This is an interview I’ve long dreamt about. As far back as the end of the 90s it seemed to me that Vladimir and I held positions that seldom coincided, and now finally I had the chance to clarify all the contradictions. Right from the outset the plan “sprung a leak” – firstly, because in the run-up to our conversation Kramnik had given a series of exhaustive interviews, and secondly… It’s not so easy to wear someone down with tricky, controversial questions when they’re so pleasant to talk to. Even during the process of agreeing a time and place for our conversation Vladimir turned out to be impeccably polite and at times even aristocratic in his manners. My fighting spirit slipped away, and I simply had the urge to talk about topics that interested me with a great chess player. Here’s what became of that…
V.T.: What’s going on with Topalov just now?
V.K.: I don’t know. It’s not even a matter of his having a bad period. I don’t understand why he’s not playing just now. After all, you usually get out of that by playing, and if you play only one tournament every six months it’s very hard to get back into the rhythm. Of course he’s a phenomenal player, but it’s clear that he’s out of form and has suffered a real decline of late. His main problem, I think, is that for some reason he doesn’t want to play. If you do want to play then you can always find an option.
V.T.: And do you understand why that’s happening?
V.K.: Perhaps he’s simply bored of it, or it’s because he got married. I don’t know, but I can’t understand it.
V.T.: The toilet scandal. Why were you so offended? After all, isn’t it legitimate to suspect each other of cheating during a World Championship match?
V.K.: It’s legitimate to suspect someone but, to put it mildly, it’s illegitimate to publicly state your suspicion as fact. Personally I’ve never suspected anyone, not least because it’s extremely ugly in human terms and crosses all the boundaries of minimum decency.
V.T.: You don’t accept such methods of conducting the fight?
V.K.: No, I don’t accept them.
V.T.: What happened to you there? Was it an emotional breakdown? To an observer it seemed as though the whole scandal was simply a means of putting you under psychological pressure.
V.K.: In part, yes. But in actual fact all these “appeals” started earlier, right after the second game; it was totally clear that the appeals committee was absolutely hand-picked by them, and they began to contravene all the match regulations. When I learned the composition of the committee, and it included Makropoulos and Azmaiparashvili, I was immediately very unhappy about it, if only because Azmaiparashvili has direct financial relations to Danailov; that was already known about back then. It was clear nothing good could come of that. However, I wanted to keep them in check with legal contracts. Almost all the points were clearly defined there, including one which stated that any complaints should be made before the match began. But not during it! I was later extremely upset by the fact they gave Danailov the video of my going to the rest room. That was complete madness! Well okay, the arbiter has the right to look at it at any moment, but no-one else. I’ve got nothing to hide, but it’s a matter of principle. Today Danailov, tomorrow they’ll post it on the Internet. What were they thinking? It was absolutely disgraceful.
V.T.: Did you get so upset because you felt as though you were in a hostile environment?
V.K.: Yes, of course. And then they started to satisfy all these “requests”, although I showed them the contract and the regulations. It turned out there was an incredible legal conflict there, which I hadn’t spotted before the match. I think it had all been prepared in advance by Danailov. The thing was that despite the contract the decisions of the appeals committee were final, and no-one could do anything about them. It was an absolutely crazy situation: they could even take the decision that a game that had ended in a win for me was a draw; there was nothing you could do about it. The only option would be to take them to court after the match, and the court would decide that they could no longer work on an appeals committee. And then I realised that things would get worse, they’d already unlawfully taken away my rest room; tomorrow they’d do something else. All of four games had been played and they’d already poured a bucket of crap on me; and they were breaking all the rules.
V.T.: But, remembering the matches between Karpov and Kasparov, you must have realised that it would turn into a war at some point?
V.K.: But you know, times are a little different nowadays. I had the illusion that in Russia things wouldn’t become so outrageous. But they did, unfortunately. I’ve got no complaints about Ilyumzhinov; it’s clear it was nothing to do with him, but the situation got completely out of his control. They simply deceived him, while everyone else there was playing for the one team. So I had the sense that I was completely helpless. I simply didn’t know what to do.
There were a million violations; for example, in the fifth game they completely unlawfully adjudged me to have lost, as there was a point stating that a decision to change the time of a game even by a minute could only be taken with the written permission of the FIDE President, who wasn’t there. The game was moved half an hour, which was unlawful.
V.T.: But you only realised that in hindsight?
V.K.: Well yes, of course, in hindsight, as I’m not a jurist. My lawyer later explained everything to me; and I told FIDE that I’d simply sue them for the point they’d taken away. And then an absolutely incredible thing happened – they falsified Ilyumzhinov’s signature; and that’s absolutely provable. At 3:30, I think it was, they showed me a piece of paper with the FIDE President’s signature, saying something like, “I consider the appeal committee’s decision lawful. Vladimir should continue the match” and so on, with Ilyumzhinov’s signature. But at that moment he was together with Zhukov at a government meeting. Zhukov later told me that he was prepared to confirm that Ilyumzhinov hadn’t left the building and hadn’t signed any paper. They simply put his signature as a stamp, without him knowing a thing about it.
V.T.: But why didn’t he react to that in any way later?
V.K.: But how can you react – by admitting you’ve let the situation get completely out of control?
V.T.: Why didn’t he fire anyone afterwards?
V.K.: Because he’s indecisive and never gets rid of people when necessary. In actual fact he was incredibly angry at that point, because he understood that they’d simply deceived him. He’d been deceived by Azmaiparashvili, who was following his own private interests. He needed to make Topalov champion in order to then hold a match in Baku with Radjabov. He was going to get something for that. People don’t understand that the whole crux of the situation was that match in Baku, for which a contract had already been signed. The match was supposed to happen in April, and Topalov would get a million dollars for it, but in order to play he had to be World Champion. Therefore when that whole mess with the interruption began he was ready for any option, even to later continue the match in Elista with the same score.
V.T.: But why was that match in Baku so important for him, as after all your prize fund wasn’t any less?
V.K.: Ours was less, plus that was money that he’d in any case already received. Azmaiparashvili was a direct broker in that business with Azerbaijan, and therefore an interested party. Before the match they held a press conference in Sofia to promote the match in Baku, and said that everything had already been agreed. Afterwards a journalist asked what would happen if Topalov lost the match in Elista. Azmaiparashvili answered with a smile: “he won’t lose it”. How can a member of the appeals committee say something like that? All those statements made me wary; I realised what was going on and started to prepare for such things.
V.T.: But you didn’t know how exactly it would happen?
V.K.: I didn’t expect everything to be so sudden, brutal and absolutely shameless. Perhaps that’s because I’m already a man of a somewhat western mentality, and they’d signed the contract, which had to mean something. But it meant absolutely nothing! It was clear who “Azmai” was working for. As for Makropoulos, I don’t think, by the way, that he was the same; he simply didn’t know what to do. The situation got completely out of control; and, of course, I was mad. At the moment they took away the point I wasn’t planning on continuing the match, but then I saw that mug (laughs) and thought: “No, you can’t beat me that easily”.
V.T.: Which mug?
V.K.: Danailov’s, of course. He simply shone at the press conference, calculating that things would start to fall apart and they’d get that match in Baku along with the money. The decision, of course, was illogical, but at the last moment, sometime before the 6th game, I decided that I wouldn’t give him any freebies and I’d continue the match.
V.T.: Which, it seems, you’re very glad about now?
V.K.: Yes, of course. It was a tough decision, as I might also have lost.
V.T.: And what were those around you telling you before the game?
V.K.: Nothing. It’s absolute nonsense that I received an order from the Kremlin. All I had was a conversation with Zhukov and he made it clear to me: “We, the federation, will support you whatever decision you take”. Among my coaching staff that was also the message: “It’s your decision”.
V.T.: And if the match wasn’t in Russia would you have continued it?
V.K.: Yes, of course, what difference does it make? In actual fact, that decision was very much a spontaneous one on my part. On their part? I’m not convinced.
V.T.: A lot of years have passed since then. Is it still very personal between you and Danailov and Topalov?
V.K.: Well, what does personal mean? I simply don’t have any respect for those people.
V.T.: So you won’t shake their hands?
V.T.: But what did you do when you played against him?
V.K.: There’s a trick there – you don’t have the right not to shake someone’s hand, but you don’t have to offer your hand. For me that person won’t exist until he repents and publicly apologises for his behaviour. If that happens then it’s a different matter. We’ll talk and I’m perfectly ready for that. I don’t have any particular resentment. In the meantime, he’s of no interest to me, and I find his moral and ethical norms unacceptable. I don’t want to talk to him or shake his hand. It’s the same with Danailov. Despite all that, I have to admit that he’s not such a bad chess manager, in the sense of finding money, and he’s come up with some sensible ideas.
V.T.: You said that perhaps the next Olympiad will be your last and you might soon bring your chess career to an end. What will you do?
V.K.: First and foremost, while my career’s still in progress I don’t want to think about that too seriously.
V.T.: But still, some thoughts must have occurred to you?
V.K.: I’ve got a few different variations, a few spheres that interest me. I’m quite a sociable and open person and I’ve got friends in the most varied of fields. I’d like to be involved in implementing some sort of project I believe in, whether it’s social, chess, political or something else instead. I’d like to put in effort and see a result.
V.T.: And you feel you’ve got that potential?
V.K.: It seems I’ve got energy, brains and the desire as well. I’m not yet old. I’ve played a lot and achieved a great deal, but most likely my career will start to go downhill at some point.
V.T.: Yes, I think it’s unlikely you’ll be able to settle for number ten on the rating list.
V.K.: That’s not even the issue. I’d be able to do it, but I simply don’t see the point. If I can see I’m playing worse and worse, and things aren’t going to get any better, then why go on with it? As long as I can still play pretty well and win some tournaments from time to time, the Olympiad, for example, or Dortmund for the tenth time, then it’s all still relatively interesting. That drive will drop a little, however, if I don’t get into the next cycle. Turning up just to play a bit part is of absolutely no interest to me.
V.T.: And when are you going to quit?
V.K.: I suspect it’ll be by around 40. I can honestly tell you, though, that if a very interesting proposal came along I could end my career tomorrow.
V.T.: But so far there hasn’t been one?
V.K.: I’m not talking about financial proposals.
V.T.: Could you go into any more detail, as “social or political project” all sounds very vague?
V.K.: I don’t know for certain myself. Some kind of project, let’s say, to do with promoting the image of Russia in France. In other words, I’d be interested in some sort of wide-ranging, conceptual project, and in promoting it. I’d like it to be something comparable in scale to becoming World Chess Champion.
– Part three (final) to follow –
If you cannot wait you can read the whole interview at WhyChess.org