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"I'm the only person who has the right to challenge Kasparov"

Alexei Shirov gives his views on the proposed match between Kasparov and Kramnik

Interview by Hartmut Metz, May 2000, translation by Harald Fietz (Figo)

more English chess articles by Hartmut Metz


Meko: Alexei Shirov

Alexei Shirov

Alexei, in 1998 you beat Kramnik in Cazorla with a score of 5.5:3.5 in what was called the challengers' final, held after Anand refused to participate. Can you comment on the proposed world championship between Kasparov and Kramnik?
They have no right to call it a world championship. Of course, nobody can prevent them from playing a private match, as Kasparov did against Timman in Prague in 1998.

Obviously you are not on good terms with the world's top 3. What's your view of Kasparov's behaviour?
He sets the rules and then breaks them. But in this particular case it looks as if he had already planned a match against Kramnik in 1997-1998. However, when I beat Kramnik, which Kasparov certainly had not expected, all their plans were wiped out. Kramnik later admitted in an interview with the Russian magazine 'Chess Review 64': ´I will play against Kasparov some day anyway'. It look as if this day is fast approaching.

How would you assess Anand's role?
He acted according to a rather cynical approach which from another angle may be called a practical principle: money talks. So far he has received 200,000 dollars without doing anything. I don't know what could possibly justify this sum.

And what is Kramnik's part in the process?
He surfs along on the same wave: money is morality. That was how he put it in a statement to the 'El Pais' journalist Leontxo Garcia. No, sorry, his exact answer was that 'to reject the London offer would be immoral chesswise'. To put it mildly, I would call this an ironical understatement.

To what extent does the whole affair affect your relationship with these three players - let's say compared to the situation in 1997? I'm aware that you are still on speaking terms with Anand, as was revealed at a party in Poland organised during the blitz competition in Warsaw in January this year.
I would not call this chat a real talk. I didn't mind Anand being invited to this party as I fully appreciate that the event was a great honour for the hosts. Let me put it another way: do you not think that it is wise to behave diplomatically at such an encounter?

Anand rejected Kasparov's second offer of a world championship match and demanded 300,000 dollars guarantee. Regarding the issue from your point of view, do you think this was a wise approach?
I also demanded and was given such a guarantee in the Cazorla contract. The only minor difference was that the parties who paid 200,000 dollars to Anand for cancellation of the match in 1999 are honest people, whereas Rentero does not fall into this category as he has the ability to make any copies of the contract disappear. I could of course sue Rentero but what would happen if I were tricked and lost the case? Would Anand have sued if he hadn't been paid? Nevertheless - in order to answer your question - he had the right to demand the 300,000 dollar guarantee.

Kasparov declared that you had your chance in 1998 as a one million dollar fight in California was on the agenda. Instead you preferred to look around for a match in Spain. Please, can you tell us one more time what happened after you beat Kramnik.
I have already told the story several times. From my point of view Kasparov's negotiations were not conducted in a professional manner. On the other hand, when I attempted to initiate a serious contract, his offer disappeared and Kasparov made me his scapegoat. In other words, he does nothing but lie about the whole issue and because of that I cannot tell you 'my story', as there is no story to tell!

Nevertheless - compared with you - Kramnik did see some money.
As far as I know, Kramnik received 75,000 dollars for the match in Cazorla. I was supposed to play Kasparov with a prize fund of 2,000,000 dollars. The agreement was that Kramnik would get 100,000 dollars. If the match did not take place (as in fact transpired) I was due to receive 200,000 dollars compensation. And Kramnik was eligible for the same financial compensation. As you quite definitely know, I have received nothing so far.

On the one hand Kasparov has expressed his opinion about Anand, Kramnik and yourself several times. I interpret this to mean that he has some respect for all of you. But on the other hand he has declared that Anand (with a 3-14 score) and yourself (with a 0-9 score) are too weak to challenge him in a match. He then added that such encounters would be too one-sided. He wants to avoid people thinking he is only selecting weaker opponents. What's your opinion on that? In Linares you played for a win in one game before you made this terrible blunder.
It's all a load of cobblers. Nobody would put forward this argument if Kasparov played against me because I'm the legitimate challenger. By the way, I have won all the face-to-face matches I have played since 1991. Apart from the Cazorla match, I rate my wins against Hracek (Ostrava 1998, 5-1) and Polgar (Prague 1999, 5,5-0,5) as impressive enough. I know how to prepare and to play matches and my chances against Kasparov are quite good. That's why he wants to avoid the meeting.

Do you think Kramnik, who has an equal score of wins against the no. 1 in the world rating list, has a realistic chance of beating Kasparov?
I'm absolutely certain that he will not win this match.

Braingames Network has offered a five year contract for three world championships. In the next cycle the 24 best players will be invited. Will you be among the participants?
Of course not. First of all, I should play my final match against Kasparov.

Do you think this financial support could lay a solid foundation for Kasparov's series?
It is not possible for there to be any stability. Remember what it was like before.

You also played in the Fide world championship. Can you assess the value of this event and Kasparov´s proposed cycle?
I have more respect for the Fide World Championship. If I had taken part in Kasparov's cycle I would have always considered this to be an alternative world championship. Right now I think that such a cycle is an event with no rules at all.

Let's change the subject. Will you play for Lübeck Bundesliga team next season?
I hope so. This season was a disaster both for me and for the team. If I am invited for next season I will really try to do my best.

At the top board you scored 50% of possible points, which is not too bad. However, people expect more from a player who used to net 80% points.
Not only the fans expect more. Together with my Dresden result two years ago this 50% was my worst result in the Bundesliga. Somehow I seem to have lost my killer instinct when I have to play at 9 A.M. on Sunday mornings. Nevertheless, I aim to change this in future. Maybe I need to get used to a different mental preparation. From a psychological point of view I'm in a difficult situation, because most grandmasters are perfectly satisfied if they draw against me. But I prefer to win. Sometimes I am a bit over-ambitious, as was the case in the game against Raj Tischbierek of the Dresden team, who opted for a draw-like variation and thus revealed his intentions.

This Bundesliga weekend was a special situation as you had travelled all the way from Linares where games finished on the Friday. Do you think that this affected your play?
No, I would not regard this as an excuse. On Saturday I was close to a win against Beljavski although I was really tired. On Sunday I should have had enough sleep to play a normal game against Tischbierek.

With a better performance by yourself, the Lübeck team - which was no. 3 in the averages rating list - would have finished in a better place than the bottom third of the table.
I was informed that they are planning to engage a further strong player. I would welcome this step as long as it is not Kramnik.

But you two were the most powerful duo in the league during your time in Berlin ...
One thing is for sure: I will never again play with him in the same team.

You are going to met Kasparov, Anand and Kramnik at the Frankfurt Chess Classic when you all take part in the Fujitsu Siemens Giants rapid chess tournament. Are you prepared to prove that you are of an equal standard?
Well, it's rapid chess, I am not planning any special preparation for it. Maybe I will be rather tired after a well-attended tournament in Merida (Mexico) which will finish right before this event. Generally speaking, I come to Frankfurt to have fun and make some money rather than fight for a tournament victory.

But in the Amber tournament in Monaco you won easily and quite convincingly ...
That's true. However, I would prefer a different time system to the one in Frankfurt. Something like the conditions we had in 1996, when I won the tournament, with 20 minutes plus 5 seconds for each move. Or 15 minutes plus 10 seconds is another possibility.

But the organiser Hans-Walter Schmitt created this 25 minutes for each game in order to have a rigid time schedule that suits the media in the first instance: it means that every hour new games start and a player has definitely finished after 50 minutes.
I fully accept his argument. But I'm used to focussing better on the game if a brief time extra is added after each move. I would argue that you have to pay more attention to the time factor if you only have 25 minutes, and this short period is gradually slipping away.

If you have to choose between beating Kasparov twice in the Giants or winning the tournament, which outcome would be more satisfactory for you?
Both are OK! 'Ojala' as we say in Spanish.

Let me ask you a final question: do you honestly think that there is a chance of preventing the match between Kasparov and Kramnik?
The match should definitely be stopped. But I am afraid I can't do anything about it. So we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

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