This interview was conducted on Sunday, April 7th. World chess champion Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), who wrested the title from Garry Kasparov in December 2000, is scheduled to play the strongest chess program currently available in a spectacular event. This will take place in Bahrain in October this year. In July there will be a qualification tournament in Dortmund, Germany, to find a challenger for Kramnik in next year's world championship match. Kramnik speaks out on both these subjects.
ChessBase: Man versus Machine Matches in chess get extraordinary public attention. What do you think is the reason for this?
Vladimir Kramnik: Our brains have the power to stand up to the machines. It is a good story when the two fight for supremacy in a highly intellectual area. The player and the computer are both obeying the same rules. So you can compare the results. The chess grandmaster is fighting against the best software on a brutally fast machine. He stands there alone in a fight against the most unbelievable technical development in history. It is also the battle between creativity and monstrous calculating power. The public finds this fascinating, and so do I.
ChessBase: Kramnik vs Fritz in Bahrain is seen as the revenge match of Kasparov vs Deep Blue. Are you avenging the defeat of Kasparov in 1997?
Kramnik: Naturally the match has the character of a revenge. After all the world champion is facing the strongest chess program. If I too should lose then the people will believe that chess computers are really superior to human beings. Top players are very ambitious, it is also a matter of honour. Believe me, to lose to a computer is twice as painful as losing to a colleague.
ChessBase: How does the playing strength of Fritz7 today compare with that of Deep Blue in 1997?
Kramnik: I spent some time last summer studying Fritz because the match was originally supposed to take place in October 2001 and had to be postponed because of September 11. I was testing Fritz on a Notebook with a 600 MHz processor. I let Fritz replay the games of Deep Blue in 1997. It was a great shock! In almost every position Fritz was suggesting objectively better variations. The program is clearly stronger than Deep Blue, whatever the hardware. The developers have done some excellent work in the past years. The special version that will run on eight processors in Bahrain I think will definitely be over 2800 in its Elo performance. Everybody can imagine what a difficult job it will be for me. In order to have chances to win I have to be mentally and physically in top shape.
Kasparov vs Deep Blue, New York 1997
ChessBase: Kasparov has criticized the playing conditions and circumstances surrounding the match of 1997. Did you take his experiences into account for Bahrain?
Kramnik: I do not know enough about what exactly happened in New York to give you a precise answer. Definitely it was a mistake to play without any specific preparation against an opponent you know nothing about. That is why it is important that the player is able to spend some time getting used to the playing style of the program. The computer team is also preparing for the human opponent.
As I said Deep Blue did not impress me that much. The fact that even a weaker program managed to beat Garry Kasparov tells us that the match in Bahrain will be a hard challenge for me.
ChessBase: Can you feel different styles in different chess programs and if yes, how would you describe the style of Fritz?
Kramnik: Yes, I can, and even if it sounds ridiculous I have to say, Fritz plays in many ways, how should I say it, like a human. At least when I compare it to other programs. Your program is the first on the computer rating lists. Okay, these lists compare the playing strengths of the programs among each other. But I think that Fritz will perform better than other programs against human beings, because of this "human" quality. This is what makes Fritz especially dangerous for me in Bahrain. A game like my game against Junior in Dortmund will not be possible against Fritz, I think.
ChessBase: Chess programs have clear defects in long-term strategic planning. This lead to the development of anti-computer chess, which can be quite successful with simple attacking plans. However, Robert Hübner said after his match against Fritz in Dortmund that it is not necessary to betray one's style when facing the machine. Also Boris Gulko recently reached promising positions against top programs with his own repertoire. What is your opinion on this?
Kramnik: You cannot compare Fritz 6 with Fritz 7 at all, there is a big difference, a clear advance. And the Bahrain version will be even stronger and it will understand the strategic aspects even better. That is why I can clarify my strategic plan only after getting the last version of the program. But one thing is already completely clear: There are not many grandmasters left who would have a chance in such a match.
ChessBase: What do you think is the greatest contribution of computers to the world of chess?
Kramnik: Clever question, which I have to answer positively. Okay, computers have surely helped to make chess more popular. Many people have found their way to chess through the computer. I know many people who are quite attached to their favourite program.
ChessBase: The path to achieve super grandmaster strength is long and tough and only the most talented players succeed in getting there. Top grandmasters enjoy social prestige, not only in the chess scene. Does it have any impact on human esteem that machines now compete on this level?
Kramnik: I really don't think so. Maybe in the subjective view of an active grandmaster there is such a feeling. It is really painful to lose to a computer, as I said already. But the players do not lose social prestige, in fact the opposite is true. It is a battle on a completely different level, and the public understand this.
ChessBase: Do you think that chess might be promoted by the ability to play against people on the Internet?
Kramnik: There is only one answer to this question: chess profits more than any other activity from the Internet. I am convinced that many children and young people are finding their way to chess like this. Many schools all over the world are becoming active on the Internet and recognise the important role of chess in learning and education. Even business is recognising this. I can feel that chess is becoming more popular, and we will all profit from this. But I must advise every player to also go to a chess tournament or to a chess club. The Internet can never replace a game face-to-face between two people. And also not the atmosphere of a well-presented chess event.
ChessBase: An exclusive interview with you is currently impossible without touching on chess politics and the world championship. Is that okay?
Kramnik: Sure, no problem.
ChessBase: The candidates' tournament in Dortmund has been criticized. Do you think that the winner will really be a worthy challenger?
Kramnik: Of course, he will be a worthy challenger. He will have to play 14 games with classical time controls, and also maybe play tiebreak games. Anyone who finishes this tournament as the winner has definitely earned the right to play a match for the classical world chess championship. By the way I do not agree at all with the criticism, which is being mainly done by Garry Kasparov. I am receiving a lot of approval and support, also in the chess world.
ChessBase: Since you mention the name of Kasparov, is it possible to have a world championship without the participation of the top player in the world rankings?
Kramnik: Definitely yes. Kasparov's arguments are not logical. Garry has held the title for 15 years. During this time a world championship without his participation was impossible. After my victory in London I have taken his place. I have proposed some improvements and am trying to learn from the past mistakes. Dortmund is a step in the right direction.
ChessBase: Do you understand Kasparov's refusal to play in Dortmund?
Kramnik: I understand that for him to take part in a candidates' tournament is a risk. But I do not understand his decision not to play. Before our title match in London Garry signed the contract where he agreed to play in a candidates tournament in the case of losing the title. Later he got the legal right not to carry out these obligations, and so he does. There is nothing wrong with it from the legal point of view, but it was surprising to see such a drastic change in his position under new circumstances. Still I believe it is a mistake.
Of course, in a tournament you can never be completely sure, but the format of Dortmund would give Garry ideal chances. His reasons for not playing will not satisfy the public. But that is not my problem. His demands for an immediate rematch are contradicting what he said and did for many years. And he was right. It's clear: if you only arrange matches between the two same players all the time it is absurd and boring. The world championships between Kasparov and Karpov made it impossible for many years for other players to participate. Many people were bored, and people may be forgetting this. This is not usual in any other sport.
ChessBase: But Kasparov gave you the chance to play a world championship match against him because you were number two in the world.
Kramnik: That is not a good argument. He needed an opponent, I did not ask for the match. They ignored Shirov who had earned the right to play and first asked Anand, who did not agree to play. Then they asked me. Nobody really expected me to win this match, to beat Kasparov. Now things have changed.
BGN world championship Kramnik-Kasparov, London 2001.
ChessBase: You have found a new partner in the Einstein Group in London.
Kramnik: Yes, it is a very professional multi-media company and I have made long-term commitments to them. They have all the parts which are very important for international sporting events. Event management, marketing, the Internet. And they have their own TV channel with international distribution. Einstein wants to use chess to promote learning and education for children and youth. I think this is very important, it is very close to my feelings. I had other offers, but Einstein is an ideal partner for chess. That was the main reason for my decision.
ChessBase: What is the role of FIDE in your plans?
Kramnik: The initiatives of FIDE with regard to the Grand Prix tournaments is in principle a positive movement. It is a great platform for rapid chess. Some details I do not like, for example the dress code for the players. That is a ridiculous action, especially because it is a kind of uniform. I only know certain team sports where they wear uniforms. But this is not a team event. I have never seen uniforms in golf, boxing, table tennis or badminton. Every individual athlete or sports competitor has the right to market himself. This is also true in chess. Also the players lose part of their individuality. This is a very important aspect. Another important point is that the schedules should be properly coordinated so that they respect the rights of traditional tournaments. If they don't do this then the traditional tournaments and the Grand Prix will be damaged. Probably we must give the organization a little time to get their act together.
ChessBase: Thanks. But my question was actually directed at the FIDE world championship. Do you accept Ruslan Ponomariov as world chess champion?
Kramnik: I have no trouble accepting him as the title holder of a knockout competition with the character of a high-class Grand Prix. In this sense I have no problem to accept the title of FIDE world champion for him. Ponomariov made a great performance in Moscow, but he is definitely not the World Chess Champion in the classical sense. No way. There are very few players in the world who could achieve my title. Maybe Ponomariov would be able to do so, but he must prove that. In the FIDE format there were 20 or 30 players who would have been able to win this tournament. The system does not consider the playing strength of the individual players sufficiently. This was made worse by the shortened time controls.
ChessBase: Will FIDE be interested in a reunification match?
Kramnik: Perhaps you should ask FIDE this question. In my opinion a reunification match for the world championship is currently purely hypothetical. I am in favour of classical chess. I want to keep the tradition and beauty of the game. Naturally it is possible to present chess in many different formats, and to market it in many different ways. I do not object to this. But chess is much more than only a sport. In order to create a work of art a player needs time. And that is only possible in the classical time controls. If you remove the beauty and deepness of chess it becomes a circus act. This makes it less attractive and less valuable for sponsors. The quality of the games in Moscow were correctly criticized. Sometimes it was unbearable. In chess not only the result counts, especially when it is a world championship. The great world championship matches in classical chess always had the biggest prizes and the biggest audiences. They did a lot for the development of the game. FIDE has simply abandoned this area of chess.
ChessBase: How do you imagine the future of chess?
Kramnik: In 2003 I will defend my title against the winner of the candidates' tournament in Dortmund. After that Einstein is planning a two-year cycle for the title fight, even if I lose my title defence. As far as I know they will study the Dortmund Candidates' Tournament very carefully and also consult a committee of respected and experienced grandmasters.
ChessBase: In this connection what do you think of the proposals of Yasser Seirawan?
Kramnik: I admire Yasser a lot. His proposals show a lot of idealism. He is basically talking about reunification and proposes a way to do it. But in my opinion he is working from wrong assumptions. If FIDE is not prepared to accept a world championship cycle in the classical sense and to start serious negotiations with Einstein and myself, the reunification will not work. But there are currently no signs that FIDE will change its policy. There was even no reaction to Seirawan's proposal. Kasparov does not play the key role in this matter.
ChessBase: Seirawan says that the Dortmund Candidates' is a waste of time.
Kramnik: The opposite is correct! We would waste much more time if there was no candidates' tournament. It is the beginning of a new cycle which we have been waiting for now for seven years. In Dortmund seven respected top grandmasters and a German player are competing. Over the past two or three years these players have earned the right to play a role in the classical world championship. Yes, I know there is criticism because Kasparov is not playing. But how would you like it if the alternative was that nothing would happen just because Garry is not participating? I believe that it is time to correct what has been damaged during the 90ties. Every top player must know that he has the chance to fight for the world title. If somebody refuses we have to respect this, but it is then his own choice.
With regard to the candidates: just take a look at some of the results in classical tournaments in the past months. You will see that the Dortmund players are fully qualified to play for the challenger to the world championship. Topalov won Dortmund in Summer 2001. This was a category 21 tournament. Bareev won Wijk aan Zee and Gelfand won Cannes together with Topalov. Adams, Shirov, Morozevich and Leko have had great results in classical tournaments in the last two years. They have all earned the right to fight for the World Championship title. Christopher Lutz got a special place as a German player. That is okay, he is German champion and the top player in the German ratings list. I think that a wildcard for the country in which the tournament is held is acceptable. It will also motivate some countries to organize such events and give their own players a chance.
By Matthias Wüllenweber, ChessBase GmbH, Hamburg.
A serious match against the human World Champion is the highest possible achievement in computer chess. The match against Vladimir Kramnik in Bahrain is not only the peak of Fritz' eleven years chess career but also the longest and strongest fight ever between a man and a machine, a worthy revenge for Kasparov against Deep Blue five years ago. Today Kramnik is the toughest opponent for chess programs. His flexible positional chess style, his self control and psychological strength are perfect weapons in the battle against computers. He has proven this in previous encounters against the programs Fritz and Junior, where the silicon opponents suffered short sharp shock treatments on both occasions. However software and hardware have made good progress since then. Fritz7 leads the world computer ranking list by a clear margin, and its authors Frans Morsch and Mathias Feist have already made many new advances, leaving the version 7 far behind in development. So while deep in our tribal genes we all wish Kramnik success, it will be a breathtaking fight. Relying on human intuition and creativity he must avoid positions where the calculating power of the machine prevails and every false step can lead to a loss.
It is important that the match rules establish optimal playing conditions to ensure maximum strength for both human and computer. The match is not about exploiting human weaknesses to pull a short-lived marketing stunt. The match is not about tiring the human player, putting him under psychological pressure, making him feel uncomfortable or insecure. This match is about playing good chess under fair conditions for both sides. Vladimir Kramnik will get the program a month in advance to get accustomed to its individual style. Human beings have the ability to learn and to draw conclusions. This ability should be a factor where men compete with machines, so a careful preparation is in the spirit of this event. There are enough small random factors like hash table size in modern chess software to avoid move-by-move preparation in specific positions.
The status of the Bahrain match is underlined by its considerable prize fund. In the event of a win, Fritz would receive 400,000 USD, a draw still yields 200,000 USD. The makers of Fritz, Frans Morsch and ChessBase, have decided to put any price money the program wins into an independent foundation to promote junior chess. Such a foundation would organize summer training camps, tournaments, and encourage chess in schools. Its goal will be to make chess a cool sport for intelligent young people.
So whatever the outcome in Bahrain – the humans win in the end.
Reprint of this interview is permitted in full or parts if you give credit to the source www.chessbase.com.