'I am not one of the riff-raff'

1/3/2006 – Nigel Short, long feared for his excessively frank writings as a chess columnist in British broadsheets, is no less candid when giving verbal interviews. FIDE, the schism in 1993, the knockout world championship, GM titles and how they are won – all of these come under fire in his latest conversation with the web magazine Chess Chronicle. Interesting reading.

Interview with GM Nigel Short

In Chess Chronicle

Chess Chronicle: Grandmaster, you as probably no one else can judge about the merits and disadvantages of the World Championship qualification system. In 1993 you won a series of candidates' matches to meet Kasparov in a title match. In your opinion, which system of selecting the best player is more objective – matches or tournaments?

Nigel Short: By far, the worst method for determining the World Champion was the mini-match knock-out system introduced by Kirsan Ilyumzhinov shortly after assuming office. This lottery-like nature of the event debauched the title to a degree that even the insensitive and ignorant FIDE official slowly began to understand that something was amiss.

GM Nigel Short [Picture © Carla Amse]

Kirsan failed to follow the cardinal rule “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Of all the events in chess, the old style World Championship Final commanded both great respect and vast international publicity – or, at least had done so since 1972 (and very often earlier in history as well). By Las Vegas 1999, however, most people staying at the Caesar’s Palace were not have aware that the chess world’s premier event was taking place within the hotel.

If that were not bad enough, by Tripoli 2004, the average number of spectators had been reduced to two arbiters and a dog. It was hardly possible to sink any lower and even FIDE had the sense to pull the rug on this farce. The new system, in place in San Luis, is certainly better, but still inferior to what was in place prior to the mid nineties.

CC: I noticed that in your match with Kasparov when playing with White you were on several occasions within the reach of an easy win, but each time you were unable to bring your advantage home. Nevertheless, it seems to me, the quality of these games, their creative content was much higher than the games played in the recent World Championship in Argentina. Do you agree with that? If so, how do you explain your mistakes in the match with Kasparov?

NS: I cannot speak about the quality of my games with Kasparov. That is for others to judge. I can say, however, that beating Garry Kimovich is not an easy task. What outside observers fails to realize is the amount of resistance that really great players put up.

One is forced to walk a tightrope, move after move, in order to bring home the victory. The “easy” wins that you refer to normally occurred after I had been obliged to play fifteen or twenty very accurate moves to get to that point, by which time the clock and the concomitant bad nerves were beginning to take their toll. It is all very simple for you, sitting in the comfort of your home with no tension or stress to hold up your hands in mock horror and say, “Oh what a terrible mistake!” We are all great experts when we are relaxed. It is not so easy when you are in the thick of things.

Picture © Frits Agterdenbos

C.C.: Kasparov maintains that chess has progressed immensely in the last 15 years or so. In my opinion, Kasparov is still much stronger than Topalov today (or even 15 years ago for that matter). How can we speak about the progress of chess?

NS: I agree with Kasparov’s view: chess has improved significantly, thanks primarily to the strength and ubiquity of computers. I don’t agree at all with your opinion that Kasparov is much stronger than Topalov. Their last game ended in victory for the younger man – lest you have forgotten. Kasparov, however, was much stronger than Topalov – but, then again, he is a rare genius and, perhaps, the greatest of all time.

CC: Do you think that the decision to quit FIDE and play the match with Kasparov under the auspices of THE TIMES was just an act of protest or was it a well-planned conspiracy initiated by Kasparov to split up FIDE and the system of the World Championship?

NS: First of all, let me correct you on an important detail: if it was a conspiracy, then it was initiated by me, and not by Kasparov. I was the one who contacted Kasparov and suggested we play a match outside of FIDE. He agreed. This was all very well documented at the time (see “The Inner Game” by Dominic Lawson, among other sources), but, yet, people persist in stating the contrary – probably because it suits their preconceptions.

The schism was prompted by FIDE’s blatant disregard of its own regulations. For decades it had been the case that three parties – the World Champion, the Challenger and FIDE – decided on the venue for the World Championship. However, in 1993, Campomanes, in an act of shameless autocracy, simply abrogated our voting rights. This was the casus belli. The blame for the schism that afflicts the chess world today, lies squarely at the feet of this man. Incidentally, I find it incredible that Campomanes, who received a 22 month prison sentence for embezzlement by a Philippino Court in 2003, should still be Honorary President of FIDE. It shows exactly what sort of “honor” the organization has.

CC: How supportive was your Chess Federation in your earlier quest to become a World Chess Champion?

NS: Seeing the British Chess Federation did not even recognize my match with Kasparov – not a lot, I would say. I had private sponsorship from Eagle Star Assurance Company, and to them I am very grateful.

CC: What is your contribution, if any, in decreasing the alleged number of increasing pre-arranged games?

Picture © Carla Amse

NS: It is my experience that most short draws are not pre-arranged. They are usually agreed out of mutual fear of because the tournament situation dictates. I think that organizers bear much of the responsibility at the highest level for inviting boring players. If they are so obsessed about Elo ratings, without caring for fighting spirit (everyone knows who the biggest culprits are), they should not complain about what they get.

CC: Your San Luis diary was very enjoyable to read. Will you make a book out of it some day, with even more details?

NS: I enjoyed writing from San Luis. ChessBase received literally hundreds of e-mails saying how good my diary was – which is by far the best response I have had to anything I have written. I think people enjoyed the spontaneity.

CC: Can the San Luis tournament games make a good teaching ground for young generations to come?

NS: I believe San Luis 2005 will go down as one of the great tournaments in chess history.

CC: Alex Baburin reported in "Chess Today" issue #1831, that an "unknown participant in the World Chess Championship in San Luis" had accused Veselin Topalov of using outside help to win the title. Cheparinov used computer analysis of the game and then secretly signaled the future champion for the next move. Any comment?

NS: No. I am fully aware of the allegations. I have nothing to say unless a formal protest is made.

CC: World Chess Championship; what do you think about KO vs. eight players in the last one? (Several strong players were missing.)

NS: I think San Luis was representative enough.

CC: Don’t you think that the old system was good?

NS: I have already answered this question.

CC: What happened to the Prague agreement? Was that another failure of FIDE?

NS: I believe Bessel Kok – the architect of the Prague Agreement – made tremendous efforts to re-unite the chess world. He should be applauded for that. There is no doubt that he is the man best equipped to become the next FIDE President. He has both integrity and business skills – qualities in short supply with the current administration.

Picture © Frits Agterdenbos

CC: Every one knows that FIDE was giving away lot of privileges to the Kasparov (such as World Championship matches against Ruslan and Kasimjanov even though he lost to Kramnik), Do you have any comment?

NS: No.

CC: Bessel Kok is going to run for the FIDE presidency. What do you say about it? Do you think it's a time to change?

NS: The time to change is long overdue.

CC: Who do you consider the real world champion? Topalov or Kramnik?

NS: Topalov

CC: Are you in favor of a reunification match? Topalov vs. Kramnik

NS: Not necessarily.

CC: If you were World Champion would you play the reunification match (against Kramnik)? If yes, under what conditions?

Yes, if I were paid mega-bucks.

CC: Any comment on Kramnik' performance?

NS: He is a great player and a nice guy. However, his title only has value if it is recognized by the general public. I would say that its stock, which has sunk sharply since 2000, is dwindling every day. Kramnik needs to play Topalov. Topalov does not need to play Kramnik.

CC: Kasparov's retirement, any comment?

NS: Good luck, Garry. Get some trustworthy bodyguards.

CC: Will he come back like Kamsky did?

NS: I don’t think so.

CC: Do you see him as a Russian President?

NS: No.

CC: Do you have any political aspirations, as Kasparov?

NS: I had, but they disappeared long ago.

CC: What do you think of Internet chess, compared to OTB (over-the-board) chess?

NS: It is fertile ground for cheating.

CC: Greece is currently one of the most chess improving countries in Europe, in both men’s and women’s chess competition! Are you a part of that boom?

NS: No.

CC: In "your days", you "terrorized" all, when playin the White pieces. Are the variations you played then, still as deadly?

NS: Chess does not stand still. The Evans Gambit was the most popular opening of the nineteenth century.

CC: When should a professional chess player stop playing active chess?

NS: When he has had enough, not because he cannot make a living, as is usually the case these days.

CC: What makes the real difference in chess strength between an IM (International Master) and a GM (Grandmaster)?

NS: Greater understanding.

CC: Should the GM (IM, etc) titles stay forever? After all, players tend to lose their Elo rating and overall chess strength? The newest FIDE Trainers' titles, for example, have to be renewed every two years.

NS: The titles have long ceased to mean anything. In a recent conversation with a Ukrainian WIM, the girl mentioned that she knew of only one of her friends who had obtained the title legitimately: everyone else had bought it.

Picture © Carla Amse

CC: When you sign yourself, you rarely place GM in front of your name!? Why is that?

NS: Because there are over 1000 GMs and I am not one of the riff-raff.

CC: Any book that you recommend that every chess player should read?

NS: “Crime and Punishment” by Dostoevsky.

CC: Your Favorite Chess player from the past and present?

NS: Paul Morphy. Maria Manakova.

CC: Any advice for the coming juniors in chess?

NS: Accountancy pays better.

CC: Any message for the readers of the Chess Chronicle?

NS: Happy New Year!

CC: Any thing that you would like to say that we haven’t asked about?

NS: You have asked too much already.

CC: Our special thank to GM Nigel Short for answering our questions.

The Chess Chronicle is an interesting and ambitious project, which describes itself as follows: It contains theoretical analysis, opening surveys, chess novelties, and well-annotated games, as well as instructive theoretical material from Grandmasters and International Masters. They even have Ivanchuk writing for them. A well respected publication, in both PDF and PGN format.

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