Faik Gasanov – the Father of Chess in Azerbaijan

by ChessBase
3/14/2007 – He is the man who in the last 40 years built up chess in Azerbaijan, almost single-handedly. For 37 years he has been hosting a national TV show dedicated to chess. After negotiating with two presidents of the country he has finally procured worthy premises for the Chess Federation. In an interview Faik Gasamov speaks about the past and present of Azeri chess.

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The Father of Chess in Azerbaijan

Interview with Faik Gasanov by Zahir Ahmadov

Without any exaggeration, Faiq Hasanov (Faik Gasanov), the vice-president of the Azerbaijan Chess Federation, the international arbiter, can be considered “father of chess” in Azerbaijan. He is the man who did everything possible for Azeri chess during the last 40 years, the man who the average Azeri associates with chess. The government has duly honored his services for chess in the country and the world: Gasanov was awarded the Medal of Honour in 2000 and nominated for a presidential pension in 2006. He is affable and friendly, just as on TV, where he appears every Sunday and presents his very popular “Chess Club” program on Azeri State Television.

Zahir Ahmadov: Faik muallim (formal address), let me congratulate you on the occasion of federation’s new premises which you obtained recently.

Faik Gasanov, the "Father of Chess" in Azerbaijan

Faik Gasanov: Thank you very much. It is really very good that we have our own premises now. You know, the chess federation had never had its own office until this one was provided to us a few months ago. I always raised this problem with the leaders of the country. I even spoke about this problem when our late president Heydar Aliyev received Teimour Radjabov, Vugar Gashimov and Gadir Guseynov in 1998. I also raised the issue with the current president, Ilham Aliyev, and he told his aides to help. Our sponsor, the International Bank of Azerbaijan has provided these premises to us, for which I thank them.

Ahmadov: Do you agree that the Azerbaijan chess federation is lagging behind in terms of IT and communications? For instance, the federation has not got a web site and the games of the Azerbaijan chess championship are not relayed live on the Internet?

The Azerbaijan Chess Federation has obtained premises on the second floor
of this newly constructed building on Fuzuli Street (former Basin Street)

The playing hall of the Federation, with the portraits of the former and current presidents of the country

Gasanov: The fact that we did not have premises impeded us in many fields. I think that our federation is entering a new stage in developing chess in our country. We are going to have a web site soon and we are planning to create a very modern IT system at the federation. We will encourage our prominent players to come here and use our premises to further develop their skills. We will relay live the games of Azerbaijan chess championship as of next year.

We are planning to organize a very strong women chess tournament in these premises in May this year. Ten very strong women players will be invited to this tournament, where three Azeri players will play as well. We are currently holding negotiations with prominent women chess players to invite them to this round robin tournament.

Is it OK if someone calls you “the father of chess” in Azerbaijan?

I do not object. It is pleasant to hear that.

Do you think that you had any role in Garry Kasparov’s chess career? 

Yes, I think so. Kasparov was playing in a blitz tournament in Baku when he was nine years old, that is to say in 1972. The tournament was devoted to 1 May of International Workers’ Day, and there was no age limit. So you can imagine how difficult the tournament was. He was very successful and reached the final. I wrote an article about him in the Sovetskiy Sport newspaper after the tournament. A German newspaper quoted my article later. This was the first media material about Kasparov abroad at the time.

Faik Gasanov and Juan Vargas, arbiters in the Morelia/Linares Super-GM

Later on, when Kasparov became the Champion of the Soviet Union in 1975 in Tbilisi, the Palace of Pioneers of Baku published a book which also included some information about him. Kasparov came to me and gave a copy of the book with his signature: “Moemu pervomu otkryvatelyu” ("To my first discoverer"). But I should also add that I have never been his trainer.

What are the main differences between the 1970s and today in terms of development of chess in our country?

In general, I would say that today is better. However, there were certain positive things at that time. The primary positive difference was that there was a strong backing of chess by the Soviet government. There was no problem in terms of funding. Chess schools had everything, and they could invite professionals to teach chess there. The bad point was that we had problems to discover the true strength of our players, i.e. the government used to send a limited number of players from 15 republics to international tournaments. We could not discover the true strength of players who held second or third places because we could send abroad only those players who occupied the first place in various tournaments at home. In 1996, we sent Teimour Radjabov, Vugar Gashimov and Gadir Guseinov to the world junior chess championship in Slovakia, where they held the first three places. You can imagine that this would never happen if we were part of the Soviet Union. Today we have more grandmasters and the popularity of chess is growing from day to day in the country.

How about the methodology of teaching chess at schools? Do we still keep the traditions of the Soviet chess school?

The methodology is changing, as computers become a very important part of training for chess players. The role of trainers is diminishing as chess players can find answers to their questions by consulting computer programs. However, there is still great need in trainers, especially in the early stage of training. Computers cannot lead players to the right direction when they start learning, trainers can. It is true that computers speed up training process but chess players should work hard themselves at the chessboard before they resort to the help of computers.

Faik Gasanov showing me some secrets of the Ruy Lopez

There is a tale that after seeing a rifle, our folklore hero, Koroglu, says: “True heroism has gone”. Do you agree with the notion that chess heroism has gone after computers emerged. In other words, do you think that Kasparov would have become a grandmaster at a younger age than Karjakin or Carlsen if he used computers then?

I do not agree with that opinion. Even though young players use computers when training, they have to make independent decisions at the board during their games with opponents at tournaments. Computers should not make us underestimate the true talent of chess prodigies. Time is changing, so does human being. Humans are becoming stronger and stronger intellectually.

How long have you been producing the “Chess Club” television program and what do you think this program has done for the nation?

This TV program is the longest one in the history of Azeri State TV: I have been producing this program for the last 37 years without any major interruptions. As to the role of the program in development of chess, it has had an important role. The program motivates young players to do better and appear on our program. This creates certain competition between young players.

Faik Gasanov with his student Namig Ismayilov

[Namig Ismayilov, another international arbiter, jumps in] I am sorry to interrupt you, but I cannot stop myself from speaking when the talk is about the “Chess Club” program. I grew with that program and it was the program that created in me a huge interest for chess. It was that program that made me change my profession and join Faik muellim, who has taught me a lot in my chess career.

You were invited to the second Appeal Committee after the notorious 5th game at the Kramnik-Topalov match in Elista last year. Do you personally believe that there was any cheating by Kramnik or either of the players?  

I cannot comment on the part of the match before I joined it. As for the match after the fifth game, there was no cheating by anyone.

How was the crisis was handled?

The crisis was handled before I arrived in Elista. Kramnik issued his second protest when I was there, but we, the members of the second appeal committee, said that we were not going to judge the ruling of the previous committee and that the game would start as 3-2. Kramnik accepted our decision.

What do these kinds of disputes mean for chess? We already have reports that cheating was employed in various tournaments recently. Do you think that such incidents will be repeated in the future?

These kinds of disputes damage the popularity of chess and bring chess into disrepute. To prevent this from happening, organizers should exert more control in tournaments in the future. I believe that it is possible to prevent players from accessing outside help by taking additional measures of control before and during the tournaments.

What happened to the planned Topalov-Radjabov match?

After Topalov’s loss, we needed to negotiate with Kramnik’s team to revitalize the contract to organize Kramnik-Radjabov match, but the Azerbaijan chess federation did not do that.

Can we expect any world chess championship match involving Radjabov or Mamedyarov this or next year? Of course, I am speaking about FIDE’s 2700+ rating rule?

No, no such match is expected.

About the author: Zahir Ahmadov, 34, works for an NGO in Baku and has strong passion for chess. He likes spending his time analysing the games of his favourite players and playing online chess. For comments and feedback on this interveiw you can contact Zahir at the following address: zahirruh@hotmail.com

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