Ilya Levitov broke two pieces of news Monday. The crucial one was that despite the dark musings of many, and above all the FIDE President himself, we now have at least one bid for the Anand-Gelfand match. The other concerned a unique twist for the Botvinnik Memorial this September.
Levitov, President of the Russian Chess Federation Board, revealed the news about the World Championship match on the ChessPro forum, in a thread that bears his name. His message was short and sweet:
The RCF is planning to hold the Anand-Gelfand match in Moscow. A major sponsor has been found who’s ready to do that. Moreover, the bid has already been sent to FIDE. And you’re the first to hear about it :)
The bid might not be chosen, of course, but simply the existence of a viable proposal is likely to come as a relief to all concerned, given the acrimonious withdrawal of the London bid and apparent difficulties finding organisers in India or Israel. The news is also well-timed after heated debate (at least in Russian chess circles) about FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov’s recent interview with WhyChess. Ilyumzhinov spoke about introducing blitz and rapid ratings and also World Championship matches, to be followed by a match between the winners to decide the “Absolute World Champion”. Where would that leave classical chess? Without friends in high places, it appeared (this text is translated from the Russian version of the interview):
Since we’re subject to market conditions, two championships will be offered up for the public’s verdict: the so-called Classical World Chess Championship and the Absolute World Championship. And let’s see where the sponsors put their money. From the financial support we might see, for example, that if the “absolute” champion attracts a million dollars, and the “classical” only ten thousand, then that’s all his crown is worth. Let the market decide, without any state regulation.
To tell the truth, as FIDE President I’m already tired of finding money for champions…
Against such a backdrop, the Moscow bid seems like manna from heaven. And Ilyumzhinov will be free to pursue other projects, such as revisiting Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in the coming days (a desire Ilyumzhinov repeated today, while lamenting the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue an arrest warrant for Gaddafi).
And now for something completely different…
The other piece of news was altogether more unusual. Ilya Levitov was talking to a RIA Novosti sports correspondent, and gave details of the Botvinnik Memorial event planned for 1-5 September in Moscow:
For this tournament marking the centenary of the birth of Mikhail Moiseyevich Botvinnik (1911-1995) we’ve invited the world’s best chess players – Vladimir Kramnik, Levon Aronian, Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carslen. Also appearing in the parallel women’s event will be the best female chess players in the world – the Russian Tatiana Kosintseva, the Indian Humpy Koneru, the Armenian Elina Danielian, and the European Champion, Viktorija Čmilytė from Lithuania.
So far, apart perhaps from the names of the female participants, this is old news. We also know (for instance, from Elina Danielian’s website) that the format is going to be a double round-robin with a 25 min + 10 sec time control. But here’s where Levitov surprised us, revealing that the highlight of the event is going to be that in the middle of the games…
…the clocks will be stopped. And each player will spend about a minute and a half telling the spectators about the opening played and the evaluation of the position. During that time his opponent will listen to music on headphones before also giving his opinion.
Perhaps the idea’s inspired by the BBC’s Master Game, which has recently been revived on the internet. Some late-70s technical wizardry made it seem as though you could hear the thoughts of top players as they contemplated their moves – though the crucial difference was that the game was played normally before the thoughts were added. It’s safe to assume Botvinnik wouldn’t have approved of stopping a game of chess for a quick chat with the audience, though he also wouldn’t have approved of rapid chess in the first place.
Vishy Anand recently gave a video interview for Chess-News, where he was asked about whether it was a problem for the Botvinnik Memorial that Botvinnik was against rapid chess (Evgeny Surov’s question starts at around 14:40):
Not at all. I mean, we’re remembering Botvinnik, and it’s a chance for chess players to get together and remember him. But should we really play a 16-round tournament just because he would have liked it that way? It was not practical. I think the aim was just to highlight what a great figure in chess he was and that’s it. But I agree, yes, he was not very fond of blitz. I always remember the story – I think Genna [Sosonko] asked him if he ever played blitz, if I remember correctly, and he said something like, “Yes, once in the train in 1931”, or something like this. I always thought that was very funny.
Levitov also revealed that on the 4th September the 8 players will take part in a simultaneous display against 80 talented children from all around Russian, with each grandmaster playing 10 games.
Whatever Botvinnik might have thought of his memorial, it should definitely be something for the rest of us to look forward to!
UPDATE at 12:00 CET, 28 June: Moskovskie Novosti (Moscow News) quotes Kirsan Ilyumzhinov’s assistant, Berik Balgabaev, as confirming the receipt of the Moscow bid. He says he has no right to reveal details of any other bids at this stage, but notes “great interest in holding the match from India and Israel”.
UPDATE at 21:20 CET, 28 June: Some more details have emerged on both stories today. An official press release from the Russian Chess Federation about the Botvinnik Memorial added one more surprise:
After the rapid there will be games played in pairs: Kramnik and Kosintseva, Anand and Koneru, Aronian and Danielian and Carlsen and Cmilyte will compete to find the strongest “mixed” pair.
Those pairings are all based on nationality – Russia, India and Armenia, with the exception being Carlsen and Cmilyte. Now would perhaps be a profitable time to be a highly-rated female Norwegian player!
The other new information concerned the Russian bid for the Anand-Gelfand match. Levitov gave a short interview to Yury Vasiliev of Sport Express, in which he revealed the anonymous “major sponsor who really loves chess” wasn’t proposing the bare minimum prize fund of 1 million euros, but instead 2 million dollars. That would be around 1.4 million euros, in comparison to the 2 million euros prize fund in Sofia (it’s possible, however, that there was some confusion over euros and dollars in the interview).
The sponsor would take on all the organisational fees and taxes, and Levitov revealed that they’d already considered the possibility of holding the match in one of Moscow’s world famous museums: the State Tretyakov Gallery, or the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.
Boris Gelfand has apparently already given a response. He’s quoted as telling Kirill Zangalis of Sovietsky Sport:
I’m very glad overall that the match will take place. I won’t say that playing in Moscow will be like playing at home. I think Anand will also feel comfortable in the Russian capital. I know he has a lot of fans there. But I hope people will also be rooting for me in Moscow.
UPDATE at 00:50 CET, 29 June:
The anonymity of the mysterious sponsor didn’t last long! The Russian business newspaper Kommersant reports that several sources have told them it’s Andrei Filatov, a self-made billionaire with a net worth of 1.1 billion dollars (according to Forbes). The Ukrainian-born Moscow-based businessman is co-owner of a transport infrastructure company, but is also, as Levitov said, a genuine chess fan.
He studied chess at the Belarus Sports Academy where, perhaps crucially, he met and became friends with Boris Gelfand. He says he lost interest in chess when he traveled to his first international tournament (in Katowice, Poland), only to find out when he got there that it had been cancelled. That, and the fact that he was starting to make more money buying and selling small items than he’d be able to playing chess, led to his choosing business. He’s since funded chess tournaments and also the restoration of the Alexander Alekhine memorial in Paris. (Many of the details above come from an interview conducted in 2009 by the editor of the Russian chess magazine, 64.)
Kommersant also quotes another response by Boris Gelfand to the news of a possible match. Gelfand called Moscow “the world’s most chess city” and said that holding the match there “might be the best option”. He says that so far he has no knowledge of any specific steps being taken towards holding the match in Israel.