KC-Conference with Peter Svidler: Part 2
We’re now publishing the second part of the answers of International Grandmaster Peter Svidler to the questions of chess fans posed as part of the “KC-Conference” project by members of the KasparovChess forum and by readers of the English-language site Chess in Translation. In this part of the “people’s interview” Peter talked about the principles of preparation and improvement, openings, non-classical forms of chess, other games, and also simply “about life” in all its manifestations.
Previously in part one Peter Svidler responded in detail to questions on how he sees chess, his career, his chess playing colleagues, chess politics, internet chess, chess literature and chess journalism. You can also find his biography there, a short essay by Sergey Shipov, and Svidler’s best games commented on by himself and Crestbook experts.
Discussion can be continued: in Russian – at the KasparovChess forum, and in English at Chess in Translation.
NOTE: As in part one, 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!
6. On chess improvement
Turas30: How can you raise your level?
I read an awful lot in my childhood – my parents put together an enormous chess library for me which I practically assimilated in its entirety. The real breakthrough, however, coincided very closely with the moment I started to work with Andrey Mikhailovich Lukin – without him I really might have come to nothing. So the role of a trainer strikes me as very important – but there, of course, you have to get lucky. It’s also absolutely essential to play a lot, at least when you’re just starting out – until the age of about 20-22 you absorb new information with extraordinary speed, and simply playing gives you a great deal.
Armenia: How many hours (a day, a week) do you train?
It would be very hard for me to give a precise number – nowadays I work much more during tournaments than at home, which is of course wrong, methodologically speaking. For purposeful work outside of a tournament situation I need to have someone else there – but finding a window to work together with one of my friends is extremely difficult. Ideally that problem would be resolved by building a stable team, with whom I’d have an established relationship – but not having done that by the age of 35 I’m unlikely to start now.
Turas20: How do you prepare for tournaments?
When I prepare – and that doesn’t always happen – then I try to work out which opening problems are most likely, given my opponents, and those are the ones I try to solve. In the last five years I’ve only prepared seriously for San Luis and Mexico, and then in 2007 I was objectively much better prepared for the World Championship than I was in 2005 – so not everything in my game depends on the level of my opening preparation.
- How do you maintain your fitness?
For anyone who’s seen even a single photograph of me the answer to that question should be obvious. I’ve got a cardio-trainer at home, and my list of things to do in the near future includes checking whether it’s totally broken, and if it turns out that it’s still functional, then trying to break it before the Superfinal.
ceryi: I’d like to ask for some advice on preparation. For example, there are a couple of months to go before a Swiss tournament in classical chess and you’ve got free time you can devote to the game. What’s the right way of going about the preparation process – what should you pay attention to, should you solve tactics etc.? I’d be very grateful for a response, even if just a brief, rough outline.
Given that in a Swiss Tournament there’s definitely no way of knowing exactly what to expect in the opening I’d recommend above all trying to get yourself into playing form, and solving tactical studies would be appropriate for that. If you know for sure that you have serious openings problems, and you suspect that your opponents might know that as well – then it would also be better to study the opening. As a person who’s more than once decided which pawn to push on the first move half an hour before a game, I’m unable to recommend such an approach.
Kamul: How do you deal with nerves at critical moments in a game? Do you have any particular methods? Many thanks for your reply. With respect and best wishes.
Worse than before – but in that respect the three hours directly before a game have always been harder for me than the game itself. At the board I usually feel quite comfortable.
* Voor: How do you “turn off” your mind in order to sleep between games during a tournament (especially after a loss)?
I tend to read a lot, and watch a lot of canned TV. After particularly bad games I've been known to watch entire seasons of series-of-the day to switch off. *
Kit: How do you recover after tournaments?
Mainly by doing nothing. Spending time with your children really helps to recharge your batteries.
* Richard Price: Opening theory and middlegame strategies seem too all inclusive now for grandmasters. But in the endgame I have seen that grandmasters lack the skills for precise calculation. Gashimov-Carlsen (Nanjing 2010) is one of the latest examples. And your resignation to Kramnik in a drawn bishop ending also comes to mind.
It is true that modern chessplayers work almost exclusively on openings (and at today's depth, that often includes the middlegame as well), but it is not the calculation skills that are lacking for the endgame – in most cases, problems are caused by trying to calculate something you're supposed to know by heart. The solid knowledge of endgame basics is invaluable, but with the shortening of the time controls, and the demise of adjournments, it is steadily replaced by calculation, which cannot be a Good Thing.
Hello: Which do you study more - opening theory or endgames?
The answer above is very much true in my case.
I did a lot of both when I was a kid. It's fun to try and play like the masters of old, but even going through the games without guessing what will happen next is extremely helpful, especially if the games are well-annotated, preferably by the players themselves. As for whose games in particular – I did not discriminate in that respect, and would happily read any such collection. Luckily for me, plenty were available.
- Can a class A (1800-2000) player 30 yrs of age ever become a grandmaster in his life by training online with a GM and with 10 hrs of work per week. If it’s possible, what’s the minimum number of years you think it will take?
It will be extremely hard, I think – but nothing is impossible (or is it 'impossible is nothing?' ) I can't judge how long it might take though. And 10 hrs a week doesn't sound like much, to be frank – at this age I suspect you would have to really immerse yourself in the game for a lengthy period of time.
- What skills in general and in what order of priority should one teach toddlers (1 yr age onwards) — e.g. is it pattern recognition, or attitude, or memory … so that it will help them in rapid chess development when they are introduced to it later (say at 3-4 yrs of age).
Should probably be addressed to Laszlo Polgar. All of the things you mentioned are very important – but I believe a child should be given a say in this. As I said earlier – chess is a harsh mistress, and there is no guarantee of success.
Tim Cutler: When you are walking down the street calculating variations in your head, do you see a three-dimensional chess board or a two-dimensional computer screen?
I hope that question will not result in my never being able to calculate ever again, as happened with the centipede which was asked which leg it moves after the 27th left one 3D, I think.
mishanp: At the recent Olympiad Bareev said of you in the first round: "he drifts around the playing hall managing to have a look at all the other games". When you do that (if it's a fair description!) are you actually thinking about your own game as you walk, or do you really get into the other games. Does it distract you, or perhaps help you to relax? Have you ever tried Topalov's approach of simply staying rooted to the board?
I have tried it – when playing seriously ill, or with a broken leg. Not sure it helps – although I showed some of my best results when playing on crutches in 2002, mostly, I suspect, because it was unnerving for my opponents. I am so used by now to thinking on the move that it would be extremely hard (and not necessarily beneficial) to try and change that. I mostly skim the other games, unless something truly spectacular is happening, and I never stop thinking about my own game completely. *
Серегааа: Hello, Peter! What’s more useful: solving studies or tactics?
Since my childhood I haven’t done either one or the other in any sort of regular way – so I’m not sure. I really enjoy good studies, but I only try to solve them if someone sets them up on the board in my presence.
Тактик: Peter, how many points do you think a supergrandmaster would get out of a possible ten playing the “4 v 3” rook ending against an international master? On the stronger side, of course.
It depends a great deal on the calibre of the international master – and if the weaker side has a pawn standing on h4 (h5). If the pawn is already there, then not more than 6, I think, and even that’s an optimistic assessment for the GM, it seems to me.
Fiat: Hello, Peter!
In the majority of cases there’s no “either/or” – although there are occasions, of course, when calculation clearly dominates.
- When considering a move do you always see the main line you need to calculate?
No, not always, of course. I was taught to determine the candidate moves and then select between them, but nevertheless quite obvious things sometimes escape you.
- What criteria do you use to determine the point at which you should stop calculating a variation and come to an evaluation? That question’s based on the common situation that you calculate a line, finish your calculation, and then it turns out that you needed to calculate 1 or 2 moves further as those 1-2 moves allow some sort of tactical blow for your opponent.
To a large degree that’s a question of experience, and it’s fundamentally very similar to the ability to identify a critical position where your decision will have a great influence on the future course of the game. And then, it goes without saying, a lot depends on the degree to which you trust your own form, and your capacity for calculating a very long variation cleanly.
Серегааа: Could you please describe how you contemplate a position in the middlegame?
If it’s not necessary to calculate something concrete then I try to understand what plans I have, and which my opponent has, and work out how to combine implementing mine with prophylaxis. But those are all just general words, of course – and again I’d like to refer my readers to the centipede joke.
Евгений Ф: Hello, Peter! Did you have periods in your career when you worked a lot in order to get to a higher level, but something was still lacking? How did you deal with that? Thank you in advance.
You know, I don’t think I’ve ever had such periods, if you don’t count the last five years, perhaps I clearly recall that with both the IM title and fulfilling the grandmaster norms at a certain moment I got the feeling that I was ready now– which was quickly confirmed in practice. I don’t know what I can advise you, except to continue to work on your game, and the results will come.
ccf-m: How can you discern the line between candidate master and master – what’s qualitatively different about a master (please list as many factors as you can)?
I’m sure that at the end of the 80s and start of the 90s I could have given quite a detailed answer to that question. Nowadays I’m very poor at discerning such borderlines. I’m not sure, for example, that I’d be able to precisely determine the rating (or title) of a chess player I didn’t know playing, let’s say, in the range from 2200 to 2350, in less than a 10-game match. Even complete amateurs now know theory pretty well, and then back when I was a candidate master (and I never actually became a master of sports), candidate masters varied a great deal, and many of them were essentially no different from the average master.
* Alex: I have a 2000 USCF rating. How should I study in order to become a master?
I am not sure what 2000 USCF is equal to, and also the 'master' in question probably means something other than IM, which makes my answer even more guesswork than usual. But in general you should work on openings (huge holes in that area are very hard to overcome when climbing up the ladder), and try and find a good coach who will expand your understanding of middlegames. It is also very beneficial to try and develop good tactical awareness – we've had long discussions on this subject with a friend of mine, who was given a much more classical education than myself, somewhat at the expense of tactics and dynamics. He believes it hindered him very much later on.
Winner: I am 23 years old and 2350 rated. Can I become 2700 in four years if I study really hard?
Would make an interesting prop bet – and one I would probably lean towards the 'no' side in. But it's not at all impossible (and probably more likely than the scenario in Srinivasan's question). *
ceryi: Allow me to ask for a couple of pieces of advice for an average amateur (Candidate Master, Elo ~2100), who’s crazy about the game. I’ll be very grateful for any responses. How should you best analyse a game you’ve played (I’m thinking of a classical game), in order to get some use from it? I, for example, first analyse the game on my own for a few hours, make notes on the game and so on, then I look at it with Fritz or Rybka, and only then do I come to some conclusions. Am I going about things the right way?
Such a work schedule doesn’t strike me as bad at all, though it’s extremely laborious. Moreover I, for example, often deliberately don’t look at my games with engines so as not to be convinced once more of how badly we all play in comparison to some sort of ideal. If that doesn’t worry you then keep to the same strategy. If you have the chance to show your games to someone who plays better than you do then go for it, as that’ll undoubtedly be useful.
Aksenoff: Peter, what’s behind absurd mistakes in play at the highest level? Kramnik blundered mate-in-one on h7 against Fritz. Has anything similar happened to you?
It has, of course – I think that on the whole it happens because of a loss of concentration.
ChemaAnton: Hello, Peter! Which engine do you use for analysis? (if it’s not a secret).
I’ve put together quite a large collection – although I’ve also seen much more complete menageries than mine. At the moment the ones I use most are Houdini, Fire and Rybka.
Нарицатель: What’s your opinion on “Rybka”? Do you think the strongest chess programs have already passed the point at which winning even one game (without a handicap!) against them over any sort of reasonable run of games is impractical for a flesh-and-blood player?
One game isn’t the long run. Winning a match is, to put it mildly, extremely unlikely, but winning one game over the course of a long match is still possible, I think, although extremely tough. A lot, again, depends on the equipment – your average run-of-the-mill notebook is one thing, while 8172 parallel processors is something else entirely.
* iLane: Do you think that Vasik Rajlich’s idea of selling Rybka Cluster’s computing time to travelling GMs is viable?
Can't say really – depends on how user-friendly it will be, and of course on the prices. Only time will tell, I suppose. But it definitely has its merits. *
Uralchess: Hello, Peter! What’s your opinion on correspondence chess? Do you think that the appearance of computers has made it obsolete or, on the other hand, has it been raised to a qualitatively higher level? Do you consider it a fully-fledged type of chess? Do you use correspondence chess databases? How often?
I’ve got correspondence chess databases and I use them constantly when I’m working on the opening. As for playing it – it’s clear that it’s become Advanced, and then it becomes a question of your attitude to such chess. The quality of the play has risen, it goes without saying – but the extent of the operator’s role is hard for me to judge, and engine World Championships are already being run regularly.
Ccf-m: What alternatives are there to chess for the development of similar qualities (attention, intuition, memory and so on)?
It’s very hard to say. I’ve never really thought about it. There are lots of ways of developing those qualities, but all of them at the same time…
- What is it in chess, in your opinion, that helps someone to develop those qualities? Thank you.
It’s possible I haven’t understood the question correctly – but it seems to me that you’re talking about the sporting component here. You can play chess without being attentive, and without trying to remember anything – but it’ll simply turn out badly. "A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do…"
vasa: What’s the best novelty you’ve used and refuted?
A very difficult question. I’d like to name some atomic novelty in the Grunfeld, but nothing springs to mind, except that same game with Moiseenko. I remember the pride with which I watched good players use some of the recommendations I made in my only theoretical article to date – on the Grunfeld with Be3 for “Schach” – but that probably doesn’t count, as I’ve never played any of those myself. In terms of sporting significance you can probably consider the most important to be Rc1 against Grischuk at the World Championship in Mexico (thanks to Motylev ), turning that tournament from an absolute catastrophe into an average failure.
After a lot of thought, I’d give the most memorable novelty as the decision taken by me at the board in the second round of my first Junior Soviet Union Championship [Svidler – Dmitriev 1989 (Peter Svidler’s commentary in English)]. It’s entirely possible that that personal record for thinking over a single move hasn’t been beaten since.
Серегааа: Is it possible to reach 2600 without paying attention to openings?
Fiat: With poor combinational vision is it necessary to strive to play only solid strategic openings (in the meantime practising the calculation of variations during training sessions), or is it still better for your development to also include combinational dynamic systems in your repertoire?
First and foremost you have to try and solve the main problem, and not fight the symptoms. But if that’s the choice you’re faced with then an awful lot depends on what’s more important for you – results or development as a chess player. If you can allow yourself to ignore results for a certain length of time then it would still be better to try and at least play some dynamic openings - you’re simply not going to be able to achieve a lot without that string in your bow.
* iLane: Dear Peter, I really like your games and your personality and I wish you all the success in your future tournaments!
- You played many great tournaments and you also helped Kramnik many times. Could you give a percentage how often you guess correctly what opening the opponent would play? I’m trying to understand how much of the high level games are following long home prepared lines?
Very hard to give a precise number, but it won't be high. And guessing the openings is often not nearly enough. Perhaps the example you chose is very illustrative, actually – during Brissago, we pretty much knew before games 4 and 6 that Leko would play the anti-Marshall, and yet he managed to surprise us in both games by simply varying the move orders. However, if you're generally prepared well, you should be able to remember your ideas against most of what your opponent can come up with, even if you didn't guess it correctly before the game.
- Talking about openings I was always puzzled whether top GMs study only openings or do they practice endgames, solve puzzles etc? Thanks for answering!
Mostly you have to work on openings, for the simple fact of the matter is – if you're way behind the curve there, your skills in the middlegame and endgame are likely to go completely unnoticed due to games finishing early. Even with White, if you're completely empty, it is very hard these days to get a position that is equal but unclear – mostly you will end up with equal sterile positions, where your possible skill edge will be almost nullified.
Adolfo: Do you believe that in current times with super computer analysis the best approach to the openings is against the opponent (i.e. playing the most uncomfortable for him, or hitting his weakest opening rep point), rather than becoming a super specialist in a single-white and black system, in the Carlsen or before Kasparov style?
I don't think the example is correct – Magnus is certainly capable of playing almost anything these days, and Kasparov was one of the first proper encyclopedians. It is very hard to only play one opening your entire career, as someone who has played the Grunfeld for the past 20 years can attest.
Ken: What openings do you like for aesthetic reasons? That you wish were played more in top level chess?
I started playing the Paulsen mostly because I liked the fluidity of the pawn structure very much. I like Sicilians in general – and there are definitely fewer of them around in top chess these days. *
phisey: Which opening do you consider your forte?
The Ruy Lopez for both colours, no doubt.
Grafin: To what degree, in your opinion, does so-called opening fashion affect the opening repertoire of chess players in the top one hundred?
Quite significantly. You can draw that conclusion from the excessive popularity of the Petroff, for example. Even among the crème de la crème the people creating fashion are far fewer than those following it.
- Does it happen that in a particular tournament situation against particular opponents you would (if, hypothetically, you had the choice) prefer to have Black instead of White, or is the right to make the first move always an advantage?
There are people who are such a nightmare to prepare for with White that you feel like banging your head quite hard against a wall – but then having Black against such people is no joke either. So no – I’d still prefer White in 99% of situations.
- Which, in your opinion, is the strongest response to 1. e4?
1…e5 – although I really respect 1…c5 as well.
vasa: Do you consider that after 1. e4 e5 White can no longer fight for an advantage?
Тактик: Do you think that the fact that almost all of the elite nowadays mainly plays 1. d4 is temporary, or will it almost always be like that?
I think it’s temporary. Plus it’s not so uniform in the elite, it seems to me.
Igor Egin: Hello, Peter! How do you rate the prospects of the Italian Game at grandmaster level? Why is it played very rarely by the strongest chess players, but often by Class A players? Maybe it’s worth finding new lines in this ancient opening? For example, I’m already trying. Thank you in advance!
The Italian’s still encountered quite regularly, and at a high level as well – for example, as a means of avoiding the Berlin or, if you start with 2. Bc4, then also the Petroff. But it’s hard to count on getting an opening advantage in a game against a qualified opponent who isn’t trying to complicate things – Black has too many plans that force either mass exchanges, or concessions from White in order to avoid the exchanges. However, in my last Italian Game with the black pieces, against Volodya Malakhov in the European Cup, I didn’t even come close to equalising, so you can partly ignore my opinion.
Бирюков Дмитрий: Hello, Peter! I watch your games with interest and I’m interested in how you play blitz. I dream of playing against you someday. My name’s Dmitry – perhaps you’ve heard of me. The question is: how do you rate the prospects after 1…d6? Why is that move not seen (or seen very rarely) at the very highest level? I’ve studied the move d6 myself and believe in it. The fact that against stronger players I frequently get nothing with it doesn’t frighten me off using it constantly. To be honest, I can’t always understand the logic of your moves. I really like the way you handle the Ruy Lopez.
The problem with the Pirc at the highest level – and in the late 90s I tried to play the opening against very strong opponents – is that in very many lines Black not only doesn’t equalise, but also gets no hopes of seizing the initiative, without which playing such systems loses a great deal of its appeal. I still periodically return to the opening nowadays when the tournament situation forces me – but it’s extremely rare that I end up satisfied with the results.
Grafin: Which lines in the Ruy Lopez and Scotch are most suited to playing for a win with black?
Against a player who really knows what he’s doing – any or none, I think. If the white player needs a draw, it’s probably better to play something less symmetrical. If you have to choose, though, I’d prefer 4…Nf6 in the Scotch (though there White, if he’s not against “humiliating himself”, can force a draw by repetition in many lines), and the Breyer/Zaitsev in the Ruy Lopez (again, if you forget about Ng5-f3-g5) – there at least you’ll probably get a slightly worse position, but one that’s very complicated with the majority of the pieces remaining on the board. You can also consider 4…d6 5…Bd7 6…g6.
Экстремист: Is the Scandinavian Defence correct?
I think so, yes. At least I always end up a little perplexed when I try to prepare for it as White.
Grafin: Is it possible to say that, for instance, the Alekhine and Dutch Defences, and also the Volga (Benko) Gambit, are better than their reputations as dubious openings suggest?
I’m not sure that even one of those three openings has such a reputation. Twice having tried to find anything at all for White in games with Sasha (Alexander) Baburin in the Bunratty Open, I became so excited about the Alekhine Defence that I played it as Black against Grischuk in the semi-final of the ACP Cup in Odessa. The Volga Gambit always struck me as a perfectly correct opening – it’s just that there’s no more Romanticism or fight for a win there than in the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, if White knows what he’s doing. And the Dutch Defence also stands perfectly ok today, it seems to me – Nakamura plays it against the best of the best, and more often than not without any problems.
gambiteer: Hello, Peter! I’m 14 years old and my level is about 1900 Elo. I’m very interested in the Budapest Gambit and I’ve been playing it for a long time. It’s well-known that you often played it in your childhood, and I’d like to know your opinion on it (how much did it help you in your chess development, is it correct, to what level is it possible to play it, and what would you play against it yourself?).
I don’t think Black fully equalises in the Budapest, but it’s playable, or at least I only abandoned it after already having become an international master. For me the final straw was a game with Kramnik, where he played 4. e3 Nxe5 5. Nh3 and I realised that even against such an unassuming approach Black couldn’t fully resolve his opening problems. It’s hard to judge how much it helped my chess development – in my youth I played a lot of unassuming/half-correct openings, mainly in order to study less theory, and I suspect that such an approach didn’t work in my favour later on.
KidiK: Hello, Peter! I’ve got a few questions for you. I came to chess quite late and now I’m 22, Class B, but I want to improve my chess and understand what I need to work on first of all.
As you correctly said yourself, at that level a correctly structured opening repertoire isn’t a matter of the greatest importance, as people will play a great variety of junk against you. It seems to me that it’s very important to try and play as much as you can, if possible against opponents who are a little above your level, and then to analyse your play – with the help of a mentor or, if that’s not an option, then with a computer. As for books, I’d recommend good game collections with commentary, so that the first thing that comes to mind is the “black series” [Editor’s note: a popular series of Russian chess books entitled: “Outstanding chess players of the world”, published from 1969 onwards and featuring distinctive black covers].
Роман Ефимов: What do you think: after the moves 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. c4 – if Black plays 3…dxe4, and then tries to hang on to the pawn with 4. Nc3 f5, is Black better? Can he resist and convert the material advantage?
I’d play 4…Nf6 5. Bg5 Be7 and consider I was halfway there. After 4…f5 5. f3 c5 Black also shouldn’t be doing badly.
* mo: I’ve been longing in vain to see a sharp Najdorf game at top level. Any particular reason why the Sicilian doesn’t seem to be used these days?
Is Gashimov-Grishuk (there is more than one, actually, but Bursa 2010 comes to mind first) not high-level enough for you? But I agree, there has been less Najdorf at the top recently – mostly because of the gradual shift towards 1.d4, which, in turn, is a consequence of more and more people playing the Petroff. As I said earlier, I would very much like to see more Sicilians myself, although I am also partly to blame - I used to play the Najdorf reasonably regularly before... Let's hope (against hope) that it's all a fad.
Danny Olim: Hello Peter, I always enjoy playing over your games and also when you do commentary on other players’ games. Thank you for your efforts.
Hey Danny, how's it going? Would you still be able to do the 4 balls to 4 pockets trick shot at the 1st time of asking? As for the Grunfeld – at around 13-14 I made a decision that I needed a more stable opening repertoire for Black, and simply chose Kasparov's as a template. It has not always been easy – playing one opening almost exclusively makes you a somewhat immobile target, but I don't regret it. *
Zeppa: You’re one of the leading experts on the Grunfeld Defence.
The Grunfeld’s never been healthier than it is at present, and in the majority of problem lines Black can go for sharp forced variations which are almost guaranteed draws if you’ve looked at them very carefully with a computer – and can remember it all. I usually don’t go for such lines, so I don’t always equalise – but overall the opening’s prospects strike me as pretty rosy.
- What’s your opinion on the means of avoiding the Grunfeld with: 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nd5 5. e4 Nc3 6. bxc3 with the idea that on 6…Bg7 you play 7. Ba3, and on 6…c5 – 7. Bb5+ Bd7 8. Rb1 (or 8. a4).
If you’re going to do that then it’s probably better to play 5. e3 – in your line after 6…Bg7 7. Ba3 0-0 8. d4 Nd7 you get a position that’s known to theory and pretty harmless. But, objectively, after 5. e3 (Timman, for example, played that against me) Black has no problems as well.
Ceryi: What’s your opinion on the position from Black’s point of view after the moves: 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Bg7 7. Bc4 O-O 8. Ne2 c5 9. O-O Nc6 10. Be3 cxd4 11. cxd4 Na5 12. Bd3 b6
On 13. Rc1 I play 13…e6, and on 13. Qd2 – Bb7 I’d like to wish you further success in chess, and I’m grateful again in advance. (Sergey).
Thank you. If I’m not mixing anything up, then Yandemirov has been playing like that for many years, and not without success. Objectively, however, Black doesn’t fully equalise – have a look, for instance, at the game Beliavsky – Topalov 2008. Of course, the play there isn’t forced, but as an illustration of what Black might have to face in that line, that game’s entirely appropriate.
Maestrovaso: Running through the moves of the following game 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. g3 c6 5. Bg2 Ne4 6. O-O Be7 7. Ne5 Nd7 8. Bxe4 dxe4 9. Nc3 Nxe5 10. dxe5 Qc7 11. Qd4 f6 12. Bf4 f5 13. Rfd1 O-O 14. Qe3 b6 and getting to the position:
Which move comes into your head first? Thank you in advance for your reply. Respectfully, Andrey.
Igor Egin: How do you assess the position from White’s point of view after: 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 Be7 4.Bc4 d6 5.d4 g5 6.h4 g4 7.Bxf4 gxf3 8.Qf3? Thank you again.
The computer will no doubt laugh out loud, but going by human standards White has decent compensation. After giving it 30 seconds’ thought an awful lot depends on whether there’s something good against 7…Be6.
turas30: How should you start playing new openings? As it is I have problems with the black pieces, playing e5 against e4, and it’s easy for my opponents to prepare. I know myself how to get an edge for White in the Sicilian or Caro-Kann, so it’s hard to start studying them.
If you really do know how then please tell, as I’ve been struggling with it for many years now, and all in vain. Playing openings “against yourself” really is tricky – but if you have problems with your existing repertoire then you have to try it – something will no doubt fit.
* John Tobisch: Hi Peter, I was wondering what you think about the notion that current chess theory is developed to some extent around the chasing of bishops from the Caro-Kann Advance variation to the Slav lines to the Trompowsky to the Centre Counter. The use of the g-pawn by either black (in the French defence for example) and White seems so much more prominent than before.
That's a good observation in general, although I am not sure whether the desire to have bishops v knights is derived from the Caro-Kann. And yes, people use the g-pawn in the opening much more freely now than they did in the past, and for that we should probably thank the computers, which prove that there is a much bigger range of ideas available to us, and are unaffected by aesthetic notions passed on to us from previous generations (there was a coach in the Pioneer's Palace in Leningrad who would simply refuse to work with any pupil who moved the g-pawn two squares after castling short ) *
Роман Ефимов: Perhaps it’s not worth wasting a lot of time on the opening and it’s better to play according to “common sense”, sidestepping at move 7-8 in order to get little-studied positions and create at the board? After all, that will allow you to save a lot of energy and play more interesting chess, and your opponents can’t prepare for it… It seems to me that in the elite such an approach is most commonly used by Ivanchuk and Mamedyarov, and also Morozevich. You can improve your positional play and some other components. After all, it’s not through openings that you become World Champion (even in the 2000s). The question is about the approach to the game in general, and partially about you in particular.
It strikes me that you have a poor idea of the amount of work that Morozevich did at home in order to “get little-studied positions and create at the board”. As I already said above, it’s currently extremely difficult to avoid theory and not end up with an absolutely equal position as White (or a very bad position as Black), and for that you need to do about the same amount of work as you do studying "tabiyas" after the 20th move. It’s another matter that it’s much more interesting to look at fresh and untried positions.
You don’t become a World Champion through openings, of course, but with poor openings you won’t become one at all.
8. Different types of chess and other games
* Adolfo: Do you think that blitz talent reflects some “true side” of chess talent in general (leaving apart whatever – if even main - “dark side” it has)?
Good players tend to be good at blitz, and yes, it is possible to argue that blitz skill is an indication of “pure gift” (whatever that means) since there is much less emphasis on home preparation, opening knowledge and the rest of it. But the cases when someone is exceptionally good at blitz while being relatively mediocre at classical chess are very rare. One possible example of such a player would be the late Genrikh Chepukaitis, who in his prime could easily hold his own against World Champions (for those who don't know the name, see Genna Sosonko's article in NiC entitled 'Smart Chip'). *
phisey: Nowadays different tournaments apply a great number of different time controls. A complete lack of coordination.
Six or seven-hours with an increment from the first move onwards – I’ve never understood the point of controls with an increment from the 60th move.
- Which control is most acceptable for you personally?
I like classical controls, so the one mentioned above suits me perfectly.
* GangstaBoy: Does bullet help your chess? What about blitz?
Bullet doesn't. I am not the world's leading specialist on the subject, though – I’ve played a grand total of between 5 & 10 bullet games in my entire life. I love blitz, and it is very useful as a training tool, for instance to acquire some experience in new openings. *
Тактик: Who do you consider the strongest blitz player in the world?
It's hard to give one surname. The first that come to mind are Carlsen and Aronian, though Kramnik, Ivanchuk and Grischuk in good form are in no way inferior to them.
- Who do you think will win the Blitz World Championship which is just about to take place? Try to guess the top five.
I seem to have delayed my answer to this question But I’d definitely have named the 1st [Aronian] and 3rd [Carlsen] place prize winners in the five, though perhaps not in that order.
vasa: How would a blitz match finish between the current Peter Svidler and Jose Raul Capablanca in his best form? Please be honest and forthright.
I’d have an enormous edge in the opening. If you removed that component then I don’t know, to be honest. I am quite decent at blitz, so there’s no opponent against whom I’d be willing to write myself off in advance.
Gildar: You’re known as a strong internet blitz player. Against which players have you had the most interesting encounters online?
It’s already been many years since I played blitz online, but when I played my main opponent among well-known chess players was Morozevich. We played an awful lot of games on the ICC. I don’t know the overall score, but it wasn’t in my favour.
- Are you planning on playing in the famous “Vecherki” [Translator’s note: an annual blitz tournament organised by the “Vechernaya Moskva” newspaper], as your colleagues Morozevich, Karjakin, Jakovenko and Grischuk do?
I’ve played in the Vecherki before, and I’ll be happy to do so again, if it fits into my timetable.
Блаженный_Поэт: Isn’t it time that in order to avoid “draw death” we all switch to Fischer Chess?
Overall, it’s not time. There are still too many unresolved problems – for example, some positions are so equal even before the 1st move that the “draw death” of normal chess would seem like a pipe dream, while others are strongly skewed in favour of White. Therefore single round robin tournaments simply can’t be held, for example.
- What do you find it more interesting to play – normal chess or Fischer chess?
There’s still an enormous difference – we play Fischer chess largely for entertainment, even when there’s a title at stake, as there was in Mainz. Therefore the approach is completely different and you can allow yourself far more liberties. I’ve always liked playing the game and wouldn’t want to say anything bad about it. But it would be wrong to compare eight games a year in Fischer chess with playing classical chess continually.
Lehabey: Hello, Peter! - What would chess be like if pawns only moved one square forwards? Do you think such a game should seriously be considered?
No, I don’t think so – and in general I’m not an advocate of interfering with the rules.
- What’s your opinion of 960?
* Ken: What do you think of Fischer Random Chess (Chess960)?
I think it's a fun game, and I always enjoyed playing it. I would welcome more opportunities to play it, too - but I don't think it should (or eventually will) replace classical chess. *
Shlavik: You’re a good blitz player. Does that ability help you to take decisions quickly in time trouble in real life, and have you had such situations? After all, sometimes life provides much less time for considering and taking decisions, and the consequences are much more serious, than in blitz.
More likely the opposite – chess conditions you to try and calculate the consequences of this or that decision, and it’s very difficult to get away from that habit in real life. But life, in contrast to chess, is a game of incomplete information, and such calculations often do more harm than good.
Mustiz: Which logical games other than chess do you like?
I barely play anything else – in my childhood I tried Go, but due to the absence of anyone to play against my interest soon faded.
- Do you play computer games?
I try not to, because I really enjoy them and if I allowed myself then I can easily imagine myself as a level-80 elf. As it is I’m already very good at avoiding what I should be doing – why add gaming to that?
Valchess: How serious is your interest in poker?
Very – and in any case much more serious than my aptitude for it.
Красный Самопал: If you’ll allow me a question about billiards: What do you play exactly? American, 8-ball, 9-ball, Neva or something else?
I no longer play it at all anymore – after the birth of my children the idea of spending, as before, 5-6 hours a day on billiards struck me as a little absurd. When I played, I mainly played Moscow billiards. I played American billiards and pool less and worse, while in snooker I was absolutely useless – my technique lets me down. [Editor’s note: “American Pyramid, Moscow Pyramid, and Neva (or Petersburg) Pyramid are forms of so-called Russian billiards].
* Daniel: Have you ever been to the Crucible and what do you think of “Power Snooker”? Some people might call it a doom of tradition (which reminds me of all these discussions being held about blitz/rapid-chess).
I would love to, but the closest I've ever been to the Crucible is playing the 4NCL in Birmingham in 2001 during the O'Sullivan-Higgins final (it would be fair to say that I did not leave the room much there). Had to google Power Snooker to answer the 2nd question – I didn’t even know it existed. Sounds like an interesting variation, but I would much prefer to watch the original – for me, a 20-minute safety exchange is at least as interesting as a century break.
iLane: What do you think about implementing the poker prize money system (with obvious modifications) in chess? I think there would be more excitement and less draws. Boring draws and sponsor problems solved at the same time.
Not sure I quite understand you. Entry fees for everyone? A higher proportion of the field getting ITM? Much higher prizes for 1st and 2nd than for the rest? If it's the latter, it has been proposed before – and I think in non-KO events it encourages all kinds of collusion. And I am always wary of any ideas which aim to eliminate draws, as this is also fraught with danger. The draw is the natural and most likely outcome of a game between two players of similar skill – by creating a situation in which it is highly unprofitable for them, you're asking for trouble. I am very much in favour of Corsica/Sofia rules to ensure all games are played out to the end, but the obsession with lessening the amount of draws is somewhat unhealthy imo. *
vasa: Is cricket really interesting?
What sort of reply do you expect from a man who’s already into his second week of not sleeping due to the time difference with Australia? [Translator’s note – at 4am watching the cricket in Australia… - referring to The Ashes, a biannual contest between England and Australia that is the greatest rivalry in cricket.]
* SJ: Hi Peter, I have been your fan for a long time. I have heard that you are a Cricket fan and a Sachin Tendulkar fan. The question is:
It is a huge credit to Anand that the question even occurs to you – Sachin is a major deity to most of the population, as far as I can tell. After re-reading the question, I am now unsure if perhaps you're asking who is a bigger star outside of India. I think to non-hardcore fans both chess and cricket are somewhat difficult to comprehend, so that would be a harder question to answer. *
Блаженный_Поэт: There’s an opinion that marriage takes away N rating points from a player. How was it for you?
It was like that, and the opposite – in that order.
- Do family affairs help or hinder you in terms of achieving new chess successes?
Alexandro111: Would you want your children to become professional chess players, and why?
No, I wouldn’t wish it on them, though I wouldn’t get in the way if they were really keen and I saw that they had great aptitude for chess. As I said before, there are professions that are simpler and more reliable.
Valchess: Is it true that you’re an Anglophile? If yes, then what does that mean for you (except a love of cricket)?
I read much more in English than in Russian. I watch an awful lot of English, and English-language, cinema and TV. I really love London.
* Daniel: You seem to be quite anglophile. If so
Quite naturally, I am not sure I can trace it to any single event. I am a big Python fan, although if I had to name one episode, the 1st thing that comes to mind is not from MP themselves, but the 'Not the Nine O'Clock News' bit with the Monty Python Worshippers . From the Python canon I would probably have to choose Life of Brian.
Alex: Hi Peter, How did you learn to speak such good English? You speak better English than most of the people in the U.S. and I can’t even detect an accent. Thanks.
Practice makes pretty decent.
Voor: Do you think you may have been British in a former life?
Can't think of anything light-hearted to say, so I'll pass. *
Kit: Have you got time for hobbies? Which?
Mainly reading and the above-mentioned cricket. I don’t know to what degree my playing poker can be characterised as a hobby.
Блаженный поэт: How do you assess the cultural level of Russia?
Still high - but I’m not sure that I like the recent trends.
- Your opinion of poetry, your favourite poet?
I’m really not in the know about it. The idea of rereading the classics is one of my long-term projects. Among what I’ve read of late some things by Alexei Tsvetkov have made a great impression on me.
- Which book (of any type) made the very greatest impression on you?
I won’t even try to pick one. Any such list would be heavily skewed in favour of what I read last, but it’s unlikely that, for instance, the biography of Harold Larwood (which is in fact brilliantly written) will strike me as quite so important in another year or two.
Тактик: Hello, Peter! They say that you’re a literary expert. - Could you list your favourite authors?
Dostoevsky, Martin Amis, Paul Auster, Salinger, Philip K Dick, Vonnegut, Neal Stephenson – that list also changes depending on what I’ve been reading recently.
- What books have you enjoyed recently?
The above-mentioned Larwood biography is no doubt the best thing I’ve read in the last half year.
- I heard that one of your favourite literary authors is Terry Pratchett. Which of his works do you like most?
Small Gods, Interesting Times, Soul Music (that was my first, so it’s particular dear to me). Any book about Sam Vimes.
Нарицатель: And why, after all, is Tolstoy not a great writer?
I’m not sure I said such a thing – I said that he’s not my writer. Above all because of his (it seems to me) complete absence of self-irony – I don’t particularly like people who take themselves and their opinions so seriously.
Valchess: Your favourite films, TV series?
Breaking the Waves, In the Mood for Love, Casablanca, Usual Suspects — then I’d need to think about it.
Блаженный поэт: What’s your attitude to music as a whole, and what does it mean for you? Do you play any instrument(s)? What, in your view, do music and chess have in common?
My mother graduated from the Conservatory and is an Honoured Teacher of Russia, so that I grew up with music and that was precisely the main reason for my blunt refusal to study it. It’s very hard to listen to “Little sun, little sun, look in the window” [Editor’s note: Russian folk song for children] five times a week from the adjoining room and for it not to harden your soul. Of late I’ve listened to music less than in my youth, but even now having my favourite album in my earphones is a preferred means of recharging my batteries and getting over the blues. As for the link between music and chess, I don’t see any direct link but, it seems to me, a truly beautiful game is almost music.
- Do you go to concerts? If yes, then which?
Less often than I’d like. The last time I went was when Dylan came to St. Petersburg.
- Which musical work made the greatest impression on you?
I won’t try and name just one.
Vectorspace: Hello, Peter Veniaminovich! Could you tell us if you like classical music? If yes, then what? Thanks!
I like it, but I don’t understand anything about it, which makes it hard to answer the second question.
Mirzo: Hello, Peter. Do you listen to music during your preparation for a game/tournament?
Less now, than before. I clearly remember that for all of the second half of the 2001 World Championship in Moscow I only left for each game after listening to the song “День Рождения” (“Birthday”) by Leningrad. It was a long tournament…
vasa: Could you tell us whether you have chess-themed dreams?
During tournaments – constantly. But they’re not so much dreams as actual variations, and there’s no joy whatsoever in that.
phisey: Do you place bets with bookmakers?
It’s already quite a long time since I stopped.
Тактик: Do you like football? Which team do you support?
I like it, but less than cricket. Zenit, it goes without saying, and Arsenal (I supported Arsenal long before Arshavin transferred there).
Красный Самопал: Hello Peter.
I played against Igor Denisov, while the others only watched. Igor could definitely become at least a decent candidate master, if he wanted – considering that he hasn’t spent even an hour of his life systematically studying chess, his level of play truly amazed me.
- And, if it’s not a secret, what’s your attitude to alcohol? How do you wind down after difficult moments during games (life)?
In my “chess regime” I previously didn’t drink at all. Now I might drink a glass of wine or two during a tournament. In domestic conditions I also don’t drink much, although I try to maintain a standard gentleman’s selection at home – wine, whisky and cognac.
Kit: What’s your favourite cuisine, and alcohol?
I really like Eastern cuisine - in order of preference probably Thai, Indian, Japanese and Chinese. I don’t know Vietnamese, Indonesian and so on well enough to judge. But, in general, I’m omnivorous, and a good (Argentinian in particular) piece of meat satisfies me no less than Chicken Jalfrezi.
Gildar: Which corner of the World did you enjoy playing in most and where would you like to revisit?
In that respect I’m a dull person, as I feel most comfortable playing in Europe. As for places where I’d like to go again – the first to come to mind is the Faroe Islands. The landscape there is totally extraordinary.
Valchess: What do you think about contemporary Petersburg. Do you personally feel comfortable (happy) living there?
Of course not everything’s to my liking, but I feel absolutely comfortable in Petersburg.
* Alex: Why do you wear an earring? Isn’t it uncomfortable?
What started, in 1999, as an attempt to change my luck, is by now an essential part of how I see myself. I don't really know why, but I feel somewhat naked without it. And no, it's not uncomfortable at all – it's medical steel, and as such is completely hypo-allergenic. *
Valchess: Are you interested in politics and ideology? Would you associate yourself with the “liberals”, “conservatives” or “patriots”?
The quotation marks are very appropriate – at the moment, it seems to me, we [in Russia] don’t have one, or the other, or the third, and what those terms are normally used to describe doesn’t correspond to the label at all. As well as that I’ve also got views on things that vary greatly depending on the topic – from extremely liberal to, in terms of the current debate, conservative in the Slavophile tradition.
Экстремист: Which party did you vote for (if you voted at all) in the Russian elections in the 90s and 2000s?
I once voted for Yabloko, though that’s something I now shudder to recall. Three or four years ago I’d have been able to give a long and heart-felt speech about Grigory Alexeevich Yavlinsky, which today, fortunately, there’d be no need for whatsoever – such a politician no longer exists. I haven’t voted of late, as I don’t see who I could vote for.
- Which party are you planning to vote for (if you’re planning at all) next time?
- What’s your opinion of the following figures:
ab) Very negative. Even a phenomenally talented cannibal still remains for me, first and foremost, a cannibal.
Нарицатель: If chess hadn’t existed in your life, what would you have become – which profession or type of activity would you have chosen?
It’s hard to say. I know what I’d like to do, though less now than in the mid-90s when the idea first popped into my head – to translate fiction from English. Nowadays, however, they no longer employ 13-year-old schoolboys in the job, and there’s no urgent need for my services. Back then it was often possible to perfectly reconstruct the original when reading the translation, which usually isn’t a good sign.
Мастер Икс: Hello, Peter! Imagine that a Secret Tribunal has sentenced you to exile, but has given you a choice. You can be exiled (with the full status of an average citizen, documents, a modest amount of money that will last half a year etc.) to the Russia of
I’m torn between 1888 and 1958 – the other three options don’t appeal at all. I guess I’d go for 1958 – who knows, I might suddenly come across the right people and get the chance to listen to Cream or Jimi live?
Aksenoff: Peter, there’s a well-known story about how a chance travelling companion of Alexander Alekhine suggested they play chess, but was refused. He got upset, saying: “but you don’t know me at all!” To which Alekhine replied, “and there’s why”.
I think all things being equal I’d have done the same, though the opposite has also happened. Once, returning from Tilburg in the Amsterdam-Brussels train, Boris Abramovich [Gelfand] and I played a game each against a man who, during the course of a casual conversation, said that a) he was the trade, I think, ambassador of Quebec in Belgium and b) considered that an intelligent person (someone like, for example, him) would beat someone like Kasparov, because the latter wouldn’t be able to understand the motives of his actions at the board. We spent a long time trying to explain that he was wrong, then Borya got out a board and pieces and we switched from theory to practice. After that the conversation just seemed to die out all by itself.
Shlavik: I’ve been having an argument with some people over whether bluffing exists in chess as it does in poker? Or, as they suggested, semi-bluffing? Is there bluffing in chess? Have you ever bluffed, and did it happen in blitz or classical chess? (Because, as they tried to convince me, practically foaming at the mouth, it’s only possible in amateur chess, while in professional chess such a trick won’t work, though after all chess is played by people and psychology plays a big role. But if you look more closely, for example, at a piece sac – then you can have a quick sacrifice which is hard to calculate, where you can’t calculate everything, but the sac is asking to be made, as Tal said in a well-known game, and what follows won’t be clear, but you take that risk, consciously unsure if you’ve got a bad card in your hands, and what will come next, but it’s not a standard sacrifice and, specifically taking into account the psychological condition of your opponent and his character, you make the sacrifice!!).
Pure bluffing – probably not, while in my opinion semi-bluffing definitely does exist. It doesn’t happen in every game, but quite regularly you encounter situations, particularly in the opening, when you have to convince your opponent that you know more than he does, and that you’re going for a position because it’s good, and not because 15 minutes before the game you discovered a hole in the line you’d originally chosen. It’s true that that doesn’t work very well for me – people are very unwilling to believe that I know anything at all, and can you blame them?.. Well, and the situation you describe is perfectly recognisable – there are opponents against whom it’s more appropriate than against others to play half-correct sacrifices, as you know that given a choice such a player will prefer not to calculate variations.
* Russianchessfan: If you had to pick one player to represent earth in a chess game vs. aliens, which active player would it be? You can pick different active players for the white and black side, if you feel it necessary.
nigel: Meisner, in his book “Child prodigies: fulfilled and unfulfilled potential” writes that Steinitz claimed he could play chess remotely, using only the power of thought. Steinitz called it “head radio” and was ready to compete with the help of his super radio against God himself, moreover, even promising to offer a pawn handicap. What happened to it, that pawn? Was it white or black? How did the game end? Perhaps it’s precisely because of that result that we’ve got this hole bitte calamiti weer seein here? [Translator’s note: sic – the Russian question also ends with deliberately – one hopes! – altered orthography]
- In 1897 the Cambridge chess team was headed by Aleister Crowley. He turned out to be the only member of the team who lost. Explaining his failure, Crowley noted: “At first I wanted to win without having recourse to black magic, but then my position became difficult and I found myself in such serious time trouble that I didn’t have time for it”. Have people tried to act on you making use of certain forces? I don’t want to abuse your time anymore, so I’ll say farewell on that note, wishing you peace and freedom.
I think not – or at least I don’t know anything about it. From what I know of Crowley it strikes me as a logical conclusion that the citation you introduced above is an excellent example of dry English wit.
Бирюков Дмитрий: What’s your opinion on the ideas of the healer Anastasia? Do you consider the movement for a healthy way of life and pure ecology to be sectarianism (I don’t think there are any grounds for labelling it a sect) or do you understand these ideas in some way? Or you don’t agree, but you understand that every person has the right to their own way of life, to their own way of thinking? Including something like that?
I don’t have the slightest idea who that is. Of course, every person has the right to choose for themselves how they approach life – but I really don’t like it when people start to impose their own views on the people around them.
11. In conclusion…
Shlavik: Are you happy in your personal life, simply in human terms?
It’s always struck me that happiness is an extremely short-lived condition, a bright flash – and everything in life for an instant seems as it should be. So I can’t answer the question when it’s posed in such a form. But I’ve got no cause to complain about my life.
vasa: Did you find the questions posed interesting?
To be honest – more so than I expected.
End of Part 2
This conference was prepared by Valery Adzhiev (Valchess), Stanislav Fiseysky (phisey) and Colin McGourty (mishanp). The translation from English to Russian was by V. Adzhiev, and this translation from Russian to English was by C. McGourty with editorial assistance by V. Adzhiev. Vasily Lebedev (vasa) was responsible for the chess fragments.
KC-Conference with Peter Svidler: Part 2 - in Russian
KC-Conference with Peter Svidler: Part 1
Other KC-conferences in English:
KC-Conference with Alexei Shirov
KC-Conference with Alexander Grischuk
KC-Conference with Michal Krasenkow
KC-Conference with Alexander Khalifman: Part One
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