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Contenders in the World Championship match are usually assisted by "seconds". These seconds provide advice, help analyze positions (not while the game is in progress, of course), and generally support the player. Gata Kamsky's team in Elista consisted of John Fedorowicz, Pedrag Nikolic and Loek Van Wely. On Monday, June 24, GM Fedorowicz unexpectedly departed Elista for New York. The USCF Assistant Director Eric Johnson interviewed John upon his return. We are pleased to present the interview on USChess Online.
For the past several weeks, GM John Fedorowicz, 37, of New York City, has been assisting the Kamsky team in Elista.
John recently returned to the United States, and generously offered to spend a few minutes with USCF to offer his impressions of the FIDE World Championship match.
EJ: John, let me start out by saying that information about the match conditions has been somewhat scarce. What exactly will happen if the match ends in a 10:10 tie?
JF: Any tie will be broken by a series of two-game mini-matches, played at 40/2, followed by 15 moves in 30 minutes.
EJ: No sudden death?
JF: No sudden death - the next time controls just continue on. There would be no adjournments for the overtime either.
EJ: That's a bit faster than the 40/2, 16/1 time control for the first 20 games...
JF: That's right.
EJ: What's the mood in Elista? Gata is behind, but is he upbeat? Depressed?
JF: Gata is just playing chess. At the beginning, maybe because his score against Karpov is not that good, maybe he was a little intimidated. Karpov's openings are always something of a surprise, and maybe that had an influence in the beginning.
The "Kamsky system" of preparation might be a bit of overkill - during the off days, we were working 10 hours a day on chess; on the playing days we'd work six hours. Some days, Gata would still be preparing 15 minutes before the game. The seconds didn't feel very good about this...
EJ: So it's a bit like cramming...
JF: Yes, like he was trying to memorize the games.
Plus, it was a bit boring - no distractions. At other tournaments with Gata, we'd play video games or foosball, maybe watch TV. In Elista, it's all chess...
EJ: Your comments make it sound as though the preparation was very dry, very technical, just chess. Was there any psychological preparation? In New York, during the Kasparov-Anand match, members of the Anand team were always commenting on the mood of the challenger...
JF: I think Gata is more mentally tough than Anand. He's not afraid, he just thinks Karpov is a good player.
EJ: How much say does Roustam have in the preparation? Is it true he has the final word over the opening selection?
JF: Pretty much - he picks the openings. The King's Indian Defense (in Game Seven) was a disaster. There are some openings that certain people just shouldn't play.
EJ: How strong a player is Roustam? He's listed as about 1800 USCF...
JF: Not a strong player...I would have said lower than that.
EJ: Is he involved in all the major decisions?
JF: Oh, yes, he's involved in every decision. He's always making suggestions. The seconds had a joke that we ought to "fine" Roustam $10 for every suggested move that drops a piece; $20 for illegal moves. He always has suggestions.
EJ: Have there been any major disputes during the match so far?
JF: The Kalmykia and FIDE people are doing a good job...I'm impressed. We rode in on the President's plane, and we got in about 2:30 in the morning. When we arrived, there was a big dinner and celebration. It was a little odd, to have such a big celebration at that time, but the local people are certainly going all out for the match.
EJ: We heard something about a dispute over the computer room...
JF: It's a small room, about 10 feet or so from the player's rest areas...the players have rest areas just like in New York...where they can retire during the game, watch on the television monitors...
During games, there would be people in the computer room printing out analyses and games from databases.
EJ: Isn't the computer area really for journalists?
JF: No, it's separate from the press room...
EJ: I gather that Roustam raised a fuss over the analyses?
JF: Roustam was right to be suspicious...the officials agreed to move the computer room away from anywhere near where Karpov would be during the games.
EJ: Have any famous persons been in attendance at the games?
JF: Some Russian artists, names you wouldn't recognize.
Smyslov was at the opening ceremony...
EJ: Any visits by Kasparov?
EJ: What's your impression of the quality of the games so far?
JF: Before the match, we didn't expect much - Gata didn't play very much before the match...he's rusty. He played just once, at the tournament in Spain, right before the match.
EJ: Maybe the long lay-off was a mistake?
The problem with the Kamsky's is that they hate everybody (chuckling)... the opponent just tries harder against them.
EJ: Back to match conditions. How much of the prize fund will the players receive at the end?
JF: I believe it's, what, $1.1 million... I think it's $650,000 to the winner, $450,000 to the loser... I think that's right.
EJ: Is there any match paraphernalia available ... posters ... program booklets?
JF: Yes, there were those types of things... I have some buttons, and I saw posters, things like that.
EJ: Your overall impression of the playing conditions?
JF: The thing is pretty well-run. It's not the World Trade Center, but it's well-run. I'm sure the Kamsky's would prefer another venue, but it seemed to me that the spectators were rooting for Gata.
EJ: Rooting for him when he fell behind?
JF: No, from the beginning. He's younger; Karpov has been world champion for a long time.
EJ: There's been some misinformation about why you left Elista - some reports said that you had a death in the family...
JF: (Laughing)... No, nothing serious like that. We used the "cover" of a family emergency so that my leaving wouldn't disrupt the match.
It was just some personal differences... maybe my "weird" sense of humor... I left on good terms.
EJ: Anything else you'd like to say?
JF: Just that it was a little boring over there... we stayed in a house with the Kamsky family... three brothers, a couple of nieces, his mother came for a visit... they were very nice, but there was very little to do...
EJ: Was there any talk during the match of a future match with Kasparov?
JF: I think the winner is supposed to play Kasparov, maybe in 4-5 months...
EJ: How do you think either of these two players (Karpov and Kamsky) would fare in such a match?
JF: Karpov's chances are pretty good... Kamsky would do well too.
Kasparov doesn't look so sharp these days, people aren't afraid of him anymore.
EJ: What about plans for the regular FIDE cycle?
JF: They are calling the match the "1996 World Championship," so I think Iljumzhinov is trying to make his idea for match or knock-out tournament every year come to pass... I spoke with him on the plane about this... I'm against the idea. The world championship should be a longer match, something really important.
EJ: Let me end our discussion on a slightly less serious note... Apparently, Roustam gave a controversial interview right before the match... something about finding a wife for Gata, is that right?
JF: Well, Gata has all sorts of people sending him pictures of their daughters... I thought it was pretty funny.
I feel bad for Gata, because he's only 22 years old, and he is not allowed to live his life. His father makes all the decisions. If he loses the match, Roustam says Gata will go to medical school. That's a big decision for his father to make.
EJ: John, thanks for spending the time with us today.
JF: No problem.