Chess Classic

Hikaru Nakamura Chess960 Rapid World Championship
GM Hikaru Nakamura – FiNet Open Sieger 2008
28.-30. Juli 2009, 18:30 Uhr, Rheingoldhalle Mainz

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July 27- Aug 2nd, 2009 Rheingoldhalle, Mainz
Chess Classic Mainz 2009 (CCM9)
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Chess Classic

Consistent and ongoing improvement of service
Interview with Chess Classic dinosaur Hans-Walter Schmitt

20.07.2009 - With more than 16 years of experience in the chess business, Hans-Walter Schmitt (HWS) is one of the dinosaurs in the chess organizers circuit. With all his energy, stunning ideas and passion for the game, together with his friends he has developed the Chess Classic into the best and most popular rapid chess tournament in the world. His top level marketing experience and his capability to build a strong team of experts around him, has been very helpful for the success of the Chess Classic. Alas, a little luck is also very helpful: Hans-Walter Schmitt met a young rising chess star from India at the first Chess Classic in 1994 in Frankfurt: Vishy Anand. During the tournaments in Gran Canaria 1995, Groningen/Lausanne 1998, Delhi/Teheran, Mexico 2007 and Bonn 2008 a deep and warm friendship has developed between the two men. Without a doubt, the two friends will fight side by side next year against the challenger for the world championship, Veselin Topalov.


Mike Rosa: Do you suffer, when Anand loses a game?

Hans-Walter Schmitt: Oh, yes I can suffer vicariously with Anand during important events. I can remember some important moments very well, like the match against Gata Kamsky in Shanghi Nagar (India), in which he lost the tiebreak after leading 4-2. I heard about this loss when I was in a department store in Dublin and my wife reminded me later, that in this state of agony I spontaneously bought a pair of blue shoes. The rest of the day I spend in bed. I had a similar experience in 1999 when Anand lost a tiebreak against Anatoly Karpov. However, I did not buy a pair of shoes again and did not spend all day long in bed. I managed to cope with the second defeat a little better, although I have to say, that it is more emotional, when you are on site instead of being somewhere far away.

MR: What will you do, if Anand does not win in Mainz? Will you disappear in the presidential suite and let your staff do the prize giving ceremony?

HWS: No, no, back in 1999 in the Ballsporthalle in Frankfurt I already had to hand out the traditional black jacket to Gary Kasparov. As an organizer I have to be in command of my feelings for my friend. However, I had to suffer a couple of times during the tournaments in Mainz, in particular in the matches against Vladimir Kramnik in 2001, Ruslan Ponomariov in 2002, Judit Polgar one year later and Teimour Radjabov in 2006, in which he managed to win the matches after having some problems in the first games. Anand himself said in an interview that he had to cope with some really tough situations in these matches and that the outcome was unclear. But, Mainz is Mainz, it is his “living room” and he won nine times in a row, an incredible streak in top level chess.


MR: It has been common in the past, that world champions pick their opponents themselves. Does Anand have a say in the planning for the Chess Classic, when you search for an opponent for him?

HWS: I told him already back in 1997, that the Chess Classic will only have a future, if he is prepared to defend his title against the best players in the world. In 1998 the top four of the rating list, including Gary Kasparov, came to Frankfurt, one year later the top three + Anatoly Karpov , in 2000 the top 10 and in 2001 we debuted in Mainz with the battle of the world champions Anand and Kramnik. After 2001 it became more and more difficult to find suitable opponents for him. After the matches against Ponomariov, Polgar and Shirov we decided that the winner of the Ordix Open would become the challenger. In 2007 we changed the format to a double round robin with four players and a four-game final. We wanted to be able to upgrade the Ordix Open, but we also wanted to keep the opportunity to invite certain players to Mainz. The same format is applied in the Chess960 competition, in which the challenger for the world champions is determined in the FiNet Chess960 Open. Vishy Anand always had a say in the Chess Classic, but has always refused steadfastly to pick his opponents himself.

MR: Do you think that the “battle of the world champions” in Mainz 2001 between Anand and Kramnik had any influence on the world championship match they played last year in Bonn?

HWS: The match between the FIDE world champion Anand and the Braingames world champion Kramnik was a very special gift of these two Chess Classic friends, who had played five resp. six times in our tournaments, to their very ambitious organizer! It has been the only match they played as world champions. It was a very tense match, full of excitement, mistakes and missed opportunities. Anand managed to win the match 6,5-5,5 after the first tie-break. Back in 1998 in Frankfurt, Anand won a “sudden death” against Kramnik 6-5, so that was even closer than in Mainz. First of all I went to Kramnik to thank him and to speak a word of comfort. After that I congratulated the winner- the press is quite merciless in dealing with the ones, who just lost a match or a game. I think, that these matches did only have minor influence on Bonn 2008 from a technical point of view, but in my opinion the psychological aspect was important, especially because so many chess experts all over the world thought that Kramnik, who had beaten Kasparov in a match, would have the upper hand psychologically.


MR: What did you do to help Anand? Can you describe your role in the “A-Team”?

HWS: I did not do anything at all, I was just there! We do not have to talk very much; we have an almost telepathic understanding. However, during the preparations for the match, I started philosophizing: who has more pressure, which player runs the risk of losing everything, the number one in the world or the best tournament player in the world? Which player has won more matches? I think that Anand became more and more confident, when we advanced “Bonn”. He was happy with his seconds, with the organization and the technical environment. When the “A-team” arrived in Bonn, everybody knew what to do. Even the smallest details in our “Mission Possible“ were crystal clear to everyone.

MR: What was the key moment in the match from your point of view?

HWS: Ne3, 34th move in game 5! I could not control my feelings, when he played that move. I clenched my right fist randomly, my legs were shaking and I got up and shouted “YES!” I was shocked by my reaction and so was my neighbor Aruna Anand. This fifth game, the way it was played and the result had enormous impact on the next game, which was won by Anand in great style. My judgment was: “Game over”.

Kramnik – Anand, WCh Match, Bonn 2008 (5)
Position after 34…Ne3!!


MR: Will you be in the A-team again, when Anand plays against Veselin Topalov? It is not a secret that you supported Kramnik during the reunification match in Elista and that you blamed Topalovs manager Silvio Dainalov for the escalation. In the chess magazine “New in Chess” Topalov explained, why he refused to shake hands during your visit in Bilbao last year. I assume, that he is not a friend of yours and that he will not show up in Mainz in the near future, despite his being number 1 in the world?

HWS: If there will be a match in April next year and Vishy wants me to join his team again, I will be there for him, with all my heart. I just want to say something about the childish behavior by somebody, who refused to shake hands with me. When I arrived in Bilbao last year, being invited by the organizers, I greeted all players just before the ninth round started: Anand, Radjabov, Aronian, Ivanchuk, Topalov and Carlsen. When I wanted to shake hands with Topalov, he folded his arms and I went on to shake hands with Carlsen, who just shook his head with an unbelieving smile. I just want to clarify my position: I did not want to apologize to Topalov, like he stated in the NIC interview. I just wanted to greet him politely, which is a long and well-known European custom.

MR: Does it matter where the next world championship match will be played? Do you think that Anand will be ready to step into the lion’s den in Sofia, just like Gata Kamsky did?

HWS: Everybody in the chess world knew, that the organizers from UEP in Bonn were much closer to team Kramnik than to team Anand. But as we all know, that did not matter much. It is probably a psychological advantage for Topalov, when he can play on home soil. I think, that it is all a matter of money. If the alleged sponsors in Sofia are willing to triple the guaranteed prize fund of 500.000 for the players, we can start talking. The best solution would be, if UEP would hop in for the Kunsthalle Bonn. The last world championship was perfectly organized, and the next world championship could take place in Bonn again, so why not this match as well?

MR: Let us talk about the Chess Classic. Would you invite Topalov again? He has played in three Chess Classic events in 1997, 1999 and 2000.

HWS: Of course I would invite him, if he is willing and eager to play against Anand and his financial demands are compliable for us. After his spectacular victory in San Luis we tried to get him to Mainz and we also wanted him to play in the German Bundesliga. But even chess business is not a one-sided request program.

Chess Classic 2000 – Premiere of the Top Ten

f.l.t.r. standing: Veselin Topalov, Michael Adams,
Vassily Ivanchuk, Evgeny Bareev
seated: Alexei Shirov, Alexander Morozevich,
Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand, Vladimir Kramnik, Peter Leko


Chess Classic 1997 with Veselin Topalov,
Viswanathan Anand, Anatoly Karpov and Eric Lobron


MR: World champion Vishy Anand and Chess960 world champion Levon Aronian are the crowd pullers this year and they will play against the qualifiers from the Ordix and FiNet Open. You also invited the best German player Arkadij Naiditsch. When do you normally start planning the Chess Classic?

HWS: Normally in December, around Christmas, we start internal talks with the Chess Tigers board, talk to sponsors, check the availability of the Rheingoldhalle and the adjacent Hilton Hotel. We announce our preferred dates for next year immediately after the prize giving ceremony. The main part of the field was already set: Anand and Aronian and the qualifiers Bologan,Nakamura and Nepomniatschi. Since Anand does not play in the Chess960 tournament, we gave that seat to the number two of the FiNet Open 2008, Sergei Movsesian. We gave the last open seat in the GrenkeLeasing rapid world championship to Arkadij Naiditsch. He is a top German player, had a great score in the Bundesliga and we thought he would become a 2700+ player soon.

MR: Levon Aronian will have the toughest program in Mainz. He will play both world championships and he opens the Chess Classic with a simul on 40 boards. Could he be the next Chess Tigers honorary member?

HWS: I respect Levon and his results in the FiNet Open, which he won twice. He won against Peter Svidler and two years ago he defended his title in an electrifying final against Anand. We will certainly give him the honorary membership soon. We decided to focus on Levon this year, because we want to show him, that we think he is a crowd puller. He does not have to show any novelties in the Chess960 tournament and he is definately able to play the final against Anand in the GrenkeLeasing world championship. But let’s not forget the dangerous outsiders, the double “N”, Nepomniatchi and Naiditsch in the preliminaries.


MR: The tournaments and the opens will be played in a 20+5 time control. You need hundreds of digital clocks and it is also possible that one single game breaks the flow of the event. Wouldn’t it be easier to manage the tournament when you play 25+0?

HWS: Our tournament director Hans-Dieter Post has developed a fantastic “open-machine”. We can start drawing lots for the next round immediately after the last moves have been played and we can display the pairings on big screens in the tournament hall and in the lobby of the Rheingoldhalle. There is no paper needed! This system is extremely fast. Last year we had a “problem”: we had to extend the breaks between the rounds to give the players time to relax a bit between the rounds. We play with the best clocks, the DGT XL from our prime partner DGT, which is also used during world championships, grandmaster tournaments and in the Bundesliga. It is quite natural for us to use the best equipment available in a world class tournament.


MR: So, nothing really changes in Mainz this year. Your slogan, “higher, faster, better” does not count anymore?

HWS: The Chess Classic event is a unique top level tournament and our concept “learning and playing” has matured. Now it is time for consistent and ongoing improvement of service for the individual player and spectator, for interested families and partners, for sponsors and their customers, friends and employees.

MR: How do you want to reach that goal? It is like trying to square the circle, isn’t it?

HWS: About three years ago we started providing information about the games, not only for experts but easy understandable analyses for amateurs. By using the evaluation of a chess program, it has become easy to follow the games. Everybody knows what + 3 and – 4 means. This means that even people, who do not know that much or nothing about chess, can understand what is going on, without asking the experts. By providing this information during a game, we have expanded the circle of interested people from about 100.000, who are organized in chess clubs, to about 20.000.000. Factor 200, not that bad.


MR: Still, is there something new in the Chess Classic 2009?

HWS: We started a media partnership with ChessBase from Hamburg to be able to present the games not only on the best possible level in the Internet, but also to get access to interesting commercial media platforms. It is new that the strong chess programs Deep Rybka 3 and Deep Fritz 11 will run and analyze the games for chess experts and amateurs alike. Everybody can have fun with the games on their own level.


MR: How would you describe the Chess Classic in short to somebody, who has never been to Mainz?

HWS: Ok, it is better to come to Mainz and to experience and feel the Chess Classic at first hand, but let me give it a try. During the games, in the “silent auditorium”, you can follow the games live. You can see the players, follow the games on big screens and you can listen to the comments on wireless headphones from renowned grandmasters. You see the evaluation of the chess engines on the screens as well. This is great for players of all levels. You pay €8 per night, €5 reduced. In the lobby you can follow the games on five monitors and in our “public viewing” area you can follow the games with a snack and a drink and there is also a grandmaster to analyze. You can chat and discuss the games with friends. This service is free.


The jewel in the crown is our “Gourmet viewing”. You can have exquisite food and drink in the “Goldsaal”, watch the games and listen to the comments from a grandmaster. The comments in this private club will be different, because the expert can answer questions from the people in the room. After the games and the press conference, the players come to the Gourmet Club to chat with the visitors. The top players mingle with guests, sponsors, press, organizers and chess lovers like you and me. One night in the Gourmet Club costs €39.


The location and functionality of the playing hall are ideal for players and visitors. From bed to board in 3 minutes, because the Hilton hotel and the playing hall Rheingoldhalle are in the same complex of buildings. Our people in the kids club take care of the youngest children from 10.00-18.00. I give you an example, how wonderful our tournament can be for the whole family: let’s say, that you come to Mainz to spend a lazy weekend from Thursday to Sunday. The grandparents and a chess loving family with two kids come to Mainz and stay in the Hilton. The grandparents can go shopping because the city centre is just 300 meters away. They can also stroll along the Rhine or go to a museum. The kids have fun in the kids club and the parents can play in the open tournaments. Later that night the whole family can either watch the games from the world’s best players in the hall or have a bite in the Gourmet Club. We, the Chess Tigers, offer chess entertainment and chess culture from 10.00-24.00 on the highest possible standard for all players and visitors.

MR: The concept is clear, but is the circle of customers, who are willing to accept these services and willing to pay for it big enough? And you need quite a lot of helpers to make this event possible, don’t you?

HWS: The secret of the efficiency of the Chess Classic team lies in the expertise of the individual and the common awareness: “we want to be the best team possible” and “the team is the star”. Add the clear confession to customer orientation and our aspiration to improve the Chess Classic every year. Our team consists of 60-64 people and we are working and planning one year ahead. The results of the preparations is converted in seven days during the Chess Classic in a precise and customer oriented way. Some key positions in our team are very hard to replace, e.g. the position of our technical tournament director Hans-Dieter Post or our live-director Thilo Gubler and the unique way they work together. If you have a deadline for the Ordix at 12.15 and you want to start at 12.30 sharp, which is our goal, you need to have people in your team with strong nerves who are able to convert organisational and technical demands.

Without experience and coolness of the operative staff, this task is not achievable. But we have 15 years of experience and we keep on training every year to get better. But also in other fields like the Internet and network connections, tournament direction, referees, material maintenance, result registration, information management, marketing, merchandising, kids club, hotel coordination, player support, German and international press work, website presentation and editing we have a very competent and sustainable team.

Thank you very much for the interview!

(Translation by Eric van Reem)



Interviewer: Mike Rosa
Photos by Fred Lucas, Christian Bossert & Chess Tigers




Some useful links:

Homepage Chess Classic Mainz 2009

Registration FiNet & ORDIX Open

Registration Mini-FiNet & Mini-ORDIX Open (U16!)

All CCM games in a single database (PGN) (more than 2.000 games!)

All time list ORDIX Open

All time list FiNet Open

All time list Mini-FiNet & Mini-ORDIX Open

Chess960 World Ranking


Mike Rosa

Published by Mike Rosa

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