Anatoly Karpov Comes Down Hard on Ilyumzhinov

Jun 10, 2018, 6:25 AM |

Anatoly Karpov, the 12th chess world champion, recently spoke to Vasily Papin during the Poykovsky tournament. He was uncharacteristically harsh towards Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.

The RCF has supported Ilyumzhinov's candidacy for the FIDE President job. What's your own position as the federation's Vice-President?

I must emphasize that they did it with reluctance. There was just no other candidate, that's why they made that decision. But, in my opinion, Kirsan Nikolaevich must think about finding a new occupation. He's got a lot of problems, especially inside his own team.

You mean his conflict with Makropoulos?

Not only him. Makropoulos, Vega, Azmaiparashvili. Too many people go against him. And I'm not even mentioning the Presidential Council's Minsk vote to remove him. To be honest, I've never seen a 16-1 council vote before. This didn't even happen in America or somewhere else, it was Minsk. 16-1! It seems that he did something very wrong. I understand his chess mistakes and failures. But when even his team members, not only professional players, understood that there was something wrong too, it was a revelation to me.

But RCF gave moral support to two candidates at their conference in February: Ilyumzhinov and you.

Well... Eight years ago I was quite spirited in my election campaign, and when the Russian Chess Federation changed its position and decided to support Kirsan Nikolaevich instead, it was a disgrace. Russia has lost a lot of reputation in the chess world. Nobody could understand how was that possible.

Arkady Dvorkovich was the head of RCF back then.

Yes. And they made a decision. As far as I know, the delegates from the Southern Russia were threatened. Ilyumzhinov's representatives put pressure on them. And so, with the advantage of one or two votes, the decision was overturned. This was a catastrophe for the chess world. But it happened.

Now, if Russia needs me, I may announce my candidacy again. But I don't need that. Some tell me, "you wanted to do that in the past, why you don't want it now?" And I answer - if you need me to cover a gaping hole, I can do that.

Cover a loophole?

Yes. (Laughs) Regarding my own chess activity... I think it's pretty good. I've opened my schools in 38 countries and in almost 50 Russian regions. I'm organizing tournaments, performing occasionally. To be honest, I don't need to be a FIDE president to fulfill any of my chess plans. Everything I do, I do outside of FIDE. Sometimes they're trying to take something away from me, and they're successful in that.

Ilyumzhinov also does a lot outside of FIDE. He has a charity, Chess for Peace, that actively develops chess in many countries, including African.

You know what's the thing? I've created the Kids' Chess Olympiad together with the Serbian journalist Dimitar Belica. I've organized first seven olympiads without any state support. At first, I invited Campomanes to take part. Campomanes said that he would take part in the organization if I pay him. I told him, look, I have no sponsors. I'm attracting third-party investments, and I'm not going to pay you. Campomanes said, if you don't pay (not to him personally, to FIDE), we don't take part in that. OK then, I'll do that without you.

I remember the Spanish King taking part in one of the kids' olympiads...

Yes, in Las Palmas. He was the honorary president of the organizational committee. The last olympiad we organized ourselves was in Turkey. Then, Ilyumzhinov and FIDE started helping. I was glad they did.

A year later, they started holding olympiads on their own, completely forgetting about me. I thought, OK, I've created a tradition, it got support, great. They forgot about me, let them at least continue organizing the events. But after that, it slowly winded down. It was sad to see. Also, I think that tactfulness should be important in chess.

At the February conference, Kirsan Nikolaevich said that he created the Chess in School program in Russia. I had to correct him. I don't like praising my own achievements. But, since Kirsan Nikolaevich said that he was the first in everything, I've had to say that the first chess school in Russia was created by me. And before me, in the Soviet Union, there were schools created by Botvinnik and Polugaevsky.

Even if we talk about modern Russia, in 1988, there was an oblast-wide chess school in Voronezh. I've been doing that for 30 years, long before Ilyumzhinov started working on chess. I was also a president of the White Rook kids' tournament until 1986, and later, we revived the White Rook without any help from FIDE.

There are people who grab things from all the tables and say that these are their tables, while in actuality, they only have one stool beside one table.

In addition to Ilyumzhinov, there are two more candidates: Makropoulos and Nigel Short. Who do you think will win the elections in Batumi this year?

I don't know. I see problems, but I can't see any solutions. The problems are huge. I even tend to think that it would be easier to create a new world chess federation than try to salvage the current one.

The FIDE is in a horrible crisis. This was expected, but nobody expected it to happen this year. Now Ilyumzhinov travels the world actively, it's been a while since he traveled that much. But, of course, he needs to rethink his position. And if he does get re-elected, he should work differently. He needs to consult professional players more to avoid the stupidities he'd made in the last twenty years.

What do you think were his biggest mistakes?

Careless decisions about the World Championship that caused horrible damage to chess.

You mean the world championship system?

Yes. The knockout system was a huge mistake. We've lost a lot. We've lost prestige and popularity. We've lost positions that are now very hard to restore. I remember my match against Kasparov in 1987 in Sevilla, there was a couple of times that CNN reported chess news before the political block, chess was on the first place. And now, chess isn't even on the last place, I don't know how to call this place. (Laughs)

Another mistake was made when Kirsan Nikolaevich, without understanding what he was doing, started meddling with the chess rules. Why did chess endure that long and survive many crises? Because the rules were traditional. And FIDE presidents have never dared to change the rules of the game. To be honest, upholding traditions is the world champion's responsibility. And, sadly, I can't say that Magnus Carlsen cares about this responsibility. I think he's omnivorous in that regard. He can't function as quality control, as Botvinnik or I did. He allowed to change the rules of chess, and it's sad.

There was also Anand before him.

Anand, too. He didn't feel his responsibility and didn't do enough to protect the professionals. If we make more mistakes with the rule changes, we might lose chess as a sport. I've talked about that at the RCF conference. Ilyumzhinov just lacks knowledge and understanding. He shouldn't be touching rules at all, however, he says that he's a great chess player. I think we all know what kind of player he is.

Well, he is a Candidate Master!

Candidate Master? What are you talking about? (Laughs) Amateurs shouldn't meddle with chess rules. This is the responsibility of professionals. And, while defending from me at the conference, Ilyumzhinov said that he'd built a system, he's consulting with the Grandmaster Association, and every single rule change is approved by this organization.

I heard all that when I was leaving the conference room, in the corridor. Next day, I called Emil Sutovsky and asked him, "Are you mad?" He repiled, "What's up?" I said that yesterday, Kirsan Nikolaevich said at the conference that all rule changes were approved by the Grandmaster Association, and he's the president. Emil answered, "What? Approved?! We never approved anything. We were notified, but always said we didn't approve. Since 1st January, something did change for the better." "So, you didn't approve anything?" "No, never. The Grandmaster Association hasn't supported a single chess rule change."

So, Ilyumzhinov deceived the public when he said that his rule changes were approved by grandmasters. I couldn't believe it at all, but called Emil, just in case madness has spread from Kirsan Nikolaevich to all the grandmasters.

Still, many things are done now to restore the popularity of chess, both in the world and in Russia.

We've started getting something back, but slowly. We needed to develop and improve our positions, but we've only lost them. We've lost at least fifteen years. But Ilyumzhinov still spreads fairytales about how great he is as a FIDE president. Also, there's another big problem now: he was added to the sanction lists. He's saying that he was added because he's close with Vladimir Putin, and that's the attitude towards the Russian president in the world. But I think that Ilyumzhinov's presence in the sanction lists has zero to do with Russia's current position.

Why do you think he is in the lists then?

This was already covered in the U.S. Department of the Treasury letter.

That he was allegedly added to the list because he traded oil. Do you agree with that?

I do not. But we do have an official reason. And he hasn't done anything in two and a half years to reverse that decision.

And now, the Swiss bank account is getting closed. Ilyumzhinov says that this is not a big deal, and they'll find a new European bank. I'm sure they won't. If the Swiss bank account gets closed, no European bank would open a FIDE account as long as Kirsan Nikolaevich is in power. And this will cause huge repercussions. In many European countries, if you can't open a bank account, you can't register there. And this means that FIDE will have to leave Europe. The federation's office will have to move, for one. And the second problem is that the sponsors will change their attitude too. It's one thing to transfer tournament funds to a Swiss or other European bank, and another to transfer the same funds to, say, an Arabian or Russian bank. This can bring huge negative repercussions for chess as a whole.

But let's hope that we'll survive this crisis.