Why should the challenger have more rights?

12/11/2002 – As we heard from Yasser Seirawan in his "turkey article" FIDE world champion Ruslan Ponomariov has thrown a spanner into the Reunification Plan for chess by insisting on draw odds in his upcoming match against Garry Kasparov. Now Ponomariov has explained his motivation for this move. He also complains about his treatment by the International Chess Federation in the wake of the Prague summit. Read all about it in this interview by Anatoli Jaworski.

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I don't want Kasparov, the challenger,
to have more rights than me, the Champion

Interview with Ruslan Ponomariov by Anatoli Jaworski

"We are tired of scandals!" – this is the unanimous voice of chess players. You bet! For many years, even decades, the chess world has been in a state of war with intermittent short pauses of armistice, the chess crown being the sticking point. Great men quarrel, all are at a loss.

True to say, last Spring there seemed to have been some hope to settle all differences among kings and versions amicably. Negotiations were started to organize a championship for the absolute world champion title. The first step down this road was made by the May 2002 summit in Prague where the unity plan had been prepared. Even then there were plenty of claims to the authors of this document. As time passed, it became clear that a new split-off was provoked by their peace-making actions! First and foremost because they did not consider the opinions of one of the main characters of this process – the FIDE world champion Ruslan Ponomariov from the Ukraine. What does the 19-year old king think about this himself?

Jaworski: Ruslan, let us have a small retrospective analysis. During our talk in May you said that the Prague summit had been attended by real professionals who were designing a correct formula for the world championship play. In September, however, you called their decisions incomprehensible. Now you already criticize them! Do you think that everything they did was detrimental?

Ponomariov: Certainly, not all. This is not the point. Initially, I declared my support to the unification of the world chess championship. Please, note that I declared this support immediately after I won the FIDE world championship. Moreover, I did it without any bargains! Therefore I backed the Prague summit ardently. Regrettably, I was not able to attend it myself, though I hoped that the International Chess Federation would back me as its champion. It would have been quite logical. But it turned out on the contrary. First, I found myself facing an information blockade – they did not inform me on the progress of negotiations and on the decisions taken. Later they made me have to face this situation: you have to play with Garry Kasparov in the semi-final of the unification championship on such and such terms.

Jaworski: What is it exactly that does not agree with you?

Ponomariov: There are a number of claims. By the way, my manager, Bulgarian Silvio Danailov, made them public at the recent FIDE Congress. They are as follows. I am not afraid of playing with Garry Kasparov, though some people try to make it look so. Still, I don't want Kasparov, the challenger for the world chess crown, to have more rights than me, the champion. Since I won this title with the FIDE time control (90 minutes per a game plus 30 seconds for each move), then it seems logical to defend this title on the basis of the same formula. There is yet another matter of principle. In previous World Championships, if the match ended in a draw, the champion retained the crown. Now, however, due to some reason this rule has been omitted in the regulations of my duel with Kasparov, while it exists and is valid in the parallel semi-final between Vladimir Kramnik, a Russian, and Peter Leko, a Hungarian. I believe this difference is not accidental.

Jaworski: You have mentioned Danailov. What is his role in your team? Kasparov called him a "dubious character".

Ponomariov: Silvio is in charge of all negotiations. The chess world considers him to be a serious and experienced manager. The unfair criticism on the part of Kasparov just proves once more that Garry Kasparov feels edgy and is anxious about Danailov.

Jaworski: Will the elite GM Veselin Topalov, who is Danailov's permanent advisee, assist you?

Ponomariov: Correct, he is in charge of the group of coaches that is preparing my match against Kasparov.

Jaworski: You had a chance to arrange a mini-rehearsal of this contest at the recent Olympiad in Bled. However, the Ukrainian team wasn't able to reach Russia, so you did not play with Kasparov.

Ponomariov: Surely, one extra game with Garry Kasparov would have done no harm for me. But it never happened. Anyhow, I'm happy with what experience I have.

Jaworski: What is your assessment of the 14th place that the Ukrainian team took at the Olympiad?

Ponomariov: We played unsuccessfully at the Olympiad. There are many reasons for this. I do not want to fence off the players, including myself. Still it is quite evident that the team selection system should be improved. This time it was based upon the ratings of the chess players but it turned out that such an approach is far from being optimum. Add here an absence of training sessions. For instance, we learned that one of our teammates, Valeriy Neverov, was not in the best form for the course of the tournament. If we had training sessions, we would have known it in advance and acted accordingly, and perhaps have made some changes.

The motivation of the players is still another important point. Some Ukrainian grandmasters are frequently in doubt – whether to play for the team or participate in the other tournaments where the fee is much higher. So far, thanks to patriotism, such matters are solved in favour of the team. However, how long will the chess players' patriotic enthusiasm last?


Anatoli Jaworski is a sports journalist for the Ukranian newspaper, Segodnya, and the press-attache of the Ukranian chess Federation. He lives in Kiev. Translation by the Chess Today team. The Russian language version of this interview has been published at the Chess Ukraine website and also in the December 2nd issue of the popular Ukrainian newspaper Segodnya. The Russian version was also published in the 27th issue of the Russian newspaper Chess Weekly. The English translation way by the Chess Today team and appeared at Ukrainian Chess Online.

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