, and in return he bought me a toy railway :) However, he didn’t have to persuade me to study his chess magazines and books. How I managed to work out the chess notation – that I’ll never know! My father and I often played informal games: I took the defeats quite painfully. But, it seems, a child’s mind is built in such a way that negative moments are quickly forgotten.

- How many rated tournament games did you play on average per month during those 4 years? How did you take defeats at that age?
- Did you have a clear learning plan and if so how much studying did you do (as in how many hours per week)? [CiT]

Sitting at home and only playing my father eventually stopped being particularly interesting. By chance, my second grade teacher enrolled me in the chess club. My first trainer there was Alexander Evgenyevich Shmykov. I had the opportunity to play other children, and I even managed to beat some of those who were older than me. Alexander Evgenyevich began to spend more time with me individually. I remember we examined the games of the old masters: Morphy and Anderssen, and we also spent a long time looking at endings.

At 9 years of age I became the district under-12 champion. But things didn’t go so smoothly for me in the Ukrainian Championship: I got 6 points out of 9 and didn’t qualify for the European or World Championships. However, they spotted me in the district. At 10, I moved from Gorlovka to Kramatorsk and began to live and study in the family of my namesakes, the Ponomariovs, with whom I grew up to become the youngest World Champion in chess history.

But that’s already a different and longer story smiley 

- When did you realise that chess was your destiny?

I never really thought about chess being my destiny. I simply played, did something I enjoyed and everything happened of its own accord. Chess, of course, takes up the majority of my life. But my heart doesn’t only belong to chess smiley 

- Have you ever felt during a game: “I’m a genius”?

To be honest, during games you try to concentrate on the game itself rather than cluttering up your head with extraneous thoughts. But during home analysis when you find something interesting you sometimes want to scream out Archimedes’ “Eureka!”

- Do you enjoy playing chess?

I think I enjoyed chess more as a child. Perhaps that’s because I’ve already been playing for quite a long time? Or that now I enjoy doing other things apart from chess? I don’t really know.

- What’s your first chess memory?

Besides when I was first introduced to the game… I remember Zak and Dlugolensky’s book “To give up in order to find” made a big impression on me in my childhood. It had a collection of beautiful games by the World Champions and the strongest masters of different periods, together with beautiful illustrations. In the games I played as a child I tried to copy their play, though it didn’t really work out smiley 

- What means more to you: a beautiful draw, or a “clumsy” win?

The win, of course!

- Which move that you’ve made in your career was the very best?

Generally I prefer “clumsy” wins smiley But it’s probably the positional exchange sacrifice 18…Re3 against Iljushin, in a game which practically decided the fate of first place in the Under-18 World Championship, which has stuck in my mind the most.

- Which combination gave you the most satisfaction?

Probably the combination in the game Turati – Luzhin in the film version of Nabokov’s “Luzhin Defence”, which was impressive!

Jazzman: What do you consider the most vivid combination from your games?

I remember the game I played as Black against Topalov in Sofia in 2006. My position was winning: I was on the verge of victory, when suddenly I missed a tremendous combination which cleared a diagonal for a bishop and ended with the quiet move 33. d4 – after which there was nothing more I could do. True, he didn’t notice the idea immediately either, and didn’t carry it out as accurately as he might have done. But nevertheless, it’s not often with the way things are nowadays that you can allow or execute such a combination.


Garrett Kingman:
- Which of your games do you consider to be your best? [CiT]

At the request of Crestbook editors I made a compilation of a dozen of my most memorable games [Editor’s note: see “Selected Games” above]. I’m planning on publishing a book where I comment on a collection of my memorable games, as there’s already plenty of material to recall!

- And which game by other players have you found most inspiring or influential on yourself? [CiT]

For some reason my most vivid impressions are from childhood. Either a child’s mind is a little differently constructed, or I’ve started to approach my games and those of my colleagues more critically, but nowadays it’s not so easy to impress me. If I remember correctly, the game Spielmann – Stoltz from their 1930 match made a great impression on me. Now, no doubt, any amateur could switch on their “calculator”, find a bunch of mistakes and they’d be right. But back then, after looking at such games, I wanted to play chess myself.

korsar274: Hello, Ruslan Olegovich! I got the impression from reading your interview after the World Cup that you bought a ticket in advance precisely for that day. Did you plan on getting to the final right from the very start? Was that your rough assessment of the tournament situation?! smiley Or was it nevertheless meant to inspire you, a psychological trick you played on yourself?

Yes, it’s true that when I bought the ticket for Khanty-Mansiysk I also bought a return ticket at the same time. But believe me, it never even entered into my thoughts to use that as a way of scaring my opponents. It was more a case of the journalists who published the interview embellishing the text a little. They often like to have something a bit “hotter” smiley 

And then there was also a curious situation during the first game of my final match against Gelfand. He made a move and went off somewhere. I replied quickly and also left the board to go and drink some water. Coincidentally, the arbiters had also gone somewhere at that point, and there were absolutely no spectators in the hall – nobody! It struck me as a very depressing spectacle for chess frown Given a situation like that it would be strange if the journalists didn’t want to liven the atmosphere up a little, even if only with such interviews, don’t you think? It seems that FIDE are threatening to hold the World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk again next time round. Dear chess fans, please come and support this beautiful and uncompromising game!

- How would you define your style of play?

I think I’ll agree with the flattering description given by Sergey Shipov smiley 

- Do your plans include challenging for the World Championship title?

Unfortunately I didn’t manage to beat Boris Gelfand in blitz and get through to the Candidates Matches via the World Cup. And, for inexplicable reasons, I wasn’t included in the FIDE Grand-Prix, which gave at first one, then two, and now, as it turns out, three places in the Candidates Matches. I only played in the last stage in Astrakhan as a replacement for Aronian.

So that means I’ll have to wait for the next cycle, when I’ll definitely put up a fight!

didac: Hello Ruslan, how do you estimate your chances of becoming World Champion again? [CiT]

50:50. Either I’ll succeed, or I won’t smiley But seriously, in order to become World Champion you have to do serious work. I’ll be able to establish more specific plans when the next World Championship cycle starts. At the moment I’m concentrating more on the tournaments in which I’m going to take part. Well, and on improving my own mastery.

Пофигист: Ruslan, good luck in the coming year! Questions:
There’s an impression that many chess players don’t have a professionally thought-out schedule for events.
- How have you tried to handle that?

The chess calendar includes both official events run by FIDE or the ECU, and the traditional private tournaments. The running of the former largely depends on functionaries. Unfortunately, they sometimes move or change the dates of those events as they go along, which destroys your schedule. Private tournaments are usually much better organised, but taking part in them depends more on the preferences of the organisers: who they want to see in their tournament at that given moment in time. But in any case, nowadays I start planning my preparation and holding targeted training sessions only after all the contracts are signed, when the situation’s already become totally clear.

- Which clubs are you planning to play for in 2011?

In chess, in contrast to football, there’s nothing preventing sportsmen from playing for a few clubs simultaneously and, time permitting, you can play in different championships. In 2010 I played for “Tomsk” in the Russian league, “Linex-Magic” in Spain, “PVK-Kievchess” in Ukraine and for the first time I had the pleasant experience of playing in the Romanian league, for the “Medicina” Club from Timisoara.

There was a friendly atmosphere in all the clubs and I enjoyed playing for them. If time permits I’ll be happy to play for all those clubs again in 2011. Of course, a lot depends on the club presidents and whether they’ll be able to maintain the club finances at the same level. Again, I’ll only be 100% sure about the timetable after all the contracts have been signed.

didac: Which people were the most important in your career? [CiT] 

I’m afraid of forgetting to mention somebody.

Of course, I spent the majority of the time when I was just beginning to develop as a chess player in the family of my namesakes, the Ponomariovs. Mikhail Nikitovich was a very, very talented organiser. His son, Boris, worked with me regularly and travelled to events. I’d like to take this opportunity, however, to thank all those people who in one degree or other helped me at different stages of my career.

Valchess: You broke through into the chess elite so quickly that it’s as if you skipped the phase of being “a budding young chess player”: you were one of the strongest juniors – and then immediately became an “adult” champion. Don’t you think being in such a rush in some way worked against you in the long run, as you didn’t have time to “mature” (in the human or, perhaps, organisational sense), and a certain reduction in your success after your initial rise was connected to the necessity of standing on your own two feet in life – both in the ordinary sense with all the normal everyday problems, but also in chess terms – establishing a training process that suited you, a team and so on?

- By the way, on the “team”. I’ve more than once come across the opinion that the problems which arose in the period after your World Championship victory (the match with Kasparov, public conflicts with FIDE, your own federation and the organisers of certain tournaments), were to a degree connected to the fact that in your team at the time (who was there? Danailov and Topalov, Komarov, Golubev, the lawyer Ginsburg – those are the ones I know about, although I might be mistaken) there were people who were more concerned about their own goals than your interests (while you, still young and inexperienced, couldn’t stand up to them). Is there some truth in that, or is that just gossip, while in fact you were satisfied with the work of that team?

- And do you have a more or less established “team” today?

At the age of ten I moved from Gorlovka to Kramatorsk, and for long years after that I could put all my focus on chess itself. Organisational problems were resolved thanks to the energy of Mikhail Nikitovich Ponomariov. I never even noticed them, as I could always rely on him. Unfortunately, we suffered a great misfortune in 2003 when he died, very prematurely, of a stroke. As often happens, the loss of one person led to the whole system gradually starting to collapse. That’s how the famous A. V. Momot Kramatorsk School began to fall apart, with many talented players leaving, and new ones ceasing to appear.

So then, after the death of Mikhail Nikitovich, it was necessary to continue preparing for the match with Kasparov. Never in my life had I had any experience of such matches. There had been shorter matches with Korchnoi and Ivanchuk, but that’s not quite the same. However, I was always governed by the principle that you have to take important decisions yourself, even if you don’t have adequate life experience. By the way, that slogan was actually used in the advertising for the 2009 Tal Memorial. Nevertheless, I think I managed to do almost everything in my power to prepare for the match at that point in time. It’s a pity that the match itself never took place, but that’s already another story. I’ll try to talk about that more in the second section.

Now, of course, I’m already a fully-formed chess player, and I don’t have the sort of problems I had in my childhood: buying a laptop, chess literature or finding the money to travel to events. But maintaining the kind of team that you’d have for a World Championship match isn’t something I can afford. When it’ll really be necessary I’ll think about it. That’s one area I definitely have more experience in than I did before.

In 2010 I feel as though I worked productively with my friends on the Ukrainian team, Sasha Moiseenko and Zahar Efimenko. I think working together like that will also help them. Zahar has crossed the 2700-mark for the first time in his career, and we all became Olympic Champions as part of the Ukrainian team.

BergStrasse: Greetings GM Ponomariov! Winning the FIDE World Championship via a tournament format was highly criticised and relentlessly trivialised by certain GMs in the late 1990s up to, let us say, 2007. Your Crown, (alongside that of GM Khalifman, GM Anand, and GM Kasimdzhanov) was essentially reduced to a Burger King slogan: “Where’s the Beef?”
- What are your feelings about this; do you see yourself as a bona fide World Champion, or just another lucky tournament winner? [CiT]

Frankly, I didn’t even plan on winning that World Championship myself. After all, at that point I was only 18 years old, and the tournament was probably one of the strongest in the whole history of knockouts: it simply had all of the best players – except Kramnik and Kasparov. And it’s not my fault that they were in conflict with FIDE at the time. I simply tried to do my own job well and play. So I became World Champion, but life doesn’t end there smiley 

noone: Some time ago Loek van Wely was interviewed and he had this to say. Any comment?
-“You worked some time ago with Ponomariov. How did that go?”
“Not easy. The cooperation was probably just for that one time. Pono really likes to b***s***, he likes to f*** you all the time. He wants to be treated like Ruslan the Great, but I did not comply. We had agreed on a rest day, but we did not get it. Really, many a prisoner of war has had it better! I suffered a lot: seven long weeks seven hours of hard work every day.” [CiT]

Yes, I’ve seen that interview before. Perhaps the run in the fresh air was a little too much for Loek smiley [Editor’s note: referring to the fact that van Wely gave the interview straight after a 10-mile cross-country run]. I’d nevertheless advise him to try and improve and work on himself rather than looking for the flaws in others. That same Radjabov, who he criticises so much, has achieved a great deal more in chess.

As for our work together, I was preparing for a match against Kasparov and seriously studying 1. d4 for White – at the time I hadn’t yet played that way. Van Wely had helped Topalov in the Candidates Tournament in Dortmund. Veselin lost in the final match to Leko and stopped being a candidate for the World Championship title in that cycle, and he kindly agreed to help me again after we’d successfully worked together before for the match against Ivanchuk. Silvio Danailov was the one who advised me to do some work with Loek.

We had an agreement to hold two training camps in Yalta: sometimes we’d look at something together, while Loek would spend some of the time analysing with Veselin or Misha Podgaetz. At other times we’d play opening systems in blitz games. Preparing for a World Championship match takes up quite a lot of time and energy, and it was never a walk in the park for anyone. That work, of course, was far from gratuitous, and was actually quite well paid.

Frankly, I expected more from our work together. Perhaps Loek didn’t want to show all of his ideas. He did, however, show a certain “database of Kasparov’s analysis”, which was allegedly sold to him by Azmaiparashvili. I remember one of the ideas was extremely short 1. d4 d5 2. Bg5 Qd6!? I don’t know to what extent all of that information was genuine. Another thing: although it was only 2003, Loek, it seemed to me, was already misusing computers: in any position he trusted them more than he trusted himself.

In any case, after that experience of working with him I never had the desire to repeat it. As far as I know, after Veselin and me, van Wely also worked with Kramnik. I won’t try and judge how productive his work with Vladimir was.

phisey: Tell us a little more about the “Chess Hetman” prize.

As you know, there’s a tradition that was instigated by the magazine “64” of awarding a chess “Oscar” to the best chess player in the opinion of active journalists. The internet site www.chesspage.kiev.ua, whose editor is Anatoly Javorsky, had the idea of giving a “Chess Hetman” prize to the best Ukrainian chess player in the opinion of chess professionals. Vassily Ivanchuk has won the prize more than anyone else, while I’ve had the honour twice. Soon there’ll be voting and the determining of the result for 2010. Anatoly Javorsky himself could probably tell you more about the prize and the competition.

vasa: Could you tell us whether you’ve ever wanted to give up chess?

Not yet.
Max Euwe Centrum

3. Chess Players

- Which World Champion’s games do you most identify with?

Probably the games of Smyslov and Karpov. I was always drawn to clarity and harmony in positions.

- Which great deceased player would you like to play?

Kasparov smiley

- Which of the classic players from the start of the 20th century could put up resistance to the current elite, if you allowed them to study contemporary theory?

I’m afraid that until a chess program has been invented that’s capable of accurately imitating the play of a chess player from the past, I can only give a purely hypothetical answer to that question. Apart from the World Champions – perhaps Tartakower, Reti, Spielmann… and you could extend that list for a long time. Contemporary theory, by the way, doesn’t stand still either: after you’ve played one tournament you have to generate new ideas again, so as not to be left behind. Though perhaps getting to know contemporary theory alone won’t be enough. How could you test it?

Валентин: Dear Ruslan Olegovich! As 2002 World Champion you no doubt know how the World Champions of today differ from Botvinnik and Tal. But how do they differ from Steinitz or Lasker?

We all grew up on the games of the World Champions, absorbing the very best they had to offer, and that’s a constant process. Kasparov has written his very good “My Great Predecessors” series – and you can use that to follow the progress of chess thought. You could say that every World Champion took the best from his predecessor and then brought something new to chess. To put it very simplistically, Lasker introduced psychology, Botvinnik – the fundamentals of professional preparation… With Anand it was probably universality in chess, both in the openings and the character of positions. While he imposed complex tactical chess on Kramnik, against Topalov he favoured a calmer positional struggle.

It’s somehow immodest to talk about myself, but it strikes me that in the match against Ivanchuk I introduced an element you could call playing to the end, seeking out chances in positions where, it might seem, there are no longer any resources to continue the fight. My opponent complained that my games were too drawn out, and that in somewhere like Linares people resign or agree to draws much sooner. And then he started to play that way himself!

Jazzman: Whose play do you think is stronger: that of the contemporary elite, or the elite of the 20-19-18th century?

I’d still like to believe that after a couple of centuries people have started to play better chess, and not vice versa smiley

WinPooh: Ruslan, at the beginning of the 2000s you were often compared to the young Karpov. Is such a comparison justified? What’s your opinion on the play of the 12th World Champion?

I think any young chess player would find that comparison very flattering.

Valchess: What’s your opinion on Kasparov as a chess player?

It seems to me that his chess results speak for themselves better than any words.

Fireblade: Every player has a nemesis… who is yours? [CiT]

Somehow I have the worst results against Anand.

Michele Timbarello: Hi Ruslan. Here’s the question…
- Who do you consider the best player you’ve ever faced, not in terms of pure score, but in terms of understanding of the position?
Regards. [CiT]

Of course it’s very important to objectively evaluate the situation on the board during a game. It seems to me that Vladimir Kramnik is very objective when assessing a position, sensing danger on the board in time. But, on the other hand, I suspect that at times a healthy optimism gives you much better sporting results. You sense that particularly when you play young chess players: they don’t always evaluate positions correctly, but they play quickly and confidently.

Валентин: What was your impression of the Anand – Topalov World Championship match? Did you like any of the games?

I think it was one of the best World Championship matches, both in terms of the quality and the intensity of the struggle. There were no non-games. Anand, of course, is a master! He managed to demonstrate play like that on his opponent’s home turf, despite the psychological pressure. But Topalov also did well. After all, chess is a game for two people, and good games are created precisely when both of them play good and interesting chess.

didac: Which current player do you admire most? [CiT]

It’s probably the play of Magnus Carlsen that appeals to me most. Of course, he’s also a human being: he makes quite a lot of mistakes and he’s lost quite a lot of games recently. But the way he fights, calculates lines, and finds chances in complex situations – that really makes up for it.

- Who do you think is the strongest chess player nowadays (leaving the World Champion Anand out of the reckoning)?

Events are constantly being run in order to reveal who’s the strongest. Chess also has a rating list, and at the given moment that’s headed by Carlsen. It would also be interesting if they published a rating list showing who’s earned what in prizes over the year. In my opinion, that would give a more accurate picture of who’s playing the best at the given moment.

- Do you think Kramnik has chances of succeeding in the next World Championship?

Of course, there’s always a chance! You simply need to work and have a little luck along the way smiley 

- Who, in your opinion, will be the next World Champion?

Perhaps Aronian. At the very least he plays pretty well against Anand in tournaments. But first he needs to get through the tricky Candidates Matches in Kazan. That’s sport, and it’s always unpredictable: otherwise there’d be no point in holding events.

- What do you think about Aronian, and what sort of relationship do you have with him?

Our chess paths first crossed in 1994 in Hungary at the Under-12 World Championship. Back then he beat everyone and took first place, but afterwards he was overshadowed for a long time and wasn’t really considered, as is so popular nowadays, a young and talented chess player, although he undoubtedly was one. I don’t know what sort of support he had in Armenia at that point, but it strikes me that his move to Germany worked in his favour. His play became more stable, perhaps, and balanced. He had a brilliant 2005: in particular he beat me in the final of the World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk, after which he began to be talked about seriously again, and he was invited to the very top tournaments.

- What’s your opinion on Tigran Petrosian (the World Champion)? Thank you.

I’ve got great respect for the play of all the World Champions. Perhaps Petrosian’s play wasn’t as bold, for example, as Tal’s or Fischer’s. But the fact that the man was the best player in the world for six years is worthy of respect.

Valchess: Ruslan, questions about your colleagues:
- Could you please describe, in one or two sentences, the most distinctive chess features of the following top-grandmasters: Anand, Kramnik, Carlsen, Topalov, Grischuk, Mamedyarov, Radjabov, Svidler, Nakamura.

It strikes me that a person’s character is best displayed by their chess games. It’s hard to hide something when you’ve played a lot of games! I’ve played many tournaments against all of those players. I’ve already built up, as Botvinnik did, a huge notebook characterising different chess players. But in my own professional interests I wouldn’t want to publish it just yet.

- Which of the youngsters (Caruana, So, Nepomniachtchi, Giri, Sjugirov, or someone else?) do you consider the most promising? The most interesting as a chess player?

Of course I’ve looked at the games of all the chess players mentioned. I’ve played many of them, and not so long ago either. It seems to me that it’s not so important who’s “considered” the most promising. For example, it wasn’t long ago that Radjabov was considered a super-talent, while Gashimov didn’t stand out so clearly. And what became of that? In any case, you need to do a lot of work in order to achieve anything and not spend your whole life as a budding and promising player.

But overall, the youngsters whose play I’m most interested in are Zahar Efimenko, Anton Korobov, Alexander Areshchenko and Yury Kuzubov. I simply know those guys better as they’re from Ukraine, and I’ve spent a lot of time with them. Each of them has their own interesting outlook on chess.

vasa: I’ve got a question for you as a chess player who’s won a match against Ivanchuk: “Do you consider Vassily Mikhailovich a chess genius?” smiley

I think a chess player who hadn’t won a match against Ivanchuk would also agree with that. Yes, I consider Vassily Mikhailovich a chess genius! Who else plays such interesting and varied chess? Who else dedicates himself so fanatically to chess? I still learn a lot from playing Vassily Mikhailovich. But that, of course, doesn’t mean that he’s impossible to beat smiley 

phisey: Who will be able to replace the current top Ukrainian players? What will the national team line-up look like in, say, 10-12 years’ time?

I don’t really have any idea who’ll be playing for the team in 10-12 years. At the moment no-one under 15 years of age stands out in Ukraine, except for Nyzhnyk. In my view that’s a big problem for Ukrainian chess, and our federation needs to do something about it, as otherwise the average age of the team will steadily rise, and that’s fraught with problems. In general, I think the Olympiad’s more of a young man’s event. I recall the first time I played there – I couldn’t get enough of it! I just kept hoping they’d pick me again to play in the next match smiley

Пофигист: Does Nyzhnyk, or someone else among the Ukrainian hopefuls, have the potential and opportunity to compete in future against the strongest players in the world?

Potential and talent alone aren’t enough in order to develop and improve. Karjakin moved to Russia above all in order to have full-time and professional trainers. Just now, as far as I know, Ilya Nyzhnyk has the same problem: he has potential, of course, but he mainly works alone with a computer – Baklan, as far as I know, isn’t his full-time trainer. At Wijk-aan-Zee Ilya was alone with his mother. But Ilya himself is better placed to tell you about his problems – by the way, he recently gave a press conference at sport.oboz.ua along with Baklan and the President of the Kiev Chess Federation, P. Kuftyriov.

vasa: How do you rate the intellectual level of contemporary chess professionals? Is it true that chess develops the intellect?

As far as I know, no targeted test of the IQ of chess players has been carried out. But overall, I think that chess will have a positive influence on anyone. The main thing is simply not to abuse it.

4. Chess Politics

nikitarfs: What’s your opinion on the current system for deciding the World Champion? Which system do you prefer – the one from the pre-Ilyumzhinov era, or the current one?
P k saha: Do you think the present system for choosing the World Champion is right? It’s been changed and twisted so many times in the last 3 decades. [CiT]

I’m still quite a young chess player, and have to judge the previous system more from history and books than from personal experience. But in my view it was quite good. Ilyumzhinov, when he became FIDE president in 1995, did a lot of good for chess, investing a significant amount of his own money. Perhaps his system wasn’t ideal, but it was certainly dynamic and interesting. It’s also a plus that we now, finally, have one World Champion again.

Which system do I prefer now? I have to ask myself: but what is the system just now? In May there are going to be Candidates Matches in Kazan, and then in 2012 Anand will play the winner of those matches, and then? The answer’s not obvious.

We know they’re planning to hold the World Cup from 26 August to 20 September 2011 – and once more it’s going to be in Khanty-Mansiysk. Innovations include: now two people will get into the next stage of the World Championship cycle 2011-2013 (and perhaps also the 3rd-place player). But what does the 2011-2013 cycle mean? That’s something I’m not entirely sure of. Will there be another series of Grand-Prix tournaments, those through which Aronian and Radjabov, and then eventually also Grischuk, qualified?

I’ve tried answering those questions with the help of official information from FIDE: http://www.fide.com/FIDE/handbook/WorldCup2011Regulations.pdf http://www.fide.com/fide/handbook.html

But I wasn’t able to. I’ll be grateful if anyone can clarify the situation.

Overall, I’ve got the impression that since 2003 it’s been a case of playing leapfrog with the regulations for the World Championship, and FIDE has had difficulty finding sponsors to hold the World Championship cycle. The events are moved around, both in time and space, and can even be completely cancelled. The rules and dates change as the cycle goes along. I can’t rule out that in the light of such experience we’ll eventually end up with the situation we had in Alekhine’s day: there won’t even be a qualifying system, the challenger will find money for the match, FIDE will take its percentage of the prize fund and, under threat of taking away the title, will force the champion to play the match. Perhaps FIDE will also check that the match is played in accordance with ethical norms, without computer assistance, doping or other forbidden techniques. That’s the sort of system that might arise.

ccf-m: Who, in your opinion, would be a better FIDE President – Ilyumzhinov or Karpov?

In general you can only hypothetically compare who’d be better. Ilyumzhinov has been president, while Karpov hasn’t yet. You could only judge what sort of FIDE President Karpov would be from his work. I’ve given a more specific response below.

- Who would you like to see in the role of FIDE President – Ilyumzhinov or Karpov? And why?

In the last FIDE Presidential Election in 2010 in Khanty-Mansiysk I wanted Anatoly Karpov to win. Ukraine voted for his candidacy, and as a member of the executive committee of the Ukrainian Chess Federation I supported that decision. It strikes me that during the long years of his presidency Ilyumzhinov has done everything in his power for chess, and now it’s very unlikely he can do anything more. Moreover, he’s ceased to be the President of Kalmykia, which means he now has fewer resources.

Karpov could perhaps have brought about positive change in chess. Nevertheless, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has again been elected for the next four years, and I’m ready to continue working with FIDE if that will benefit chess.

- What reforms would you introduce to chess if you became FIDE President and had the support of powerful sponsors? Let’s assume that everyone rallies around you and is ready to help.

I think that if you had the support of powerful sponsors then the president’s most important role would be not to lose those same powerful sponsors smiley But seriously, the situation described in the question is just too idealised: you’ve got everything – both powerful sponsors and everyone working together. That’s something that for now you can only dream about. And, in general, there’s a very good joke about a manager and three envelopes smiley [Editor’s note: One of the many variations on the joke goes: “An old manager leaves his successor three sealed envelopes. When the time comes the latter opens one envelope and reads: ‘Blame everything on your predecessor’. Then, after a certain period of time, he opens the second envelope: ‘Say that you have grandiose plans that you’ll soon make public’. And a while later, having done nothing, he opens the third envelope, where it’s written: ‘Prepare three envelopes’.”]

Fireblade: Hello Ruslan.
- Do you support matches or tournament play for the World Championship? If so, can you explain why? [CiT]

I prefer the match system. After all, in a tournament you can get a situation where a few of the participants conspire among themselves. Matches rule out such a possibility.

phisey: Ruslan, I heard that in his time Kirsan Ilyumzhinov suggested you moved to Elista. Why did you refuse? Do you regret your decision?

Yes, there really was such an offer. I think it was in 1996, or at the beginning of 1997 – I don’t remember the precise date anymore. I travelled to Elista with my trainer and recall playing blindfold with Kirsan Nikolayevich’s brother, and also a few training games with Baatr Shovunov, a young local chess player.

At the time I’d become European Under-18 Champion at 12 years old. The economic situation in Ukraine was difficult, however, and the government didn’t particularly help young sportsmen: I didn’t even have a computer for preparation, and it was hard to find funds to travel to events. That’s why I made such contacts: Kirsan Nikolayevich had just been elected FIDE President, was working energetically, and after all Kramatorsk wasn’t that far away from Kalmykia.

Why didn’t I move there? It was probably a matter of chance. In March 1997 I was flying back from a tournament in Spain with my trainer. While on the plane we got to know Vladimir Fedorovich Avramenko, the director of the “AVK” confectionary factory. He began to help me out with preparation and travel to events. Later, it seems, the confectionary firm even started to produce “Queen’s Move” sweets smiley

So I’m glad in the end I was able to fulfil my promise in Ukraine. Living in emigration you can never quite feel at home.

Veritas: I’d really like to see you rise up once more to the very top of the chess Olympus, and I’ve got a few questions related to that.
- What would be a fair World Championship system at the present time?

There probably isn’t any ideal system: each has its plusses and minuses. For me, it’s important that it’s democratic and stable – that it’s clear to everyone, the rules aren’t changed during the cycle, and the timetable is known in advance. In that case it would be possible to calmly concentrate on preparation, knowing that if you play well you have a chance of becoming World Champion.

- Given the current system, how are you intending to get through to the next World Championship cycle?

I’m planning on taking part in the next World Cup, and I’m also hoping for the support of the new Ukrainian Chess Federation.

- Can the chess elite, in tandem with the chess community at large, force officials to take decisions in the interests of chess, rather than the interests of functionaries (without whom we can’t get by for now, unfortunately)?

I think that for now functionaries can’t get by without chess players either smiley But neither do the personal interests of elite grandmasters always coincide with the interests of chess. Therefore there’s no unified position, and it’s more a case of every man for himself in the chess world.

- The Ukrainian chess authorities changed quite recently. Have you noticed anything different?

So far we’ve become Olympic Champions for the second time in our history smiley The federation has settled all the old debts with FIDE and moved to a new building in the centre of Kiev. In June 2011 they’re planning on holding a Ukrainian Men’s Championship with a normal prize fund. The changes, perhaps, aren’t so great. But Rome wasn’t built in a day either smiley

- Is your playing for the national team linked to the success of the new authorities?

Viktor Vladimirovich Kapustin was elected the new president of the federation in May 2010, and the Khanty-Mansiysk Olympiad started in September. There really wasn’t a lot of time. But I could see that the new president really was trying to do something for chess, and we came to an agreement. So after 6 years I again played at the Olympiad, and we again became champions smiley

IvTK: Ruslan, how often have the chess federations of other countries tried to lure you? It’s no secret that many Ukrainian grandmasters and masters have moved abroad.

Yes, it’s true that the worldwide demand for Ukrainian grandmasters really is quite high. Apart from the chance to move to Elista that I mentioned before, I also had serious offers to move to Spain. But I’m glad I managed to achieve real success in chess without doing that.

- A match-tournament was recently held in Ukraine with four club teams. Baadur Jobava says that you and Pavel Eljanov, the rating favourites in the event, didn’t come to the tournament in the best physical condition. The tournament, however, wasn’t rated. If the tournament had been rated, would you have taken part in it?

Baadur is probably being a bit modest smiley He simply scored 3 out of 3 in Kharkov on first board, and that’s that. And it’s not so important who was in what sort of physical condition. Jobava himself is a strong enough chess player, with a rating above 2700. In particular, at the Olympiad (which certainly was rated), he beat Carlsen.

As for my play: I can’t say I played negligently because the tournament wasn’t rated. In that very same Kharkov I somehow scored 4.5 out of 5 against Pavel Eljanov. But people, no doubt, allow their play to be a little more relaxed and aggressive in rapid chess, blitz and blindfold than in, for example, the World Championship.

- Is it fair, in general, to decide whether a chess player is elite based on his Elo rating?

Of course the current system for calculating ratings has its flaws. But in general, it seems to me, it’s more or less objective.

P k saha:
- Shouldn’t the Elo rating define the World Champion for one year? [CiT]

I disagree. If you go down that road you might end up deciding the World Champion based on a democratic vote smiley

- Is the Elo rating a good and foolproof system? [CiT]

I think we need the rating system. It also seems to me that the current system for calculating ratings needs to be improved, adapting it more to the current reality. In principle, that’s something that’s going on constantly already: they’ve now begun to calculate ratings more often, and to round results up not to 5, but to 1. For victory against much weaker opponents you now gain fewer rating points than before. You just have to make sure changes are introduced carefully, after consultation with professionals, so as not to do great harm.

- The World Champion refused to play in the Chess Olympiad lest he lost Elo points. In such cases what’s the point of having the Elo rating if it can be protected by avoiding play? [CiT]

I don’t think the genuine reason for Anand refusing to take part in the Olympiad was a fear of losing his rating. At the very least, I haven’t noticed him displaying that fear in other tournaments. But I completely agree that it’s not entirely right that in chess, in contrast, for example, to tennis, you can maintain your rating for quite a long time by not playing in events.

It’s even more unfair when ratings at some arbitrary point in time are used as the basis for deciding who’s going to take part in World Championship qualifying. For example, that same Ivanchuk, who has a consistently high rating but sometimes plays poorly: what should he do – stop taking part in events only in order to maintain his rating and get into the future qualifying cycle?

Jazzman: I recently had an argument with a friend. He claims that chess players rated 2700 and above are very well-off. Is that true?

Nowadays, with rating inflation, 2700 no longer has quite the value it used to have, and you probably need to reach the 2750 mark and above. As for earnings, if you want to become a very rich person then it would probably be better to go into some other field. But if you love chess, and people even pay you for it, then why not? smiley I wouldn’t consider the majority of top-chess players “very well-off”. Although perhaps we have a different idea of what that means, and how it differs from “very rich”?

5. The Kasparov Match

phisey: Good day! The match against Kasparov was supposed to have taken place in September 2003 in Yalta, but it was cancelled at the last moment – for reasons that have never become entirely clear. Ruslan, could you clarify the reasons.
vasa: Why was it, after all, that the match against Kasparov collapsed frown?
greg koster: The reasons offered for the cancellation of the Kasparov-Ponomariov match always struck me as odd, and asking myself who benefitted from the cancellation, I came up with:
- Kirsan—because the always-troublesome Kasparov was kept out of the World Championship picture.
- Kasparov–because he could publicly and loudly proclaim his desire for a possible legacy-destroying match with Kramnik without the risk of actually having to play one.
- Danailov–because even though the match did not come off, he was paid.
My guess is that the match didn’t come off because Kirsan didn’t want it to come off…and Kasparov and Danailov “went along.”
- Why didn’t the match come off? [CiT]

I’m not entirely clear myself what the real reasons were for Ilyumzhinov suddenly announcing the cancellation of the match in Yalta. Did he consult Kasparov and the match organisers before taking that decision, or didn’t he? I don’t know.

The official reason for the cancellation was my stubbornness when it came to questions of match organisation. But try to understand me on this. I wanted, as the current champion, to have the same rights and opportunity of winning the match as my opponent. I was constantly in contact with FIDE representatives about those questions, and I even travelled to Moscow to meet Ilyumzhinov. I never once managed to meet Kasparov for negotiations, however – his position was voiced by FIDE. There were attempts to meet even after the match in Yalta was cancelled, but they were also unsuccessful.

To me it’s obvious they conspired to support each other: Kasparov was striving to become World Champion again, and in exchange he made his peace with Ilyumzhinov and began to support him as FIDE President. I was more of a hindrance. And that’s the way I was treated. I can recall a few episodes that illustrate that.

In 2002 I was invited to play in a rapid chess tournament in Prague, but financial reasons meant I couldn’t reach an agreement with the organisers. Later, when I was at a training camp in Sevastopol with Viorel Bologan, I was suddenly phoned by Berik Balgabaev, who informed me that after that same tournament in Prague there’d been a meeting of “interested parties”, where it was decided that I’d play a match against Kasparov in Argentina. At that moment I simply didn’t know what to say: even if I couldn’t get to Prague, why didn’t FIDE invite me, the current FIDE Champion, to a meeting to discuss the issue? Or another minor, but characteristic episode: during the rapid match between Russia and the Rest of the World they forgot to invite me and my mentor, M. N. Ponomariov, to the closing ceremony, and then didn’t mention me at all, although I’d had the third best result on the team, while Kasparov got “-2” for Russia.

In 2003 I played in Wijk-aan-Zee for the first time. During the tournament Makropoulos and Azmaiparashvili arrived and began to demand that I signed certain documents as otherwise, they said, the match in Argentina wouldn’t take place. I recall I wasn’t able to concentrate on my games and played as if on a seesaw, sometimes well, and sometimes very badly. Then: at some point at the start of May, I was at a training camp in Yalta and already planning to travel with my team to get acclimatised in Argentina, when I was suddenly informed that the match wouldn’t take place because of a lack of money.

Later, and again without my knowledge, FIDE managed to persuade the Ukrainian President to hold the match in Yalta. I in no way felt as though I was going to be playing the match on home soil, however. As a curiosity, I remember it being suggested that the match be played in a separate room without an audience, while the video was broadcast on monitors. I think that was voiced by Berik, but it was probably Kasparov’s wish. Why should I play to empty seats?

None of those points were in any way conducive to successful negotiations and a positive relationship.

Valchess: And what happened in the final run-up to the match being cancelled? What was the atmosphere like in your team? Were you united in your assessment of what was going on, and what you should do next?
Bonvivant: Dear Ruslan!
- What role did Danailov play in your decision to reject the match?

Before the cancellation of the match I was, as before, in Yalta. It seems as though I spent almost half a year there! smiley I recall Kiril Georgiev was supposed to be arriving for a week. Everything seemed to be going as it should: my thoughts were on chess, and therefore the news of the cancellation of the match caught me completely by surprise. I couldn’t understand how it was even possible.

There were attempts to save the match: the traditional European Team Championship, in which Kasparov was also playing, was supposed to take place in Crete, Greece, the home of Makropoulos. There was an agreement to meet there and discuss, after all, the possibility of holding the match. Silvio and I had already bought plane tickets. But what of it: I only managed to fly from Simferopol to Kiev before they announced that Kasparov had at the last moment refused to meet.

There were a great number of different statements and ultimatums from both sides. I wasn’t yet living in Kiev at the time, I didn’t have good contacts in various areas, and my English was still quite bad. Therefore S. Danailov represented me on the international stage, and D. Komarov in Ukraine. Occasionally I’d appear at press conferences myself, but it was also essential for me to prepare, so I couldn’t devote all my time only to that. We got together, discussed things, argued, and eventually worked out a common position. Silvio, for example, at some point advised agreeing to FIDE’s demands and concentrating on the match itself. Dima [Komarov], on the other hand, was generally in a very combative mood.

As for Danailov’s role in my team at that point, I wouldn’t demonise it so much. Back then his experience and possibilities weren’t as great as they are now, when he’s built up contacts, organised a number of tournaments and become ECU President. He ended up on my team in a natural manner. I’d invited Veselin Topalov to be my second in the final match against Ivanchuk. That was the first time I got to know Danailov. Well, and then after our work went so successfully, I decided to call upon him again for the match against Kasparov.

There were also people who were sympathetic to me, supported me and tried to help, for example, Misha Golubev, who I’ve known for a very long time. But they weren’t fully-fledged members of my team, as there was no constant coordination of our actions, which is, of course, essential.

In general, I think it would be absolute rubbish to claim, for example, that Magnus Carlsen’s decision not to play in the Candidates Matches was taken by his father or Agdestein. So, when it came down to it, I was the one who had to take the decisions. I felt that in a negotiating process both sides should compromise and make mutual concessions, and I hoped that with the support of the Ukrainian authorities I could count on a positive outcome.

- Rejecting the match, you also rejected quite a large sum of money for that match. There were rumours that the Ukrainian authorities compensated you for that loss. Is that true?

I’ll say it again: I never rejected the match. If I hadn’t wanted to play then I’d have announced it straight way rather than losing a heap of time and money on preparation and trainers. When I won the Championship in Moscow in 2002 all the strongest players took part, except for Kramnik and Kasparov. I thought it would be interesting to go on and test out my strength in a struggle against them, and I even declared that at the press conference immediately after my victory in the final match.

At that point FIDE had been quite consistent in running championships and paying prize money, and there was some belief that everything would also be well-organised the next time round. Nowadays, unfortunately, it’s no surprise to anyone if something’s moved or cancelled.

I don’t think the Ukrainian authorities were in any way to blame for the match not taking place, so why should they provide compensation for anything? Yes, any chess player who’s prepared for such a match will suffer no lack of material losses, which then need somehow to be recouped. FIDE demands that any organiser provides bank guarantees, and also pays a certain deposit to confirm their intentions are serious. Where that money goes afterwards, I don’t know. That’s the money from which compensation should come!

By the way, if you consider the prevailing situation with these issues in the last few years: it would be logical if the players also received certain financial guarantees, as otherwise they might end up without a shirt on their backs. Thanks, however, to Kirsan Nikolayevich, for at least paying me what’s probably my largest prize for victory in the World Championship!

Valchess: What’s your view on the opinion (expressed by many), that a role in the cancellation of the match was played by political reasons, or to be precise the behind-the-scenes pressure of the Russian (government, not chess) authorities on Ilyumzhinov and the Ukrainian leadership (which, in turn, might have put pressure on the organisers) – in light of how undesirable it was for them to give an opponent of the Russian authorities like Kasparov the publicity he’d be ensured by a World Championship match?

I’m not sure what you mean by that. I’m somehow quite a long way away from Russian politics. And then: as far as I know, back then Kasparov had begun to play for the Russian team again. He won the rapid chess Grand-Prix stage in Moscow. Fetisov – a friend of Kasparov’s – was at the time the official head of Russian sport. So I don’t see any logic here. Perhaps the Russian authorities should have banned him from playing at all, if it really was that critical for them?

Valchess: Who gained the most from the match not taking place?

It’s hard to say. Let’s look at the facts.

I remained World Champion until July 2004, but that was a very poor consolation. Kasparov never did go on to play another World Championship match against anyone, and in March 2005 he completely withdrew from professional chess. That’s what the consequences were for the two of us.

Ilyumzhinov, however, managed to remain FIDE President. Perhaps, from his perspective, it became easier after that to organise the World Championship cycle – in the sense that chess players, under the threat of disqualification or replacement by another player, became more compliant. After that expenditure was reduced, and it became possible to stage events less frequently.

Without meaning to offend anyone, I’ll give some examples: the next World Champion after me was already prepared to agree to any conditions – if only he got to play a match against Kasparov. Gata Kamsky had to agree to play a Candidates Match on his opponent’s home turf with financial conditions that were unfavourable to him.

So did everything go well for all of us and for chess as a whole?

Vladimirovich: Ruslan, do you regret that the match with Kasparov didn’t take place? Who, in your opinion, is most responsible for its collapse?

So much water has flowed under the bridge since then that it doesn’t seem so important to me anymore who was behind its collapse. It’s a pity, of course, that the match didn’t take place, but life, and work, goes on. I don’t think there’d ever been a situation quite like that in chess history, and the positive thing is that we all learned a good lesson for the future.

heinrik: Mr. Ponomariov,
- Had the match between yourself and Garry Kimovich taken place, what do you think the result would have been, not only with regard to the score, but also for yourself as a chess player?

I’m a sportsman, and for me the result comes first. Of course, I thought I could win! I don’t understand the approach of playing a match only in order to receive part of the prize fund. I think that Garry Kimovich is also a maximalist by nature: he plays for mate, and not to win a pawn.

But in sport, as in life, everything’s unpredictable – otherwise it wouldn’t be interesting. You can assume a lot of things, but may the strongest player at that moment in time win!

Глафира: I’ve always been a fan of yours, Ruslan!!
- Don’t you regret now that you gave up your Champion’s crown without a fight?

As you’ll have seen from my replies, I didn’t give up the crown without a fight. You can’t hold back the tide… By the way, after the match in Yalta was cancelled I had a choice: either to travel to Libya or not. Officially that was called the World Championship, but in actual fact it was a qualifier for a match against Kasparov, which for me, taking into account the prehistory, was absolutely unacceptable. For various reasons many more of the best players in the world didn’t go there either. As a result that Championship ended up being the weakest in its history.

And in general, I don’t think the Championship crown is of such importance that you need to worry so much about its loss. At the end of the day, no-one can keep it as their private property. You simply have to play good chess – and the results will come!

And, in comparison to the current Champion, I’m still quite young. So why shouldn’t I try to become World Champion again! smiley

End of Part One

This conference was prepared by Valery Adzhiev (Valchess), who edited the text and translated the English questions into Russian, Stanislav Fisejsky (phisey) and Colin McGourty (mishanp), who translated the Russian text into English. Vasily Lebedev (vasa) was responsible for the chess fragments.

KC-Conference with Ruslan Ponomariov: Part 2

KC-Conference with Ruslan Ponomariov: Part 1 - in Russian

KC-Conference with Ruslan Ponomariov: Part 2 - in Russian

Other KC-conferences in English:

KC-Conference with Peter Svidler: Part 1
KC-Conference with Peter Svidler: Part 2

KC-Conference with Alexei Shirov

KC-Conference with Alexander Grischuk

KC-Conference with Michal Krasenkow

KC-Conference with Alexander Khalifman: Part One
KC-Conference with Alexander Khalifman: Part Two
KC-Conference with Alexander Khalifman: Part Three