Ruslan Ponomariov breaks his silence

6/6/2002 – Everbody has had his say about the Prague unification agreement. Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand, Karpov – even Junior, would you believe it? And driving force Yasser Seirawan described in great detail exactly how it came about. Only one person was not present, did not sign anything and hasn't been heard. Until now. Ruslan Ponomariov, the freshly-crowned FIDE champion, gives us his take of current chess affairs. You will find the interview here.

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"Kasparov in Chess is just like Mike Tyson in boxing"

An interview with
FIDE world champion
Ruslan Ponomariov

According to the recent Prague agreement, the chess community is bound to have a newly "united" – or should we say "unifying" – champion as early as in 2003. So, if everything goes ahead as planned, Ruslan Ponomariov will enter the history books as the last so-called "FIDE champion". The young Ukrainian talked to Ukraine internet site correspondent Alex Volkodav and passed a couple of opinions on the new way of determining "Who is Who" in the world of chess. Here are the highlights of this interview:

"This reunification is clearly a must because our realm obviously doesn't need more than one king. That's why I would rather support the new system. As yet, I don't know much about its details, but I do trust those who have worked the whole thing out. It's really about time to stop settling our accounts elsewhere (newspapers, internet sites, press conferences etc. – you name it!) and simply return to the fair over-the-board competition. That's the only way for any world champ to turn from "a champion" to the universally respected king of the chess world".

Question: Aren't you sick and tired of all this bustle going on around you ever since you have won the title?

Ponomariov: Unfortunately this comes with the title :-). At times it really became unbearable. People were pelting me with letters asking for help, money and the like. Some of then even phoned me at home. A real madhouse! Well, now the storm has mostly abated.

Question: You mentioned being "fed up with chess". Is this feeling over by now?

Ponomariov: It is. I am lucky to have taken a little escape from chess. Been to Crimea and Sevastopol, had some fun. Of course, I couldn't afford forgetting about chess altogether – the Moscow Grand Prix is right ahead, and one has to get properly prepared.

Question: Maybe, the famous Prague agreement has simply cheered you up?

Ponomariov: As a matter of fact, my knowledge about it is very limited. I wasn't there in person, haven't seen – let alone "signed" – any official papers. Funny as it may sound, my main source of information proved to be the Internet!

Question: But you were invited to participate. It looked like you simply didn't bother to go!

Ponomariov: They had invited me to play, and that didn't interest me at the moment. Nobody invited me to the summit itself. In general, there were too many officials and too few chess players there! As well as no real discussion, because there was nothing much to discuss – just one suggestion that had, under those conditions, to be approved of almost automatically.

Question: Would you have proposed anything else instead?

Ponomariov: Hardly. I have had no time to think about it properly. Yet, one just can't make important decisions like that. Or otherwise, any decision would do. Why not to cancel the very title of the "world champion" altogether?

Question: Just about every future "semifinalist" as well as many top grandmasters claim having wound up on the receiving end. Kramnik seems to believe he is the ultimate loser of the current situation. What about your own loss?

Ponomariov: I wouldn't say it's that big. To defend my title, I should anyhow challenge the very best – be it in the "semifinals" or the duel for the crown. And nobody is going to treat me simply as Ruslan Ponomariov any more – they will try to beat a world champion! Kramnik? Well, he is a worthy champion who proved his strength by beating Kasparov, among the other quite impressive results. I don't think his situation is that bad. He will have a lot of time to prepare for the Dortmund winner, and this will be no weakling! It's only a pity, this tournament isn't organized under the auspices of FIDE, because as it is, neither of the last FIDE champions will be invited to participate there. As far as I know, the real victims of the Prague agreement are the top-10 GMs of the FIDE ratings, because they have been cut off any opportunity to strive for the coveted title until 2005. Such superstars as Anand, Grischuk or my own countryman , Ivanchuk, have every reason to feel really, really hurt by the current situation…

Question: While you yourself are going to be challenged by Garry the Great and Terrible in less than a year (May-June 2003)…

Ponomariov: And once again I have no idea about the details of this competition. When and where exactly do we play? What's the time limit? What's the prize-money? I hope that at least this time we will find the answers together, in good spirit and cooperation… On the other hand I sincerely believe that my match against Kasparov was a right thing to decide upon. Kramnik has already played Garry and beaten him, so at the moment it's me who has a point to prove, not Vladi.

Question: But Kasparov isn't a champion any more…

Ponomariov: It doesn't matter. He is still a huge player – just look at his rating! In a way, he is the number one. Just like Mike Tyson – not a champion anymore, but to compete against him is a real honour.

Question: You have already played against him (in Linares) and, one might say, you two have exchanged your first blows. Garry regards you as a "outstanding, aggressive and rapidly improving chess player". What could you say about him?

Ponomariov: He is a renown match-fighter, that's his major trump. I'll have to sweat a lot to somehow catch up with him in this area. My preparation for Ivanchuk proves that in principle, it can be done properly, but the expenses are enormous. I had to pay for the training camp in Crimea, for inviting some sparring-partners – not to mention my coaches' salaries. Lots and lots of expenses. Kasparov's experience helps him to do all those things much more smoothly.

Question: I am really surprised to hear that – a world champ who has just won about $500,000 in prize money, is struggling to pay his coach or coaches?!

Ponomariov: By a rough evaluation I won't lay my hands on more than 20% of this total. 20% goes to FIDE, Topalov as a sparring is no cheap pleasure, the coaches must be paid as well. Even turning the check into cash takes a lot of time, and maybe, some money, too. And don't forget the state taxes. I am fortunate to be a student because as such, I'll have to help my country with only 20% of my earnings. Otherwise, they would have kindly asked for 50%!

Question: What are your future plans?

Ponomariov: The very next goal is the Moscow Grand Prix. I believe the list of participants will look about the same as it did in Dubai, but I am not sure. It starts on May 31, and I am quite resolute to be there.

Question: On having returned to FIDE, Kasparov might decide to be there too. What would you say to actually meeting him already in a week instead of in the next year?

Ponomariov: I don't know his plans. Talking of my own preparation, I haven't been completely idling my time away. Among other things, I also played a couple of games against Sergey Kariakin (a 12-year-old prodigy from Ponomariov's hometown Kramatorsk, who may well break Ruslan's own record by becoming a GM even before his 14th birthday – Ukraine.Ru). He has won the Internet qualification once more, and Moscow is waiting for him as well.

Postscript

The sole ruler of the chess world will emerge after the final duel which should allegedly take place in October 2003. The two places in the final will, as you may easily guess, be contested by four semifinalists, and three of them have already been determined. The 16th FIDE champion Ruslan Ponomariov is to battle the champion number 13, Garry Kasparov. Vladimir Kramnik who beat Kasparov in the championship match in London-2000, is waiting for the winner of this year's Candidates' Tournament that is to take place in July in Dortmund. Yet, judging by the chess experts' opinion, the main outcome of the Prague summit is the resurrection of FIDE as the only organization officially entitled to hold the chess world championships competitions and determine the name of the current holder of this most coveted in the chess world title. Allegedly, FIDE has been recognized as such by both the IOC and the whole chess community including the top chess players.

Source: Ukraine Chess internet site
Translation: IM Edward Porper, Israel


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