The press-conference of Evgeni Vasiukov, famous grandmaster and member of the Appeals Committee of the World Championship.

– Evgeni Andreevich, let us discuss the championship. What are you impressions from this tournament?

– First of all I want to praise the organization. This is my first time in Khanty-Mansiysk, so I finally could see everything on my own. I heard many compliments to the Khanty-Mansiysk organizers before, and now I can fully agree with them. It is a pleasure to see such a high level of organization and feel this atmosphere. By now the Appeals Committee didn’t have anything to do – there were no conflicts or any other incidents. Perhaps it will continue like this.

– Do you enjoy watching the championship as chess player and sports fan?

– Yes, the competition is very exciting. I used to play for the Moscow team and USSR national team together with our best women players, but they played on a totally different level back then. Once after the USSR-Yugoslavia match I was invited on TV together with Milunka Lazarevic. Someone asked Milunka why women play so much weaker than men. It was about the same time when Fischer said he can give any woman a knight odds and still win. I think he exaggerated, but the skill gap was very big indeed. Milunka was a star player and an excellent and smart journalist. She replied: “Take into account how many men and women are playing chess! Give us 50 years, and you’ll see many women playing as strong as the world’s top grandmasters”. 50 years have passed, and it turns out she was right.

In 1996 I participated in a rapid chess tournament organized to celebrate Andre Lilienthal’s 85th birthday. There were also Taimanov, Sosonko and other well-known players. And the amazing Judit Polgar scored 10 out of 11, winning ten games and losing one. I finished with the same score, but without losses. I faced Chiburdanidze and Polgar at the board, and I tell you what, they play real chess, men chess.

– What about the strongest players in Khanty-Mansiysk? Do they also play like men? Or they allow emotions to take the upper hand sometimes? Especially on tie-breaks…

– The top players here are very strong. Of course emotions influence their game more compared to men, but women chess is more fighting, and they probably surpass men in willingness to play for a win.

– Which matches you particularly liked?

– First of all I want to tell you something that really surprised me. Paul Keres once said that women play weaker because they cannot sit for several hours without talking. But look at the participants of the championship! Look how they concentrate from the first move! In my times only Botvinnik could play with such intensity, and here almost everybody does it.

The match between Antoaneta Stefanova and Marie Sebag was very emotional. Crazy positions, passion, many decisive games, tears of Sebag after the last game… And the match of Kosintseva sisters!.. I don’t know what did they feel; frankly speaking, I was sad to see them meeting at such an early stage.

– There many many upsets in the second round already, did it impress you?

– It was surely surprising to see three highest rated players being knocked out after the second round. It means that the gap between players is getting narrower, and also suggests that match format is very special. Two games are not enough to determine the winner, of course, but these are the rules, and it can’t be helped. However, we saw a couple of examples when players managed to come back after losing the first game. Take Monika Socko – she is a mother of three, and managed to defeat the young World Champion Hou Yifan, despite losing the first game!

So they are really fighting to death. And chess is a bloodshed, we just can’t see blood. Chess is invisible blood and tears.

– Tell us please about your handicap tournaments.

– I organize them since 1998. In 19th century handicap was a popular form of chess, strong players gave amateurs pawn or piece odds. Today the general level of play is much higher, and even grandmasters can’t afford giving a knight odds to strong amateurs, however, I found a way to more or less balance the chances of players of different skill by giving time odds in rapid games. In 1998 I contacted Trud, a newspaper that publishes my chess columns, and we organized a big tournament in the Rossija hotel. Among the players were Smyslov, Karpov, Kramnik, Svidler. Boris Gelfand took the first place. There were also many celebrities – Olympic world champion in boxing Lagutin, film director Govorukhin, comedian Arkanov and many others. Then we started organizing such events on a regular basis, and even included them into the Russian Chess Federation calendar. We invite children, who showed good results in the international competitions, and senior players. Usually our handicap tournaments are carried out on various holidays. The New Year tournament will take place on December 23 and hopefully we’ll have an interesting line-up.

The most recent tournament took place in May, and there were 64 players, including the Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov, new Moscow Chess Federation President Vladimir Palikhata, European champions Valentina Gunina and Dmitry Jakovenko… American grandmaster Max Dlugy took the first place. We usually try to play these tournaments in one day, almost all the participants receive various prizes, and everybody gets a good mood.

– Hopefully such tournaments will expand, and other people share your enthusiasm! This is a good promotion for chess.

– Last year there was a chess festival in Suzdal, and the organizes invited famous senior grandmasters, including Korchnoi. They also asked me to help them with a handicap tournament. There were 254 participants in it! The organizers were very happy. And children were happy, too. “I played with Korchnoi, they said, and I played with Nikitin, with Ivkov, with Vasiukov!” Even Victor Lvovich, who can be a very harsh critic, said that this handicap format is the best he’s ever seen. It brings different generation of chess players together. It is a great format, and should definitely be more widespread.