Carsten Hensel on Kramnik and the World Championship cycle

7/11/2007 – After his victory in Dortmund world champion Vladimir Kramnik came to Hamburg for a few days, to record his first DVD with ChessBase. With him was his manager Carsten Hensel, who also looks after the interests of Hungarian chess star Peter Leko. During the recording sessions with Kramnik there was ample time to talk to Carsten and get his take on the situation in world chess. Interview.

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Interview with Carsten Hensel

By André Schulz


Carsten Hensel, manager of Vladimir Kramnik and Peter Leko

Question: Were you satisfied with the performance of your clients in Dortmund?

Hensel: Naturally, very satisfied. Vladimir Kramnik did not just win Dortmund for the eighth time, he has won a series of tournaments, starting with the Chess Olympiade in Turin in 2006. This was the fifth classical chess event, which he completed with an Elo performance of over 2800. That just goes to show how he is dominating the chess scene for over a year now. Peter [Leko] also gave a good performance and applied pressure in almost every game. He could have easily won Dortmund if he had been able to make use of the chances he had more efficiently. Anyway, both players are in excellent condition.

Was Kramnik’s victory important from a psychological point of view, considering the upcoming world championship in Mexico.

As I said, Kramnik has been dominating top level chess for some time now. That will not have escaped the attention of his rivals, who are certain to be impressed. However, I do not believe that this is an advantage for Vladimir, since he has to carry the greatest burden of expectations. The cards will be reshuffled in Mexico and a great deal will depend on preparation and on his condition during the tournament – physical, mental and chess-wise.

How significant are the results of the recent rapid chess matches, for instance Leko vs Kramnik?

From a purely sporting point of view they are quite insignificant, especially since the games are not counted for the world rankings. But these events are an excellent platform to present chess in an entertaining form to a new target audience.

While the Dortmund tournament was being played a FIDE presidential board meeting was held. The result was a five-year-plan, presented with a fairly complicated chart, for the upcoming world championship. Did you understand the plan?

The new system is not difficult to understand, although the chart does lead to some misunderstandings, I have to admit.

Can you explain the system in a few sentences?

Very simple: in future the winners of the World Cup and the Grand Prix will play a match to determine who will challenge the World Champion.


Jorge Saggiante, organiser of the Mexico City World Championship, with Carsten Hensel

But why does Kramnik have a special right to a world championship match in case he does not win Mexico?

The World Championship in Mexico City will be the last one to be held as a tournament. FIDE has quite logically decided that in future at the end of each cycle there should be a classical match for the world championship. Because of the unification of the title there is no longer a necessity to experiment. Since the Mexico tournament format had already been agreed by FIDE we signed a contract accepting a compromise: Kramnik is seeded to the final of a world championship match in 2008, irrespective of how he fares in Mexico. It would be a very sorry situation if the three times match world champion were to be sacrificed in a tournament in which he perhaps came second and lost in a tiebreak. This would lead to more turmoil in the chess world, since many fans would continue regarding Kramnik as the champion who had to be defeated in a match. So, if Kramnik does not win Mexico himself he will for the moment recognize the winner of Mexico as the new world champion, but only under the condition that he gets a one-time return match in 2008.

Who are the favourites in Mexico?

Nobody can count Kramnik out. Anand, Aronian and Leko certainly also have good chances. But the tournament is incredibly strong, especially since the strongest players succeeded in qualifying in the Candidates matches. The Elo average is 2752, the tournament is category 21. It is clearly stronger than the world championship tournament in San Luis.

FIDE has also integrated Topalov in the new cycle. He receives the right, without qualification, to immediately play against Kramnik or to play a Candidates Final against the winner of the World Cup. What do you think of that?

For Kramnik the decision is not relevant. In any case he will play Mexico City and then a world championship match in 2008. Who his opponent will be in this match is not critical. However, the privilege that Topalov is getting, to play against the winner of the World Cup or to immediately challenge Kramnik in a world championship match, must be of concern to the other top players. I expect all top grandmasters, including Peter Leko, to protest against this special privilege. Possibly the world chess federation is risking a boycott of the World Cup. This must not be allowed to happen.


Vladimir Kramnik with Carsten Hensel


Consultation: the World Champion and his manager

Are there any plans for the world championship match with Kramnik. Where could this be staged?

It is a little early to start talking about that. Right now the world championship tournament in Mexico is the focus of our interest. Only after that is over will we know who will play in the 2008 world championship match. But naturally there are certain activities going on in the background. A number of large cities in different continents have shown interest in staging the match. The German company Universal Event Promotion has secured all rights for this match from FIDE. In the end its investor and owner Josef Resch will decide where it will be held. I can only say the following: Germany has good chances to receive the nomination. One of the reasons is that the match between Kramnik and Deep Fritz in Bonn last year produced such an incredible media response. It was quite possibly the best organized event in chess history.

FIDE has always had difficulty attracting major sponsors. For instance the theoretically very attractive Candidates Matches once again had to be held in Elista. What is the reason for that and how can the commercial marketing of big chess tournaments and matches be improved.

In the past there were gigantic problems in this area. The main reason was that FIDE did not have any proper commercial structure, and that this important field was being handled essentially by amateurs. In the meantime all rights have been transferred to Global Chess. That is a genuine opportunity for professional chess. Right now it is important that Global Chess takes the time it needs to survey the field and find the necessary sponsors. Naturally there is great pressure on Bessel Kok and Co. to get things started. I hope that this will not lead to snap decisions, which could create new problems.

What about the Grand Slam idea proposed by Silvio Danailov? Why is Dortmund not participating?

In its current form I don’t believe in it at all. Apart from the fact that it should be in the hands of FIDE and Global Chess, it seems to be an attempt by certain people to gain influence in the chess world. Dortmund is not participating because it doesn’t want to lose its independence. The Grand Slam is, in my opinion, nothing but a PR stunt. They have nothing to offer, no general sponsor, no recognition by the world chess federation, and certainly no rules that have been recognized by FIDE or by the players. One central point of criticism is that the manager of one of the top players is the organizer of one of the tournaments, in Sofia, and also of the Grand Prix. He wants to exert direct influence on the rules, the conditions and the commercial factors. That can potentially lead to a very volatile conflict of interest, one I do not need to elaborate on. It is time for the chess world and for the responsible people in Sofia to start thinking about these points. Incidentally the communication strategy is hardly honest: for example the Dutch Corus Tournament, like Dortmund, is not a member of the “Association”, as is being claimed.

This interview was conducted in German. The original is available on our German news page.


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