Explanations for Magnus Carlsen’s shock two losses in a row in Shamkir included the World Champion’s own suggestion that he watched too much TV. In a recent interview Elizbar Ubilava instead pointed to a deliberate attempt to play complex, dynamic positions. The Georgian grandmaster also talked about Viswanathan Anand’s recent form and his prospects in a new match against Carlsen.
Elizbar Ubilava was in Shamkir to act as a second for the young Azerbaijan player Vasif Durarbayli, but in the past he’s worked with such stars as Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
and, for a decade, former World Champion Viswanathan Anand
. His views on the strategy employed by both Carlsen
and Anand are therefore well-worth our attention, and were contained in the following fragment of a recent interview with Teimour Tushiev for the Azerbaijan newspaper Echo
Teimour Tushiev: Probably the main event of the tournament was World Champion Magnus Carlsen losing twice in a row, first to Fabiano Caruana and then to Teimour Radjabov…
Elizbar Ubilava: Yes, that was of course unexpected, but in my view it was a positive occurrence. If one chess player keeps winning it rules out any tournament intrigue. On the other hand, I noticed that Magnus was trying to play in a slightly different fashion. For example, in many previous tournaments he’s tried to play in a technical, positional style, while in Shamkir he went for complex positions. I think he set out to do that before the tournament, as a one-sided approach kills creativity. He lost to Teimour in an extremely complex King’s Indian position where Radjabov played very well…
Do you think Magnus deliberately went for the King’s Indian?
I’m absolutely sure of it. In Shamkir he went for dynamic positions where he had no advantage. It seems that by sharpening positions the World Champion is striving to improve his calculating abilities. If he doesn’t improve his calculation of variations he won’t be able to retain the Championship crown for long.
So could we say the Shamkir Tournament was a stage in his preparation for the second match against Vishy Anand?
I wouldn’t say the Vugar Gashimov Memorial was a stage in preparation, but rather it was a stage in his progress. It seems to me Magnus is striving to improve his play and his understanding of different positions. The Norwegian probably has a clear plan and wants to achieve more and become stronger. Preparation for the match itself, meanwhile, will start later.
It’s common knowledge that you previously worked with Vishy Anand. What does he need to do in order to even out the chances in the second match against Carlsen?
When I worked with Vishy Anand (up to 2005), he was an absolutely stunning chess player. His understanding of chess was something else, he instantly evaluated positions and he had a phenomenally well-developed chess intuition. We constantly worked on chess, all the time improving his mastery of the game. Then he became World Champion and defended the title by beating Vladimir Kramnik, Veselin Topalov and Boris Gelfand. But the years nevertheless took their toll on his play. Moreover, he began to “shut down” – he started to avoid complex positions and a direct fight. That all led to a deterioration in his chess.
In the first match against Carlsen he tried to exploit technical positions and rook endings. That was his mistake – instead of spending a lot of time on technique he needed to play complex positions. For example, in the ninth game of the match
Anand got a promising position but he didn’t play for a win due to an inability to calculate variations, and then in the end he lost. In the first match Vishy definitely couldn’t display his best qualities and lost almost without a fight.
Were you surprised by his transformation in the Candidates Tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk?
Yes, and it turned out to be a surprise for him as well. Vishy himself said he simply came to Khanty-Mansiysk to play chess, and I’m sure he had no thought of actually winning the Candidates. In that tournament the players often risked in situations where you simply couldn’t afford to, and Khanty-Mansiysk was a total failure for everyone else. Anand, meanwhile, simply played chess, played the positions, and that proved to be the right strategy. As a result Vishy played without any stumbles and confidently won the tournament with a +3 score. Such victories are of course inspiring, especially as everyone had managed to write him off before Khanty-Mansiysk. As for what to expect in the second match against Carlsen, it’s hard to say, but I definitely don’t think he’ll play worse than in the first match.