Interview with GM Ivan Sokolov

Candidate for ECU Vice-President

Chessdom: Hello Ivan, thank you for accepting the interview (performed via email, ed.note).

Few month ago you have organized the big Bosna Open, when you also introduced many innovations. What are the impressions from this event? What are you planning for next year?

Ivan Sokolov: Bosna Open was definitely clear success. We had a strong field of players and participants from more than 30 countries (from Mexico to China), so the tournament was a great mix between a strong chess event and a cultural happening. We are thankful to institutions and sponsors that have made this possible, general feedback is positive and there is a reason for optimism for Bosna 2011.

We also had 3-1-0 scoring system which is still new in the chess world and reasons behind this idea I have explained in an interview given to you before this event. The goal was achieved – all the games were played, no quick draws, tournament was dynamic and attractive. One win, at least in most of the tournaments, should be definitely worth more than two draws. The only question is proportion and it could well be that 2,5-1-0 is a better solution.

Ivan Sokolov

GM Ivan Sokolov

Chessdom: Currently you are in campaign for the ECU elections, as Vice-President candidate on the ticket of Professor von Weizs├Ącker. How did you become involved in, so to say, “chess politics”?

Ivan Sokolov: I was asked sometime end April or beginning May to become a part of the “ticket”, and have decided to join, judging that we will win, we would make the difference for the better, and that I can play an important role there having seen chess from the both sides (top players and organizers standpoints).

Chessdom: For many years you are one of the world’s top Grandmasters, and recently you have proven that you are also skillful organizer. What can we expect from you and your team if you become elected to the governing body?

Ivan Sokolov: As probably most of the readers know we are campaigning hand in hand with Karpov ticket and share the same vision. Karpov’s announcement of 1,2 million USD for Europe (during the first office term) is not a marketing trick – this is a real promise, backed by letters of intentions – actually the amount would most likely be (considerably) higher. We would independently do our marketing push trying to find sustainable commercial sponsorship on a European level.

ECU with its members is an excellent marketing ground for any large multinational company and there is a plenty of room for action there. Current ECU “income” is 90-95% derived from different kind of fees that chess federations, clubs or individuals are forced to pay in order to participate in ECU events, which makes the current ECU nothing better than a tax office!

The current ECU “business model” has been designed to generate enough “income” to keep the current administration happy, while putting the minimal amount of work. In my mind, the income derived from fees levied on chess federations, clubs or individuals should never exceed 25-30% of the ECU budget and the rest must come from an external sponsorship. Needles to say, current fees, probably because they represent the only ECU income, are rather high and participating in ECU events(along with all other fees) should become cheaper.

Chessdom: The campaign for the ECU elections runs very quiet, at least compared to the FIDE elections, and it is notable that the Federations are not expressing public support for the tickets. Why is that so?

Ivan Sokolov: There is indeed a reasonable number of chess federations that are postponing any clear support announcement. For some of them this is a principal decision, some of them want to see the developments and than vote for the “winner”. On the other hand we did receive a large number of letters of support, which we would publish soon, and are rather convinced that we will have more votes than our two rivals, very likely winning straight in the first round.

Chessdom: Chess world was recently rocked with Arkadij Naidistch’s open letter, where he accused the German Chess Federation and its officers of incompetence. Do you have comment to this letter and do you think that this confrontation could harm your team’s efforts in the ECU campaign?

Ivan Sokolov: It is rather interesting that GM Suat Atalik, together with his wife Ekatarina, had a very recent court case against Ali Nihat Yazici and Turkish Chess Federation in which Ataliks claimed that they had a professional contract with Turkish Chess Federation, but were due to dictatorial, biased decisions of TCF president Yazici deprived from their rights and income. Ataliks won the court case. Strangely, this received no media attention and Yazici simply continues with his rhetoric. Perhaps ChessDom could ask Atalik for an interview to explain the nature of the mentioned court case.

Arkadij’s letter has received a massive attention and lets be honest, it definitely does not help us. However, if I understand the matters correctly, the same players have accepted about the same conditions two years ago in Dresden Olympiad, where Germany was a host country and was logical to demand more money. Now, they are no longer happy with similar fees and want more money. It would have been fair to mention the offered fee in the open letter, because probably a considerable number of chess federations are offering less to their players, and also the language used by Arkadij is, least to say, well… not diplomatic.

I find it difficult to comment on this issue. I am a player, Arkadij is a colleague, one of my aims (if elected) would be to, next to improving general chess events, general average GM life, chess in the schools,.., also to improve the conditions for the leading players. I am happy if players are making more money. On the other hand, Robert von Weizs├Ącker is a colleague in the team, actually our proposed President, an this is also internal matter of the German Chess Federation. In general, we know relatively little about the issue, we only have one-sided, very biased story, with insulting language, and is prudent to wait for the reaction from the German Chess Federation and than draw conclusions.

Chessdom: If you are elected ECU Vice-President, do you still plan to actively participate in the tournaments, and in general how would you co-ordinate your obligations and choose priorities?

Ivan Sokolov: If elected my priority nr. 1 would be to fulfill voters’ expectations and promises given in election campaign. However, I love chess, I like to play, and would still occasionally participate in the tournaments.