"Today a GM title is worth very little"

7/15/2002 – The U.S. vs China Summit match is currently being held in Shanghai, China (overall the Chinese are currently in the lead). Chris Heringer sat down with GM Yasser Seirawan to talk about chess, the Summit match, politics at the top levels, and more. You will fine excerpts of the conversation here

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Interview with
GM Yasser Seirawan

  • Four time U.S. Champion
  • Qualified twice for World Championship Candidate series
  • Represented U.S. in 6 Chess Olympiads
  • Finished ahead of Karpov and Ehlvest in Wijk aan Zee, 1980
  • Two-time winner of the U.S. Junior championship
  • Authored 13 books on chess

World Chess Network's Chris Heringer sat down with GM Yasser Seirawan to talk about chess, the USA vs China Summit match, politics at the top levels, and more. Here are excerpts of the conversation.

WCN: What do you think of the games so far?

Yasser: The matches are extremely competitive, and there have been some nice games. Shaba's wins have been good, Irina's win yesterday was huge for us. The junior board...Vinay's loss was quite a convincing win for White in that line. I was quite impressed, it was a really nice win against Vinay. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the opponent! I was upset with my own result in Round 2...my two Pawn advantage wasn't a full two Pawns but it was still a really winning position. For example, instead of Rb1, d5 would have won the game instantly. But overall I am happy with the games. I am happy that we are going into the last round with a plus. Last year, I believe we went into the last round with a 3 point deficit.

WCN: How do you think this year's USA vs China match-up differs from the 2001 contest?

Yasser: Not greatly, by any means. The most significant change, actually, is on the Chinese side. The two juniors Ni and Bu moved to the overall side. Those two played last year in the juniors, where basically they won the match for China. So this year, that actually gave us an edge on the junior boards. The Chinese women of course have been stellar. But Round 3 was very welcome! Alexander Goldin has done extremely well for us...he didn't play last year. He's contributed very nicely to our team. In the first Summit match, we went minus 1 on Board 1, this year we are plus 1 through three Rounds. The Chinese team is different this year. Our team is getting older, and their team is getting younger! Future matches look very promising for them. The Chinese have been tremendous hosts....we can only compliment them on what a wonderful event they have organized.

WCN: Why do you think China's chess stature has risen so quickly?

Yasser: Their federation, the Chinese Chess Association, have performed wonderful supportive events for their players. I know this year, Mr. Lin Feng is organizing over 60 events! The CCA takes a very pro-active approach to organizing events. In the case of most other federations, they rely on the individual creativity and support of organizers. Clearly in the case of U.S. players, they are very individual. They pay for their own coaching... and it all depends how self-motivated they are. With the CCA, they take a different perspective. The players receive government and corporate support. They subsidize the players living and training, housing, provide all your cares....just go out and win events! So in a sense, they are professional athletes, funded by the CCA. They are full professionals and have a high standard of living compared to the common Chinese person. So they benefit from literally a state run program.

WCN: Tell us about your work with the America's Foundation for Chess?

Yasser: The first thing I have to say, is that my own role has been overestimated. The principle movers and shakers are President Erik Anderson and Executive Director Michelle Anderson, and Michelle's staff...who really do the hard work of organizing events and gaining sponsors, creating a chess curriculum in schools – really the vision is theirs. I help share it, give advice, and bridge communication with the federations. So I think they have done a marvelous job.

WCN: Where is Bobby?

Yasser: Japan. Bobby is working with an electronics company. Specifically, he is working on a prototype of the Bobby Fischer chess clock.

WCN: What do you feel are the main reasons the chess world is so divided at the top level?

Yasser: That's a very difficult question to answer. It doesn't have a single answer. I think that chess in the world's highest levels reflects the uncertainty that exists in organized chess. I think that FIDE has essentially failed in its mission of creating a cohesive chess world to begin with, and creating a long term vision and business plan. FIDE itself is extremely divided in its initiatives and goals. And that split really ripples around the chess world in a very major way. Also I have been very critical of the FIDE office...its implementation of policies. I question the efficiency of the staff, the policies... ratings continue to be outstanding issues. The transparency of the organization doesn't exist. Its own regulations in FIDE are very befuddling. If I'm an individual that does not get along with my federation, I will not get along with FIDE at all, because they are an organization of federations. With FIDE failing to create a cohesive chess world, it's not at all surprising that chess, in a sense, will split into several different camps. The players do the best they can to make a living for themselves and their family. If an offer is made that is contradictory to FIDE, but it is lucrative, the player has to accept it.

"A Grandmaster today has a lower value than at any point in chess history." – Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan

The obvious failures of FIDE also include the wholesale selling of titles. A Grandmaster today has a lower value than at any point in chess history. Today it is a common title. A second issue is obviously time controls. FIDE continues to experiment with time controls, and that has been very injurious to the creative process, which a result has hurt the games. The third disruptive policy is so-called "drug testing". American chess politicians will have us believe that drug testing is a necessary evil so that we can get into the chess Olympics. This is "bull". I have asked some people to resign...and I think they are an embarrassment to chess. Basically, its an uphill struggle when people in a position of responsibility are clearly unfit for the job.

WCN: Who do you feel the 3 most influential people in the chess world are?

Yasser: The President of FIDE, Kirsan Iljumzhinov, has a very important role. Gary Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik would be my other two picks. They clearly are the #1 and #2 players in the world, and the natural chess leaders. These three are the most influential today. I am hopeful that Bessel Kok will play a very important role in chess in the future.

WCN: Where do you think internet chess fits in the mix of world competition?

Yasser: It's clear that the internet has had a major impact on chess today, and will continue to become increasingly important to the game. As a broadcast medium, more people are watching chess events through the internet than ever before, and that will simply grow. The internet is perfect for people who want to play chess 24/7, and have really good competition. When I was a kid growing up, I faced a number of stigmas. The first was when I was 12 years old, and all the competition were adults. So it was really difficult for me to find an opponent. Then along came computers, and now you can play someone stronger anytime you like. Kids today have more opportunities to play chess than ever. A lot of my early years were spent simply watching blitz games. So I see the internet as having a huge contribution to players who want to play, watch, find out what's new, follow politics if that's their interest. It has become a vital medium, and even as it has, it's still in its infancy. With audio and video streaming to be followed soon, you will see events like US vs China in real time video, with audio commentary.

The FIDE politicians have explained that their fast time controls are necessary for the enjoyment of chess fans who want to watch the games. Again, a completely ridiculous and bogus argument that has no basis in realty whatsoever. It is very easy to watch a 7 hour game on the internet. You come in anytime you want, scroll backwards, see the opening, sign off, come again in an hour! And if you want the whole thing broadcast to you later...great! Some of the best footage I saw at the World Cup were the highlights. For most people, they would much rather see a six hour game which has a lot of tension, tactics, uncompromising play, versus people who are playing chess because they are practical – "..this is a good move.. I can't think too long.. I should just castle." I know a great deal of chess is being lost due to the rapid time control.

"Leave TV to the golfers, and tennis stars. Focus on the internet!" – Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan

FIDE has explained that fast time controls are also necessary for television broadcast. I think we should just forget about this. Realize today that the internet is the perfect broadcast for chess! Let's be at the forefront of internet technology. Leave TV to the golfers, and tennis stars, and other athletes. Focus on the internet. That payoff will be a lot better than trying to make a 30 minute program on television. The internet reaches hundreds of millions of people...soon a billion. It's just a much better broadcast medium for chess. Unfortunately, when I hear myself making this comment, I think to myself "this is so obvious! The sun rises and the sun sets... everybody understands this". But I'm afraid it's not true.

WCN: What are your current chess goals?

Yasser: Also an awkward question, because I want to see chess as a professional sport, where players earn salaries that top athletes earn. I would like to be top athlete! I want to see million dollar prize funds, and I want to see chess be an appealing sport for young people. I would much rather be a player, but I feel that I'm being pulled in a direction to make sure these events happen, and the cohesion in the chess world exists. So I have had to make a lot of efforts in this direction, for example the U.S. championship. A championship, to me, is the single most important event one could organize. I revere "the champion". In the U.S., some people made a decision to cancel the championship. I think to myself, "why am I am member of this club, if they can't even organize a club championship!". We must have a championship. That was where the efforts of the America's Foundation for Chess comes in. I can tell you that I've worked on a lot of projects that simply failed. A lot of time people see just the successful efforts! Chess is a tough sport to get sponsorship for. It would be much easier if it was synchronized swimming, or golf! If I wanted to promote a big golf tournament in Seattle, I wouldn't have any problems at all.

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