Sergey Karjakin: "Carlsen is the Cristiano Ronaldo of chess"

Sergey Karjakin: "Carlsen is the Cristiano Ronaldo of chess"

Spektrowski
Spektrowski
Dec 4, 2016, 2:02 AM |
12

Karjakin's first interview upon returning to Russia, for the Sport-Express newspaper.

http://www.sport-express.ru/chess/reviews/sergey-karyakin-karlsen-shahmatnyy-ronaldu-1072655/

I BOUGHT A NEW SIM CARD AND DIDN'T GIVE MY NUMBER TO ANYONE

You can be considered the moral victor of the match, and we congratulate you on that. How much time did you spend preparing for the Carlsen match, and how much time will you need to regain form?

Sergey Karjakin: After winning the Moscow tournament in March, I had half a year to prepare. And we have done a lot. There were several serious training camps. I've dedicated my whole life to this match. Concerning the future - I think there'll be no problems, since I've played against the world champion. In other tournaments, the opponents will also be strong, but not as strong as him. I think I can keep winning.

So you consider yourself to be in good form?

SK: My form is good. I've played Magnus well, and my rating has increased, I'm now sixth player in the world. Before the match, I was ninth. I wasn't strong enough to win the chess crown, but I've achieved some good progress.

What's life like for a person who plays a world chess championship match? You speak to no-one, don't answer any phone calls, analyze games all day long?

SK: During tournaments, I don't talk to anyone, I turn my phone off. Before the match, I bought a new SIM card and didn't give my new number to almost anyone, even to Kirill Zangalis. I'm doing that because I've got a lot of information to process, and chess needs full concentration. I have to close off from the outer world.

Kirill Zangalis: We're good friends with Sergey. Before a tournament, we can go to karaoke, bowling club or restaurant together. But after the tournament begins, everything changes. Nobody understands that, because it's different in other teams. For instance, Espen Agdestein is constantly at Carlsen's side, and it doesn't bother the Norwegian grandmaster. We and Sergey have a common friend, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. He also always asks his manager to be at his side, because he can't live without talking to someone. And we have an unspoken agreement with Sergey since 2014. We haven't come to that agreement from the outset, because Sergey is a very reserved man and couldn't tell me outright that for him, everyone is a distraction, not only me personally. People asked me in New York, "How's Sergey doing?" And I would answer, "Believe it or not, but I've seen him only at the opening and closing ceremonies!" I'm probably the only person who didn't know which hotel he lived in! Sounds improbable, I know. But, as you have seen, this helps. And at the Candidates' tournament, Sergey asked me personally not to let anyone of his acquaintances into the hall.

I GAVE 90 PERCENT

So, you cannot allow yourself to watch a movie during the tournament, for instance? Or anything else?

SK: In New York, we would go away for a walk every evening and prescind from anything that happened around; we would morally prepare for the next game and discuss the current state of things with my coach. And what else can I allow myself? It's hard to say. There are chess players who engage in sports during tournaments, but for me, it's more of a distraction. So I just lie down and rest, or go for a walk.

Can you describe your typical rest day at the match? How much time did you spend thinking on games?

SK: This is a permanent process. We can walk or discuss something else, but there's still a lot of chess thoughts in my head. Concerning the "time spent" question... a couple of hours was dedicated to chess preparation. All the other time, I would rest and call my family and friends.

Many people call you "world chess defence champion". You have showed this style in your games against Carlsen. How did such a style form?

SK: I don't agree that my style is all defence. I'm a universal enough player. When Carlsen gave me winning chances, I tried to exploit them. The game I won was good, as were some others when I had advantage. Another question is, when you're facing a world champion, he creates such troubles for you that you just can't help but defend. What else can you do, resign on the spot? I had to fight until the end, and I did that. I've saved quite a few games in the match.

In the Internet, you were even nicknamed "The Defence Minister". Have you heard about that? If you have, are you upset?

SK: No, why? I respect Sergei Shoigu [Russian defence minister] very much. This is a compliment. (Laughs)

What's psychologically harder: to play against different people every day, or a series of games against one opponent?

SK: It's all hard. At the Candidates' tournament, I've played against seven outstanding players. Even though there was no world champion among them, they're, nevertheless, all members of the chess elite. It was a serious test, and I'm glad I've passed it. We can also remember the Baku World Cup last year. There were 128 players, and I've won it. It was very hard. And the Carlsen match was also hard. I gave 90 percent of my strength. I lacked the 10 percent I needed to win.

Did you perhaps relax a bit after drawing the 12-game match, when many already started calling you a hero for achieving that?

SK: Yes, I did feel that I've completed the minimum objective of reaching the tie breaks. I knew from the start that for me, it's already a good result. But I can't say that this was the reason of my loss. The main reason was that I was unable to switch from classical games to rapid. When you play 12 classical games, you can think for a long time, spend 20 minutes on one move. And then, you have to play quickly, just 25 minutes for the whole game. This required some recalibration, and I failed to do that.

I'M A VICTIM OF MY RESPECT FOR CARLSEN

And your opponent managed to "recalibrate". He had White in game 12, and the game was very short. Was he sure of defeating you at the tie break?

SK: I think he was, because he played very harmlessly, without creating many problems. Another question is, why did he do that? If we'd played in a regular tournament, I'm sure he would try to create some problems for me with White. But at the world championship match, he was psychologically fettered, because any mistake can be very costly. There was a moment when people started noticing that Magnus' hands were trembling, and moves came hard to him. He was very nervous. After the match ended, Carlsen admitted that there was a moment when he was on the brink of collapse.

Perhaps he was counting on the tie break from the outset? Magnus is a two-time rapid world champion, after all.

Perhaps he was. But I also was a rapid world champion and I can play well. But on that day, I didn't play as best as I could. It was a bad day for me. But, on the other hand, what if he lost the tie break? Everyone would be asking him, why did he settle for a draw with White in the last game? You can't know for sure what's best.

Have you found your main tie break mistake? What should have you done to have more chances to win?

SK: I have. I think I made a psychological mistake before the tie break. I've prepared a lot, looked through many opening variants, both for White and Black. Preparation was very serious. But the decisive factor was thinking speed. It wasn't possible to win in the opening. I lacked freshness in thoughts. I've been thinking on my moves for far too long, going into time troubles... It all went bad.

Did you have a perpetual check in game 10? You've berated yourself for not seeing it; if you drew that game, there possibly wouldn't even be any tie breaks. You could have become a champion after 12 games.

SK: First of all, we can remember game 9, when I had a big advantage for White. But Magnus defended fantastically and managed to draw the game. This already hit me pretty hard, because I wanted to win the second game in a row. And in game 10, the goal was not to lose with Black. But I've never even thought that my opponent would miss an easy perpetual check. I respected him too much and didn't even think on that very natural move. You could say that I was a victim of my respect towards Magnus.

The tie break day was Magnus' birthday. Would you have won if it was your birthday? Or perhaps you would have some kind of moral advantage, at least?

SK: I usually play good on my birthdays. When you're in a good mood and everyone congratulates you, it gives a good boost. It's great. So, it was good for Magnus as well.

Did you feel your rising popularity in Russia while in New York? Chess even displaced soccer from the headlines of sport media!

SK: I didn't know everything, because I closed off from the outer world. I lived in a bubble, if you'd like. But I can say that, strangely, I was quite popular in America. People would stop me on the street and ask for an autograph or a photo. A Russian-speaking taxi driver recognized me and drove me for free. It was nice.

IN A FISHBOWL. NO WATCHES, NO PENS AT THE BOARD

The world championship history is rife with stories of opponents trying to influence each other outside the board, even hired psychics. Were there any psychological tricks in your match? For instance, Carlsen would remove his jacket and fidget in his chair. Did he plan all that, or it's just his temperament?

SK: I think it's his temperament. And the match was hard for him. Just remember how angry he was after game 8: he left the press conference and was fined for it. Magnus was on the brink of a breakdown there. But his experience allowed him to recover.

In the past, there were allegations of players using computer help. It's now impossible?

SK: The surveillance was very thorough. We were searched with metal detectors. We couldn't bring watches or even our own pens.

KZ: The problem with cheaters still exist. Even a relatively weak computer can immensely help. So they played in a soundproof room that looked like a fishbowl. No contact with the spectators at all. From the VIP zone, you could see the players through the glass, but they weren't seeing or hearing anything.

SYMPATHY FROM NORWEGIANS

How did the match go from the managerial point of view? Was it hard to keep that bubble around Sergey, to defend him from outside pressure?

KZ: Sergey indeed knew almost nothing about what was going on. He had no time for that. But he, of course, saw how many people came to press conferences. The match organization was rather good. I was curious how would chess fare in New York, which has both NBA and NHL teams. But on the first day, I saw the line for the tickets and was astonished - it was very long, even though the prices varied from $75 to $3,000.

How many people were there in the hall?

KZ: Around 300. Chess matches are now usually held with a small live crowd. It's not 1984 now, when matches could be held in the Pillar Hall of the House of the Unions [this Moscow venue has 1,265 seats]. Now everyone can go to the Internet and watch the games with competend commentators. On the official site, for instance, Peter Svidler gave brilliant comments. So it wasn't necessary to go to the tournament hall and sit there silently. Nevertheless, the hall was packed every night. People would even stay for press conferences after 7-hour-long games because they were curious what would the players say.

What's also interesting, the public's perception of Sergey changed too. In the beginning, they were cold towards him. There were many talks about his T-shirt with Putin, about Karjakin being a tool in the political struggle. But Sergey was very open and natural, and he won the hearts of many chess fans. Foreigners, even Americans and Norwegians, started supporting him. This could be seen even on Facebook. The Norwegians would send their regards through me. Everyone would wish him luck and say that the match was a true chess feast. I must admit, I didn't expect that from Norwegians. No Russophobia at all!

THE ONLY CHESS DOPING IS A SUBCUTANEOUS CHIP

Was the food good? The tennis players at the US Open complained that burgers were almost the only thing offered to them.

SK: We have prepared for that. I had a personal cook, and he more or less saved me. It's really hard to find a good restaurant in America.

Do chess players follow any specific diet?

SK: We don't. Of course, there are some recommendations, like eating more fish and seafood for brain activity, but nothing serious. We don't use doping. No Meldonium here.

Did you undergo doping tests?

SK: Yes. I'm clean. Though the results haven't arrived yet. (Laughs)

KZ: By the way, Carlsen is irritated with doping tests. Magnus says that this is an outrage, and he can't possibly imagine any substance that can affect a chess player's preparation. Can you, Sergey? Alcohol probably can, but that's it.

I must say that Magnus is a moody guy in general. His friends told me that he would often throw his PlayStation joysticks at the wall. Carlsen is very physically fit, he likes to play streetball. But if he loses, it's sometimes hard to find the ball after the game - he hurls it very strongly and very far!

Were there doping tests after every game?

SK: No, that would be overkill. We were tested only once.

Is there any chess-specific list of banned substances?

SK: No, it's the same as in every other sport.

So if a chess player tests positive for anabolic steroids, they can face a four-years ban?

SK: Basically, yes. Meldonium and cocaine are also banned.

Are there any drugs that can increase brain activity?

SK: Such drugs exist. But they are banned, so there's no sense to discuss them. We're all playing fair. Chess is a gentlemen's game.

KZ: The main form of "doping" in chess is cheating with cutting-edge technologies. You don't even have to help the player with every move. It's enough to hint that there's a win, like Sergey had in game 9. You can, for instance, implant a small subcutaneous chip. It gives you a small electric pulse, now you know that you have a win in this position and start calculating variants accordingly.

How about sleeping pills? What's allowed, and what's not? Just in case for insomnia, for instance.

SK: I've never took a sleeping pill in my whole life. My sleep is very sound.

What do you dream about?

SK: All kinds of things, chess included.

Did you ever had dreams about Carlsen?

SK: Yes, both before and during the match. After the match - not yet, but too little time has passed.

Have you seen dreams about chess games? Journalists sometimes dream of articles they need to write.

SK: Yes, sometimes.

KZ: Jokes aside, in the times before computers, where games were adjourned for the next day, chess players would sometimes see winning moves in dreams.

MATCH PREPARATION IS AN INVESTMENT IN THE FUTURE

In the earlier times, during the marathon world championship matches, we'd occasionally heard that grandmasters used theoretical novelties. Were there any novelties in your match?

SK: That's a big question. We have worked with the coaches for half a year, and, of course, prepared many opening ideas. But I didn't have a chance to uncork 99% of them, because Magnus sensed danger and did everything to avoid my possible preparations. But still, all this work isn't just gone. After the world championship matches, chess players usually improve, because all the work they've done helps them in the future tournaments.

How to sustain this rising popularity of chess?

KZ: The world championship match is over, and you can't do anything about that. Karjakin was second only to Cherchesov [Russian soccer national team coach] in media mentions last months; Carlsen was third. I was surprized when a German reporter showed me stats that said that a news item about Carlsen-Karjakin match were more popular than a news item about the FC Rostov - Bayern Munich game. Germans are very meticulous, as you know. However, chess is very popular in Germany. Bundesliga is one of the strongest chess team championships. Anand and Karpov play there, for instance.

Now everything depends on both us and you, the journalists. By the way, I still can't understand why virtually nobody knew anything about the 2008 Kramnik-Anand match. There was no hype. Even during the Kasparov-Kramnik 2000 match, there wasn't as much buzz as there is now. We still can't understand what's happened.

In the last five years, we've been working on popularizing chess; Sergey sees it as one of his duties. He's the only grandmaster who never refuses to do interviews. Though his simultaneous display against the Spartak Moscow team or his meetings with the runner Maria Savinova and boxer Nikolay Valuev irritated some grandmasters. Some people think that chess is some elite caste, and there's no place for pop culture in it. And still, we couldn't believe our eyes: chess rating skyrocketed, newspapers and news portals set up their own live translations of the tie break, the media started to interview international masters because all grandmasters are already commissioned as experts for one newspaper or the other.

How to sustain such a wave of popularity? Much depends on Sergey who brings chess into the masses. Now his goal is to win as many tournaments as possible. In the nearest future, for instance, he's going to decide whether to play in the rapid world championship, which begins in Qatar on December 26.

I can say that Russian Chess Federation works very well. But you can hold any kinds of beautiful tournaments, for instance, Tal Memorial in the Tretyakov Gallery or Alekhine Memorial in the Louvre, and it would still feel as artificial support. But the world championship really captivated people. And thanks to the journalists, too. So many people met us in the airport today, and so many cameras!

I PROBABLY WOULDN'T WANT TO LIVE IN NEW YORK

Have you seen a collage with people on the Red Square watching Sergey and Magnus play?

KZ: Yes, of course. Our goal is to make this reality.

Will a new generation of Russian chess players grow up on the Carlsen-Karjakin match?

KZ: It should be this way. But it should not be as in 2014, when there was a very short-lived short track boom. As far as I've heard, fencing schools have now become popular. I don't know if it's true, but chess is indeed receiving a lot of attention: schoolchildren are literally fighting to go to the White Rook tournament. The finals are held in Dagomys, one such kids' tournament was even opened by President Vladimir Putin. Similar kids' tournaments in other sports have died away - the Leahter Ball [soccer], the Golden Puck [hockey]... But the White Rook still endures, it has even become an international tournament. Eight foreign teams are playing there. And so, it was only natural that our school children's team won the world championship.

Sergey, how did you like New York?

SK: An interesting city. Worthy of visiting at least once in your life. But I wouldn't want to live there. You know, I've spent 40 days in the U.S., and I'm missing Russia. Of course, I understand the people who do live there, but I wouldn't be able to.

Crazy rhythm. Crazy soundscape of Manhattan...

SK: Yes. The multitude of sounds is maddening. And a lot of trash. Of course, I didn't do any photos, that would be unethical. But I've seen giant bundles of trash that nobody takes away for hours. They smelled... New York is a peculiar city. Too many troubles. Pipes break constantly - most of them are 200 years old. New York has a lot of hype surrounding it, but when you see it from the inside, you understand that it's not as perfect as you'd imagined.

Have you visited Brighton Beach? [a major population center of ex-Soviet immigrants, especially Jews]

SK: Of course. And it was raining there (laughs)[A popular early-1990 Russian comedy's title is There's Good Weather on the Deribasovskaya, and It's Raining Again on the Brighton Beach.]

Was it your first visit to New York?

SK: Yes.

MY MANAGER IS TRYING TO RIG MY GAMES, BUT I NEVER AGREE

What are you planning to do now, now that you finally have some free time?

SK: I've already been home, for half an hour. I talked to my son. Haven't seen him for forty days, and he's started to make his first steps during that period.

In chess?

SK: No, he's only one year old.

A future chess player?

SK: It's up to him to decide. I can't say for him.

Have you seen the TV show where Anatoly Karpov played chess with a three-years old boy? Anatoly Evgenyevich said to the boy, who still doesn't talk too well [but he knew how to both pronounce and play Nimzo-Indian defence], "Your flag is going to fall, do you agree for a draw?" The flag fell, Karpov won, the boy started to cry. Karpov said afterwards that he never yields, no matter whom he's playing with. Would you yield to a three-years old boy?

SK: I haven't seen the show. But I never play bad on purpose. Chess is my life, I earn my living playing chess. I must be completely ruthless in chess, no matter whom I'm playing with. Kirill Zangalis sometimes did specifically ask me to draw someone in simultaneous displays.

So, your manager is trying to rig your games?

SK: Yes, he's trying. But I always refuse.

KZ: This happened at one of his last simuls, with the singer Anastasia Makarevich, pentathlete Alexander Lesun and Andrey Vatutin, the president of the basketball CSKA Moscow. By the way, long ago, when the latter was still a journalist, we once played a friendly game of chess. I remembered that he loved the game. And so, at Sergey's simul, Vatutin would offer him draw several times, but Karjakin refused. So I told him, "Hey, why don't you agree?" And Sergey answered, "I would have agreed, but not in such a position". After that, Andrey became a chess enthusiast and introduced us to our future main sponsor.

I AM NOT MESSI

You're a Spartak Moscow supporter. How that came to be?

KZ: I'm a Spartak supporter too, and I convinced Sergey. He's now going to soccer matches, watching from the box seats.

In which year did it happen?

KZ: He's became an active supporter this year. Before that, he was invited to Spartak's match against Barcelona in Catalonia, in 2012. Spartak led 2-1 at one point, and I thought, "Sergey seems to bring good luck". But they ultimately lost 2-3. Today, people asked him about Cherchesov, but he didn't know much about that. He usually learns soccer news from me. We have acquaintances in the boxes. Whom did you last meet, Zemfira? [Russian rock singer]

SK: Yes. She looked at me, puzzled, and walked away.

There's a rumour that if Real Madrid is playing during chess tournaments, Carlsen can settle for a quick draw to watch the entire game. Is it true?

SK: No. He's a great professional. Very ruthless. Chess is his main priority, that's for sure. He'd never do anything like that.

You know he's a Real Madrid supporter. Didn't you want to whisper "Messi, Messi!" to him during the games to irritate him?

SK: A nice idea for the future.

Your rivalry with Magnus was as popular as Ronaldo and Messi's rivalry for the Ballon d'Or. Who of you two is a "chess Ronaldo", and who is "chess Messi"?

SK: If Magnus considers himself a Real Madrid fan, let him be Cristiano. And I'm not Messi. I didn't become a world champion.

Ronaldo never did, too. What soccer player is most similar to you?

SK: I don't know.

Which Spartak Moscow player do you like, then?

KZ: I think it's Artem Rebrov. The goalkeeper holds the last line. By the way, Sergey was compared with a soccer goalkeeper. He makes such saves... The third and fourth games against Carlsen were fantastic. People in the VIP zone were stunned, they said that nobody could hold such positions against Magnus. Carlsen usually plays until the very end... I don't know what Sergey did to him that he didn't look like himself.

You're planning to visit the CSKA-Barcelona basketball match. But you're a Spartak Moscow supporter [Spartak and CSKA are bitter city rivals, especially in soccer]. Whom are you going to support?

KZ: Sergey learned this from me as well. Andrey Vatutin wrote that he was expecting us on the 16th December. We wanted to go to a basketball game for a long time, but in America, he went without me. I've never seen an NBA game in person, despite writing about basketball for fifteen years. Did you like it?

SK: Yes, very cool. NHL? No, haven't seen hockey matches.

IT DOESN'T MATTER IF YOU HAVE 4 SECONDS OR 40 MINUTES IF YOUR POSITION IS LOST

A question from social networks: "Why did Sergey initiate a series of exchanges in game 11 and consent to one in game 12? Do you consider this your main tactical mistake?"

SK: I played White in game 11. It just happened so. It's normal. It's part of the struggle. And in game 12, I played Black. I shouldn't have overextended and risked losing. Everyone would ask me then, "What have you done?" A draw with Black in the last round where losing is unacceptable is normal. I haven't lost the match because of game 12. I made psychological mistakes later.

When during the last tie break game you suddenly made a move 4 seconds before the end, it seemed to us like someone cried to you, "Make a move!" Or perhaps Kirill knocked on the glass...

SK: I was just searching for chances to prolong the fight. And what's the difference between 4 seconds and 40 minutes if your position is lost? You can't do anything anyway.

They said that Carlsen left the room, then entered again. What was that? Some violation of rules?

SK: No, no. Everything was agreed upon. During the breaks between games, he came out to talk to his coach. They consulted on something... You really shouldn't search for the reasons where there can't be any.

I've read that in your youth, you would even go to discos with Carlsen. Is that true?

SK: Yes, it's true. Our relationship was always amicable. We had a good talk after the match. Even during the match, we've discussed all our games, except the one he'd lost. Chess players can do all kinds of things after the tournament, there's little wonder. Though our disco visit merits a small story. The most funny part was going home on the Moscow metro at 5 in the morning. A group of tough-looking young guys suddenly approached us. Can't say that I was afraid, but the situation looked tense. But they came to us and said, "Are you Sergey Karjakin and Magnus Carlsen? Can you do a photo with us?" That's how it ended.

The Norwegians are famous for their antics at the biathlon afterparties.

SK: I've never seen him being too active on the dance floor. But he can easily down a B-52, for instance (laughs.) Magnus is a pretty normal guy. Most chess players are. It's a myth that we don't look at anything beyond the board. We're all human beings, like all others.

Who of you can better hold your liqueur?

SK: We've never had drinking contests (laughs).

Before the match, everyone touted Carlsen as the obvious favourite. Did you think that too?

SK: I knew that there are always chances. I've always said that. Just remember history. When Kramnik defeated Kasparov, it was a sensation. Nobody believed in that before the match. Or when Alekhine defeated Capablanca? Before the match, his personal score against Capablanca was 0-5! So I really couldn't understand why bookmakers tilted so heavily in Magnus' favour.

When did you understand that everything was possible in that match?

SK: After games 3 and 4, which were very hard. It's my fault - I got into very difficult positions, but nevertheless managed to defend them. And then I understood that I could really fight. Even in game 5, where I had black, I got initiative. I had good advantage, but couldn't convert it into a win. But the match really sharpened. During games 5 through 10, I had an advantage. But then Carlsen came into his own.

KZ: Some people thought that Carlsen would "crack" after drawing the 3rd and 4th games, which everyone thought he would win. We thought that this wouldn't be the case, and he's going to press on, as he always does. But this did affect Magnus in some way.

We've also discussed the crazy-looking decision Carlsen made. In the 12th games, we, like most fans, expected a 7-hour long siege and prepared accordingly. But the Norwegian seemed to have decided to concentrate on the tie break after drawing game 11. And got two great rest days as a result!

Did you discuss that moment with Carlsen?

SK: No. Those are tricks of the trade. We never share our strategies with each other.

KZ: It's important to mention that at the press conference after the 12th game, Carlsen said something to the effect of "Today was the day I wasn't ready to risk". This perplexed everybody.

When Magnus left the press conference after losing the game, did you feel that he could have cracked?

SK: Yes. In the next game, I played very sharply, chose a principial variant. It was justified. And Magnus barely managed to hold. His confidence was shaken, which he admitted after the match. He also said that this match was his most difficult world championship to date.

What makes Carlsen the best chess player in the world?

SK: His average move level is very high. I can finish first or sixth, while Carlsen is very consistent and rarely finishes below second. He makes very few mistakes.

MAGNUS IS STRONGER THAN KASPAROV

Who's stronger: Kasparov in his best years, or Carlsen?

SK: I think it's Magnus. And that's not because I lost to him. The Norwegian is a more universal player. Kasparov's opening preparation was supreme, he was a great tactician, but, in my opniion, in positional play and endgames he was much weaker than today's Carlsen.

On the Thursday, we've seen Karpov on TV. He looked like the saddest man in the world - possibly because of your loss. What's your relationship with him and other chess legends, such as Kasparov?

SK: I have no relationship with Kasparov. I'm not going to talk to him, because I think he's doing many bad things, even for chess. My relationship with Anatoly Evgenyevich, on the other hand, is great. I occasionally visit his house, we're playing training games. I visited him shortly before going to America, and he gave me some advice that turned out to be very helpful.

Which advice?

SK: I can't tell everything. I hope to use it in my future matches. I want to thank the entire Russian national team - many members shared interesting ideas with me, showed various variants and preparations. And they did it for free. I felt that people sincerely and warmly cared for me - it's very important.

Is the chess world in general a warm place?

SK: The chess world is a mirror of our own. There's jealousy, there's competition, other things. But chess is one of the cleanest sports. It's almost impossible to cheat in chess.

The movie Pawn Sacrifice shows the ideological part of Bobby Fischer's rivalry with Boris Spassky. USA versus USSR. Did anyone try to force the Russia-West confrontation theme upon you?

SK: Some journalists did try to do that, but as a whole, the match was very friendly. The most "scandalous" thing was Magnus storming out from the press conference.

Were there any provoking questions at the press conferences?

SK: No. But there were some stupid ones (laughs).

How many stupid questions did we ask you?

SK: Zero!

KZ: Let me tell you a story. We became good friends with the Norwegian journalists from their Channel One. This happened in Sochi, which they visited two years ago. They saw that Russian beer cost just 1 Euro, not 13 Euros, like in Norway. They were overjoyed!

So, they set up a live report for the Channel One. But can you imagine being on live TV for seven hours? You have to do something to keep the audience interested. And so, they invited me. My English is very, very broken (laughs). But after that TV appearance, real madness began! I've added 5,000 friends on Facebook! And haven't received a single negative message. Everyone wished luck to Sergey. So, there was no "East-West" confrontation or such. They understood that Sergey was just a normal guy, and they loved him. And his manager also wasn't some surly KGB guy, but a friendly and outgoing man. So, there was no Russophobia or anything. Even in Norway, the chess fans loved Sergey.