The following interview with World Champion Vladimir Kramnik was conducted during the Miskolc rapid chess match against Peter Leko in April this year. We bring you the entire interview in multiple segments, with a fairly comprehensive transcription of each. The video is available in two different compressions, both with optimal sound. Depending on your Internet connection you can use either of the links given below the screen captures.
Frederic Friedel: Due to Elista Topalov is not playing in this world championship. Is it not – unfortunate?
Vladimir Kramnik: It is strange, but I really don’t know whose decision it was. We were talking about it before the match, and I said that it would be normal if the loser of the match would play in Mexico. But FIDE – I don’t know why, I don’t know who – made this decision. I was not fully satisfied with it, I don’t know the position of Topalov on it, before the match – now of course it is clear. It would be more logical…
So you’re telling me that if it were left to you you would allow Topalov to play?
Definitely before the match, before the agreement was made. Now it is already in the contract. It’s a rule, it’s an agreement.
It is in the contract which we signed for the world championship match.
So if you had lost that match you would not be playing in Mexico?
No, no, definitely not.
And you would have accepted this?
Yes, of course, because it is a contract. Once I sign something I sign. I was not supporting this idea, but they said this is our decision, it is final and you have to accept it. I said okay, fine, I accept it. So of course I would not be complaining now. If I had lost I would not be playing in Mexico. I would wait one year. A decision is a decision, I signed – finito.
Now you are preparing very seriously for Mexico, to try to win this tournament. If you lose it you get a rematch. You find that fair?
First of all I would like to say that – and this is a very important point: it is not a rematch. A rematch is the match of a world champion who lost his last match. Who lost his title in a match and wants a revenge. I won the last world championship match. Since FIDE now wants to move back to the match system I do not consider, if I don’t win a tournament, that I am playing a rematch for the world championship. It is a different situation than in the past. The rest I explained already in my previous answer.
So it is not unfair because Mexico is a tournament. But you do consider it to be the world championship?
It is called the world championship, so I do consider it to be that. For me personally I held this position, long before I was world champion: for me the world championship match – the title won in a match against the strongest opponent – had much more value than a tournament. But this is my personal opinion. There is nothing wrong with the Mexican tournament, and I really consider it a very serious event, and a world championship. But for me personally the title which I won against Kasparov and then defended two more times, is incredibly valuable. The next match which I will play, if I manage to keep my title or if I play to gain a title, for me – again I don’t want to insult anyone – for me it would be much more valuable than winning a tournament. But this is my personal view. And as far as the tournament is called a world championship it is a world championship. So I will take it much more seriously than any other event this year.
If you lose the tournament in Mexico, until the time you play the rematch, will you call yourself world champion?
No, no, of course not.
If Anand wins it, you would you would accept that he is world champion?
Of course. A rule is a rule. You might like one system or another system, but once a rule is established we have to respect certain laws. Again I would repeat that I think that a title which is won in a match to me is more valuable than the title which is won in tournament, but still it’s a title and of course if I don’t win Mexico I cannot call myself world champion. That is clear.
From what you say I get the very subtle feeling that you prefer matches to tournaments, for the world championship title. Why?
The world championship system is not about your personal feelings, actually. First of all there is no perfect system, one that is generally better than others, as you can see in many other sports. Football has one world championship system, ice hockey another, tennis completely different, golf totally different, and they are all doing very well. This means that there is no one unique system which is good. I think that for each sport you have to choose the right system at the right moment.
If I would be FIDE president, or in charge of Global Chess, I can really see that the world championship match brings an incredible amount of media attention, of sponsors, of attraction of amateurs. I received a lot of emails winning the unified title. I can guarantee that 90 percent of amateurs prefer the match system, they prefer the world championship match to a tournament. We are not playing for ourselves, we are playing for the public. The sponsors want a match, the public want a match – as the final stage of the world championship – so why should we go against everybody? Why try to establish some other system – knockout, tournament, whatever? It is simply not profitable. Of course it is a question for FIDE, not for me, to decide. I just give my opinion.
If you were FIDE president you would say matches…
Yes, definitely. At the moment at least. Maybe in ten or twenty years the situation will change. If in ten years a majority of people would say we want to see a tournament then maybe it would be a good idea to change. But for the moment I can assure you: make any poll, the biggest majority of people want to see a world championship match. After all it is a very long tradition – more than a hundred years of tradition – and is very deep in people’s minds. Very deep. You can advertise a knockout system as the world championship, as much as you want. But you need many, many years for people really to get the feeling that the winner of a knockout tournament is the world champion. They simply don’t accept it.
I think that FIDE after all these experiments simply understood that it doesn’t work. Right or wrong is not for us to judge. It is just a reality. In order to develop well we need to face reality, and the reality is that there is always a decent sponsorship for the world championship match, there is always a lot of media and public interest for the world championship match, and the winner of the match is considered by everybody as the real, only world champion. This is the value which as the FIDE president you should use. This is a value for chess. Why should we lose it? Why change a system that works perfectly.
I understand: FIDE President Kramnik today would say matches. How many games?
I don’t know, it depends…
You have some experience in this matter.
To me, you know, I can play twelve or fourteen or sixteen games. Actually I played three matches of 16, 14 and 12 games. I’m happy with all of them, as a chess player. But I am not talking to you as a chess player but as a person who wants to promote chess, who wants to do the best for chess. As many chess players as you have , as many opinions you will hear. Somebody may be very fit and he will want 24 games. Someone who gets tired quickly will want eight games. This is the situation, this is the reality. I don’t even want to say what I prefer as a chess player. I prefer what is the best for sponsors and for FIDE. Of course it shouldn’t be too short, because then the value of the event would be much lower. It is also clear, I think, that it cannot be too long either. It cannot be 24 games any more, in modern times this is simply not possible. So somewhere between twelve and sixteen, something like this is okay. As a chess player and a sponsor I would accept this.
I like classical time controls. Again it is about the value of chess. It is something which is very stable, which people are used to and which allow chess players to produce high-level chess…
Well, definitely in top-level tournament we should use classical time controls. I also think we should make more rapid chess tournaments – one hour, 25 minutes, whatever. It is good for the popularisation of the game. It could be a system like in tennis. There are four grand slam events with five sets, and all other tournaments are three sets. Something like this is quite logical: top tournaments classical chess, opens up to the organisers, FIDE time controls if they want. But world championships and super-tournaments I think should be played by classical time controls. Because these players can deliver value, they can deliver deep chess games. Why take that away from them and from chess amateurs. That is my view of it. Actually I play with different time controls, and as a chess player don’t have problems to play with any time controls. But talking as a businessman I think we should keep classical chess.
© ChessBase GmbH, Hamburg, 2007
Coming next: Kramnik on the match in Elista; on the accusations of cheating; on the fateful fifth game; on his relationship to the Topalov team, on the future format of chess. Stay tuned...