"A milestone for Fischer Random Chess"
Interview with Peter Leko about a unique match
by Hartmut Metz, May 2001, translation by Harald Fietz (Figo)
Not only was Peter Leko once at the age of 14 years the youngest grandmaster of all times, but he is also now firmly established as a member of the elite top ten circle. In January 2001, the 21-year old climbed to fifth place in the world rating list before he suffered a slight setback by declining two places in April. In Germany, it is not a German chess player who has the most support from sponsors, but Leko. This is also due to his excellent knowledge of the language. For years, the world class player from Szeged has been a regular participant at both top German tournaments, the Chess Classic and Dortmund. Between 26 and 29 June (start of rounds at 3 p.m.) Leko will face a special challenge in Mainz: he will play an eight games match with the no. 4 in the world rating list, Michael Adams, in Fischer Random Chess. On that occasion the initial position of pieces will be decided according to fixed rules by drawing lots at the beginning of each game. This prevents prepared theory variations being played through mechanically. Hartmut Metz talked to Peter Leko about this interesting experiment which for the first time will undertaken by two world-class grandmasters.
Metz: Your match with Michael Adams will be a historic event. There had been rumours going around that you have already played some games in private with the inventor of Fischer Random Chess, Bobby Fischer.
Peter Leko: Let me explain this in a few words. In the recent past I was good friends with Bobby during his time in Budapest. For me this was a fantastic experience, but I prefer to keep my memories to myself. Please ask Bobby if he has anything to say about me or about the issue itself. By the way, what kind of friendship would this be if I start to tell things behind his back that were not meant to be made public.
Metz: It is supposed that Bobby Fischer has left Hungary and now lives in Japan.
Leko: Yes, this may be true, but I have not been in contact with him for about a year. But he should have a good time there as he likes Japanese food.
Metz: What do you expect from your match with Michael Adams?
Leko: This will be a very exciting time. I think Mickey is the perfect player for Fischer Random Chess. I will face a task that requires the highest level of concentration and calculation skills.
Metz: This means you do not see yourself as favourite because of having already gained experience against Bobby Fischer? In addition your second Artur Yusupov played a Fischer Random Chess match against the Fritz on Primergy programme last year.
Leko: There is one secret in Random in order to play it at the highest level. This is natural talent! One should assume that the world's best players have some measure of this. In this respect it certainly should not sound arrogant to say that this is also the case with Adams and Leko. The result of the match between Mickey and myself is totally wide open as there is no point of reference in existence. Actually I do not have a great deal of experience. But this is all right as in any case one can not rely on this in Random. I have not discussed this with Artur as we have other priorities in our joint work. However, if Adams is correctly regarded as the stronger player in unfamiliar positions he should naturally win this match by a clear margin. Let's wait and see.
Metz: There is no opening theory. In tournament chess you are widely regarded as the better prepared player. Will your strength suffer to a certain degree more than that of Adams who more often relies on unorthodox variations?
Leko: It seems that you have read lots of articles on the Internet. If Leko's play and success are only characterised by novelties, please try to explain to the public how he achieved his grandmaster title at the age of 14, and at the time was already competing with super grandmasters who knew theory ten times better than a young boy. Another example is the traditional Janus chess tournament in Saarbrücken which I won four times in a row without losing a single game (note: Janus chess is played on a board with 10 x 10 squares and includes a 'tricky' piece, the 'Janus', as it is known, which moves like a combination of bishop and knight). In Random there is no theory and, in principle, no well-known patterns. I'm not so sure that this is a disadvantage for me. Of course I will also try to enjoy the competition. At the moment I'm very much looking forward to it. But in the final analysis it is a contest that each of us aims to win. From that point of view there is already some sort of pressure. After all the winner of the match may be described as 'world champion in Fischer Random'. So far there has never been a match at such a high level.
Metz: Do you believe that Fischer Random has a chance of becoming generally accepted? Or do you share the opinion of people like your second Yusupov who say that classic chess is complex enough?
Leko: I agree with them. There are so many things to discover in classic chess and there are still many problems - even at the highest level. Nevertheless I see a future for Fischer Random. Why not? Nobody knows who is the strongest player in random. In Mainz we will mark a first successful milestone. The chess world should thank Hans-Walter Schmitt for this innovation.
Metz: What result would you predict after eight games?
Leko: I expect from myself that I will do my best. I'm aiming to win.
Metz: On 30 June, the day after the match, you will meet a programme that runs on a hand-held computer. Due to the hardware "Pocket Fritz" should be weaker than its big brother "Fritz on Primergy". Last year you beat this high powered computer with an impressive 1.5:0.5.
Leko: You never know how strong these programmes are. One has to approach the game seriously otherwise it will not work. Of course last year's result would be all right from my point of view.
Metz: Your contacts with Germany are outstanding. German companies sponsor you, the German owner of the webpage www.chessgate.de is also placing his hopes on you. What are your future plans in the Internet?
Leko: I recently signed a several years' equipment contract. I refused various offers from chess companies and Internet firms, but Chessgate's concept convinced me. A number of participating German grandmasters ensure chess-related competency. I am setting up my own homepage at Chessgate. The guys have in mind to involve me in a lot of activities including some products. I think it is an excellent deal and everybody will be pleased with the outcomes. However, most importantly, the portal offers me the opportunity to stay in close contact with many chess fans.
Metz: During the Chess Classic in Mainz you are prepared to give fans detailed explanation.
Leko: That's right, I like to do this. After my games I will discuss and analyse play with the audience at the Chessgate stand. I already have some experience of this activity as I carried it out in conjunction with my sponsor RWE Gas in Dortmund. Some of my colleagues would not dream of doing it, but I enjoy getting into direct contact with chess enthusiasts. Besides, I believe that in this way I am paying my respects to the chess community. People come to see us play. One has to be grateful for that and to give something back, even in difficult situations.
Metz: The other highlight of the Chess Classic Mainz is the Battle of the World Champions. You always took part in the knockout competition organised by the world chess association FIDE. Here your friend Viswanathan Anand became world champion. Do you therefore regard him as 'the' world champion? Or is Vladimir Kramnik more entitled to claim the status after he dethroned Gary Kasparov?
Leko: I share the opinion of both these players: live and let live. Vishy is FIDE world champion and played super tournaments in Delhi and Teheran. Vladimir has broken the supremacy of the strongest player for the last 15 years. Taking into consideration tradition, it is logical that he too regards himself as world champion and feels like a champion. Therefore, we currently have two champions, Kasparov, who is as strong as an ox, and a few young grandmasters who also have great potential. This generates a lot of tension and interest. What is wrong with that? In boxing there are up to four world champions in each weight division. From time to time they challenge each other. These are the really big fights.
Metz: FIDE officials are less relaxed on this issue ...
Leko: What is missing in chess is respect by some officials for what the people involved want. Likewise some of the so-called decision-makers do not feel the need to involve the leading grandmasters in very important decisions. For instance, the new time control rules do not make any sense. Currently we have classic chess and rapid chess. Both disciplines could be more firmly established and be exploited commercially with the help of the world association. However, the new discipline can neither be classified as classic chess nor as rapid chess. It is a rival to the existing formats and damages them - without any good reason! It is obvious that this game is being determined by a lot of personal interests and by political issues. This has very little to do with the necessary degree of professionalisation in a top sport.
Metz: Is there some way to break out of these positions taken by opposing parties?
Leko: I'm confident that things can be settled in a sensible way. Octagon is a glimmer of hope. They understand that something can not be implemented without us, the players. However, millions of chess lovers will finally decide, even if this takes some time. It is the customers who make the market, not an organisation or a concept. In particular not if one is acting against the will of the majority. Media and sponsors will look to see what is of interest for spectators. That's the way things work - not vice versa. However, I would like to stress one thing: until I gain the impression that the views of the grandmasters are being treated seriously, I will not take any part in current debates.
Metz: Would you dare to make a prognosis for the prestigious battle between Anand and Kramnik?
Leko: It will be close. Maybe there will be no decision after ten games and the match will go into extra time after the 5:5.
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