Vladimir Kramnik pre-Candidates' interview

Vladimir Kramnik pre-Candidates' interview

Mar 10, 2018, 4:21 AM |

What If This Is One of My Last Chances?


by Artyom Andriyanov, RT

When You Lose Your Cool, You Can't Expect Good Results

What thoughts and mood did you bring to Berlin for your newest Candidates' Tournament?

This is one of the most important events for me in the last two years. Everyone is very serious. There's some tension, but nothing too big. I want to give my 100 percent here.

This is going to be your fourth Candidates' Tourament...

The World Championship has gone through various formats. My first WC cycle was way back in 1993. Quarter a century has passed since then. I've played four World Championship matches. But you're right, it's my fourth such tournament, if we include the World Championship tournament of 2007, when I finished second.

Then you came second in 2013 (Magnus Carlsen got ahead of you on tie-breaks), and third in 2014. What's your success recipe for such two-leg tournaments?

If there was such a recipe, and everyone knew it, everyone would finish first everywhere. So, there are no secrets. Of course it's necessary to do everything for a good performance. You have to prepare well, and you must have luck. Without that, there's no chance. All grandmasters are strong and roughly equal in their abilities. So, it mostly boils down to preparation and luck.

Were you upset in 2016 when you didn't qualify for the Candidates?

Not a bit. It was quite random. I was second in the world's rating list, but by some miracle didn't make it to the candidates' eight. A peculiar combination of circumstances, but strange things do happen. I've taken part in many such tournaments, so I take everything calmly. I'm glad to have made it this year. I'm not 20 years old anymore, you know. What if this is one of my last chances to challenge for the World Championship again? This stimulates me.

This time, the organizers gave you a wild card. Did they understand that you just couldn't be snubbed twice in a row?

To be honest, I didn't expect that. I was somewhat unlucky again and failed to qualify. Everything was against me. Even though I'm now the world's third player, if you look at the FIDE tables, so I should have done that by myself. But it was decided to help me overcome this barrier caused by bad luck. But I was not completely sure I'd get this invitation. Of course I'm glad that everything worked out well in the end, but I'm still a bit embarrassed because I failed to qualify directly. However, now that I'm in Berlin, this doesn't matter. I'll try to prove to the organizers that their choice was right.

The only good result in the Candidates' Tournament is a win. Still, what would you personally consider a good result?

Only win. This is why those tournaments are unique. At other tournaments, you can be quite satisfied with prize places. But here, there's really no difference between second and eighth places. So, everyone wants to win. This gives real interest and sharpness to the tournament. There's a real fight going on.

How hard is it to concentrate when eight supergrandmasters compete against each other?

I've been a chess professional for 25 years. I've played World Championship matches. Concentration is a part of the job, it's nothing exceptional for a pro. If you can't pull yourself together, how can you have any winning chances at all?

When you lose your cool, you can't expect good results. Still, concentration alone is, of course, not enough.

What's more difficult psychologically: preparing for the tournament or actually playing in it?

You need more willpower at the preparation stage. During the tournament proper, you feel colossal tension and understand that any decision can cost you. So, playing stage is obviously more difficult.

We Are Friends, and We Root for Each Other. But No Help

How many tactical surprises have you prepared for your opponents?

Any grandmaster prepares something against the opponents. Everyone has interesting moves and tactics potentially unknown to others. The main thing is making them work. If you play well in an opening, you dictate the flow of the entire game. So, the grandmasters work for months with two or three coaches to come for the tournaments fully armed.

Is it possible that if the tournament doesn't go well for two Russian grandmasters, they would help the third out? Or not?

This is impossible. Chess is a very clean sport. Nothing of the sort can happen. Of course, we are friends, and we root for each other. But helping each other out is unfair.

If Sergei Karjakin or Alexander Grischuk win, would you cheer for them?

Of course. If I don't win the tournament, I'd be more glad to see one of them win.

The bookmakers tout Levon Aronian as the favourite. But your advice is not to hurry with predictions. Do you still think that way?

Of course. I wasn't even looking at the bookmakers' lines. They may have their reasons, but all players say the same thing. The lineup is very equal, and anyone can win. Perhaps Aronian is a small favourite, but his probability of success is only 1-2 percent higher than the rest of us. It's negligible in the long run. The grandmasters understand clearly that everything would be decided during the tournament. The competition's format is entirely new. This year, you just can't predict anything. Usually, two or three players are a bit weaker than the others. But now, anyone can win, and this would not be a surprise.

Everyone has their "inconvenient" opponents. Does this affect the psychology and the preparation?

You have to overcome this, even if you do have such opponents. Everyone has their own pluses and minuses. Everyone is trying to fight their weaknesses, to conceal them. But, of course, you can't hide all your weaknesses and present only your strengths. We've been playing together for a number of years, so we know each other. Everyone deeply analyzes both their opponents' games and their psychology. This is an intellectual problem: finding opponents' painful points. The players gathered in Berlin have very few weaknesses, so it's hard to find them and strike.

Stats say that your most inconvenient opponents in classic chess are Karjakin and Wesley So. Is it true?

I haven't played much against So - only a few games. But Karjakin is indeed a difficult opponent for me. However, everyone at the tournament is "inconvenient" for somebody other. For instance, it's hard for Aronian to play against me. Also, I have the best score against Carlsen among all the participants of the Berlin tournament. So if I do happen to win the tournament, mathematically I have the most chances against him. But, sadly, it's not easier to win here than to actually defeat the Norwegian himself.

I Still Remember My Win Against Kasparov

You have played many important games during your career. What game stands out as the most important?

The whole first World Championship match. I defeated Garry Kasparov, who was all but undefeatable for 15 years. Not many people thought I could defeat him. Perhaps I could hold him off a bit, but that's all. Polls were held, and people thought that my chances of win are around 15 percent. But I managed to win convincingly. I became the world champion. There were only 16 of them in the history of chess. It felt great to join this exclusive club.

Winning a match against the greatest chess player in history is incredible. This remains in the memory forever. This is my greatest achievement as of yet. Then I defended my title twice - not bad, too. I was a champion for seven years. But it's interesting to fight for the crown again after the pause I had. Nobody yet managed to win the championship again several years after losing it.

So, interest prevails over the fear of returning?

I have no fear. I was always rather stable psychologically. This is just a game, anyway. There are more important things in life: family, children. I think of chess as a creative game. I don't fear losing, even though when I sit at the board, I want to win. There's tension, determination, ambitions, but no fear. I've always managed to avoid fear, and besides, my career is rather good already.

How hard it is to play against younger grandmasters?

It's harder to compete with them indeed. Of course, chess isn't tennis or football, but still, age isn't the greatest advantage there is. When you're younger, you have more strength and energy, and you're thinking quicker. But it's not bad. I'm used to the fact that I'm the oldest player in many tournaments I play in. It's even more interesting for me that way: it's as though you give odds, and then regain them because of your skill and mental advantages. Of course, you do think slower at 42 years of age, but I do have some trump cards. I'm still competitive and playing on a high level. But still, I'd have preferred to be around 25 now. I'd have more chances for success then.

There Are No Political Disagreements In Chess

A couple of years ago, you said that the progress of technology has greatly increased the chess players' average level. How can technology influence chess in the near future?

The playing level is rising constantly. There's no limit to perfection, and we're still quite far from it. Better computers are better for everyone. It's become more interesting for spectators to watch the game. There's now a program that allows everyone to watch online what happens at the board, who made a mistake and whose last move was good. This is a great boon for the fans. They now can understand what's going on at any moment. On the other hand, it's become harder for the players. The amount of work and information has increased considerably. You have to work three times more than, say, in the 1980s. But still, overall, it's for the better.

So the interest for chess is increasing?

Of course. Now you can watch tournaments online. Many cameras, commentators. This attracts people. We have a sizable viewership. The biggest tournaments and World Championship matches are always watched by millions.

Many chess fans admit that it's incredibly hard for them to watch classical chess in the 21st century. Can it affect the game?

I don't think so. We have several different time controls. Classical chess have longer controls, but there are some shorter ones. Chess is somewhat similar to tennis in this regard: there are three-set tournaments, and there are five-set ones. And many tennis fans prefer longer, five-set tournaments. Many of my friends, chess fans, prefer classical games. There's no place for randomness in them. In the games with shorter control, let alone rapid or blitz, there's a lot of surprises. But in classical chess, skill decides everything, you have time to think and understand what's happening. The fans don't have to watch all six hours of the game. They can go away for an hour, then return and still understand what's going on. And you can always be sure that you don't miss the game, unlike the shorter-control ones. Of course, all time controls have their advantages, but classical chess is the best.

What should be done to make chess more popular?

I think it's developing well already. In many countries, the interest only grows. More and more kids take up chess, because it's proven that this increases their school grades. Their brains are constantly trained. That's why chess is studied in schools in many countries. More and more parents send their players to chess schools. Of course, not everyone will become professionals, but it's still beneficial for thought process. This is the future of chess.

Do you teach chess to your own kids?

I won't make them study by force, but I won't be against it if they do play chess. My daughter studied chess for a while, but it didn't look interesting to her. And my son often asks me to show how to play. Soon, I'll have to do that. He's already 5 years old, and it's the best age to start. He's very thoughtful, with good concentration.

Did the changed perception of Russia in the West affect your sport in any way?

Not at all. We know each other very well. We have no political disagreements. In the chess world, there's a healthy situation now. Everyone's relationship is very warm. There are no feuds or something. We're all gentlemen here, and I like that. It wasn't always like that, but right now, it's all right.

We Russians are much respected. We have a positive image among the foreign players, we never used any unfair tricks, and we respect everyone.