What did Vladimir say?

by ChessBase
10/27/2004 – The remarks we published recently by Vladimir Kramnik, in which the classical chess world champion expressed serious doubt about the reunification process as it is, have stirred up a vigorous international debate. Before this gets out of hand we thought it expedient to publish the full text of the original interview in Sport Express. Here is a translation by Ilya Krasik.

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The remarks we published recently by Vladmir Kramnik, in which the classical chess world champion expressed serious doubt about the reunification process as it is, have stirred up a vigorous international debate. Before this gets out of hand we thought it expdient to publish the full text of the original interview in Sport Express. Here is a translation by Ilya Krasik.


The following interview appeared on the Russian sport portal Sport Express and was conducted by chess journalist Yuri Vasiliev. The full text in Russian language is available on this Sport Express page.

We publish the text in English language with the kind permission of Juri Vasiliev.

Vladimir Kramnik: “I am ready for a civilized dialogue with FIDE.”

Yuri Vasiliev, from Brissago

Our conversation with the classic world chess champion took place in the “Ascona” hotel in the city with the same name, a few kilometers from the place where his match with Peter Leko was held and from here I am sharing this material. Much of what was said by the champion was quite surprising to me. It will be as well surprising to the reader. But Kramnik is the champion, and he is entitled to champion’s opinion.

What a warm up!

How did you prepare for your match? Was it any different to the preparation for the match vs. Kasparov in London?

Everything was the same. My team of seconds and I rented a house near Monaco, we had our own chef, we didn’t prepare for too long, but it was productive.

Before your match vs. Kasparov you were very inspired, but here it seemed like you didn’t take the preparation so seriously. For example, you became sick at the start of the match, which doesn’t happen when one is at very high spirits. What happened? Perhaps, you underestimated Leko?

No, I always estimated Leko correctly. It’s just that a challenger’s initial motivation is always greater than that of a defending champion. This is always the case, and always will be. His motivation is natural, but my motivation is coming from my head, it needs to be nurtured – I remember this from my match with Kasparov… Then I became sick. In several games I felt so sick, that I could hardly play – physically. This was the case in game 9, in which I had an extra hour on the clock, but simply could not sit at the table.

Something serious?

I would rather not talk about this, I will only say, that in the future, I doubt I would let this happen again…

Perhaps a super- tournament in Dortmund has had its ill effects; it was supposed to be played in classic chess time controls but later became a rapid tournament.

It seemed that Dortmund tournament was needed (for match preparation). I wanted to warm up, to feel the play, I didn’t want to think about anything. However, all these plans became just a dream, because in the end I had to give everything I had.

Fighting for prestige?

Yes, we are after all professionals. We have to always save face. As a result I played 23 games in 11 days – a completely unbelievable amount! And absolutely needless overload right before the start of very important training. The goal was warm up, but as a result I had to recuperate two weeks just to get back the strength after such a “warm up”.

Program for Leko

You are obviously satisfied with the performance of your team?

Yes, I am satisfied. Although, as it happened most of the work prepared by the team never played out on the board. That is not the fault of my team, but more likely an accomplishment by Leko, who demonstrated an unbelievable preparation. The effectiveness of the team was less evident because Leko “jumped openings”, it was impossible to predict what he may play next time. In the match with Kasparov, where we had theoretical discussions in a number of openings, the role of the team was more noticeable. Here, the guys are working at night, looking at one thing, but the next day what occurs on the board is completely different.

Do you remember, when during a Novgorod tournament, ten years ago I asked you: when will you start playing 1. e4?! And you kept telling me: time will come, and I will begin to play 1.e4. Time has come? Why has it coincided with the Leko match?

I play 1.e4 only a few years, this is of course not enough to completely and deeply feel all the positions. I understood that this decision is somewhat risky, but one of the reasons to learn a new opening sphere is the desire to continue to develop.

Do you want to say that you decided to “develop” during the match for world championship?!

But prior to the match in Brissago I constantly experimented, playing 1.e4. And if I still played d4 (in the match) then what was the point of it?! When I began to master e4, I already understood, that in a match against Leko I will play exactly so. This was a long-term program.

Were you surprised that Leko was really well prepared to 1.e4?

I am sure that he was equally well prepared to meet 1.d4. Leko, in principal was very well prepared for everything. He had plenty of time to prepare for the match. I understood that he undertook thorough preparation in all directions of opening theory. And nonetheless, I was caught off guard by the sheer quality of his preparation! In every opening, in every variation I was met by a novelty! At first I could not begin to play my game.

Your preparation, in the end, turned out to be better, than Leko’s?

I don’t think so. Perhaps, only in the second half of the match; I started pressing a bit. In principle, in my first three games as white I didn’t even get a trace of an advantage. And in the last games neither. There were a few games, where I was able to pose some problems for Peter, but not many. I think the theoretical duel was about even.

Guessing is an interesting game

If this duel was about even, then could you explain why you went for a variation of the Queen’s Gambit known to be bad in the 5th game, a game that you eventually lost? It’s hard to believe that one can consciously go for a passive defense in the endgame, “without one”….

After I jumped into the lead and began to easily solve problems as black, I relaxed a bit. And at this point, Leko almost for the first time in his life plays d4! I understood that he may open with 1. d4, but I figured that I know a lot about 1. d4. I thought this was my territory; if he starts from the queen pawn, I’ll play queen’s gambit at first, and then we’ll see… I was overly self-confident to this hypothetical possibility. But the possibility turned from hypothetical to quite concrete.

When my opponent nonetheless played 1. d4 in game 5, I chose this variation. Why I chose it, I cannot explain even now. Because to go for that position, down a pawn – is truly madness! Here you are absolutely right. During the game my personal inadequate decision (to go into a bad line) began to burden me. Bad thoughts started creeping into my head like: “What kind of fool do you have to be, to voluntarily go into this absurd position…” In essence, overly self-confident attitude towards the fact that on my turf ( d4 openings) I will somehow manage, lead at first to the inadequate decision-making, then to needless self-criticism and finally – to losing the game…

It was proven in the 10- page analysis on site Chesspro.ru, that you still had a draw. But to find such subtleties over the board is probably not possible?

To see everything, is of course, impossible. But it’s possible to guess. If there is time for guessing and if you know in which direction to search. In general I knew. But everything I aforementioned, including being really upset at myself, robbed me of the necessary concentration, which in turn led to the miscalculation in a position where a draw was quite close to being achieved.

What about game 12, Leko didn’t “guess right”? When he offered a draw in a position where he was up two pawns and all the chances to win…

Well I wouldn’t be so categorical in claiming that he let his winning chances slip away. He had two extra pawns, but firstly one of them was doubled, and secondly the second one could not yet go forward. And then don’t forget that Leko was entrenched in defense for the whole game, and psychologically it was difficult for him to shift gears and play for a win. He lost so many nerves during this game, that when the situation on the board began to swing his way, he could not find the power within him to play for a win.

This is the most difficult thing, in the game…

In reality, it’s doubtful that any human can do it.

There were no over-the-board moves in game 8.

What happened in the 8th game, in which you lost quite destructively, having made, as I wrote, only seven moves on your own?

Why seven?

Well, until move 18 wasn’t it all known…?

I understand that it was well-known (theory) but what was known went even farther, much farther. Essentially, “my own” moves were not made in that game. Everything that occurred in the game was set up the day before on my board…

H … O…. W?!!

Essentially, none (no moves beyond home prep) I was ready. I came to the game. I stopped the clock. Resigned. That’s all I did in that game. And I even played white. It’s just some kind of madness…

That’s how it was?

During preparation we looked at 22.Ne4. Seemed like white is better, but for you surely no losing chances. Right before we went outside, we found 22.axb, time did not allow us to study this continuation in detail, and I decided if this happens in a game, I will look at it then. If we didn’t discover last minute the moves 22.axb, I would play 22.Ne4, make a draw and that’s all. And here in addition Leko was in time trouble. If he had lets say 40 minutes or so, and not 15, then there would be no sense to rush. I would take my time, think and of course find the move 25. Qd3. But most curiously, that even the 25.Qd3 I saw, when I played 22.axb!


That’s what makes the situation truly crazy! I saw this move, but somehow decided that if it’s checked on the computer, then I wouldn’t lose.

That means that it wasn’t checked on the computer?

We didn’t have time to look, but I decided that we saw it…

But Leko probably thought that you had looked at it since you played the moves so fast, so confidently?

From Leko’s standpoint this game – is a remarkable achievement. Because he found everything over the board. From my standpoint – sheer madness: to reward him with a whole point, without playing, having the white pieces. And this madness occurred in a world championship match…

Instead of the gas pedal, pressing the brake

How were you able to handle this stress, and gradually change the character of the match in your favor?

After the win in this game Leko began to play more timidly. I was in the same situation in my match against Kasparov. In that match I dominated until game 10, and then tightened up, Kasparov just the opposite, having become loose and relaxed he began to press me. This is a unique characteristic of one’s psyche: when you try to subconsciously safeguard what you earned already, you unintentionally hit the brakes. And when you have nothing to lose, you step on the gas as hard as you can. I understood perfectly, that he (Leko) will begin to tighten up.

So Leko in effect has helped you?

Anyone would have helped. This phase of the match is the toughest for that person who is in the lead.

But you had to somehow increase pressure, and you couldn’t afford to lose a single game…

Yes, the task seemed almost impossible also because Leko curled into a shell, and to drag him out of there was impossible. Peter—is a great player in many respects, but as a defender he is, right now, undoubtedly, second to none. And here he had to do, what he knows how to do best! To be trailing in a match vs. Kasparov or Anand would be easier, then to try to even it up with Leko. He is almost bulletproof! I played quite well in the second part of the match, but could not get penetrate his defenses.

But still, you broke through the bulletproof Leko? In fact you did so in the very last game. He was too nervous. If he was calmer, he would capture your bishop on d3, and then perhaps you wouldn’t be able to breakthrough…

I don’t think that there is a draw there, it’s a game. But Leko became nervous much earlier. I would not say that the pressure in 14th game was greater than in 11th, 12th and 13th game. And Leko didn’t lose because he was very nervous in the final game. It’s just that the direction of the match was going this way. I pressed in the last few games quite strongly, but every time he would by some miracle escape. But miracles must end at some point. And they ended. If this was a 16 game match, I would still win, if not in 14th game, in 15th or in 16th. The problem was that there were only 14 games. What if he “escapes” again – and that’s over…

Before the last game you walked around Ascona with a beautiful girl. Was this typical for you or was this some sort of psychotherapy before the last game?

After a ridiculous loss in game 8 and a few draws, I understood that my chance lies in completely calming down, not thinking about my result but just playing well. Seemingly, I was able to enter this state of mind: to come and to show everything I am capable of showing at the board. And in off days even more so… What’s the point of worrying. And at the point when you saw me, it would be a shame not to take a walk. The weather was too good…

And your companion was also very nice… She was in Ascona the whole time or only came at the end?

Actually, towards the end of the match I got a visited by a lot of my friends, even though I didn’t ask them to come. It seems like they felt that I needed help. And they helped me greatly! Vadim Repin, a famous violinist, came by for one day, with his wife, to tell me a few kind words of reassurance. Other people who are dear to me also came. This created a nice atmosphere.

Did you receive any calls from Moscow?

Maybe they called but during the match I turn off my phones.

What next?

Joel Lautier, president of ACP, emphasized during the press conference, and repeated during the closing ceremony, that your match against Leko was not at all some kind of a semifinal, but a real match for world championship. And then continued his thoughts, saying that if FIDE will not agree to a dialogue with ACP, then ACP – and as I understood, you as well, – will go your separate way. Right?

That’s right. The match in Brissago was a match for the world championship, not a qualifier to some kind of unification match. To which I was somehow signed up, without being asked, whether I want to play it or not.

But you have signed the Prague Agreement…

Not a single point of the document I have signed in Prague has been met by the other side. And therefore I consider myself completely free from any kind of obligations. I do not owe anything to anyone. I played a match for world championship and defended my title. In general, I am positively inclined towards the idea of unification, but we need to discuss conditions under which this unification can take place.

On what conditions are you willing to play a unification match?

Firstly, we need to keep in mind the lessons of Prague, Prague agreements turned out to be a fiction. At least from the standpoint of FIDE. And now I need to seriously think how to fine-tune a dialogue with FIDE, in order to be sure that everything we agree upon will be carried out. Because unification itself is absolutely senseless, if it does not carry some positive changes. If we will have one champion, well-defined structure of world championships, everything guaranteed – then yes, this unification is imperative for the chess world. If none of this happens, then this unification will just be another fiction.

What kind of world championship structure would suit you?

A normal one. I think a curious idea was born in ACP: to organize a “Grand Prix”, at the end of the year to hold “Masters”, the winner gets a right to play in a world championship match against the defending champion.

And how often will this match take place?

Once, every two years. But this is details. They can be discussed. If there was desire from the other side. I cannot consent to chaos, which presently reigns in the chess world. There is no reasonable system of qualification, Anand was sidelined, Ponomariov was thrown out. Most of the strong players were missing from the FIDE championship, in Libya. It is obvious that FIDE at this moment has hit a dead end. And if they (FIDE) don’t make the appropriate conclusions, then I do not see any basis for cooperation.

Will the suspicions come true?

Ok, with whom will you play for the next match for world championship?

We have carried out one cycle, we will have another one. We will not have problems. But I want to work with people, with whom there is a trust and who share the general vision of the situation. My vision of the situation is as follows: chess need to be developed in civilized European countries, to have corporate sponsors, like Dannemann or “Deutsche Bank” (which carried out large chess action in Germany). There are good tournaments in Holland, in Spain. It would be advisable that chess develops in this direction. And many chess players are in solidarity with me on this. We must not depend on the wants of one individual, even if it were a good person. I want to see chess like golf, tennis. There, they will always have sponsors, always have tournaments. If FIDE doesn’t want this, then I will not work with them, since I do not see any prospects in the direction which is chosen by them at this time. But I suspect that FIDE can change its position.

And what are these suspicions based on?

Public opinion polls show that chess players are very unhappy with what’s going on. And the numbers of those who are unhappy keep growing. More than 30 people from the ranks of leading chess players did not attend the FIDE world championship – this has never happened before! If FIDE fails to make timely conclusions, it will simply cease and decease as an organization. The chess players are not demanding much, they want a minimal amount of respect and a minimal amount of compliance to certain principles.

World championship matches are of interest to the world

Lautier also says that if the unification match does takes place (in which I am personally not convinced at all) none of the leading players will take part in it. But in the past, they did participate. The same Anand, for example…

I don’t see any point to changing that, which even from the commercial standpoint is working well. Matches for world championship will always attract large attention in the world. And who finds it interesting, these FIDE knockout championships? Ok, so they played. So Kasimdzhanov won, or somebody else… so what?

By the way what do you think about the new FIDE world champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov?

It’s hard to say something about him; I mean he won his matches on tie-brakes, so it was rapid chess. Rapid chess is just rapid chess. I heard a lot of good about Kasimdzhanov, but how he plays in classical chess, we don’t know.

And judging by his games, what do you think?

Unquestionably, a talented player. But his opening preparation is still a bit weak and he still hasn’t proved that he belongs to the chess heavyweights.

And whom would you list as those heavyweights?

Anand, Leko, Topalov, myself…

You are not listing Kasparov?

Well, that’s obvious anyway. Great name! Although right now he is experiencing a string of misfortunes. I have no intention to wrong Garry Kimovich, but objectively he is not the strongest player right now.

In your opinion how will his match with Kasimdzhanov end?

The problem is this. Kasimdzhanov, of course has earned the match against the great player Kasparov. But what’s very unclear is for what reason will they be playing a world championship match?!

The signature was placed for something else

Vladimir, but didn’t you place your signature under the very fact of such a match!

Excuse me. I signed under the match Kasparov-Ponomariov. Plus, other points were supposed to be met, which were not met. I disagreed in Prague that a challenger for Ponomariov can be hand picked. But I felt other points were very important, and I was ready to sacrifice the principles of sport qualification for their sake. I was so inspired back then by the prospective revolution in the chess world! And what happened? Not one point was ever fulfilled. Anand was sidelined, Ponomariov was trampled…and who will play, Kasparov vs. Kasimdzhanov. It’s not their fault – it’s the quintessential of FIDE politics. Why should Kasparov, who hasn’t won a single tournament this year, play in this match? Kasimdzhanov has of course done very well, but in public opinion of the chess world he is not a kind of GM whose achievements would be as noticeable as achievements of say Anand.

And still how do you think their match will end up?

I don’t know quite frankly, Kasimdzhanov is a dark horse. And Kasparov is in an obvious crisis. If he gets over this crisis, then he is an obvious favorite. If not, then… I don’t know, don’t know… One should not underestimate Kasimdzhanov.

But what is the solution that you are suggesting for FIDE to get out of the dead end situation you had described?

For the sake of discussion (although I understand that it’s not in the interest of several people) I believe that instead of Kasimdzhanov-Kasparov match we aught to hold a match tournament with the participation of Kasparov, Kasimdzhanov, Anand, and Ponomariov, and the winner will play a match against me.

I don’t know if Kasimdzhanov will go for it, but one person who would definitely not – is Kasparov!

Why, he is a fighter. If we want to unify, then we need to resolve our old grudges. Anand, Ponomariov, Kasimdzhanov and Kasparov as a legendary player. This would be an ideal solution to all conflicts.

I understood one thing from our conversation; a unification match will not take place.

Why? If FIDE is ready to a civilized dialogue, then for my part I am also ready.

Will you play in the super final of Russia championship in Moscow?

Even though I doubt I can recuperate after such a grinding match in three weeks, I will play, in order to support the beginnings of new Russian Chess Federation president Alexander Zhukov and in general Russian chess. I will have to live by the Olympic principle: the goal is not victory but participation.

Translated by Ilya Krasik, originally of St Petersburg (Leningrad) Russia, now living in Boston, USA. Ilya is a former Massachusetts High School co-champion and junior high champion. His current USCF rating is 2100 and he plays in a club called Metrowest, which is the biggest chess club in New England (and looks like a really cool place).

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