Strange and disturbing things are happening in chess

Interview with GM Gata Kamsky

by Antoni Jordanov, Trud Daily

Q: How do you feel about coming to Sofia?

It’s a great feeling to be back in such a beautiful city. I’m looking forward to some exciting chess games ahead.

Q: You are participating in big tournaments for a third year in a row. Has M-Tel Masters already become one of the leading tournaments on the planet?

Actually, this is going to be my 2nd time in Sofia, but I believe that M-Tel Masters are becoming a strong tradition with very high standard of organization and level of play. Definitely, it is one of the top tournaments in the world today along with such tournaments as Dortmund and Wijk aan Zee.

Q: Anand, Topalov, Kramnik – what is your personal ranking of the strongest players in the present moment?

I believe that these three players are really close to each other in terms of chess strength and abilities. It would be interesting to see a sort of a match tournament between them.

Q: 11 years ago like a US citizen you, just like Topalov, played against a Russian player – Anatoli Karpov. Did you feel a “special treatment” or provocations?

This is a tough question because after Sofia I’m going to Elista to take part in the Candidates matches and I don’t want to provoke some politics that will hinder my ability to play chess there, but yes, there were a lot of issues involved during my match against Karpov, but perhaps the absolutely best person to ask about it would be my father.

Q: Which side were you at in the “toilet war”?

I did not take any side because I believe that the match for the world championship is not just a battle of wills on the chess board but also includes a lot of politics and accusations from both sides. In my personal opinion, there were some legitimate concerns raised, given the fact that the match was staged in the country of one of the players, but apart from the players and their seconds, who knows best what really happened, I can’t really make any comment.

Q: In your opinion, how did this scandal affected chess? Did it increase the interest for the ancient game?

Well, it was curious to watch the reaction of the world’s newspapers and their headlines on front pages. As they say here in the United States, any publicity is good publicity.

Q: Is it really possible to give hints to a GM at a big tournament and aren’t such statements absurd?

Ok, the way I understand this question is that it touches upon popular concern with a player receiving outside assistance. Since, this topic is especially controversial here in the United States due to some highly publicized cases of cheating at the Open tournaments, I believe the topic itself has some merit and has to be studied carefully. However , such accusations can easily become a tool for other reasons like jealousy or even have some political motivations and could be very dangerous and damaging. Based on what I have learned so far in life, these incidents can’t be generalized and have to be studied on a case by case basis.

With regards to the advice being given to a grandmaster at a big tournament, we must not forget that ANY player can benefit from advice from a computer program, because the programs have become so strong these days, so some measures have to be taken, but for that task, FIDE has to set a standard.

Q: Is it fair that Topalov does not play in the World Championship in Mexico?

Yes, personally I think it’s ridiculous that Kramnik gets so many privileges and gets basically two chances to defend his own title. It would make a lot more sense if Topalov, instead of Kramnik were to play in Mexico.

Q: Why is it that so many Russian chess players leave their homeland? Why did you leave for the USA and do you regret that decision?

No, I never regretted my and my father’s decision to move to the USA, thanks to the freedom of choice of participating in any tournament in the world, I was able to quickly move into the top ranked player.

Q: Do mediums and such kind of “magicians” really have an influence on chess and have you personally felt such an influence on yourself?

I subscribe to a more or less popular belief that each of us has the power to make his own destiny, win or lose the chess game.

Q: You are among the few players of the modern times that are called genius. Actually are there “genius” players in modern chess?

Well, genius is a term that shouldn’t be used lightly because it marks someone as an exceptional individual in his area of expertise. Definitely, there are some people who have a natural affinity for the profession they choose, however, as it was mentioned many times, success is 90% of work and 10% of talent. And no, I don’t consider myself as a genius, all my results came as a result of many years of work with my father.

Q: Is the currently acting system for defining the World Champion optimal? Which is the best system in your view?

Well, there is an on-going controversy with the current world championship system, especially with the latest announcement by the FIDE president which came as a complete surprise to everyone because, as far as I know, everyone who were surveyed with the proposed list of suggestions decided for a formula which was different from the one that was announced. A lot of mysterious things have been going on ever since the unification match has happened and these developments were worrisome.

Q: How did chess change for the 8 years in which you had distanced yourself from big tournaments?

Well, I haven’t really noticed many changes, except that I got older and other things on my mind in addition to just playing chess.

Q: Do you feel the ambition and confidence to become champion of the world?

I thought that I would at least give it a decent shot, to be honest.

Q: Which chess is more pleasant for you – with or without computers?

It doesn’t really matter if it’s pleasant or not, computers are now an essential part of the chess at the top level.

Q: Do you think that FIDE, as a driving force of the game, conducts the right policy?

There are a lot of things that have room for improvement, but given the results of the election earlier this year and some latest developments, there is a hope that changes are coming in the future which bode well for the chess world and players in general.

Q: Don’t you think that Kirsan IIymzhinov is pushing chess too much in the direction to Russia.

I think that matches for the world championship title should not be staged in the country of one of the players. It is unfair and such match should be staged on neutral territory. But that applies only to the match for the world title because there is so much at stake. With regards to any other event, if there are people who want to organize new events, I think, that they should be encouraged, as it helps develop chess everywhere.

Q: Does the game miss Gary Kasparov?

Personally, I’m very happy that both him and Karpov retired from competitive chess. At least from my point of view, and given some of the personal experiences, it was the best thing they did for chess. Granted, both of them were truly genius players of the chess game, but there could be a lot said about their off-the chess board politics and influence that negatively impacted the chess world.