Ever since Magnus Carlsen’s shock withdrawal from the Candidates Matches it’s been suggested that Garry Kasparov was behind the decision. In a recent interview, however, Kasparov blew that theory out of the water and expressed his disapproval of his former student’s actions.
Kasparov was interviewed by Stefan Löffler for the German Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper. I came across the interview in Russian translation at Chess-News, which in turn took it from inosmi.ru, a site specialising in translating the best articles in the foreign media into Russian. Hopefully not too much has been lost in translation!
On the 23rd of December it was officially declared that your former pupil, Magnus Carlsen, won’t take part in the World Chess Championship.
It’s not good, it’s the wrong decision. At his age and given his development he should be fighting. At the chessboard.
Do you understand his motives?
He’s right when he criticises the system, calling it unfair. FIDE has organised the whole cycle chaotically. I also don’t like the fact that the matches are going to be run without a break between the quarterfinals, semifinals and final. Magnus would still be the favourite, though physical and psychological aspects would play a large role, and there’d also be a certain element of luck. I think his criticism of the format of the event is only a pretext.
So what are Carlsen’s real motives?
He doesn’t seem to be comfortable taking on such a serious challenge.
Some observers think that you advised him to withdraw from the World Championship.
I wouldn’t have approved. In any case our cooperation ended last spring.
Do you regret that you spent a year coaching him?
Not at all. Out training games, and joint analysis with such a talented player, all gave me enormous pleasure. He has the ability to correctly evaluate any position, which only Karpov could boast of before him. I helped Magnus in areas where he’s lacking: opening preparation, a more systematic approach to work and sharper play.
What did you think when you heard that Carlsen had refused to take part in the World Championship?
I wasn’t surprised. Even during our training camp in Marrakech a year ago I spoke about his insufficient match experience, but he didn’t want to discuss it. He’s still never played a match as favourite. I advised him to hold a training match against a world class chess player who wasn’t among the candidates to become World Champion.
When you topped the world chess rankings you would only lose about a game a year. In the last three months alone Carlsen has lost seven regular games. Why?
Because he’s not doing the intensive work he needs to. For me, that’s the only explanation. Working means constantly being involved with chess and maintaining his sharpness. The way he lost to Anand in London was terrible. He should have lost to Kramnik as well. Nevertheless, he won the tournament, which shows that he can play better. At the board he’s phenomenal. If he also works intensively enough then he’ll dominate.
Can you imagine a situation where you’ll start coaching Carlsen again?
No. He’s in charge of his own affairs. He’s growing up just now.
Does he need time to rebel?
He needs time to think about his future. It seems as though everything comes easily to him, but his rivals aren’t sleeping. A year ago he was dominating chess, but he isn’t anymore. If he’d continued to work intensively then he could have beaten my record – a 2851 rating. The headlines would have been great, both for chess and for him personally.
You once said that before Carlsen’s done he’ll have significantly changed the game. Do you no longer expect that from him?
A player of his talent, with his media traction and the first Western chess player to be number one after Bobby Fischer – all of that would be extremely useful for chess. But for that he has to constantly prove his superiority. He’s not doing that anymore, and that’s not sufficient for his name to be mentioned in the headlines and to interest people who otherwise wouldn’t care about chess. Magnus is twenty now. At that age he needs to fight. He has tremendous talent, and to a certain degree he’s obliged to devote that talent to the chess world.
When you were the age Carlsen is now, you won not only at the chessboard, but in the struggle for the World Championship you also came up against the resistance of the Soviet Chess Federation. How did that period of your life from 19 to 22 influence you?
It’s visible even simply in the fact that I’m still here. Setbacks and serious challenges strengthen your character. If you avoid them then that won’t go unpunished.
But is it fair to demand that a twenty-year-old sacrifices everything for chess?
You could talk about sacrifices if he was only doing it for others. But it would also be enormously financially beneficial for him.
In the second part of the interview Kasparov talked about the FIDE elections and Russia being awarded the FIFA World Cup (football/soccer) and the Winter Olympics. The opinions are very much consistent with what Kasparov has said before, but it’s perhaps worth quoting what he has to say on FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov:
To win you needed the votes of people who previously voted for Ilyumzhinov. He’s personally spent millions on chess. Perhaps you had to be more cunning and fight the officials standing behind him who’d filled their pockets, rather than mock Ilyumzhinov?
But Ilyumzhinov is ridiculous. Only in November he declared he’d fly to New York and meet Mayor Bloomberg in order to buy “Ground Zero”. He’s capable of passing any lie detector test because he believes what he says. Ask him what colour the aliens were and he’ll tell you, on camera. This man has discredited chess, and now personally lacks the resources he used to have at his disposal.
It seems that not all the players in the FIDE elections have reached a reconciliation.