Ruslan Ponomariov – Perhaps I became a world champion too soon

Why is he refusing to play in Foros and for Ukraine…

Former World Champion Ruslan Ponomariov turned 25 on October 11th. We bring you excerpts from an extremely interesting interview given on this occasion to GM Dmitry Komarov for magazine “Sobytiya”. For more juicy details about haircuts, his girlfriend, jumping into frozen river etc, read the full interview on Sobytiya pages (Russian).

- Perhaps I became a world champion too soon – recollects Ruslan Ponomariov – people expected too much from me, and I was trying my best to comply with the new status. But it was not so simple. Today, chess is not clearly dominated by one single player, even if he is world champion, as it was during the times of Karpov or Kasparov. Even the slightest details are important, and if something goes wrong, the rivals will not forgive it. Yes, I am now left in the shadow, but chess is my profession. I still work a lot. After all, you know: you can’t do anything if you do not practice to keep your shape.

Q: In this period of six years since you won the championship, you managed to obtain two degrees of higher education.

A: Ever since the Soviet era, there are prejudices in our society that one must necessarily have a university education. So I chose the Institute of Law, which was not far from my home in Kramatorsk. My thesis “Challenges and prospects for improved legislation of international sports competitions” was devoted to the analysis of the contract for my abandoned match with Garry Kasparov. Then the Kiev State University of Physical Education launched chess specialization after a long break, and I decided not only to support my friends, but also to receive the knowledge. This summer I defended thesis on analysis of chess software. I was invited to stay in graduate school, but I didn’t want to.

Ponomariov yellow suit

Ruslan Ponomariov

Q: How profitable is your profession?

A: Chess is not a sport where you can earn a lot. Particularly in comparation with football, tennis or golf. The fact that chess is not included in the program of Olympic Games is affecting its prestige and popularity. By the way, recently I’ve got a call from the tax authorities. They read in the press that I earned lots of money (win at the World Championship was about 380 thousand dollars worth, after all tax payments. – D.K.). We had to explain that newspapers do not always publish accurate information. Besides, I paid from of my own pocket for all the training sessions. And sometimes it even turned against me. I hired Veselin Topalov to be my coach in the long period of preparation for the match with Kasparov, paid him substantial fees. But as it turned out, he gained more from this cooperation. He is now first on the FIDE list, and I am 22nd.

Q: Do you receive a state salary?

A: The salary for a member of the Ukrainian national team is two thousand hryvnia (around $350 USD – ed.) per month. But I refused to take it. I want respect for chessplayer’s work and due reward. At some point sportsmen’s career ends. Four years ago I wrote straightforwardly in “Facts” that the winners of the World Chess Olympiad (State paid 10 thousand hryvnia for this success. – D.K.) should be given reward equal to the gold medalists from the Olympic Games. Since then nothing has changed, and therefore I didn’t play for the national team in the last three years.

Earlier, when I was a kid, it was interesting to play for the team. But in 1998 we won bronze medal, and I scored a decisive point. Then I won World Championship and took gold at the Olympiad. So I proved my professionalism, I now call for the officials to do the same.

Ponomariov Mtel 06

Q: Why did you refuse to play in a traditional superturnament in Foros?

A: As far as I know, some of the participants, including foreign ones, are being paid starting fees on the top of the prize fund. The first time I played for free, but now I insist that conditions should be on the level of major international tournaments. Why should Ukrainians, and not only chess players, earn for their work less than the citizens of European countries?

Thanks to Kaleid and GM Golubev for notifying us about the news.