President of the Russian Chess Federation (RCF) Andrey Filatov talks to “R-Sport” special correspondent Oleg Bogatov, summing up the past chess year and outlining the key tasks for 2016: to win the Candidates’ Tournament in Moscow in March and the World Chess Olympiad in Baku in August.
He also speaks about the specifics of the situation within FIDE and an unusual proposal that will increase interest in the matches for the world crown.
– Andrey Vasilievich, what is your assessment of 2015? Was it more successful than the previous year?
– Last year can hardly be called more successful than 2014, when the Russian women’s team won gold medals at the World Olympiad. Whereas, this year we had a double victory at the European team championship. I think both were equally good years.
– Yet our players gained more victories in different types of chess in 2015?
– True, but an Olympiad gold medal is worth all the other victories put together. Yet last year Alexander Grischuk did win the world Blitz championship and two players from Russia got to the World Cup final: Sergey Karjakin beat Peter Svidler and Ian Nepomniachtchi won the silver at the World Rapid Chess Championship. And, what is more, our children’s “White Castle” has been joined by China, this major achievement making the tournament unique.
– China is currently enjoying a chess boom. Will the young players from Russia manage to stand up to them?
– That depends on the adults, primarily parents, on how much they will promote chess life in their children’s schools. If chess becomes increasingly popular, the standard of the chess game will also gain strength. And school directors will once again, like in Soviet times, compete to have the strongest children’s team. And governors will be proud of their teams.
– In 2015, the “White Castle” was won by chess players from Armenia. What is your opinion on this?
– The chess standard in Armenia has always been high. Chess is now taught in schools, is discussed on the TV and Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan heads up the national chess federation. So their success was to be expected, and we are learning from them.
– By the way, how is the Russian “Chess in Schools” programme coming on?
– Quite successfully in some regions. I don’t think chess should be an official lesson. It’s up to the parents to decide: where there’s a will, there’s always a way to develop chess in extra-mural groups and additional educational courses. It shouldn’t be part of the mandatory programme – that shouldn’t be the aim.
– Which regions are at the fore in the revived “White Castle”?
– Khanty-Mansiysk is experiencing a real chess boom at the moment. And we are lucky that the Governor, Natalya Komarova, is such a good person, as well as a beautiful woman. She loves chess and is doing a lot to develop it in the region. It is very important for governors to focus on development of chess in their region or territory.
– In recent years, the country’s championship super finals have actually been held in the regions. Do you think such decisions have produced real results?
– Yes, many constituent entities of the Russian Federation want and compete to host the country championship super finals. Several regions would like to organize the super final of the Russia-2016 championship super final, including Khanty-Mansiysk, Novosibirsk and Bashkiria. I hope there will be more by the time the decision is made. And we do see results – in the attention paid to chess in the region. This also tells on the governor’s rating, so development of chess is important and useful. That is the situation in, for example, the Zabaikal Territory. Chess is growing in popularity and there is good chess activity in many regions.
A united team
– The men’s team of Russia is the favourite at every major tournament. And, at the same time, it is a mystery team, with no-one really knowing how it will perform this time. How did the Russian players manage to win at the European championship?
– A real team took shape. It is always very difficult to develop a team spirit among strong individual chess players. Our country has many chess geniuses, but team play was lacking. But now it is taking shape and when talented sportsmen make up a unified team, that’s when the results come in, of course.
– Previously, a number of leading players were guaranteed Olympiad team places. Is that still the case?
– There is huge competition for places on the team and we consider all candidates, be they young or experienced. I can say that I would really like one of our outstanding chess players not to be there at the Olympiad in Baku, but to be spending the time preparing for the match for the chess crown against the Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, after winning the Candidates Tournament in Moscow. If we are lucky, one of our players will, fortunately, not be part of the Olympiad team.
– If Sergey Karjakin or Peter Svidler wins the Candidates Tournament, will Carlsen’s chances in a match with them still be greater?
– I don’t believe so. I am convinced that it I always easier for the candidate, since he has nothing to lose. The pressure of possibly losing the world crown is tremendous. And someone who has already undergone the stringent selection in the Candidates Tournament is definitely a grand master of a very high level, entitled to wear the crown.
– What is the situation with respect to holding the world crown match in the USA?
– The talks were suspended when the USA imposed the sanctions on Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. No agreement has been reached so far and the final decision will be made in March. But I hope the world championship will take place in the USA and that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov will hand the award to the world champion.
– From your own country?
– Why not? I hope that one of the players from Russia will win the Candidates Tournament and, in the autumn, we will bring back the world champion’s crown from the USA (smiles).
– The Tournament will take place in Moscow in March…
– We are very grateful and thankful to Kirsan Ilyumzhimov and President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan for choosing Moscow as the venue for the competition. And our chess fans will have an opportunity to watch live games by leading world grand masters.
– What do you think Karyakin and Svidler’s chances are of winning the Candidates Tournament?
– I am sure that one of them will win, because they are really strong players. Let them just try not winning! (laughs).
The main opponent is within
– Who will be their main rival?
– I believe that each has their main opponent within themselves. And if they can overcome their emotion, it will be easy to fight for victory – as in the World Cup, where they faced each other in the final.
– So the main problem is psychological stability?
– They still lack conviction somewhat. In order to win, you have to believe that you can and will be world champion. It seems to me that they are getting there.
– What else do they lack at the moment if they are to beat Carlsen?
– Each has his own complexities but, in order to play the match with Carlsen, they need to be in fantastic physical shape. Because he has incredible staying power. So the question is for them to have enough energy to win. But it would not be appropriate for me to pick out anyone specifically: for me, these chess players are two brilliant representatives of our country, with good chances of winning the Candidates Tournament.
– How will the RCF help them prepare for the tournament?
– They have formed their training team and we will pay for the trainers’ work.
The main competitor is the US team
– Will Vladimir Kramnik play in the Baku Chess Olympiad?
– It is a great honour to play for the Russia team, all our chess players dream of getting on to the team and no-one is guaranteed a place now. There has never been a grand master who would say that he could not or did not want to play on the team or demanded any special playing conditions. Fortunately, we have a choice and there is still time before the Olympiad.
– It was the Chinese team that won the Olympiad-2014. But last year two top-10 players, the Italian Fabiano Caruana and the Filipino Wesley So received US citizenship. So will the US team be our main competitor now?
– Yes, the US team is now our main competitor and, of course, the Chinese team. But at the World Olympiad there are no weak teams. Other strong teams include France, Cuba, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Olympiad will be incredibly difficult for us – it is a very special tournament. If we have a united team, everything will go well.
– When will be know the team members?
– I think we will make the announcement about a month before the tournament.
– Who will prepare the men’s team – the same trainers as at the world and European team championships – Alexander Motylev and Vladimir Potkin? Or will there be more?
– The victory at the European championship demonstrated the competence of these trainers so there are probably no reasons to change them. But we are always prepared to consider options for strengthening the trainer group. There are various ideas but it is too soon to say anything specific.
The task is to create a gold-winning team
– After the lack of success at the previous Olympiad, you said that you would yourself train the team in Baku…
– Yes, and I have already started working. My task is to form a team to win gold medals and I am already in talks with some players – O am telling them what needs to be done to ensure we have a united team in Baku.
– How many people are competing for places on the team?
– We are considering everyone who is capable of playing well. The result will depend on what form they are in a month before the Olympiad.
– Can we say that there is no longer a critical situation on the women’s team like when, two years ago, the Kosintseva sisters refused to play for the team? After the confident adaptation of Ekaterina Lagno, who took Russian citizenship, and of the progressing young Aleksandra Goryachkina?
– It would be better to ask this question of the senior team trainer, Sergey Rublevsky. But, judging from his pleased expression, I am sure of our golden girls. And the invitation to Alexandra to join the team has justified itself. She has great potential and achieves very good results, like at the world championship in China. Or the European championship, when Sasha achieved the best result on the team.
– Has the question arisen of inviting Nadezhda Kosintseva, who only recently gave birth?
– I have spoken to Nadezhda but she has specific family circumstances. We are, in any case, grateful to the sisters Nadezhda and Tatyana Kosintseva; they have done a lot for the country, becoming Olympic champions twice. Great thanks to them; I wish them the greatest success.
I am not striving for the post of FIDE President
– You are still FIDE Vice-President – what might happen now that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has temporarily handed over his powers to Georgios Makropoulos owing to the sanctions imposed by the US Department of the Treasury?
– I met with Kirsan Nikolaevich recently. He is now concluding his legal affairs and, at the next presidential council in March in Moscow, he will recount what his advocates have done and what steps they have taken. And, most likely, he will return to his post. And I will definitely raise the question of Ilyumzhimov telling about the state of his affairs, so that we can vote for his return to the post of President and continue working to the benefit of chess.
– It is a difficult situation: the FIDE world champion match will take place in the autumn in the USA, while the FIDE President cannot enter the country…
– The US Department of the Treasury has restricted movement of funds but no-one has restricted entry into the country.
– If the situation becomes critical, are your prepared to head up FIDE?
– No, I’m not. I have no such plans and intend to concentrate only on the RCF. I enjoy this work and our main task is to win gold medals at the Olympiad. So I have no intention or time to engage also in international administration.
I am sure Ilyuzhimov will take back the FIDE reins
– The chess community is discussing the possibility of ex-world champion Vladimir Kramnik taking over if the situation reaches boiling point and a need arises for someone acceptable to all sides. Do you think that is a possibility in the future?
– I think everything is theoretically possible. But Vladimir Kramnik currently plays on our team. I believe that Anatoly Karpov, who enjoys considerable prestige, would be a worthy head of FIDE. But I consider there are no grounds for saying that Kirsan Ilyuzhimov might leave the post early. So many countries supported him, with the heads of 100 national federations voting for him, so how could he leave FIDE? It would be the wrong thing to do; he needs to work at least three years. And what will happen after those three years depends on the world chess community.
– Do you think Ilyuzhimov might win the court case against the US authorities and prove that the accusations are false?
– I am neither an advocate nor a lawyer, but I think that this will not be easy. After all, he is not a US citizen and when sanctions are applied to you, your rights are restricted and an advocate cannot even protect you as a client.
I think it will be very hard for Ilyuzhimov to win. Judging from the announcements, he is being punished for associating with people who are located in Syria. There is only one reason – communication.
The US sanctions are a major blow to FIDE
– Have the sanctions been a major blow to FIDE?
– Yes, indeed, including with respect to sponsors and many other positions. It is not, of course, a good thing. Personally, I consider sanctions to be a bad mechanism. If you have accusations – go to court’ after all, there must be grounds for imposing sanctions.
– Do you think Garry Kasparov, who has been fighting FIDE for many years now, might step up his activity against this background and again enter the battle for head of FIDE?
– I don’t know, I think that the entire chess world demonstrated once that they do not see him as FIDE President. And it would be very difficult for him a second time – he would need to win the trust of many countries and many people. He might try but, from my point of view, he has minimal chances.
– When did you last have contact with him?
– I have not been in contact with him. I have spoken to his mother Klara Shagenovna. The elections for head of FIDE are in three years. Kasparov is well known and he might, indeed, enter the fray.
– Has Makropoulos any ambitions in this direction?
– He is respected in the chess world. Everything is possible.
Player of the year is Alexander Grischuk
– Who would you name as the male and female chess players of the year?
– I love big victories. And the most important of these is the title of world champion. In 2015, Alexander Grischuk became blitz world champion for the third time. And we can be proud of this, so we will pinpoint only the world champion.
Last year, too, Sergey Karjakin and Peter Svidler both won the right to battle for the world crown, so they could be named as well. This was a great achievement, but Grischuk became world champion –that is a tremendous success. Whereas the girls are all golden and the best – no-one stands out. It is a real team, which won everything necessary.
– Looking at the development of chess throughout the world, who has the most effective training method?
– Armenia, in my opinion. Through introduction of chess into schools and the attention focused on chess by the country’s President Serzh Sargsyan. Our President Vladimir Putin also pays considerable attention to chess, but in Armenia, TV regularly shows chess – games, programmes for parents and children. And chess players are really respected there.
The world champion should play more often
– How can matches for the world crown become more popular?
– There is news: I have submitted a proposal to the FIDE Presidential Council to consider a change in the rules for holding a world championship match among men and women. What is the main idea here? To combine two systems: the current one and the one prior to 1948, when the world champion was entitled to play to retain is crown.
For instance, if Carlsen wants to put up his title, he should be given the right to play for a 50/50 split of the prize fund between himself and FIDE. If this brings tremendous popularity to chess and the match meets the FIDE rules, there might be such a possibility.
This is similar to how Alexander Alekhine became world champion: he found money for the match and Jose Capablanca agreed to play for the crown.
– Who could be the opponent – only a chess player?
– Anyone – Bill Gates, for instance. Why not? I think such a decision would both bring popularity and create suspense and spark betting activity. And this could make FIDE rich.
The decision will be made by the world champion and FIDE. It is the world champion’s choice. If he is not against such a financially beneficial match, he will play. And if he wins, he becomes a rich man.
– When might this happen?
– After the current cycle of matches for the world champion title is completed. My idea is that the world champion should not play a match during the official selection for the right to play him. Such a battle would entail great excitement and tremendous interest. And I, for instance, as president of the RCF, would be interested in speaking to sponsors so that the champion of Russia might gain the right to such a match.
Russia is prepared to submit the first application
– Do you think Russia might be the first to submit an application for such a duel?
– Why not? Champion of Russia is a very important title. And our leading grand masters should understand that, if they want to play for the world champion title, they must first become champion of the country.
This could be prestigious for any major Russian company – to help a Russian grand master return the world chess crown to Russia.
– Our girls could fight for the chess crown: Alexandra Kosteniuk, Ekaterina Lagno, Valentina Gunina?
– I saw how Katya Lagno quite easily beat world champion Hou Yifan at the Olympiad. And given correct and good preparation, our leading grand masters should achieve a high result and defeat the Chinese player. And we are working on this.