Vlastimil Hort interviews Geurt Gijssen

by Vlastimil Hort
12/14/2017 – Geurt Gijssen is one of the most renowned chess arbiters and during his active time witnessed many dramatic and historical moments of chess history. In an interview Vlastimil Hort asked the veteran arbiter about his career, his passion for chess, and his take on incidents and scandals in recent chess history. | Photo: Gerhard Hund

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Interview with Geurt Gijssen

Mr. Gijssen, you are still the ultimate authority among chess arbiters. Let's go a bit back in time. What do you think about the first Karpov-Kasparov match 1984/1985 in Moscow that was aborted after 48 games when Karpov led 5-3? Was the main arbiter Svetozar Gligorić the right man at the right place?

Back then it was common practice that both players received a list with names of seven arbiters. Both players had the right to remove three arbiters from the list and to arrange the remaining four in order of preference. To my mind, an excellent system. Apparently Gligorić was put first and was the arbiter both players wanted. I also think that he was the right man at the right place. And I have never heard that the players of the match were complaining about the arbiter.

I once took part in a seminar near Madrid. Campomanes, Kasparov, and Kortchnoi were also present. Question by Kortchnoi: "What happened back then in Moscow, Mr. Campomanes?" Answer by Campomanes: "Everybody has his own version and vision of the events back then. Therefore, it does not make sense to talk about them any further."

The match in Elista

You were the arbiter at the Topalov-Kramnik match in Elista which made the history books as "toilet-match". Who do you think is responsible for the scandal?

There were times when players had to play their matches without seconds. I think Max Euwe was first who got support from a second (Hans Kmoch). As far as I remember this did not cause any problems. Later you had a delegation leader, a doctor, a psychologist, and finally a manager. With so many people moving around a player, I think, you can expect problems to occur. To my mind, Kramnik and Topalov were okay. However, I think that Danailov took things a bit too far.

The "pairing system" at Chess Olympiads is very complicated. Did you see a lot of protests during your time as an arbiter?

Occasionally some teams asked for an explanation of the pairings. But in all cases I am acquainted with, all criticism of the system could be invalidated. I talk about the time when I dealt with the pairings: 1984 from round six onwards, 1988, 1994,1996. If problems occurred they usually had a political background. Some (Arab) countries, for example, are not allowed to play against Israel. Losing 0-4 by forfeit does not agree with the Olympic idea. I think it would be best if the Olympic Committee avoided such pairings in advance.


Touch-move. The game Judit Polgar vs Garry Kasparov, in round five of the Linares tournament 1994 created quite a stir in the chess world.

I have never been to Linares, and I have never talked with the arbiter about this incident. But I saw the video and I would like to express my opinion about that. The arbiter did not make a mistake. Both players were in severe time trouble. The arbiter stood at the table and wrote down the moves which were played with lightning speed. Kasparov put his knight from d7 to c5, and the arbiter wrote this move down. Kasparov then saw that 35.Nd7-c5 is a mistake and instead played 35…Nd7-f8.

It is very plausible and understandable for me that the arbiter could not see whether Kasparov had released the knight when he was putting it to c5 because at that moment he looked at his protocol. Judit Polgar later told me that she did not have the courage to protest. She was too afraid of a time penalty.

The game Krum Georgiev vs Kasparov at the Chess Olympiad in Malta 1980 also caused a lot of excitement. Why did the Russian delegation protest?

I was not present but I read about it. As far as I understand, Kasparov complained that Georgiev had violated the touch-move rule. His opponent objected. If the arbiter did not witness this incident himself the move played counts and the game has to be continued. Which is what happened in Malta.


What do you think about the current state of the FIDE?

To answer this question I first need to know what your question refers to: to the FIDE as federation or the board of the FIDE?

I am very satisfied with the federation. The rating lists for classical chess, rapid chess and blitz chess are published every month. There are courses for arbiters and trainers all over the world. All commissions do a good job. The FIDE also organises a lot of tournaments, e.g. the Olympiads, the World Championships, the World Juniorships, World Team Championships, World Championships for the Disabled, World Senior Championships, and much more.

However, if you refer to the FIDE board I can only say that I think it lacks transparency. For instance, is the elected president still in power? Fortunately, I have never been involved in chess politics and now, after withdrawing more or less from the chess scene, I would like to leave it that way. When talking about pairings I said that one should try to avoid the pairing about which you know that political reasons do not allow one team to play. I think the same goes for the individual FIDE tournaments. In countries which do not guarantee visa for all players who register one should not organise chess events.

Geurt Gijssen starts the clock for a game between Timman and Kamsky | Photo: Max Euwe Centrum

The best FIDE President in the history of chess was…?

This is a question that is almost impossible to answer. Just as the question who was the best player of all times. FIDE has had seven presidents and they impossible to compare. When Rueb was president (1924 – 1946) there were not as many federations as today. The World Championship was still a private affair with which the FIDE had nothing to do. If I am not mistaken the Olympiad was the only tournament which the FIDE organised at that time. You just cannot compare that with the many tournaments for which FIDE is responsible today.

The next FIDE president will be…?

… elected in Batumi.

FIDE should really improve... a lot and in particular?

It is always good to try to improve oneself or something. Standing still means to regress. However, I am worried about the older professionals — chess grandmasters who have to live from chess. I know a lot who have great financial troubles. But I am not sure whether this should be a concern of FIDE. But still, it would be good to think about it.

Currently, the world's top ten definitely have a very good income. The top 40 also profit from the chess boom but all others have to struggle hard to make a living. I can understand that a lot of young grandmasters prefer a "normal" job.

And I would like to see the financial gap between men's and women's chess getting smaller.

Chess books and the Netherlands

You are a passionate collector of chess literature. Which books are "evergreens" that every serious chess player should read?

That is a difficult question. The first game collection I bought was 300 Chess Games by Tarrasch. I was very impressed. For me, this book is still a jewel today.
Particularly recommendable are the books by Kasparov, e.g. his series on his Great Predecessors or Garry Kasparov on modern chess. Apart from the interesting analyses you also get to know a lot about modern chess history. I would also like to mention Tibor Karolyi. His books about Karpov, Kasparov and Tal are remarkable. You see, I like biographies with game collections!

Chess in Holland. Is there a young star who can really follow in the footsteps of Jan Timman?

In 1982 Timman was the world's number 2. Currently, we obviously put our hopes on Anish Giri. He is number 14 on the FIDE rating list from December 1, 2017. Though the competition is fierce I still think that he has very good chances to progress, much more so when I consider his age.

The most wonderful chess tournaments

Which chess tournament do you remember particularly fondly and would like to experience again?

Why the singular and not the plural? I directed so many tournaments which had been perfectly organised and which had an excellent atmosphere. The places where these tournaments were played were also very attractive. I particularly fondly remember all the fantastic chess events of Joop van Oosterom (Max Euwe Association), which he created and supported. The players always fought hard and the ambience was extraordinary.

I still enjoy the memories of the Swift tournaments, the World Cup tournaments 1988 and 1989, the Interpolis tournaments, the Aeroflot tournaments, the junior events in Salekhard (Siberia), the World Championships, and, and, and.
But if you ask whether there is a tournament I do not wish to remember I would have to pass.

In March 2018 the Candidates Tournament will be played in Berlin. Who do you think will win and challenge Carlsen?

I think that Aronian has very good chances. But Mamedyarov, Caruana, Karjakin, So, Kramnik, Grischuk or Ding Liren are also strong enough for a surprise.

Master Class Vol.8: Magnus Carlsen

Scarcely any world champion has managed to captivate chess lovers to the extent Carlsen has. The enormously talented Norwegian hasn't been systematically trained within the structures of a major chess-playing nation such as Russia, the Ukraine or China.

During your time as arbiter you saw a lot and I would think that you know a lot of little secrets about which you kept quiet. But the chess world is curious. Is it time to reveal some secrets and write a book? 

I am afraid that I have to disappoint the chess world. People have asked me before whether I would like to write a book about my experiences as an arbiter but I do not intend to. This has a number of reasons. The public is first of all interested in scandals. But except from the Kramnik-Topalov I have not witnessed great scandals. Moreover, a lot of what happened is difficult to describe objectively.

Of course, there are books in my library in which incidents and events are described which I witnessed directly or in which I took part. Sometimes I was surprised and disappointed about the conclusions these authors have drawn. But it was comforting that Jan Timman was also irritated about the interpretations of one scribbler.

I would add something: I was fortunate to work with a number of excellent organisers which I would like to mention here again (in alphabetical order): Alexander Bach, Valery Bovavev, Meindert Hermes, Lies Muller, Alexander Potapov, Jan Rennings, and Barbara Schol.

Which world class player disappointed you the most and why?

Everybody who read the comments about the match between Kramnik and Topalov in Elista 2006 on the internet knows exactly which grandmaster disappointed me the most. Incidentally, I can reveal that I had no problems with Kramnik and Topalov.

Which top player surprised you positively?

Alexander Khalifman. He is one of the few who excellently understands the Swiss pairings though they are complicated.

Good or bad rules

"Zero-Tolerance" is one of the new FIDE rules. What do you think about it?

I do not think this rule is bad and I understand very will why it was introduced. I think, this rule particularly makes sense when the tournament is played in the hotel where the players live. I don't know any valid excuse not to be at the board on time. It is just proper politeness towards the opponent, the public, the sponsors, and the press.

Photographers have only the first five or ten minutes to take pictures. In the past it often happened that only two or three players were present when the game began. This obviously is bad for the publicity of a tournament.

Things are different when the players stay in different hotels. One example: during the Olympiads some teams live very close to the playing hall others have to cover a longer distance. In such cases you should be more flexible.

What to do against short and boring draws? Is it enough to apply the current "Sofia rules"?

I am almost certain the "Sofia rules" are not enough. I have often seen that games were suddenly drawn on the 31st move when the tournament was played according to "Sofia rules". Some players also like to repeat moves to circumvent this rule.

To my mind, the "Sofia rules" have only little effect and therefore one should not use them. I am certain that players who play a lot of grandmaster draws are not attractive for organisers and public. In the long run they will not receive invitations. And that is good!
Another possibility would be to award three points for a win and one point for a draw.

You withdrew from active chess — how do you spend your time today?

I follow a lot of tournaments on the internet. I enjoy this. I also read quite a lot, chess literature but also history books. In also play for a club again, the S.M.B. Nijmegen. In the veteran's team. If I were invited to a chess tournament I would not refuse. But I make such travels only together with my wife.

But you are still passionate about your old love, chess?

Indeed. I still follow the chess scene. I am particularly interested in the rules — and this won't change, I am afraid.

Translation from German: Johannes Fischer

Vlastimil Hort was born January 12, 1944, in Kladno, Czechoslovakia. In the 1970s he was one of the world's best players and a World Championship candidate. In 1979 he moved to West Germany where he still lives. Hort is an excellent blindfold player, a prolific author and a popular chess commentator.


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