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"Even a dickhead will do a better job than Ilyumzhinov"

Interview: Anatoly Karpov new FIDE president? "Kasparov became a victim of his own pitiful diplomacy"

by FM Hartmut Metz, translation by Eric van Reem, July 2005

more English chess texts by Hartmut Metz


   Anatoly Karpov is still able to fill headlines. The UNICEF ambassador is engaged in a project involving children who are suffering from iodine deficiency. He has more than 50 chess schools worldwide and he is also working for his own cause: Anatoly Karpov is one of the candidates to follow in the footsteps of the unpopular president of the world chess federation FIDE, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. The European Chess Union (ECU) is positioning the chess legend against the president of the Republic of Kalmykia. Although we hardly see the 54-year old ex-world champion at the board nowadays, Karpov still loves the game. On August 9 and 10 (starting at 16.00) Karpov will play in the Unzicker Gala, celebrating the 80th birthday of Wolfgang Unzicker in the Rheingoldhalle in Mainz. Not only the grandmaster from Munich will participate, Boris Spassky and Viktor Korchnoi will complete the field.


Chess simul with Karpov 2005


Is the best chess player ever still playing or did he step back from chess?

No, I am still playing.


Contrary to 42-year old Gary Kasparov, who retired from chess this year you are still playing. Only recently you won another tournament in the French town of Burdeos.

Correct: I won my 161st international tournament. In Burdeos I won the decisive game against the strong player Hichem Hamdouchi from Morocco. France seems to be a good spot for me to play. Last year I won my 160th tournament in France as well, in Aix-en-Provence to be precise.


So, you are still not tired of chess yet and you do not seek new goals in life like Kasparov obviously tries to? Are you going to play as long as you arch rival Viktor Korchnoi, who is still playing, although he is 74 years old?

I still love to play chess. So I do not even spend a minute on the possibility to step back.


What do you think about Kasparov’s sudden decision to stop playing tournament chess?

I guess, that his own political stratagems with Kirsan Ilyumzhinov exhausted him. He changed his point of view at least three times. At a certain point he was a good friend of the FIDE president, a short time later he was his fiercest enemy, but a month later they were on good terms again. Kasparov even travelled to Kalmykia to negotiate about his last chance to play in the world championship cycle, but Ilyumzhinov cheated on him once more and after that they were enemies again. In the end he knocked himself out and became a victim of his own pitiful diplomacy. After that, Kasparov stepped back from chess which is, and I want this to be clear, not good for chess in general at all. As a whole, the current situation in the chess world leaves a lot to be desired.


To change this situation, you are supposed to take over the FIDE presidency. The European Chess Union wants you to become a candidate for the job.

Of course, even a dickhead would do a better job than Ilyumzhinov. The situation can not become worse anymore, so it would be rather easy to improve in the beginning. The chaos in the chess world is caused by these "leaders" who are unable to do their job properly. The priority must be the unification of the world titles to straighten things out. But we should not wait that long anymore to change the situation, because we are running out of time.


If the ECU were to speak with one voice, you would have 53 votes and federations behind you. That would be a powerful alliance that should be enough to get rid of Ilyumzhinov, don’t you think?

No, no, it is obvious that the ECU should act as a close alliance for the benefit of chess. At the moment it is more than clear for everybody that Ilyumzhinov must go as soon as possible. But not only he should pack his bags, also the rest of his gang, who are plundering FIDE. The problem is that you never can tell if these FIDE officials are telling the truth or are lying in your face again. Of course, the latter is mostly the case. It is far more difficult to catch them telling the truth (smiles).


In case of a victory you would follow in the footsteps of the Dutchman Max Euwe. He was world chess champion and FIDE president.

Let us not discuss this. One thing, however, is very clear: we need a new FIDE president and a new FIDE team. It is absurd to have people like Zurab Azmaiparashvili in the team, who is attacking policemen like a madman, or the convicted Indian Ummer Koya. And what about the arrested Romanian Crisan? A nice bunch of people, don’t you think? It is no surprise that chess has a bad image nowadays. We have to change it and we should not forget that chess also has something positive to offer. I am thinking about chess in schools in particular. In the USA more than 3200 children competed in an event. In Kansas I have a chess school. Children can take lessons in that school via the Internet and can score extra points like e.g. in Geography or History. That sounds very promising and is a fantastic basis for future steps.


How many Karpov chess schools can we find worldwide nowadays?

That is not an easy question to answer. I have to admit that I do not know exactly how many schools I run. Last year I opened a few new schools. In Lithuania alone I opened no less than three schools. I have 25 schools in Russia at the moment. I think that you can find schools in more than 20 countries worldwide. More than 50 schools, I would say.


Chess simul with Karpov 2005

After the Chess simul in Baden-Baden


The Karpov Chess Centre here in Baden-Baden was one of your first projects in that field.

Yes, next year we will celebrate its 10th anniversary. Only in Russia I started earlier with my schools. Baden-Baden meant a breakthrough in the globalization of the project. At first nobody could imagine that it would make sense to make chess an integral part of the education, but fortunately that point of view has changed.


You do also support UNICEF as an ambassador.

In particular, I am busy fighting iodine deficiency with children. As a result they stay behind in their development, which often occurs in many of the 29 Eastern European countries I am working for as UNICEF ambassador. Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of the countries constituted a law to improve the situation for these children. According to the latest statistics these countries do not only slowly gain up on the standards in Western Europe, but have overtaken them. Bulgaria is the first state that has been awarded for its excellent fight against iodine deficiency by UNICEF. Next year we should have reached all our goals, so than I have to find another challenge. I like to do projects in which you can see statistical results. I am very happy for all these small children, who have been the biggest group of victims of iodine deficiency.


Let’s go back to Baden-Baden: Have you ever thought about playing here in the Bundesliga for the local chess club, OSC Baden-Baden? Some chess superstars are playing here.

It is not attractive for me to play here. I do not like the Bundesliga system with two games in one weekend – in particular playing on an early Sunday morning! You spend more time travelling than sitting at the board and actually play. No, I do not want to sacrifice four days for two games. My time is too valuable to do that.


Who is the real word champion at the moment?

Now you are asking me a really difficult question (smiles). I don’t know. Ok, Kasimdzhanov won this tournament, this KO tourney. I do not want to devalue him of course, but he is not the real world champion. I want to give you an example to show you the value of a world champion nowadays: Alexander Khalifman received a few invitations after he became world champion and he played in Linares. After the tournament he gave interviews in which he said that he was happy not to have landed on the last place! You see, it is obvious that the title you win in a KO event is not attractive, which is exactly what Ilyumzhinov wanted! In the beginning he had some good and clear goals. But when he found out that the world championship title and the names of Karpov and Kasparov were far more interesting than the name of the president of FIDE, he decided to devaluate the title, because he could not deal with the fact that others are more popular. Well, he succeeded, but unfortunately he destroyed chess as well. Maybe he is happy now, but many others are not so happy about the situation. We need strong personalities and only one world champion to attract sponsors.


So, for you as FIDE president, a unification of the world title would be the first point on your agenda?

Exactly. I am convinced that Kasimdzhanov would never have become world champion if he had played more than eight or more games per round. In Tripoli he showed some good nerves, but that is not enough to deserve the title. First of all, we have to go back to the classical time control. It is not a good thing however to play marathon matches like the ones I played against Korchnoi or Kasparov. Besides, classical chess should not be mixed with rapid chess or even blitz. If we had played like this in the past, Mikhail Botvinnik or Boris Spassky would have never become world champions.


In the past, people knew the name of the world champion. Nowadays, everybody is exchangeable.

You are right. People knew about 110 years of chess history. Nowadays, nobody is able to tell you the name of the world champion of 2000.


In August you will play the Unzicker Gala in the Chess Classic Mainz tournament. Can you share a few memories you have when you think of Wolfgang Unzicker?

Oh yes, I have known Wolfgang for a very long time, despite the fact that he is from another generation. The first time we played was in Hastings, in the early seventies. In 1974 we met in Nice, during the Chess Olympiad. Unzicker was one of the best chess players in the world so everybody needs to know who he is. Even very young masters should analyse his games. I was really surprised when I heard that he is already 80 years old!


All the world champions came from Russia, except Bobby Fischer. In theory they were called amateurs by the Russian government, but would you regard Unzicker as an amateur world champion, because he worked as a judge?

That is possible, for a certain period he was one of the strongest amateurs, no doubt about it. It is difficult however to make comparisons. The Icelandic grandmaster Fridrik Olafsson, who worked as a lawyer, was as strong as Unzicker, but he is from another generation.


What do you think about the battle with the senior giants in Mainz with Unzicker, Spassky and Korchnoi? You are at 54 the youngest player in this group!

I like the tournament. I haven’t played Spassky and Korchnoi for a while. And the last encounter with Wolfgang was played 25 years ago in Bad Kissingen.


So you could say that only Bobby Fischer is missing in this exquisite field.

I hope that he is safe in Iceland now. I am very happy that this story in Japan has ended peacefully for him. This whole fuss did not only damage Fischer’s image, but that of the USA as well. The way the Americans treated one of their most popular citizens did not make a positive impression worldwide.


You were even a bit disappointed, when main organiser Hans-Walter Schmitt informed you that you have to play normal chess instead of Chess960. Maybe a match against Fischer is still possible, if you play Chess960, the chess variant Fischer himself invented?

I would love to play Chess960 with Fischer. It is not necessary to spend ages preparing some opening variations, because there is just no theory. It is important to be in good shape and to have a clear mind. Than you can play a match with Fischer and you can even beat him. I doubt however that we will ever play a match. It will only be possible if Fischer desperately needs the money.


Viktor Korchnoi will be very motivated to play against you. It seems that he is still eager to beat you, despite the fact that he is 74 years old. How is your relationship with him nowadays?

It depends on whether he has slept well. If he had bad dreams, he speaks a lot of rubbish.


I assume that you want to win your 162nd tournament in Mainz. Or is it possible that we will see a kind and not such an ambitious Anatoly Karpov, especially in the games against Unzicker, the person who is celebrating his birthday?

This tournament is all about Wolfgang, it is not important if I win another tourney! It will be a great gift for the fans to be able to watch grandmasters, great grandmasters from different generations and to see exciting games.

to the English Meko