Chess Classic in Mainz more often on the screen

Interview with Jens Beutel, Mayor and confirmed chess player

Jens Beutel is a top politician - at least on 64 chess squares. This 54 year old Social Democrat has a national rating of 2070 and is always one of the leading group in chess tournaments for political figures. In May 1997, the presiding judge in the Mainz Assizes was elected Mayor of Mainz, capital of the federal Chess Classic Mainz: Jens Beutelstate of Rhineland-Palatinate. Last year Jens Beutel came into contact with 'top level' chess at the Frankfurt Chess Classic: in the simul against world no. 1 Gary Kasparov (Russia) he managed to draw. But this was not the only thing that fascinated the Mayor of the City of Mainz during the event and initiated his moved to lure the Chess Classic to his city. Hartmut Metz spoke to Jens Beutel about the unusually dramatic move by which the social democratic politician brought off this coup. He has changed the tournament location from the banking metropolis to the city which houses the headquarters of the second German national television channel.

Mr. Beutel, what was it that impressed you so much at last year's Frankfurt Chess Classic that you were eager to stage this tournament?

It was a world class event, it was presented in both a professional and spectator-friendly manner. Even people who don't play chess came under the spell.

And these were the reasons for organising a similar event with a chess fair in Mainz …

Each event has to have a trade mark which distinguishes it from other events. I thought it would be an opportunity to try something new. In order to achieve this one needs an experienced team and this is what I found with Hans-Walter Schmitt and his co-workers. Due to the short amount of time left to prepare we did not have the time to organise a chess fair accompanying the main events. However, in the long run this is a goal.

All of a sudden you spotted the chance to bring the world-famous tournament as a whole to Mainz?

Actually I had envisaged this right from the start. The fair is designed to be an extra element in order to attract additional visitors.

How did the negotiations proceed?

Quite smoothly and pleasantly with the organiser Hans-Walter Schmitt. After last year's main sponsor dropped out, it did take time to make sure we had covered our costs with the help of other sponsors like Landesbank Rheinland-Pfalz and Sparkasse Mainz, but in the end this worked out too.

Hans-Walter Schmitt estimates that Mainz offers better future prospects, due to the fact that the very prestigious Rheingoldhalle and the integrated Hilton Hotel complex are available. What is the role of the Mayor in supporting the tournament?

The Rheingoldhalle and the Hilton are owned by a company with close management ties to the city. This facilitates the task of obtaining favourable arrangements.

And what about television? Mainz is the headquarters of ZDF, one of the two German public broadcasting channels. Is there hope of chess managing at the source to break through the solid phalanx of football matches being shown on TV? This would greatly increase sponsors' interest.

First contacts have been made with ZDF and Südwestrundfunk, the regional branch of the first public television channel. In my opinion media coverage of chess will be higher than usual.

After Fujitsu Siemens withdrew as main sponsor, this Chess Classic does not offer quite the range of activities which the top ten provided last year. On the other hand the two world champions Viswanathan Anand and Vladimir Kramnik will meet for their only contest this year. Are you satisfied with the programme?

Numerous and varied events offer something for every visitor. Besides this outstanding match we will see the first match in Fischer Random Chess between Michael Adams and Peter Leko who will both also compete against a computer. The Ordix Open will have a strong field, and do not forget the simuls by the world champions either. I have no doubt that all these tournament components definitely promise to contribute to a great success that will be effected by an experienced organising team.

You mentioned the simuls: at last year's Chess Classic you snatched a draw from the world no.1 Gary Kasparov. At that time the Russian reacted very aggressively …

Yes, to my own surprise I had a winning position with Black after 23 moves. Kasparov always aims to win and therefore reacted aggressively. By this he showed me that he also saw his position in a negative light. Nonetheless, the position was quite complex still, and I chose to accept that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. I offered the draw and Kasparov accepted instantly.

A remarkable achievement: how did you start chess?

With the help of written instructions I taught myself the game at the age of 13. After this, I played a lot whilst I was a schoolboy.

Later you managed to play in the Oberliga, the third division in Germany. Did you not have the time to continue due to work reasons and therefore limited your activities to winning the politicians' tournament in Bonn, then the German capital?

I only joined a club at the age of 20 and became regional Rheinhessen champion twice and Mainz city champion once. In addition, I played at the first board for my club, SV Mombach, in the Oberliga. Since 1988 I have hardly played any tournaments and have scaled back my activities to team competitions. Nevertheless I still like to play blitz in a chess café.

But you will certainly have time to play one of the simuls against the world champions on 23 or 24 June?

This is for sure.

Against which of them would you prefer to play? Or would you like to face Viswanathan Anand and Vladimir Kramnik?

There is a reason why Anand is called Speedy Gonzales. The Indian is quickly back at the board and you therefore have less time to consider your next move. Kramnik has a more deliberate style, but he is absolutely steady; and hardly anybody can overturn this Muscovite. Honestly, I will have to think carefully about whom I will meet.

You 'snatched' the spectacular Chess Classic from Frankfurt. Do you not fear an internal party dispute with your social democrat colleague Sylvia Schenk, who as head of Frankfurt council sports department of course dislikes losing the staging of such an event?

I know Sylvia Schenk very well. She does not begrudge this tournament taking place in Mainz. As she is now president of the German Cyclists' Association she now has different priorities in the field of sport.

What developments do you expect for the Mainz Chess Classic in the long run? In 2002 some notable sponsors are at the ready if there is a longer run-up period.

I'm not afraid for the Mainz Chess Classic future if our presentation remains at a high level, print and other media play their part and also many spectators visit us in person.