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2002-03 Unification


"Topics that must be discussed."
Garry Kasparov on the present situation in the chess world.
By Garry Kasparov

I would not like this article to be considered as just my polemics with Khalifman: the subjects that I am going to talk about have needed to be discussed for a long time. Khalifman analyses the situation in depth*, as he usually does, but in my opinion he took a fundamentally wrong approach. However, I can thank him for describing the situation in such detail as it will now be easier for me to give my point of view.

It is interesting that Khalifman traditionally starts his articles with a negative salutation to Kramnik and Kasparov: 'I want to stress one point right away - my views on the matter are vitally different from those of the authors of the famous '3K' letter.' [Link to letter on right. -ed.] This is quite a significant detail, because, to my mind, herein lies the cause of the general misunderstanding going on now in the chess world.

Khalifman concentrates his attention on the time control problem and he gives a detailed analysis of it. It must be said that he very thoroughly evaluated all the pros and cons. Of course, all the arguments in favor of the new control are ridiculous. But we must not separate the time control problem - or rather the problem of destroying classical chess as such (this is the policy that is carried on by FIDE and a very small group of supporting Grandmasters) from the other actions of FIDE and from the general situation in the chess world. This is either a serious mistake or a delusion of Khalifman and those Grandmasters who are against the recent innovations. What's going on in the chess world now is quite logical. Ilyumzhinov's policy did not appear today, but quite long ago. This is a policy of destroying chess traditions, not just the elimination of the classical time control and a transfer to 'rapid-pseudo-chess.'

Everything started when Iluymzhinov initiated the steady destruction of the World Chess Championship system - the cornerstone of chess tradition - and while doing this he was being supported by many leading players. When Ilyumzhinov's actions affected the interests of only a few people - and they were actually directed exclusively against me at the time - there was no outcry at all. In 1997 when the KO system was first tested in Groningen, Mig said something that proved to be a prophecy: 'Today everybody is happy, but what will happen tomorrow? What changes will follow?' Now we are witnessing Ilyumzhinov putting into practice a consistent course of action to destroy classical chess and to create an entertaining chess circus. Up to a certain moment he had the entire support of the chess world.

There is an important issue that Khalifman does not want to understand or to notice: Ilyumzhinov turned FIDE into a private enterprise. In 1995 FIDE was bankrupt. There was no money left in their bank account, and a passerby - who happened to be a very rich person - for reasons that are only known to himself decided to take power into his own hands. Today FIDE is supported financially by only one person. This is recognized by everybody including Artyom Tarasov, who said in one of his recent interviews: 'Kirsan pays for everything, but he will not pay forever.'

So there is no point in discussing how tournaments should be organized; one person pays for everything, and - as the saying goes - he who pays the piper calls the tune. Khalifman expresses the negative opinions of several chess players - for example, concerning the fact that the rapid games had to be played right after the second game. They were obviously surprised that with the three-million-dollar prize fund it was impossible to add a few extra playing days. I am not a fan of Ilyumzhinov's but here I must speak in his defense. To the attention of Mr. Khalifman and many other Grandmasters participating in Ilyumzhinov's tournaments: this is his personal money is it not? So you will play as he tells you to play. If tomorrow you are asked to play at the hippodrome bar, you will play at the hippodrome bar.

The only way to protest is to ignore Ilyumzhinov's tournaments. I understand that this will be next to impossible to do for some players; how else to make money? But if there are no other ways to make money, if Ilyumzhinov is the only source of income for the entire chess world - then why protest at all? Ilyumzhinov is carrying out his own program - I do not want to talk about what his goal is as this is beyond the framework of our conversation today. But he has every right to arrange everything regarding the FIDE world championship the way he desires.

All this started much earlier. It is strange that Khalifman or, for example, Leko, do not understand that all their protests are ridiculous because they protest while at the same they still come and play in the FIDE world championship. The key word in our discussion, as I think, is the responsibility of chess players for what is going on in the chess world, and it is high time we start talking about it openly.

Many people find pleasure in blaming me for all the problems in the chess world, and this has been going on for many years. It is curious that I am the only one who ever admits his own mistakes and accepts responsibility. Yes, there is much that did not work out the way it should have. But however big and important my name is, the world is not rotating around one person only, the other players' actions affected the situation as well. If all or most players had been acting together then the situation would have been very different.

Let us take the Grandmaster Association (GMA) as a case in point. In 1989 there was an internal conflict (that I do not want to discuss in detail here as it would only be interesting for a few people) that destroyed this organization. In a few of words, the problems started when a group of players lead by Jan Timman decided to limit my growing influence. As a result the organization fell apart. But in 1989 this organization could dictate its terms to FIDE, and if it had remained united then I do not think FIDE would control anything in the chess world any more. It was a non-commercial, purely professional union of Grandmasters that - even with all its internal woes - after only two years managed to break through the administrative machine of FIDE. If many Grandmasters unite then they become a major influence; if nobody comes to play in the tournaments, then the big crises arise. Even today such a professional union would put Ilyumzhinov in a very uncomfortable position.

In all sports there are professional unions defending the rights of the sportsmen and regulating the rules of the competitions. The sponsors of football, basketball or hockey are as powerful and influential as Ilyumzhinov, but they have to consider the professional unions' demands. There are agreements that no one is ever going to break or can break. Chess is the most intellectual sport but players are not able to stand up for their rights or to protect their professional environment. Grandmasters seem to be utterly unable to unite. But it would give us real power if, say, twenty out of the forty strongest Grandmasters refused to participate in the FIDE KO - then there would be real problems with arranging the competition. But everybody wants only to make money, and to try and protest at the same time… The proverb about the impossibility of having one's cake and eating too it proves absolutely correct.

During the last ten years I made many attempts to change the situation. Back in 1986, when the Grandmaster association was created, I was saying that it was impossible to develop chess if the small group of FIDE officials dictated all the rules to us. Now it is not a small group, it is one person. This is the tragedy I predicted, but in a concentrated form. I made war with FIDE several times with the purpose of letting chess players have an alternative system, to oppose FIDE and the dictatorship of its officials (today a dictatorship of one). You may say that all my attempts failed. I agree. What else would you expect as I never had any support. The prevalent mood was one of skepticism, wait and see. I can name many Grandmasters who played in both the PCA and FIDE competitions, but they were never especially supportive.

But there was another group - of which Khalifman was a prominent member - that heavily criticized my every initiative. They thought the most important thing was to criticize Kasparov. They simply ignored the potentially very dangerous nature of the FIDE's actions. I can extend this list by adding Timman and Murray Chandler. Valery Salov is a different story, his is clearly a clinical case and I am talking about more or less rational criticism. I can also give you a list of chess magazines in many languages that concentrated on criticizing Kasparov.

I will repeat - I made mistakes, but I was left on my own attempting to solve a number of problems in the chess world. In return I would get nothing except moral and material losses. I did not have any support, I was only severely attacked by my opponents, and those attacks actually achieved their goal - all attempts to create any alternative to FIDE failed. Now we have to do with what we have. And Khalifman, Timman and others should not try to appear innocent. Everybody bears his share of responsibility. And it is no use today writing long letters with deep analysis asking the top one hundred Grandmasters to sign some papers. Nobody needs to sign anything - just do not play in those tournaments. Either that or it has to be said openly that we are selling chess and allowing the destruction of classical chess.

The time has come to speak the truth. I am quite pessimistic. I think only a very small number of players are ready to refuse to participate in FIDE tournaments in order to save classical chess. This must be admitted. And anyone with minimal intellectual honesty must admit that during the last ten years the chess elite did not act as befits professionals. The ultimate dictatorship of Ilyumzhinov today is a result of the destructive policies of many players in recent years.

In conclusion I will quote Khalifman again: 'According to Kramnik and Kasparov, Ilyumzhinov's actions as the FIDE president are destructive for chess (press conference of 12.09.2001). What actions, and why they are destructive, were not specified, as usual. The most important is to criticize, and to substantiate the criticism is considered redundant.' Here Khalifman is misrepresenting the facts: the 'three K' letter was quite exhaustive, and we talked about the destruction of chess tradition. We talked regarding the time control in the final paragraphs and we first discussed the dismantled tradition of the chess championship cycle, a tradition built over many decades. The time control catastrophe should not be separated from the rest of the problems, and no one should say that it is the only problem that requires chess players to unite. Either we will do away with the FIDE dictatorship, or (unfortunately, more likely) Ilyumzhinov and his ilk will simply turn chess into a low farce.

* [Reference in this article is made to a recent piece written by Russian GM Alexander Khalifman. It is available in Russian here: or (KC Russian version). Among other things, Khalifman wrote that he and most top GMs are not happy at all with new time control, that it doesn't work and it is high time to go back to the classical 7-hour time control. He wrote that it would be good to ask the top 100 of the chess world about their attitude to the new control and to proceed according to their decision. Khalifman also states that he approves of other recent FIDE inventions, such as continental championships, internet qualifiers, and the new system for their world championship. -ed.]

This article originally appeared at It has been reused with permission.


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