"Ridiculous haggling around the World Championship"
Viswanathan Anand regards himself as the strongest chess player in the world; Alexei Shirov a dangerous opponent at the Chess Classic Mainz
by FM Hartmut Metz, (translation by Mark Vogelgesang), August 2004
Viswanathan Anand is the chess king of Mainz. The Indian has won the Chess Classic four times in a row. From August 5 to 8, Anand, the most successful grandmaster of the last two years and winner of Dortmund last Sunday, will play against world number 10 Alexei Shirov (Spain). Games will start at 6:30 and 8:00 PM each day. The "Tiger from Madras" shows a healthy amount of respect for his opponent, the inventive "Sorcerer from Riga". Anand spoke with Hartmut Metz about the upcoming match in Mainz, the haggling surrounding the Chess World Championship and about his position in the world of chess.
Mr. Anand, how does one feel as the strongest chess player in the world, as suggested by a lot of other Grandmasters?
Anand: It is of course a nice feeling, especially since I was also awarded the Chess Oscar as the best chess player. It seems that people realise that my results over the last two years were pretty good.
In Dortmund you won the final against World Champion Wladimir Kramnik.
Anand: Finally I won the tournament alone. The system favours me, I think, especially when we play rapid and blitz after two games.
What is currently the difference between yourself and Garry Kasparov, who is still leading in the official rating list?
Anand: Kasparov is one of the all time greats of chess history. During the last two years, however, he has rarely played. He benefits from the fact that the Elo-system, as opposed to other rating systems, does not reflect this fact. It is sufficient to participate in one or two tournaments to stay ahead. Of course, he is a great player, nobody denies that, but in the last two years, my results have been (suppressed laughter) - I play more frequently (unsuppressed laughter).
Does that mean you think you are stronger than him?
Anand: Not only in comparison to him. My performance over the last two years has been very good. I'm happy that people realize that.
Even though you were considered the favourite, you refused to play in Libya, trying to become World Champion for the second time.
Anand: I do not agree with the process. I do not need to qualify for a World Championship Match against anybody - including a World Championship final against Kasparov, which Rustam Kasimdzhanov will play now. That is why I decided not to participate.
Most other top-ten players took the same position. Was there an agreement to boycott the World Championship organized by FIDE?
Anand: We did not discuss this and agreed on something like "if you don't participate, I won't participate either" and so on. It is funny, but we all reached the same conclusion independently. To be honest, the reasons behind refusals to play differ from player to player. There are three main reasons, even though the order of these may vary: some do not like the venue Tripoli, some have a problem with the contract that was presented to them and others, like the US citizens and the Israelis may not enter Libya. In my opinion, this has caused too many refusals to call this a genuine World Championship. 15 to 20 players stayed away from Libya.
Now world's no 54 will play Kasparov. Some experts think he will pluck Kasimdzhanov like a chicken.
Anand: I don't like to comment it.
Do you see the new union for chess players ACP as taking the right path? Are you already a member?
Anand: I am already a member of ACP. But it is too early to judge the work of ACP. It remains to be seen to what extend the players' union will be able to organize tournaments and work together with tournament organizers. Results in this area will show whether the ACP is an alternative to FIDE.
How do you judge Kasparov's behaviour?
Anand: I think that the evaluation of the World Championship in Libya has nothing to do with him. Most people have problems with FIDE. Would FIDE offer me to play in the final, I would probably accept just as he did.
But isn't Kasparov's behaviour strange? First, in 1993, he splits of the World Championship away from FIDE, then, for ten years, he attacks FIDE's president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and calls him a gangster - and finally, he does business with him and accepts to be seeded into the final.
Anand: No question that is strong stuff. First, he was part of the grandmaster organization GMA, then of the professional chess association PCA, and now he returns to the bosom of FIDE. But some people are quite flexible ...
Very flexible ...
Anand (amused): That's right, but there are a few more people of this kind. Let's see how flexible he will be in Russian politics.
Would it be good for chess if Kasparov disappeared into politics? Recently, he was once more involved in the founding of a political party.
Anand: I am curious to see whether he will stay in this one or switch to another party.
What do you think about the suggestion of former FIDE world champion Ruslan Ponomariov to organize a tournament that includes you, Kasparov, the new FIDE World Champion from Libya, Rustam Kasimdzhanov, the second World Champion Vladimir Kramnik and his challenger Peter Leko?
Anand: In light of the fact that the reunification process is as good as dead, this seems to be a good idea. I am certain that all parties would consider this, including FIDE. But I am not certain that it will be possible to get all six players to participate. Kramnik and Leko want to play their match first, and Kasimdzhanov as the World Champion from Libya will have his own plans But in principle, it would be great if somebody were able to organize this World Championship.
Is such a tournament the only way out of the reunification dilemma?
Anand: I don't know how this is going to end. Even if there will be a match Kasparov vs Kasimdzhanov, there needs to be a further match. But so far, only Kramnik vs. Leko happens for sure. I don't focus on these discussions, but on my tournaments: I prefer realities over dreams. I don't build castles in the air.
Does that mean you ignore the entire mess?
Anand: I don't think you can put it that way. I would like another chance to become World Champion. But all this is so ridiculous ...
But you were nevertheless following the games very closely over the internet. As one of the favourites to win the title, aren't you a little bit sad to miss this chance to win the title for a second time?
Anand: no, I feel fine just the same. But of course, I find it exciting to follow interesting games of a strong tournament.
In case of the successful reunification of the World Championship title, do you think chess could attract more sponsors? Many companies use images based on chess in their advertising, but in Europe, as opposed to your home country India, there are only a few quality sponsors left.
Anand: certainly. A unified World Champion would be proof to the sponsors that we again have a reasonable chess organization. A sponsor looking at chess closely will find multiple world champions and chaos. That is why a unified World Champion would help to find sponsors - but I do not have a miracle cure for the current mess. We simply need a World Champion who is recognized by everybody as the World Champion. Right now, this one and then that one claims to be the true World Champion - and this problem has not been resolved by the agreements that were signed in Prague.
In this year's Chess Classic in Mainz, from August 5 to 8, you will face Alexei Shirov. Since you have been regarded, for more than five years, as the world's strongest rapid chess player, you will certainly win this top event for the fifth time in a row.
Anand: it will certainly be an interesting match. When winning the tournament in Sarajevo with the score of 7.5:1.5, Alexei was really shining. That makes it clear that the fight against such a player can only be tough. He is back in shape and in excellent form.
Can you explain his frequent ups and downs?
Anand: it is clearly a result of his style of play. When in good form, Alexei will steamroller everybody. When in bad form, he has enormous problems.
What is different about playing Alexei, different compared to playing another grandmaster?
Anand: What I find remarkable is Shirov's highly creative style of play. He is always trying to do something, trying to find new paths that no one dared to use before. He likes to gamble in these unusual positions. You can never tell whether what Alexei plays is strong or weak - if it works, then it is considered a stroke of genius (laughs) and if it doesn't, then it is not. But that is his personality.
Do you gamble better than Shirov? At your victory in the World Championship match against him three years ago, you won the final 3.5:0.5; almost handing out the maximum penalty.
Anand: since then, my results against him have been positive. But he is a top ten player and you simply cannot ignore him. In Mainz, yesterday's triumphs mean nothing. The eight game match starts with a score of 0:0.
Both of you play for the German vice champion SC Baden-Oos, occupying board one and two. Does it make a difference for you as a professional player to play against a team mate, considering all the appearances that grandmasters make in the different national leagues?
Anand: It is somewhat confusing when you play against somebody on day one, who is your team mate the next day. As happened to me with Vallejo Pons and Peter Svidler, who were our opponents in France, but our team mates in Baden-Oos on the very next day. But Alexei and I are on the same team in Cannes and in Baden-Oos. But I play in fewer teams compared to the other boys, who also play in the European team championship. But in the end, it does not really matter much, since we are always opponents in tournaments, which are much more common than team play.
What do you think about Chess960, which is being promoted in Mainz by your friend Hans-Walter Schmitt?
Anand: We still do not know how Chess960 will develop. After the super-tournament in Linares, Vladimir Kramnik did not mention Chess960 directly, but emphasized how difficult it is to achieve a strong position on the chess board, because everybody is so well prepared in the opening. If you take this statement as the starting point, then playing Chess960 seems to be of interest. At the moment, it is not researched deeply enough. In my opinion, not all 960 starting positions are interesting. I follow developments in Mainz anyhow. The biggest problem is in my opinion the fact that the Super-Grandmasters have built an opening knowledge over many years which constitutes their capital. And they don't want to part with their biggest treasure, since it is the understanding of certain openings, positions and also a fine sense of danger which makes the difference at the highest level. And since this advantage is lost in Chess960, and there is the fear to look stupid, this means that there will probably not be attractive Chess960 in the next few years. Play tends to be too cautious - but let's wait and see what will happen in Chess960 in Mainz.
Aren't you trying especially hard in the main event to defend your title - only so that you don't slip into the Chess960 category? In which the chief organizer Schmitt would certainly put you as the challenger for the World Championship, in case somebody else were to win the main event and replace you as the title holder there.
Anand: no, he would not do that.
Yes, he would!
Anand: Okay, then, just to be on the safe side, I will make sure that I win the Chess Classic for the seventh time.
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