“I am not used to discussing politics”

During his frank interview with Daniil Dubov FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich gave a lot of insight in his proactive way of thinking and leading. He explained how the new FIDE management functions and why it needs more sponsors outside of Russia. This is the second and final part of excerpts by Stefan Löffler.

The video of the interview can also be seen on FIDE’s homepage.
The video of the interview can also be seen on FIDE’s homepage.

After part one of our excerpts focused on competitions, this one deals with FIDE’s functioning, finance and online chess policy. The excerpts are from an interview FIDE President Dvorkovich gave in August on the Twitch channel of the Moscow Chess Federation. Daniil Dubov, a smart young grandmaster asked the questions. The more-than-two-hours-long video is now available with English translation.

How FIDE functions

When Dubov pointed out that FIDE has taken a lot of decisions recently and asked about the decision mechanisms, Dvorkovich started to explain: “In February we adopted a new charter. The general assembly is the highest body. Important decisions on the rules or elections or what commissions we have can only be taken by the general assembly. Next is the FIDE Council (that replaced the former board) that can take all other decisions. We can take decisions quickly because the new charter allows the Council to vote online. The commissions deal with their field of responsibility, they consist of volunteers and take more time for their discussions. Then there is the management of about 20 people, including me, that operates 24/7.”

“The only person besides me from the management team who is also on the FIDE Council is Zhu Chen, our treasurer. (…) As President I sometimes have to decide when a situation is not covered by the regulations or an appeals comitee can’t agree. I have only taken one such decision, when I interrupted the Candidates.” (The interview was taken a few weeks before Dvorkovich’s decision to declare Russia and India co-winners of the Online Chess Olympiad.)

Prominent advisors

When Dubov praised Dvorkovich for having Vladimir Kramnik, Vishy Anand and Judit Pólgar on his team, the FIDE President corrected that all three joined as advisors only after the elections. “Their advise helps me a lot. (Vladimir) Kramnik criticized me for holding the Candidates in March, but that doesn’t stop us from cooperating. I talk with Kramnik nearly every week. We discussed the Legends of Chess event on which FIDE cooperated with chess24. I personally invited the participants. Vladimir advised on the format. We also discussed his charity project in Russia of course. When it comes to chess we mostly discuss about AI related to chess. Vladimir has become a leading expert, he is constantly in touch with programmers to test hypotheses, and at FIDE we must understand where AI is heading. He also works with youngsters in India and Russia and we are trying to figure out a good system.”

“With Vishy (Anand) I am not talking as often, once a month. When I need his advise I contact him. He is a very wise person and quick to react. I think Vishy is the only person who can find a peaceful solution (for the power struggle in the All India Chess Federation).”

Arkady Dvorkovich with Judit Polgar in Moscow
Arkady Dvorkovich with Judit Polgar in Moscow (photo: FIDE)

Judit (Pólgar) is a different story. She is much more active than me in chess in education. (…) Unfortunately in this area we are not doing a great job because we are understaffed. (…) I discuss women’s chess with her, and her viewpoint is different from the majority because she used to play in men’s events. Judit’s critical eye is important. We need people who criticize and not just heap praise on us. I always enjoy my visits to Budapest, where she holds a great festival every autumn. Budapest was the only bid for the Chess Olympiad 2024, and Judit is a driving force.”

Sutovsky’s facebook page

When Dubov pointed out that he and other professionals get their news from FIDE by following the facebook page of FIDE General Director Emil Sutovsky, Dvorkovich gave a surprising reply: “People like to discuss various topics, but I am not used to it. (…) Probably this has to do with my former work in the Russian government, when social media could not be used to discuss political matters. There could be only official news or official decisions. (…) We have to work out some internal procedures. Emil is not FIDE’s voice. What he publishes is not necessarily in line with FIDE although in most cases it is.”

“Shall I get more involved and communicate more often with a large audience myself? To the detriment of other things, because miracles don’t happen? It’s a difficult question, we will look for some balance. But forbidding Emil or Viorel (Bologan, the Executive Director), who is publishing about Moldavian politics, to communicate is kind of strange. (…) There just has to be a social media policy as in all official organisations. People must know where official news and decisions are and where is personal opinion.”

Transparent bidding

“In the end of 2018 France offered to organise the Candidates tournament on condition that Maxime (Vachier-Lagrave) can participate. But I can’t give such a guarantee irrespective of results. He has to come really close to qualifying. That is why they didn’t submit a bid. Besides France wanted it without a tender. I think that is not transparent and simply wrong. Organisers shall compete to get an event, even if that wasn’t the case recently.”

Russian affairs

Asked about the relationship between FIDE and the Russian Chess Federation, Dvorkovich reveals that “I even use their office, because FIDE doesn’t have its own office in Moscow. (…) I can’t help rooting for the Russian team, but I will never give Russia any preference.”

“The real problem is that most of FIDE’s sponsors are from Russia, and this is a great challenge for me and the management team. By the end of this presidential cycle (in summer 2022) we should have a more balanced situation. Currently it’s 80:20 for Russian sponsors. It was 95:5 when I took office. We have started to get traction with international companies and will be glad if by 2022 the proportion will be more like 50:50. I see this as an important part of my job. It is important from an image standpoint and with regard to our financial well-being.”

Fide sponsors

As international sponsors Dvorkovich mentioned Coca-Cola and the French gas and oil company Total, but the list of Russian sponsors is longer: The Ugra Autonomous District, the energy grid Rosseti, the nuclear plant builder Rosatom, the food retailer Magnit, the philantropist Alexander Simanovsky and his company Sima-Land that backs the Candidates tournament. Dvorkovich said: “I hope there will be more tournaments outside of Russia. Russia will keep organising chess and can be a backup solution if we don’t find another country. (…) The former FIDE management made many momentary decisions with companies and governments that were predominantly from one region (the Caucasus). It’s not good for stability, promotion and publicity.”

“We have only started to move from zero marketing to real marketing. But it has only been happening during the last couple of months, which is the worst period for such negotiations, when all the companies have other things to worry about. There is still a long way. Back in 2018 we didn’t even have real figures to show our potential partners. There was nothing to pitch. Now we have presentations that meet the expectations of partners by 50 % not 100 %. But 50% is definitely better than 0%.”

Arkady Dvorkovich was assistant of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev 2008–2012, Russian Deputy Prime Minister 2012–2018 and chairman of the FIFA World Cup in 2018, before being elected as FIDE President on 3 October 2018 in Batumi, where the photo was taken. The 48-year-old, whose father was a chess coach and organiser, holds several degrees in economics.
Arkady Dvorkovich was assistant of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev 2008–2012, Russian Deputy Prime Minister 2012–2018 and chairman of the FIFA World Cup in 2018, before being elected as FIDE President on 3 October 2018 in Batumi, where the photo was taken. The 48-year-old, whose father was a chess coach and organiser, holds several degrees in economics.

Dealing with Iran

Asked about pairings between players from Israel and Iran, Dvorkovich elaborated: “The non-pairing rule was an unspoken one, it was informally applied by arbiters, and it still exists in unofficial tournaments. In FIDE tournaments it’s impossible now, following a decision by the FIDE Council. But as we don’t have a general assembly decision, it is more a political than a legal issue. (…) We have a clear policy for individual tournaments but not yet for the teams. We have to make a statement before the Chess Olympiad.”

The c-word

Dubov left the role of interviewer when he started to talk about cheating in online competitions. When he told “I play Titled Tuesday every week. I can compete with Grischuk, but I cannot compete with a master from Kazakhstan”, the seasoned diplomat intervened immediately: “Let’s not offend Kazakhstan”, and then made clear that he cares a lot about the subject. Dvorkovich revealed that ahead of the Online Olympiad, which was going on at the time of the interview, had alerted FIDE about registered players who had been caught cheating. Dvorkovich didn’t use the c-word and instead spoke about “persons of interest: We contacted the federations and asked them if they want to keep these players or substitute them.”

“It’s a constant confrontation between cheating and anti-cheating”, said Dvorkovich and gave a graphic example: “We know about automated cheating, for instance in bullet. Initially this was easy to detect because the piece was invariably put into the center of the square, but now the machine has learned to place the pieces in random parts of the square.”

Online and classical chess

After two hours Dubov ran out of questions and asked if Dvorkovich wanted to address anything else. The FIDE President was still agile and raised several issues: The promotion of women by aligning their world championship cycle with the men and providing more playing opportunities. The professionalisation of organisers, arbiters and coaches as a career path for retiring players. That chess in schools should not be perceived as sport but as a tool for improving the quality of education.

Dvorkovich also shared his position on online chess: “Online chess is a very good addition, but there are more emotions and interest in traditional chess. Online chess will be with us, and we can gradually move towards real online ratings, titles, World Cups and Olympiads, but it doesn’t replace classical chess. Nevertheless we have to work out regulations, guidelines for organisers and how to work with platforms. First and foremost it means that chess becomes more available. Live tournaments, especially international ones, are costly. Online events are much cheaper. It’s not only about play but also about learning, training, communicating.”

“I don’t want to replace classical with other controls. Classical chess gives us a better understanding of what is happening on the board and is true chess. The faster controls have more sport elements and are more popular, but you don’t have to choose, you have to organize both.”

Read also FIDE’s next steps (part 1)