ACP Board elections are planned to start on November 28. In his interview to ChessPro the ACP President, GM Emil Sutovsky reports regarding his four-year work.
First of all I'd like to point out that this is not just elections, this is an ACP General assembly. There are several issues on the agenda, many topics that are important for the professional chess society, various polls, as well as evaluation of ACP Board work results along with the new Board election itself. The General assembly shall be held on-line on our website starting from November 28 till December 13, and I invite all the registered ACP members to participate in the GA and ask those who have right to vote to support one of the candidates. We also invite everyone, regardless of their ACP status to answer our polls regarding time-controls and anti-cheating measures.
Speaking about the results of the work: these four years have passed fairly quickly. It might eventually mean that we had lots of work to do while I can't say that we did everything that we planned and always acted in the proper way and the way we were supposed to act. I think that the situation in many fields showed big improvement as a result of our activity. That means that we deserved our members' trust and people continued to join ACP during this period.
How many members are there currently in ACP?
There are 1100 members from 85 countries but they are split into three categories. Premium members have an access to all issues of our activity - starting from direct participation in ACP-Tour along with the wildcard related to the invitation to our tournaments and special prizes as well as tournament accommodation within ACP. Those who support us not seeking special profits - our Standard members (which also allows to participate in the election), and the ACP members – those who share ACP principles but aren't ready to make any other donation rather than some moral support.
How many members were there four years ago?
About two hundreds. It is clear that it would be more correct to judge about the number of prepaid memberships and ignore the total number of members. This is the most exact index. Premium membership costs 100 euros per year while the standard one is only 30 euros. There are more premium memberships than standard ones because those who see real results of our work understand that they need to support that kind of work. There are 150 premium members (plus 90 standard members) - we've never had such a result before and that proves that we are doing our work well. I would like to remind you that I proposed to have free memberships two years after the Current Board was elected. I want to be honest - ACP activity was quite limited and I wanted to show what we are really capable of. After that I planned to ask people to support us and to take part in our work.
The situation changed dramatically. During the last two years we organized several tournaments and we did a great social work. That resulted in more and more people supporting us including those who once showed public disagreement with our point of view or declined the idea of joining ACP before, Alexey Shirov for example. I was quite surprised and glad to talk to him and to learn that he finds our work great although there are still some issues to be discussed and he is planning to become our premium member starting from next year.
Generally speaking it is important for me when people try to analyze and evaluate ACP activity. If critical comments are proved by something true and real - that helps to move forward. We are constantly trying to improve our work: for example every year we are evaluating ACP-Tour system and are trying to make it more objective. This year Nikita Vitiugov sent us very decent comments and we shall carry on doing this work together.
Numbers are obviously important but what can you name among major results of the four-year work?
As a matter of fact numbers are not at all the essence of all this. Let's just take one of the programs that is important for me - Veterans support. We provided an important help along with FIDE to 12 veterans and plan to continue this program in 2016. It's obvious that none of them is an ACP member (glad to tell you that Viktor Kupreichik joined us that year in recognition of our activity). We do not have any conditions for them - to become ACP member or something of that kind in order to get our help...
The work that we do can be split into several different directions and some of them match each other. One of those directions is the organization of our own tournaments.
Many people point out that ACP tournaments are not as big as those organized by GMA and PCA...
This is an important issue. ACP drastically differs from its great predecessors. GMA and especially PCA were quite elite and I would rather say elitistic bodies which helped to achieve professional and political goals of the great champion. We couldn't really speak about any professional union and as soon as Kasparov left those organizations they left the scene. There was no everyday work. They only organized tournaments (which were good, no doubt) and towards these events were able to raise good money. GMA and PCA were no doubt quite authoritative bodies but only for a very limited time. Of course, it is quite a good idea to put all the elite players together but this is not a professional union.
ACP is absolutely different. The situation in the chess world is a bit weird. It may look like we have dozens of super events, but in fact, tournaments without Magnus Carlsen lack financing. We either have elite round tournaments or Swiss/Team events. ACP managed to compensate such situation in some way. In 2012 and in 2014 we organized tournaments in Amsterdam and Bergamo Golden Classic while in 2013 we held ACP Cup in Riga along with ACP Masters in Ashdod in the end of 2015, quite a representative tournament, the strongest one in Israel chess history (the average rating was even higher than 2006 Blitz championship although there were many chess stars there). From the one hand the list of participants is quite impressive, from the other hand they are mainly those who passed ACP-Tour selection.
As for the women chess, we also made our best and organized several good tournaments. Ladies still cherish their memories from Rapid and Blitz championships organized by ACP in Batumi in summer 2012 while we can also be proud of competitions organized in Tbilisi and Batumi. Nevertheless despite extraordinary Georgian hospitality next ACP woman's tournament will be organized far to the West of this location.
What are your other plans for the next year?
Next year we are starting off from the very beginning: On January 7-10 2016 together with Estonian chess Federation in Tallinn we are planning to hold a tournament dedicated to Paul Keres 100-year anniversary. Apart from increasing the prize fund , ACP ensured that 25 GMs will get accommodation there, and that's not only Svidler, Nepomniachtchi, Elianov but also GMs that are not a part of the chess elite. In 2016, we will stage several events, at least one of them will be women's event.
I can't call the situation with ACP tournaments an ideal one, but we still do a lot. I think that we are on the right track organizing not the most elite tournaments but so-called "sub-elite" ones where chess players that already deserved a right to play on the very top can play.
Another direction is a work with the organizers of the biggest chess tournaments. I think that the way they collaborate with us shows what a good reputation we've acquired so far. The list becomes bigger. It all began with one single Gibraltar tournament than we added Wijk, Poikovsky and Biel, Quatar, wild card and the World Cup. We are now in the process of negotiating with Reykjavik Open. We'll try to help Viorel Bologan who is organizing Chebanenko Memorial in march and proposed to include it in ACP tournaments cycle.
What sort of collaboration do you have with big tournaments?
It's related to participants' invitation and special accommodation for them. If we speak about the Round tournament we insist to include there a player selected through ACP-Tour. In Wijk aan Zee in 2015 it was Wojtaszek (and Gunina in "B" tournament). This place will likely be taken by Tomashevsky in 2016. As for Poikovsky it was Saric while this year it was Inarkiev. Motylev was such a GM in Biel. If you speak about Qatar - the conditions are very good there for our players (three men and three women) - they are not the one they can count for by simply asking the organizer. GM Adhiban, one of the ACP wild card owners wrote in his facebook account that he has never ever had such conditions in his life. In Gibraltar-2016 one man and two women will be accommodated the same way. Of course, I'd like to use this opportunity and thank all our partner tournaments.
The list seems to be not a bad one. Or there is something else?
You are right and that's only a half of it. This work with organizers is very important in my opinion and ACP shall extend it. We have achieved an agreement with Wijk aan Zee tournament officials that the "B" tournament will have a special constantly reserved place for the veteran. Thanks to that agreement Alexey Dreev is going to participate in that tournament in the future. Apart from it for the second year in a row the best ACP-Tour woman chess player has a right to participate in the "B" tournament. Mariya Muzychuk has other plans that's why ACP shall be represented by Nino Batsiashvili who showed great results this year.
We also discussed in Wijk aan Zee the idea of organizing a junior tournament. I think that many noticed that U20 World championships do not have the strong participants nowadays. To tell you more, there no strongest players participating there. I proposed such an idea to van den Berg and he supported it as we are now awaiting a formal approval is to organize a junior round tournament next year with a winner directly obtaining a right to play in "A' tournament so that all strongest junior players would play there (perhaps except Wei Yi as he has still high chances to play in "A" tournament any way). That kind of tournament can become a starting point for those young players who really do not need to play in U20 World championship - Rapport, Artemiev, Duda, Dubov. I can't tell you the exact dates right now but we are planning this tournament in November in Holland.
What's ACP doing apart from the tournament activity? Do you have any success in other fields?
We've helped to get prizes for more than 50 chess players, players, who suffered from unfair organizers, underpaying their fee/prizes. We are not speaking about the prize money being received late on time. It was simply taken away. ACP is doing such work. It sends an official legal request. Organizers pay more serious attention to such an approach, they don't want to fight us in that way. I used to say that and will repeat again. To fight is the easiest way to settle the things over while we try to find a constructive solution. Even if you act as an opposition it will do good to chess if you are constructive enough. But that means that people listen to what we speak. If they stop to do it, we'll have to leave our intelligent image apart. I might have to do this way if I am given the position of ACP President in the new Board as well.
It is very important to keep on fighting for the prize fund increase. We are in the thick of the fighting and we often have to disagree and to push forward... Most of the time it helps. I would like to remind you that European championship prizes once grew up, became smaller again after a while but special prizes for ACP members. There was a special prize fund equal to 10 thousand euros for ACP premium members. We'll have the same thing in 2016. To tell you more, next year after our negotiations with ECU and organizers from Kosovo, ten 2700+GMs will have a full accommodation from the organizers (along with good veteran prizes). I would also like to point out very good collaboration with new ECU leaders. Aizmaparashvili used to be a very strong player himself and we managed to waive the zero tolerance rule in all European championships. Anti draw regulations disappeared from European individual championships and it is also a result of discussions between ACP and ECU.
You now have a cheating problem instead.
Our query shows that this problem is the most important for chess professionals. Unfortunately FIDE hasn't been at all dealing with it for a very long time. After this we managed to prepare a letter signed by more than 800 chess professionals that moved the matter forward. A joint commission was created and functioned for about a year. It achieved good results but after that FIDE decided to reorganize it and create an independent FIDE commission with our delegates among the others. Thus nowadays the Commission doesn't have any formal relations with ACP. I would once again like to thank Yuri Garrett, Yulia Levitan, Konstantin Landa and Professor Ken Reagan for their work. I would like to tell you that I do not always agree with what they propose concerning the anti cheating commission (I merely have no disagreements with Kostya as we are both acting chess players and are on the same page), but they are still doing their work very well.
I can say that there are people who have critical comments on the work of the Commission and the way it works and still, though we are constantly raising this topic FIDE officials still do not clearly understand how important it is. The rules should be real and not formal and they should be followed in practice. Today, in spite of all the efforts, the anti-cheating measures seem to be very raw and inconsistent. There is no proper cooperation with the arbiters and organizers, hence no real results are achieved. To tell you more, many FIDE officials including those that belong to the Board want to limit the Commission activities by only official tournaments - World championships and Candidates cycle, Grand Prix, without doing any anti cheating activities in big Swiss tournaments or mass tournaments. I think that this is completely unacceptable and if it goes that way further on we'll have to take serious measures.
Speaking about collaboration with FIDE it's not always fine. We do important things in some fields and we are grateful for it e.g. help to veterans or support of our proposal of offering a free accommodation to all 2700+ players during World Blitz and Rapid championship. From the other hand, as FIDE is a big body there's often more than one person responsible for the issue and as a result of this nothing is being resolved. Sometimes there's a problem of personal ambitions while sometimes it's just a matter of big (or more often - small) politics and the problem remains unsolved.
Currently apart from the cheating problem - I want to point out that I am unhappy with the way it is being solved at least this year - we have a rating problem, i mean the introduction of a coefficient which allows modern chess players that have never showed any 2400 level results suddenly skip to 2500+ rating. Another issue is an absolute disaster with the blitz rating calculation creating unbelievable situations when Caruana finds himself only 84-th while Topalov is not in Top-100 at all. At the same time you can find absolutely unexpected people on the top...
There's another issue - FIDE has been actively pushing its on-line chess platform and we've recently heard about a very dangerous plan: being an actual monopolist in real rating, FIDE wants to include on-line games in the rating performance. There are no details concerning the matter yet, they say it will only be operational till a certain rating level but potentially such a thing can lead to total ruining of rather objective rating system that has lasted for more than 45 years. We've sent our proposals concerning the rating system for many times but the responses didn't look very convincing.
Perhaps your respondents didn't care too much about their answers being convincing...
I think that when we only started to work FIDE had an impression that we might be dangerous and that we can become a real force, they acted some way, helped us. But after that they realized that we are not supporting Kasparov and have nothing to do with the politics - why should they do something special in that case? there were some problems with Anand-Carlsen match and they needed me as an intermediary. The situation remained great for a short time but not for long. So they stopped reacting to the signals we sent them. The questions that we discussed were slowly moved back and they are now dealing with absolutely other issues. It's hard to do common work on such basis.
I think that we'll have some more mobile team in the new Board that will push those issues forward. We won't let important questions remain unsolved somewhere in FIDE corridors because thousands of chess players have these concerns. We have a paradox here: It seems that FIDE has to care about all players while ACP is to care about elite ones. However in reality it often happens that FIDE only cares about Carlsen while ACP tries to help a larger range of chess professionals. I mean problems starting from the time control and the number off days off during the top level tournaments and up to additional prizes mostly for 2600+ GMs. Only few people know how much discussions it was necessary to pass in order to have an extra day off during the Candidates tournament and World Cup or in order to have such high prizes at the Rapid and Blitz World Championship held in Berlin.
In general I think that the prosperity of the middle class (2550-2750 players in man chess) and the position towards veterans shows the consistence of any system or society. There's something wrong if the first prize at the Senior World Championship only covers travel expenses while the second prize makes a player poorer than he used to be before the tournament. By the way I will discuss this question again during the meeting with the FIDE officials again.
What ways to impact FIDE do you have if there's no feedback?
We have a full range of measures that any professional union has in fact - starting from open letters that will underline the incompetence of this or that decision and finishing with letters that will advise the chess players how to act in this or that case - even boycott a certain tournament. Traditionally we intend to be out of any politics and I hope that nobody will force us to make any political statements or to stand against somebody.
The problem is that the cheating issue might become so sharp that it will be already late. I think that it's too late even today. The question has remained unsolved for several years and there's no light in the end of the road and we have no idea how long it might take to settle the things over and to implement the right regulations. I would also like to address to several leading chess players. One of the champions told in his discussion with me that twice this year he was a victim of cheaters (calling their names) while in his interview he claims that there's no such problem on the top level. Such a behavior doesn't lead to any positive solution in a fight against modern chess plague.
How will the new Board look like?
This is up to ACP members to decide that. I will tell you about our team - those I am ready to vote for myself. There are only two members from the previous team, so-called Founding Fathers left - Pavel Tregubov and Bartlomiej Macieja. There's also Yuri Garrett, but he is now mostly concentrated on the anti cheating issues, being a secretary of the anti cheating committee. There's also Jeroen van den Berg, Wijk aan Zee tournament organizer - he is also a member of the Board and helps a lot not only with the tournament but also sharing his experience. It's great that he is with us.
What do the Founding Fathers do?
Pavel Tregubov is a person you can never replace by somebody else. He is ACP Treasurer. I don't mean to say we have lots of money but the less you have it the more concistent you need to work with it and Pavel is a person you can always trust. Apart from it he manages the ACP-Tour table - this is even more time and energy consuming task. You can imagine what is it to calculate 120 tournaments per year. Don't forget that many chess players calculate their rating themselves very neatly as minor mistakes can prevent them from playing in a big tournament. As for Bartlomiej, he used to be the Board secretary and was mostly engaged in technical work. As he moved to the States he will no longer be able to do it but as I know his scrupulous work and everything he's done for ACP I am sure that he'll do a lot even being an ordinary ACP Board member.
Besides such valuable people we still need to get new precious employees.
The first one to accept our invitation was Maxim Dlugy. He has a very rich experience and he used to play an active role in creating PCA. Max loves chess very much, I can say that it's actually his life but he's an independent, self-consistent person. He doesn't seek any profit in his work for ACP, he wants to matter.
Abhijit Kunte joined our team as well. If you take first ten Indian players, perhaps nine of them are ACP members, starting from Anand himself. There's a lot to learn from them. In 2013 when we only started our activity we received a request from Surya Ganguli - there was a serious conflict between the players and their national federation. They were forced to play in the Indian championship on absolutely unacceptable conditions, otherwise they could not represent their country in official tournaments, no matter whether it's Asian or World Rapid Championship i.e. not only team but individual competitions as well!
Naturally, ACP stepped in. I've had extended correspondence myself and had to deal with some decisions of the Indian court for a long time, but eventually the rule was cancelled. We were glad to learn that after all that mess all Indian chess players decided to join ACP as Premium members. So when I hear from strong or even leading Russian chess players that 100 euros per year is a rather big sum of money I think... that life in India isn't better. But people there still understand what we are doing all this for and see that we really help.
So Abhijit Kunte is the representative of Indian chess players in the Indian chess Federation. He has been a key figure of Indian Professional chess for many years now, and also organized several noticeable events himself. He's a strong player and was the best candidate to join the Board.
I was also glad to invite a Macedonian GM Alexander Colovic. He writes very well about chess, loves chess in all ways and I was touched by his attitude to our game. We had long discussions with him. He speaks fluently 5 languages and studied Shakespeare in University. It's interesting to discuss many things with him so his many ideas showed that he can make a lot of good to the team. We haven't had any presence in the Balkans so far. There are about 20 people from India in ACP, there are many Russians, but only few representatives from the Balkans. I was glad when Alexander showed his willingness to participate in our work.
It's hard to deal without charming ladies and in fact I didn't want to deal without them at all so I invited Anastasia Savina. She is a strong player and close to become a member of the Russian national team and she is a very talented person as well - she speaks English, French and German. We still have problems with highlighting our activities - we did some projects but didn't write about them a lot and did no presentations and Nastya said she would be glad to help. Apart from it as we never forget about woman's chess we would be interested in getting a competent and interested comment concerning these issues.
What are the relations between the Board members? Do you easily get on one page or you start debating?
We often have debates. We are constantly arguing with Bartlomiej but he was still among the first people that I invited to join our team. I think it's very important for a person to have his own opinion and to defend it, bring new arguments although I don't like them and find them 80% wrong. But I often changed my initial opinion taking his suggestions into consideration.
The Board tries to work as a team. However we need more working Board members as I often tell people without doubt and regret. It is necessary for everyone to know what he's doing. To tell you the truth I expected more from one half members of the previous Board.
What can we expect from the future Board?
Generally the direction will remain the same. I want to point out that we need to put a stress on several issues that we can settle ourselves if FIDE doesn't join the business. Cheating and rating issues for example - it all results into discussing one big thing - the arbiters' incompetence. The problem is really great. I am not afarid to discuss it. There are many arbiters that I have good relations with (perhaps there might be a bit less of them after such statement) but the general situation is a complete mess. Everyone knows that the arbiters are not qualified enough. You can find a few good arbiters and that's all. Sometimes in rapid tournaments for example an arbiter doesn't make the right decision simply because he's unable to stop the clock during the game or to change the time adding some time to one of the players. When I talked to three leading arbiters two of them agreed that I am right.
An episode that took place in a match between Nepomniachtchi and Nakamura clearly showed that there's no penalty regulation for light and medium violations. An arbiter doesn't know how to react. It is often necessary to make decisions based on common sense and logic. For example, whether the game should be stopped if the castle is done with both hands or no? I think there would be no question if Nakamura had received warning earlier between the games, as in a number of them he used such little (or rather medium) violations tactics.
Nowadays with all those cheating issues an arbiter should always be on alert. Many international arbiters haven't passed any additional tests and training for years and if they could pass it they would likely fail. We can't solve this problem by simply discussing it with FIDE. ACP has more than a dozen arbiters among its members and I think they are all very professional. I don't mean to say we are wonderful but it simply turned that way. I think that we'll create ACP arbiters' committee that will be joined by the arbiters that showed high level of professionalism. They will give their opinion about certain situations.
Chess is becoming a pure sport whether you like it or not (I do not) and move away from creativity and art. Everything is moved towards sports standards and the role of an arbiter in sport is extremely high and it's becoming more and more critical in chess. We have to do a lot here, we simply have no choice as we often have such situations. To tell you more I shall ask a dead ender: have you ever heard of any arbiter being punished for a wrong decision? A player can lose his prize or rating points or leave the World Championship... there are lots of cases when arbiters made serious mistakes and none of them has ever been penalized for that.
To solve all these questions you need to have a good team. I did a lot of that work myself in the last Board although there were questions that could be resolved by other Board members, they only had to show better motivation. Hopefully it will improve now with a new Team.
Speaking about our activity I can say that we do what nobody else is able to do. Imagine that there's no ACP at the moment - and many questions will have no answer. Apart from it we are well informed and negotiate with players and collect information.
Can you really count on FIDE?
I disagree with those who indiscriminately criticize FIDE. It does a lot of good and it looks for new directions. We have a fixed system of World Championship cycle in man's chess (can't say the same thing in women's chess unfortunately). It's good that FIDE managed to organize World Rapid championship in Berlin and Woman's Grand Prix in Monte Carlo. They also promise to organize a World Champion match in USA.
However FIDE is a huge and a very slow mechanism. Perhaps such a global body can't act in another way but that doesn't mean that many serious defects shouldn't be noticed.
Were there any mistakes and failures in ACP?
Yes and we've had quite a few of them in these four years. I keep on telling that sometimes we had to respond more vigorously. We didn't always have enough human and finance resources because you need to stand firm on the ground. Of course you can't deal without mistakes in such work. Sometimes decisions were made too quickly, sometimes it took us too much time to make them. But in general I am proud of the work we've done in these four years.
I am proud to say that every inquiry that was sent to ACP or to me personally was answered - you can imagine that such letters come every day. Most of the problems were solved, no matter whether they are technical or related to some prize payment or violation of any rights.
The major goal that we achieved is that now chess players know that they can address to us at any time with nearly any chess related problem and we'll do our best to settle it. I am speaking even about the smallest problems, visas for example. It seems to be a trifle thing, 90% of people would call it nonsense. But if a chess player from Russia, Kazakhstan or India needs to go to Europe and to get a year visa nobody will do that except us, otherwise a player will have to spend a lot of money while our service is free in order to avoid misunderstanding. We are officially registered in France and have a legal address, number etc.
And of course we can solve global problems so when being ACP President I do my best to save Carlsen - Anand match the status of the body and my personal status allows me to make some steps and do some diplomatic actions.
I think that those who want to join ACP must understand that he should support the Association not only this year he wants to pass the selection to the World Cup but because we do a lot of good in general. Our activity is creative and ACP activity is full of important and good things. And we are managing this work well. constantly growing number of ACP members shows that we are on the right track.