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2002-03 Unification


Interview with Yasser Seirawan
By Ilya Gorodetsky

"I am not saying now, that everyone wins. But I do say that the chess world have made a giant step forward."

I sincerely regret that our readers are deprived of the possibility to hear the voice of Yasser Seirawan. It is hard to believe that someone who speaks so quietly could persuade all opposed sides to go for a compromise. I quickly understood that the American Grandmaster is a real diplomat and an extraordinarily crafty man. However, as it seems to me in our conversation, the architect of Prague peace was truly frank.

When you wrote your famous letter, did you believe that a day like May 6, 2002 would ever come?

I know that my answer will seem you a bit strange, but, nevertheless, the answer is: 'yes, absolutely.' I did not have any doubts. However, what gave me the basis for such surprising optimism, at that moment, when the chess world was in monstrous disorder? The answer is simple. I established contact with all interested parties and realized, that everyone was thinking about unification. Garry wanted it very strongly, he was really dreaming about the unification. I spoke with Kramnik in Wijk aan Zee in 2001, and he clearly said to me: 'the unification is necessary, but, unfortunately, no one wants to speak about it, and there is no movement on the issue.' From the side of FIDE management, I always felt a huge interest in unification, but they never knew how to make the first step towards Kasparov, not to mention other chess players. Those 'others' include myself, by the way. Indeed, it's been a few years since I last participated in a FIDE event. Thus, a strange situation was created. After you met all the disputing sides and revealed that everyone thinks about the reconciliation, you tell yourself: 'OK, there is very little to do - it is necessary to devise a plan, which considers the interests of all interested sides. And if such a plan appears and shows the road to a justice, they will listen you, they will not reject your proposals.' It's just as simple as that.

Then, it was necessary to understand what is important for each side. For FIDE, the biggest issue was the position that the World champion title belongs to them and them alone. The World championship cycle cannot pass without their blessing. Second most important position from FIDE's point of view: all chess players, including those who, let us say, speak against them (Kasparov, Kramnik), must participate in the tournaments under the aegis of FIDE, i.e., to play in the Olympiads, the Grand Prix tournaments etc. As you can see, the position of FIDE was very simple to understand.

Kasparov's position was also clear: I am - the strongest chess player in the world, I have highest rating, I won ten super-tournaments in a row, and I will not take part in any qualification tournament of any kind. Whatever happens, I reject this possibility, as such. I proved my capabilities, and Kramnik must give me a rematch. Thanks a lot, Mr. Kasparov, I got you.

Certainly, from the conversations with Kramnik and his representatives I clearly understood that they were categorically against a rematch. Kramnik considered the organization of a valid and open cycle (by the way, the tournament in Dortmund can barely correspond to this requirement, since bears an elite nature) as his task. Yes, they spoke in favor of unification with FIDE, but in this case, the international chess federation had to respect his position as the position of the fourteenth World champion of classical chess. When I began to understand all the problems and positions of each of the sides, I devised a clear plan, which made everyone a winner. The main finesse and the only properly new idea in my plan was a proposal about the creation 'The office of Commissioner.' A group of honest people, which would to become something like the buffer between FIDE and chess players. Today, there is too much accumulated hostility between FIDE and Grandmasters; therefore, a similar buffer is simply necessary. I proposed several men for this role, having preliminarily secured their agreement, support and blessings.

Tell me, was didn't you become desperate when it seemed that nothing it come out from it? For example, when Ponomariov stated that your proposal was too long, and he had no time to read it, or when Kramnik called you an idealist?

One of the problems for someone who has decided to study shuttle diplomacy is that the reaction of one of the sides, every now and then, will not be pleasing. The most unpleasant moment was, of course, not the words of the FIDE World champion - Ruslan Ponomariov: they, altogether, only meant that he will need more time. However, the words said by Kramnik in the interview For ChessBase, they actually upset me. The fact is, that my very first conversation about the problems of unification WAS with Kramnik in Wijk Aan Zee in 2001; during March of the same year we exchanged electronic messages; during January 2002 I conducted many hours in the conversations with his personal representative; during March 2002 years I met with the representatives Einstein TV twice (including CEO Steve Timmins); finally, on April 11th I conversed with the representative of Kramnik - Carsten Henzel, Steve Timmins and Malkolme Pein (the chess adviser of Einstein). During all of these negotiations, sending hundreds of e-mails and making dozens of telephone rings, I constantly perceived that Vladimir Kramnik is the key figure. From my point of view he is the direct heir to Steinitz. The chess world knows that, and therefore, during any attempts of unification, the opinion of Kramnik is primary. FIDE has a FIDE world champion. In their world it is possible to also find a place for Kasparov, but to find the method to return both Kramnik and Kasparov into one family was extraordinary difficult. For this very reason, I considered Kramnik as the most important figure, and attempted to contact his representatives as frequently as possible. His interview for ChessBase came as a real shock, because of all sides, I gave Kramnik most attention.

Answering your question, I must admit that I did feel a deep feeling of desperation. It was in the period from 10 to 14 of March. I would not like to go into details, but I felt at that moment, that the proceedings might actually destroy the very possibility of unification. And here I must give the credit to Einstein TV's CEO Steve Timmins. He raised my mood, by saying: 'Yes, sir. I think what you are striving for is absolutely correct. And I take on myself the obligation to do everything depending on me in order to help you to restore the unity of a chess world.' He said is so convincingly that I simply had to believe.

How you can explain the fact that a number of leading Grandmasters did not participate in the Prague meeting? First of all, Ivanchuk and Anand; the latter, although still in Prague, refused to participate in the encounter on May 6.

Yes, Vishy did not arrive, but Ivanchuk had already left to Ukraine. The essence of the problem, which you affected in your question, consists in the fact that the chess world is not simply divided; it is broken to fractions. There is a mass of misunderstandings. Here, in Prague, we discussed many unifying plans with the chess players, and some of them were simply bright. I understood that, working in the solitude in Seattle, I could not completely use my associates' contribution. I will repeat: some proposals were very good, but each time there was someone, who said: 'Bad idea! Bad idea! Bad idea!' As a result there was a criticism, also, on the final plan. This is, however, what I think about it: no escape, we must overcome today's obstacles, and then fantastic prospects are opened before us.

I know that no matter what solution is accepted, it will not satisfy all. I tell my critics, our critics, in advance: "Pardon me, for I could not satisfy your demands. But, would you please, understand that the unification was my sole target. We are not heading to this target ideally, but at least we move in the correct direction. And, after all, a staggering future awaits us: the strongest chess players will play in the most interesting tournaments; we will have three World champions: in classical chess, in rapid chess and in blitz". I, by the way, expect to become the first World champion in them all.

Some Grandmasters refused to sign the declaration. I spoke to Alexander Grischuk, and he is not very happy about the fact that he, like many other young players, loses the chance to compete for the title, for the next two years. Don't you think this could become an obstacle on the way of chess development?

Grischuk's argument is very ponderable. I do not say he's not right. However, in this case, the future of my generation's Grandmasters worries me even more. Grischuk's future is amazingly bright, and what has happened today will secure his financial status for many years to come. Jussupow, Seirawan and Gurevich are much more concerned about this problem.

However, I can only repeat, that the situation could not have remained as it was. I am not saying now, that everyone wins. But I do say that the chess world have made a giant step forward.

There is no official information about the second cycle, after the unifying match as of yet. A lot has been spoken about the idea of a 'double-knock-out', when should one expect some official confirmation?

We have a number of documents, each of which will be considered and integrated into our business plan. This business plan must be accepted by FIDE's presidential board and assembly. As to the second stage of qualification, I must express my deepest gratitude to Alexander Khalifman, who proposed the amazingly productive idea of a 'double knock out' which was supported by a great majority of players here in Prague. I have no doubt that the 'double knock out' will become part of the second cycle. (I.G - Khaliman's idea is that in a knock out tournament, which will be the second stage of qualification cycle (after the zonal tournaments and before the final candidate tournament which will consist of 6-8 players), the first loss will not be fatal. Losing one match, a player will be able to continue fighting for qualifying spots until he loses his second match).

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


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