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Silvio Danailov’s odd gestures made some players and journalists think that this was the way he was giving hints to Veselin Topalov.
The video shows Veselin Topalov’s match in Wijk aan Zee in January 2006.
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Feb. 09, 2007
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World’s Best Chess Player Suspected of Immoral Ties
// With a computer
The chess world has been rocked by a scandal. Kommersant has learned that the Association of Chess Professionals is about to begin an investigation of suspicions that former world chess champion and first-ranked player in the FIDE (World Chess Federation) rating Veselin Topalov regular received advice from the auditorium during his matches. It is possible that, if the investigation goes ahead, it will use a video recording of one of his matches that is already in the possession of Kommersant. Topalov’s manager Silvio Danailov has stated that a suit has already been filed against the German journalist whose publication whipped up the scandal and that similar action will be taken against anyone who tries to besmirch Topalov’s reputation.
Pavel Tregubov, president of the Association of Chess Professionals, told Kommersant yesterday that his organization – trade union of sorts, to which most of the top chess players belong – is ready to investigate suspicions that Topalov, the world’s top-rated grandmaster, regular violates rules by receiving advice from his manager and trainer Danailov, who in turn uses computer analyses. “I don’t know yet what measures could be taken, but the problem has become pressing,” Tregubov told Kommersant. “Before computers, there was no sense in a leading grandmaster taking advice. The person giving the advice would not be a better player than the one at the board. Such incidents occurred at children’s or amateur competitions. But now it is possible that the problem has reached the elite level. And I think FIDA should take up the problem, possible jointly with the ACP. If there is weighty enough evidence, we will contact the federation.”

Berik Balgabaev, advisor to FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, told Kommersant yesterday that, if contacted officially, the organization may organize an investigation of the accusations against the Bulgarian chess player. “But we have no right to undertake anything before being contacted,” Balgabaev added. “A special commission has already been established in FIDE headed by vice president Geoff Borg to address the problem of cheating, that is receiving advice, as a whole, and will make proposals to solve it. Believe me, we consider it a serious problem.”

An official demand to intervene in the burgeoning scandal may come soon. Kommersant has obtained a video recording that may be used in the investigation. It was sent by a Dutch fan, who asked to remain unnamed and was recorded at one of Topalov’s matches at the major chess tournament at Wijk aan Zee, The Netherlands, in January 2006. The recording can be viewed at www.kommersant.ru.

In the recording, it can be seen that Danailov, standing near the stage and looking at Topalov, makes some unusual movements with his hands, running them along his neck then raising them to his mouth and touching his neck again. After that, he quickly left the auditorium and pulled his cellular phone from his pocket.

“I noticed a tall man in the audience doing something very strange,” the creator of the recording told Kommersant. “A friend of mine told me that that was Silvio Danailov, Veselin Topalov’s manager. He was continually coming and going from the auditorium and using his cellular phone outside. Then he would return to a corner where he could see Topalov, cough and do other things that looked like signs for Topalov. I noticed that no one else was concerned by it, although the signs were obvious.”

The Dutch informant recounted that he decided to record a match between Topalov and Ukrainian player Vasily Ivanchuk a few days later. When the game had become extremely complex for the Bulgarian grandmaster, Danailov began to move often between the auditorium and foyer. “Sometimes he sat in the restaurant and took a call on his mobile phone, then returned to a corner where Topalov could see him well.” The Dutchman explained why he did not show the footage to anyone for an entire year. “I showed the footage to a friend who is involved in chess,” he said, “and he told me that it is dangerous for me from the legal point of view, because it is not weighty enough evidence. Then I read an article in a German newspaper describing the very things I saw with my own eyes.”

The article referred to was written by international chess master Martin Breutigam and published last week in Suddeutsche Zeitung. At this year’s tournament in Wijk aan Zee, where Topalov shared first place with Levon Aronyan and Teimur Radjabov, he noticed what he considered suspicious behavior by Topalov and Danailov. “Anyone who observed them attentively in the second or third round would get the impression that obvious nonverbal contact was taking pace between them.” Breutigam noticed in particular that, in the second round against Loek van Wely, Danailov took his cellular phone from his pocket after every move Topalov made, left the auditorium and then returned to his corner and, when the player looked at him. Mad estrange gestures as if scratching his ear. Breutigam pointed this strange behavior of Topalov’s trainer out to a judge, who interrupted the game for a short time to make a check that the author of the article found to be strictly formal and found no violations. Van Wely attributed his loss purely to his own unfortunate moves. The same thing happened again in Topalov’s round against Sergey Karyakin.

At the same time, an interview appeared the Indian publication DNA with prominent English grandmaster Nigel Short, who worked as the official commentator at the tournament in San Luis, Argentina, in 2005. Short emphasized that he could not make any accusations against Topalov and Danailov without evidence but recalled that even then some of the participants in the tournament told him that it was possible that the Bulgarian was using advice from a computer program and noticed that Danailov’s behavior (his close positioning to Topalov play and his frequently leaving the hall) could cause suspicion. Later, in a letter to Danailov, Short stated that the number of people who had reported their suspicions was so great that an investigation was simply unavoidable, “so the chess world can learn the truth.”

Topalov won the tournament at San Luis with phenomenal results of 10 points in 14 games (6.5 of them in the first round) against the best grandmasters in the world. Soon after that, Vladimir Barsky, trainer of tournament participant Alexander Morozevich, published statistics that showed what he considered an unnatural correspondence between the moves made by Topalov and those suggested by computer programs for the same positions. For instance, 37 out of the Bulgarian’s 39 last moves in the round against Vishwanathan Anand coincide with the recommendations of the Rybka program. It was concluded from that that Topalov was able to receive advise while at the board. Other chess players spoke of Topalov’s “computer” style as well, Rustam Kasymdjanov, for instance. Danailov and Topalov categorically denied the accusations.

Well-known grandmaster Evgeny Bareev made it clear to Kommersant that the opinions expressed above are still shared by many experts. Bareev said that Topalov’s rapidly progress, winning one tournament after another in recent years and even exceeding the record-high rating of the great Garri Kasparov, amazed him and other chess players. “In 2004, Topalov still looked unlikely. But in 2005, a simply unbelievable jump took place. At some point, it became obvious that there was help from the side. What is most annoying is the primitive method. We assumed that he was more accomplished – with a chip implanted in his ear, for example…”

Bareev joked that “insisting on a partition between the stage and the auditorium was Vladimir Kramnik’s best move” in the match for the title of absolute world’s champion in Elista, Kalmykia, in September and October of last year. The grandmaster suggested that Topalov began the bout unsuccessfully, losing two out of four starting games, because the screen erected at Kramnik’s insistence deprived him of visual contact with his trainer. Game of the decade in the chess world was almost scratched when “toiletgate” broke out before the fifth play. Topalov’s team demanded that the restroom in the Russian player’s relaxation room be closed because he was going there too frequently, in the observer’s eyes. After that tacit accusation of cheating, Kramnik refused to play the fifth game.

After negotiations in which Ilyumzhinov took part, the match was continued and ended with Kramnik’s victory in a tiebreaker. The conflict was unresolved, however. Danailov and Topalov, still insisting that the Russian used unfair means, filed an application for a revenge match in Sofia and presented a bank guarantee for a $1.5-million prize fund. At the end of January, the presidential council of FIDE declined the Bulgarian’s request, saying that the match could not be held within half a year of the start of the world tournament, in September in Mexico, as the rules required. Topalov lost the chance to regain his title anytime in the near future.

The current scandal could ruin his career, Bareev noted. “You understand, there is a moral side to the problem,” he explained. “Chess players for the most part are worthy people. If a person is found among us who rejects the principles of fair play, it is taken hard. Before, low-level chess players did that. Now we are talking about a grandmaster of the highest level. I think that two steps are necessary in this situation. Chess players should come together to insist on an investigation. If the suspicions are confirmed, the organizers of the tournament should refuse Topalov, toward whom a negative attitude has already been formed in the chess world, the right to play. He is risking being isolated.”

Danailov, reached by a Kommersant correspondent yesterday, stated that he had already filed suit against Breutigam after consulting with a prominent law office in Munich. “That person came to the tournament especially to conduct reportage that besmirched Veselin’s reputation, and he should answer for that,” stated Danailov. “We will act in exactly the same way in the event anyone else wants to follow his example, because talk of Topalov’s cheating is a false, idiotic and speculative.” When asked if he thought he made unnatural gestures during games, Danailov replied that “I don’t remember what gestures I make. You understand, it is all revenge for Elista. People simply can’t accept that Veselin is winning everything, that he is No. 1 in the world.”

The legendary Anatoly Karpov supported Danailov. The 12th champion of the world told Kommersant that the accusations against Topalov of “computer doping” are “beneath criticism.”


The video shows Veselin Topalov’s game in Wijk aan Zee in January 2006.

Alexey Dospekhov

All the Article in Russian as of Feb. 09, 2007

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