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Battle of the world champions in Mainz

Mayor Beutel manages to separate Frankfurt from Chess Classic

by Hartmut Metz, May 2001, translation by Harald Fietz (Figo)

more English chess articles by Hartmut Metz


Mainz Chess Classic: Viswanathan Anand
Mainz Chess Classic: Wladimir Kramnik

Viswanathan Anand

Wladimir Kramnik


   The Frankfurt Chess Classic is history! At its zenith the outstanding tournament died a sudden death. It was the only tournament in 150 years of chess history which brought together all top ten players. Nevertheless, chess fans who went on pilgrimage in large numbers to the world's most important rapid chess tournament do not need to go into mourning. The successor has already been agreed: the Chess Classic of Mainz (CCM). Organiser Hans-Walter Schmitt moved without more ado from the Hessian metropolis to the state capital of Rhineland-Palatinate. The Bad Soden resident gave his reason for moving 25 kilometres 'down the road': "Mainz has the only city mayor in Germany who will give his unconditional support to chess." Schmitt promises to set up another spectacular programme.

   Jens Beutel's enthusiasm was evident at last year's Chess Classic. The social democrat politician went into raptures over this Mecca of the brain game and announced that Mainz would start to built up an event like it. A former player in third league chess club SV Mombach, who due to work reasons has hardly any time to practise at his club, surely was further persuaded by his extraordinary success against Gary Kasparov: he was successful as one of only five draws in the simul with the world no. 1 from Russia! This draw after only 23 moves clearly infuriated Kasparov, because apart from this game he had not had a very tough time with his other 39 opponents.

   The same cannot be said of Schmitt. Although in Frankfurt he brought a well reputed tournament into being in seven years starting from scratch, each year municipal decision makers gave only lukewarm support. Within the last number of years the city sports department was scarcely helpful in the search for better and affordable venues. In addition, the main sponsor Fujitsu Siemens did not renew its three years commitment after the computer company parted with several former Siemens-Nixdorf top managers, including Schmitt. The chess organiser calls this 'castling' move to Mainz a real stroke of luck. "The Rheingoldhalle, the Hilton Hotel and the Congress Center at last provide everything in one spot. Although we are located on the banks of the Rhine, we are right in the city centre. This puts me in seventh heaven," admits the Chess Classic Mainz tournament president. Beutel also has no doubts that the event will be a success as he became actively involved in attracting new sponsors. The financial loss of half a million German marks due to Fujitsu Siemens' withdrawal could not be completely recouped in such a short time. However, thanks to the help of the new main sponsor, Landesbank Rheinland-Pfalz, the budget only shrank from 850,000 to approximately 500,000 German marks (including benefits in kind).

   Despite reduced funds Schmitt achieved another coup after last year's complete top ten. The debut in Mainz offers a battle of the world champions! "Each Chess Classic has to have its special flavour and has to stake its claim to a unique aspect," states a pleased Schmitt after his daring coup. Since Viswanathan Anand won the FIDE world championship and Vladimir Kramnik beat Kasparov, who had by then deserted FIDE, in the Braingames world championship, chess fans world-wide have been dreaming of a reunification match which had always been rejected by Kasparov. The Indian and the Russian do not deliberately keep out of one another's way, but since winning the world championships, games between the 'Tiger of Madras' and the virtually unbeatable Muscovite have become a rarity. Now it is paying off that Schmitt backed the right 'knights' in 1995 when he started to design a world class tournament with Anand and Kramnik. Both world champions could therefore hardly turn down his request to play a prestigious rapid chess match. In 1998 these top-class players had already faced one another in the final of the Chess Classic, after Kasparov and the then world no. 4, Vassily Ivanchuk, were demoted to fight it out for third place. In a dramatic showdown Anand won against Kramnik by 4:3 after extra games. This time last year's winner will surely have to try much harder to repeat his success in a ten game match in the Rheingoldhalle. How seriously both players take the battle of the world champions from 26 June to 1 July (the first of two daily rounds starts at 5.30 P.M. and at 3 P.M. on Sunday) was revealed in the haggling about time control. Last year the top ten had to accept 25 minutes per game, but this time Kramnik insisted on 10 extra seconds for each move. FIDE world champion Anand, who is sometimes known by the nickname of 'fast breeder', finally made this concession.

   If television is not coming to chess, chess is coming to television - as Anand did in the nationally shown Saturday evening sport studio programme in 1999. Mainz is the headquarters of ZDF, the second of Germany's two national TV channels. "First contacts have been established with ZDF and with Südwestrundfunk (regional broadcasting channel in the other consortium). Media coverage will certainly be at a higher level than before," opines an optimistic Beutel. Schmitt agrees: "Of course, I believe that ZDF will not ignore such a high-quality and memorable event. In addition, the local Rhineland-Palatinate branch of ARD, the other national TV channel, is very interested. The Indian media will be represented by three teams and print media will of course appear in large numbers."

   The CCM programme will also include other highlights between 23 June and 1 July. An eight game rapid chess match in Fischer Random Chess between Michael Adams (England) and Peter Leko (Hungary) will be another first. Right before the matches between the world champions, the world no. 4 and no. 6 will test this brainchild of former world champion Bobby Fischer, from 26 to 30 June at 3 P.M. In order to reduce the impact of 'out of hand' opening theory making, the American proposed new chess rules based on drawing lots for the pieces' starting positions. The supporting programme on the final day, Sunday 1 July at 1 P.M., will be supplemented by a match of man versus machine. Software by Hamburg-based market leader Chessbase will demonstrate its skills against Adams and Leko on a handheld computer.

   Amateur players have the chance to meet the world champions in their own duels if they participate in an Internet auction at www.chesstigers.de. 20 boards of each 40 boards simuls against Anand (Saturday, 23 June, 6.30 P.M.) and Kramnik (following day, 6.30 P.M.) are available for the highest bidder. The minimum bid is 100 German marks. To round off the first Chess Classic Mainz there is the eleven round Ordix Open (23 and 24 June) when a top-class field competes for prize money amounting to 45,000 German marks.

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