Interview with A S Nikitin - Part 2.


Interview with A S Nikitin, for many years Kasparov's trainer


Part 2


Text: Vlad Tkachiev
Photos: Irina Stepaniuk, personal archive of A S Nikitin



In your book, you wrote that you realised the talent of the young Garry Kasparov, by a paerticular light in his eyes. Has this method ever deceived you?

- No. But unfortunately, I see this light less and less every year. Fanatics do not come along very often…

But is this light the result of fanaticism? I would rather think it is intelligence.

- Well, you know, far from all chess players have great intelligence. And then, what is intelligence? It seems to me that it is the ability to correctly assess all that is going on around one, and to quickly and correctly solve the problems arising, not just on the chess board..

And do you think the majority of elite players are marked by wide-ranging intelligence?

- I would rather not answer that question.

Oh! Maybe you are sceptical.

- You know, when the elite players were individuals, we could talk about the scale of the individual: Lasker with his philosophical works, the well educated Alekhine, the clever Capablanca, not to mention Dr Science Botvinnik, who came up with the program "Pioneer" and created a lot of that industry. And Misha Tal, who did not invent anything, but was an ordinary genius. And now? I do not know ... Maybe Garry Kasparov, who has a considerable intellect, and in many areas is almost on a professional level - in history, politics. His only problems is that having become world champion in chess, he considered himself to be the same in politics..

Photo from A S Nikitin's personal archive

I very much like the way you describe your advice to the young Kasparov as like programming a radio signal. Have you much experience of engineering work?

- It was an invaluable experience! That is where I learned how to work. To do it consistently and persistently, since in space work, failing to fulfill once's task could have very unpleasant consequences. It is through the planned way I worked that I think I begun to outstrip my colleagues when I began working at the Central Chess Club...


Was your method used by the Russian Federation in more recent times?

- I would say all this was thrown away when we older ones were done away with.

When was this?

- With the arrival of our national leader!

You mean in 1999?

- Rather, since 2000. The same Ilya Vladimirovich (Levitov - WhyChess) - after all, no one knew him, he came out of nowhere. Previously, the positions wre held by people who were either chessplayers or fanatics of the game, but he immediately became the head of the department. And immediately the good workers left. For example, Sergei Yanovsky – a terrific coach and manager. Do you know why he left? He was told that he must come at 9 am and leave at 5 or 6 pm. Now he is replaced by Mikhail Kobalia, I feel sorry for that good, still full of energey GM, but he was able to put up with this. I still think the veteran coaches could be useful in the framework of a consultative council, Now the head coach ofall  the Russia national teams is Bareev. Of course, he is a super grandmaster, but as a coach, manager ... excuse me, I do not see the fruits of his work..


Photo from the personl archive of A S Nikitin. How many GMs, including elite ones, are gatherred here?



In 1981 in Graz, Kasprov got several such shirts and gave them to his inner circle. He warned them that the year would be the one when he would become world champion
He could not anticipate that the world championship match would be in 1984.

I like the story of your fight with Kasparov against Karpov, which is like a Greek classic. When you were expelled from your post as state trainer, and publicly swore revenge. And, most of all – you did it!

Do you remember in detail the events of the first match, which set the tone for all the rest?

- It was a test of physical and psychological endurance. It's the sort of thing one remembers for a long time…Our team was very united, although we were very different people. I had to keep my promise, and Gena Tomoschenko and Zhenya Vladimirov had also had trouble with Karpov.

Please tell us more!

- As for Vladimirov, he was called up to military service, assigned to a military unit. That way, they wanted to get him to stop working for Kasparov, but he refused, then the persecution began. In the end, only the intervention of Geydar Aliyev stopped it. Dorfman, I think, was bribed. But Timoshenko was one of the authors of the clique around the young Karpov in the Soviet team training camp


Left to right: Timoschenko, Nikitin, Vladimirov, Kasparov, Geller

At the most tense moments of the match, you often laughed and joked a lot?

- There was not much laughter, but not because we did not value humour – quite the opposite. But everyone knows that the fight between the two K's lasted a very loing time. It was extremely tense and there were more difficult moments than one can count. This was so from the very start of the first match. Only in the first two games were we cheerful and happy. In the first, the Scheveningen went very well, and in the second, a sharp Queens's Indian, in Kasparov's style. But then he soon started thumbing his nose at the monster, and almost lost. Our combined efforts managed to save a difficult adjourned position, but our cheerful mood left us at once the next playing day, and did not return for a long time.

In the third game, Garry played his own novelty (12… Ка5), which he had thoughht up in the plane on the way to the match. He did not even show it to any of us.

But then it turned out there was something wrong with it, and Anatoly Evgenievich found it at the board, without any trouble. Instead of great comnlications, which suited the young challenger, we got a quiet position, with an extra pawn for the champion. Garry was so upset that he lost practically without a fight.

Garry was bound to start badly, because he had flown in from Bakue and, to put it delicately, was not in the right mood for a battleThis was nothing to do with his trainers – he already listened to us only on purely chess matters. The reason was the over-effusive wishes from the Azeris, both highly-placed people and ordinary supporters. They all tried to show their belief in a quick victory by their hero. Those days in Azerbaijan, in every place we went for a training camp, the local leader considered it an honour to meet garry. I told him before the match that he should not play in the Hall of Columns. What's all this pomposity all about? Better to play in some more modest venue, so that the magficicence of the hall and the occasion would not unnerve the youngster..

Can you say exactly what the ex-world champions did in Garry's preparations?

- Now we can admit that all four of the late world champions supported Garry and tried to help him with advice, in his preparation for this unique contest. Admittedly, they only did this before the main match, whereas during the match itself, they stepped aside, with the exception of Botvinnik. In general, this experience they passed on was invaluable, they explained that the peak of tiredness was reached after the semifinal Candidates match, they advised him not to be drawn into a positional struggle against Karpov. Botvinnik and Petrosian advised against using the Tarrasch Defence in this match. Incidentally, even in this first match, we began to suspect that something dirty was afoot – information about opening preparation was leaking… …

In your book, you often use phrases like "as Karpov aditted to others", and "we knew in general the methods Karpov used to prepare for a new game". Would it be fair to say that an espionage atmosphere prevailed, typical of the Cold War? 


Photos from the personal archive of Nikitin

- Yes, in miniature, of course. The subtlety was that we knew in general terms what was happening in Karpov's circle. As for which opening he would choose, we only guessed once – in the middle of the second match, we heard that Geller had refuted our Sicilian line, or something or other. But specific leaks of chess information we did not have – I would have known about it.

The tension of these matches was such that you have even written that during the match with Korchnoi, Klara Shagenovna, after the third game, muttered about the possibility of conceding the match..

- Now she criticises me because I said, when Kasparov failed to mate his opponent in games 6 and 16 of the first match, that "if we can't win such positions, then it is time to resign the match". And she insists that she demaned we continue, even if we lost. I definitely said to her, from my heart, this phrase, and maybe for a moment she insisted on continuing the match, but it was never seriously discussed. If he had lost, we would never have heard about this. 


So do you think that if the first match had bene lost, say 6-0, that Kasparov would have bene destroyed for ever?

- That is whay Karpiv chose these Jesuitical tactics. I, however, believed he should have gone for an open fight, and maybe lost a game, in return for which it would soon have all been over. At 3-0 down, Garry was groggy, as all his dreams of a brilliant victory had been destroyed.

And why did Karpov in this first match fail for the third time? Against Korchnoi, in 1974, he led 3-0 and only won 3-2, and in 1978, he led 5-2 and Korchnoi equalised at 5-5, before losing the decisive game. Was it just that Karpov could not overcome his physical weakness? 

Yes. We know he had to get it over with inside 25 games.


Now I want to move to the subject of the so-called "Vladimirov affair". Is it true that he had problems with the KGB even before the first match?

- We heard that Vladimirov, whilst still liable to military service, and utilising the permission of his bosses, to work for Kasparov, was quietly touring the country. 

Left to right: Timoschenko, Nikitin, Kasparov, Vladimirov. Photo from the personal archive of Nikitin.

You mean he used this permission to travel about on his own business?

- Yes. On what business? He was anything but indifferent to the ladies. You can imagine how the state organs could make use of this! Undoubtedly, we were being followed, and especially Vladimirov, a man liable for armny service. They can immediately identify the weak link. I was never app[roached by anyone from the KGB or Karpov's camp, because they all knew that for me, it was a holy mission. We believe they collared him over something or other, somewhere in the Baltics, and then they began to use this. At the start of the match, they did not bother Vladimirov much – they were operating on a wide front, and I think they also had Dorfman in their pocket..

It's like the business with the Korean plane.


Would you compare Dorfman with the plane affair?

- Yes. He behaved in a way that is totally unacceptable for a trainer. He was betting on the totaliser, on the openings and the result of the games. This totaliser was run by a man inextricably linked to Karpov.

Feldman was involved with this?

- He was.

What was his role?

- Who knows! I doubt he was the boss, more likely the middleman, passing information.

It seems that as well as the special services, organised crime also became involved at some point. Moreover, it is know that some of the people involved are now very rich men in Russia and Ukraine.

- Yes. Akhmetov in Ukraine, Kvantrishvili, who was killed, because he got too involved with politics. 

And Abramovich? He was probably another.


Now, many years later, do you still believe that Vladimirov was doing something dubious, and was a cover for the main channel of information?

- I think so.

And Dorfman admitted something?

- The fact that attacks were made on him.


- Before the second match. He came to our head of delegation and said he had been shown a suitcase, stuffed with money, there was 100,000 roubles. He was also offered a flat and residence permit in Moscow. This is something, as we know, that he could not speak about, but there you are, I am tell you. 

He admits that they asked him to help them, but not that he agreed.

-  He said he was scared, but he did not admit working for them. Imagine, he was then taken to the match in Sevbille, as the keeper of our chess secrets. But it was suspcious, that it was Iosif who pointed the finger at Vladimirov, we the latter was out jogging in Zagulba. He came to me and said, "Sasha, looks what's going on", and we went into Evgeny's room, which was open, and there lay an exercise book, with notes on a variation of the Grunfeld.

But what is strange about this?

- The fact that he did not warn us of this, even though there was no prohibition on using what we had found after the match. He did it in secret. I have no doubt that, if he had approached Garry and asked permission, it would have been granted.

Nowadays, you do not consider Vladimirov guilty of treason, and as far as I know, neitehr does Kasparov. But things have turned out pretty bad for Evgeny, considering all the negative publicity.

He is still somewhat stained in this whole affair! Although I do not have any facts. We, like Karpov, had a head of delegation, who took on the fire. He was responsible for such situations, so he is the person you should ask. How strongly stained? Enough to hide the main issue. We cannot accuse Dorfman either, and I do not know what he admitted to our delegation chief. I have just remembered an interesting paradox. Game 41 was adjourned in a position, which everyone considered bad for Black. If Garry lost, the match would have ended 6-1 and history would have been different. The analysis of the adjourned position fell in the main on the pair of Vladimirov and Dorfman. They created a long study-like line, which enabled Garry to draw. So everything is really very obscure, even in our logiocal conclusions. 


At the end of the 1990s and early 2000s, you worked with Etienne Bacrot, who was a pupil of Dorfman. Did you and Iosif have any direct contact then?

- Noen at all. I worked with Bacrot at Spassky's recommendation. Our work lasted five years, and it was that period when he won the French Chapionship. The work ended when the support of his very capricious sponsor was removed (evidently, the reference is to his then sponsor Made Ojeh - WhyChess)

So it seems that in this whole espionage story, there is much that is unclear.

- Undoubtedly, because all the conclusion I have cautiously drawn have been based on logical foundations. The only clear thing is that there were definitely leaks, for example regarding adjourned games.

Was it a problems or you during the match that you were friendly with one of the opposing team, Balashov?

- No. We were certainly friends, but not especially so – we are of different generations. During the match, we did not maintain any relations, of course.

Were you surprised by the work of the opposing team?

- Well, during the first match, in general, we just laughed – the more people they had, the less accord there was. We only started to have problems with the increasing level of Karpov's opening preparation during the second match. By the third match, he was already the better prepared, and often went in for sharp systems. I was surprised in Seville, when Zaitsev revealed the depth of this concept with Bxf7 in the Grunfeld. There we had to analyse sometimes as far as the endgame, such was the connection betwene all three stages of the game in this variation. Because of all this work, I did not see anything of Seville at all.

I was very surprised that Karpov never once played the Berlin Wall.

- Frankly, we could not find anythings erious in the Russian Defence, although we made great efforts. In the Caro-Kann too, in general, we had trouble finding an advantage with White. In those days, nobody took the Berlin verys eriously, and that included us. But as Black, we wrongly failed to study the Grunfeld.

It was only later that we realised that it was essential to play positions with a fluid pawn centre against Karpov. 


Was Florencio Campomanes an agent of the KGB?

- I do not know whether he was an agent, but with the number of "appropriate experts" that were involved, one could argue that he was under surveillance, and may even have been under their direction. He unexpectedly flew to the match and then flew back. They called him and he arrived. For example, when Karpov had completely gone, and his concentration could not last more than one and a half hours of play, as in the penultimate 47th game. Garry, after all, did not want to play the game, and told us that, well, now I will go and make another draw. He, in fact, on his 14th move, offered it. I later asked him, "Why did you do it? We told you that you have to play at least 40 moves" To which he replied," I expected Karpov would offer one himself at every move, and then I could not have refused! ". He had no spirit. But reckoning that Karpov would refuse the offer, he made it, to try to avoid the dissatisfaction of the spectators. That is, he provoked Karpov into refusing. Some might say: "That is not right!". But this is sport, and a match for the chess crown is not a friendly. And Karpov refused, saying something like: "It's too early!". But then he started playing such that soon, it was too late to agree a draw.

The progress of that game certainly showed that something was not right with Karpov. He made a depressed impression. In the last game, he fought quite well, but still could not save the game.

- Yes, that was a betetr game, a real GM game. I recently checked it with the computer and it was a real game. At the time, the Culture Minister, Demichev, said both players played badly, and that Kasparov exploited his advantage pooly before the time control. And so it was necessary to stop the match at once, because the players were too tired. In other words, suddenly Demichev had become a great chess specialist.

In your book, you have a striking phrase about the end of the third match. Then Karpov, after equalising the score, immediately took a time-out five games before the end. And you wrote that in those last five games, "Karpov looked like a man haunted by terror of something".

- His time-out had no logic. I was told he flew to Moscow and met with some people, eitehr those wo run things or those who do not play for fun.

I have never pursued any investigation into this matter, because you can get it in the neck, if not the head, for such things.

But the point is that, as well as prestige, there was also a great deal of money involved.

You have written that during the first match, there were quite a few people in the hall who were quite unknown, and who were staring intently at Kasparov. You suspect they were parapsychologists. Did Kasparov have some sort of immunity against these influences?

- Kasparov was also not defenceless and he had a psychologist, but…maybe they were not parasychologists. At that time, the KGB was actively investigating the use of extra-sensory influences on the mass of the people. Maybe that is why the Hall of Columns was chosen as the venue, next to the Lubyanka.



When I played Garry in 2001, I wanted to hide under the table, to escape the ferocity of his glare. Was it hard for you to work with him?

- Well, you see, he saw you as a chess enemy, and when ready for a battle, he could look that way. I don't think he did this deliberately, it is just that when he came to the game, and saw you, he just…

 Hated me to death! (general laughter)

- Уwe were friendly – trainer and pupil. Admittedly, that changed after about ten years.

Seeing the opponent as an emeny – did this come from Botvinnik? It's rumoured that he used to spit on his rivals' photos.

- I never heard about that, but he certainly took very seriously the development of a fighting mood. Whether playing a match or tournament, he never just turned up to play chess.

What do you think of Nakamura's recent claim that the lion's share of Kasparov's success was due to opening preparation, and that he would have been completely different without that? 

I would like to see Nakamura play against the Kasparov of 1985-86, and see how much was left of him afterwards. 

It doesn't matter what the opening is – these are players of two completely different classes. Although, it is true that to this day, Kasparov has no rivals in terms of opening preparation.

But Carlsen's results have shown that maybe it is not always needed.

- I think Carlsen, with his chess abilities, is a genius, like Tal. Certainly, he can play without preparation, whereas Kasparov could not. But Carlsen is now starting to show some difficulties in his play – this is the result of insufficient work on chess.

As you have pointed out yourself, the young Kasparov sometimes lacked spirit and offered draws wrongly.

- He created so much tension on the board that sometimes he could not stand it himself. This often happened in his youth.

Given all that has happened, was it easy for Kasparov and Karpov to unite forces in the battle for the FIDE leadership?

- I think that no matter what, they both had an understanding that they are top-level professionals. Accordingly, there was also mutual respect. Their explicit union was short, they soon parted again, hopefully without losing mutual respect. As far as I know, Kasparov was unhappy with the degree of participation of Karpov in the campaign, because, in his opinion, he did less than he could. All of what they achieved, was due to Kasparov, who managed to visit all the continents.

Let's move on to the 1990sr. You use the phrase "when Garry adopted double standards" - you mean, when he sided with the Russian Chess Federation and Moscow with Makarov and Murasheva? Yet you made ​​it clear that you supported Bebchuk, not these figures. Why?

- No, how could I support this team. This was the period of uncontrolled grabbing of capital and many dubious personalities gathered around Kasparov.

One of them, a former major in the army, later became owner of the hotel Cosmos (where the 1994 Olympiad was held - WhyChess). He was then a representative of the Moscow chess union, supporting Kasparov. They used such terrible schemes that I avoided them.

How to you view Kasparov's current political activities?

- You know, he speaks well, and, one might say, he speaks and assesses things correctly, but is detached from reality. I told him then that he was ahead of his time. All the while the oil price is above 50-70 dollars a barrel, nobody is going to support him.

How did it happen that he set some sort of Russian record, for the numbers of parties he has joined and left, some he even founded? I follow these things closely, but I have even lost count of the number.

- As a former world chess champion, he thinks he can be the same in politics. But now he has stopped playing. Either he understands, or was made to understand, that the patience of the powers that be has its limits. The well-known incident when he was hit over the head with a chessboard could be repeated, in a different, more serious form.

One of your articles was entitled "Where are you running to, Garry?". I would like to ask you "Where?". Not business, evidently.

- Garry cannot be a businessman, because he and his mother, who wields enormous influence over him, are very susceptible to flattery, and this is a terrible weakness for a businessman.

The difference between the two great K's now is that karpov is a member of "United Russia", and a member of the State Duma, whilst Kasparov is not. And, in addition, Karpov is a multimillionaire, whereas Kasparov, ion my opinion, is under pressure financially. He has a flat in New York, where his wife and daughter live, a flat in Moscow, where he lives with his mother, after his divorce from his previous wife. He gave her another flat. His book publications have now pretty much ceased, and the prfits of his American Kasparov Foundation are not that great. 

For me, in any event, his future is uncertain for the first time. 



Recently in Paris Kasparov presented a new book, "Mating Putin".

- I can say that, with my unenthusiastic attitude to Vladimir Vladimirovich, he is very careful when it comes to Kasparov.

Garry is a great political analyst, whose books and articles are read by all sides. Such people are few and far between in today's opposition, and maybe for that raeson, almost all of today's political elite in the opposition have turned away from him. By no means all of them are happy with his obvious intellectual superiority, plus the fact that Garry has his opinion, which of course is always right, and everyone else wrong. Mmind you, he allows incorrect opinions – nowadays, he is a real democrat. 

Diary notes of Nikitin's conversations with the ex-world champion before the match of 1984-5. More about this in Part 3 

* The opinion of the author is not necessarily that of the editorial team.