Nepomniachtchi, Ding, Radjabov At The Candidates Press Conference
Ian Nepomniachtchi at the press conference. Photo: David Llada/FIDE.

Nepomniachtchi, Ding, Radjabov At The Candidates Press Conference

| 26 | Chess Event Coverage

A day after the end of the FIDE Candidates Tournament, the top three finishers GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, GM Ding Liren, and GM Teimour Radjabov gave a press conference in Madrid. Below you'll find a selection of quotes from the players.

Radjabov on changing his style of play:

It changes a lot, during your career, in general, the way you are approaching things. At some point, you only want to play Sicilians but then you play the Berlin because you know that it's better. Practically, the thing is that nowadays everywhere more or less, if you go too far, there is a drawish line and Black is fine but the point is that the tries that you allow, that you give possibilities to your opponent to check you in some lines or to find some ideas somewhere. Certainly, it’s more limited against 1…e5 talking about the black color.

It also depends on the coaches, because I was working with different coaches throughout the years, for example I was working with [Igor] Nataf, my friend as well, he was always for the King’s Indian and for 1…c5. Against Ding, for example, I had some thoughts that I should play for a win, to play something super complicated and go for the King’s Indian but then I received a message from one ex-world champion who said that you don’t play this way against Ding, just keep calm!

Ding on whether the pandemic harmed his career:

In 2019 I was in very good shape, I won the Sinquefield Cup and also the Grand Chess Tour final. I believe my strength has improved since then. Since the boost of the engines, I believe nowadays every top player has a better understanding than before. The engine can evaluate the position more correctly than before. For example, before, Teimour played the King's Indian but now some lines are not playable. Before, the engine might say it’s +1 but the position is still very unclear and the engine might drop, but now it stays on the same level!

Ding Liren chess
Ding: " Since the boost of the engines, I believe nowadays every top player has a better understanding than before." Photo: David Llada/FIDE.

The policy of course prevented me from playing a lot of tournaments abroad and sometimes I had to take the online tournaments very seriously. Before, I thought the online and over-the-board games were totally different because when you play online you are more relaxed, you play some casual moves without thinking while when you play an over-the-board game you think a lot, and you are totally focused. But now sometimes I think there is something in common and they are not that different for me.

This time, I remember sometimes I was thinking from the screen, from the resting room, and not over the board since I changed to online mode! [Smiles.] It had some positive influence also on me I think.

Radjabov on how they managed to perform well:

After seven rounds we were in trouble, as far as I understand. Then we managed to play a better tournament starting from the second half. For me, the most important thing was not to tilt in this situation. It’s an obvious situation, when your chances are almost zero to be first and then you’re playing the Candidates where only the first spot matters. We still don’t, but at the time we also didn’t know the decision of the world champion, if he’s going to play, so it’s not sure what we are fighting for already, in my case, on minus two. You still have to fight, there are a lot of players.

I was always comparing this with a pool of sharks or something. For you it’s like, when you’re coming as a spectator you ask what was it like, this move or that move, but these guys, they look as if you just made some random moves on Chessbomb and they want to kill you!

Countering this kind of pressure, the aggression from the players, it’s very hard on one side but in my case, it was actually better because I generally like to play on counterplay and so on, so for me, it was kind of a good thing.

I was trying to be up to the task. Playing against these top players is always hard but it could go either way—but it could not go much worse than London I think [author's note: in 2013], so I was generally prepared for everything because when you’re experienced, you already got your minus six or minus seven, so you’re like: still minus two? I’m fine!

Teimour Radjabov chess
Radjabov: "Still minus two? I'm fine!" Photo: David Llada/FIDE.

Ding on how they managed to perform well:

For me, the reason that I played much better in the second half I think is that I relaxed a little bit after a disappointing first half. I became more confident and sometimes I spent less time on each move just to believe my calculation and to just not overthink too much and keep putting pressure on my opponent and awaiting further mistakes by them! [Smiles.]


The same for me. I had a conversation with one of the ex-world champions and he said: "Could you please play faster?" I said: "Yes, but you understand, it’s problematic, I’m suffering..." He said: "Can you suffer faster?"

Nepo on which time control he prefers:

Well, it’s my second tournament with this time control in the 15 years, I would say. The first one was the match in Dubai. I guess it’s just a new feeling. If everyone just plays without increment then we maybe slightly get back to the past, with this Fischer increment or something. Also, in my opinion this Bronstein [variant], compensating time, not adding, so you cannot really earn time with repetition, this makes a lot of sense because you can play without being afraid of losing on time. Still, every time control has its pros and cons, I can’t really pick one favorite.

Whether Nepomniachtchi has worked or plans to work on psychology:

Somehow I can’t recall a chess player whose strong side is losing. Basically in chess, the only normal result is a draw. I would say that losing is stressful but winning is also very stressful. Sometimes after winning you can’t calm down. Basically, I think it’s a bit exaggerated. Once again it’s hard to find a player who likes to have some bad games.

Ian Nepomniachtchi Candidates trophy 2022
Nepomniachtchi, here holding his trophy at the closing ceremony, didn't have to worry too much about bad games this time. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

In other sports, the best players are working with a psychologist. Why not In chess? Radjabov:

It’s a good question. It’s a question of our professionalism, first of all. I think all of us probably tried something different. Chess is a different type of sport I think. It’s too much connected with the mentality in your brain, which is different from physical sports. Also, we cannot shout during the game. Even when I am, let’s say, tossing a pawn, the opponent can say: you’re distracting. In football, you can say whatever you want more or less against your opponent and to all the others, and even to coaches from time to time. Here we are in this calm environment where we cannot even make a good move and then celebrate on the camera or something like this.

So it’s a different type of pressure that is always on you or your mentality. In chess, consulting professionals from other sports, I don't see how it helps the chess player. Maybe for the guys like Rafa [Nadal] or [Roger] Federer, maybe they know some special secret but I am not sure actually. They are working with some coaches but I think it’s mostly about yourself.

Maybe there are some great examples, but what I read from the Karpov and Kasparov times, it didn’t really help much. They both couldn’t sleep through the entire match and Kasparov was also not recovering very well from a few losses in the first match against Karpov. If there is a specialist, probably you would advise?

Nepomniachtchi on this topic:

I would like to add that for chess, especially with a long tournament, it’s always like some sort of emotional roller coaster again, if you were winning or losing, there’s a lot behind, not everything is highlighted in the result. For example, in Soviet times there was Nikolai Krogius, a grandmaster but also a psychologist. He said after a loss you should always make a draw, never play for a win, you should make a draw, to put yourself in a normal mood.

WFM Anna Cramling, who was streaming the press conference live, asked if the players had a favorite chess opening if they were only playing for fun. Radjabov mentioned 1…b6 or the Jaenisch and King’s Gambit "as it reminds of the Jaenisch," while Nepomniachtchi came up with a nice little story:

In one of the first chess books ever, from Lucena, one of the finest Spanish chess players of the 15th century, he wrote that the first move 1.c4 is probably the worst move ever. The reason was that you cannot develop your bishop to c4 or b5 anymore. That’s why you can’t play your Ruy Lopez, that’s why you can’t play your Giuoco Piano. 1.c4 a chess player can only play out of total desperation. Big mistake. No one plays like this.

Anna Cramling's live stream of the press conference.

Ding on being in Madrid all alone:

To come alone it’s not such a big thing for me since I also have seconds remote. Sometimes I need some friends' company but also I can chat with them online so I think it’s not a big problem for me. Sometimes I don’t need too much support, I think it will take a lot of time also. Some things I prefer to do alone!

One reporter had seen that GM Nikita Vitiugov, one of Nepomniachtchi's helpers, was wearing an Atletico Madrid shirt and was wondering if that was because that club also has to deal a lot with recovering from losses. Nepomniachtchi:

You're trying to be witty? I just know that he's a diehard fan of Atletico. I know there are a lot of nice fountains here in Madrid and one fountain is for celebration for Real Madrid fans, Cibeles, and another one, Neptune is for Atletico Madrid fans. That's the only thing I got to know while being here for two weeks.

Nepomniachtchi on the issue of Carlsen perhaps not playing another match:

This question indeed bothers me and maybe not only me but also the chess community. I guess it wouldn’t be good at all if the reigning world champion decides not to defend the title. But having played the match in Dubai and two Candidates, I can understand, the pressure is enormous. Basically, it doesn’t matter how much you score, it’s constant suffering. Even if you win here, you win there, it's very nice, but at least for me, until it’s over I just feel like: please stop this! You’re counting the days until it’s done, somewhere deep inside you agree on any result. Let’s finish. And let’s not forget he played five matches already. It could be sometimes quite stressful.

Nepomniachtchi about maybe doing something different this time for his match preparation:

I think my general experience out of the first match, because I expected it to be mostly about chess, I would say that it’s mostly not about chess. It’s about the system, some obvious things like health, like stamina, like mental preparation, and so on but it’s also about very small nuances. Sometimes one thing goes wrong, another thing goes not so good and at the end of the day sometimes things are just going your way. There are really a lot of different aspects you should work on.

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