Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Garry Kasparov on FIDE and Istanbul Olympiad

The 13th world champion was not in Istanbul just to cheer on the Russian team and its new coach, his old trainer Yuri Dokhoian. Kasparov took part in complex negotiations to reform FIDE's rules on elections, stemming from lawsuits against FIDE during the 2010 Karpov campaign. In this exclusive interview we also get his thoughts on the Russian and Armenian teams, and even some chess.

The last time Garry Kasparov played in a chess Olympiad was in Bled in 2002, where he led Russia to a gold medal and took the top overall rating performance gold for himself, with a 2933 showing on board one. Incredibly, that was the last team gold for the Russian powerhouse, despite their coming into the last five Olympiads as the top seed by a wide margin. They fell short of gold once again in Istanbul last week, this time by a painfully close tiebreak margin. (And a sensational loss to USA after Russia had rolled over all the other top teams, including eventual winner Armenia.)

But even were they to ask Kasparov for a little of the old magic – he'd make a pretty good fourth board, we think, and with his old coach Yuri Dokhoian captaining the Russian team we could even imagine it – Kasparov was not in Istanbul for the chess. He cheered on his compatriots (only one of whom, Grischuk, played with him in Bled) over the final rounds. But Kasparov's primary mission was to attend the FIDE General Assembly and several meetings with FIDE and federation officials leading up to the GA. On the table, reforming and rewriting many of the rules that govern FIDE elections after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland ruled on several cases brought before it by FIDE and the campaign of Anatoly Karpov (in which Kasparov was an active supporter) in 2010.

After Kasparov arrived back home in Moscow, we spoke with him about his Istanbul agenda, what was accomplished, and even some chess.

ChessBase: We wanted to talk about chess first, but you told us that the main reason you were in Istanbul was to do with these rule reform meetings and your address at the General Assembly, so we should do that first. I guess this means you really have become more of a politician.
Garry Kasparov: Okay, it's not a title I enjoy, but my purpose there was not chess, and since Russia just missed the gold I'm not in a great mood to talk about it anyway.
CB: The Russian news report that came out after the General Assembly made it sound like you had reached an agreement with FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and FIDE, something like a peace treaty.
GK: This is nonsense, or at least a great exaggeration. Both sides worked very hard and made concessions to achieve what was required regarding rule reform. It should have been done long ago. This was all business, nobody wanted a big war. I was happy to do this work with the federations and our council. I support FIDE as an organization, and I want it to work better and do more for its member federations. I want to be a positive force for change. This cooperation has nothing to do with what I think about how Ilyumzhinov and his team run FIDE, or the fact that they do not do their job very well.

Kasparov with Yuri Dokhoian, his old second and currently coach of the Russian team
CB: We'll get back to that, then. We looked around and failed to find many details on the nature of these rule meetings and how they relate to the 2010 CAS lawsuits that led to them. We have painful memories of the blizzard of press releases we received from FIDE and the Karpov campaign at the time.
GK: I will start with the main result of the meetings and the General Assembly vote that followed. FIDE's rules governing elections have been updated to remove ambiguous and incorrect language. The details will be found in the new regulations. The CAS decisions were full of critiques and strong recommendations about how poorly the FIDE regulations were written. They awarded one decision on merits to FIDE simply because the rules were unclear on how exactly to define a person's membership in a federation! And rules that affected the president's ability to influence an election were also vague. We didn't achieve 100%, but now the rules are clearer, more transparent, and the election of 2014 won't have to be the corrupt and confused mess of 2010 in Khanty-Mansiysk. There we had scandals about proxies, the roll call, shouting us down, etc. Now the rules governing these things, how the General Assembly is organized, are fixed – and just the way we asked it to be in Khanty-Mansiysk. We need to move forward into a modern, transparent organization. We need clear rules, and to respect the rules, not bow to the whims of whoever is in power at the moment.
CB: We did not report on the recent CAS cases and decisions, in spite of being inundated with statements and press releases by all sides. Can you summarize what those cases were about and why some FIDE officials were talking about everything from fining, suing, or even banning some of the big federations who participated in them?
GK: I can still try to be positive by saying we cannot blame FIDE for the actions of a few vindictive individuals. FIDE should be embarrassed by [Ali Nihat] Yazici's wild behavior and threats. I can be positive by saying he and people like him are headed for the door and will take these practices with them. My dreams for FIDE are all positive, about a strong and prosperous organization with capable people who can work together.
There were two cases before CAS, but really they issued four relevant decisions. The first suit was about the legitimacy of Kirsan's board, whether or not they were all valid federation members. And, people forget this, but the first CAS decision was about FIDE's attempt to deny CAS had jurisdiction on the case at all. So anyone complaining about having to spend FIDE money on legal battles should ask why FIDE spent so much time and money trying to escape its prior commitment to CAS rulings. FIDE lost, and CAS moved forward with the case. On the merits, FIDE won, but the CAS decision made it clear that the rules defining federation membership were so ambiguous and poorly written that they could not decide otherwise.
The next CAS decision was also related to that same first case, and again it was FIDE that initiated it, not the federations. Unsatisfied with the 35,000 [Swiss francs] awarded, FIDE challenged the amount of the award and eventually lost. Again, this was more time and money spent by FIDE's choice. They undoubtedly spent much more contesting CAS jurisdiction and challenging the award than on the actual lawsuits brought by the federations!
The second case, which contained just one decision, was another example of FIDE winning a case on a technicality created by ambiguous regulations. Ilyumzhinov appointed additional VP positions improperly and the federations brought a case. CAS's decision specifically recognized this, stating England and Georgia had a clear case for grievance, but that the rules were not clear enough to decide in their favor. In fact, the Court's language was so strong about how poorly the rules were written that during the meetings in Istanbul the FIDE representatives didn't even bring up that court victory. It was as if they were caught on tape stealing but were acquitted because the arresting officer forgot to read them their rights. This is why the federations organized and, with the extremely capable help of Ank Santens of White & Case, pushed for these needed rule reforms. FIDE didn't want to fight a war and they also realized that CAS would not be so kind next time if they did not reform the rules. So we worked together and we got it done.
Unfortunately, FIDE has been framing this whole story to score political points. They were trying to present it as a war between small and developing world federations versus the big federations that brought the lawsuits. At the General Assembly there were even demands that Kasparov and Karpov should pay, and that the big federations should make donations. Ilyumzhinov said it was because of these CAS lawsuits that FIDE couldn't find sponsorship! First, what about the 14 years before the lawsuits? Second, few ever heard about CAS and the lawsuits, it was hardly mainstream news. But sponsors, the CEOs and marketing guys, the politicians, they watch CNN and can use Google! And when you Google Ilyumzhinov you see very quickly why they might not want their companies or counties to have anything to do with him or FIDE.
So trying to blame me, blame Karpov, blame the federations that were trying to solve a serious problem, it's a destructive strategy, and a distraction from the real problems. If they wanted to avoid these legal fights they should have responded the federations' letters and requests for reform earlier. And if money were the issue, why spend so much to fight CAS jurisdiction? This is not about federation versus federation. Improving the rules, making FIDE more transparent and more responsive, this is good for every federation, big and small.

With Spanish chess journalist Leontxo Garcia
CB: So after all this, and going forward, what to make of these reports, clearly from FIDE sources, that there has been a "truce" with Kasparov?
GK: These meetings and this result was for a specific goal of reforming the badly written rules, to clean up the system. There is no truce because there was no war. We only want FIDE elections to be about who can present the best plans for making the organization better and stronger, and who has the best ideas for promoting chess and helping all the federations succeed. If the system isn't fair, if the rules are ambiguous, then all the focus is on how to exploit the lousy rules instead of who will do the best job for the world of chess.
Listen, I still have many differences with Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and how he runs FIDE, and I know I'm not the only one. But the best way to address these differences is to present better ideas, to show a superior track record, and to let people judge for themselves. Some bureaucrats can only thrive in a combat situation, turning everything into an internal battle that only harms FIDE. Let's see if they can build something real, to create value for the federations beyond talking about big plans that never pay off – at least not for the federations. We will always have disagreements! But don't harm the federations or FIDE; let's talk about real leadership, real results, and make things better.
CB: Speaking of leadership, we now have to ask the obvious question: are you going to run for the FIDE presidency yourself in 2014.
GK: My answer is still the same, which it's not about my being a candidate; it's about changing FIDE for the better. If there's a candidate who can promote a strong agenda for improving FIDE and the chess world, who can win the election, then I will support that candidate. This is what I did in 2010 when I supported Karpov, much to everyone's surprise. Despite having so little time to prepare and campaign, the mission of reform attracted considerable support. But the ticket wasn't ready, and the ideas were not clear or presented well due to the rush. Now there will be more time to build the ticket and every element of the platform.

If I think I am the only one who can do it, then okay, I'll probably run. But right now there's no point in thinking about it when there are so many things to be done. The activities and expansion of the Kasparov Chess Foundation alone will keep me very busy. I've been spending a lot of time traveling around the world visiting places with tremendous potential for chess growth, and also places where chess in education can have the most positive impact. This is the sort of work FIDE could be doing, but despite all the headlines they publish about chess in schools, there's nothing beyond those headlines while KCF is teaching thousands of kids and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in sponsorship.
CB: Let's move on to the Olympiad in Istanbul. What were your impressions, even if you do not want to talk about Russia's bittersweet silver medal?
GK: The Olympiad, in some ways even more than the world championship, is a crown jewel of the chess world. It doesn't get the international mainstream headlines, but it's wonderful to bring so many chessplayers from around the world in a single event. Teams of amateurs get to rub shoulders with the world's elite and play their hardest. So it was a real shame to see such poor conditions for the players and such larcenous financial burdens placed on the federations. So many people I talked to were outraged by everything from the hotel and food prices, the meager room allocations, and the site next to the airport instead of in the city. The cost of sending a team was over double that of Khanty-Mansiysk! Instead of using the large number of attendees to leverage better prices, the players and federations were a captive audience and squeezed at every turn. There was even a "participation fee" of 100 euro per participant, another quarter-million euros bled from the federations. This is a just a fresh example of taking money out of the chess community instead of finding sponsorship to bring money into it. It is ironic because Yazici is the man who led the attack for reparations against the federations that sued FIDE over the election.
Okay, let's put that in the past and hope it is a lesson well learned. I have no doubt Tromsø and Baku will be excellently organized. The organizers there will take this honor seriously and put on a top-class event without using it as an opportunity to loot the federations and players.

An interview with Azerbaijani television
CB: What did you think about your hometown of Baku being selected as the site of the 2016 Olympiad? You haven't been back since you and your family were forced to flee in 1990, right? But you were seen in Istanbul having friendly conversation with the Azerbaijani minister of sport. Is this another truce that is not a truce?
GK: No, I have not been back since, and it is still difficult to imagine returning. But what concerns me most now and what should concern everyone is that Armenia, the team that has now won three of the last four Olympiads, may not attend. It would be a real tragedy if that happens and I hope a resolution can be found. It's always sad when politics interferes with sport, but we have seen examples of sport having a positive impact on politics, so we can dream of this. And if I can help in this process, I will do everything I can.
CB: Since you mentioned that gold medal, how can Armenia keep pulling this off? Obviously they have a strong team, and this time they added Movsesian, so maybe the better question is how can a Russian team top seeded every time keep finding new ways to fall short of gold?

Another gold for the Armenian team, with Aronian hoisting the flag
GK: Actually, Movsesian already played for Armenia on the European Team Championship. As for Russia, silver on tiebreaks is not a crime, I think! Yes, okay, for Russia anything but gold is a failure of a sort, and the players are always aware of this. It was that way on all my Soviet and Russian teams, and that sort of pressure is not always comfortable. I was doubly upset because my old coach Yuri was there captaining the Russian team. He already built a winning women's team and he came so close here. I think they relaxed after beating Ukraine [in round eight], you know, they thought "okay, we've played the toughest opponents," and they relaxed against the USA [in round nine]. Of course the US is a strong team now, but unlike, say, Ukraine, China, and Armenia they don't have a really solid core top to bottom. So maybe Russia relaxed a little and we saw what happened. And of course Russia has the women's gold, do not forget, so I congratulate them as well as our open team for the silver and Karjakin and Jakovenko for their individual medals.

The Russian team, looking less than pleased with silver on tiebreak
As for Armenia, we can rule out luck after three golds in six years! They lost to China but came back and showed their incredible fighting spirit as a team once again. Not on rating the best team, but great fighting spirit all the way through. It's amazing that Movsesian had the worst score on the Armenian team, but he had the two clutch wins over Grischuk and Almasi. Pressure performance! You don't often see a hero with 50%! It's good that they changed the board medals to performance rating. Aronian got gold with best TPR and 7/10. In my last Olympiad I had the best overall TPR but didn't get any board medal with 7.5/9! By the way, it was ridiculous how nobody seemed to be sure who had won after the final round ended. It turns out the rules on tiebreaks are poorly written and [as John Nunn pointed out] ambiguous! How symbolic! And even when it was finally clear what it was trying to say, it seems there is room for confusion if two of a team's opponents finish with the same lowest match score. It's not hard to imagine yet another lawsuit due to this sloppiness. Both grammatical and logical ambiguity! It's exactly what CAS does.

From the FIDE Handbook, D.II.02 Olympiad Pairing Rules. Language-wise, "against this opponent" would refer to the opponent that was excluded for having the lowest number of match points. It should read, "against each opponent, again excluding that with the lowest number of match points," or something similar. Logic-wise, there is no guidance for what happens if two opponents are tied for lowest number of match points. This is critical if a different number of board points were scored against those two teams. E.g. Armenia scored 3-1 against Bolivia and 4-0 against Bangladesh. Had BOL and BAN finished with the same low number of match points, which game score would have been used in the multiplier to calculate Armenia's tiebreaks, 3 or 4?
CB: Did you have a chance to follow many of the matches? Any that caught your eye?
GK: I always watched the top games. It was a pleasure to see the return of the great Vassily! What an attack in his last win!
21.f5! is very nice. And several moves of the attack are hard for a human to see. Psychologically, 26.h8(Q)! and 28.dxe5 are difficult because they give the black king more space. Ivanchuk is one of those players we should all appreciate for his great talent and tireless appetite for chess.
Photos by Karakhayan, Llada, and Karlovich
courtesy of the official site