Khalifman's Outstanding Performance

The FIDE World Champion Alexander Khalifman may have tied for the third place at the 17th City of Linares Chess Tournament but his outstanding performance was the least expected and he proved all pre-tournament expectations wrong.

His start rating to rating performance variance was 78, the healthiest among all players revealing that his performance was top class or he is more capable or he is still far under rated.

One of the chess world's discoveries of 199 is Alexander Khalifman, 34, then a quiet self-retired grandmaster today a hero. He had played super category chess, slipped into competing open tournaments and then retired to start his chess school in St.Petersburg, Russia. That's when the turnaround happened in his chess career which took a U-turn. He did not expect it to happen. Overcoming severe odds, and in a dream-come-true experience, he won the FIDE World Championship at Las Vegas last August. In fact his ride to the title started with a defeat against Dibyendu Barua of Calcutta. He levelled the match by coming from behind and won the tie break and then went on to beat Gata Kamsky,  K.Asrian, B.Gelfand, Judit Polgar, L.Nisipeanu and V.Akopian to become champion.

At Linares he was a replacement for Alexander Morozevich. Now with the new title behind him he has started to get invitations from organisers who seldom considered good Russian players for their were too many of them. Today an important person in the chess fraternity, Khalifman, pronounced as "Halifman" has lost his famous smile and friendly demeanor to wear the seriousness which champions are known to sport.

Excerpts from the interview had immediately after the closing ceremony of the 17th City of Linares Tournament:

Q. Congratulations for your nice performance here. Obviously you had the biggest difference between the start rating (2656) to rating performance (2734) here in this tournament?
A. I don't feel that I have to be congratulated. Results are nothing special. I don't have  any respect for the rating system first of all because it has some pure mathematical defects. But this performance is more or less satisfactory because I was the only player under certain extra pressure. The press and Internet media and everybody just agreed that I would be the last and it will only be a question of whether I will score one point or two points. It is not welcome to play under these circumstances. But I tried to do my best and I managed to prove that I was not any class behind the rest of the field. It was fight on all the games. The winners deserved the success but again I would say the whole tournament was more or less equal I would say with some advantage for Vladimir (Kramnik) and Garry (Kasparov). It is not a success for me, but just a result.

Q. There was only seven decisive games out of thirty. How do you read this?
A. I understand that for the audience and the spectators it is a bit discouraging. But however, on this level, it is very tough. All players are a bit afraid to overpress because defensive technique at this level here is very high. Once you play for an initiative or attack, you play two or three active moves and somehow you are worse and soon you lose. This is what exactlly happened to me in the first round, I had a promising position against Vladimir and made two automatic active moves and I was already worse. Everybody is trying to play actively but very accurately. This somehow leads to high percentage of draws. This is the reason why I am in favour of the knock out system. I think for the audience it will be much more interesting. Each match is decided. It has a winner. Everyday something is  happening. It has much more tension but I think the knock out system will have a good future.

Q. You said in your interview to Der Spiegel most of the top category events will get replaced by online events on the Internet. Do you stand by this statement, now that you are  in a top category tournament yourself?
A. (Laughs) My answer in Spiegel was changed a bit and I was misquoted. I did not see the final text before publication of that interview. I was not very happy about it. I think quite many Online Tounaments like the Kasparov Grand Prix are already announced. It will be in the future. It has  audiences in millions. It gets wider public attention. These events will develop in the next few years. I did not say there will be no top tournaments. Sure this (Linares) event will happen. Each year we will have more and more online tournaments.

Q. Do you think that FIDE and others are giving you the same respect which Anatoly Karpov commanded as FIDE World Champion?
A. Relations with FIDE is always a kind of problem. I have great respect for the ideas of FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. But every time I need some  details from FIDE I am shocked about their technical stuff. These people are definitely not on their level. This is a bit disappointing because to build  a modern and prestigious organisation.

Q. Can you cite one example where you were disappointed?
A. This is trivial, you will find it primitive but it is very typical of FIDE.  Me, my wife and second were travelling to the FIDE 75th Year Celebrations at Paris last November. We received a phone call asking for flight number and arrival details. At Charles De Gaulle airport there was nobody to receive us. We waited and waited and finally took a taxi. Nobody even felt apologetic for this lapse. Their excuse was Xie Jun (World Women's champion) also arrived here and we did not meet her. To come or not is another thing.  But saying we will be meeting you then not showing up is another. This is a little detail. But cach day these are compounding. As World Champion I am member of FIDE Executive Council. They never inform me about plans or decisions to be taken. This is little bit strange. Also this memorandum on FIDE Commercialisation: this is an interesting document, some points are good while others are strange.

Q. Can you pick on one which you find strange?
A. The plan needs to be written  more concretely. There is certain amount of money tournament organisers have to pay to FIDE. What certain amount of  money? Some are afraid, some are shocked. Let's say 100,000 dollar per tournament. It is one story. If it is some small amount for technical cause it is another. The entrie doucument is ready for misquoting. Those who want fun at FIDE's cost can have it. One more stupidity by FIDE. I think it is caused by lack of technical staff of FIDE.

Q. Has your lifestyle changed as FIDE World Champion?
A. Yes, I have not changed as far as grandmaster chess school and there are a whole lot of things I have done for it  to develop in St. Petersburg. As world champion I was invited by the St. Petersburg Mayor and I also visited the Russian Prime Minister and some matters are now easier to decide. Grandmaster Chess School will get some space in St. Petersburg. I am getting extra attention from the media. My personal lifestyle did not change a lot really. Okay it changed  little bit because I have invitations to tournaments like Linares. I must prepare much more seriously.

Q. How many hours and days did you invest in your preparation for Linares 2000?
AAfter my match with Leko (laughs) I understood that lot of things were pretty wrong and I did have enough time to prepare for that match. I  did not prepare and paid for it (he lost  1.5-4.5, drawing three whites, losing all three blacks). It was a high price.

Q. Was playing black very difficult in that match?
A.   I only managed a couple of weeks to prepare. My preparation was uneven. I found some tricks in the Grunfeld for white. For black I just did not have time. I played some lines with black and it was hopeless against a good grandmaster who is excellently prepared. Before Linares I was working more than a month very actively. Let's say seven or eight hours per day at St. Petersburg.

Q. Is there lot of chess culture there in  St. Petersburg. We see strong players there like yourself and Svidler. Has the activities there gone up after your victory at Las Vegas?
A. In general our chess life is active enough. We have two open tournaments each year. They are Petrov (Petroff) Memorial and Chigorin Memorial. It is popular inside Russia and states from ex-Soviet Union, Our Federation is trying for a round robin tournament and are hoping my title will help in getting more drive in St. Petersburg.

Q. How is your relationship with the Russian Chess Federation. We heard they sent a strange note on your victory?
A. It was "Congratulations for winning in Las Vegas". It was like winning in a jackpot in the Casino. That's the problem. The Russian Chess Federation is under (looks around to see who's around) control of Mr Kasparov. I don't know if it is good or bad but it is a fact. First of all they are member of FIDE. Somehow they have to recognise all FIDE competitions and FIDE title as well (laughs). The other point of view is it is better not  to have any relationship with the Russian Chess Federation. Not only they are under Kasparov, they are not successful in organisation. They collapsed  from organising the last Russian Championship. Okay it took place finally at Moscow in December. It was not arranged at a level of a world's leadin chess country.  They also fail to support junior chess in Russia.

Q. What is your programme for the rest of 2000?
A. Definitely I will play in July at Dortmund. What will happen then I don't really know. It is still flexible. I will be defending my title at the next FIDE Championship. That's for sure. It is a pity they did not announce dates and venues yet. Let's wait until April but I have my doubts.

Q. At Las Vegas, your first game was a defeat against our Barua. What was running in your mind then?
A. Barua is a strong grandmaster and my worst pairing for the first round. Many players got much weaker opponents. But I feel I am better player and better prepared and Barua had very strong natural talent. But as you know many Asian players except Vishy Anand do not have the fundamental preparation. This is a very important element is chess. This was finally the decisive factor in that match. In that game I did not play badly. My opponent played a very good game. I thought  nothing is wrong with me. Let's go for revenge. I managed to win this match. Then the same with Kamsky and then it became easier and easier.

Q. If you say which one factor contributed to your victory in Las Vegas, which would you say good nerves?
A. The most important factor? There was no special preparation. I think my play was backed with rich and bright experience. I played in super tournaments. I played in open tournaments. I have a lot of different experiences. I think that was the factor why I was better in the decisive phases of the match.

Q. Have you rediscovered yourself in the super category tournaments now?
A. If invited to these events I could play well all the time. After the break to play chess at this level is very interesting.

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