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Frankfurt puts everything which has gone before in the shade

All the top ten players are down to participate in the Chess Classic / Kasparov up for auction / The Pope will not play against Bobby Fischer / An interview with Hans-Walter Schmitt

by Hartmut Metz, April 2000, translation by Harald Fietz (Figo)

more English chess articles by Hartmut Metz


Meko: Hans-Walter Schmitt

Hans-Walter Schmitt


   Mr. Schmitt, the chess world began to fear that another renowned tournament might disappear from the calendar. Rumours - even top players' fears - are spreading that a profitable tournament might be lost from the calendar: why have plans for the Frankfurt Chess Classic been put together at so late a date?

There is a well-known saying: Rome wasn't built in a day! Designing the year 2000 tournament proved to be very tricky and demanding, as I had to reconcile the interests of players and of the main sponsors: on the one hand the interest of the 'Fritz on Primergy' devotees and on the other hand participants in the Fujitsu Siemens Giants tournament. In particular Garry Kasparov, the best chess player of all times, had his own views and ideas. Besides, the organiser wished to retain his own tried and tested system of qualification: everybody has a chance to qualify from the Open; the Open winner advances to the Masters, and the Masters winner competes with the world's best players in the Giants.

You have often chosen to call the Frankfurt competition the world rapid chess championship.

Yes, what else do all these people do in Frankfurt every year? Since 1998 the best rapid chess players decide who is to receive the black jacket [comparable to the tradition in golf, the winner in our tournament is awarded a winner's jacket]. Does the winner not deserve to be called the rapid chess world champion of the free and non-affiliated chess world? I don't care about FIDE, PCA or WCC; in Frankfurt all the best should play: in 1998 Kasparov, Anand, Kramnik and Ivanchuk represented number 1 to 4 in the world ranking list. We had the best rapid chess tournament of all times with a rating average of 2,781 which is equal to category 22. Last year FIDE world champion Anatoly Karpov instead of Ivanchuk guaranteed much more media interest. The spectators, the media, the organiser and the players themselves want to know who is the best. That's exactly why they take up the challenge in Frankfurt, in order to obtain the black jacket.

How is the Fujitsu Siemens Giants 2000 put together?

We have signed contracts with number 1 to 6 in the current world rating list which comprises a category 21 tournament with a Elo average of 2,767. Kasparov, Anand, Kramnik, Shirov, Morozevich and Leko will be the human participants. Fritz on Primergy will challenge the human giants in individual matches. After 1998 the spectators will once again have an opportunity to see the world-wide strongest possible rapid chess tournament. However, this time six instead of four players will play a double round robin in order to find the winner of the Fujitsu Siemens Giants. My challenging motto for the Chess Classic 2000 was: engage the complete top ten.

Two features are surprising: Kasparov is back again although you both had a bitter disagreement last year.

Self-discipline, courage and staying-power are fundamental qualities in achieving enduring great success. Nobody can deny that Kasparov and I certainly possess these qualities. As people borne under the sign of Aries the Ram sometimes screw up their courage in a public debate this only demonstrates their readiness to use impatience and unwillingness to compromise in order to achieve their own defined goals. After the end of last year's tournament I personally accompanied Kasparov to the airport. On this occasion he bubbled over with ideas and how to implement them. In many cases he is absolutely right and acts in a very constructive manner, in other cases he exaggerates greatly. This was not very polite vis-à-vis the organisers; maybe it was not very professional behaviour by both of us, but it does not matter as we are on our way to new heights. You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs. However, that does not mean that we cannot argue for our beloved game of chess. Mafia-like methods in FIDE practised by Ilyumzhinov and Tarasov require without any apology a firm stance by the forces of a free market economy.

But has Kasparov not always said that under no condition will he play against a chess computer programme in Frankfurt? However, you declared that Fritz on Primergy - as winner of the Frankfurt-West Masters in 1999 - wins the right to met the very best players.

In principle Kasparov has not refused to play against Fritz on Primergy. However, I understand his vital financial interests as he does not want to play against a chess programme on a commercial computer, like the 8-way Primergy, in the first half of 2000. Instead of computer games we agreed he will give a simul at 40 boards. This will be an absolute highlight. As the participants of last year's Giants tournament have insisted that they do not wish to play against human players on the same day as which they are required to meet the computer, we fulfilled this in our new tournament schedule. My deepest thanks go to our friend Vishy Anand who in the last few years greatly contributed to the satisfaction of Fujitsu Siemens as the main sponsor when he played against the computer. This time we have treated the issue in a flexible manner and integrated mini-matches with two games between humans and computer into the Giants' playing schedule. Unfortunately we will have to forego Garry's computer games, but maybe his ambition will get the better of him.

What are the reasons behind Kasparov's refusal: there were rumours about a one million match against a computer - or is it only fear of losing face?

Currently Garry Kasparov is the only player who has the ability to be part of a million prize match. The understandable task of his manager Owen Williams is to take care to optimise Kasparov's economic interests. However, the handling and outcome of the failed world championship match between Anand and Kasparov with a three million dollar prize fund was not very impressive although professional organisers like Serge Grimaux and Bessel Kok were involved. I do not wish anybody to come up now with an idea to hold a world championship match between the current number 1 and 2, to match Kasparov versus Kramnik, as this world championship would be nothing but a complete farce in classical chess. As in Frankfurt, qualification criteria should be absolutely crystal clear in order to show sponsors who is the world champion.

According to usual terminology in Kasparov's contracts you have to say that Garry Kasparov is the world champion. Who do you think is the world champion?

My personal view is not so important, it is the perception of the general public that matters, namely the sponsors and all those who are interested in chess although they do not play. I can describe this lack of clarity by giving you some statements that are often made to me by others:

World-best player: Garry Kasparov

World champion in classical chess: Garry Kasparov

World champion in rapid chess: Garry Kasparov

World champion in blitz chess: Viswanathan Anand

World champion of FIDE: Anatoly Karpov

World champion from the Las Vegas event: Alexander Chalifman, who won a strange mixture of classical, rapid and blitz chess.

In my opinion Garry Kasparov has been the unbeaten chess world champion since 1985 and remains in this position unless he retires or is beaten in a world championship match! The disastrous management of FIDE world championships under presidents Campomanes and Ilyumzhinov led to the format in Groningen/Lausanne and Las Vegas 1999. These tournaments changed the image of the game, and outcomes differed from traditional world championships. Six million dollars for two years or three million per year for a world championship where the best players are not competing is unreasonable from a market economy point of view and, in consequence, no sponsors can be found for Olympiads or a traditional world championship. FIDE did not succeed in setting up attractive rapid chess or blitz chess tournaments as other types of chess competitions with an economically efficient world championship. Patronage à la Ilyumzhinov - no thanks! Similarly I regard the road that Tarasov walks as a suspicious route. I think that sponsoring like Kasparov's partnership with Intel is the only successful way to survive in a modern funding world. However, Kasparov failed to grasp the opportunity to share responsibilities for different activities. A world champion cannot play and organise at the same time. All organisers of super tournaments, who are ignored by FIDE, but who are excellent fund-raisers and have established great traditions as in Linares, Wijk aan Zee, Dortmund or Frankfurt, should build an alliance with the world class players in order to prepare a professional market for chess activities. It is high time that a world-wide association with a professional management is set up. FIDE with its current organisation and activities has lost all right to act as a sole world-wide representative of chess!

Here we have to refer to the second striking feature in the Fujitsu Siemens Giants. In contrast to 1999, FIDE world champion Alexander Chalifman has not been invited, as was his predecessor Karpov. In Linares he was one of six participants.

Without any doubt Chalifman celebrated a respectable success with 4.5/10 and a shared third place. He certainly does not play any worse than other players, but his world ranking place is only 31. This is not meant to belittle his impressive performance in Las Vegas. After he lost against Leko 1.5:4.5 in January, there was no longer an appealing feature as we already had brought together implacable opponents at a rapid chess event last year when Karpov came to the Siemens Giants. This time the challenge was to bring all top ten players to Frankfurt. When did the world's top ten chess players play in one place before today?

That is why you exchanged Morozevich for Chalifman.

I regard Alexander Morozevich as a stimulating element in order to stop the flood of draws like in Linares where more than 70% of games had no winner! The dynamics of rapid chess will also lead to fewer draws and Frankfurt will again offer exciting and hard-fought chess fights. In particular Morozevich and Shirov will guarantee this due to their entertaining style. We do not expect that all games between Leko, Anand and Kramnik will be drawn as is often the case in classical chess. Linares certainly provided high quality for chess addicts who prefer a scientific approach and high standard of chess art. Nevertheless I would like to be a bit critical: there was no clear winner and all the other players shared third place - or did they end up at the bottom of the winning ranks? I believe that even with live coverage on the Internet, presentation of the highest level in the chess world does not achieve maximum effects in extending the market in chess interest. The world-best players are content as there are no winners and no losers, but the ordinary chess fan, the sponsors and the organisers see this in a different light.

You mentioned that all the top ten players are due to come to Frankfurt. This means that Michael Adams, Vassily Ivanchuk, Evgeny Bareev and Veselin Topalov will play in the Masters?

That's right. If someone has to withdrew from the Giants due to health or personal reasons we will have a substitute on the spot. The Masters would be filled up with the runner-up in the Ordix Open 2000. With Adams, Ivanchuk, Bareev and Topalov in the Masters we can rightly claim to have the world-best rapid chess tournament plus a world championship qualification system. At the FIDE world championship in Las Vegas, three of the top ten players were absent, in Wijk aan Zee four and in Linares five of them were missing. We are extremely happy with our composition. Personally I'm pleased that for the first time Vassily Ivanchuk will give a simul at 40 boards in Germany. This will be a delicacy for all chess addicts.

Your Masters event usually is designed in very sophisticated style; most other organisers would be delighted to have the second Frankfurt event as their main attraction. Who else is due to play? As winner of last year's Ordix Open Loek van Wely must get promotion.

Loek van Wely has been invited as the winner of the Ordix Open 1999, the winner of the Ordix Open 2000, which will be held on the weekend before, will also join the Masters. In addition, Germany's No.1, Artur Yusupov, and Robert Rabiega will complete the field.

Rabiega's invitation came as no surprise to insiders. He won the German rapid chess title when the tournament was organised by your Frankfurt-West chess club as part of the club's seventy-fifth jubilee celebration.

As organisers we announced this extra bonus before the German rapid chess championship started. Rabiega has succeeded in leaving grandmasters such as Kindermann, Lobron, Gutman and Hecht behind him.

Does Rabiega's selection mean turning away from the mad rush for high categories, at least for the Masters?

We like to hold events with a motto. In 1999 the theme was Young players U-28 and the computer, the year before it was Robert Hübner and his opponents from world championship candidate matches. This year we will be focussing on the world rating list and the qualified players as we do not want to neglect our qualification system. However, the atmosphere of a rapid chess world championship should be in the air.

What is the schedule for the Masters?

The Masters will be played as a double round robin over four days starting at 2.30 P.M. The warm-up will be a computer game starting at 1.30 P.M. During the evenings the Fujitsu Siemens Giants will take place. We will start on Thursday 22 June, which is a public holiday in Germany, and finish on Sunday 25 June with the winners' party.

Last year's Ordix Open attracted a gigantic number of more than 400 participants, a quarter of whom had a title. Do you think you can take another step up in numbers?

This will be the seventh Ordix Open which is the heart of the Frankfurt Chess Classic. From 183 participants in 1994 we increased slowly to 432 players in 1999. The attractiveness of the prize fund plays a crucial role. The split into top, rating and special prizes has proved to be correct. You will not very often find a prize fund of 43,000 DM (including 7,500 DM for the winner). Extending to three days and 15 rounds will help find the best competitive differentiation at the top and guarantee a weekend of pure chess activities. Besides their own games participants will have the chance to follow the computer matches by the players in the Giants. We attach even more attention to this year's Ordix Open as we believe this underlines our alignment towards club chess for everybody.

It seems as if the Ordix Open will be a delicious sweetmeat for chess fans. Do you have other goodies in your pocket? You have already mentioned the simuls.

The top ten in Frankfurt is the super cream flan, the matches of the giant players against Fritz on Primergy are the chocolates, and our simuls with Kasparov and Ivanchuk are the champagne truffles. However, the 'Grappa with Cappuccino' is the Fischer Random Chess contest. For the simuls 50% of boards will be offered via a completely fair auction system. On our homepage (www.frankfurt-west.de) we will register requests and bids from 3 April onwards. As in the stock market, underwriting for a new share issue (comparable to the recent launch of Infineon or the forthcoming T-online entry) is possible and we will register the points for each place. On 17 April the minimum price will be fixed and trading will start. On 31 May the right to play will be finally awarded.

This sounds very interesting. From the perspective of Schmitt, the Siemens manager, what will the price of the new Kasparov and Ivanchuk issue ?

That's a very difficult question, but I would estimate an initial offer price of 200 DM up to 400 DM for the Kasparov share. In Ivanchuk's case I guess it will be between 50 and 100 DM.

And what about the Fischer-Random-Chess contest?

Artur Jusupov and the Fritz on Primergy will face each other on 23 and 25 June at 1.30 P.M. The Fischer-Random-Chess match will be played according to rapid chess rules, and only the order of pieces at the back rank will be determined by drawing lots. It is a reminiscence and an obeisance to the great chess world champion Bobby Fischer. His innovative idea of time measurement is now regularly used at FIDE events, but up to now his principle of randomly placing pieces has been persistently ignored.

With respect to the large range of interesting competitions, has the organiser still any unfulfilled wishes?

What questions you ask! I can definitely promise you that we will never ever organise a match between Bobby Fischer and the Pope!

That's a pity. But what will there be then?

The Frankfurt Chess Classic was and will always be an innovative tournament. We will come up with some surprises every year and we would like to continue this logical development.

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