19 July 2015

Chess is supposed to unite people!

Evgeny Sveshnikov tells about his match with Anatoly Karpov.

In 2001, Boris Spassky, Yuri Balashov and I made a tour in Russia: we were meeting chess fans, answering questions, and conducting lectures and simuls. Do you remember the time when we were preparing a series of articles for the "64" Magazine together with you? As was aptly noted by Spassky, this trip of ours "raised waves." So, my last year's match against Alexei Shirov made a wave too as I felt that the audience might be interested. On the other hand, to be honest, by planning a new match, this time against Anatoly Karpov, it was not about Latvia, but rather I wanted to draw public attention to the chess life in Chelyabinsk.

My preparation against Shirov was brilliant, the overall result, however, was terrible (0.5-5.5). However, the score is not the main thing: I have understood that such matches are of interest (our games were followed online by some 10 thousand people), while it is a relatively easy task to organize them, provided, or course, that it has found its sponsor. 

I wanted to organize my match against Karpov in the Urals, in our small homeland in Zlatoust and Chelyabinsk. Having obtained the consent of Anatoly, I started calling my friends in November about allocating money. Although it was a relatively small amount, no one came up with it probably because of the current crisis. I was not denied, but rather they told me, "Let's put it off for half a year!" 

It was in Riga that I was once invited to a restaurant by Evgeny Ushakov. I told him all about my idea and that I was not successful in finding any sponsors. He asked how much money was needed and offered his suggestion, "Well, let's organize this match! The venue, however, will be in Riga." Indeed, the amount necessary for the fee to match participants was cashed up. Karpov agreed because had been many times in Latvia and fell in love with Riga. In addition, he would like to open a chess school here that would bear his own name as there is already one Karpov school in Lithuania and in Estonia, whereas in Latvia there is none.

Thus, the match was "moved" to Riga, where the real adventures began. I suggested to the President of the Latvian Chess Federation Peters Shmidre that the Chess Federation should bear the organizational costs related to the match. The Federation held a meeting, and it was decided in favour of the federation participating in the match organization. The next question on the agenda was which location to choose as a venue. The president even offered that the event be carried out within the premises of the Opera House. There was definitely no shortage of plans! However, this chamber hall was not too much of a suitable venue for the chess event.

Meanwhile, I approached the co-owner of the hotel and the "Europa" casino, who is a chess fan himself. He offered to provide Karpov with a room in the hotel, as well as to provide him with a car and a driver. In addition, in the beginning of December I went to the Riga City Council for a scheduled meeting, where I met the responsible for sports and proposed him that cooperation be maintained. I mentioned that the match would be organized anyway without fail, but I wondered whether the Duma wished to lend its assistance in the event organization. I offered that the rent of the game hall and the return tickets for Karpov be reimbursed, as well as that live game broadcasting over Internet be set up. Indeed, thanks to this match Riga would get a lot of public attention! My idea seemed interesting to my dialog partner. Together with him and with the representatives of the Chess Federation, we visited the Congress House to have a look at the hall. We went around a number of hotels; even the idea of the new National Library being a venue for the event was subjected to consideration as an alternative. Then we went over to the Moscow House where the hall seemed just perfect! In addition it was a comfortable location to carry out the tournament of veterans and students of chess schools simultaneously with the main match.

As a result, we decided in favour of the Moscow House and it seemed like everything was finally agreed upon. Believing that everything was well under way, I left for the sanatorium for medical treatment and preparation for the match; Volodya helped me in training. I had a sponsor for the first time in my life. When I won the Russian veterans championship in spring being one point clear of the second prize-winner (in the Swiss system it means that you are way stronger than others), I acknowledged to Ushakov: "It is only because of you!" The first thing I did to prepare for the match was to give Volodya money to buy a good computer.

In the course of preparation, I played in two tournaments that featured the same time control as in the upcoming match (i.e. 25 minutes + 10 seconds). And then, two weeks before the start, which was scheduled on the beginning of April, I felt like I was hit by a thunderbolt: the Duma was reported to have refused to host a match in the Moscow House! In Riga, shortly prior to that, a column of American tanks passed along; I think this is what caused a very serious impact on the officials. They believed that it was impossible to simply stick your neck out in moments like this.

At the same time I already agreed with Dana Reizniece (she is not only a grandmaster, but also the Minister of Economy of Latvia), that she would undertake commenting on the games. On the other hand, Alexei Shirov, too, had talked to Evgeny Ushakov. The first move in the game was to be made the mayor of Riga Nil Ushakov. However, all this was planned to take place in the Moscow House, where the Ambassador of Russia was to be invited. But then Dana said, "I cannot be seen at the opening together with the Ambassador of Russia. As for commenting, I will do it. "It is strange to hear such things, of course; while chess is supposed to bring people together, here, on the contrary, problems started immediately floating to the surface! What can you do, you can’t help it.

So, at the last moment it turns out that the Duma does not intend to conduct the match in the Moscow House, but is ready to arrange it elsewhere. Moreover, they decided to allocate for all in all only as much as three thousand euros. Oh, look at that much money! Just when I started to believe they would take care of all organizational costs. In addition, Dana said that as the Easter was not that far away, chess was not considered priority number one. In general, the issue of match organization came to a stall. Phone calls alone cost me around 100, maybe 200 euros even. And I shudder to remember how much energy had been invested along the way! When I was opening the school in Chelyabinsk, it was much easier. I trusted people and was never let down even once... At the end, I spoke with Karpov and Ushakov, and we decided to postpone the match. With all the difficulties that we had to face there suggested itself an idea that, after all, the match should be held in Russia, rather than in Latvia.

Finally the venue was found by the Latvian Chess Federation that offered that the event be conducted in the "Tal Residence" -  a new building in the center of Riga, which was still being under repair. Nevertheless, everything worked out just perfect! Unfortunately, not that much attention will be devoted to chess in this residence; at best there will be a room converted to Tal’s museum, or just his portrait hanging somewhere. In addition, the Federation had specifically prepared some souvenirs for the match such as pens, envelopes, medals, as well as issued a postage stamp and arranged its special cancellation in order to please Karpov, who is known to be a philatelist. They also managed to carry out my idea on a very good level: in parallel with the main match a blitz tournament for veterans over 65 years and young players under the age of 15 years old was organized. A good half of the participants were awarded with cash prizes and memorable gifts.

To be honest, there came a moment when I no longer believed that the match would ever take place. Until I saw Karpov at the airport I was in a state of uncertainty as to whether he, being a representative of the Russian State Duma, would be allowed into Latvia. Curiously enough, a day before that I had a conversation with Shirov over Skype. He was very much surprised to hear that I was planning to meet Karpov, "How? You are going to play a match against him!” I said, "That's exactly the reason why I am going to the airport!" I have always had very good relationships with Anatoly, but when I took the lead 1.5-0.5 he became very tense. Remember, he would not sit down to breakfast at the same table with us. Karpov’s attitude changed: be would become concentrated, would start to fight for real. Shirov understood it and was discussing it after the first game day.

The first day turned out especially well for me. However, Karpov’s choice of the Sicilian Defence took me by surprise. I expected him to resort to the Caro-Kann Defence, to the Evans Gambit (my present knowledge is enough to issue a book on this opening!), and to the Scandinavian Defence. We have covered a lot of chess ground together with my son. By the way, when Karpov agreed to a match I told him, “Tolya, I want to ask you to allow me to have a head start.” He cast me a surprised look and asked, “What kind of a head start are you talking about?” “I would like to play a preliminary match with my coach. While you are not going to have a coach, I am going to have one. You have had such kind of head starts your entire chess life!” Karpov would just smile. There was no competitive importance behind this match, especially for him. It is clear, nevertheless, that Anatoly wanted to avoid losing or even drawing it. 

Karpov has accumulated a great deal of match experience and was, apparently, pondering over different possibilities as to how avoid the opponent's home preparation. In 2003, he took part in exactly the same type of match (6 games with time control being 25+10) against the European Champion Bartlomiej Macieja. He gave me an assignment, and within three days I managed to come up with complete anti-dotes to Macieja’s opening repertoire. Karpov won the first game by following my analytical lines, and later acknowledged in writing: "We did a great job!" It took me about three days to have the Scottish game in the interpretation of Macieja "killed", when the Polish grandmaster found himself without his opening. Karpov then went on to win with a score of 5.5-0.5. Thanks to his experience Anatoly is able to choose the right strategy, being the most unpleasant one for his opponent.

It is true, that in our Sicilian duels he was standing worse two times. Having been defeated in the third game, I just dropped game four. One bad move with the knight to c3 was enough to have the game lost. After all, I have played this position for both colors and was perfectly well aware of the Qe4 and Na3 plan. What happened is just amazing! Sometimes your hand does something that is simply impossible to explain later on. Your emotions are known to be from time to time in the way when playing rapid games. However, I used to have similar failures in the classic games also…

I am happy about the match, but not about the overall result. I have to admit that when asked prior to the start of the match about what in my opinion the overall score was likely to be, I gave the following answer, “The real balance of forces corresponds to the overall score of 2-4. However, judging by the nature of the fight I now start to believe that I could have produced better results. Much to my grief, the second day proved to be a disaster. Had I not lost game three, game four would have never taken such a terrible direction.

My son did warn me that I should avoid passive and slightly worse positions against Karpov. In my younger years defending such a type of position used to be even more pleasant for me than carrying out a nice combination. Have you noticed that I never repeated the same line, changing them so as to create as many problems for Karpov as possible? Karpov gained nothing out of the opening. They say that Karpov takes inspirations from similar positions where nothing is threatened and where you can just start gradually improving. Well, you saw me trying to stir things up once… You need to assess your possibilities in a sober manner: nowadays I can no longer play without being guided by a clear-cut plan.

Shortly prior to the match I participated in the individual rapid championship of Latvia that featured the same time control. My play couldn’t be worse. In the last round I lost to Kveinys in a position the assessment of which was +2,5 in my favour. And then, when, I suddenly came up with a very good level of performance in the very first day of the match, I was swayed to believe that I could even go on winning the match. Therefore it wouldn’t be correct to say that I underestimated my potential. On the contrary, it was Karpov’s potential that was underestimated. Even my son, who does not impress easily, did admit that Karpov’s play in this match was superb. 

I should note that we played without being identified by state flags, but not due to some political reasons, but rather because I'm waiting for the transfer to the Russian rating list in order to be able to play again for Russia, for which I had already played some 20 times. It also hurts me that the RCF is not willing to send me on the European and World Veterans Championships, although the national champion is entitled to that. It is not my fault that I'm still on the Latvian rating list: FIDE simply wants to make some money on this business and denies my transfer.

By the way, when the issue of the start date and the venue was finally settled, I called the adviser to FIDE President Berik Balgabaev and told him about the upcoming event. His response was, "We welcome such initiatives and wish you good games! However, no money will be given." I had not even tried asking for money yet, and here was the reply already prepared for me!

Karpov is not used to put down his rapid game moves, but I managed to talk him into it. When Emil Sutovsky told me that nowadays a chess game was not a subject of an intellectual property and did not represent any particular commercial value, I hastened to have this statement clarified as to whether it was his personal opinion or the standpoint of the ACP? He seemed embarrassed and replied that it was his personal opinion. And it is this opinion that I would like to argue with. Our games contain original ideas, including those that originate in the opening part of the game and they are of interest to other people.

Alexey Dreev has it very well defined in writing as of recently that we all belong to cheaters. In fact, this is the way it is. But it is necessary to provide an unambiguous definition as to what cheating is. For example, let’s take a person who prepares crib sheets or cards, but during exams never makes use of them. Is it forbidden to do so? No, it is not. But once the person retrieves a crib from his pocket – that’s what is forbidden. I used to prepare cribs for all my exams, but never put them to use. I just feature a good visual memory. By the way, the same is true about Karpov, too. At the same time this memory of ours is much inferior to that possessed by Kasparov, Tal, Psakhis, and Balashov. That’s why Anatoly is used to resort to the opening cribs. The best theoreticians of the Soviet Union used to prepared cribs for him, and he would repeat them, even at a time when he was on his way to the game. He never used them during his encounters and never went to toilets to look them up – he would just memorize the lines on his way to the encounter.

Of course, retaining opening lines in your mind becomes harder and harder as you grow older. I remember, when Karpov approached his timeline of 50 years his performance started plummeting down, and this is when Evgeny Bebchuk reproached him, “Well, Anatoly! What is it that you are demonstrating us? You become a disgrace to your own name! Either prepare yourself properly, or refrain from playing at all!" Karpov replied then, “Evgeny, what am I supposed to do? I love chess and want to play on!" Karpov needed to spend twice as much time on his training as was required for his much younger opponents. He never had such a luxury, as he had other aspects of life and other interests to take care of. As to playing chess, he has always loved it and still goes on loving it!

The opposite is true of Boris Vasiljevich Spassky, who virtually stopped playing when he exceeded the age of 50. I asked him once about the reason of it. He replied, "Evgeny, I'm ashamed of my performance!" I realized that the World Champions can be subdivided into two categories: those who love chess more than their name in chess, and those for whom their names are more important. Botvinnik, Kasparov, Spassky stopped practical performance early enough. As for me, I identify with those who do not give up playing: Smyslov, Lasker, Korchnoi (although the latter was not a champion), Karpov... Of course, in the veterans’ age it becomes no longer possible to live up to your previous results, but these people are very fond of chess.

Next year marks the 80th anniversary of the birth of Mikhail Tal – yet another World Champion who used to love chess more than he loved himself in chess. I would like to organize a tournament in Riga for players over 65 years old, who knew Tal in person, faced him over the board. I would like to invite the elite players older than 65, and hold a round robin for 12-16 players such as Karpov, Ljubojevic, Timman, Anderson, Tukmakov, Portisch! .. It will be as good as a real veteran’s World Championship! In addition to that the three winners of the Amateur Championship, being carried now in accordance with the Swiss system rules, will be invited also.

Well, here in Jurmala Alexei Shirov would organize tournaments and invite elite players on a regular basis. And you know what? This year Morozevich failed to show up for the final round just because he chose to do so. The amount of money spent on the elite players is huge, while the overall useful effect is negligible. I then suggested to Alexei, "You just try to run the veterans' tournament instead! It is going to be cheaper, whereas the overall benefit will quite possibly be even higher. After all, we have a great deal of fans scattered worldwide! Thus, as many as 10 people from the United States, Russia and Belarus have come to this match to cheer for me. It feels like we are very likely to find common ground with Alexei about this issue: after all, he will turn into a veteran himself soon. In Latvia, there are a lot of good and cheap hotels that are capable of hosting chess competitions. A veteran’s tournament will prove to be much cheaper than the Jurmala Festival (which, however, is also necessary to be kept running, it is only necessary to look for new sponsors), and it will attract a lot of attention. This way we are going to pay tribute to the memory of the unforgettable Misha Tal.

What else would I like to see done in Latvia? I would like to see the opening of the Karpov’s chess school; Anatoly has already given his consent. We had a meeting with the management board of one of the holiday houses in Jurmala, people take interest in this project. So, we have a lot of plans and will gradually turn them into reality!

Evgeny Sveshnikov and his support team: Sergej Skudnov, Evgeny’s son Vladimir and Mikhail Ioffe with his wife