Ian Nepomniachtchi On The World Chess Championship

Ian Nepomniachtchi On The World Chess Championship

| 56 | Chess Players

FM Mike Klein,'s onsite correspondent at the 2021 FIDE World Championship and the Chief Chess Officer of ChessKid, caught up with GM Ian Nepomniachtchi for an interview a couple of days after the match with GM Magnus Carlsen. Feel free to watch the entire video below or read the transcription, where Klein and Nepomniachtchi discuss the recent FIDE World Chess Championship.

You can see the entire interview here:

Mike: is here with world championship challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi, who has graciously decided to have an interview with us a few days after the world championship has ended, so thank you, Ian! Yesterday was the first day of the last seven months where you didn’t have to prepare for the world championship. All of that weight was off your shoulders. How did you spend it?

Ian: Way better, I believe, than the previous half-year, but I mean… It was quite a new feeling. I slept relatively well and finally had no chess work during the daytime or nighttime. In general, it feels a little bit better, but there’s still the taste of ash in my mouth that will probably stay for quite some time.

Mike: Understandable… You got nearly to the highest mountain in chess, as you know. Now, did you have any temptation to open up your laptop and get into any of the games, especially game six yesterday, or are you really going to leave that for a couple of weeks before you revisit these games?

Ian: No, I just analyzed the last round game a bit, especially the opening part because it was quite an interesting idea and quite an interesting move order which was somewhat new from Black’s side, but I guess this was early in the morning and then I just closed the laptop. I was trying to understand what happened in chess terms, but surely I need some break before I will start this work.

Mike: Yeah, we’ve already asked about that at the post-game press conference, the actual chess. Getting back to your team, you obviously had [GM] Sergey Karjakin on your team, please correct me if I’m wrong if you had [GM] Peter Leko on your team, but both of those players have played for world championships and I’m sure they tried to describe to you what it was going to be like to be in the tank. Not chess moves, but just that experience. Was there preparation for what it was like to play in the tank? Was it what you expected or was it somehow different?

Ian: Well, I would say that Sergey joined somewhat last minute, so basically for the last month and it was mainly about some training, which probably, as it seems right now, were too intense and maybe not too well-timed because normally you’d probably have some break so you can play some blitz or bullet online. But if you try to play some serious or semi-serious games, not like blitz, just for training purposes, there’s also a limit. You shouldn’t be swallowed into this whole topic.

Indeed, it was quite instructive to speak with Peter and speak with Sergey about their world championship match experiences, but I understood after the match had started, that every match is unique. You can even imagine yourself in someone’s shoes but at the same time the opponent can be different, and even if it’s the same person, that person can play completely different chess with a completely different attitude.

Some general advice is not to pay too much attention to what people say, don’t get too busy with some social media, and so on, but these are just general words. I asked a few questions, I asked [GM] Vladimir Kramnik [for] his thoughts. Sadly we couldn’t work together this time, but maybe sometime in the future. Of course, a lot of guys gave me a lot of advice, some of them had world championship match experience, some of them not. Perhaps today I would say that maybe it was a little bit too much, you know, trying to do your thing correctly according to all of this information you get because once again, every tournament is more or less unique and especially every match is unique and you have to prepare for your own situation. Unfortunately, the decision to try to build your preparation onto the experience of other people...

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Mike: And something Kramnik did not have to deal with was social media. Sergey was playing for the world championship in the social media age. Were you opening up your phone at all just to read what people said? I mean, it’s pretty hard to not touch your phone for three weeks.

Ian: Well, I opened it, but basically for some sports results, some football championships and so on. And obviously, if you enter some sports portal you see some news, but I was trying not to look into the comment sections. At least now when I finally installed my social media back onto my phone I think I got quite a lot of support and I’m pretty thankful to tell these people because this really motivates you to work further even after you produced something not that brilliant.

Mike: And I asked you in the middle of the match, was any part of playing the world championship fun, and I think you basically said it depended on the result. Now that we’re done, can you look back on any part of the actual playing of the match and describe it as fun, or is that too loose of a word for such an experience?

Ian: Obviously I like playing chess, and some of the games, game two I believe especially was really intense, and also despite the result, game six was really interesting. I mean, it was not so much fun, especially in the last couple of hours, but when you play such a complex game against a very strong opponent it’s always fun and you really enjoy the process. It was a big fight. But yep, somehow most of the games (I’m not even speaking about the second part of the match with such a bad result) were quite boring. It was like some short opening discussion, and then one of the sides get some pretty tiny advantage, but it just leads nowhere but a draw. This is not so exciting, but some really interesting games, some wild crazy positions, some of them I really enjoyed.

Mike: And what about a totally different kind of fun? We should let the viewer know, sometimes during our interview, you’re going to hear the propellers of a plane because we’re right by Skydive Dubai. What they can’t see is a beautiful view of Jumeira Beach. Would you ever do anything crazy the next couple of days, like go skydiving?

Ian: I really don’t know. So far I only attended the closing ceremony, but I’ll surely consider these options. I have never tried any extreme sports or any of these kinds of adventures so, well… Why not?

Ian Nepomniachtchi

Mike: Heading back to chess, it’s been about 15 years since Russia has held the world championship. Did you feel any added pressure to win for your country?

Ian: I wouldn’t say it was added pressure, I was just trying to do my best and as it seems to me now I really tried too hard. I really didn’t have a day off in the past four months. I mean, once you get used to this style of living, your hard preparation, it’s a very strict schedule. It seems like it’s pretty much alright like you can live like this forever. But when it comes to showtime, I guess sometimes you just lack the energy because it’s not like you lived like…

I mean, compared to Magnus, I guess he has more or less had this type of schedule for the past 10 years, roughly, maybe more. But for me, it was quite a new experience so I guess it was slightly over-optimistic to train that hard. Of course, it was extremely useful chess-wise, sports-wise, health-wise, and so on. But maybe there is some kind of burnout which I couldn’t foresee but now I see it’s quite a thing, you should be really careful about it.

Returning to your question, there were some huge expectations. But they come from inside, not from some people who say like: “Let’s return the crown to Russia.” 

I wouldn’t say it was added pressure, I was just trying to do my best and as it seems to me now I really tried too hard. I really didn’t have a day off in the past four months.

Mike: The biggest topic of discussion in the last 24 hours has been revealing that [GM] Daniil Dubov was on Magnus Carlsen’s team and of course we know that he is Russian… Do you feel it’s okay for one of your countrymen to help your opponent?

Ian: Well, somehow I wasn’t sure about this until game two when I saw the 8.Ne5 idea which is a typical idea from Daniil. I had some mixed feelings. It's not about being countrymen because obviously we have quite a lot of strong grandmasters and some of them work with each other, but speaking of Daniil, we worked together a few years ago for quite some time. I thought he would rather be on a commentary team, but on the other hand, my team and I should probably thank him because our biggest chances arrived after his brilliant novelties. Like after this 8.Ne5 in the Catalan and also in the Semi-Catalan/Semi-Reti in game six, was also quite...

Mike: Is he a double-agent? Is that what you’re saying?

Ian: No, I don't know. I don’t think he’s a double-agent, obviously, but the results of his work were quite favorable for us.

My team and I should probably thank [Dubov] because our biggest chances arrived after his brilliant novelties.

Mike: Would you feel comfortable being on a national team with him at a future Olympiad?

Ian: I don’t think about this, but it's just chess work. Being given the chance, I’d like to congratulate him on some nice results of his work.

Mike: What about your team of seconds? Are you ever gonna reveal the full list or do we already know the full list?

Ian: I think the full list won't be revealed, but compared with the Candidates, I would say that [GM] Evgeny Tomashevsky joined us for this event. Peter Leko of course was there, [GM] Ildar Khairullin, [Nepomniachtchi's longtime second GM] Vladimir Potkin was also present here. And also some others, but yeah, so far I am not going to reveal everybody. I would give very huge credit to my team because opening-wise and chess-wise—I think I cannot say absolute opening dominance—but if you speak about the opening battle, it was quite favorable for us.

Mike Klein

Mike: Yeah, I think that’s definitely the case. Now, you’ve talked a few times about Magnus’ overall strategy surprising you a little bit. What about yours? Do you feel like you played a little more restrained than you would if you had to do this match all over again?

Ian: I don’t know... I did a lot of chess work. Part of the work was not only learning new openings but also trying to adjust my style to a match.

The best strategy, first of all, is not to lose. But once it happens, you have to adjust. I have to point out that it's hard for me—I didn’t really analyze the previous match but I would say that this time Magnus' play was incredibly precise. Maybe he played a little too risky with White, so he surely gave me some chances. But as Black he just… it was quite impressive. Despite getting some worse position out of the opening, basically more or less every time he played like four or five top computer choices in a row. This story basically repeated many times: in most of our anti-Marshall games and the game in the English Opening. So this was quite impressive.

I didn’t feel that I had some real pressure as White. Perhaps in game five, but I don’t think it was anything too brilliant, but okay, there was some perspective to play on. But yeah, I believe a lot changed after game six because obviously making all the draws was not an option anymore. But on the contrary, he just started to play strictly for a draw with both colors and I guess this helped him mentally a lot. Of course, the energy level becomes very different if you win this game or lose this game.

Mike: Yeah, I mean, much is going to be talked about how pivotal that game six was. Getting back to an incident that I don't think we heard your take on was the Magnus Carlsen incident where he twisted the knight and threw his hand back… and I think most chess players would agree, especially because there was no logical reason to move the knight because there was no intent, but still the rules do say whether someone’s at the board or not you have to verbally say “I adjust” or “j'adoube.” So now that we’re far removed from the match, do you have any issue with what happened during that incident?

Ian: Well, there was some story between me and [GM] Hikaru Nakamura back in the 2015 World Cup. To speak a little about that case, it was about castling with two hands or something. I think he violated this rule of touch move quite a few times, not once or twice. That's like his habit, he never says something. 

But my problem was actually that the arbiter who was sitting there and recording moves—okay, it was like three arbiters there and no one even ever interrupted and no one ever said, "I wanna do something." I guess right after this there were some minor changes to the FIDE rules about if an arbiter sees a violation he should come, should interrupt, should make someone make follow the rules, and so on.

And I would say it's a general issue with most of the chess tournaments. I mean, of course, when speaking about some tournaments with 100 games played simultaneously, you don't have enough people and probably everyone is responsible for his own board and he should, I don't know, stop the clock and call the arbiter and so on. Here, I don't really see it as a huge violation but in general, if there is an arbiter he should at least pay some attention to what's going on.

And, frankly, I don't think that the two gentlemen who were representing the arbiters team were somewhat interested in what's going on except checking for some hardware you bring with you, so in general, I would like to see some more dedication from the arbiters during the game. 

For example, in football, you have this VAR, or in NFL you have this challenge, and so on. Every time you have all these arbiters following the game closely. In chess, there is perhaps no such tradition, to sit near the board and look closely but that's what I would expect. If you have like 10 cameras, maybe you pay some attention, you don't check your email during the match, you don't visit Google or Wikipedia or whatever, find some memes on the internet, what they basically were doing.

Ian Nepomniachtchi smiling
Nepomniachtchi advocated more consistency in implementation of the touch-move rule.

That's what hopefully will be changed in the future, the attitude of people. Because being a chess arbiter, especially on a high-level event, is sometimes thought to be just being present in the playing hall and here your responsibility ends. But, I think, that's how most people think and that's alas the way how most of the arbiters act. So I think this should be somewhat improved, but I guess I wouldn't be too happy if anyway you accidentally or not accidentally touch a piece, obviously if the knight moves in that case it almost loses so it's quite unfortunate. But technically yes, if you did not say something you probably do have to move with the knight in that case, but speaking of people who are sitting there in the match and not paying attention to what is going on, I think that it's quite unfortunate.

Mike: Okay, fascinating thoughts. Just curious: if you were at the board and the exact same incident occurred and you witnessed all of it, you would have said something, it sounds like?

Ian: Well, after the match with Hikaru of course I would do this. At some point during the blitz tournament in Moscow—this World Rapid and Blitz—I had some game against [GM] Nihal Sarin and, yeah, in the very opening the guy just touched the pawn—okay touched it or advanced it—but touched it and didn't say something and clearly making him make this move would probably win the game for me immediately. I thought: "Alright, don't be so strict to the kid," but he ended up beating me in the game, so I was a little bit pissed afterward. But, in general, yeah, I think the rules are the same for everybody and you know this—"when you touch a piece, you move it" is something you teach kids when they come to the chess club for the first time. Yeah, so it's quite a nice rule and I would be happy if everyone would follow it.

'When you touch a piece, you move it' is quite a nice rule and I would be happy if everyone would follow it.

Mike: Okay, fascinating. Well, I wanna go out with a different kind of question. Obviously, you're gonna grow from these games and this experience and we hope to have you back here, but let's not forget that you did win 800,000 euros and that’s not a small amount of money! So, Dubai has all kinds of fun things to buy, all kinds of luxury cars and watches and everything. Is there anything that you’ve had your eye on that you’re gonna use the nearly one million dollars to buy? Any kind of, you know, present to yourself for what you endured for the last seven months?

Ian: Well, I don’t think I deserve any presents for this match, frankly speaking. But yeah, I still got to find a place to live in Moscow, so I think I’ll try to figure out maybe if there's something in realty.

Mike: Okay, well, nothing can buy the world championship—that’s, of course, the biggest prize, but anyway we thank you so much for your time, Ian.

Ian: Thank you.

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