‘I feel it’s time for a change’

R. RAGU

Garry Kasparov ruled the chess world like no other. Today, he chases political ambitions not just in Russia but also in FIDE, the governing body of chess. Rakesh Rao caught up with the former World Champion soon after the Russian landed in Chennai to watch the World Championship match.

He is considered the strongest player ever in chess history. Listening to this master of the game is pure education. Ironical as it may sound, the former World champion Garry Kasparov still comes across as the ever-so-astute student of chess.

Kasparov, 50, ruled the chess world like no other. He was the undisputed numero uno in his playing days. Today, he chases political ambitions not just in Russia but also in FIDE, the governing body of chess. In fact, the news of his visit to Chennai after two games of the World Championship match between Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen was not received pleasantly, either by the FIDE or by the All India Chess Federation. The reason: Kasparov’s filing of nomination for the post of FIDE President against incumbent Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who enjoys the support of the AICF.

Minutes after landing in Chennai, Kasparov took time off to speak at length to Sportstar.

Excerpts:

Question: What makes this World championship match different from the ones that we’ve had in recent years?

Answer: When you look at the recent matches, Anand-Veselin Topalov (2010) and Anand-Boris Gelfand (2012), I think it will be hard to say that these matches played a vital role in the development of chess. Probably, to support my reputation of being an outspoken chess critic, I can say that one of the reasons is, both in my view — I hope Topalov and Gelfand can forgive me — were not World Championship material. Great players, but World Championship material is something different. Topalov had some great successes. Anand did not play well but still won, because he is World Championship material.

Now we are having two players, of the same very small group. Anand has been the World Champion for quite a while. Magnus will eventually get there. We might get much more from this match, the same way we expected from the Anand-Kramnik match.

Anand seems to have worked a lot harder on several aspects of the match, including stamina and endurance. How do you view Anand’s approach?

I think the fact that relatively Anand played without the same fire against Topalov and Gelfand may be because he did not consider them worthy of his effort. Now he has an opponent of his life. So, winning the match will be a sort of a crown jewel in his career. That’s why we could see a different approach, a lot more effort, so it’s a lot different. All his losses in recent years will be forgotten, just wiped out if he wins this match.

Your reasons behind supporting Magnus against Anand?

Personally, I feel it’s time for a change. Whether we talk of chess or Russia, I believe the change can come from the younger generation taking over. It will be great solace for the game of chess if there is a young champion. Nothing personal. Vishy is from my generation, probably even younger. Magnus was born after my fifth World Championship match with (Anatoly) Karpov.

Did you help Magnus for the match?

I don’t even know who is working with Magnus. As for communication, yes, we still maintain a very good relationship. I could have offered general advice but I am not directly or indirectly involved in Magnus’s preparation for the match. I am watching his opening ideas with the same surprise as you did. Do I want him to win? Yes. I was never hiding my sympathies. I think, every chess tourist is entitled to his opinion and sympathies.

How do you look at the progress of this match?

Magnus and Anand are on the cutting edge because they have spent so much time working for this match. So I have no doubt that we are going to see some interesting games, interesting ideas. Some of them will be attractive to the amateurs and most of them will be very important for the professionals who are always following the World Championship matches. It is the No. 1 catwalk in chess fashion.

Looking at Anand’s glorious career, where do you place him?

The match against Vladimir Kramnik in 2008 was probably Anand’s greatest accomplishment. These were two real players who belonged to the top category, even more than the elite. Anand played phenomenal chess there. So that match provided high-quality chess. When you have two players in that category, you always see something really, really important happening.

Do you think every World Championship match showcases the best trends of that era?

You can definitely say that every World Championship match was a milestone to sort of identify the most fashionable trends in opening theory. Most of them, and I’ll be little bit more cautious whether it was the best, definitely saw a high quality of chess. There were some brand new ideas that surely became the standard after the match.

There have been comparisons between the Anand-Carlsen match with the Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky match of 1972. Do you see any similarity, even by a mile?

The 1972 match definitely was a part of the Cold War. Bobby Fischer’s personality played a very important role, may be a crucial role. It was more like a man-versus-the-machine match. My matches against (Anatoly) Karpov, especially the first and the second ones, also had a huge effect because it had a political element — new versus old. It could be a primitive assessment but that’s what people saw.

Here (in the 2013 match) also you have two individuals who could not have been further apart, by the country of origin, or their playing styles. Magnus comes from a country where people associate with skiing, ski-jump, skating and biathlon. And Magnus, somehow, appeals to the advertising industry, to the mass media — he created a new trend for chess. There are many interesting elements of this match that created quite a unique combination that I hope, will benefit the game of chess.

No matter what happens in the match, there is a very different approach of the mass media. Something that I always wanted a World Championship match to be.

Are you happy that the FIDE opted for the match-format to decide the World Champion?

One of the long-term disputes with the current management; it was a big mistake, which they eventually recognised, in 1996 to start playing the knockout tournament, trying to move away from the World Championship matches. I feel it is a unique event in the history of chess. Okay, it took 10 years before they (FIDE) moved back to something that has value. The World Championship match has value. At the end of the day, what made chess unique for over 125 years was that you always had a World Champion versus the Challenger match (to decide the Championship). Even in 2013, you can see, you have tremendous appeal even to people who are too far away.

Do you think the rating difference of 95 points between Anand and Carlsen has any significance in this match?

It shows what kind of results the players have had over the years. It definitely shows how strong Magnus is. In a match, it matters very little. We all know that Anand can play much stronger than his current rating (of 2775).

And in a match, it is not clear whether Magnus can match his rating (2870). This rating has been earned in tournaments. And tournaments and a match are two different animals. Here you are facing one opponent. You don’t have a weaker opponent the next day. You have to prove that you are the best. I don’t think Magnus cares at all about his rating. If he can win the match, you know, even in the tie-breaks that means losing about 20 rating points for Magnus, but who cares?

Which player will find it tougher to make a comeback in the match — Anand or Carlsen?

Much more difficult for Anand to come back. Magnus has a history of coming back. That’s why I think Vishy will be much more cautious. Losing a game will be much more challenging for him than it will be for Magnus. Okay. For Magnus, too, it will be a challenge but then, he has a history of recovering (after a loss). He is younger. He has more energy, more strength to recover. For Anand, after all the bruises over the years, it is that much more difficult. It is easier at 22 to forget about a loss than at 43.

What do you think of Anand’s decision to announce the names of his team of ‘seconds’ during the first press conference?

When I played Karpov, there was really no secret around my team of ‘seconds’. When Anand revealed his team of ‘seconds’, it was probably a statement of certain confidence. He wanted to show that he had a big team.

What do you have to say about the timing of your visit here especially considering the stand of the AICF in next year’s FIDE elections?

I do understand my presence here can be considered differently, depending on the angle of observation. Personally, I view myself as a former World champion who has always had the passion for the game. It will be hard to believe but my appearance in a conference, in Goa, was planned before the announcement of this match. It would be insane of me not to take this opportunity (to visit Chennai). When I learnt that the match would be in Chennai, I was clear that I would take a two-hour flight, or even less, to be here, after having taken over 20 hours from New York to be in Goa.

Secondly, I had announced my candidacy for the FIDE Presidentship, I am already on the campaign trail. It’s apparent that the AICF is supporting the incumbent (President), and I think, they are somehow confused how to receive Garry Kasparov the former World Champion without offering any sort of encouragement for the FIDE Presidency. It should not be complicated because I am not campaigning here. I clearly see the sensitivity of my position here and I will not put the AICF in a difficult position. I think it would be wiser for them, and better for the game of chess, if they divide these two things. I wish they treat my trip to Chennai as a form of “chess tourism”. I am probably the highest rated chess tourist ever in this country.

Finally, how many decisive games do you see in the match and what is the final score you predict?

I stick to my predictions. If the match is going longer with equal scores, say equal after Game 8, then Vishy’s chances are getting higher. He has more experience and there will be more pressure on Magnus. It will be 50-50 then. Last time, (in 2012, Anand-Gelfand match), we had two decisive games. This match will definitely beat that number. I will be surprised if it’s less than three. Winning score? I think it will be +1 (one victory more) for Magnus.