Tomasz Sielicki, the President of the Polish Chess Federation, gave an interview responding to criticism from the leading Polish player, Radosław Wojtaszek. Sielicki also outlines the achievements of his year in charge and discusses preparations for the upcoming Olympiad.
The interview with Wojtaszek that I translated a few days ago mainly offered an insight into working as a second for Anand during the match in Sofia, but it also touched on the Polish Chess Federation. Wojtaszek said that it was strange that he wasn’t supported by the federation, and that he hadn’t decided whether to take part in the Olympiad (though his criticism was very mild in comparison to Naiditsch’s recent open letter).
The current interview was given to the same Polish magazine, “Mat”, and the same interviewer, GM Grzegorz Gajewski, and will appear in the upcoming issue. A brief biography of Tomasz Sielicki can be found on Silvio Danailov’s campaign website, as Sielicki is standing for the position of Deputy President of the ECU. “One-man show” in the text below is in English in the original.
“It’s not a one-man show”
Tomasz Sielicki interviewed by Grzegorz Gajewski:
It’s now been a year since you took up the post of President of the Polish Chess Federation. Could you outline what you’ve managed to achieve in that time?
It’s not a one-man show. The work carried out hasn’t only been mine, but that of the whole administration. We’ve managed to do a lot of things. Let’s start with the office. Only a year ago none of the individuals employed there knew anything about chess – literally none of them. Not even the Head of Training!
During our term in office there have been big changes in the office personnel and today – although it’s still a work in progress – it’s operating more actively, and those employed there are competent. We’ve also managed to sort out the financial side of the office. Firstly, we’ve now got a much better relationship and system of accounting with the Ministry of Sport, which translates into funds. Secondly, we’ve dealt with the situation relating to all the fees due to the Polish Chess Federation. Up until now payments were declarative, which for some meant that anyone who paid was a mug. There was no means of enforcing those debts, which cost the federation a huge amount of money. We analysed all the payments into the PCF accounts over the last 3 years and managed to recover some of the arrears. But above all we hope that there won’t be new debts. Thirdly, we introduced the sale of chess events as marketing products, along with the possibility of issuing VAT receipts. Up until that point the federation wasn’t in a position to sell services of any sort, not even marketing and promotion. We could only accept donations. Now the Polish Chess Federation pays VAT, which is a necessary condition for any company to want to work with us. As a result the Polish Championship in January was sold for almost 250,000 złoty [about 62,400 euro]. Our next success was in attracting numerous sponsors to chess. Enea and Budimex, who were the main sponsors of this year’s championship, are after all giants in the Polish market. All but one of the companies who sponsored this year’s finals have declared that they’ll also support us financially next year. We managed to find a sponsor for a training program for Darek Świercz, and that sponsor was the firm Microsoft. Citi Handlowy Bank became a partner of the Junior Polish Championship. With our partners’ help we managed to organise training matches for a number of our best players at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, with a player rated over 2700 taking part (Vladimir Malakhov). I think we’re on the right path to establishing the financing of the PCF on 3 pillars: 1/3 Ministry of Sport, 1/3 sponsorship and 1/3 statutory activity.
With that in mind, what are the most important plans and challenges that the PCF is setting itself?
If we’re talking about long-term plans, then – as I announced before the elections – we’re going to put forward a bid to organise the Chess Olympiad in 2018. That falls on the centenary of our country regaining independence, and it also happens to have been when chess started to become extremely popular in Poland. As for plans in the shorter term, we’ve applied to organise the European Team Championship in 2013. I won’t hide the fact, however, that the fight will be very tough, as the ETC and Olympiad are the events most besieged by potential organisers. In any case, the decision over who will be granted the right to organise it should be taken by the end of the year, and we hope it’ll be in our favour. In terms of international affairs, I was asked by Boris Kutin and Silvio Danailov to stand for the ECU election – if that’s successful I’d fulfil the role of Deputy President. There are three candidates in the election: ourselves, a German team supported by Western Europe and above all by Karpov and Kasparov, and a Turkish team led by Ali Nihat Yazici, the President of the Turkish Chess Federation. As for our chances, a lot will depend on political pacts of various kinds, which is unfortunate, as I consider the team I’m part of to be composed of the most competent people.
And plans for the Polish backyard? In your program you talked, among other things, about the need to organise a Polish Grand Prix.
Unfortunately as of yet we haven’t done much in that area, but it’s definitely something we want to do. I don’t know if we’ll manage to hold a Grand Prix in 2011, but we’ll try.
What about the Polish Championships? What will the format be?
The men’s final will be identical to this year [a Swiss tournament], while the women will play a round-robin tournament. The final will probably take place in the first quarter of 2011 in Warsaw. Both events will be organised by the Polish Chess Federation. This year’s finals, which turned out to be a success, convinced us of the idea that events of the rank of the Polish Championships should be organised by the federation, while other, commercial events, should have private organisers.
Any other plans?
We want a greater number of young players than at the moment to be covered by individual training programs. We have a program for Darek Świercz, but I think that the same support should be available for other talented juniors e.g. Kamil Dragun, Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Ola Lach.
Returning to Świercz, could you give our readers an idea of how the program works, what goals it sets for Darek, and what sort of support he can count on?
It’s a three-way agreement between the Polish Chess Federation, the “Polonia” Wrocław Chess Club and Darek’s parents. We’ve managed to set up an ideal partnership, for which I’m grateful to all concerned. Darek has been guaranteed special training conditions and a place in many strong events. Already this year, thanks to the contract, he was able to play in the round-robin tournament in Lublin, to face Movsesian in a match, and also to have training sessions with Gurevich. He also has a new permanent trainer, the experienced grandmaster Olek [Alexander] Sulypa. In exchange we expect Świercz to break into the world top 100 within two years, and of course to become one of the top Polish players. It’s also interesting that Darek – as part of the contract – is not allowed to have problems at school, as we don’t want to produce “one-trick ponies”. He must also be available five days a year for his sponsor, Microsoft. Already this year in July he appeared as a star of the Programmers World Cup, the Microsoft Imagine Cup. I hope that thanks to our program he’ll follow in the footsteps of Radek Wojtaszek. I also think, however, that we shouldn’t put too much pressure on Darek. Two years is a long period of time. We’ve got patience and faith.
Ah yes. And what about Radek? In our last issue he didn’t particularly praise the federation for its support.
I had the impression that the replies were more restrained than the questions. The situation with Radek is as follows: I’ve been trying to contact him for half a year but for various, objective reasons, I haven’t managed. After the Polish Championship he left immediately for a training session, while when I visited Sofia during the Anand-Topalov match we couldn’t meet due to his work as a second. Radek is our best player and there’s no question of our not wanting to support his further development. However, in order to talk about cooperation we have to first talk at all. So I hope that we’ll manage to meet in August… Radek isn’t only a great chess player, he’s also a good guy.
As a member of the team Radek has to be restrained in his replies. I don’t have that problem. So I’m asking the question as it’s worrying that it’s still not clear whether our team’s leading player will travel to the Olympiad.
I think that was probably gossip. Radosław Wojtaszek has confirmed his participation in Khanty-Mansiysk. Of course he’ll be treated as the team leader. His conditions are a little better than those for the other team members, and he’ll get an allowance for his results – not a great one, it’s true – but still. If Radek withdrew from the Olympiad he’d give up that dozen or so thousand zloty [the Polish “kilkanaście” can actually mean anything from 11-19, or about 3-5000 euro], he’d also give up building something for the common good along with us, and he wouldn’t get to play at that prestigious event. After all Radek isn’t yet a star along Fischer lines who can calmly take part in the best events around the world. Radek is the best Pole, but he’s still a bit short of crossing the 2700 barrier. We want to help him do that. It’s important for me that after his experience of working with Anand he can serve as a model for Polish players of how you need to work on your chess, as there’s a view – perhaps unfair – that the top Polish players work very little on their chess.
With that in mind who will support our top players at the Olympiad? How will the training staff be composed?
There’s no change for the women – the duo of Marek Matlak and Olek Sulypa will travel to Khanty-Mansiysk. The trainer and captain of the men’s team will be Michal Krasenkow. For our pre-Olympiad preparations we also managed to contract the top trainer and grandmaster Alexander Beliavsky, who among other things was Kasparov’s trainer when the latter was in his prime.
How and why did a change come about in the post of men’s team trainer?
After talking with the players we came to the conclusion that Artur Jakubiec, otherwise a nice and decent man, wasn’t capable as a trainer of sufficiently helping the team, and also demanding more from them. Therefore we didn’t renew his contract, which ran out on 30 June this year. Michal Krasenkow, after a weak performance at the European Individual Championship in Rijeka, decided to take a bit of a break from competitive chess, so a chance arose for him to fulfil the role of team trainer. It’s hard, after all, to question his enormous knowledge and also his mastery, which is unique in Poland. For now that contract is for a few months.
Artur Jakubiec defended himself as a trainer, however, with results. The team he led twice occupied a high position in the European Team Championships (fourth in 2007 and seventh in 2009 – ed.), while the one weaker performance came in the Olympiad in Dresden.
Perhaps with the new trainer the Polish team will do even better? We decided that it was a good time for a change, and we hope it was the right decision. Though not everything depends on the trainer…
What goals have been set for the men’s and women’s teams?
I think for the men the goal will be finishing in the top 10, while for the women – we hope – they’ll fight for a medal, though given the absence of Iweta Rajlich it won’t be easy. In any case the final goals haven’t yet been set – I’m waiting for the recommendations of the Head of Training and the trainers, along with proposals for financial bonuses.
Thank you for the conversation.