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Friday, 17 Apr 2020 19:03
Arkady Dvorkovich: FIDE is moving online

FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich gave a big interview to a popular Russian newspaper Kommersant. The first part was published on the official FIDE site website three days ago. This is the second part of this interview. 

When announcing the suspension of the Candidates Tournament you told that FIDE would try to make smart use of this period of self-isolation to search for new ideas. What is the International Chess Federation doing right now?

Arkady Dvorkovich: We are moving many of our activities online, to digital platforms. There have been already several unofficial competitions on different websites. We carefully reviewed this experience and worked out our own strategy. First of all, we are going to organize team events for the leading chess countries including a “digital copy” of the Chess Olympiad that was scheduled for August. Now we are planning to hold it in the online format. That is a big project. We are also considering the formats involving competitions among schools, universities, corporations, and cities. The rapid chess championships are also on the menu. I think we will organize one massive tournament with a wide range of players taking part.

Are regional federations active as well?

A.D.: They are. The European Chess Union (ECU) has planned the European Championship for May. Magnus Carlsen with his team announced Magnus Invitational tournament with all the top players participating. The event starts on April 18. Many of our activities also go digital – seminars for trainers and arbiters, tournaments organizers and chess players. We will be very active in these spheres for the next several months. Currently, the lectors are intensively preparing for the planned seminars. All these measures will help people all around the world to be part of the chess life even in this difficult period.

Am I right that this crisis in a way gave chess some boost?

A.D.: There is one problem with that – in addition to an emotional aspect – after all chess players prefer to get together in clubs, to socialize and play live (most of them enjoy it much more than online). I am talking about cheating. Unfortunately, no one can be trusted, except maybe for the top-players for whom their reputation is the key asset. On lower levels, anti-cheating is highly relevant. We are working together with chess platforms and cybersecurity companies on the solutions to these problems.

It is too early to summarize the results of the World Championship cycle which coincided with you taking the office. Maybe you can specify some trends? Has the popularity of chess increased?

A.D.: All that we have done over the last two years, was done on a higher level than previously. I am referring to both marketing efforts and engaging leading companies into chess. I am talking about such companies as Coca-Cola, Total, RZD, Rosseti, Gazprom. The same applies to the coverage of the tournaments. For example, we provided coverage for the Women’s World Championship match and the Candidates tournament in several languages (Russian, English, and Chinese), whereas our partner Chess24 added several extra languages to the broadcast. This is a great improvement of the situation as language diversity attracts extra users to the World Championship cycle. Plus, the look of the chess broadcasts is much more professional now. I hope that it will measure up to the highest standards to be broadcasted on TV.

Is the chess audience growing?

A.D.: We saw an exponential viewership growth in women’s chess. The size of the audience is still not that great in absolute numbers but we are talking about tens of thousands of people following the games. As far as the open category is concerned, we expanded our audience by hundreds of thousands of people by involving Chinese viewers.

FIDE made an experiment by making the Grand Swiss a part of the World Championship cycle. It was a Swiss-tournament, the format that often produces unexpected results. Are you happy with this event?

A.D.: This tournament on the Isle of Man brought together the participants from different rating categories. It was different from the elite Grand Prix in which only the best compete in a playoff format. I would compare Grand Swiss with the FIDE World Cup, but unlike the latter, it attracted virtually all the best players. This is a more democratic format that gives a chance to the maximum number of players to distinguish themselves. We saw two biggest sensations of this cycle come out of Grand Swiss. Thanks to this event, not only the top players qualified for the Candidates, but also two “dark horses” – Wang Hao (China) and Kirill Alekseenko (Russia). Summing up, we are quite happy with this tournament and hope to continue.

Some advocates of chess traditions argue that two random players qualified for the Candidates in Yekaterinburg but their level is below the rest of the field.

A.D.: Going by this logic we should hold no qualifying events, just take eight best players by rating and that’s it. All in all, we think that the qualifying process has to be as open and democratic as possible.   

Have you planned any experiments in the new cycle?

A.D.: We would like to stick to the principles of the current cycle. Maybe we will make some changes in the qualifying for the Candidates. First of all, it is about determining the best-rated player who gets his spot in the Candidates. The current system has drawn a fair amount of criticism because from a mathematical standpoint the rating points earned several months ago are more valuable than those picked up right before the Candidates. We are working with the experts in math and statistics on possible corrections of the current system. One of the solutions might be using so-called performance, i.e. how good a particular player was in the period right before the Candidates.  

Many of my friends play online either rapid or blitz. Don’t you think that these formats are not represented enough at the highest level?

A.D.: I don’t think so. All top players constantly participate in various online rapid and blitz tournaments. The Rapid and Blitz World Championship is one of the most interesting and prestigious competitions organized by FIDE. The last World Championship in Moscow was a great success. There is no shortage of such tournaments. Moreover, this year almost all the events will be played in this format. It is really hard to hold an event in any other format.

All sport bodies suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic. How big is FIDE’s financial cushion?

A.D.: The traditional chess activities are migrating into online formats. On the other hand, operational costs are also substantially reduced. We don’t spend on travel, boarding, rent of playing venues, etc. From a financial standpoint, the situation doesn’t look catastrophic. We have a financial cushion. Being spent efficiently it is enough for one full operation year.

Do FIDE’s commercial partners have any complaints because the events were stopped and canceled? It is a real problem in football, for example.

A.D.: There have been no complaints. All our partners are willing to continue our cooperation hoping that in fall chess life will recover in full. We are grateful to our parterres  — CISCO, Total, Kaspersky, Coca-Cola, RZD — for their advertence and support of chess. Some of them offered to hold online tournaments. More specifically, the government of the Khanty-Mansiysk autonomous district is going to support online team competitions.