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KC-Conference with Peter Svidler: Part 1
Short Biographical SketchPeter Svidler (Pyotr Veniaminovich Svidler) was born on 17 June 1976 in Leningrad, and is married with two sons. He represents Russia on the international stage. He received the International Master title in 1991 and has been a Grandmaster since 1994. He’s an Honoured Master of Sport in Russia. His current FIDE rating is 2722 (November 2010, 23rd on the rating list); his highest FIDE rating was 2765 (January 2006, 4th on the rating list). His trainer is the International Master Andrey Lukin.
He began playing chess in 1983. Among his early notable successes were: 1-2nd place in the (last!) USSR Junior Championship in 1991 and 1-3rd place at the Under-16 World Championship. In 1994 he became the Under-18 World Chess Champion.
In “adult” chess Peter made a name for himself as an 18-year-old by becoming Russian Champion in 1994. He won that title four more times (1995, 1997, 2003 and 2008) – a feat that’s unlikely to be repeated in the foreseeable future. He was St. Petersburg Champion in 1995.
He’s won or been a prize-winner at many international tournaments, including the Linares Anibal Open (1st), St. Petersburg Chigorin Memorial 1994 (1-5th), Novosibirsk 1995 (1-4th), Torshavn Nordic Grand Prix 1997 (1st), Tilburg 1997 (1-3rd), Dortmund 1998 (1-3rd), Esbjerg 2000 (1-2nd), Biel 2000 (1st), Moscow Aeroflot Open 2003 (1-4th), Poikovsky 2003 (1-2nd), Dortmund 2005 (2-5th), Dortmund 2006 (1-2nd), San Sebastian 2009 (3rd) and Gibraltar 2009 (1st).
He’s often competed, in different formats, for the World Championship. In the 2001 FIDE World Championship Peter Svidler got to the semi-final, where he lost to the future winner, Ruslan Ponomariov. In 2005 at the FIDE World Championship in San Luis he shared second place with Vishy Anand (the winner was Veselin Topalov). In the next FIDE World Championship in Mexico 2007 Peter came 5th. He got to the quarter-finals of the most recent FIDE World Cup in 2009, where he lost to Vladimir Malakhov.
As a member of the Russian team Peter Svidler has won the Chess Olympiad in 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2002, and also the Team World Championship in 1997. In 2004 and 2010 he was on the Russian team that finished with silver medals at the Chess Olympiad, so overall Svidler has 5 gold and 2 silver Olympiad medals.
As well as classical chess, Peter has also paid tribute to other types of chess. He was the runner-up at the World Blitz Championship in 2006 in Rishon LeZion (Israel), losing out to Alexander Grischuk in the tiebreak. In 2003 he won the title of World Fischer Chess Champion by winning a match against Peter Leko. In 2004 and 2005 he successfully defended the title in matches against Levon Aronian and Zoltan Almasi.
Peter is a cricket fan and his publically declared musical tastes are Bob Dylan and Tom Waits.
There’s a site devoted to Peter Svidler’s chess: http://www.psvidler.net
Sergey Shipov on Peter SvidlerPeter Svidler is the black sheep of contemporary chess – original in every way. My periodic dealings with him have left an indelible mark on my memory. Which other Russian player is keen on cricket, prefers English to Russian, doesn’t consider Leo Tolstoy a great writer, preserves his karma, resigns in drawn positions and plays billiards masterfully? Only Peter.
Svidler is immensely ironic, particularly in relation to himself. So if he criticises himself then please divide everything he says by three or four. You also need to get a subtle sense of humour ready, as some of Peter’s jokes take those he talks to a year to understand…
A multiple (I’ve already lost count) Russian Champion, he skilfully hides his ambitions and fighting spirit. I see that as one of the reasons for his victories. It’s hard to get yourself psyched up to play Svidler – against such a positive person Botvinnik’s methods don’t work.
If Peter sacrifices something then you should boldly take it! Even if you lose you’ll get great pleasure from the game, though there’s also a chance of winning. In any case, you’ll have something to remember. You can also sacrifice against him – either a bottle of mineral water or a pawn. The first is the more reliable method. Tried and tested.
12 years ago I played in the Russian Championship in St. Petersburg. I was being supported at the time by my family – my wife and daughter. And one day Peter came to sit with us at lunch. He was lively, eloquent and witty. My daughter, Zhenya, who was 10, stayed silent for the whole lunch, just listening to the three of us discussing and enjoying ourselves. When Peter finished his meal and headed for the exit she brought an end to our silent reflections with the words: “For the first time in my life I’ve seen a living Svidler!”
While overall, I’ve got the suspicion that… I don’t know Svidler at all. Each new conversation reveals new sides to his personality. I hope our KC-Conference will illuminate this polyhedron in all its glory and give you, dear readers, the same impression of the animated and witty Peter Veniaminovich Svidler. As if you were sitting down with him, discussing everything under the sun.
P. Svidler – G. Kasparov (Tilburg 1997, with commentary by Peter Svidler in English)
A. Shirov – P. Svidler (Tilburg 1997, with commentary by Peter Svidler in “Informant” style)
P. Svidler – V. Ivanchuk (Dortmund 1998, with commentary by Peter Svidler in English)
A. Moiseenko – P. Svidler (Dagomys 2005, with commentary by Peter Svidler in English)
A. Shirov – P. Svidler (Khanty-Mansiysk 2009, with commentary by Sergey Shipov in Russian)
P. Svidler – L. Van Wely (Wijk-aan-Zee 2005, with commentary by Roman Dobronovsky in Russian)
P. Svidler – B. Macieja (Bundesliga 2005, with commentary by Roman Dobronovsky in Russian)
P. Svidler – I. Nepomniachtchi (Moscow 2006, with commentary by Vasily Lebedev in Russian)
A. Motylev – P. Svidler (Wijk-aan-Zee 2007, with commentary by Vasily Lebedev in Russian)
P. Svidler – I. Cheparinov (Crete 2007, with commentary by Vasily Lebedev in Russian)
P. Svidler – D. Jakovenko (Foros 2007, with commentary by Vasily Lebedev in Russian)
P. Borbas – P. Svidler (Bundesliga 2007, with commentary by Vasily Lebedev in Russian)
B. Avrukh – P. Svidler (Bundesliga 2007, with commentary by Vasily Lebedev in Russian)
P. Svidler – N. Vitiugov (Moscow 2007, with commentary by Vasily Lebedev in Russian)
P. Svidler – A. Dreev (Moscow 2007, with commentary by Vasily Lebedev in Russian)
P. Svidler – D. Jakovenko (Sochi 2008, with commentary by Valery Aveskulov in Russian)
E. Alekseev – P. Svidler (Moscow 2008, with commentary by Vasily Lebedev in Russian)
E. Sutovsky – P. Svidler (Novi Sad 2009, with commentary by Vasily Lebedev in Russian)
M. Vachier-Lagrave – P. Svidler (Donostia 2009, with commentary by Vasily Lebedev in Russian)
P. Svidler – A. Karpov (Donostia 2009, with commentary by Anatoly Polivanov in Russian)
P. Svidler – A. Motylev (Ohrid 2009, with commentary by Valery Aveskulov in Russian)
P. Svidler – T. Nyback (Khanty-Mansiysk 2009, with commentary by Valery Aveskulov in Russian)
The end of the game P. Svidler – L. Van Wely (Kemer 2007, with commentary by Vasily Lebedev in Russian)
The end of the game A. Shabalov – P. Svidler (Odessa 2008, with commentary by Vasily Lebedev in Russian)
The end of the game P. Svidler – E. Inarkiev (Baku 2008, with commentary by Vasily Lebedev in Russian)
Combination from the game P. Svidler – V. Styazhkin (Leningrad 1986, with commentary by Vasily Lebedev in Russian)
NOTE: Text which was originally in English (and not translated from Russian) is given between asterisks (*…*). Peter answered the English questions in English (except a few times when the same question was also asked in Russian), but also occasionally switched to English in the middle of a Russian answer!
1. Chessvasa: Hello, Peter! Could you tell us why people play chess?
In the majority of cases, it goes without saying, because they’re not capable of doing anything else Chess is a means of self-expression, one that for lucky beggars like me doesn’t even pay so badly. What more could you ask for?
- In your opinion, can chess be exhausted?
Not in our lifetimes, I think.
- So what is chess nowadays then – sport, science, art or something else?
Of course there’s been a serious shift towards science, but you can still hardly call chess any one of those things alone.
Alexandro111: Hello, Peter! - Would you advise young 16-17-year-olds who’ve reached master levels (but far from a “super” level) to become professional chess players, or is it better nowadays to choose a different profession?
*Out of cheese error © * There’s too little data to give out such life-defining advice – but before choosing to become a professional player a young man should firmly understand that the bar is now set very high. One way of answering the question might be, for example, to say that I haven’t given my children up to chess (although, to be fair, I have to say they weren’t exactly chomping at the bit). Probably the correct answer would be: if someone can’t imagine themselves without it, then it’s essential to try and seriously achieve something so as not to regret a missed chance later on. But if it’s only one of many paths in life, then there are simpler professions, and more reliable ones.
- How do you see chess in 10 and in 20 years? Thank you in advance. Yours respectfully, Alexander.
I can’t say it’s something I’ve thought much about, but if you judge by the changes that have taken place in the last 10 years then you can assume that the opening phase will become even more crucial, chess players will continue to get younger, and as a counterweight to that there will be more tournaments with a reduced time control. But I’ve got no confidence in those predictions whatsoever.
Kit: Computer chess – is it chess?
What’s computer chess? If you have in mind the World Computer Championship, then that’s a very interesting firing range for trying out algorithms, and you can find a mass of extremely interesting opening ideas. It attracts little outside interest, however, and I don’t think it represents any kind of threat to “real” chess. Today the question of the comparative strength of men and machines has essentially been resolved, and clearly not in our favour – but chess hasn’t particularly suffered as a result. As assistants, though, chess programs are absolutely irreplaceable.
* Voor: Will human beings ever be able to develop their intuition and creativity to such an extent that they will be able to defeat computers consistently in chess?
No, I believe that if anything, the gap will widen. Not only are the machines getting faster, and the programs better-written, but the best players in the world need to take lengthy breaks to prepare and force themselves to play in a style contrary to their natural game to even have a chance. The last Kramnik match showed that humans are still good enough, with sufficient preparation (and barring blunders), to hold their own against the best programs – but only just.
Seth: Hi Peter! With computers getting stronger and playing an ever-increasing role in opening preparation, will elite chess players get any fun out of chess in another 10-20 years? I have a picture in my mind of a super-grandmaster staring at his new super-computer running Rybka 11 for hours every day. It’s already a highly-demanding game, but where is the limit to what one can take?
It depends on what your definition of
Блаженный_Поэт: Hello, Peter Veniaminovich! Lately it’s been fashionable to talk about the draw death of chess. A couple of questions on that topic:
- Where do you think we’re going to end up with this preponderance of opening theory?
- Won’t high level chess turn into a struggle between computer operators and a contest for people with phenomenal memories? How can we fight that tendency?
I’m not sure you can do anything about it. I’d like to say that 960 is the future of chess, but to be honest I don’t think so. It’ll simply become even harder for people like me to play, and we’ll finally have to force ourselves to work. I don’t think it’s likely chess will become a struggle between operators, though – the space for imagination in chess is huge.
nigel: It’s a real pleasure to have the chance to ask you a few questions, Peter Veniaminovich, and it’s an occasion worth registering for!
- I’d like to know whether the pure joy you get from finding incredible moves outweighs the bitterness of blunders?
I think it depends a great deal on the proportion. Recently more no, than yes, but over the course of a whole lifetime, then undoubtedly it does.
- If chess was calculated to the end and consequently some sort of Ultimate Game appeared in which every move from the beginning to the end was the best, would you acquaint yourself with the game, or would you prefer to politely decline? A necessary clarification – before you acquaint yourself with it you don’t know the result of the game.
An extremely hypothetical situation – as I’ve already said above, I don’t believe it’ll happen in our lifetimes, or even in those of my children. But if it did after all happen then it would be silly, it seems to me, to try and hide from that knowledge.
2. CareerKivich: Hello, Peter Veniaminovich! What are your brightest childhood memories of playing chess? Who was your first trainer and how did he get you so interested and drawn into the game?
My first trainer was called Vyacheslav Nikolaevich Styazhkin. He was (and remains) a true chess enthusiast, and he really helped me – though there was no real need for him to get me drawn into it, as I already came to DPSh [Translator’s note: Palace of Young Pioneers and Schoolchildren] as a fully-formed fanatic.
Grafin: Hello, Peter Veniaminovich! Could you tell us about your most memorable victory, and your most painful loss!
Among wins the first that come to mind are the two games I won in the final rounds of the Russian Championship – against Andrey Sokolov in 1994, and Evgeny Alekseev in 2008. While the most painful loss is usually the latest, so here the last game of the 2010 Olympiad wouldn’t be a bad candidate.
vasa: I’ll allow myself to ask the traditional, not particularly creative but interesting (for myself ) questions:
- Which move that you’ve made in your career do you consider the very best?
h7-h6 against Mickey [Adams] in San Luis.
[22...h6! “One of the most vivid moments of the 8th round, and of the tournament as a whole. Black opens up his king position in order to make it more secure!” (Shipov)]
- Which combination gave you the most satisfaction?
I thought and thought about it, and came to an unexpected conclusion: Svidler-Styazhkin 1986 [see Sample Games]. It goes without saying there were more important, and more original combinations – but that one stuck in my mind, and beating my first trainer was a very significant event for me.
Maestrovaso: Greetings, Peter! Did you have a game (at grandmaster level), in which you beat your opponent practically without calculating variations? And if so, against whom?
I can’t recall offhand, and I don’t think there were any. Unless you mean games like my win against Vachier-Lagrave in San Sebastian 2009, in which I didn’t make a single move at the board. [see Sample Games]
* IRAQI MASTER: Thanks a lot for this opportunity to ask one of the best players in the world some questions:
- Which game you lost do you really think you played very well and deserved to win?
I gave it some thought, and the only two games that even come close are Anand-Svidler from Linares 1999, and Svidler-Malakhov from last year's World Cup. But they don't fit either – while I played both well, at least up to a point, so did my opponents, so to say I deserved to win them would be unfair.
- What are the strong and weak points in your style of play?
I am a very decent dynamic player, and I think I handle initiative quite well. Although my technique has improved drastically in the past 10 years, I am still not the world’s best defender of passive somewhat worse positions. *
vasa: - When did you realise that chess was your destiny?
Quite early on. Definitely by the time I was 15, but perhaps before that as well – I can barely remember a non-chess player me.
- Did you ever want to give up chess?
Нарицатель: What goals do you set yourself in chess? Do you have championship ambitions?
A lack of ambition has always been one of my greatest problems, and at the moment finding my own answer to those two questions is a priority.
* Jonathan: Hi Peter, I’ve always had the impression of you as being a very practical player. My questions:
- Do you feel that your approach to chess is pragmatic?
Yes, I believe so. Compared to players like Grischuk, or perhaps Kramnik, I find it much easier to settle on a decision that I believe is good as opposed to searching for the absolute best – although that varies depending on the position, and on whether I feel I am playing well.
- What ambitions (chess or in general) do you have for yourself in the next 5 years or so?
See above. *
Валерий 89: Hello, Peter! I’m very glad to have the chance to communicate with you! You’ve already managed to spend more than a decade in the modern chess elite, you’ve won a great deal, but you still continue to work actively on chess. If it’s not a secret, where do you find the motivation?
Despite the “Hello, Peter!” I’m not sure that this question is really addressed to me – as the passage about “work actively” really confuses me. For my answer on “motivation”, see a little further down.
Zeppa: Hello, Peter Veniaminovich! Very many people would be delighted to have achieved even 25% of your success, but nevertheless an impression persists that given the scale of your talent you could also have aspired to more. You’ve often said something yourself along the lines that the absence of a “killer instinct” and an occasional element of laziness have got in the way of your achieving better results. Aren’t you trying to combat the current state of affairs and achieve all that you’re capable of? I’m sure that if you became a little stricter with yourself, and a little harsher with others, you wouldn’t need to wait long to see results. Your fans (and I’m one of them) won’t accept an excuse like “my best years are already behind me” and “I’ve no longer got any energy” as Anand’s a great example of achieving colossal results after 40, while you’re still much younger than he is.
Thanks for the kind words – and you’re quite right in many ways, of course. Year by year it doesn’t get any easier to motivate yourself – as I’ve already said above, I have to correctly formulate goals and tasks for myself for the next few years, because there’s no way whatsoever I can be satisfied with how I’ve played this last year.
Byvsh2rasr: Peter! What, in your opinion, is the reason why you’ve won the Russian Championship so often (if you’ve analysed it)? Is it possible to beat the records of Botvinnik and Tal? i.e. to win more than 6-7 times.
The long run, it’s all about the long run As for records, you can’t rule anything out, but it won’t be at all easy.
Grafin: What are your memories of San Luis 2005? What’s your opinion on the tournament book devoted to it (if you’ve had your hands on it)? Thank you in advance for your replies! Good luck and I wish you more success! I’d really like to see a collection of your best games sometime. You’re a wonderful commentator!
It was one of the best tournaments in my life, so I remember it fondly. The book wasn’t bad, though why they wrote that I had two daughters who were born in 2004 – I don’t know I’ll have to write a book sooner or later, I think – but I don’t want to make a token effort, and in order to write a good book I’d need quite a lot of time. Until now I’ve told myself that I don’t have that, but in 2011 I am going to have quite a lot of free time…
phisey: Peter, you won the Swiss tournament in Gibraltar in 2009. Can you tell us how you, an elite chess player, decided to play in a Swiss tournament instead of a round robin?
The Gibraltar Masters is a very strong tournament, but even if it wasn’t I’d still have gone there – they promised me (and managed to arrange) cricket practice.
Kit: What’s been greater in your life, what professional chess has taken away, or what it’s given you?
Of course, what it’s given. I can’t say I’ve turned down a lot in life because of chess. You can discuss whether that was correct or not, but I don’t regret it.
Gildar: Hello, Peter!
- Will we see you next year in the line-up of any super-tournament? What are your chess plans?
No, more likely than not – the world has more than enough chess players with a rating in the 2720 region, so the organisers are more likely to want to see some fresh blood in their tournaments. So for now my plans are very approximate – club competitions until summer, and then we’ll see.
- This year for the first time in many years you weren’t able to qualify for the final part of the World Championship cycle. Would you say that at the given moment your chess form doesn’t allow you to fight for the Title? Thank you in advance for your replies and good luck!
I think that given my play in 2010 that’s a completely fair conclusion – though actually in the World Cup 2009, where I lost in the quarterfinals, I didn’t play badly at all, and in that form I’d be quite capable of fighting for a place.
3. Chess players* Herb White: What is more significant, in your opinion, holding the World Championship Title, or currently being rated Number 1 on various rating lists?
This seems Magnus-related, and as such, will be covered elsewhere – but for me the Title would be immeasurably more important.
- And if you’ll allow me just one more question, I’ll be brief. What would a chess player have had to achieve to be called the “greatest” chess player of all time?
Winning and holding the Title, dominating the chess scene for a long period of time, bringing something new to the game. So far, I think only Fischer and Kasparov qualify, and choosing between them is not an easy task. If forced to, I’d pick Kasparov. *
Роман Ефимов: Who, in your opinion, is the strongest chess player in history?
I think Kasparov.
Нарицатель: Could you name the three greatest players in the whole history of chess, from your point of view?
Kasparov, Fischer, Capablanca.
- At approximately which Elo do you think Philidor, Morphy, Steinitz, Chigorin and Lasker played.
It’s very hard to say – the Elo rating is very closely tied to the strength of your opponents, and the great chess players of the past had very different opponents. It strikes me that it’s precisely the phenomenal increase in the average level of play that distinguishes modern chess from chess in the past.
WinPooh: Peter, who among the chess players of the early Classical period – let’s say, from London 1851 to Buenos Aires 1927, is closest to you “in spirit”?
Alekhine, though I couldn’t say exactly why.
Grafin: Which chess player in the top-20 has the “strongest hand”? Who do you personally find it most uncomfortable to play against?
* Lawrence Teh: Sir, Greetings from Malaysia! Who did you find more difficult to play against? Kramnik, Anand or Magnus ? I mean the style that each of them adopts, not necessarily who is the better GM. Regards. *
I always found it hardest to play against Anand and Kramnik. I still haven’t won a single game against Anand in “classical”. I’ve got a very good score against Magnus, mainly, of course, because I started playing him quite early on. But also in terms of his game I’ve always done better against him, than against A or K.
* Fireblade: Hello Peter, How important are psychological aspects in shaping the outcome of the game? Can you illustrate some examples you have had with other players, like Van Wely sometime ago mentioned….for e.g. Anand using his pen etc. [Translator’s note: probably referring to this interview].
Not sure what exactly is referred to here, and anyway, for me the biggest problems in playing Vishy, or Vlad, were purely chess-related. Although when you haven’t won a game against somebody for 10+ years, it begins to weigh on you psychologically as well. *
Mustiz: If Kasparov were to return to chess now, at what strength would he play?
Very strongly, but there wouldn’t be that domination which we witnessed before, of course – and it would be harder for him on account of his lack of practice, and then simply in terms of the passing of time and new opponents having grown up who are less (or not at all) traumatised by a long history of losses in games against him.
- When was your last game against him (not necessarily officially)?
The 2004 Super-Final, I think.
vasa: What did you feel when you first won a game against Kasparov?
That evening you had to scrape me off the ceiling – it was one of the best days in my career. The next few games were very tough for me, however – games with GK always cost me an excessive amount of energy.
Max-ML: Hello, Peter! Could you please say (in one, two or three sentences) what are the particularities, from your point of view, in the play and style of these players, and what are their strong points that allow them to succeed?
Anand: Very serious opening preparation, a brilliant practical player, in my opinion the best defender in the world.
Kramnik: Probably the world’s best openings, brilliant universal understanding, excellent technique.
Carlsen: Huge natural talent, a fantastic focus on winning, the skill and ability to play any position out – now (after a year working with Kasparov) that’s also combined with excellent openings.
Topalov: Superb openings, brilliant play in sharp, unbalanced positions, the will to win every game.
Aronian: See below.
Armenia: What do you think about the style of Tigran Petrosian?
It seems to me that TP is one of the least understood chess players in history, at least by fans. A wonderful tactician and in general a very versatile chess player, he’s gone down in history exclusively as a master of defence, and overall as a “destroyer” rather than a “creator” at the board, which is absolutely unfair. Many of the techniques that are now used by everyone, from amateurs to super-grandmasters, were practically unknown before he came along.
- Your opinion on Aronian. Can he become World Champion? Thank you and I wish you success!
The question of winning the World Championship title is very difficult in the current climate, as it’s not completely clear what exactly is going on with the cycle. Winning three matches in a row, and then a match against Anand, will be extremely tough, and what’s going to happen to the cycle after 2011 is impossible to say. But in terms of talent, if you take the young (and by young I understand everyone under 30) then two people stand out – Carlsen and Aronian. So I consider Levon one of the favourites to win the title in the next 5 years.
bgo: Good day, Peter! I remember you from the 1996 Olympiad in Erevan. Back then you were considered one of the most promising (along with Kramnik) young chess players. Since then I’ve followed your successes and I’m glad to have the chance to ask you a couple of questions.
- Could you characterise, please, the leading Armenian chess players?
I’ve already written about T. V. Petrosian and Aronian above. Volodya Akopian has played at a very decent level for many years, but lately it seems to me that he’s dropped off a little. Gabi Sargissian is a kind of Armenian Hulk: a very good, but nevertheless not brilliant player, who once every two years at the Olympiad turns into a real monster, and in many ways it was due to that metamorphosis that the Armenians twice won the Olympiad. This year something wasn’t quite right with the elixir, and they didn’t even take medals… The youngsters – Petrosian, Pashikan, Andriasian and others – I don’t know well enough to say something specific about.
- If Capablanca played a match against a modern player with a rating of 2500 (Capablanca with the baggage of knowledge of his time) who do you think would win? And if 2600?
I think Capablanca would rip a 2500 player to pieces. I’m not so sure about a 2600 player, but I still think that Capa would be the favourite, particularly over a relatively long distance.
- Could you express the difference in chess class in terms of material? (for example, 500 rating points = 2 pawns, and so on). Do you think a 2150-level player could beat a player at your level with an extra piece? Thank you in advance. Respectfully, B. V., Prague
The question of handicaps is very interesting. I’ve always found it strange how easily masters in the past were able to give up material. As for pawns – there was a match between Ehlvest and Rybka, it seems, which the machine won after successively giving up a pawn, from a to h, in 8 games. So it seems as though a pawn handicap can be given even to very strong players. As for a piece… To be honest, I don’t have a very good idea of what 2150 means – but in my childhood it seemed to me that an average Candidate Master should be able to beat the World Champion with an extra piece.
ProstoTak: Hello, Peter. Are you really friends with Vladimir Kramnik? Tell us a little about your relationship away from the chessboard. Thanks.
We’ve got a good friendly relationship – previously we’d see each other more often, but even now we enjoy spending time together to discuss my latest chess mistakes.
* mishanp: You were one of Kramnik's seconds in his match against Leko. How would you sum up that experience?
Unbelievably stressful, also extremely beneficial for me chess-wise. It is safe to say I haven't worked as hard before or since. Very glad it ended well, since I definitely had a big part in the Marshall debacle. *
Kamul: Hello, Peter Veniaminovich! Could you tell us something about Vasily Ivanchuk as a chess player and a person?
Vasily Mikhailovich is one of the most interesting chess players of the last 20 years, and a model for all of us to imitate – you can’t help but admire his love for chess and his readiness to play anyone, anywhere. You could spend a long time talking about his encyclopaedic knowledge of all the openings without exception, but that’s already a commonplace. He’s also an extremely unusual and interesting person to talk to, with a very unique outlook on the widest range of topics.
* Adolfo: Hi Peter, first of all I would like to express my admiration for the player but above all the kind of person you are. Everybody in the chess environment agrees about how easy going and friendly you are; I remember Nakamura being asked by John Watson on Chess FM about his poor record against you and answering that it’s probably because you are so kind and friendly that unconsciously he found it hard to hate you and keep his killer instinct going against you. Personally, in the first game of the recent Anand-Topalov match where you did the broadcast coverage for ICC, you were kind enough to have a small discussion with me after the game about Vishy’s opening choice; if you happen to remember I said something like “Not to blame the Grunfeld, but don’t you think that this was too risky an opening choice to start with in a WCH match” and you said “…the Grunfeld stands theoretically fine..”, and I replied “ …Well, I am not gonna discuss the Grunfeld’s value with you…” after which you threw in a smiley face. Then I told you that all his life Vishy has played “white squared defences against d4” and you answered “that’s also true. You have a point”. Anyway, here are my questions:
- If you could, can you make a small list of chess talents that haven’t (or won’t ever have) a chance of reaching the top ranks, or fighting for the WCh with chances? People where you think their chess talent is at least equal to the best but for other reasons won’t ever make it to the very top. In my humble view, the best example is Ivanchuk (my favourite player), and secondly Nakamura.
My best regards and wishes for success from Argentina.
Hi, it's an interesting question. From the current crop of players, Ivanchuk would be an obvious choice, even if it's somewhat unfair to him, considering his amazing tournament results. However, he does not seem psychologically well-suited to KO events, which I believe played a major part in his relative failures in the past 10 years (and even that is unfair, really, since he played a title match vs Ponomariov after getting thru the KO field of 128), and even if the 2012 cycle does not include them anymore, it will be hard for him to combat the much younger players, although with Ivanchuk nothing can be ruled out. As for Nakamura, there is nothing to support that idea – he simply hasn't played enough top events yet to judge him as not being WCh material. He's done well (if not as well as he'd have liked) in Tal Mem 2010, and 2011 will be a very big year for him.
IRAQI MASTER: Honestly, who’s better - you or Morozevich?
We have a long history, and it's very uneven – there were stretches when I had the upper hand, and also long periods when I couldn’t play him at all. I don't think it's possible to answer that question definitively. It's a great pity for the chess world he’s not playing now, that's for sure. *
phisey: Peter, could you say something about the reasons for the seclusion of your teammate Alexander Morozevich?
* Simple Pole in a complex plane: I have never asked a celebrity a question, so please excuse me if it sounds silly or offensive. You and Alexander Morozevich are my two absolutely favorite top GMs. You because you must be the most talented chess player in the world (I understand you do not work that hard, so it must be the sheer talent) and Morozevich, because his play is so unorthodox. - Do you have any hints on why Alexander Morozevich is not playing professionally anymore? Or maybe you think he will come back? *
I don’t have any inside information on that score. I’m sure he must have good reasons. I hope he’ll still return to serious chess – it was always very interesting to follow his play.
* IRAQI MASTER: Which player do you nominate to play against Anand in the next World Championship match?
With Carlsen gone, I think Aronian and Kramnik have to be favourites, although there are no bad players in the mix, so anyone has a shot at the title match.
Russianchessfan: Thank you for the opportunity to pose these questions: I have four questions:
- Carlsen has had great results over the past year. But looking at the games, he appears to have been uncommonly lucky – in Nanjing he was worse against Topalov, Gashimov & Bacrot. In Bazna, he was worse against Ponomariov. This is in contrast to a Kramnik or Anand, who appear more solid. Does luck explain part of his phenomenal rating?
There is no luck in chess – Carlsen constantly creates problems for his opponents, often by taking what many would describe as unnecessary risks. Perhaps the fact that his opponents keep on cracking under that pressure might go some way towards explaining why he keeps on doing it. For someone like Kramnik or Anand (I have the same problem, but nowhere near the same results, so it's somewhat irrelevant) making moves that they know are not optimal in order to increase variance comes much less naturally than to Magnus, but to explain his play and results using the term 'luck' is just plain wrong.
- Anand appears to be coasting through tournaments devoid of any ambition or drive getting a +1 here and a +2 there. Do you feel a difference in the current World Champion’s desire to win tournaments now compared to 3-4 years ago?
I wouldn't feel comfortable getting into Vishy's mind to such an extent, although he does seem to be much more motivated by the title matches than by tournaments.
- Is the future for chess (post-Kramnik, Svidler, Grischuk) in Russia bleak?
No, I don't believe it is. First of all, the post-Svidler and post-Grischuk future are two completely different time-frames – Alex is quite a bit younger than Kramnik or myself, and is playing some of the best chess of his life right now. But even accepting the premise, I think people like Jakovenko, Nepomniaschi, Tomashevksy, Vitiugov, and quite a few others could do quite well on a bigger stage given a chance. *
Роман Ефимов: What’s your opinion on Vadim Zvjaginsev? What’s his rating “ceiling” (I think it’s possible to more or less officially assess chess players in these figures – I simply don’t see a better criteria…)? Why did he undergo such a strange metamorphosis: from 1992 until 1999 he was always climbing, and then suddenly he dramatically retreated into the shadows? He began to make a lot of draws, and sharply altered his opening repertoire. Despite the fact that he’s a very interesting and very strong chess player, it seems to me…
It’s hard to say. I played Vadik a great deal in junior competitions, and at the time he was one of the very brightest and most original chess players of our generation. Then it’s true that he did disappear for a while – in contrast to me, for example, he graduated (with top honours, too) from Moscow State University, so that in part explains it. I was very glad to see he made it to the Super-Final.
Gildar: As a participant in two “Youth vs. Experience” tournaments, who among the juniors made the greatest impression on you? Which of them has chances of challenging for the title in the future?
I really like Anish Giri – he’s very pleasant to talk to and clearly he’s a very talented chess player. It’s hard, after all, to consider Nakamura a junior.
* Harish Srinivasan: At the elite level, is it much harder now in the computer age in preparation since opening novelties along with their ideas can last only a single game as opposed to in the K-K times? Is that the reason why there is no one dominant player in the world right now?
It's true most novelties are short-lived these days, but I don't believe this has much to do with anyone's dominance. Despite the growing role of openings, games are still mostly decided in the middlegame. *
Kit: What’s your opinion on inflation of the grandmaster title. Does it exist? Is it a threat to professionals?
* mo: Does the extent of rating inflation/abundance of GMs bother you at all?
Ken: Who is the best endgame player?
Carlsen, Kramnik, Shirov... it's hard to pick one. *
vasa: How would you assess the intellectual level of modern chess professionals? Is it true that chess develops the intellect?
I’m not sure I can give a precise definition of the word “intellect”. Chess develops logic, memory and spatial thinking. Talking to chess players is more often interesting than uninteresting – but from someone who’s spent their whole life predominantly talking to chess players it would be strange to hear anything else.
* Hi: Who is the strongest gay chess player you know of?
Not sure I know any openly gay chess players at all. *
4. Chess PoliticsKit: Do chess players need FIDE?
They need it, but not in its current condition.
* mo: Do you think world chess is in good hands with the current FIDE junta?
Not really, although I would not use that term. *
Тактик: It would be interesting to hear your opinion on the recent FIDE presidential elections. Who did you favour?
Нарицатель: Who did you support in the recent struggle – Karpov or Ilyumzhinov, and why?
Like the majority of my colleagues I’d really like to see changes in FIDE. But it was extremely difficult to convince myself that Anatoly Evgenievich, a man who’d gained more than most from cooperating with the current FIDE administration, should be the face of those changes. So I couldn’t pick a horse in that race.
* Calvin Amari: Peter, as is well known, nobody can give post mortems as colorfully, insightfully, and accessibly as you. We, your fans, are always appreciative of the radio beams of charisma that you give out so unsparingly and unceasingly, much as weightlifters, coffeehouse patzers, and literary editors give off BO. Here, then, is a challenge for you. The recent FIDE elections have received surprising coverage outside the dedicated chess media. Based on press accounts as well as my interactions, it plainly seems that normal well-informed folks who are not chess addicts are stupendously perplexed about why the chess world would choose a character like Kirsan Ilyumzhinov to be its ambassador, and equally bewildered as to why the result of the election has not elicited nightmares and bucking hysteria among top chess players.
- Could you please offer a post mortem of the FIDE election that would enlighten them?
Two people who used to be fairly close run against each other, hilarity and litigation ensue, in the end reasonably open elections are held (at least compared to Torino, and to the extent that such a thing is possible at all; I am not sure the 'one country – one vote' system is much good, but that's a different subject altogether), the incumbent unsurprisingly wins, the two heroes are friends again. The chess world sighs and moves on. *
Eduard: Peter, good day! What do you think about Carlsen’s refusal to take part in the Candidates Matches?
* Fireblade: Had to ask your opinion about the WCh cycle and about Carlsen withdrawing from the Candidates Matches. *
Mihalych-56: - What’s your opinion on the so-called demarche of Magnus Carlsen regarding the World Championship cycle?
His decision strikes me as strange, to say the least, and of course the cycle will suffer greatly because of it. I’ll add… Since I wrote that I’ve had the chance to discuss the topic with colleagues and the overall conclusion is as follows: if you suppose that Magnus isn’t fixated on the World Championship Title (and that’s precisely the impression given), then his decision will hurt the cycle, and fans, much more than it will hurt him. With his reputation, his position in the rating list and his tournament results, he can perfectly comfortably continue to do what he’s been doing for the last year or two, and then he can decide for himself if he wants to take part in the next cycle. There’s no reason the decision should impact on his modelling contracts.
- Do you have your own idea of how the process of determining a World Chess Champion should look?
I’ve got a set reply, which I’ll limit myself to – after everything that’s happened in the last 17 years what’s important is not so much that the formula for running the cycle is correct, but that it’s consistent.
Eduard: Who now has a real chance of winning this cycle and, perhaps, of defeating Anand?
phisey: What’s your opinion on Russia having had five men’s teams playing at the Olympiad? Did Russia need that?
I think that two, or three to balance the numbers if necessary, would have been perfectly sufficient.
vasa: Why hasn’t Russia been able to win the Chess Olympiad since 2002?
I’d like to know… But mainly it’s because the Olympiads have become much tougher. If you recall the kind of teams that made the pedestal before 2004 then it becomes obvious why with the “appearance” of teams like Armenia, Azerbaijan (of course, they played previously as well, but with significantly weaker line-ups) and the improvement of Ukraine the tournaments are now much more even. That still doesn’t fully explain why we haven’t won at least one of the last four Olympiads, but it has to be mentioned. In such a tight struggle a lot’s decided by one or two key games, and time and again things haven’t worked out for us in the crucial matches.
Lasker85: Why didn’t the Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk go well for you?
Because of obvious opening problems with white I conducted the first part of the tournament very poorly. I’ve got no reason to be embarrassed about the five blacks in a row that followed in rounds 6-10 – I scored +1 in matches against major teams, and only stood worse once. In the last round I deliberately went for play that was as complex as possible, as on paper my board was the most promising. The mistake wasn’t in how I set out to play the game, but in how I handled my time. In serious time trouble I made a couple of unobvious mistakes and lost. But that’s all specifics, and as for an overall assessment – I wasn’t fully prepared in terms of openings, and for a series of internal reasons I played less freely and calmly that usual. This was an Olympiad we really wanted to win, and perhaps I got myself a little too wound up before it had even started.
Uralchess: Peter, could you tell us why our team yet again couldn’t win the Olympiad, and this time at home? It seems as though all the resources were in place: money, training camps, bonuses, living conditions and food, the strongest line-up, but still no victory.
In Olympiads as tricky as this one a lot, if not everything, is decided by one or two episodes. If Volodya Malakhov, who had played that game extremely well until then, had gone for Bf5 against Efimenko then we’d have won the match, moved into clear first place and, very importantly, switched places with the Ukrainians psychologically. If I’d played g5 instead of Nxe4 against Salgado Lopez then I definitely don’t think I’d have lost the game – and then the pressure on Efimenko would have been enormous, and who knows if he’d have converted his better endgame against Mikhalevsky or not… But history, as we know, doesn’t use the subjunctive mood. It’s hard for me, from the inside, to judge why we were lacking something at the decisive moments.
Lasker85: Hello Peter. After the Olympiad the captain of the Russia-1 team, Bareev, said that you don’t love chess. What do you think about that?
* Adolfo: I assume that someone else would ask too about the Bareev statement [Translator’s note: here in English] that you don’t love chess, in which case consider this question dismissed. Do you believe that he had some point too; for e.g., I remember you telling Peterson in the last NH tournament that “the kids” were too worried about making it to Amber “while I don’t give a shit”. *
Uralchess: What do you think about Evgeny Bareev in the role of captain? And how would you comment on his not overly politically correct statements about certain cleaners? Thank you. Grafin: How affected were you by the unethical, in my opinion, statements of Bareev about you after the Olympiad? Do you want to play for the team in future under that trainer?
I can only speak for myself. During tournaments I don’t read any chess sources, which Zhenya knows perfectly well, so that what he said definitely wasn’t addressed to me and had no effect on my game. To what degree, for example, the already legendary “cleaning lady” affected Volodya Malakhov, it would be better to ask him. [Translator’s note: see here for Bareev’s unflattering comment on Malakhov’s opening knowledge]. As for myself, after the 5th round I had a one-on-one talk with Zhenya after which I played a series of five good games, and for me those events were definitely linked. Of course, after the Olympiad I had a read of a few of his interviews, and although they didn’t fill me with joy I think that he’s right on practically everything, so that after mature reflection there’s nothing for me to get offended about. Zhenya never asks more of others than he asks of himself, and he doesn’t try to offload responsibility from himself. I have absolutely no problem playing with him as captain.
* As for the NH quote – that was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and had much more to do with the unique format of those events, when the young 'uns, while officially team-mates, must be at least very conflicted when watching each other play, whereas the Seniors are much more relaxed. I don't think anyone, Bareev included, ever claimed anyone on our team in Khanty did not give a shit. *
Armenia: Hello, Peter. Why didn’t the Armenian team demonstrate its best play at the Olympiad?
As I said above, without a phenomenal result from Gabi the Armenian team was left with only one “firing” board, and that’s not enough for modern Olympiads.
Lasker85: What needs to be done to popularise chess that hasn’t yet been done?
I’m not sure a magic recipe exists. I certainly don’t know it.
- Is it correct to include chess in the school programme? After all, that might lead to a drop in children’s interest in chess. Thank you in advance and good luck!
It won’t do any harm – I don’t think that a child who would have taken an interest in chess outside of school will somehow be affected by an hour of chess a week in school. While from the point of view of general development some basic chess skills will harm nobody. A great deal, of course, depends on the teachers.
phisey: Does chess have any promise as a form of sport on TV? How, in your opinion, should chess be shown on the small screen?
Rapid chess (about 15 minutes), with good commentary. But the promise is a bit hazy – after all the level of understanding you need for that sort of spectacle to be of any interest at all is much higher than for football or even, which is much closer to our situation, for poker. Knowledge of the rules alone is clearly not enough, which really restricts the potential audience.
- Is there a chance of getting into the Olympic Games and what needs to be done for that to happen? Or is it something we don’t need at all?
It would be very useful from the point of view of attracting government funding, but as far as I know the chances of it happening at the moment are close to zero.
5. Books, Press, Internetvasa: Peter, which was your favourite chess book in your childhood?
Роман Ефимов: Which is your favourite chess book?
The first book in my life, which I read until it was in tatters, was a Russian translation of “How to Beat Bobby Fischer”. Then there was a “My System” period, then a “Zurich 53” period. The last chess (-related) book to strike me, was Donner’s “The King”.
vasa: Do you read chess literature now?
Mihalych-56: Which chess books of the last 5-10 years do you consider the most deserving of attention, the best, the most fundamental?!
* Adolfo: Do you think that chess books (with the likely exception of some opening books) are the chess improvement mirage of the amateur? I am tired of seeing GM (last Shirov here at Crestbook) saying that they never read chess books. By the way, do you read any? Which was the last (the few, if applicable) that you recall?
I read a lot when I was younger – but not very much since completely devouring the library of chess literature from the Soviet era my parents built up for me when I was just beginning. At the same time, I practically stopped buying chess books 10-15 years ago. I think it's a mistake, to be honest – at least professionally. There are a lot of very good opening books around these days - everything Borya Avrukh, Khalifman and co., and Marin (to name a few) write is well worth a read. *
Mihalych-56: Do you think that Magnus Carlsen’s achievements are already sufficient for him to be included in the “Greats of the Chess World” series of books along with the luminaries of the past and present? Or has the given series and chess publisher already turned into only a commercial project for earning money out of names that are on everyone’s lips?
Even if Magnus gives up chess tomorrow for good, he’s already done enough for a book. As for the GCW series and book publishing as a whole – I’m not “in the loop” enough to judge it.
Роман Ефимов: Could you please name 7-10 books on chess which (if studied carefully) will definitely improve the play of a chess player with a current rating of around 2300 Elo.
It’s hard to say – lately there’s been no shortage of books setting themselves the goal of helping the chess development of players of about that level (the first to come to mind are reviews of books by Yermolinsky and Dorfman) – but I haven’t read them myself, and therefore can’t recommend them. Carefully written repertoire books will of course help anyone – but the question, it seems to me, wasn’t about them.
Valchess: What do you think of G. Kasparov’s series of books?
When I read them I’ll be sure to tell you.
- Do you remember any books that aren’t purely about chess, but of the memoir/historical genre (by G. Sosonko, V. Korchnoi, S. Voronkov, a series of chess veterans, not to mention Kasparov) or is that genre “not for you”?
As I said above – “The King” by Donner is a very strong book. I read everything that Genna writes in a journalistic format with great pleasure, but I haven’t read his books.
* Daniel: Have you read Avrukh’s “1. d4″
Bits and pieces – I borrowed it off friends to prepare for games. I've been trying to buy it for a while, but it seems to be disappearing very fast from book kiosks during events, and is not available on Amazon, so I am a bit stuck. *
ccf-m: What do you think about A. N. Terekhin’s work “Strategic Methods in Chess”?
I haven’t read it, but recalling “position 607” I’m not sure that it would make it onto my list of required reading. [Editor’s note: referring to Terekhin’s articles on the Scandinavian Defence that were once notorious in chess circles, and included “position 607”].
Valchess: Peter, now for my traditional questions for these conferences – on chess journalism.
- How do you assess its condition, both in Russia and worldwide, in comparison to both former times and some sort of “ideal”? Are there, for example, genres where you don’t see enough being published?
I began to write something vague about the diversity of modern journalism, but I stopped myself in mid-sentence because I realised that the standards now are very high. It’s hard for me to judge how it compares to the past – I’ve barely read anything from earlier than the mid-90s. Three paragraphs have already gone by without a mention of the surname Donner, and something needs to be done about that – I’d read his columns even if I had to subscribe to a Dutch newspaper and learn the language.
- Are there publications that you try to read (and even subscribe to) – or do you simply take a glance at them on occasion and not worry about missing them? The same question about chess sites and blogs.
As a relatively regular author I get sent 64, NiC and Schach. Schach is a good magazine, but in a language I don’t know, while I read 64 and NiC with pleasure. I deliberately limit myself on the internet – I look almost nowhere except TWIC.
- Which well-known journalists do you rate? Your opinion on the “stars” – G. Sosonko, M. Greengard, Yu. Vasiliev, I. Odessky – and perhaps on someone else I haven’t named.
Genna’s a classic, I talk quite regularly with Mig on Skype but as he no longer writes for TWIC it’s a long time since I’ve read his texts, I don’t read Yury that often, Ilya – depending on my mood (his text on Roshal was wonderful, for example). [Translator’s note: Roshal was “a renowned chess trainer and one of the most famous and influential chess journalists of the Soviet Union”. For more see this obituary at Chessbase]
- The same question – on professional chess commentators. Do chess players at your level have an interest in following online commentary and/or games commentated on in print, or is that just for fans, while you, if need be, can work it out for yourself?
The second position is more the case for me – although I do, of course, read commentaries in magazines. As for online commentary – I’ve done that quite a lot myself in my life and I know very well how difficult it is to say something sensible without quoting the first line. But I can look at the first line myself.
- Do people often come to you with requests that you write something? Do you more often agree, or decline? What are the criteria?
I practically never decline to comment on a game for magazines, and, it seems to me, I do that pretty well – but it’s not easy to persuade me to do anything more serious. I wrote a few tournament reviews for NiC, but I wasn’t genuinely satisfied with any of them – however much I tried I still ended up with something like a scrolling news feed: in the first round N drew with L, and K beat Y in a difficult struggle. Dirk Jan didn’t complain, but I suspect many people could have handled it better.
- Judging by comments on foreign forums you’ve had great success as a radio (internet) commentator (together with Mig Greengard, in particular). Does it interest you or is it simply work which has (or doesn’t have?) a financial basis?
Of course I wouldn’t do it for free – but I do genuinely find it a very appealing format. Firstly, because of the chance to yak on in English with a witty and intelligent interlocutor, and secondly – it’s one of the few ways I know of working on chess when I’m at home. Seeing that as a matter of principle I try not to turn on an engine, 4-5 hours of talking about high-level play forces me to seriously get my brain into gear.
Uralchess: Peter, could you tell us which chess sites you visit regularly?
Apart from TWIC and the Russian Chess Federation website, almost none.
- Do you visit forums?
Shlavik: Do you read forums about yourself, in those sections where fans support you during events? Do you feel the support during tournaments of those who root for you on the internet? (we try to send out impulses of support!
Almost never, and particularly during tournaments – I try to keep as far as possible from everything that could distract/upset me, etc.
King_LAG: Hello Peter! It would be interesting to find out if you play at the internet chess portals “ICC”, “Chess Planet” and so on? What’s your opinion on playing chess on the internet?
I played an awful lot on the ICC, but gave it up a long time ago – it took up too much time. As a means of breaking in new openings it might have some sense, but then you have to actively spend your time making yourself anonymous, * and that seems too much like work to me.
Daniel: Thanks again for having the opportunity to ask Peter, my favourite player btw, some questions. So Pjotr Veniaminovich, here we go:
- Since I have so many questions that there is hardly enough space on this website: Have you ever considered setting up a website as Gusti did, with regular blogs, comments, pictures and so forth? That would be great.
Cheers and greetings from Muenster / Ger
Of course I did – and then decided against it, mainly for reasons of
mo: I’ve been following polborta on twitter, but you hardly ever post there
That's a major problem with me and blogging – I believe there are only a few things I can say anything remotely interesting about, and the world isn't crying out for a cricket blog in Russian, while writing about chess has its own drawbacks, since you would have to either be altogether bland and boring, fudge a lot of issues, or risk alienating a lot of people – something that has never been high on my list of life goals.
David Surratt: Whatever happened to Pablo Sierra Fuentes? Is he still your webmaster?
Yes, he is – and many thanks to him, he's been doing a great job without getting a lot of support from the main beneficiary of all his hard work. I really should do more there. *
End of part one.This conference was prepared by Valery Adzhiev (Valchess), Stanislav Fisejsky (phisey) and Colin McGourty (mishanp), who translated the Russian questions and answers into English (Peter Svidler answered the English questions in English). The chess fragments were overseen by Vasily Lebedev (vasa). KC-Conference with Peter Svidler: Part 1 - in Russian
Other KC-conferences in English:KC-Conference with Alexei Shirov
KC-Conference with Alexander Grischuk
KC-Conference with Michal Krasenkow