Interview with Vladimir Kramnik – part one
The following conversation was carried out by phone on December 28th, late
in the evening. After initial greetings and an exchange of news – we hadn't
spoken since the World Championship in Bonn – we started recording and
subsequently transcribed the text. We have tried to keep it as close to the
original as possible, in order to retain the flavour of the original conversation.
Frederic Friedel: Vladimir, thanks for this surprise
call. I was a bit worried when I saw that you did not take part in the Internet
conference of the top players in Elista on December 27. Now I know the
Vladimir Kramnik: Yes, I had more important things to do,
since my wife Marie was about to give birth, which she finally did, on the night
between the 27th and 28th of December – actually it was the 28th, early in the
morning. She gave birth to a wonderful girl, whom we call Daria, Dasha for short.
Everything went well and smoothly?
Yes, she is in good health. She was in a slightly irritated mood immediately
after the birth, but now she seems to be more positive about things. My wife
also seems to be doing well, a bit tired, but that is to be expected.
So how do you feel about being a father?
Well, it is strange. I had heard that I would experience some very unusual
feelings, and it turned out to be true. It is very difficult to describe in
words – I guess everybody who has become a father, especially for the first
time, will know what I am talking about. You know, all of a sudden you are three
instead of two, and you are trying to figure out how it came about. And you
see this very small creation, and know it is part of you. It is really difficult
to describe in words, but it is an extraordinary feeling and I am very happy
that I am experiencing it.
It is a feeling that was developed in millions of years of evolution.
Yes, but I thought it would affect the mother much more than the man.
It probably does, to an even greater extent. After all she did most of
Vladimir and Marie-Laure Kramnik (at their wedding in Feb. 2007)
Yes, I must admit that my part was not the most difficult one. Sometimes I
felt, well not pity, of course, but that we are very privileged as men that
we do not have to go through all these things, like being pregnant, and have
all the pain and difficulties and disabilities for such a long period of time.
It’s horribly, horribly unfair, isn’t it?
Yes, I find it quite unfair. In earlier times men were always off to war, and
suffering there, getting killed. Then it was at least sort of “compensation”.
But now in civilised countries we are not at war all the time, we men now have
all the advantages and none of the minuses. So I really feel a great admiration
for my wife. I thank her for going through all this and giving me such a beautiful
You have made an interesting philosophical point, that originally it was
somehow balanced but in modern society has biased the whole process towards
men. Anyway, tell me: if you hadn’t been otherwise occupied and had indeed
taken part in the Internet conference, what would you have said?
Well, it is quite a long answer…
First of all, between us, I think it is not the best way to solve problems.
I would have taken part, but I think that it would be better to do an open questionnaire,
on paper, and not just for the top five or six players, but for all
of the participants of the Grand Prix, plus maybe the top twenty players. Not
only about the ongoing cycle but also about future cycles, about how top chess
players see all questions concerning time controls in world championship cycles,
in other tournaments, the format of world championship cycles – knockout, matches
–, candidate tournaments or no candidate tournaments. It is much more efficient
to write down all these questions, and all players have to send in their answers.
I was informed about the results of the telephone conference in Elista, and
to be honest I still don’t have a clear idea what the opinion of the players
was. I think it would be much better if it was all written down. And secondly
then you are not able to take a move back. Or you will at least have to explain
why all of a sudden you have changed your mind. Once it is official and on paper,
and in the archives, everyone who wants can check what the person originally
answered, and you have much more transparency, much less room for manoeuvre.
Otherwise you tend to say one thing, and tomorrow another, and then you pretend
you never said it.
So why don’t we do it? Why don’t we write the questionnaire?
I agree. If FIDE doesn’t want to do it, maybe ChessBase should. Of course it
has to be well thought out, the questionnaire. We have to formulate the questions
so that people will provide very clear answers.
Yes, let's do it. We can publish it and send it to all the top players.
That is the best solution, to publish everyones answers on ChessBase. You know,
a few years ago there was a questionnaire on time control, conducted by FIDE.
But it was not open and nobody knows who exactly supported what. I have heard
that a majority of the players was for classical time controls, at least for
the World Championship and for top tournaments. But I basically never saw any
statistics and I never knew who was for what. I think that such a questionnaire
loses half of its value if it is hidden and not open. I fully understand that
there will be many different opinions, and it cannot be taken as the final truth,
but at least it is open to all chess amateurs and of course to all chess officials.
So you will send me your ideas on the questionnaire?
Yes, sure, I’ll do it very soon. And of course I am ready to answer any such
questions openly myself. I think it is a positive thing to do, in general, for
history and for the future. Of course people cannot be forced to answer, but
even not answering would in my opinion be an answer.
Now before we publish the questionnaire, give me a rough estimate of what
you think should be done for the next World Championship.
Okay, this is the continuation of my answer. What I would like to say about
the entire situation that is currently happening in the world of chess, and
causing a lot of noise and criticism, is that on the one hand I do not like
the habit, let me put it this way, of FIDE to all the time change the rules
during the game. I can fully understand people like Aronian or Carlsen, because
I myself also think that if FIDE wants to be a serious organisation such things
should not happen. So I can fully understand their frustration. From another
point of view I think that actually a system which includes a candidates tournament
is a better one. I am sure that chess lovers would welcome a tournament of top
grandmasters, like Saint Luis or Mexico.
To be honest, I don’t even understand why it is so much against Carlsen or
Aronian, this change of the system. Now if the decision is made, two players
will qualify from the Grand Prix instead of one, which might be helpful also
for these players. Okay, they have a tournament instead of a match, that is
true. But it is not such a big difference; it is the final of the Candidates,
just a different format. So I don’t think that the interests of any players
who are currently participating in the Grand Prix are compromised. Of course
I fully respect their opinion, but I would rather complain about the general
habit of changing rules. We must admit that it has already become a tradition
in FIDE to change the regulations during the cycle. And they should think twice
before doing it again. Everybody is getting tired of it, and it does not add
to the strength and respect of the organisation.
Do you have any idea why they are doing it?
I can only speculate. It is pretty clear that in the new system there are two
people who are gaining a lot of advantages. They are Topalov and Kamsky. First
of all there is this match between the two of them, which actually should never
have happened – it was basically created out of nothing. Now the loser of this
match is getting a chance to play, without qualification, in the final stage
of the next world championship. That is quite a serious privilege. You can speculate
yourself why this was done. I really don’t know.
The only thing which I can personally say – I mean it is concerning my personal
position in the cycle – is that I am very unhappy, to put it mildly, with the
situation that the loser of the Topalov-Kamsky match is inside the final stage
of the qualification, and I, as the loser of my parallel match
with Anand, am not. I believe that is totally unfair. I would like you not to
misunderstand: I am not asking for any privileges. The only thing I am asking
for and insisting on is that I must have exactly the same rights as the loser
of that match. If the winners have the same rights I do not understand why one
loser has much less rights than the other. This is something that has absolutely
no logical explanation. The only thing I can understand is that there are certain
powers inside FIDE who simply do not want to see me in the cycle. Unfortunately
I have to draw this conclusion, because I do not have any other explanation.
So finally my decision is very simple: I am ready to start at ANY stage of
the world championship, but I strongly believe that I have to start at exactly
the same stage as the loser of Kamsky-Topalov,whether it is the Candidates tournament
or the World Cup. If this will not be changed I will not play any qualification
for this event, even if it would mean missing the cycle. For me it is pretty
insulting to have to qualify for the honour of meeting the loser of Kamsky-Topalov.
It is simply not fair. I am ready to qualify if this loser also has to qualify,
but if not, then I am out. Okay, I still have chances to get into the final
candidates tournament, as number one by rating, or as a nominee of the organiser,
if the organiser chooses me. If not I will simply miss the cycle.
Let me get this absolutely straight: if the loser of Kamsky-Topalov does
not receive special privileges, then you would be willing to start right at
the bottom, perhaps in the first round of a 128-player knockout?
Yes. I would be ready to play in the Khanty-Mansiysk World Cup or anything. Just
think: in the whole history of chess the loser of the final world championship
match was always in the final of the world championship qualification – whether
it was candidates tournaments or candidates matches, but I am not even getting
this. So I am not asking for privileges, I am just asking for basic fairness.
One other thing I would like to explain very clearly: all this has nothing
to do with Kamsky or Topalov personally. It is not about personal problems with
them. It would be exactly the same if it was about any two other chess players.
So these are my views on all these matters and this is what I would have said
if I had participated in the FIDE conference on December 27. I just wanted to
let you and your readers know about this.
How will the baby affect your tournament plans?
Actually I have refused all tournaments before March, only because of this,
and nothing else. I would gladly have played in Wijk aan Zee, and especially
in Linares, because I haven’t played there for quite a long time. They invited
me, and I really wanted to play there. But I just feel I need to help my wife,
because it is our first child. It is not just to help physically, but also psychologically,
I feel I need to be nearby her during the first two three month. For this reason
with a heavy heart I finally refused Linares. It’s a pity because I would really
love to play there. The last three times I played there I twice shared first
place and once I was clear first. I hope next year I will have a chance, especially
since it has been one of my best tournaments.
So for the next few months I would like to stay with my family, but starting
from late spring I will start playing much more. I am planning an intense schedule
in the second half of the year.
– End of part one –
© ChessBase GmbH, Hamburg, Germany
In the second part of this interview Vladimir Kramnik speaks about his
match with Anand, his team, preparation and why he parted company with his long-year
manager Carsten Hensel.