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"We Want to See This Eccentric Russian again!" Kirill Zangalis interview

Spektrowski
Apr 15, 2017, 7:16 AM 6

Yuri Golyshak from Sport-Express interviews Kirill Zangalis, Sergei Karjakin's manager.

http://www.sport-express.ru/chess/reviews/v-1999-m-bolel-za-myu-i-sulshera-v-2016-m-sulsher-sam-podoshel-so-mnoy-znakomitsya-1242441/

In 1999, I was rooting for Manchester United and Solskjaer. In 2016, Solskjaer came to meet me himself

Karjakin Needed Help in Everyday Life

When did you see Karjakin for the first time?

We were just recently refreshing our memories! It was in 2009. Sergei came third at the World Blitz Championship in Moscow. A year later, we met in Khanty-Mansiysk, at the World Chess Olympiad. Russian players drew with the Ukrainians on three boards, and Karjakin won a very important game against Eljanov. I interviewed the hero of the day, we did a photo on my phone.

In 2011, Sergei became Russia's number two player, behind Kramnik. Fourth rating in the world - this was very cool! At the team world championship in China, he played at the board one. Someone gave me Sergei's number, we added each other in Skype...

He already lived in Moscow at the time?

Yes. Karjakin played awfully at the tournament. This was actually my fault: as soon as I saw him online in Skype, I'd pester him with all kinds of questions. It was so interesting - I've never seen such strong grandmasters before! I've been asking him anything I could come up with! And Sergei is a very polite man, he couldn't refuse me. He answered and answered... And three or so years later, he confessed that he played badly because of me.

Were you surprised by anything about him?

I was surprised how much everyday help Karjakin needed. It seemed that he was concentrating on chess too much. I saw how much I could show him in Moscow, how much there is to discover...

That's how you became friends?

Yes. I also have to thank Vlad Tkachiev (he's the European champion). The same guy who made headlines after coming to the game drunk and falling asleep at the tournament in India.

He slept at the board?

Yes. There was even a skit in Projectorparishilton [Russian comedy show] about him.

Unbelievable. I'm thanking him too for making you laugh.

No, I wanted to thank him for another thing entirely. Vlad is a great man, an intellectual type. He was born in Kazakhstan, plays for France and lives in Moscow. I once told him that Karjakin wouldn't object if I became his manager, and asked, "What should I do? What's the job of a chess player's manager?" And he drew me an entire scheme in two minutes, and then added, "You should use your good relationship. I've once tried to do the same with a friend, but without success. But you can do it, it'd be very cool."

What did he offer exactly?

A Carlsen vs. Karjakin angle. Two K's [in Russian, the last name Carlsen is spelled Карлсен, beginning with the same letter as Карякин]. Both were born in the 1990, both showed similar results in childhood, but then Carlsen got superb financing and got ahead. Sergei fell behind a bit. But the main thing Tkachiev insisted at is that we should play the "Let's return the chess crown to Russia" card. He said, "If you find a worthy company, a good sponsor, you should say constantly, `we'll make Karjakin a world champion!`"

How great.

He said all that to me in 2012, during the Anand vs. Gelfand match in the Tretyakov Gallery. I still remember how Vlad gesticulated, cigarette in his hand, while describing the project. I've heard many detractors after that: "This is immodest", "Too much pathos"...

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Kirill Zangalis and Sergei Karjakin in the Sport-Express office. Photo by Alexey Ivanov, Sport-Express

"Serega, Help! If You Win, You'll Get the Contract!"

You found a sponsor quite quickly. How much did they spend on the Project Karjakin in total?

More than a million dollars. Karjakin has got 8 serious sponsors now. This is a crazy number.

Did the sponsors reach for the money immediately?

No. They said, "We'll think", which certainly didn't make us too optimistic. But here, Karjakin showed fantastic strength! He was about to depart to the Rapid World Championship. I told him, "Serega, help me! If you won, we'll most probably get the contract..." A lesser man would be crushed by such a goal. But Sergei overtook Carlsen and became a champion. Without me, this would be just a few lines in one sport newspaper. But I used all my connections, and there were ten big articles published, "We've got a world champion!" Rapid world champion, but a world champion nevertheless. People couldn't even discern between rapid world championship, the FIDE version, the Kasparov version... So, did you appreciate Karjakin's willpower?

Of course.

He joked after that, "Kiryuha, you should always tell me that our contract money is on the stake - I'll be winning all tournaments then..."

I heard that Karjakin's physical fitness is quite impressive. Even though he certainly doesn't look like an athlete.

He trained in an acrobatics school as a child. He still retains all his skills! Vitaly Kozhanov is constantly by his side - masseur, doctor and fitness coach, all in one. At a Channel One show, Sergei challenged his namesake, pentathlete Sergei Karjakin, to a hand-walking competition. The other Sergei is a superathlete, but still, our Sergei outlasted him. Muscle memory! We first tried that trick at my wedding. We shocked the guests when we walked on our hands through the hall. And then, we repeated that trick at the wedding of Sergei Karjakin the chess player.

Such a great guy. No complexes!

Here's another story for you. He has no singing talent at all. But at his latest birthday, he sang a very difficult song by Lady Gaga without much hesitation. Some other man would've balked - there was Filatov [Russian chess federation president] around, and Ilyumzhinov... But still, he performed!

When you became sure that Karjakin was a good man?

We're in a working relationship that involves lots of money for five years - and we've never argued about that. Never. I was moved to tears when Sergei gave an interview. He was asked, "Are you friends with many players?" "No, chess players aren't usually good friends with each other. Their relationships can be better described as "on good terms". But I would surely go work undercover together with Kirill Zangalis [this is a Russian proverb that means "I trust this person unconditionally"]. He's a time-proven friend..."

Why were you so moved?

He's a superstar, and I'm just one of his personnel. I work for him. Once I had to fly in Greece, but went down with gout. I couldn't even get up! My family was out of town, at our dacha. I called Karjakin, "Serega, something happened with me..." "I'll bring you the medication right away!" The chess world is generally vindictive and unkind, but even among chess players, Karjakin has a reputation of an open, cool guy who'll never double-cross you.

Does he pay you a monthly salary?

I bring him the money and deduct my fee from them. There was a period when the sponsor left us. I still continued working with Sergei, completely for free. He appreciated that. That year was very difficult: first the sponsor left, and then Sergei finished tenth (out of ten) in a Russian championship that wasn't particularly strong. That was a blow!

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Magnus Carlsen. Photo by AFP

Carlsen Demands a Participation Fee of 100,000 Euro

When did Karjakin last made you laugh?

With that Lady Gaga song. There was also the time at the Ivan Urgant show. Before the taping, Serega said to the astonished producer, "Why don't we bring some cognac?"

Wow.

We did. Then we drank 50 grams each. Then Serega looked at me and said, "Let's have another." So, we drank a 0.5 litre bottle of cognac right in the dressing room. The show was phenomenal. Karjakin immediately offered Urgant to play chess for money. He didn't look drunk, just very happy! Those who know Sergei closely, however, immediately saw that he was slightly drunk. But this was fabulous!

Were there times when Karjakin's popularity amazed you?

He once played a simul after the Spartak Moscow hockey match - and I understood what The Beatles must have come through. The people screamed, the security guards stood in a chain, the entire corridor was packed with people... This was madness! I couldn't believe my eyes!

The most ridiculous sponsorship offer?

A commission shop. For expensive things.

What's the income level of a Top 10 grandmaster?

Depends on the initial offers. Commercial tournament usually offer participation fees. Here, nobody's even close to Carlsen. I know that he asked for 100,000 Euro to play in one tournament. Just to play!

Did they give him the money?

Not as much as he asked, but he did get around 70,000. Prize money at the tournaments are often much lower than the starting fees. A star should just come and play, without fearing for the results. Many organizers are dreaming to abolish this system, to make people really fight for their prize money.

So, how much do the Top 10 grandmasters earn?

Not too much, actually. Around 200,000 Euro in a good year. I don't think there's more. But to get such money, you have to play well and sell yourself well. Only five or so grandmasters have managers.

Who?

Carlsen's manager is Espen Agdestein. Danailov had been working with Topalov for many years. Caruana worked with several managers. My friend Sasha Ferdkov, a cunning guy from Moldova, once worked with Nakamura, but then they parted on bad terms. Now Sasha lives in Texas and works on other chess project.

What's your relationship with Danailov?

Strangely, we're quite cordial. Even though I was warned even by his fellow Bulgarians, "Be careful with this man..." Danailov is a good player. Once I played with him, and in the Scotch Game, I could either win a piece or repeat the moves. I forced a draw, and was very glad. He's an International Master, and I'm not even a CM-strength player. Danailov immediately tweeted about that.

He's an aggressive man. He said that goddess Caissa will surely punish Carlsen for his quick draw in the last classical game against Karjakin. Some time later, Carlsen shockingly failed to find a mate in three in a game. Danailov immediately tweeted, "Caissa, here she is!" The next day, Carlsen lost to one of the lowest-rated participants, Rapport from Hungary. Danailov tweeted again, "There'll be more revenge from Caissa!"

I Think Kasparov's Help Costs About $1 Million a Year

I read that Karjakin's team spent more than $1 million for the New York match preparation.

Who said that?

Who did?

Me! Only me! But this doesn't mean that Karjakin paid this million from his own pocket. There were seven training camps. All bases were provided by the Sports Ministry for free. How much we'd have spent if we actually paid? Andrei Filatov paid for our last training camp in Miami from his own pocket. He paid for everything - for the hotel, for the flight... Can you imagine how much this cost?

Can't even imagine.

All this adds up to that million. Do you think that coaches are cheap? I was negotiating with a strong second - and he asked $100,000 for 4 months of work, and $50,000 more if Karjakin won. Add all this up. Some grandmasters also laughed initially, "What did you spend that million on?"

Carlsen was coached by Kasparov. I can imagine how much did that cost.

You can? I can't. Garry Kimovich, whatever his political views are, is a supergenius. The greatest world champion of all time. His help is very expensive. I can only guess, but I think it costs no less than $1 million a year.

If Kasparov returned to chess now, how well would he fare?

You have to study chess every day. Candidates' Tournament, Karjakin vs. Anand. Karjakin played a novelty at the third move! And this move left Anand perplexed. That was Sergei's first classical win against Anand. And you might have thought that all worthy third moves were already known.

So, if Kasparov returned to chess now, he wouldn't perform above master strength?

No, no, no. He still can play blitz on a world championship level, or even become a blitz world champion. In classical chess, if he got invited to some super tournament, he wouldn't finish last, but I think he wouldn't challenge for a win, either.

Who's your least favourite person in the chess world?

You want us to make enemies? Let's turn the question upside down: who's my favourite person in the chess elite circles?

Let's.

First of all, there's Sasha Grischuk. We're good friends. Also Aronian, Gelfand and Leko. And I feel uncomfortable around Nakamura. A rather strange guy.

How well do the old-time stars fare now, such as Artur Yusupov?

With chess, you can always earn money somehow! You can't even imagine how many kids are playing chess now - and everyone needs a good teacher. Yusupov is a children's coach now. He's got a school in the United States, a school in Germany. He still plays occasionally.

If you're a good worker, you can earn 2,000-3,000 Euro a month. Anatoly Karpov still plays in the German league for a fee!

How much can you earn in the German league?

Depends on how well you negotiate. 500 Euro for a game, maybe more. There are also Austrian leagues, Hungarian, Chinese...

What was the lowest point in your relationship with Karjakin?

2014, Tromso Olypmiad. Third board, he lost a won game against a Bulgarian grandmaster. We bickered a bit, Serega remembered how I was bothering him yesterday, not letting him concentrate. After that, we reached an unofficial agreement: I'm not interacting with him at the tournaments at all, except there's something very important to tell. No hellos, no goodbyes. I was the only man in New York who didn't know where Karjakin lived during the World Championship match! Nobody believes me!

I don't believe you too.

I didn't even know the name of the hotel, let alone the room number.

You didn't even greet him?

Didn't even greet! Since Tromso, we've had exactly one interaction during the tournament - at the rest day in Wijk an Zee, where we discussed some very important stuff. And that's all! I told him I didn't want to be the reason for his losses. "If you waste your energy on talking with me, let's not talk at all."

That's severe.

Our fallout was severe. Thankfully, it lasted only one day.

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The Sport-Express issue with the article about Oleg Veretennikov's transfer 

How I Made It To the First Page of Sport-Express 

Let's talk about you now, Kirill. You worked as a chess player's manager, a reporter...

I was also a waiter.

Wow.

That was in Greece, in the late 1990s. Hard work, 16 hours a day. Without holidays. This was a summer tavern, working only in season. A family's friend helped me to get that job, he worked as a veterinarian in a nearby building. An avid basketball fan. There was a world championship in Athens, this friend told me, "You dreamed to become a sport journalist in Moscow? Let me introduce you to Mikhail Mikhailov and Sergei Panov!"

In 1995, there was a European Championship in Greece, that's when we became friends. He's got a lot of money, and during the rest days, he drove the players around, showed him the country. But I didn't believe that I could just come to the basketball stars and introduce myself, just like that! But once in the evening, when I was sweeping the tavern's grounds and arranging the tables, a huge car stopped by. And very large men came out of it...

Panov and Mikhailov?

Yes. We talked a bit. Panov offered, "Come to our hotel, I'll introduce you to the other guys. Do you have any Russian books or videotapes? We're so bored!" I came to the hotel the next day. Ivkovic, Obradovic, Bodiroga, Rebraca passed by me in the hall, but I didn't recognize them...

The tavern owner didn't let me visit matches. They all were in the evening. When Russia played USA in the semifinal, I turned on the radio in the basement. The owner shouted from above, "Where's that Russian fool?! Move your ass!" I was stunned: there was four minutes to go, and Russia trailed 10 points. And then, we started scoring the 3-pointers and equalized. And Panov, with only 8 seconds left, ran from one basket to the other. Everyone stepped aside, excepting him to pass the ball. But he scored himself.

Did the owner allow you to listen?

I removed my apron and told the owner, "If you don't let me go watch the final, you may fire me now."

Did you go?

Yes!

And he didn't fire you?

No! But I still had to get into the hall somehow. I came to the hotel and begged Valery Tikhonenko and Zakhar Pashutin to give me their accreditations. I came with a friend, and, with much trepidation, we were choosing who of us looked more like Tikhonenko, and who looked more like Pashutin. We didn't know that nobody even looked at the photos! That's how I got to watch basketball live for the first time. And soon after that, I made it to the first page of Sport-Express!

How?

Oleg Veretennikov wanted to go abroad. Everyone was speculating, where exactly is he going to go. The main version was Real Sociedad, though they changed everyday. Oleg himself didn't say anything. I was going to Greece on holiday, so I came to the Greek embassy. And I heard some guy speaking Greek, and he said "Veretennikov". I came closer, and then heard, "Aris". Then - "we're signing the contract".

Who was that?

Veretennikov's agent. I came to him and interviewed him in Greek. I've almost learned the transfer sum and the contract length! In my dormitory, there was a toll-free phone booth, and I called Sport-Express immediately: "Give me the soccer department editor, quick!" Then I told him, "I've got super news, but they should be on the first page, and with my name on it." And the next day's newspaper said, "Kirill Zangalis from Sport-Express reports that Oleg Veretennikov is transferring to Aris on such and such conditions..."

Did you buy a hundred copies?

Yes, something close to that amount. Later, I gave them away in Greece.

Defeating Woody Harrelson

I saw the photos: while Karjakin tortured Carlsen, you played Woody Harrelson in New York.

When I saw Harrelson, I couldn't believe my eyes! Natural Born Killers is a special movie for me. When I saw Woody, I basically jumped around him. I thought that he would just pop in for a minute, make a symbolical first move and go away, so I just had to do a selfie with him!

But he stayed longer?

He stayed and played chess until he got tired. Even his wife begged him to stop. He played almost everyone who wanted. This lasted for six hours.

Does he play good?

I had a completely lost position, but managed to extricate myself somehow. Harrelson plays very solidly in the opening, but gets troubles in the middlegame. Here, you can try to confuse him. I was his first opponent. A lot of cameras around. You feel as though you're on top of the world, in Hollywood! You play chess with Woody Harrelson, and he says matter-of-factly, "Let's meet in Moscow, have a lunch?" This is cool.

So, did you draw?

I won! Filatov was the next to play him, and he almost won, but ultimately offered a draw.

Was that a gift?

No. Filatov presented him an art book. Now, they're keeping in touch.

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11th November 2016. New York. Woody Harrelson opens the match between Magnus Carlsen and Sergei Karjakin. Photo by Vladimir Barsky

"We Want to See This Eccentric Russian Again"

After the match, both Karjakin and you became stars in Norway.

This was a complete surprise! It all began in 2014. I drank megaliters of alcohol with the Norwegians.

Oh my God. Where?

A lot of Norwegian journalists came to the Anand vs. Carlsen match in Sochi. Already in the airport, they understood that alcohol in Russia was very cheap. In Norway, a pint of beer costs 15 Euro, and here - 120 rubles [about 2 Euro by current exchange rate]. And they took off immediately! And we were establishing rapport with them - at first, Carlsen even refused to go to Russia, the Western press wrote a lot about Crimea and "Russian aggression"... But Magnus said that chess weren't political.

I played guitar with the Norwegian journalists, we played blitz tournaments, Filatov sent them a bottle of whiskey each day. I became friends with a lot of people.

Some time passed, and I came to New York, having shed 23 kilograms and stopped drinking. This was a blow for the Norwegians. They wanted to see the funny guy Kirill with a pot belly from Sochi, and sing karaoke with him. There was a video where we sang Ronald Keaton's hits in English. But instead of that... There's a showman, Ole Rolfsrud, he's the Norwegian version of our Ivan Urgant. He was terrified. "What have you done with yourself?!"

There were even Norwegian showmen at the match?

The Norwegian main TV channel showed all games live. Ole had to fill the seven hours of time somehow, so that the TV audience doesn't become insane watching Carlsen and Karjakin sitting at the table without moving. And then I came along, with my awful English.

Your English isn't the best?

I speak English roughly as well as Djamshut [stereotypical Middle Asian migrant worker from a Russian TV comedy show] speaks Russian. Some detractors parodied me, "Me komes here with Karjakin halp ween da chess kroon, we cool play here". But I've got no complexes!

I saw that.

The Norwegians loved that. Reporter from one channel came, then from the other... Three days later, a Norwegian camera man told me, "You're a star in Oslo. We're constantly getting comments in the social networks - `we want to see that eccentric Russian more often!`"

Did you believe him?

No, of course not. I said, "Hey, quit joking!" And then I logged in to my Facebook and saw a lot of friend requests. I've added everyone, just couldn't bring myself to deny anybody. Before the match, I had around 1000 friends from Russia and 200 from Greece. After the match, I had 4500 Facebook friends! Soon, I was unable to add anyone, now you can only subscribe to my profile. There are around 20,000 people in my friend queue right now. I can't even scroll this page all the way down - my hand gets tired after 10 minutes or so. So I had to say, "Guys, subscribe to my Instagram instead."

Then pure wonders started.

I was with Karjakin that day. So, I received a text from Norway. I showed it to Serega, and he was astonished: "You have to go!" Norway takes sports very seriously, and they even hold Oscar-like award ceremonies each year. Ten nominations, or so. A beautiful show, very high-status. 5 million people watching.

Were you invited?

They wanted me to announce a winner in some nomination, offered to pay for my trip in full. They said, "TV watchers asked to see you. The TV bosses have to approve your trip..." OK, I think. The bosses will surely say no. But two days later, they told me that the TV bosses wanted to see me too!

So, you just couldn't refuse.

It's live, and I needed to speak English! I spent a day in Hammar - and I think it was the most incredible day in my whole life. In the morning, I wrote on my page that I was in town, and pure madness began! People started to come to the hotel in droves.

For selfies?

Yes. I was completely stunned! There were almost 100 of them! I literally ran away from them and went walking about the city. I came to a ice-skating rink. Facebook probably has some feature that shows, "Kirill Zangalis is somewhere near you". Some Norwegian guy called me. "Are you at this skating rink?" Yes, I said. He waved his hand from somewhere away, and then screamed for the whole park to hear, "Hey guys, look, it's Kirill Zangalis!"

Then I came to the rehearsals. Ole told me, "We're going to improvise. You're used to give interviews in New York. Just try not to think that there's 5000 people in the hall, and the whole Norway watches the show on TV..."

How did it go?

We came on stage, and Ole said, "Kirill, look what have you done!" I backed away and said, "Oh, I can't believe my eyes. Am I really on this stage?! Guys, you held such a meeting for me in the airport! I opened my hotel room and saw flowers, postcards, Beatles albums and a traveler's guide to Norway. And some boutique gave this suit to me as a gift. Thank you!"

Then someone brought out an envelope, I read "The winner is..." in Norwegian, and then the name.

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Ole Rolfsrud and Kirill Zangalis on live TV. [Kyrillos is a Greek variant of Zangalis' first name spelling]

"Can I Take a Photo With You? By the Way, I'm Norwegian Prime Minister..."

Were there any other crazy meetings in Norway?

The ceremony ended, and I went to eat salmon. The real madness began at this drinking party. All 5000 people came to the hotel's great hall. I had to flee from there! I don't drink anymore, and almost everyone around were drunk. Two blonde girls, typically Scandinavian, ran towards me, screaming, "Selfie, selfie!"

And what did you do?

I've tried to hide, but it was impossible. Ole laughed, "Should I hide you somewhere? Or protect you?"

The party ended, I took photos with everyone and sat with my phone. Someone patted me on the shoulder. I turned around and saw a middle-aged woman. "Hello! You're so cool and funny. Welcome to Norway. Can I take a photo with you?" No problem, I stood beside her. Then she said, "By the way, I'm the Prime Minister."

Crazy stuff.

I almost went crazy! Ole almost died laughing when he saw that.

Such meetings make life worth living, and trips to the edge of the world worth making.

Here's a story for you. 26th May 1999. 9th dormitory of People's Friendship University of Russia. Three guys from India, Nikos (a Greek) and me drank a lot and watched soccer - Manchester United vs Bayern Munich. The Indian guys supported Bayern, and we were rooting for Manchester United. MU scored two goals in injury time and won 2-1. We, two Greeks, celebrated the victory by throwing the Indians' utensils from the 8th floor window on some students sitting below.

So sweet of you.

And so, all these years later, I saw a familiar face at the Norwegian party. I didn't recognize him right away. And an hour later, he came to me himself to take a photo. "Hi, I'm Solskjaer..." The very same guy who scored the winning goal. How cool is that?

Impossibly cool. Did you tell him the story about the PFU dormitory?

I told him that my wife's grandfather, Grigory Efimovich, had been a Manchester United supporter since the 1950s.

I Almost Died Twice

Do you drink now?

Not at all.

How much weight did you drop?

25 kilograms. My family and Andrei Filatov helped me. I'll tell you how I did that when the right time comes. And then I was trained by a great coach, Vitaly Lebedenko, the 2003 world bodybuilding champion. He's a real man and a sportsman. I really came into my mind now, though I had to do that earlier. There were two incidents when I really should have died. But God helped me.

Tell me all about that.

The first incident was in 1997. We drank heavily in Athens, in the Russian club Berezka [The Birch Tree]. After that, we went for a walk, and some idiot who randomly joined our company started kicking all the doors on the street. My company was never aggressive. Then an Albanian immigrant emerged from some basement. These guys are terrifying.

I can imagine.

Very aggressive. I ran up to stop this conflict, sending all my friends away. For some reason, I though I could pacify everyone. The Albanian called some of his compatriots. They came in mere minutes.

What happened?

I was stabbed four times. They didn't even try to talk.

Such a story.

I don't think they wanted to actually kill me - the knife was small. Three cuts weren't serious, but the fourth almost killed me. The doctor said that it was a miracle. The knife missed my femoral artery by less than an inch. If it didn't miss, I would've died. I spent a week in intensive care. Before that, I decided to go to Moscow and study to be a journalist. My mom came to my room, and I asked, "Is my trip now cancelled?"

Was the Albanian jailed?

He spent two weeks in jail. I didn't file a claim against him, he had a pregnant wife.

The first incident is so horrifying that I'm not sure I want to hear about the second one.

The second one is truly unique.

Then I'm ready.

I had a friend, Sergei Tkachenko, a good basketball player. We're still friends, he would often come to our dormitory. I would joke, "Serega, you live in Moscow. And you've never invited us over in seven years we know each other!" And so, he decided to throw a big New Year party. I came the day before to help him clean his flat a bit. I made some salads while watching The Irony of Fate [a cult Soviet classic that's shown on TV every New Year]. Then I roasted the duck, hung the garlands. Then there was a beautiful snowfall in the Tsaritsyno park. We went walking after some heavy drinking. There was a huge ice slide in the park, 20 meters long. Or was it 50? Anyway, I helped to push two girls on a piece of cardboard down, then slipped and hit my back of the head on ice. Down slid a corpse.

Did you lose your consciousness?

Yes. Totally. The guys at first thought that I was too drunk, but thankfully they quickly called ambulance. I'll remember Dr. Dadashev who treated me for my whole life. He immediately sent me for a MRI. They diagnosed a ruptured blood vessel. A severe brain haemorrhage - 200 milligrams!

Almost a stroke.

That was the end of all! I was a corpse! At 5:00 in the morning on the 1st January, I came about when I was being shaved. I said that if the operation leaves me disabled, I refuse to consent. I would rather die.

Then I came about again, after anaesthesia wore off. I thought, "How much did I drink yesterday? Never had a hangover this severe, and there were even some dreams about disability!" I wanted to say something, but I couldn't - there was a tube in my mouth. I wrote to the nurse, "Dear, what happened?", with a smiley. She looked at me sorrowfully and said, "Don't worry, patient. You underwent successful trepanning."

They took away the blood from your head?

Yes. They said that if I was admitted to hospital an hour later, nobody would've helped me. My brain would be dead. So, I survived two bouts with death, and I don't want a third one. If you look at my head closely, you'll notice the scar. Here (parts his hair). And here are the holes from the operation.

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Sergei Karjakin and Kirill Zangalis. Photo by Fedor Uspensky and Alexander Fedorov, Sport-Express

Spassky's First Stroke

I know another incredible story. The great Spassky almost died while proofreading an interview he gave to you.

This caused me a lot of pain.

Perhaps you could find some consolation if you told the story?

I met Spassky at the Khanty-Mansiysk Olympiad and tried to introduce myself to him through Ilyumzhinov's aide. Spassky laughed, "I haven't given an interview in 20 years..." But he agreed to meet me, and we had a fantastic talk the next day, it lasted 4 hours! I wrote the article in a night, then sent it to Spassky for proofreading - and soon Spassky's personal assistant called me and said, "The interview will not be published."

A strong move.

I was completely perplexed. "But why? We've already done everything! I'll be fired!" She answered, "I can't explain", and hung up. I was mad, my editor was mad too. Thankfully, we didn't publish the interview - and later we learned that Spassky had a stroke during the proofreading.

His first stroke?

Yes. I was devastated! I thought, "Why I asked the old man to proofread it so quick?" And his assistant assured me that Boris Vasilyevich had health troubles for a number of years, so this could've happened at any moment. I wasn't happy with the jokes such as "You killed the tenth world champion" at all.

He fell ill when he read the chapter about Fischer.

You know this too? Yes, it's the truth. He read it almost in full, the last chapter was about Fischer. The interview lay in the archive for almost a year and a half. Then Boris Vasilyevich finally read it in full, and we published it on his 75th birthday. As a reward, Spassky chose me for his first interview after the fantastic escape from Paris. Boris Vasilyevich is a miraculous man. These speaking manners... He's a truly a man from a different time. He replaced all the words девушки [girls] with девицы [damsels, a slightly obsolete form in Russian]. And he's had his fair share of damsels in his youth...

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