Garry Kasparov: A History of Profesional Chess

by ChessBase
4/8/2002 – At the end of February Yasser Seirawan presented a detailed proposal for sorting out the chaos that current afflicts top-level chess. Soon after that Garry Kasparov replied directly to Seirawan's proposal. Michael ("Mig") Greengard, who had spent the weekend interviewing the world's number one player in New York, also got a full chronology of the GMA and the PCA from Kasparov. He now passes ít on to the chess public in an extensive keynote article here.

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A Recent History of Professional Chess with Garry Kasparov

Using the past to help the present "History not used is nothing, for all intellectual life is action, like practical life, and if you don’t use the stuff—well, it might as well be dead." — A. J. Toynbee

It is no coincidence that the political upheavals in the chess world in the past 16 years coincide with the domination of the chess board by Garry Kasparov. His style of play -- dynamic, aggressive, mercurial -- also reflects his temperament in the realm of business and political negotiations, where these attributes are often more a handicap than an advantage. And while you can easily lose count of Kasparov’s tournament triumphs, his victories in the political arena have been few and fleeting.

An old business proverb says that pioneers are the ones who get filled full of arrows and Kasparov has more than his share of scars to prove it. Time and again he has led the charge to change the chess world and he has often met with Apache war cries from those he was trying to help. A list of his ventures includes a trade union for players, professional sponsorship, a world championship cycle and match outside of FIDE, and an international tournament grand prix (twice). That several of these undertakings were in part destroyed by the same Kasparov energy that built them does not diminish the level of dedication and passion they represent.

Critics have said that these efforts stemmed from self-interest on the part of Kasparov, and he would be the last person to say he has only been motivated by altruism. If Kasparov was looking out for himself while trying to create meaningful changes in the chess world, that is not a crime. If in some cases he had the most to gain, he almost always had the most to lose, and it is to his credit that he continued the fight regardless. His so-called war against FIDE is almost older than the current FIDE champion and he continues to assert that a counterbalance to the official federation is essential. Now that dissatisfaction with FIDE is again on the rise thanks to their recent experiments with the world championship, drug testing, and short time controls, it is the perfect time to look back and see how exactly we arrived at such a bleak situation.

Kasparov’s lengthy discourse was more a history lesson than a press release or plan of attack. He told the tale of his efforts from the birth of the Grandmaster Association (GMA) in his Dubai hotel room in 1986 to the collapse of the Professional Chess Association in 1996. Several times he emphasized that this was only his take on things, his memories, and that he welcomed contributions and corrections from others. More than wanting to set the record straight, Kasparov wants to use the past to help the present. Many of the problems faced by the GMA and the PCA are still relevant issues today.

American GM Yasser Seirawan, author of the “Fresh Start” proposal that has stirred up so much activity lately, was a co-founder of the GMA and continues to be an important activist on the chess scene. He was kind enough to help with this article, both in supplying his memories and archives of his now defunct magazine, “Inside Chess” and by providing valuable perspective to many of Kasparov’s recollections.

Kasparov summarized his stance eloquently after talking for over an hour, and his conclusion serves as a perfect introduction.

“Now, no matter how upset some people are about the past, or what negative memories they have, what I want is for people to read these stories and see that we are not starting from scratch. “Fresh Start” is a good figure of speech but there is a history here and we have to learn from it. I’m quite happy for others to give their suggestions based on our experience, which is the most valuable things we have. It would be foolish to ignore the past.”

Allow me an “Amen.” From a call to unite in 2002 we look back to the controversial Dubai Olympiad at the end of 1986. Several teams had boycotted because the Arab nation would not permit the Israeli team to participate, a sad situation that certainly made many wonder if FIDE was in its collective right mind. Several other recent events already had tensions high. One was the way FIDE President Florencio Campomanes had aborted the 1984-85 Karpov-Kasparov world championship marathon match. Another was the collapse of the Lucena/Keene ticket that had tried to take power from Campomanes in 1986. There had been so much politicking and double-dealing by various federations that, according to Kasparov, “we all began to think that it was useless to try and find a solution with FIDE unless we had our own trade union to protect our professional livelihood and the game itself.” 

Seirawan points out that if the Kasparov-backed Lucena bid for the FIDE presidency had succeeded, it is unlikely that the GMA would have been founded. When Campomanes maintained his grasp the formation of a players union, Plan B, as it were, was essential.

Apart from discussing the topics of the day, Kasparov added, “By the way, there were still many people who remembered the vote in 1975 when the small federations decided the fate of Bobby Fischer. It was just not appropriate that these small federations had the same vote as the USSR and the other chess powers and that these votes could decide everything in the lives of professional chessplayers, including the rules of the world championship match.”

We, the Grandmasters of the world…

The Grandmaster Association’s primordial constitution was scribbled on a napkin in Kasparov’s hotel room at the Dubai Hilton. The small group of players was joined by businessman Bessel Kok, then the CEO of the SWIFT corporation. Conversation centered around protecting the players’ interests at a time when FIDE under Campomanes had reached a then-record level of corruption and confusion. Kasparov’s approach to FIDE about the creation of the GMA was less than auspicious.

“During the Olympiad I had a rest day (Karpov played board one against Georgiev) and I went to the FIDE General Assembly to present our case. There was this FIDE delegate, from Syria I think, who was shouting at me, “What is this, Grandmaster Association? Next an IM association! They have to obey the rules!” It’s unheard of in any professional sport, this pawn yelling at the world champion. And there were even other delegates who backed him up.

Eventually it ended up with FIDE giving its permission, they all thought that it would be a failure. Everybody expected there would be fighting amongst the players, that there would be a lack of money, etc. But that was a mistake.”

Those assumptions were not wholly incorrect since a level of inevitable infighting in the GMA existed from the beginning. But the players were more dedicated than FIDE believed and it survived the first crucial months. The first Board was Jan Timman (Netherlands), Ljubomir Ljubojevic (Yugoslavia), Lajos Portisch (Hungary), John Nunn (England), Yasser Seirawan (USA), Anatoly Karpov, and Kasparov, both USSR. The key player, however, was from Brussels and was no Grandmaster.

The involvement of Bessel Kok was the difference between the GMA being a serious and professional organization and being just a loose alliance of players. He and his then-wife Pierette, a lawyer, put together the necessary legal apparatus and raised money for the nascent organization. Kok, who has recently returned to the chess world with big events in his new base of Prague, provided a crucial guiding hand as well as a deep pocket. The GMA office in Brussels was run by Angela Day, and Seirawan calls her the glue that kept things together. Among many other things, she produced the GMA newsletter and arranged agendas and meetings. The assembled board of players knew a lot about chess, but had a lot to learn about what they wanted and how to get it.

“We didn’t have a clear plan, we were running in the dark. We had no experience. We had ideas about the GMA, the world championship, but there was nothing fixed. We were pioneers. There were conflicts within the GMA as well. There was the traditional view, primarily from Karpov and Portisch, who wanted to stick with FIDE as an affiliated organization. Were we to be an affiliated group or an independent organization? That was a key moment. Eventually, as you can guess, the vote was for an independent trade union. The majority of the board decided to be independent and to work with FIDE, but not be a part of it.”

The office in Brussels was the focal point. Dutch GM Jan Timman, not present in Dubai because his team was boycotting the event, was the vice-president and a key figure. Lubomir Kavalek, a Czech émigré to the US, was later brought in as technical director and fundraiser. He was responsible for organizing the remarkable World Cup tournament series that became the permanent landmark of the GMA. Seirawan highlights the importance of Anatoly Karpov’s participation. “Karpov was not only a former World Champion he was the second strongest player in the world. His support for the GMA was vital.”

Both Kasparov and Seirawan speak fondly of the early days of the GMA. It was a time of big ideas and big changes. Items on the table included a player retirement fund, sponsorship for more tournaments, game copyrights, and, of course, the world chess championship. The subject of time controls had yet to rear its ugly head.

In the earliest days the board was everything, but this changed in 1988. Kasparov states: “We knew the board couldn’t run it forever so we needed to build the membership and have assemblies. The first one was in April, 1988, after the first Grand Prix in Brussels. That was a great system, by the way, classical chess (no debates at that time, it was the only game we knew). We wanted to build the professional world on the cornerstones of the past.

Yes, we made mistakes, perhaps we could have been more progressive. But it was important to preserve these elements of the past and to do it on our own, without FIDE’s dictate.”

Taking action on active chess

Speaking of classical chess (a good example of a retronym), it was around this time that the first threats to the heritage of how the game was played were beginning to surface. Interestingly similar concepts would come from both FIDE and Kasparov, but with very different intent. FIDE was proposing a rapid (30/min. per player) championship tournament that would, and this is the key, also be good for rating points and international “active” titles. Many players were horrified and the GMA mobilized to prevent the worst. Meanwhile, Kasparov was playing in what could be called the first chess spectacular of the modern era.

“The first big speed match was played in February, 1987, between me and Nigel Short. We played in the famous Hippodrome discotheque in London at 25 minutes per side, on a fancy stage in tuxedos. [They played at g/25 instead of g/30 so the games would fit into the one-hour television slot! This control continues to be standard today. –Mig] I won 4-2 with no draws, it was a great event. I remember showing the tape to my colleagues in Brussels. There was an opinion in the room that it was a form of prostitution! There were strong opinions back then that rapid chess was a threat. In my view, then and now, rapid chess is an excellent tool to promote the game. Now they are talking about getting television coverage, commercial sponsorship, etc. We discussed this 15 years ago! And we reached a consensus on how to use rapid chess, within limits. We realized it was great for promotion.

Now we come to the first GMA general assembly. We had over 100 members already. (At its peak we had probably 95% of all the GMs in the world.) I would say we had 100+ represented in Brussels. We had a proxy system, and thanks to Bessel we had a professional organization that allowed the entire thing to function.

The big topic was that FIDE had announced a rapid tournament, a rapid chess world championship. Not just promotional, but one in which they could give titles, including the GM title. That was Campomanes’ idea. They were already frightened of the GMA and wanted to dilute our influence. So the key debate of this assembly was how to deal with this threat. You hear everyone talking about time controls now and we have already lived through this. We had the same fears back then.

It was a tough situation because some of the players thought it was okay, and they wanted to play. Many others thought it was clearly a threat, a danger, and we should boycott it completely. There was a strong resolution by GMA member Valery Salov, then a big enemy of FIDE!
[In recent years Salov has become a zealous FIDE supporter. – Mig] He proposed the outright condemnation of anyone who played in that tournament. I remember Lajos Portisch nearly crying, leaving the stage, saying he was resigning because no one could condemn him for his professional activities. It was a very hard moment, an emotional crisis.

In the end we passed a compromise solution that we wouldn’t denounce anyone who played there, but that we condemned giving titles, that we did not recognize the validity of a world champion of rapid chess or GM of rapid chess.”

Yasser Seirawan has helped greatly by digging through both his own memories and his archives of Inside Chess, the American chess magazine that he published for over a decade. Both sources concur that it was Kasparov, not Salov, who introduced the motion of “moral condemnation” at the GMA. (Salov’s proposal for a boycott of the FIDE event had come earlier and he sided with Kasparov on these issues.) While naming names is really not the point – or at least should not be the point – of this article, it does serve the purpose of highlighting Kasparov’s strong anti-FIDE stance at an early stage. It wasn’t rapid chess that was the problem, it was FIDE’s rapid chess and its use for titles and ratings.

In the end FIDE did go on to create a parallel rapid chess rating system and to drop the idea of titles based on rapid play. (They called it “active chess” back then, prompting many jokes about a potential “passive vs. active” break in the chess world. As Kasparov jokes, “Did that mean I played passive chess?”) Of note is that this rapid world championship, which took place at the end of 1988 in Mazatlán, Mexico, was a factor in another GMA crisis. In Seirawan’s “Fresh Start” article he mentions that he resigned from the GMA board when Kasparov asked. The story behind Seirawan’s resignation at the beginning of September, 1988, is a disputed one and beyond the scope of this article, but the basic storyline is as follows.

Kasparov states that after the GMA assembly rejected FIDE’s plans for the rapid event they found out that Seirawan was an active supporter of the Mazatlán event. “Bessel asked Yasser to resign on behalf of the board, and he did. Everybody is responsible for his or her actions, and things were not so simple as to be summarized in one sentence. Everyone has their own views but if the views are contradictory to those of the organization, and someone does something alien to the interests of the organization, he has to resign. Perhaps that incident caused some bad blood, and for years after that Yasser’s views of everything I did were negative.”

That last sentence is not uncharacteristic of Kasparov when he really gets going. Although by his own admission things were quite complicated at the time, there is a tendency for memory to reduce everything to a binary formula. If you weren’t for him, you were against him, and not just what he stood for and what he wanted to do, but against him personally. There is no doubt that personal friendship and animosity have both played large parts in Kasparov’s successes and failures throughout his career, but as he says himself there were also splits on the issues.

Seirawan’s interest in active chess was inspired by nothing less than the Kasparov-Short speed match and he set out to use rapid chess to as a promotional tool. To this end he supported the Mazatlán event and two years later helped create the FIDE-I.C.E. rapid chess rating list, for which he engaged in a membership drive using his magazine, Inside Chess, as a vehicle. Seirawan makes clear in an e-mail that he wanted to set up a separate active chess rating list, not allow the dilution of the main list with rapid games. Obviously, working on a joint project with FIDE was not going to put Seirawan in Kasparov’s good graces. This was a precursor to the more dramatic breakdown to come.

Seirawan is adamant that his resignation stemmed from the publication of long insider cover story on the GMA in Inside Chess, and that while Bessel Kok served as the messenger, it was Kasparov’s request he was delivering when he asked Seirawan to resign from the board. The problem with the article wasn’t any “anti-Kasparov” content as much as its mere existence. According to Seirawan, Kasparov (among others) was annoyed that Seirawan had included in his article things from a closed GMA board meeting. Seirawan admits having made a mistake in that regard, but he points out that Inside Chess subsequently published several articles favorable to Kasparov. Seirawan says that things did not go sour between them until six years later in Moscow when they were on opposite sides of the big 1994 Olympiad and FIDE election brawl. He also points out that Mazatlán was won by Karpov, who continued as a GMA board member.

Seirawan was active within the GMA despite his resignation from the board, where he was replaced by another American GM, Maxim Dlugy. He says he held no grudge against Kasparov and was even a little relieved because of the extensive travel required to attend GMA functions from his home in Seattle. In Seirawan’s own words on his resignation: “Furthermore, I often called, faxed and helped Angela and Lubosh both with a myriad number of trivial matters, contacts, player names, journalists, letters, even though I was off the board. Later, I was asked to return, I politely declined. You see, I actually preferred to be off the board. The GMA had been established and would do just fine without me! Even after resigning I always had good discussions with Garry for the next several years! Skelleftea, Barcelona ‘89, Moscow ‘90 and even in Murcia in ‘90 we were on good terms. So, probably for the wrong reasons, Garry did us both a favor!”

Kasparov says he doesn’t remember the article being a serious enough issue to lead to a fracture in the board, although Seirawan adds that Kavalek was also quite displeased with a board member spilling the beans as a journalist. However, we should again strive to avoid getting bogged down in minutiae when we are really trying to establish what of the past can be of use to the present. In general these discussions slip rapidly into “who said what to whom when and where,” which really doesn’t help us much here in 2002.

The business of business

The issues that would dominate the GMA until its collapse were whether it should develop its own commercial activities and whether it should work closely with FIDE or be independent from it. Meanwhile, the series of World Cup tournaments were perhaps the greatest series of events in chess history. They were huge round robins, dwarfing current elite events like Wijk aan Zee, that brought the world’s best players together again and again around the world. The prizes were substantial, the conditions were good, and there were qualifiers that gave up-and-comers a chance to join the fun. It was simply too good to last! Kasparov explains what led up to the next crisis.

“The GMA was doing extremely well. We had the successful World Cup cycle, major qualification tournaments in Belgrade, Moscow, Palma de Mallorca, and everybody enjoyed it. The GMA was rising but at the same time there was a growing crisis.

The GMA was a trade union and being such we had to deal with the commercial aspects of things. We didn’t have a structure for this. If you want to build a professional organization you need a commissioner, Yasser is right. You need a commercial department. Every time I tried to build the commercial structure of the GMA I would lose the vote in the board. We needed people organizing events, finding sponsors, etc., it couldn’t be just us. We had the support of the players, we could have dictated terms to FIDE, but we needed events.

Dlugy supported me while he was there, and then [Alexander] Beliavsky, so the votes were always two to five! I understood Bessel’s reservations and those of the other players who supported him. It would have meant a shift in the power structure. The money people would have had more power, but I didn’t care. We needed someone to raise money and run events, we could still have controlled the rules.

There was a view among the players that we had to make a deal with FIDE. Now we come to Murcia, but Murcia had a pre-history. One of the biggest misconceptions is that the choice in Murcia was between war with FIDE promoted by Garry or peace with FIDE. That was not the case. The choice was between what kind of deal we would have with FIDE.”

It might be hard to imagine for those new to the scene, but back then the world championship was far and away the biggest event going and controlling it meant controlling the chess world. Almost all of FIDE’s operating funds came from its cut of world championship matches and there was a tremendous amount of back-room dealing when it came time to receive the bids. (Yes, different sites actually competed to host the championship, with bids running over four million dollars. Nowadays it’s like trying to give away a landmine.)

Kasparov was due to defend his title in 1990 and the GMA had grown powerful enough to largely take control of the decision process. According to Kasparov, some FIDE officials told him that at one point in 1989 Campomanes was just about ready to give it up and close the doors on FIDE. The players were raising the money and talking with the organizers themselves, particularly Kasparov working with Ted Field, an American multimillionaire well known for his passion for chess. It was one of his entertainment companies, Interscope, that sponsored the New York leg of the 1990 world championship match.

Some GMA board members thought that things were going too far, while Kasparov thought it was the perfect chance to break FIDE’s stranglehold on world chess. This division came to a head when Bessel Kok and Jan Timman were sent to negotiate an agreement with FIDE regarding the world championship.

“My view is that they negotiated a very bad document. Not because they had bad intentions, but because it would take things all the way back to 1987 and make the GMA an affiliate of FIDE. GMA would be subordinate to FIDE in the decision making process. I was adamant, I vehemently opposed it. I could not accept that we would move backwards and waste three years of our lives.

And then Murcia came, and I think Murcia was the tragedy of the GMA. It was a lose-lose situation. Bessel said it best, it was like a plane with two engines. If you remove one it crashes, and he was right. I didn’t push really hard in Murcia. I think I could have won that vote. But if I had won, so what? I had a match with Karpov coming up and frankly I didn’t know what to do.”

Seirawan agrees that this was the key moment that caused the collapse of the GMA. He states that there was a great deal of confusion over what exactly was contained in the agreement. “The GMA membership were told by the GMA Chairman, Bessel Kok, that the contract was ideal and that it would place the GMA on sound financial footing, whereas the GMA President, Garry Kasparov, complained that the agreement would place the GMA in a subordinate role to FIDE. Who to believe? How to vote?”

To the Hustings!

The exact sequence of events is hard to nail down, particularly so many years later. It makes one wish Kasparov and Timman had gotten together and written a book on the history of the GMA, as Kasparov says he once suggested. Kasparov was having trouble with the Soviet chess federation and also wanted a full vote of the GMA membership to ratify agreements instead of having the board decide things. This led Kasparov to reject an agreement that granted favorable conditions to the GMA because it fell short of Kasparov’s desire for the GMA to be both independent and in control. Kok and Timman both resigned when Kasparov wouldn’t agree, only to come back after making a few changes in a Barcelona meeting.

Things broke down again and finally there would be a vote in the assembly to decide. “Yes” to sign the agreement, “no” to hold out for more (or, more correctly, less). Kasparov viewed it as between dependence or independence for the GMA and accuses his opposition of turning the referendum into “for Garry or against Garry.”

“We were calling the shots and we had to take control of the world championship. And we could have done it. We had all the GMs behind us. We needed to go forward with commercial sponsorship. FIDE was irrelevant, we could have gone forward without them, build a new world! Let FIDE do what they want, we were in control. Why the hell go back? Fresh start, fresh means! Everything was in place, a unique situation. From late 1989 to early 1990 we could have done anything we wanted.”

There was quite a bit of campaigning and both sides accused the other of not playing fair. Kasparov brought in a consultant to speak to the members about the need for commercialization. Those in favor invested considerable effort in convincing the many members from the newly opening Eastern Europe that a further break with FIDE would create dangerous instability. Kasparov wanted more control for the GMA and the players, the opposition said he wanted control for himself.

Things had already reached the point of no return. Kasparov’s strong words above cast doubt on Seirawan’s assertion that Kasparov “failed to understand that his colleagues were well and truly split.” Perhaps no one understood what was about to happen but Kasparov knew what he wanted. According to Seirawan, the Soviet players supported Kasparov and the Western players mostly took Bessel’s side, with few, if any, of the voters actually having laid eyes on the agreement itself.

Kasparov states: “Eventually it ended up 62-65 and I bet 80% of the voters didn’t understand what was at stake.” This might be a bit high, but since everything was conducted in English and many members didn’t even speak English, it is fair to say that the “what” was less important than the “who” for many in attendance.

“There was a parallel election of the board members. There were, I think, 128 votes for the board. I got 125 votes. After that vote I announced I would suspend my membership on the board, and some people went bananas and they still tell these stories now. But it was a clear-cut situation. They were saying that I was the best fundraiser and important for moving the organization so they wanted me in charge. I mean, in five of the biggest GMA tournaments I had raised probably 90% of the money. But now, by a narrow vote, I would have to support their policies. How can you remain the president of an organization if your view was just defeated? I said I would go ahead and play my match with Karpov and then perhaps come back.

But we all knew it was the beginning of the end. The GMA was strong, even dominant, but after Murcia it just lost its cohesiveness. Such a close vote fragmented the organization and it lost much of its power.”

Seirawan adds, “The lesson here is that future chess unions shouldn’t rely upon mere majorities for such major controversial actions.” The logic of this is powerful. Had a typical two-thirds majority been needed, the issue could have been sent to a committee until it was better understood or until changes could be made.

Kasparov and Seirawan both call the GMA period a golden age and both refer to Murcia as a missed opportunity. Kasparov saw it as a chance to relegate FIDE to a minor role in the affairs of chessplayers. Seirawan wishes that the dramatic vote had never taken place echoes Kasparov’s “lose-lose” description when he writes, “Had Kasparov won that vote, it would also have torn the GMA apart.”

The five tournaments Kasparov refers to are the three giant GMA pre-qualifiers plus the Moscow qualifier and the Murcia rapid event. The bulk of the sponsorship for the GMA World Cup events was brought in by the redoubtable Lubosh Kavalek. He did most of his work on a commission basis, something that became a source of internal friction at one point.

The schism heard round the world

After Kasparov resigned from the board the GMA gradually collapsed. There was too much bad blood, too little unity. If the assembly had been able to unite on either side of the FIDE proposal (or even postponed the divisive decision) it would have been much better than the down-the-middle split that occurred. The World Cup cycle shut down and FIDE was back in charge. Kasparov was exhausted after his 1990 match with Karpov and the next few years passed relatively quietly. The GMA leadership passed to Timman and then to England’s Nigel Short, who would soon be the first person in eight years other than Karpov to challenge Kasparov for the title. The confluence of these factors led Kasparov to make what he has called the worst blunder of his career.

“My frustration with the situation eventually led to a big mistake in 1993. But I have to tell you that what happened in 1993 was also dictated by what happened in the past. We had the usual crisis with the world championship. Campomanes was playing one against the other, with Galicia, Manchester…, I don’t remember all the bids. Manchester was the obvious choice.

You can blame me for what happened but we can’t forget that Nigel Short called me on the phone and said “Garry, do you want to play outside of FIDE?” I mean, Short, who is now a big supporter of FIDE and kissing up to Ilyumzhinov, he made this offer. Nigel did it for the money, but at that time I thought “great, now with Nigel we can rally the support of the Western players.” We could have momentum. That was a huge miscalculation. I thought we could revive the GMA, which had pretty much collapsed by then, and Nigel was its last president. I was thinking that Nigel represented the anti-Kasparov group in Murcia and now he was making this offer. It was now me and Nigel, not Karpov, and we could rebuild things and get support in Britain. Of course this was a horrible blunder. Nigel had no support behind him at all, it was completely his personal desire.

In the cold light of morning I can tell you we could have made more money in Manchester, and it was the best for everybody to make a deal with Campomanes at the time. He had already agreed to give up some power and we could have done things quietly, played the match under FIDE and dealt with rebuilding the GMA later, after the match.

But things were moving quickly and [English GM and writer Raymond] Keene, who saw that he had much to gain from a split, revealed the story in, I think, the Telegraph, and this put me in an awkward position and he, and others, pushed Nigel to the extreme. I still had a chance to tell Nigel to forget it, but I had already given my word, and I stood by it. That turned out to be a giant mistake. We had no support in the world of chess. Everywhere it was ‘chess championship hijacked.’”

Two World Champions and the rise and fall of the PCA

Nowadays it is fashionable to look at that moment in 1993 as the chess world’s lapsarian instant. Short and Kasparov created the Professional Chess Association on the fly and left FIDE hanging in order to play their match in London. FIDE reacted with equal destructiveness, removing the two renegades from the rating list and staging their own world championship between Timman and Karpov, who had both been defeated by Short in the candidates matches. The breach grew with incredible speed. But Kasparov is not ready to let those with short memories say that the years of the PCA were a complete waste.

“Yes, I made a mistake. A mistake that cost me strength as well as money. My results in 1994 and 95 were not up to my standards, for example. But I’m confused because everyone is talking about television and sponsorship and professionalism these days, and it was all there.

The PCA was not a big organization but it had a commissioner, Bob Rice, and a few people who helped the PCA operate. It had virtually no money and so no administrative core. We spent all the money on the prizes, to impress the players, which was probably a mistake looking back. We needed to strengthen the organization but we gave all the money to the players.

It had commercial sponsorship, the only time in the history of chess that we had the sponsorship of a blue-chip company, Intel. There was a two year contract. It had never happened before and hasn’t happened since. There was television coverage in limited fashion. The PCA Grand Prix, the speed chess events, were on ESPN and EuroSport.

Okay, it wasn’t huge, it was quite small, but it was unique. It was something that even the GMA had failed to do. The irony is that both parts of the solution were there, but at different times. The GMA had no commercial solution and the PCA had no trade union support. We needed both. That was the tragedy.

One of the incidents worth mentioning is that in 1995 we introduced a code of ethics, under pressure from Intel. We needed to protect the sponsors and organizers. It was ‘anti-Kamsky,’ nobody tried to hide that. He had made some statements that irritated Intel and he was playing Anand for the right to face me in the 1995 New York world championship, and that was a potential disaster.

Then in Linares that year the players, led by Karpov and others, signed a petition to protect what they called their “human rights” against this code of ethics. This petition was not missed by Intel and it did not make them very happy. A few years later FIDE introduced a draconian code of ethics and I didn’t see any letter, any protest, about that. So these players have to bear some responsibility for their actions, for us losing momentum.

You could dislike what I did, you could call me the hijacker of the world championship, but at the end of the day I brought commercial sponsorship. We struggled but we ran some great events, the Grand Prix was unprecedented. Kramnik, Anand, Ivanchuk, they made a lot of money and they thrived thanks to these events. And there was not a word of support from them. There was no support from the elite but there were plenty of complaints and attacks and Intel saw this.”

There were indeed many vocal critics of the PCA at the time. Several players considered it a rogue organization and refused outright to play in the PCA championship cycle. But the majority benefited greatly from Intel’s money and the existence of two world championship cycles. Of the top players, only Karpov, Salov, and Seirawan refused to participate in any PCA event. Many players even played successfully in both cycles at the same time, with Kamsky and Anand facing each other in both the FIDE and PCA cycles. (Anand won in the PCA to play Kasparov, Kamsky won in the FIDE match to face Karpov. Both lost the title match.)

Kasparov and FIDE?!

Kasparov again surprised the chess world when he made a rapprochement with Campomanes to save the 1994 FIDE Olympiad and bring it to Moscow. There Kasparov tried to engineer some sort of unification even if it meant making a deal with his former worst enemy. But as often happened, when one side had a change of heart the other side took it as a sign of weakness and slammed the door.

“I tried desperately to close the gap. In 1994 I went as far as trying to make a deal with Campomanes in Moscow. I was talking about reunification and they were adamant, “No unification, Kasparov wants to come back, no way!” Who did this? The Western federations. They tried on legal issues to block Campomanes. And in 1994 we saved the Olympiad. In only 55 days Andrei Makarov and I organized the Olympiad in Moscow when the choice was that or no Olympiad at all. And everyone heaped garbage on us, complaining about the conditions, criticizing constantly.

Ironically, this Olympiad brought in [current FIDE president Kirsan] Ilyumzhinov; he made his first appearance at a FIDE congress. So I have a share of that responsibility, I admit. Maybe I should receive a finder’s fee commission of all the prize money he has paid out to other chessplayers over the years!

In the FIDE general assembly of 1995 in Paris it all came down to not granting me 12-12 draw odds in a unification match. It was the Western federations again, and this anti-Kasparov sentiment. I had to be “punished” for 1993. I insisted that if I played against Karpov I deserved draw odds because I had already played him, but if it was Kamsky then I could compromise. But they insisted that they could not discriminate against “their champion” and things broke down. And many people were quite happy to see this, to keep me outside and prevent unification. In Moscow and then later in Paris those that opposed me torpedoed reunification.”

The 1994 FIDE election in Moscow could have been held in Florida. It saw every parliamentary trick in the book, both dirty and clean, as well as a few tricks that weren’t even in the book. The ticket of Kouatly and Karpov met resistance by Makarov and Campomanes, now supported by none other than Garry Kasparov! Some Western players reported being shocked by the strong-arm tactics and this as much as anything ruined Kasparov’s hopes for a compromise with FIDE and a potential reunification match. Seirawan gives it as the moment at which he and Kasparov ceased being on the best of terms, at least for a time. It can only be good that these two prime movers have now come together for the best cause.

Intel goes and a legend is born

By 1996 Kasparov and Karpov had won their respective matches and Ilyumzhinov had taken over FIDE to begin his plan to remake the chess world in his image. At the same time, the PCA ran into a brick wall when Intel declined to renew their sponsorship of the Grand Prix. The conventional wisdom now is that Intel pulled the plug when Kasparov played Deep Blue under the auspices of IBM, an Intel competitor. You can see the frustration in Kasparov’s face when he hears this story yet again.

“November, 1995 is when chess really hit its low. This was a crucial moment and it is important to clear this up. Everyone simply repeats the fairy tale that Intel pulled its sponsorship of the PCA because I played Deep Blue. Every player and journalist just repeats this. At the end of November, 1995, I was in London in the office of Rod Alexander [whose sports promotion company, SBI, had Intel Europe as a client], and we got a call from Intel Europe.

Intel Europe, in Germany, they backed our idea, but they reported to the Intel board. And the board rejected the sponsorship proposal. We wanted two more years, and they supported us in Europe, but the board rejected it. That was at the end of November, 1995, and I nearly died when I heard the news.

Why? They didn’t give their reasons, but the Germans told us, unofficially, that there had been bad reports. That chess was struggling, having an endless internal war, and that the PCA had failed to build up an internal administrative structure. Yes, everything was true. That is why I don’t want these Grandmasters hiding in the corners. I made mistakes, fine, but the fact that Intel stopped their sponsorship is due to the lack of support and unity in the chess world at that time and everyone was responsible. Those who wrote the letters, complained, and blocked unification have their share of responsibility. Intel did not want to be associated with it anymore. I raised the PCA, I protected it, I fought as hard as I could to keep Intel and I failed.

Three weeks later I got the letter from ACM [the Association for Computing Machinery], before Christmas. It was three weeks after the Intel call and you can ask David Levy, or other people from there; I could track down the names. These were two separate events; Intel’s decision was made earlier. I don’t have the exact date of their decision, but when I was in Paris in November and played the final PCA Grand Prix match, and I talked with Campomanes, we still expected Intel to come back. So it was probably at the end of November.

The Deep Blue match was organized very quickly, there was no (as some suspect) conspiracy about how it was organized. There were no IBM representatives anywhere around the match at that time. It was organized by ACM and they didn’t expect any public, journalists, or heavy interest in the match. The first game was the surprise, with the huge interest shown by the world in the match. It was a huge surprise for IBM and the organizers. But IBM was not even involved. It was ACM and it was all organized very quickly around Christmas time.

I wish I had all these letters on hand and if it’s important, and someone insists, and tells me I am lying, then I can start collecting all the data and all the dates. But I want them to stop, Yasser and everyone else. I want them to stop telling everyone “Oh of course, Garry went with IBM and played Deep Blue and Intel dropped the PCA sponsorship.” It’s simply not true.”

Seirawan says he never heard anything about Intel abandoning the PCA prior to the first Deep Blue match, and he is certainly not alone. The chain of announcements that are public knowledge give credence to the “traditional” story that Intel did not pull the plug until after the Deep Blue match. Seirawan recollects that the Intel representative at the 1995 Kasparov-Anand match was “all smiles” and committed to doing it again. Then, after the Deep Blue match was announced, rumors began that said Intel might withdraw, and this was only confirmed publicly after the Deep Blue match.

Since Kasparov’s London phone call refutes the conventional wisdom that was so harmful to him at the time (“Kasparov sold out Intel and the players to line his pockets with IBM cash” was the refrain) we are left wondering why Kasparov has waited so long to clear things up. As Seirawan writes, “After Deep Blue, it was confirmed, no Intel. What else could I think? Intel was upset was my only conclusion. I didn’t know that they had definitely pulled out beforehand. I’m quite happy to stand corrected. Had Garry at any time written me a letter to correct the false impression that I was under, I would have published it immediately!”

Considering Kasparov’s relationship with Seirawan and the rest of the chess press at the time it is no surprise that he wasn’t writing many letters. But his secretiveness definitely did not help his reputation and the IBM/Intel story was rapidly accepted, however spurious it may have been. As Brian Friel wrote in the play “Dancing at Lughnasa,” “What fascinates me about history is that it owes nothing to fact. In that memory, atmosphere is more real than incident and everything is simultaneously actual and illusory.”

Kasparov did try to jump into bed with IBM after the match, but was given the cold shoulder. He tried to get a combined investment from them to support the Grand Prix and other PCA activities along with the Deep Blue rematch. It was a last-ditch effort to save the PCA and had it succeeded it would have put more money into the pockets of chess professionals. (The latest twist is FIDE’s new Grand Prix, which kicked off in Dubai this week. A knock-out series of tournaments at rapid time controls, it has everything in common with the PCA Grand Prix, except it is funded by Kirsan Ilyumzhinov instead of an Intel.)

Friends of Kasparov sponsored a Grand Prix event in Moscow in 1996 and then the Credit-Suisse Masters tournament was transformed into another Grand Prix event after Kasparov convinced organizer William Wirth. “And then that was the end.”

Looking ahead

Kasparov finished by highlighting the various parallels that are appearing today.

“Look at what we were discussing in 1986, how FIDE was trying to replace classical chess with rapid chess. Now it is happening again and we need to reach a consensus and take action. I’m not calling for a boycott, we need to provide alternatives.

From 1986 to 2000 I tried to create alternatives to FIDE. To create an alternative force to balance the power, to raise sponsorship, to protect the players. So I failed in the end, but I didn’t fail in a vacuum. Many professional players did not support me, others attacked me directly. When they complain how FIDE is calling all the shots now they have to take their share of responsibility for the current situation. If you destroy the alternatives what do you expect to happen?

The need for alternatives is greater now than ever before. I see the potential for positive changes. There is a lot of frustration out there, you can see it in all this activity. But unlike in the 1980s there is no unity in the chess world. Today there are diverse interests and it will be hard to reach a consensus. Frankly, I’m not terribly optimistic. It will be hard to bring all the parties to the table. It seems they really don’t care.

Not to self-promote but at least I’ve always cared, always tried, and I’m still ready to make compromises. I hope I’m not alone in this. If Yasser succeeds in bringing everyone to the table, if Bessel can play the role he played 15 years ago, then I will be the happiest person. I wish them well and I am ready to support these efforts.”

Seirawan concludes, “Garry is to be commended for his article and more importantly for his undertakings. He has worked extremely hard trying to raise the level of awareness and done his best to vitalize the sport. His efforts have been extraordinary. While I have pointed out two areas of different views [His resignation and the events in Murcia. –Mig], my admiration for what he achieved with the GMA have never dimmed. The GMA’s were “golden years” for chess players and if a future for professional players exists, a key will be to create a union to protect their self-interest. If they can avoid the mistakes made by the GMA, and yours truly, the rewards will be great. Hopefully, Garry’s article and this contribution will help them to identify pitfalls and avoid repeating our mistakes. My final parting word is to not forget that we live in a Human Comedy. Things happen, good and bad. Face them with a sense of humor not foreboding and all will be overcome.”

It might not be an entirely uplifting tale, but it gives us room for optimism. Kasparov has grown weary of people saying that things would be better if he just kept his mouth shut. For many years the chess world has enjoyed alternately supporting and attacking Garry Kasparov, letting him be the leader and the lightning rod. Now he is still willing to lend a hand, but it is clear that like the rest of us he is waiting for someone else to pick up the torch that has burned him a few too many times.

Of the current candidates for torch-bearer, Vladimir Kramnik has been quiet, insisting against all evidence that the Dortmund qualifier will unite something other than his bank account and a nice check. FIDE has not made a public comment on Seirawan’s unification proposal but the whispering winds say that Prague may bring a few surprises. Bessel Kok has organized a players’ workshop this month and all the top players will be there. We can only hope that if history does repeat itself, we will get the happy ending this time.


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