Street Journal editorial was obviously meant for people who haven't
been following the match as closely as we have. Then there are several historical
items that would have required too much explanation for a lay audience. We followed
up with Kasparov and include his additional comments in a brief interview below
BY GARRY KASPAROV
Monday, October 2, 2006
It usually takes a scandal to get the world's pre-eminent mind sport into the
news these days. The latest example comes from the current world chess championship
in Elista, Russia. The match between Russia's Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov
of Bulgaria was intended to unify the chess championship that has been divided
since my challenger and I broke away from the international chess federation
(FIDE) in 1993 in an attempt to professionalize the sport.
The first four games of Kramnik-Topalov – the match was scheduled for 12 games – received
scant attention in the world press. That changed when the Bulgarians published
a complaint about Mr. Kramnik's frequent trips to the restroom during the games,
calling his behavior "suspicious" and threatening to abandon the match.
The appeals committee governing the match agreed, and ruled to close the players'
private restrooms, which would be replaced by a shared one. (How it pains me
to see such distasteful events driving the coverage of a world championship.)
Mr. Kramnik protested the decision by sitting out the fifth game and was forfeited.
Currently the match sits suspended.
clear implication of the original protest was that Mr. Kramnik might be cheating
during his restroom visits. In recent years the chess world has been rife with
such suspicions thanks to the rise of powerful microcomputers and transmitting
technologies. Several amateur chessplayers have even been caught using such
devices to cheat in tournaments.
I should add that Mr. Kramnik was leading 3-1
at the time of Mr. Topalov's protest, although it was mostly thanks to very
shaky play by his opponent, not a display of suspiciously superhuman skill.
Adding irony to the tragedy is the fact that for the past year and a half Mr.
Topalov himself has been the subject of rumors and even public accusations that
he has cheated with computer assistance. Hard evidence is lacking, with some
pointing to odd behavior by his assistants and other critics saying there is
simply no other explanation for Mr. Topalov's sudden ascent to the top of the
rating list after my retirement.
Chess has a long history of scandal and controversy at the highest level. The
last world championship game to be decided by forfeit was Bobby Fischer's loss
to Boris Spassky in their legendary match in Reykjavik in 1972. Mr. Fischer
was well known for such protests and lived up to his reputation by complaining
about the conditions in the playing hall after game one, and then not appearing
to play the second game. Mr. Spassky, a gentleman – too much so, perhaps – agreed
to Mr. Fischer's demands, even playing the next game in a small back room usually
reserved for table tennis. (Notably, Mr. Fischer accepted the forfeit almost
meekly.) Mr. Spassky's 2-0 lead didn't help him in the end. Mr. Fischer won
the match convincingly and, while he was clearly the superior player, I am one
of many who believe that by making concessions off the board Mr. Spassky was
psychologically unable to play his best at the board.
Until last Friday, that was the last forfeit in world championship history.
It's still not clear if this will be the first match cancellation since 1985.
After five months of grueling play, my first world championship contest with
Anatoly Karpov was abruptly cancelled by the FIDE president. Instead of having
a set number of games, our match was to go to the first player to reach six
victories, a goal that had proved unreachable despite Mr. Karpov's jumping out
to a 5-0 lead. After I won games 47 and 48 to move to the score to 3-5, the
match was abruptly cancelled. The Soviet sports authorities who had such influence
in FIDE didn't want to take the chance I would win another game. Their loyal
favorite, Mr. Karpov, hadn't won a game in months, and I – the outspoken
youngster from Baku – was getting too close for comfort.
Mr. Fischer may have been difficult and unstable, but he was a sportsman whose
complaints were based on principle and a sincere desire to improve the standards
of the chess world. Tournament conditions and prize funds improved immeasurably
thanks to his efforts. My battles with the power-hungry thugs who ran the Soviet
and international chess world were politically driven. To me they represented
a backwards and corrupt system. They saw me as a threat to their control.
The protests and conflicts seen in the current match are of a very different
nature and reflect the complete loss of professionalism in the sport. The event
is taking place in the capital of the Russian republic of Kalmykia under the
auspices of its president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who is also the president of
FIDE. He has created a vertical column of power that would be familiar to any
observer of Russia today. He runs the chess world in the same authoritarian
way he runs his impoverished republic. After a decade of such mistreatment,
the only place that could be found to host this match was his own capital. Serious
sponsors rarely want anything to do with Mr. Ilyumzhinov and his organization.
Even his closest cronies in FIDE failed Mr. Ilyumzhinov this time. He stocked
the match's appeals committee with FIDE officials, but while he was away, their
decision created the crisis that now seems likely to end the match in ruin.
Recognizing the failure of his stated goals and low methods, Mr. Ilyumzhinov
has lately taken steps to unify the chess world and make long overdue moves
to professionalize the organization of events. This terrifies the fixers who
would be the first to go under a professional administration.
Combine this collapsing power structure with players and managers concerned
only with self-interest and making money, and what happened in Elista was practically
inevitable. In fact, most of the principal actors in Elista stand to gain from
the cancellation of the match. Mr. Topalov was losing at the game and so he
switched to gamesmanship. If the match is aborted he can claim he wasn't defeated
and so maintain his status as FIDE champion.
Mr. Kramnik rose to the provocation and now may walk off with the same faded
title he took from me in 2000. For years he avoided both a rematch and unification
with FIDE. If this chaos isn't resolved he can go on to claim "champion
for life" standing outside of FIDE.
Just like their brothers in spirit in the Kremlin, the chess nomenclatura hope
to prolong the anarchy and corruption from which they have profited for so long.
Mr. Ilyumzhinov needs this match to continue, but it is he who sowed the seeds
of its downfall.
For a game associated with brainpower, chess's leaders and its leading players
have displayed remarkably little in recent years. They are now paying the price
by having their pettiness and incompetence splashed across front pages around
Mr. Kasparov is the former world chess champion and the current chairman
of the United Civil Front in Russia.
Kasparov with WSJ Op-ed editor Tunku Varadarajan in New York, 2006.
ChessBase: Of course you don't give game analysis in the Journal, but
we assume you followed the games?
Garry Kasparov: I was traveling in the Russian regions on political
business when this mess broke out. I was in Yakutsk, in eastern Siberia. Of
course there is chess there, too, but I wasn't really in touch. By the way it's
amazing, there is this kid there, #3 in the world for under-8. But there's no
money for him to visit Moscow, to get training or have hope for a chess career.
Russia is flooded with oil money, and there are diamonds in Yakutsk, but there's
nothing for chess? Well, there's obviously some for supporting Kramnik. Alexander
Zhukov has mobilized resources for this, now we see Svidler and Bareev heading
to Elista. Kramnik's team is becoming as big a state priority as the old Karpov
CB: From the Journal article you seem to blame just about everyone for
the disaster before and around game five.
GK: It's not about blame, it's about looking at the recent history of
FIDE and the top players. The facts speak for themselves. In 2003 my Yalta match
with Ponomariov collapsed while Kramnik and many others expressed their sympathy
for the way FIDE treated Ponomariov. I wonder if Kramnik would reconsider that
support after what has happened to him in Elista. Ponomariov and Danailov, his
manager don't forget, never denied they received money for the Yalta match.
Playing was irrelevant to them as long as they got paid and that doesn't seem
to have changed. I wonder if the players have already pocketed money from Elista.
CB: The match regulations say they don't get paid until after the match.
GK: Okay, but is there any way they won't be paid? The prize fund is
split evenly, isn’t it guaranteed? Having seen what happened in Yalta
it's hard to believe Danailov would threaten to walk away without any money.
CB: What about FIDE's role in all of this? Your article refers to Ilyumzhinov's
GK: It's clear that the behavior of the players and the match officials
is symptomatic of Ilyumzhinov's rule. Now he has to make sure to set things
straight if he really means to correct these past disasters. When he cancelled
Yalta there was no result to the match. I was left out in the cold after months
of preparation and lost income. Here he must declare a winner if there are further
disruptions. A referee can't lose control of a game or it will become like Netherlands-Portugal
at the World Cup. The next time either player shows such behavior Ilyumzhinov
should say, "Fine, the door is over there, goodbye" and the match
is over. They should have thrown out the first Bulgarian protest immediately.
CB: Does that mean you think there will be more problems in the second
GK: It's very possible. Kramnik falling behind could cause a crisis,
CB: Can we ask you for a prediction for the result?
GK: I'll only say that I hope the match and the title dispute end with
the last game.