Interview with Hans-Walter Schmitt: Chess Classic Mainz as the “Olympic Games of Rapid Chess”
By Hartmut Metz (Translation by Mark Vogelgesang)
The field of participants for all top events of the Chess Classic Mainz (August 9 – 14) is complete. Following his twofold victory in the open tournament, Alexander Grischuk (Russia) will challenge Viswanathan Anand (India), serial winner in the Rheingoldhalle, for the world title in rapid chess. In Chess960, World Champion Peter Svidler (Russia) will meet Zoltan Almasi (Ungarn). Four legends of chess will get together to celebrate the 80th birthday of Wolfgang Unzicker. In addition to the Grandmaster from Munich, Anatoly Karpov (Russia), Viktor Korchnoi (Switzerland) and Boris Spassky (France) will play. Hartmut Metz spoke with the 53 year old organiser Hans-Walter Schmitt about the highlights of this chess summer.
Q.: Mr. Schmitt, why does Alexander Grischuk get the chance to challenge Viswanathan Anand for the world title in rapid chess?
A.: Everybody knows that we are always looking for the best solution for the spectators and the sponsors. It became clear to me after his second victory in the ORDIX Open last year that Alexander Grischuk would be the most difficult challenger for Viswanathan Anand, the best rapid chess player in the world and seven times winner of the Chess Classic. You don’t win a top tournament like the ORDIX Open twice in a row by chance.
Young and fresh: Alexander Grischuk
In addition, this young man is not as burnt out and does not get invitations to top tournaments like Linares, Sofia or Dortmund, even though he held the number six spot in the world rating list at some point. Also, there is our tradition of the simultaneous exhibition on 40 boards. As a result, Grischuk will give a simul in Germany for the very first time. But my respect and my preference for him result mainly from the fact that he voluntarily went through the torture of qualifying in the toughest rapid chess open in the world. Apart from him, only Alexander Morozevich has done that, losing very narrowly to Grischuk in 2004. The main investment of many colleagues of these two players consists of simply requesting for themselves the highest honour in rapid chess – a match against the number one, Viswanathan Anand.
Q.: Supposedly Garry Kasparov knocked at your door also.
A.: That is actually true. I admit that he was a strong candidate until he announced his retirement in March. But maybe we will be successful in re-activating him for the 13th edition of the Chess Classic; 13 is his lucky number after all. However, it could not be just for fun, it would need to be a serious fight for a world title in rapid chess. Also, Kasparov would have fit very well into the gala tournament celebrating the 80th birthday of Wolfgang Unzicker – but as it turns out, we were complete by that time.
Q.: What about Veselin Topalov? As the new number two in the world, wouldn’t he have been a more attractive choice for the world championship?
Mainz organiser Hans-Walter Schmitt with his star Vishy Anand
A.: On paper, the world number one against the number two does look like a fantastic highlight. But this is about rapid chess, 25 minutes and 10 seconds per move. And with all due respect to Topalov and his incredible fighting spirit and his fantastic games: in rapid chess, he is not yet one of the very best. "I would have no chance against Vishy in rapid chess", stated Topalov after the tournament in Sofia, where he feared a rapid tiebreak against Anand. His poor result in Monaco seems to confirm this. The direct encounter with Anand ended 0:2. Based on this, it would be difficult to predict an exciting match with Anand. In my opinion, Alexander Grischuk is the more credible challenger for the super star of the Chess Classic. Vishy agrees with me on this one, actually.
Q.: Following GrenkeLeasing AG, FiNet AG now seems to step up its sponsoring effort of the Chess Classic in a big way. FiNet now sponsors not only the Chess960 Open, but also the Chess960 World Championship match.
Chess Classic in Mainz
A.: On April 27, I received the shocking news that Gerling AG is terminating its sponsoring with immediate effect, caused by a takeover attempt from a foreign investor. The financial gap caused by this sudden withdrawal was filled in no time by FiNet AG. FiNet CEO Peter Kunath proved himself to be a true friend and supporter of the new chess. For him, Chess960 and the team of the Chess Tigers are very important. I had the impression that he also wanted to help me personally out of a difficult situation, just like Jens Beutel, the mayor of Mainz and Wolfgang Grenke, the CEO of GrenkeLeasing. It feels great when good friends and business partners come to your help in a difficult situation. Thanks to these friends, we are able to realise our original plans for the event without too many significant changes.
GM Wolfgang Unzicker
Q.: You yourself are a big fan of the old legendary chess players. How do you rate the field of participants of the Unzicker Gala in honour of his 80th birthday?
A.: I consider this event this year’s masterpiece. For a long time, I have admired the German “leisure time” Grandmaster Wolfgang Unzicker, who chose a normal professional career as a lawyer. My admiration for his lifetime achievements increased even further when I could witness myself how chess legends of the calibre of Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi accepted their invitations instantly and with great pleasure.
The Chess Tigers are very proud to be allowed to organize the Unzicker Gala
Tournament. Our only fear was that other event organizers like the German Chess
Federation (Deutscher Schachbund DSB) could steal the idea or even the show
Q.: You must be kidding. The DSB once more does nothing for a valuable former member of the German national team.
A.: (grinning) In any case, the Karjakins, Carlsens and Nakamuras of this world can take a break. We are betting on living legends and not on wunderkinder.
Veteran ex world champion Anatoly Karpov
Q.: Are you not worried that this fantastic field will steal the limelight from your main events?
A.: No way. We always set ourselves the highest possible goals for all events. This incredible field of participants has been on my mind since last October. The fact that we were able to make it come true is also due to the tireless efforts of Unzicker’s son Ferdinand. And what does it actually mean “to steal the limelight”? People who ask this kind of question just forget some basic facts about the Chess Classic: for many years, we have been presenting the undisputed number one player in the world in rapid chess, Vishy Anand, in exciting matches. Against Vladimir Kramnik, against Ruslan Ponomariov, against the dominant female player Judit Polgar, against Alexey Shirov and now against Alexander Grischuk.
In addition, we got the new chess, Chess960, going, following the ideas of Bobby Fischer. We are organizing the World Championship in Chess960. Did you forget this? When you have main actors comparable to Tiger Woods in Golf, Lance Armstrong in Cycling, or Michael Schumacher in Formula One, you don’t need to be afraid of the living legends of chess. On this level, it is part of the show. Our open tournaments and the other events are packed with top players. A small competition would not fit well into our plans. We want to become the Olympic Games for rapid chess.
Q.: In 2006, the winners of four additional sections of the FiNet Open will get their chance to play for a world title. In addition of course to the overall winner of the FiNet Open, who will play for the overall world title against the winner of the match Svidler – Almasi?
A.: We have generated a lot of interest in Chess960. We now need to broaden this trend and organize a qualification as part of the FiNet Open, so that next year, following the example of the title fight between Svidler and Almasi, additional fights in the categories women, seniors, juniors, U20 and U14 can be organized.
Peter Svidler playing Chess960 in Mainz 2004
Work on the tools required for Chess960 (online registration of games, analysing and commenting games, systematic approach, tutoring & learning) is well under way. With this year’s qualification cycle and the World Championships in 2006, we are trying to broaden the market for Fischer’s ideas. With the FiNet Open and the World Championship match, we have established a world championship cycle that is open to every interested player. We have chosen the same format for the Livingston Chess960 Computer World Championship. This will be completed by a match “man against machine”.
Q.: You regard the Chess Classic as an event dedicated to excellent service – vis-à-vis your visitors and your sponsors. You now plan additional services for the time from August 9 to 14, for example a children’s corner.
A.: We are getting serious with our idea to reach people who are busy and just don’t have a lot of time. We will establish a club for kids for the duration of the open tournaments, where the kids will be taken care of by experienced personnel. In addition to painting and hobby work, the kids will be offered chess entertainment as well, like the movie “Long live the Queen” or games like “Fritz & Fertig”. For the evening hours, there will be the “Gourmet Club” in one of the historic Golden Rooms. In this club, we will offer everything related to “enjoying chess”.
Press conference with Aronian, Anand, Svidler and Shirov in Mainz 2004
Commenting on games, discussing games, betting, eating, drinking in a relaxed atmosphere. The idea is “Chess meets Business” or “Chess needs Business”. We will decide on the details and timing of this concept towards the end of May, together with the Hilton Hotel. In addition, we have found an excellent partner for the presentation of chess: Livingston, the number one rental company for computer equipment. And with Schach Niggemann, we have the market leader for selling chess related articles on site. We are pushing hard when it comes to providing the best service to customers.
Q.: How clearly will your protégé Anand win this year’s edition of the Chess Classic?
A.: This questions has an arrogant ring to it and I will not make any prediction. Only this: my friend Anand is not invincible – even if it seems that he approaches that level in rapid chess matches! But in the past, you could see how hard he had to fight to finally overcome Vladimir Kramnik, Judit Polgar and Ruslan Ponomariov. This time, he is meeting the only person who ever managed to win the ORDIX Open twice, a young player who is very eager to fight, which is not making things easier for him. In my opinion, Kasparov, Kramnik, Leko or Topalov would have been easier as opponents. The most important thing is, however, that the match will be exciting and that the boys fight like mad. In the end, I hope the better player wins.
Q.: Will Peter Svidler remain Chess960 World Champion?
A.: The challenger Zoltan Almasi will play with great ambitions, I am sure.
I believe, however, that Peter is capable of defending his title.