Garry Kasparov: "Making the Difference" – Exclusive Interview
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Earlier this week we posted the news that Garry Kasparov is going to run for FIDE President. The 2014 elections will be held during the FIDE Congress, at the Olympiad in Tromsø, Norway. Kasparov announced his candidacy during this week's FIDE Congress in Tallinn, Estonia. Here's an exclusive interview with Kasparov conducted in Estonia, which you can watch below. (Apologies for the sound, which is not of the best quality during the first couple of minutes.)
First question, obviously, why are you running for President? What is the biggest motivation for you to do this?
I have been thinking about changing the situation in the world of chess for quite a while, and it's not an accident that I supported Karpov three years ago, because I believed that there were great opportunities around that have been missed because the current FIDE leadership and management was not capable of grabbing these opportunities and building the world of chess that our great game deserved.
After Khanty-Mansiysk, I made it very clear that I would be looking for an opportunity to pursue this change, but I wasn't sure at the time whether I would do it myself or there would be somebody else. I have been working incisively trying to actually find the right formula to challenge FIDE's team into the 2014 elections and eventually I came to the conclusion, after talking to a lot of people, and meeting them around the world, that I would have to do it myself.
“Eventually I came to the conclusion that I would have to do it myself.”
I feel that with my energy, political and business connections and reputation, I could materialize these changes that a lot of people have been waiting for. I've got a lot of support and encouragement during the conversation with federations in Europe, in Africa, in America and Asia of course. I feel that it's the right moment to make this bid and to capitalize on the positive trends in global political, economical, cultural and technological trends.
In 2006, Bessel Kok lost the elections 96-54 and in 2010 Anatoly Karpov only did just one vote better. It's a huge difference, so why do you think you have a chance and what do you intend to do differently?
These campaigns look similar because the results were quite similar, but they had, as I understand, a very different algorithm. Karpov's campaign, since I was involved in this very deeply, was built on the assumption that Karpov could carry the Russian vote. It was very spontaneous, we didn't have much time. But winning or losing the Russian vote, which also had profound effect on Khanty-Mansiysk, the venue for the FIDE elections and also a psychological effect; for many federations it was crucial. So the fact that Karpov couldn't manage to win this vote, and losing this very complicated battle inside Russia, I think decided the elections.
Bessel in 2006 had sort of a different approach. Naturally he expected that Europe could be joined by other continents and there were some attempts to work out in South America, in Asia, in Africa, but those were very timid attempts. There was no real program behind it, there was no real experience of working on the ground.
So, what brought these campaigns together was that they were both Euro-centric. So Europe eventually stood alone FIDE managed to keep control of other continents. I learned a lot from both of them and I recognized that we would need at least a second continent to join Europe to make a proper bid for FIDE Presidency.
Also, the fundamental difference between the 2014 elections and 2010 & 2006 is that we have a much louder voice from the developing world. This is not just people arriving at the Congress at election time and just listening to the promises... They want to see results, and they will hold FIDE responsible for the broken promises. 2010 was a big year, a big harvest of promises that were not fulfilled.
The irony is actually... I was listening to Kirsan's speech yesterday, and also looking at the structure of FIDE sponsorships and packages. It's quite an irony that we, Karpov and Kasparov, have been accused of being elitist and not paying attention to the needs of the federations in the developing world, in Africa, in Asia, in South America, and only trying to take care of our former colleagues, the professional world, while if you look at the FIDE results... Actually that was said by Ilyumzhinov himself: I think 90 or 95% of FIDE money actually goes into the pockets of professional players. So a very little portion is assigned for the developing world, for chess and education programs, and actually most of this money that has been assigned for these programs never reached the end recipients.
“I think 90 or 95% of FIDE money actually goes into the pockets of professional players.”
I already built quite a strong ground operation in America, Europe and Africa, especially in Africa, based on the work of the Kasparov Chess Foundation, with three centers in New York, Brussels and Johannesburg, and people could see that it is happening, you know. Even before the elections I succeeded in delivering goods and organizing programs that, frankly speaking, FIDE had to do several years ago.
The Kasparov Chess Foundation at the European Parliament in Brussels in 2011
So that's why I think the mood is different. It doesn't mean that everything will change dramatically but naturally people are far more selective. They understand what they want and they also can separate from empty promises and real work on the ground.
Actually in his speech Kirsan also said that you were among the people who supported him in 1994. What is your comment on that?
I think that in general Kirsan's speech was reflecting facts correctly, but there are always certain minor details that could change the whole picture. I mean, if we go back... We actually met in 1990, when Kirsan was not known at all. He showed up in our room of the Azeri consulate in Moscow where we lived with my mother after we had to leave Baku, and he came up with a chess book. He wrote some sort of chess book for kids, because he is a first category player, and he wanted me to write the foreword, so that's how we met. After my match with Karpov in 1990, he actually organized this consortium of buyers to get this crown I sold and eventually distributed, about 300,000 dollars, by exchange rate at that time, 10 million rubles, I distributed it to Armenian refugees from Baku. So that's how we met.
That year he became the President of Kalmykia and in '94, he was correct that... Well there was no Karpov, because there was a conflict with the federation. I supported Andrey Makarov and Karpov was actually on the opposite side, so that's why Karpov couldn't be there in 1994. He correctly stated that it was Andrey Makarov, and Michael Baitin, who was a Russian businessman who supported our efforts there by doing this Soviet Chess Union and then the Russian Chess Union for professionals... We talked to Kirsan when we were in Elista, because he organized the first Russian Championship there. There were very generous prizes by that time. Makarov asked him to support the Chess Olympiad, which was hastily put together by the Russian Chess Federation, just in 55 days. That's probably the record. Some people complained about the organization but after Greece failed, actually Makropoulos was in charge, to organize it so we did it in Russia in less than two months. Kirsan was helping, providing some support, to Makarov's request.
And then in 1995, he went to Paris and did something he was not asked and... I could remind him that the Russian Chess Federation actually opposed his flamboyant plan of taking over FIDE. According to Kirsan and Karpov and Campomanes it was decided on the spot. Karpov first was sympathetic but then soon changed his opinion and definitely in 1996 Karpov and myself were very friendly to Kirsan's plans to ruin the World Championship structure.
There are a couple of things to be reminded about the 1995-1996 period. One of them was that there was already an agreement about a reunification match. When FIDE is boasting its record of the reunifying match and having only one champion, but doing it only in 2006, so I could remind them that actually they could do it in 1996, if not for this brilliant idea of having a knockout tournament, which was basically Kirsan's plan to eliminate Karpov, Kasparov and world champions from the decision-making process of the world championship cycle. This reunification could take place in 1996 because the decision was made under Campomanes. So, this new idea, which eventually failed because the people recognize that a world championship match is a unique event of its own and that makes the world of chess proud for 125 years, this event to be preserved. By moving in the knockout, I mean literally, Kirsan postponed the reunification for ten years.
“By moving in the knockout, I mean literally, Kirsan postponed the reunification for ten years.”
Also, by the way, this is 1995, we worked out with Campomanes, in the process of reunification, on having chess in the Olympic Games. Samaranch was very sympathetic. As a matter of fact, again we have to ask why FIDE eventually stopped working there and moved their headquarters from Lausanne to Athens since they failed to make a proper case to the IOC, even despite Samaranch's friendly feelings. The answer is that the IOC, by its practice, couldn't even consider an application of a sport that had divided championship. So, in 1996 the decision to actually move along with the knockout and to stop the reunification process made the bid to IOC futile.
OK, back to 2013. It appears that at least top level chess seems to be in decent shape with a relatively stable world championship cycle, many top events during the year. Can we say that FIDE at least did something right?
Again, it depends very much on how you evaluate the source of funding. Yes, we have to give them certain credit for finding sponsors in certain parts of the world. But if you look at the nature of the sponsorship, I'm not sure that we can say that this is a very stable income. Yes, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has strong connections in Russia and in the former Soviet Union, and through these business connections he managed to people in. But even now, we just watched the presentation of Khanty-Mansiysk; there are many events given to Khanty-Mansiysk. But according to Geoffrey Borg, the contracts are not signed. They will be signed when it comes closer to the event. That's the way FIDE operates and again, it works out when you have friends there, business contacts, and maybe you do a favor here, and they return you there...
But FIDE is the only major sport organization that has no corporate sponsorship. That's a fundamental issue. We have an empty shell called Agon, you know, who is given the rights for 11 years for all the FIDE events. Where is IBM, where is Coca-Cola, where is Google, where is Facebook? All these talks that "we will do it eventually", we know that it's not going to happen. So many years of these broken promises.
“We have an empty shell called Agon, who is given the rights for 11 years for all the FIDE events. Where is IBM, where is Coca-Cola, where is Google, where is Facebook?”
I know that my former colleagues are happy now, because they are the greatest recipients of Kirsan's business activities and his generosity in throwing money into these World Cups, and other big events, while I think the money could be used much more effectively for supporting small federations and chess & education programs. But at the end of the day, I do want my fellow grandmasters to be heard. The solution is to make sure that both professional chess and educational programs and the small, poor federations, to make everybody satisfied, is to find corporate sponsorship. Here FIDE has a miserable record, actually it's no record at all. I don't think with the current international reputation of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov there is a single chance that we'll ever see Google sponsoring chess if there is no change in FIDE leadership.
In 2005 you quit chess to pursue a political career aimed against Vladimir Putin. A few months ago you decided to stop travelling to Russia for fear of criminal prosecution for your political activities. This is obviously not an ideal situation for a Presidential Candidate. My question is, in case you win the Presidential elections next year, to what extent will you be able to combine your work with your political career?
I was always very cautious in making comments about a 'political career'. I was trying to say that you can hardly call it politics because the moment you say politics, people in America, Europe they almost think about registering political parties, raising funds for the political campaign, doing debates, going to the elections... In Russia it was all different. 2005-2006 was a difficult time but of course by modern standards of 2013, that was a vegetarian time. Still, you couldn't register a political party without the Kremlin's permission, you couldn't have a proper participation in elections because you would not be registered as a candidate, you would not be able to raise funds, no Russian business could even dream of supporting Garry Kasparov or someone alike, who was challenging Putin openly. I said from the beginning that for me, and for my colleagues, it was not a fight to win elections, it was a fight to have elections. I always treated my activities as a fight for human rights.
My political ambitions in Russia, if you may call them "political" ambitions, they were not as well defined as in chess. Which was quite difficult, because in chess I was always thinking about making the difference but still having a clear goal: you have to win. Winning was just the ultimate target. In the Russian political game, there was no clear definition of victory. I think I accomplished a lot by bringing together different people and creating sort of a new algorithm of a corporation of Russian opposition, breaking barriers between liberal groups and the left-wing radicals and nationalist groups, creating an agenda that is very much now sort of an active agenda. The problem is that the regime is much tougher and that is why most of the people who are actually sharing these views, and this agenda, they are in jail or already in exile.
I don't think I have to pursue the same goal as I did before, because I did what I could. There are many young people. I said it already a year ago: the change in Russia should come, the real political change, from people who are under 40.
“The real political change in Russia should come from people who are under 40.”
I'm still happy to support them, I'm writing articles quite regularly, I support Kasparov.ru, one of the most influential opposition websites, but there's no need for me to stay there, in Russia, because it carries too much risk for my personal life and professional obligations. I think that if I win FIDE Presidency, things may be sorted out. I understand that Russia is a very important political player in the game of chess...
—To what extent is their vote, because you will also have trouble getting the Russian vote actually; to what extent is that vote from Russia important in the whole elections?
It was almost decisive, if not to say decisive in Khanty-Mansiysk. It is still important but in Tromsø, Norway, it's just a vote of the regional power. I don't think that... even if the Russian federation throws its way behind Kirsan, the same it did three years ago, I don't know if it's going to happen or not, it remains to be seen, that's not going to have a decisive effect. By the way, counting votes, I don't count Russia. I understand that not having Russia on your side means losing a few other votes, but my calculation shows that in Tromsø it will not have a decisive effect. Also, I would like to see a change and again, I guess we have to wait before the Russian federation eventually decides about this position.
You know top level chess very well. You've been there for decades. But how do you intend to help federations who don't even have an IM or a GM? How will you transform your knowledge into that area?
I think that's the biggest goal. At the end of the day it's not about simply creating new GMs or IMs. It's about expanding our base at the grassroots. The way I see the development of FIDE, I I briefly mentioned it yesterday in my short presentation at the stage, and it's already written in our policy document, is to turn FIDE into a giant social network. I believe that expanding the base and using modern technology to actually bring together millions of people in a database will help eventually even a smaller federation. If we have this massive database, that's definitely going to be very attractive for sponsors. It will make it easier for small — or new — federations (some of them are not small and have big potential, like in Africa), to attract new membership.
The relations between the FIDE office... also I think we will have quite a distributed power in the world because I believe that in the modern world you cannot have this one head office that decides everything. We can distribute a lot of power for the regions. And when I say regions, it's not just geographically. Sometimes you have to look for language and cultural ties and to create different affiliations. So there's a lot of creative work to be done. I think that if we can bring new people or just work with those who are in place and are willing to accept these new realities, I believe that these federations can prosper. I can bring my political capital and connections in the corporate world. When you look at my ticket you will see that we have enough capacity to work with the corporate world, to secure the sponsorship. And then I expect people on the ground to do the job.
Kasparov giving a press conference at the 2012 world championship match in Moscow
I think it's wrong when FIDE lives of the expense of the small federations, or all federations. It's quite amazing to hear the story by Ilyumzhinov boasting about millions and millions of dollars, but at the end of the day, FIDE officers get salaries from the federation payments. So eventually, in my view, federations should minimize its contributions to FIDE and FIDE, to the contrary, should guarantee the regular flow of capital into these new developing areas. What we have to receive in exchange is numbers. We want to see more people, because eventually the sponsorship's success depends on the popularity of the game. If they can guarantee the popularity of the game, bring numbers, register new members... I'm sure FIDE under my leadership will be able to bring corporate sponsorship ten-fold of what we have now.
“Federations should minimize its contributions to FIDE and FIDE, to the contrary, should guarantee the regular flow of capital into these new developing areas. What we have to receive in exchange is numbers. We want to see more people.”
Back in 2010 you supported Anatoly Karpov during his campaign. Is Karpov going to be involved in yours?
I haven't made many contacts with Anatoly. I hope that he will be sympathetic towards my goal. As you'll understand, it's a bit difficult because politically we are quite far apart. He's a member of the Russian parliament, and I won't go back, but I expect that the world champions' solidarity will be as strong in 2014 as in 2010.
There are people who say that you should have continued your chess career, because "that's what you do best", and besides, you have stated several times yourself that you are not proud of some of the things in the past, maybe related to PCA, or GMA. Now, 20 years later, we could say that you are "returning to chess politics". Why do you think in 2014 you will be a good FIDE President?
There are too many questions in one actually. My 2005 decision was not just a spontaneous decision. I had been considering that for quite a while, just recognizing that I had to do something with my life. Making the difference means that you have to concentrate on something where you also feel excited. I had been playing chess for my entire conscious life. I did a lot, and I was very proud of what I did. But I didn't feel that I could make the same difference as before. Could I fight with younger players? I guess I could. But I didn't see any real long-term plan for me to stay, because I wanted to do other things.
Apart of being enganged in the Russian human rights fight, I have been also doing lectures, writing books, so I believe I found a good application for my intellect. Plus, I built the Kasparov Chess Foundation operation globally. So I was preparing for another life. Now, for the first time since I left chess, I have a clear goal. I know what I want, I have a game plan, and so that's why I can mobilize all the resources that I have accumulated before, into achieving this goal.
“I know what I want, I have a game plan.”
Now going back to the 1980s and 1990s, I wouldn't put GMA and PCA in one sentence, divided only by a comma. Those are two different things. I think the GMA was a good idea and it was something that could work. The conflict of the 1980s, some people don't even remember, it was the conflict based on my belief, and shared by my colleagues, that we could dramatically change for better the conditions for professional chess, if we could have the sort of trade union solidarity and also to bring commercial sponsorship. I led this process, and I think the GMA at that time could succeed, but OK, there were too many internal conflicts, actually propelled by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Suddenly at the time when the Soviet grandmasters and the Eastern block grandmasters could travel to the west, it created a huge animosity among western players who saw a great danger for something they considered to be only theirs. The GMA failed to force FIDE to enter the agreement. I still believe I was right by demanding that we could be sort of an equal partner. But it's a long story... we can just go over it in a minute or so. One day maybe I would like to see a proper record of the GMA to be mentioned. I think it was not good, it was a negative development for chess, that the GMA failed.
Now the PCA, that's another story. Here I made a big mistake, I confessed that it was a wrong move. But I believed, and that was some sort of the reflection of the 1991 conflict within the GMA, I believed that joining with Nigel Short, who was the last president of the GMA, I could actually close the gap between East and West, so with a Russian player and a Western player we could actually create a new momentum. You can't fight the last war. It was very much the wrong assumption that we were still dealing with the East and West conflict, while it was a very different dynamics in FIDE. So, PCA was a mistake, and I confessed it many times.
The fact that we couldn't do anything at that time, it was also the result of the inept position of my fellow grandmasters, because they didn't want to fight for any changes. Like in the 1980s, when in the GMA there was the solidarity, in 1993-1995 there was just the "observer position", we play here, we play there, we don't care. The only positive thing that we could learn from the 1994-1995 history. It was the only time in the history of chess when a chess organization had a commercial sponsor: IntelEurope. For two years we enjoyed proper relations, commercial relations, with one of the major international corporations. I think it's a shame that we couldn't succeed in that. Immediately after recognizing the mistake, I did immediately steps to reconcile with FIDE and, going back to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov's appearance, I think it's a pity that in 1995 FIDE moved in the wrong direction by refusing to honor the agreement made under Campomanes to have the reunification match and to look together for corporate sponsorship.
So I think that today, in 2013, I have a lot of experience, I learned from the past mistakes, as a good Botvinnik disciple, I used to analyze games and I believe I know what was done wrong in the past.
“As a good Botvinnik disciple, I used to analyze games and I believe I know what was done wrong in the past.”
I think people are sick and tired of broken promises, they're looking for change. And I also think the global momentum now is very much benefiting my chess agenda. It's all about education, social impact, it's about technology, it's about globalization. All these factors, they could make chess very successful. But in order to put them together you need a proper interface between the chess world and the rest of the world. I am sure I am the right person to secure this connection.