Chess Classic Mainz 2007 – Schmitt speaks out

8/12/2007 – The 14th Chess Classic will be held from 13 – 19 August in the Rheingoldhalle in Mainz. The biggest rapid chess festival in the world will once again offer top level chess – rapid and Chess960 (a Fischer Random variant). Before the start of the event organiser Hans-Walter Schmitt gave a giant interview on the Chess Classic 2007 in particular and about the chess world in general.

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Chess Classic Mainz 2007

The event takes place from August 13 to 19 in the Rheingoldhalle of the Congress Centre, Hilton Hotel in Mainz, Germany. It includes matches and Opens in traditional and Random Chess, with stars like the current world's number one Anand, who will play in Chess960 (Fischer Random) and in rapid chess tournaments together with Levon Aronian, Rustam Kasimdzhanov and Etienne Bacrot.

The focus of attention

Interview with Hans-Walter Schmitt
by Harry Schaack / English version Eric van Ree

Note that the full text of the interview is considerably longer than the following excerpts, which are for the temporally challenged. At the bottom of the interview there are links to the full text, both in the original German and in English.

Schaack: This year, the main event will not be a match but a double round robin in which four players will play traditional rapid chess and Chess960. What has been the reason for you to change the format?

Schmitt: I wanted to give people like Anand the opportunity to distinguish himself in Chess960. The combination of two disciplines in one tourney can also be seen in Monaco, in which rapid chess and blindfold chess is played.


The organiser of the Chess Classic, Hans-Walter Schmitt

Who is your favourite in Mainz and Mexico?

In Mainz anything can happen. All players are excellent rapid chess specialists. But for me Anand is a great fighter with the best playing skills, and he is very experienced, so I think that he will be on the top spot again. In Mexico I think there are three favourites: Anand, Aronian and Kramnik, who seems to be in good shape. The other players are the classical outsiders.

The latest FIDE coup determines that Kramnik, even if he should not be successfull in Mexico, will get a match against the winner of the world championship tournament. And the winner of that match will play in a match against the winner of a match between Topalov and the winner of the World Cup. Very confusing. What is your opinion about this special status for these players?

Words fail me. In general I get sick and tired of this haggling and the protection of vested rights of the world champions. Topalov and Kramnik will get a double chance. This construction with two or three matches is simply very unfair. Let's face it: if you do not win Mexico, you're out. Then you have to qualify in Khanty-Mansyk in a field with 128 players in a two-games knock-out system with rapid chess tie-breaks. And in the end a well-prepared and relaxed Topalov waits for you. I would love to become the council for the other 16 players in the top-20 to defend their rights.

How should a world championship cycle be organised?

It would be ideal if the world champion plays against the seven best players of the world rating list every two years. Every player has to play a certain amount of games per year, minimum 25 to 30 games. That makes it impossible for a player to settle back on a high place on the rating list. The tournament will be played in matches in a knock-out system, so in the end you will have a real match for the world title, which should not be longer than 8-12 games. It is impossible to market a longer event. It is not easy anymore to keep the tension for a long time.

What else must be changed in the world of chess in your view?

There is no money in the chess world. There is no serious company that will be willing to show itself on the stage with Iljumshinov. Chess represents strategic management, handling foresightful, exact thinking, making decisions. These are qualities those responsible in FIDE do not have. Another thing is, there is still no rapid chess world rating list available – which is quasi a boycott against Chess Entertainment. If players were able to improve their rating in any rapid chess event, this form of chess would become even more popular.


The Mainz Chess Classic

The Chess Classic always offers absolute top-class sport. The event is also a very attractive mass-sport event. Could you tell me, how the “masses” benefit from this event?

For the top-players, the main appeal is the possibility to qualify for the rapid chess world championship by winning one of the open tournaments. For the other players there is a good chance they will meet a strong player over the board. And there is a fair chance you will meet a top player in our field with almost 100 grandmasters!

Can you tell me which top-class players will come this year?

The average of our top-eight players reaches the Elo average of the World Championship in Mexico. Ivanchuk, who will not play Mexico, is the main reason for this average. Because of his fantastic performance in the last months, he is now number four on the rating list. In the main event we have Anand, Aronian, Bacrot and Kazimdzhanov, in the Opens we have magnificent players like Mamedyarov, Shirov, Grishuk, Kamsky, Akopian, Almasi, Volokitin, Karjakin, Sasikiran, Landa, Sargissian, Harikrishna, Navara, Gashimov and Naiditsch. The youngest GM in the world, Parimarjan Negi form India will also come. We have also strong women playing: Cmylite, Gaponenko, Pähtz and Zhukova, to name just a few.

When will Germany have a world champion again?

I am convinced that we can bring out a German world champion in the foreseeable future. We want to support chess nationwide and our goal is to have a wide base. For us, as an organiser it would be easier, if we would have a walking advertisement like Magnus Carlsen. Maybe we should try something like in England in the seventies, where the first grandmaster could win a big prize. We should try to find a sponsor, who is willing to offer a nice sum as a reward for the first German player who reaches 2700 Elo.

One of your biggest concerns is the promotion of Chess960. You hoped that this chess variant would establish itself. The first big Chess960 Open was played six years ago during the Chess Classic. What is the current state of affairs?

I once said that Chess960 is the only chess variant that will be played in 500 years, but is seems that things will develop much faster. By analysing openings with powerful computers, nipping creativity in the bud, it becomes obvious that Chess960 will gain ground. I think that the synthetical name Chess960 is free of complaints. Fischer is a bad label, because many people associate Fischer with anti-semitic utterances and “random” is not a good term in English. Five or six Million Euro from a big company would be enough to make Chess960 attractive all over the world. You have to launch regional organisations, create a world rating list, organise big and small events and a world championship.

What is your opinion about the regulation used in Dortmund lately, to broadcast the games over the Internet only with a delay of 15 minutes, to prevent cheating?

It is not possible to cheat in rapid chess. The broadcast of the Dortmund Sparkassen Chess Meeting was not live anymore. They wanted to antagonise the cheaters and their henchmen, but in the end they punished the chess lovers who wanted to see the games live. Not even in the press room it was clear when a game had come to an end. Such measures are absurd from a media point of view and a dramaturgic misperformance by the organisers. However, it was an important lesson: live is live and not live plus 15 or 30 minutes.


The Lord Mayor of Mainz Jens Beutel, middle, with wife Gudrun and Vishy Anand

Which meaning do the City of Mainz and the Lord Mayor Jens Beutel have for the Chess Classic?

Next to Vishy Anand and myself, Jens Beutel is the third important person for this event. He was responsible for the fact that the event is taking place in Mainz and not in Frankfurt anymore. Jens Beutel can argue concusively about chess, because he is a strong chess player himself and closely follows the developments in the chess world. He has been fighting tremendously for the event – every year.

Next year the Chess Olympiad will take place in Dresden. At some point it looked like the project would fail, because those responsible have not done a good job. Millions of Euros are still missing. What is your opinion about that matter?

I would not try to look for a sponsor if I had the assurance I will get € 4.2 Million in case of a cancellation of the event. I would only try to get money for the sidelines. But all joking aside, I think it was very good, that [the President of the German Chess Federation] von Weizsäcker made a clear statement about the preparation of the Olympiad, because the current status is dramatic. I still have hope they can make this Olympiad a good event. However, it is already too late to make it a top-class event. Some processes just need time. Weizsäcker should grab chess addict Peer Steinbrück, the minister of finance, and together they should talk to possible big sponsors in the next two months to bring home at least one big sponsor. The European Championship, the final rehearsal according to the organisers, was in many fields an extraordinarily weak event. The elements not having anything to do with chess were tolerable, but the chess and technical elements were abysmal, and worst of all international requirements were not met at all. The organisers in Dresden obviously do not have a competent project supervisor with expert knowledge in the field of top-class chess events.

Thank you for this conversation.

You can read the original interview in full length here: in German and in English.

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