Anatoly Karpov: Chess Players Will See the Difference between Ilyumzhinov and Me



An Interview with Anatoly Karpov by Yevgeny Surov.

We met with Anatoly Karpov in the heat of what I am not afraid to call a war for the presidency of FIDE. For this reason, even the breezes of the village of Poikovsky, where the school founded by the 12th champion of the world is celebrating its tenth anniversary, could not waft any other topics into our discussion than the one that is on everybody’s mind.

Surov: Not long ago Kirsan Ilyumzhinov revealed his team, naming the concrete names of his running mates for the FIDE presidential election. Can you say whom you are running with?

Karpov: Not yet, but the team is almost ready.

S: However, this is an important question.

K: Very important. I am satisfied with my team. And I think that it will be important and necessary for the chess world, because we want to seriously change the situation in chess, including the question of sponsorship. The people who have agreed to work with me are well known people who have achieved significant successes in their main professions. At the same time they love chess and occupy high positions in the chess world. It is a perfect combination.

S: So for the time being you can’t name a single name? Even a hint?

K: I can name one: Richard Conn. We announced long ago that he will become Deputy President. He is a very well-known international lawyer, and a chess player with a rating somewhere around 2000. So he is a serious figure in chess. Furthermore, the president of the Ukraine Chess Federation, [Viktor] Kapustin, also a very serious figure and a famous man in the financial world, will be on our team. I won’t reveal any more at the moment, but almost everything has become clear. I think that somewhere around the beginning of next week we will be able to announce the whole group.

S: You have said on many occasions that one of your top priorities will be to increase the prestige of the title of world champion, and also to construct a single system for awarding this title. But many grandmasters at, let’s say, the middle level are concerned that when you come to power they will be forgotten. No matter how you look at it, Ilyumzhinov has developed a system under which a grandmaster who is not a serious candidate for world champion can still earn a decent living, but …

K: As far as “earning a decent living” is concerned, that is an overstatement. Even in the World Cup – yes, if you get past the first two stages, you earn a decent amount, but many grandmasters don’t even earn back their expenses for participating. In fact this will be one of the most important tasks that we will set before ourselves – to improve the position of chess professionals. Because the conditions in the last couple years have gone downhill (partly because of the financial crisis, not just because of my opponent’s actions). If it weren’t for the club championship of the European countries, and the European cup, then it would really be hard for grandmasters even to survive. The only ones who make a lot of money are the ones who reach the very top of the chess Olympus, and therefore we must pay more attention to the questions of grandmasters and international masters. We will try to attract them to the development and realization of our programs. I will be as active as possible in chess education, and that is of course a source of supplementary income for those grandmasters. We will also ask grandmasters to participate in promoting chess on every continent, and that will give them an opportunity to collaborate with FIDE and augment their budgets.

S: Let’s stay on the theme of finances. You have said several times that you have sponsors, but you have not yet named any concrete names or organizations. Can you draw back the curtain a little bit?

K: No, for now I will not get into any details. There is a time for everything. After all, it’s still three and a half months until the elections.

S: You know that it is human nature to be afraid of the unknown.

K: Yes, but we aren’t voting tomorrow. It’s completely obvious that if I did not have serious prospects, I would not have started this campaign. Because winning the election is only the beginning of a large task. And the work will go further. We need to solve some concrete problems. For example, what I was talking about earlier – the world championship. I do not plan a complete reform of this system, but some changes are necessary, particularly at the level of choosing a challenger. The matches now are too short (six games is too few), they should be made longer. I won’t even go into the system we had before – the knockout championships cannot be called anything but a mockery of chess and the image of the world championship. Now, thank God, we have given up on that, although it is still present in the World Cup. But for the World Cup this system is acceptable. In principle, I don’t like it when different kinds of chess are mixed together. It seems to me that this contradicts the spirit of our game. And let me say separately – there is no question, I myself played both rapid chess and blitz. I think that we should hold a world blitz championship, and continental blitz championships would be very interesting (although this is not completely within FIDE’s jurisdiction). Just as we at one time held world championships in rapid chess, and continental championships at the same game. To talk about prospects for the future, I think that chess is in a very interesting position, regarding the possibility of attracting additional resources and attention. The competition at the very top can really help – Kramnik, Topalov, Anand, and Aronian are fine players, and we have young stars in Magnus Carlsen, Seryozha Karjakin, and Hikaru Nakamura, and there are also many good chess players in China. That is, the geography is very interesting. There has never been a time before when players from so many countries were contenders for the title of world champion.

S: How would you respond to the statements of certain famous grandmasters that your alliance with Kasparov will lead to nothing but the destruction of chess?

K: Just the opposite – it was our opposition that led to its destruction. We did not work together. But Kasparov is not the only one supporting me now. The situation in the chess world is rather complicated: we need new faces, new names; a team that would answer for its decisions, which would know about chess professionally and would not make the flubs that Ilyumzhinov’s team has made. It seems to me that chess players will very rapidly see the difference between us. And it’s a big difference. Of course, there are always skeptics, what can you do about it? It’s true, I have read more declarations in favor of my movement, but you can, of course, find some from the other side. But they are mostly made under pressure from the leadership, or to be more precise, from a side branch of the leadership of the Russian Chess Federation.

S: By the way, tell us about the situation within the Federation. Few people have paid attention to this fact: in the vote on May 14, 17 members of the Supervisory Committee supported you out of 32 (a majority). At the same time, while eight people gathered at Dvorkovich’s place. 17 + 8 = 25. The question arises: who are the other seven people? Is this the ace of trumps that you are prepared to play in case Dvorkovich lures two or three votes over to his side? (Some predictions of this sort are currently being made.)

K: No, but what do you mean by “luring” them? You understand that they aren’t just luring people, they are simply forcing them. Maybe Dvorkovich doesn’t even know that under his wing people are being worked over in the most disgraceful way – with threats … That is, chess has gotten itself into a completely incomprehensible state. I won’t even mention all of these re-votes, and documents that are being forged somewhere. And I won’t talk about the seizure [of the RCF] by raiders. Such a thing has never happened before, that the offices of the Federation on Gogol Boulevard have been sealed. I understand that Dvorkovich wants to support Ilyumzhinov, but there is some kind of limit to the things you can legitimately do. And that boundary has been crossed.

S: You mentioned that people have been pressured with threats. Do you have any facts to support that claim?

K: I have some information. They are threatening people with the loss of their jobs, if they occupy any posts in the government. I don’t know how well this agrees with the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

S: Why do you think that the battle for the post of president of FIDE has become so bitter?

K: I don’t know. For me this is simply a mystery. You and I have already touched on the fact that winning the elections is only the beginning of a large task. Ilyumzhinov has already headed the Federation for fifteen years. Certain people are undoubtedly satisfied by his results, but the majority are not. If they were satisfied, there would not be such a large number of countries that have already declared themselves in my support. And these are, for the most part, historically the most active chess powers. We are working with the smaller countries, of course, and we will propose our programs to them. These include, first and foremost, programs in chess instruction, preparation of chess coaches, teachers, and arbiters. I think that we will organize international seminars for arbiters, so that this area will not go unnoticed.

S: As you know, people sometimes play the following game: “If you became president of the country, what would be your first three actions?” Now you aren’t playing, but you have real prospects …

K: No, I am still playing! I give a fairly large number of presentations – I found schools, I lead seminars. That is, I am active in chess. And, of course, I know chess well enough. My professional career has lasted 45 years. And I played my first tournament 52 years ago.

S: Nevertheless, can you identify any concrete actions now that you will take when you become president of FIDE?

K: You will see everything in the program that we are going to publish. We will formulate it soon enough. But I have already named the main items: active work to improve FIDE’s image. I think that I will fairly quickly be able to sign a program of collaboration with the largest international organizations – UNESCO, UNICEF. At the moment I am negotiating with an international youth organization. All of this will enhance the status of the Federation, and will strengthen us when we negotiate with corporate sponsors. All of these directions will be among our priorities, along with, of course, the development of chess for children. And countries from every continent will be able to participate in this program.


Translated by Dana Mackenzie