For his 35th birthday (see Alexandra Kosteniuk’s birthday wishes), Vladimir Kramnik was interviewed by the popular Russian weekly newspaper, Argumenty i Fakty. He talks about whether friendship is possible in chess, and his troubled relationship with Gary Kasparov.
The interview was given to Valentina Oberemko.
They say there are no friends in politics. Is it the same situation in chess?
It depends on your character. I have a good relationship with the vast majority of chess players, even with the World Champion Anand, who took the title from me. But there’s another approach. Fischer was once asked, “What do you like most in chess?” and replied: “Above all I like to see that I’ve crushed my opponent’s ego”. I don’t have anything against my opponents. It strikes me that when someone takes a defeat as a personal insult it suggests a low level of personal development. It’s only a game! I do, of course, get upset after a loss. But first and foremost I blame myself, not my opponent.
Are you still angry with Veselin Topalov over the “toilet scandal”, when he demanded to follow you even when you were in the toilet, or have you reconciled your differences?
It’s unlikely we’ll ever be reconciled. But that has absolutely nothing to do with chess: I still have a lot of complaints about him and his manager on a personal level.
Do you consider Garry Kasparov your friend? After all he once promoted you, and then you took his World Championship title.
We’ve had different periods in our relationship. There was a time when I helped him in his World Championship match in 1995. And then we played a match for the title. After that, unfortunately, our relationship soured. It seems that Kasparov took that sporting defeat as a declaration of war, although it was nothing other than sport. After losing he demanded a rematch, even though he had no legal or moral right to one. After all, we’d signed a contract which he’d drawn up, saying that the loser would play in a candidates tournament, as rematches had long been abolished. Since then many have thought that I almost ran away from him, though that it no way corresponds to the reality. At the time he got upset and said a lot of things – he’s a quick-tempered, passionate man. But let that be on his conscience. After all, I won three World Championship matches. And less than ten chess players in history have managed to do that. I’ve achieved enough in my career, and hope there’s more to come. I’m now preparing for the tournament where I’m planning to regain the World Championship title.
Asked about the problems of cheating and doping in chess, Kramnik says that the most stringent measures are required to stop cheating, while he doubts there are substances that could provide the long-term improvement you’d need for chess matches (without suffering withdrawal the next day). On computers he says there’s no longer any sense in playing matches against them. The interview doesn’t directly address the FIDE election campaign, though Kramnik is asked about the state of Russian chess:
At one time Russia was the leader in figure skating and chess. Now we’ve lost that position in figure skating while in chess, according to Karpov, there’s also a crisis…
I think Anatoly Evgenievich is exaggerating. We’re still the leaders in chess. If you ask chess players of all countries which is the greatest chess power today, they’ll reply: Russia. Yes, it’s often said that in the olden days we won more in sport. But after all we had the whole Soviet Union on our side. And now, by the way, our main rivals in all team competitions are precisely those old Soviet Republics – Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan. We shouldn’t forget that in the USSR chess was politics and in a certain sense an instrument in an ideological war. I’ll be honest: I don’t see any point in artificially stimulating interest in chess. Although chess does need to be popularised in Russia – it’s very useful for developing children’s intellects.
Are you giving your family “a chess education”, do you play your wife in your free time, are you going to teach your daughter your profession?
I’ll start to teach my daughter in a year or two, because I’m convinced that chess is incredibly good for kids’ development. And I’d advise all parents to do the same. I don’t play my wife, although she plays at the level of a category 2 [class B] player. My wife provides support, creating a comfortable and positive environment. We still haven’t had any real quarrels since our marriage, and we’ve already been married three years! In order to play well, any sportsman needs a positive psychological mood, and that’s only possible when things are going well at home.
My wife’s learning Russian and beginning to speak it. I only talk to my daughter in Russian. I’ve never learnt French properly myself. I keep putting it off, as I’ve got more important things to do. I wouldn’t rule out at some point coming back to Russia with my family.