Garry Kasparov on FIDE and Istanbul Olympiad
The last time Garry Kasparov played in a chess Olympiad was in Bled in 2002,
where he led Russia to a gold medal and took the top overall rating performance
gold for himself, with a 2933 showing on board one. Incredibly, that was the
last team gold for the Russian powerhouse, despite their coming into the last
five Olympiads as the top seed by a wide margin. They fell short of gold once
again in Istanbul last week, this time by a painfully close tiebreak margin.
(And a sensational loss to USA after Russia had rolled over all the other top
teams, including eventual winner Armenia.)
But even were they to ask Kasparov for a little of the old magic – he'd make
a pretty good fourth board, we think, and with his old coach Yuri Dokhoian captaining
the Russian team we could even imagine it – Kasparov was not in Istanbul for
the chess. He cheered on his compatriots (only one of whom, Grischuk, played
with him in Bled) over the final rounds. But Kasparov's primary mission was
to attend the FIDE General Assembly and several meetings with FIDE and federation
officials leading up to the GA. On the table, reforming and rewriting many of
the rules that govern FIDE elections after the Court of Arbitration for Sport
(CAS) in Switzerland ruled on several cases brought before it by FIDE and the
campaign of Anatoly Karpov (in which Kasparov was an active supporter) in 2010.
After Kasparov arrived back home in Moscow, we spoke with him about his Istanbul
agenda, what was accomplished, and even some chess.
ChessBase: We wanted to talk about chess first,
but you told us that the main reason you were in Istanbul was to do with these
rule reform meetings and your address at the General Assembly, so we should
do that first. I guess this means you really have become more of a politician.
Garry Kasparov: Okay, it's not a title I enjoy, but my purpose
there was not chess, and since Russia just missed the gold I'm not in a great
mood to talk about it anyway.
CB: The Russian news report that came out after
the General Assembly made it sound like you had reached an agreement with
FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and FIDE, something like a peace treaty.
GK: This is nonsense, or at least a great exaggeration. Both
sides worked very hard and made concessions to achieve what was required regarding
rule reform. It should have been done long ago. This was all business, nobody
wanted a big war. I was happy to do this work with the federations and our council.
I support FIDE as an organization, and I want it to work better and do more
for its member federations. I want to be a positive force for change. This cooperation
has nothing to do with what I think about how Ilyumzhinov and his team run FIDE,
or the fact that they do not do their job very well.
Kasparov with Yuri Dokhoian, his old second and currently coach of the Russian
CB: We'll get back to that, then. We looked
around and failed to find many details on the nature of these rule meetings
and how they relate to the 2010 CAS lawsuits that led to them. We have painful
memories of the blizzard of press releases we received from FIDE and the Karpov
campaign at the time.
GK: I will start with the main result of the meetings and
the General Assembly vote that followed. FIDE's rules governing elections have
been updated to remove ambiguous and incorrect language. The details will be
found in the new regulations. The CAS decisions were full of critiques and strong
recommendations about how poorly the FIDE regulations were written. They awarded
one decision on merits to FIDE simply because the rules were unclear on how
exactly to define a person's membership in a federation! And rules that affected
the president's ability to influence an election were also vague. We didn't
achieve 100%, but now the rules are clearer, more transparent, and the election
of 2014 won't have to be the corrupt and confused mess of 2010 in Khanty-Mansiysk.
There we had scandals about proxies, the roll call, shouting us down, etc. Now
the rules governing these things, how the General Assembly is organized, are
fixed – and just the way we asked it to be in Khanty-Mansiysk. We need to move
forward into a modern, transparent organization. We need clear rules, and to
respect the rules, not bow to the whims of whoever is in power at the moment.
CB: We did not report on the recent CAS cases
and decisions, in spite of being inundated with statements and press releases
by all sides. Can you summarize what those cases were about and why
some FIDE officials were talking about everything from fining, suing, or even
banning some of the big federations who participated in them?
GK: I can still try to be positive by saying we cannot blame
FIDE for the actions of a few vindictive individuals. FIDE should be embarrassed
by [Ali Nihat] Yazici's wild behavior and threats. I can be positive by saying
he and people like him are headed for the door and will take these practices
with them. My dreams for FIDE are all positive, about a strong and prosperous
organization with capable people who can work together.
There were two cases before CAS, but really they issued four relevant decisions.
The first suit was about the legitimacy of Kirsan's board, whether or not they
were all valid federation members. And, people forget this, but the first CAS
decision was about FIDE's attempt to deny CAS had jurisdiction on the case at
all. So anyone complaining about having to spend FIDE money on legal battles
should ask why FIDE spent so much time and money trying to escape its prior
commitment to CAS rulings. FIDE lost, and CAS moved forward with the case. On
the merits, FIDE won, but the CAS decision made it clear that the rules defining
federation membership were so ambiguous and poorly written that they could not
The next CAS decision was also related to that same first case, and again it
was FIDE that initiated it, not the federations. Unsatisfied with the 35,000
[Swiss francs] awarded, FIDE challenged the amount of the award and eventually
lost. Again, this was more time and money spent by FIDE's choice. They undoubtedly
spent much more contesting CAS jurisdiction and challenging the award than on
the actual lawsuits brought by the federations!
The second case, which contained just one decision, was another example of
FIDE winning a case on a technicality created by ambiguous regulations. Ilyumzhinov
appointed additional VP positions improperly and the federations brought a case.
CAS's decision specifically recognized this, stating England and Georgia had
a clear case for grievance, but that the rules were not clear enough to decide
in their favor. In fact, the Court's language was so strong about how poorly
the rules were written that during the meetings in Istanbul the FIDE representatives
didn't even bring up that court victory. It was as if they were caught on tape
stealing but were acquitted because the arresting officer forgot to read them
their rights. This is why the federations organized and, with the extremely
capable help of Ank Santens of White & Case, pushed for these needed rule
reforms. FIDE didn't want to fight a war and they also realized that CAS would
not be so kind next time if they did not reform the rules. So we worked together
and we got it done.
Unfortunately, FIDE has been framing this whole story to score political points.
They were trying to present it as a war between small and developing world federations
versus the big federations that brought the lawsuits. At the General Assembly
there were even demands that Kasparov and Karpov should pay, and that the big
federations should make donations. Ilyumzhinov said it was because of these
CAS lawsuits that FIDE couldn't find sponsorship! First, what about the 14 years
before the lawsuits? Second, few ever heard about CAS and the lawsuits, it was
hardly mainstream news. But sponsors, the CEOs and marketing guys, the politicians,
they watch CNN and can use Google! And when you Google Ilyumzhinov you see very
quickly why they might not want their companies or counties to have anything
to do with him or FIDE.
So trying to blame me, blame Karpov, blame the federations that were trying
to solve a serious problem, it's a destructive strategy, and a distraction from
the real problems. If they wanted to avoid these legal fights they should have
responded the federations' letters and requests for reform earlier. And if money
were the issue, why spend so much to fight CAS jurisdiction? This is not about
federation versus federation. Improving the rules, making FIDE more transparent
and more responsive, this is good for every federation, big and small.
With Spanish chess journalist Leontxo Garcia
CB: So after all this, and going forward, what
to make of these reports, clearly from FIDE sources, that there has been a
"truce" with Kasparov?
GK: These meetings and this result was for a specific goal
of reforming the badly written rules, to clean up the system. There is no truce
because there was no war. We only want FIDE elections to be about who can present
the best plans for making the organization better and stronger, and who has
the best ideas for promoting chess and helping all the federations succeed.
If the system isn't fair, if the rules are ambiguous, then all the focus is
on how to exploit the lousy rules instead of who will do the best job for the
world of chess.
Listen, I still have many differences with Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and how he runs
FIDE, and I know I'm not the only one. But the best way to address these differences
is to present better ideas, to show a superior track record, and to let people
judge for themselves. Some bureaucrats can only thrive in a combat situation,
turning everything into an internal battle that only harms FIDE. Let's see if
they can build something real, to create value for the federations beyond talking
about big plans that never pay off – at least not for the federations. We will
always have disagreements! But don't harm the federations or FIDE; let's talk
about real leadership, real results, and make things better.
CB: Speaking of leadership, we now have to
ask the obvious question: are you going to run for the FIDE presidency yourself
GK: My answer is still the same, which it's not about my being
a candidate; it's about changing FIDE for the better. If there's a candidate
who can promote a strong agenda for improving FIDE and the chess world, who
can win the election, then I will support that candidate. This is what I did
in 2010 when I supported Karpov, much to everyone's surprise. Despite having
so little time to prepare and campaign, the mission of reform attracted considerable
support. But the ticket wasn't ready, and the ideas were not clear or presented
well due to the rush. Now there will be more time to build the ticket and every
element of the platform.
If I think I am the only one who can do it, then okay, I'll probably run. But
right now there's no point in thinking about it when there are so many things
to be done. The activities and expansion of the Kasparov Chess Foundation alone
will keep me very busy. I've been spending a lot of time traveling around the
world visiting places with tremendous potential for chess growth, and also places
where chess in education can have the most positive impact. This is the sort
of work FIDE could be doing, but despite all the headlines they publish about
chess in schools, there's nothing beyond those headlines while KCF is teaching
thousands of kids and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in sponsorship.
CB: Let's move on to the Olympiad in Istanbul.
What were your impressions, even if you do not want to talk about Russia's
bittersweet silver medal?
GK: The Olympiad, in some ways even more than the world championship,
is a crown jewel of the chess world. It doesn't get the international mainstream
headlines, but it's wonderful to bring so many chessplayers from around the
world in a single event. Teams of amateurs get to rub shoulders with the world's
elite and play their hardest. So it was a real shame to see such poor conditions
for the players and such larcenous financial burdens placed on the federations.
So many people I talked to were outraged by everything from the hotel and food
prices, the meager room allocations, and the site next to the airport instead
of in the city. The cost of sending a team was over double that of Khanty-Mansiysk!
Instead of using the large number of attendees to leverage better prices, the
players and federations were a captive audience and squeezed at every turn.
There was even a "participation fee" of 100 euro per participant, another quarter-million
euros bled from the federations. This is a just a fresh example of taking money
out of the chess community instead of finding sponsorship to bring money into
it. It is ironic because Yazici is the man who led the attack for reparations
against the federations that sued FIDE over the election.
Okay, let's put that in the past and hope it is a lesson well learned. I have
no doubt Tromsø and Baku will be excellently organized. The organizers there
will take this honor seriously and put on a top-class event without using it
as an opportunity to loot the federations and players.
An interview with Azerbaijani television
CB: What did you think about your hometown
of Baku being selected as the site of the 2016 Olympiad? You haven't been
back since you and your family were forced to flee in 1990, right? But you
were seen in Istanbul having friendly conversation with the Azerbaijani minister
of sport. Is this another truce that is not a truce?
GK: No, I have not been back since, and it is still difficult
to imagine returning. But what concerns me most now and what should concern
everyone is that Armenia, the team that has now won three of the last four Olympiads,
may not attend. It would be a real tragedy if that happens and I hope a resolution
can be found. It's always sad when politics interferes with sport, but we have
seen examples of sport having a positive impact on politics, so we can dream
of this. And if I can help in this process, I will do everything I can.
CB: Since you mentioned that gold medal, how
can Armenia keep pulling this off? Obviously they have a strong team, and
this time they added Movsesian, so maybe the better question is how can a
Russian team top seeded every time keep finding new ways to fall short of
Another gold for the Armenian team, with Aronian hoisting the flag
GK: Actually, Movsesian already played for Armenia on the
European Team Championship. As for Russia, silver on tiebreaks is not a crime,
I think! Yes, okay, for Russia anything but gold is a failure of a sort, and
the players are always aware of this. It was that way on all my Soviet and Russian
teams, and that sort of pressure is not always comfortable. I was doubly upset
because my old coach Yuri was there captaining the Russian team. He already
built a winning women's team and he came so close here. I think they relaxed
after beating Ukraine [in round eight], you know, they thought "okay,
we've played the toughest opponents," and they relaxed against the USA [in
round nine]. Of course the US is a strong team now, but unlike, say, Ukraine,
China, and Armenia they don't have a really solid core top to bottom. So maybe
Russia relaxed a little and we saw what happened. And of course Russia has the
women's gold, do not forget, so I congratulate them as well as our open team
for the silver and Karjakin and Jakovenko for their individual medals.
The Russian team, looking less than pleased with silver on tiebreak
As for Armenia, we can rule out luck after three golds in six years! They lost
to China but came back and showed their incredible fighting spirit as a team
once again. Not on rating the best team, but great fighting spirit all the way
through. It's amazing that Movsesian had the worst score on the Armenian team,
but he had the two clutch wins over Grischuk and Almasi. Pressure performance!
You don't often see a hero with 50%! It's good that they changed the board medals
to performance rating. Aronian got gold with best TPR and 7/10. In my last Olympiad
I had the best overall TPR but didn't get any board medal with 7.5/9! By the
way, it was ridiculous how nobody seemed to be sure who had won after the final
round ended. It turns out the rules on tiebreaks are poorly written and [as
John Nunn pointed out] ambiguous! How symbolic! And even when
it was finally clear what it was trying to say, it seems there is room for confusion
if two of a team's opponents finish with the same lowest match score. It's not
hard to imagine yet another lawsuit due to this sloppiness. Both grammatical
and logical ambiguity! It's exactly what CAS does.
From the FIDE Handbook, D.II.02 Olympiad Pairing Rules. Language-wise,
"against this opponent" would refer to the opponent that was
excluded for having the lowest number of match points. It should read, "against
each opponent, again excluding that with the lowest number of match points,"
or something similar. Logic-wise, there is no guidance for what happens if two
opponents are tied for lowest number of match points. This is critical if a
different number of board points were scored against those two teams. E.g. Armenia
scored 3-1 against Bolivia and 4-0 against Bangladesh. Had BOL and BAN finished
with the same low number of match points, which game score would have been used
in the multiplier to calculate Armenia's tiebreaks, 3 or 4?
Did you have a chance to follow many of the matches? Any that caught your eye?
GK: I always watched the top games. It was a pleasure to see
the return of the great Vassily! What an attack in his last win!
against Wang Hao, see diagram]
21.f5! is very nice. And several moves of the attack are hard
for a human to see. Psychologically, 26.h8(Q)! and 28.dxe5 are difficult because
they give the black king more space. Ivanchuk is one of those players we should
all appreciate for his great talent and tireless appetite for chess.
Photos by Karakhayan, Llada, and Karlovich
courtesy of the official site.