KC-Review of 2012 with Sergey Shipov


KC-Review of 2012 with Sergey Shipov

КС-Итоги 2012
A year ago we launched our new ‘KC-Review’ project. The pilot ‘KC-Review of 2011 with Sergey Shipov’ (in Russian) aroused great interest from chess fans (and even professionals). The project continued in early June, 2012 with the publication of the ‘KC-Review of the Anand-Gelfand 2012 World Championship match’ (in Russian).

And now Crestbook’s leading expert, Grandmaster Sergey Shipov, is answering questions from members of the KasparovChess forum about the sporting, creative, organisational and other aspects of 2012. Discussion of the resulting portrait of the year can be continued in a special thread on the KasparovChess forum.

Brief chronicle of the year

2012 was rich in chess events. Here’s a summary of the main ones.

Wijk aan Zee (the Netherlands), 14th to 29th January. Tournament A results: 1. Levon Aronian; 2-4. Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, Teimour Radjabov. The winner of the B Tournament was Pentala Harikrishna.

Gibraltar (England-Spain), 24th January to 2nd February. In the main Swiss tournament Nigel Short and World Champion Hou Yifan finished on an equal number of points. A playoff was held to determine first place and ended in a 1.5:0.5 victory for the English grandmaster.

Moscow, Russian State Social University (RSSU), 28th January to 5 February. Igor Lysyj won the traditional Moscow Open.

Moscow, “Cosmos” Hotel, 7th to 16th February. Poland’s Mateusz Bartel took first place at the traditional Aeroflot Open and thereby won the right to compete in the Dortmund 2012 supertournament.

Gaziantep (Turkey), 2nd to 19th March. The final standings of the Women’s European Championship were as follows: 1. Valentina Gunina – 8.5; 2. Tatiana Kosintseva – 8.5; 3. Anna Muzychuk – 8.5;
After the main tournament was over Women’s European Championships were held in Rapid (won by Tatiana Kosintseva) and Blitz (Valentina Gunina).

Plovdiv (Bulgaria), 20th to 31st March. The final standings of the European Men’s Championship were as follows. 1. Dmitry Jakovenko; 2-14. Fressinet, Malakhov, Andreikin, Inarkiev, Matlakov, Bologan, Vallejo, Krivoruchko, Azarov, Nayer, Akopian, Volokitin, Smeets.

Sochi, 9th to 15th April. The winners of the 2012 Russian Men’s Team Championship, a 7-round Swiss, were: 1. Tomsk-400; 2. St. Petersburg; 3. ShSM-64 (Moscow). The women’s tournament (a 7-team round-robin) finished: 1. Ladya (Kazan); 2. Yugra (Khanty-Mansiysk); 3. ShSM-RGSU.

Zurich (Switzerland), 21st to 28th April. A friendly match between Levon Aronian and Vladimir Kramnik was held on the eve of the World Championship match. Six games were played at the classical time control. Anti-draw rules were also in place: if a draw was agreed after less than three hours’ play the opponents had to play an additional rapid game, the outcome of which would have no influence on the outcome of the match. The final result was: 3-3 (a single additional game was played and won by Aronian).

Moscow, Tretyakov Gallery, 11th to 30th May 2012. The World Championship match was held between the champion Vishy Anand (India) and the challenger Boris Gelfand (Israel). The prize fund was 2,000,000 Euro, with the winner receiving 60% and the loser 40%. After the designated 12 classical games the score was level: 6-6. The grandmasters then played a tiebreak from which Anand emerged the 2.5-1.5 victor. He thus held onto his title and became a five-time World Champion.

Moscow, Pashkov House, 8th to 17th June. The seventh Tal Memorial was held with a 100,000 Euro prize fund. After a 10-player single round-robin the final standings were: 1. Magnus Carlsen; 2-3. Fabiano Caruana, Teimour Radjabov.

Astana (Kazakhstan), 2nd to 10th July. The Rapid and Blitz World Championships saw a Russian double. Sergey Karjakin became Rapid World Champion, while Alexandra Grischuk took the Blitz World Championship.

Dortmund (Germany), 13th to 22nd July. The supertournament celebrated its 40th edition with a 10-player round-robin. The final standings were as follows: 1. Fabiano Caruana; 2. Sergey Karjakin; 3. Ruslan Ponomariov.

Biel (Switzerland), 23rd July to 2nd August. The winner of the traditional chess tournament was decided using the “football” (3-point) system. Final standings: 1. Wang Hao; 2. Magnus Carlsen; 3-4. Anish Giri, Hikaru Nakamura.

Moscow, “Radisson Slavyanskaya” Hotel, 3rd to 13th August. The Men’s and Women’s Russian Championship Superfinals were both 10-player double round-robins. The men’s event ended: 1. Dmitry Andreikin, 2. Sergey Karjakin, 3. Peter Svidler. The final standings of the women’s event were: 1. Natalia Pogonina, 2. Valentina Gunina, 3. Nadezhda Kosintseva.

Istanbul (Turkey), 28th August to 9th September. The World Chess Olympiad was contested by both men and women in an 11-round Swiss featuring teams of four with one reserve. A record 162 countries took part. Olympiad results: Men: 1. Armenia, 2. Russia, 3. Ukraine. Women: 1. Russia, 2. China, 3. Ukraine.

London, 21st September to 3rd October. The first stage of the FIDE Grand Prix 2012-13 took place with 12 grandmasters competing in a single round-robin. Final standings: 1-3. Veselin Topalov, Boris Gelfand, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

Sao Paulo (Brazil) and Bilbao (Spain), 24th September to 13th October. The 2012 Grand Slam Final featured six grandmasters in a double round-robin using the 3-point system. Final standings: 1. Magnus Carlsen; 2. Fabiano Caruana; 3. Levon Aronian;

Eilat (Israel), 11th to 17th October. The European Team Club Championship saw 35 men’s teams compete (six boards) in a seven-round Swiss. In the women’s event eight teams (four boards) played in a round-robin. Final results: Men: 1. ‘SOCAR’ (Azerbaijan), 2. ‘St. Petersburg Chess Federation’ (Russia), 3. ‘ShSM-64’ (Russia). Women: 1. ‘Cercle d’Echecs’ (France); 2. ‘Mika’ (Armenia); 3. ‘Yugra’ (Russia).

Moscow, Russian State Social University International Centre of Chess Education, 30th October to 5th November. “Chess Hopes of Russia” held a match between Russian Champion Dmitry Andreikin and former European and Russian Champion Ian Nepomniachtchi. The result of the match was 3.5-2.5 in Andreikin’s favour.

Khanty-Mansiysk, 11th November to 2nd December. The Women’s World Championship featured 64 players in a knockout system. The mini-matches consisted of two games at the classical time control and tiebreaks if the score finished 1-1. Four games were played in the final between Antoaneta Stefanova and Anna Ushenina: 2-2. After winning the play-off 1.5-0.5 Anna Ushenina (Ukraine) became the 14th Women’s World Chess Champion. That means that next year we can look forward to an Ushenina – Hou Yifan World Championship match.

Tashkent (Uzbekistan), 22nd November to 4th December 2012. The second stage of the 2012-2013 FIDE Grand Prix was held with 12 grandmasters playing in a single round-robin. Final standings: 1-3. Sergey Karjakin, Wang Hao, Alexander Morozevich.

London, 1st to 10th December. The 4th London Chess Classic round-robin tournament was held. Final standings: 1. Magnus Carlsen 2. Vladimir Kramnik. 3-4 Michael Adams, Hikaru Nakamura.

Beijing (China), 12th to 19th December. The World Mind Games were held, with 16 players competing in each men’s and women’s tournament. The Rapid tournaments were won by Laurent Fressinet and Kateryna Lahno, the Blitz by Sergey Karjakin and Alexandra Kosteniuk and the Blindfold by Levon Aronian and Hou Yifan.

In 2012 we lost, among others, the wonderful Russian grandmaster and trainer Yury Sergeyevich Razuvaev, the Russian Grandmaster Andrey Kharitonov, the former candidate for the World Championship Grandmaster Svetozar Gligoric, Grandmaster Dmitry Chuprov and the American and formerly Soviet chess player Grandmaster Elena Akhmylovskaya.

Nominations of the year

Sergey Shipov: Answering these questions demands such fundamental and wide-ranging work that… perhaps I’ll limit myself to personal impressions and talk only about what stuck in my memory. I make no claims whatsoever to encompassing the year as a whole.

- Absolutely the best game of the year?

Absolutely the best game of the year?

The term “absolutely the best” is so proud and inflated that I couldn’t come up with such a game.

Overall 2012 wasn’t a year of impressive chess content. Or else I’ve lost my previous impressionability…

- The best combinations of the year?

Dividing games into combinational and positional ones is very arbitrary, but here goes…
The only truly memorable combinational effort was:

Volokitin – Mamedyarov, Istanbul 2012.

The others were on a lower level. And there were too many of them.

- The best positional games of the year?

It’s hard to single out leaders in that area. There’s a wide choice. Here are five I recall:

Giri – Aronian, Wijk aan Zee 2012,
Gustafsson – Kramnik, Dortmund 2012,
Karjakin – Caruana, Sao Paulo 2012,
Nakamura – Kramnik, Istanbul 2012,
Giri – Aronian, Istanbul 2012.

- Novelties of the year?

It’s hard to rank all those microscopic improvements on something that’s long since been improved.

I’ll note Anand’s novelties in the title match – in the second and sixth games.

Kramnik had a good novelty with 13.Bg2 in his game against Grischuk at the Tal Memorial:

I’ll also note Kramnik’s novelty 10.h3 in combination with 11.Qf3 в in his game against Aronian at the Tal Memorial,

and also his novelty 13..a5 in the game against Gustafsson in Dortmund…

In general, all Kramnik’s novelties!

- The best endgames of the year?

Carlsen – Caruana, Bilbao 2012 (clean and methodical work), and McShane – Aronian, London 2012 (fine chaos on the board and an unusual material balance).

- Draw of the year?

The draw in the rapid playoff game of the Anand – Gelfand match when Boris failed to win a won rook ending after playing the terrible move Rh8-h7???

- Move of the year?

Nakamura’s knight jump to b1 against Kramnik at the Olympiad in Istanbul.

A weak move, more likely than not, but it led to a strong result!

Overall, the tendency is for us to take beautiful winning moves in our stride – we’re used to them. But apparently ugly yet effective moves still make an impression.

- “Blunder” of the year?

That took place in the encounter between Georg Meier and Vladimir Akopian at the Olympiad.


- “Discovery of the year” (in the opening) – what’s been introduced into practice this year?

A few deviations from mainline theory have entered into use, but there’s nothing fundamentally new about them. However much you hunt for bright flowers in a scorched desert you won’t find any. What can be new in the opening? Only something old that’s been well-forgotten.

- “Closure of the year” – the most significant theoretical result putting an end to an important opening branch?

I recall another lethal game by Kramnik in the Taimanov Variation of the King’s Indian – against Grischuk at the Tal Memorial. It seems as though Black’s classic plan with 9…Nh5 has conclusively been shown to be dubious. Radjabov attempted to reanimate it in his encounter with Wojtaszek at the Olympiad, but without success. Black is now looking for workarounds: 9…c6, 9…a5 and lord knows what else.

However, an end has been put to the whole Taimanov Variation more than once before, only for it later to be resurrected. Perhaps the same will happen this time as well. The coming year will tell.

Тянь-Викунтяу: Which, in your opinion, was the most “unusual” or “strange” game of the past year?

The terms “strange” and “unusual” can be interpreted in various ways… But if you please.

The eighth game of the Anand – Gelfand match.

17.Qf2, and Black resigned!

For historic title matches such a crushing miniature is a great rarity. I recall Alekhine rapidly beating Euwe in the Slav Defence… and nothing else comes to mind.

WinPooh: Engine of the year? (there aren’t many options here, but nevertheless.)

Houdini, of course – a curious program. It’s rare to see new versions of top programs that are in some ways weaker than their predecessors. Many people (and I’m no exception) felt that version 2.0 that appeared a year ago was weaker for analysis than version 1.5a.

Now version 3.0 has been released. I can’t say I’ve studied it seriously, but again there are worrying signs. On the one hand, the program solves some test positions which the previous versions couldn’t handle. But on the other – it sometimes suggests moves that make the mind boggle! In general, it still isn’t quite possible to retire the old, reliable version 1.5.

Well, and other programs have practically fallen out of use – they’re clearly weaker than Houdini.

- Official of the year?

The right to that illustrious title can be claimed by the people who actually run FIDE now that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has distanced himself from its affairs i.e. Makropoulos, Yazici and so on.

- Trainer of the year? Children’s trainer?

The answer to both questions is: Vladimir Belov. Sasha (Aleksandra) Goryachkina is just the tip of the iceberg of his work…

- The young male and female chess players of the year?

I’ve followed our guys most closely, so my choice is as follows… Vladislav Artemiev (if Dubov can no longer be considered young) and Aleksandra Goryachkina.

- Chess player(s) revelation of the year. At the very top no doubt Caruana, but what about promising youngsters?

Yes, Caruana’s been a pleasant surprise.

Among the young I’d also note the leap made by Andreikin. He’s capable of a lot.

Among the still younger I don’t yet see any new “Ks” or “As”. From the point of view of great title ambitions the rising generation has conducted itself extremely modestly. Probably it’s… they’re skilfully concealing themselves and building up for a breakthrough.

- Female revelation of the year?

Anna Ushenina.

- Miss Chess 2012?

Ju Wenjun. Or rather, Yushechka!

- Mister Chess 2012?

Magnus Carlsen, no matter how trite that sounds.

- Chess publication of the year? Interview?

The interview with Spassky at WhyChess. It may not have been about chess at all, but anything that happens to the World Champions – and Boris Vasilievich is now the oldest member of that guild – is of significance and interest for chess players.

- Chess site of the year?

It’s not for me to judge. You have to look at the question with the eyes of a reader – while your humble servant is a writer.

However, to be perfectly honest… The chess internet is still weak and sparce. It’s growing, but it’s still far from any standards of beauty. So it’s a little early to look for a Miss World among the young girls. Let them grow up a little.

- Chess journalist of the year?

There are so few of them that… Well ok, if you insist.

The best was Dmitry Kryakvin – I hope he won’t be offended to be identified as such (for instance, I don’t consider myself one iota a journalist). His articles at russiachess.org this year were interesting and of a very high quality. I didn’t miss a single one and I always read them with interest.

Keep it up, Dima! Please write more often.

Gorodnichii: Chess book of the year?

The second volume of “Kasparov on Kasparov”.

- Chess photo of the year? (I’d vote for the photograph of Ian where he’s hugging Shakh at the Olympiad )

I also took notice of sadder photographs. I was particularly struck by this one from WhyChess:

- Tournament of the year?

The 2012 Olympiad. It had intensity, emotions and a striking cast – it’ll be remembered for a long time to come.

Блаженный_Поэт: Disappointment of the year?

Anand. By a large margin.

- Sensation of the year?

Caruana’s victories in games against the world’s best players and his dramatic leap on the rating list. I must confess I didn’t expect it.

- Sad event of the year?

The passing of Elena Akhmylovskaya.

- Scandal of the year?

I’m not an expert in the genre. I didn’t follow scandals and how they developed, so I might have missed something. Let others be the judge of them. To each his own.

- Oddity of the year?

The return of the toilet theme in the struggle against cheating. The proposal to reduce toilet visits to a minimum. Extremists have already hit upon the idea of nappies!

I can’t treat that as anything other than an oddity.

- Chess-related event of the year?

The detective story surrounding Spassky’s move from Paris to Moscow and his confinement.

People of 2012

Valchess: Nominees for the 2012 Chess Oscar?

Carlsen, Kramnik, Caruana, Karjakin… unfortunately there aren’t enough “K” players for ten, so I’ll have to dilute them – Aronian, Gelfand, Mamedyarov, Grischuk, Radjabov, Andreikin and Wang Hao.

Who could be left out? I’m not sure yet, as it needs some thought. There’s still time until the official survey by “64”.

Аван, Valchess: How do you rate the 2012 performance of the following elite players:

- Kramnik

Vladimir was impressive. His play featured energy, a will to win, drive and aggression. In any case, the ex-World Champion looked convincing in the year’s most important individual tournaments. I think he has chances in the upcoming Candidates Tournament. If Carlsen takes his foot of the gas, then…

- Morozevich

Sasha is still strong and colourful but, as before, he’s also unstable. His sudden departure from Biel and his not taking part in the Olympiad were a great disappointment. Such health problems when he’s in his prime are a real misfortune. All that remains is to wish Sasha can overcome his ailments and make a full return to chess.

- Aronian

The Armenian leader was himself. His results could also have been better. I consider Levon’s lack of success in London well-timed and, however strange it sounds, a necessary setback. The rise of the Armenian grandmaster will take place at the key moment – in the Candidates Tournament.

- Mamedyarov

Shakhriyar did well this year. He’s become more solid, reliable and, I’d even go so far as to say, more mature. Shakhriyar has eliminated some previous flaws e.g. he’s learned to control his emotions and play more solidly in the opening. Given he still has the great energy of youth he’s become a top-class player, capable of tackling the very highest summits.

- Nakamura

Hikaru has found his place among the elite – he’s no longer winning supertournaments, but he’s remained himself: a bold, aggressive, impetuous player, a danger to all without exception. Everyone was of course stunned by his game against Kramnik at the Olympiad. The knight going to b1, promoting his pawn to a knight and so on.

On the other hand, for me personally it’s become clear that he’s not fated to rise higher and fight for the title.

- Radjabov

Teimour remains a dark horse for the title. Unfortunately Teimour has only rarely demonstrated his real strength. We can assume he’s been building up … for you know what.

- Grischuk

Sasha confirmed his class, but no more. Overall it was an unsuccessful year for him. The next one will be better.

- Karjakin

Sergey continues to make progress. Slowly, but surely. That he’s signed a contract with the financial company “Alpari” is gratifying. It’s nice that one of our promising players has reliable support. And I like the slogan about returning the chess crown to Russia… It’s just a pity Sergey won’t play in London. I’m sure he wouldn’t have let us down.

- Svidler

It ended up being an unsuccessful year for the multiple Russian Champion. He played without his previous drive and there were no moments of inspiration or divine intervention. However, it would clearly be premature to write Peter off.

His omission from the Russian team was a blatant injustice. That decision was taken at a moment when Svidler was still the reigning Russian Champion and the World Cup holder. Just think about it: someone’s earned the right to play in the Candidates Tournament and he doesn’t make it into the Olympiad five?? Something like that is only possible in Russia. Even in the Soviet Union, a country much stronger in chess terms, they wouldn’t have acted like that.

I know being left out of the team was a big blow for Peter. I hope he’ll get over his current setbacks and misfortunes and return to his previous form.

It’s high time – London awaits.

- Topalov

For the moment there’s nothing to be said about Veselin. His success in London is just a confirmation of Topalov’s high chess class, but no-one had any doubts about that. Overall, however, the ex-World Champion clearly isn’t yet the same person he was five-seven years ago. He needs to recharge his batteries.

- Caruana

Fabiano proved that patience and hard work can work wonders. The guy’s made fantastic strides forward! His talent isn’t as vivid as Carlsen’s or, for instance, Nepomniachtchi’s, but on the other hand Caruana has the right attitude. Fabiano does the work of three and has been handsomely rewarded.

- Wang Hao

Wang Hao’s successes (it’s enough to mention the triumph in Biel alone) have destroyed the myth of the lack of promise of the Chinese men, although they’ve still got a long way to go (in terms of titles and their place in the hierarchy) to catch up with their women.

- Giri

Anishik is building up small positional advantages for a new decisive combination, which he might launch in the very near future. The results of young talents can’t rise monotonously and smoothly. There are always some pauses after dramatic leaps forward. But those “leaps” are only on tournament leaderboards. Internally a chess player is always changing. If he puts in the work, of course.

So far Giri has appeared in the role of co-author in games against Aronian and is learning from personal encounters with the greats. But the time will come when he’ll become the author. Just wait and see…

аван: How do you rate Carlsen’s performance in 2012?
Gevorg: Towards the end of the year Kasparov’s record was broken. I’m interested in your opinion on how Magnus’ current rating compares to Kasparov’s historical rating.
Camon14: When the topic turns to Carlsen I’d like to hear what weak points there are in his play (if there are such), if you exclude his openings, where he’s often a little weak for a player at such a level.

Jan Peter Lymau VG

My reply’s hardly going to be original: Carlsen has already been the world’s best player for a few years now. His leadership has become clear and undeniable. Magnus is made to dominate! The lacklustre performance of the official World Champion casts a favourable light on the Norwegian’s merits. The contrast between Anand and Carlsen is now so great that it’s impossible not to question the World Championship system… with your permission I’ll continue that theme a little later, when talking about Anand.

Carlsen’s current rating achievements really are comparable to Kasparov’s peak, despite the significant rating inflation. Yes, the gap between Kasparov and the elite of his own day was greater, but at the time there weren’t as many strong programs to help with preparation as there are nowadays. The computer, like the Colt in the Wild West, has levelled the strength of the rivals. In our day it’s become harder to break clear of your pursuers.

That makes Carlsen’s achievements all the more impressive. He’s Kasparov’s heir – not Kramnik, Topalov or Anand – because he’s managed to become not simply the first among equals, but objectively and unquestionably the best.

All that’s left is a trifle – winning the title. Otherwise years from now Magnus’ current achievements will be almost forgotten.

Incidentally, I don’t consider Carlsen weak in the opening. It’s simply that instead of following the fashionable lines he seeks out his own paths. He skilfully chooses systems that come as a surprise to his opponents. Everyone has their own style. Their own strategy. Their own approach.

I really don’t see any weaknesses in the Norwegian’s play. He’s absolutely universal. The current Carlsen is the Spassky of the 60s, reinforced with all the chess knowledge accumulated over the last half century.

What’s going on, in your opinion, with Anand? Before he was World Champion his play was much more interesting. Having won the title for the nth time he’s simply started to “get by” in tournaments, perhaps considering that he’s already shown everyone everything.
- Do you think the same will happen with Carlsen when he finally wins the World Championship title?


Anand’s now already a pensioner. He’s holding on at the top on account of the fine work done by his close-knit team, which maintains his opening preparation at a World Championship level. In the other components of his game Vishy’s suffered a sharp decline. He’s displaying neither energy nor a desire to fight. And, you won’t believe it, but I understand him! Take a look at it from a practical point of view. Why should Anand strain himself in the current circumstances? Why?

In terms of greatness and his historical legacy Vishy has achieved the maximum he could. He’s become champion in all possible formats for holding the World Championship – knockouts, tournaments and matches. Why should he continue to strain himself, apart from money?

He receives the appearance fees befitting a World Champion in each tournament and the prizes there are too insignificant, especially if you compare them with the money for a title match.

So Anand’s behaviour is extremely economical and practical not just at the board but also in life. His task is to maintain his rating within reasonable bounds, lose rarely and save his energy for new matches. Of course he’s thereby discrediting the very title of World Champion, but that’s not his fault alone.

The current World Championship system is a clear anachronism! Ponder the following fact: Anand can stay World Champion indefinitely without even winning a game. Even for a few cycles in a row.

Tournament results have no significance from the point of view of status. The champion can make almost all draws, losing a game or two from time to time. And in the title match he needs to tie the classical games (as happened this year in Moscow), then hold out to Armageddon and pick Black. Another draw and it’s in the bag! Or else you can get lucky and win an absolutely drawn endgame in rapid chess, as happened in Moscow.

Can you imagine something similar in other sports – in these dynamic times when the principles of qualification and the necessity of winning regularly have firmly taken root? For instance, in football it’s not just that the reigning champions don’t get to play a final against the challenger – they only get into the championship itself as a result of qualification, on equal terms with the rest. No privileges whatsoever! And in order to defend the title the champions have to go through a long process with a lot of wins.

Ideally that’s how it should be in chess as well. Or, at the very least, the champion’s privileges should be seriously reduced, with the system itself forcing him to demonstrate genuine World Championship play. And you know what the easiest way of doing that is…

Say what you like about traditions, but you can’t keep using an axe to shave…

As for Carlsen’s potential behaviour if he gains the title, for the moment that’s dividing up the hide of a bear before it’s been killed. And it’s not a question of individuals. We need a system that stimulates an actively playing and winning champion, and not a lazy guy resting on his laurels. Almost nothing should depend on the human qualities and style of the champion. Otherwise you’ll periodically get unpleasant situations like the one just now.

Update of 15/01/2013:
The way the tournament in Wijk has gone suggests that this year Anand has decided to return to chess - his victories over Caruana and Aronian were impressive. True, the latter merely confirmed my hypothesis about Vishy being kept afloat by powerful opening preparation. But he beat Fabiano over the board, in an unaided struggle. All in all, well done! The lion hadn't died, he'd simply lain down to rest.

Ruslan99: Good time of day to you! Overall is it possible to consider this year a successful one for Ukrainian grandmasters in individual tournaments? Who’s currently the strongest, Ivanchuk or Ponomariov?

David Llada

The Ukrainian men have gallantly receded into the shadows, leaving the limelight for Anna Ushenina. And who’s stronger there in the shadows – that’s unknown. I’ll note the progress of Volokitin and Korobov. It seems the battle for the leadership in Ukraine is about to heat up.

аван: How do you rate Ivanchuk’s performance in 2012?

Ivanchuk can’t be judged by normal standards. It was a lean year for him, but genius is something you just can’t hide. At times Vassily played brilliantly. And all his local failures in 2012 will, perhaps, be forgotten in London…

vasa: - Why isn’t Kramnik playing in Wijk?

It’s obvious. The upcoming Candidates Tournament is of paramount importance – and it’ll probably be Vladimir’s last chance to ascend to the throne once more. He needs to store up energy and opening ideas.

Kramnik had a successful end to the current year, reached number two on the rating list and demonstrated the strength of a hero. Now he’ll eat well, train his swordsmanship in a Parisian court and mull things over…

Valchess: It seems Dmitry Andreikin won almost all the main Russian tournaments in 2012. How did he do it and was it merited?


Dima overcame his growing pains, ceased to get carried away as he did after his childhood victories, matured and became more solid and reliable. He got down to work and clearly upped his game. That’s what they mean about marrying in time and well! I recommend it to everyone.

Andreikin has had a good chess education, has great talent and is brimming with energy. The moment Dima finds the right trainer and does some deep analysis in the opening – he’ll become a danger to all without exception.

Valchess: The impression this year was that Dmitry Jakovenko has got his second wind. So the same question: how did he do it and was it merited?

It’s a classic second youth. When his initial achievements in adult chess were behind him Dima suffered a crisis. He hadn’t managed to reach the sky, his opponents started to treat him more seriously and the ambitions of the Nizhnevartovskian came into conflict with reality. Fortunately, however, he didn’t lose heart and continued to work – painstakingly and methodically. The result is that a few years later he’s risen again. And it’s absolutely merited.

Such top class players as Jakovenko are a reliable backup for the Russian team. No other country in the world has comparable players in reserve.

Will he start to play a leading role in Russia? He’s got a chance. Those over 30 will soon start to weaken and Jakovenko and Grischuk will be the main guys in the team. But can they hold off the challenge of the youngsters – that remains to be seen.

dmitry_t: A few words about Dubov and Nepomniachtchi, please.


Danya is growing slowly but surely. Slower than I’d like, but that’s how it’s gone. His path has been that of a worker bee, but that’s by no means intended as an insult. For instance, that was the path the great Alekhine followed. The only thing is that following it to the end, to the very top of world chess, is something very few manage.

As far as I’m aware before his success in Tyumen and qualifying for the Russian Superfinal some specialists were sceptical about Dubov’s chances. I hope that by the end of the summer they’d somewhat altered their opinion.

In everyday life, meanwhile, Danya hasn’t changed at all after his summer success. He still gets no financial support: either to travel to tournaments outside Moscow or to work with trainers. The Russian Chess Federation training camps near Moscow twice a year change absolutely nothing. Regular, systematic work weekly, or better daily, and a sensible tournament schedule – that’s the only way you can turn a promising young player into a champion. Therefore all the talk in the corridors and offices of the RCF about support for our young talents is currently all still just good intentions. For now there’s clearly a lack of work being done in that regard, a lack of concrete actions and direct financial support.

By the way, at the Trainers’ Council that took place on the 18th December we discussed such problems. Hopefully things will get moving next year.

But for now Danya is mainly working independently, though fortunately he’s capable of doing that. And I help him out over Skype as far as I’m capable. I make adjustments to his opening course and set tasks for him. In January we’re travelling to Wijk aan Zee. He’ll play in the B Tournament, for which they’ve put together a solid line-up.

We’ll see the world and try to show what we’re made of.

For Nepomniachtchi, given his talent and ambition, the current year has turned out to be a total failure. However, you might say he’s taken something of a break. Ian is working on chess – that’s the main thing. I’m sure his climb will recommence next year. Nepomniachtchi is simply obliged to post better results, return to the team, win tournaments and so on. There’s no other option.

vasa: What’s the point of Nepomniachtchi seconding Carlsen?
Challenger Spy: Does the fact that Nepomniachtchi agreed to help Carlsen mean that Ian isn’t intending (in future) to compete with Magnus for the World Championship title?

The point of seconding is… seconding! Above all, that’s helping with the opening search and preparing for particular opponents and games. And what’s also very important in the given case is close-knit support in all aspects of tournaments. Magnus has been a lone wolf since childhood and it’s hard for him to get on with people. The fact that he’s become friends with Ian is good for them both.

Chess history has no lack of episodes where young players helped chess players who were stronger at that moment in time and derived a lot of benefits from the cooperation. A clear example is Kramnik’s work in Kasparov’s camp in the 90s. And who’s going to say that Volodya didn’t fight for the title after that?

So the path to the top isn’t blocked off for Nepomniachtchi. Just now he helped Carlsen to break Kasparov’s record, then he’ll help him to become World Champion. What comes after that – let’s wait and see.

Valchess: Could you characterise the performances of the leading female chess players. Who impressed? Who disappointed?


Despite her failure at the World Championship Hou Yifan made a very good impression. Her huge success at the tournament in Gibraltar was a real breakthrough. The fact that Fanechka finished above the great Judit Polgar and won their individual encounter says a lot. There’s no longer the previous chasm between Judit and the remaining women that there once was. There’s just a gap, which in principle can realistically be overcome.

In Russian chess it was good to see Valya Gunina doing well. After starting to take chess seriously and tightening up her openings she’s become a mature player.

I’m also glad for Natasha Pogonina. Winning the Superfinal is a great achievement.

Well, and of course I can only praise Anna Ushenina. That Cinderella of the chess world became a queen. Such a transformation is heart-warming and provides an example for all young female chess players who don’t have ideal… simply good conditions for working on their chess.

It’s been experimentally proven that you can in fact achieve World Championship heights without big money and powerful coaching support. Give it a go, girls – don’t be afraid!

I didn’t suffer any disappointments with women’s chess. Not all of the female players can win at once. Those who performed modestly this year will still go on to show what they’re made of.

vasa: I recall sometime back in 1985-86 (or perhaps earlier) I was a witness to the following conversation in the Rostov-on-Don Chess Club (on Chekhova 33)… A coach from Krasnodar was talking to my mentor and said there’s a boy called Volodya Kramnik who’s soon going to play in a manner that will make people sit up and take notice… Are there any such talents among the current crop of young chess players? Otherwise it seems as though there’s currently no-one to knock Magnus off the throne he’s inevitably going to ascend to in the very near future…

It’s still not a certainty that Magnus will ascend to the throne in the near future. As I already said, that’s dividing up the hide of a living bear. Yes, the Norwegian is objectively one of the best and, perhaps, the best hunter – but let him prove that in the official championship.

Among young Russians I don’t currently see any stars of the level of Kramnik and Carlsen, but there are talented guys. This year I was impressed by Vlad Artemiev. His elders have stalled a bit, and they’re running out of time to make something of their talent.

Tournaments in 2012

MS: How did the past year change the situation in the struggle for the title?

The situation is now clear. There’s an ageing, weakening champion and a lot of sharp, energetic challengers. Almost any winner of the upcoming Candidates Tournament (perhaps with the exception of Gelfand) will become the clear favourite for the future title match. With all due respect to Anand.

Valchess: A lot’s been written about the Anand-Gelfand World Championship match (including here at Crestbook). But nevertheless: half a year has passed and impressions have settled. What are the main conclusions? What will the “historical” chess memory retain from that match?

It’s hard to recall a more lacklustre match for the title, and it’s unlikely absence, or the distance from the match, will have made the heart grow any fonder. The conclusion is simple: fortune smiled on the champion and he managed to extend his stay at the top for another term, although he didn’t deserve it. The challenger made a good impression, but the gods deserted him.

Of course the opening conclusions to be drawn from the match were also important for many, but from a historical point of view that’s not a lot…

Тянь-Викунтяу: Did Ushenina’s victory in the Women’s World Championship come as a surprise to you?
vasa: Should we entice the new Women’s World Champion Anna Ushenina to Russia, as she’s clearly undervalued in Ukraine?

Yes, Ushenina’s victory at the WCh was somewhat unexpected. I’m not sure she’d have made the Top 10 if you’d asked me about the potential winners before the start. On the other hand, specialists knew perfectly well that Anna is a top class chess player. Her current rating clearly doesn’t correspond to her level of play. It’s simply that she’d got a little stuck in the role of a promising and talented player. She was simply unable to fulfil her obvious potential. And now the dam’s burst!

Should we lure Anna to Russia? If she wanted to switch then I think our capitals would support her and help her to settle down. But I don’t see any particular point in enticing champions. We need to help our own girls develop and not rely on ready-made players.

Al: In your opinion what was missing for Fenichka (Hou Yifan) to retain her World Championship title?

What did you say? Fenichka? As far as I know no-one’s yet called her that. Although there’s something to it…

But what was lacking for the Chinese player was simply health. She caught a cold at the wrong time. However, even ideal health and good preparation are no guarantee in a knockout. The element of chance is always very high.

Paavel: Hello, Sergey. Do you think the system for deciding the Women’s WCh is objective?
аван: What do you think about the last Women’s World Championship? Is the system optimal? Was the result fair?

First about fairness. Ushenina’s victory was merited and fair but it would have been just as fair if a dozen other players had won.

As for the system, in my opinion it’s optimal for a Cup but not for the World Championship. The title of Women’s World Champion should ideally be more substantial and solid. You can come up with a lot of systems, but in view of the absence of a long line of sponsors and organisers serious transformations are impossible for now.

It seems to me that the current situation can fundamentally be improved by one replacement and one renaming. Without any additional cash infusions.

I’ve long since been in favour of match tournaments as the best format for the final of the World Championship. We were usually talking about the “absolute” men’s title. I see no reason why a match tournament (instead of a match between the champion and the challenger) should be bad for women.

And the principles for selecting the players are obvious.

Firstly, the average rating for the last couple of years – that’s two or three players, including a personal invitation for Judit Polgar, perhaps accompanied by a decent individual appearance fee due to the exceptional nature of the event.

Secondly, the winners of the FIDE Grand Prix system of tournaments – two or three girls.

Thirdly, the finalists of the new World Cup – of course the world knockout tournaments should be continued, just with another name, as has been done in men’s chess.

Plus the reigning champion – those eight players will play a double round robin final tournament in which a fully-fledged and absolute Women’s World Champion will be determined.

Of course the exact formula can be varied and modified. For instance, instead of eight players in two rounds you could have a tournament of six – in four rounds.

One thing’s clear – reforms are overdue.

phisey: What’s your opinion on introducing ratings for blitz and rapid chess?

I can’t see any drawbacks! It’s even beneficial. For instance, all internet chess servers have a rating system and it’s been established that it’s a great incentive for people to play. It gives you a benchmark, allows you to grasp the hierarchy and raises the interest in each game. I think introducing official ratings for rapid and blitz chess will boost tournaments. With a proper professional approach there should be no problem rapidly calculating and updating the rating lists in our computer age.

Valchess: 2012 saw official bodies pay greater attention to non-classical forms of chess – besides introducing official ratings it’s possible in particular to note the holding of Rapid and Blitz World Championships in Astana (although the Amber Tournament came to an end). Is that good for chess as a whole?

Of course it’s good. After all, chess isn’t only classical chess. You can’t impose narrow bounds on this ancient game. It’s a living entity and develops and reacts to changes in the outside world.

What’s important, though, is to spread those tournaments sensibly around the calendar and devise a democratic qualifying system – so that such championships will draw mass attention and won’t just be private events for invited stars.

The rapid forms of chess are very useful for widening players’ opportunities. For example, many chess players both young and old, many people who are very busy in everyday life, are unable to mount a real fight for titles and monetary prizes in serious chess. In the rapid forms, however, they’re perfectly capable of hitting form and competing with the greats. They need to be given a chance.

In general it’s a good way of drawing thousands of new players into chess life. The fact that Russia has now started to hold stages of the Rapid Cup is a step in the right direction.

- How effective was the supertournament structure in 2012? Which events were memorable? Don’t you have the impression that the elite played too much? And what about women?

After the disappearance of Linares and Amber, after the Tal Memorial switching from autumn to summer and the tournament in Bazna moving back from summer to autumn, there’s no way you can talk about a structure. It was more a ragbag group of survivors!

And I wouldn’t say the elite played too much. Many Russian and foreign 2700 players were left sitting around for half a year without tournaments. And why talk about 2700 players! Where, tell me where, should Carlsen have played from the end of January until June? At Aeroflot and the Moscow Open? There was a record low number of tournaments of the very highest level in the first half of the year. Later though, approaching autumn, they started to overlap.

Our calendar is still unstable and unevenly balanced. That’s very bad for the development of chess as a sport.

And when it comes to women – this has long since become a consistent trend – things are even worse than for men. For the chosen few there are the FIDE Grand Prix tournaments. The rest, including future World Champions, have to travel at their own risk to male Swiss tournaments. Those have few and trivial female prizes, while for the remaining prizes you have to try and break through the ranks of the men. Decent financial conditions for playing are almost absent even for well-known female chess players: pay for it all yourself. And survive as you can.

- To what extent can the majority of non-elite professionals be satisfied with tournament life in 2012 – in general and in Russia?

It’s impossible to talk about any kind of satisfaction.

To such a degree that the question arises: are they professionals at all? In our day it’s almost impossible to get by with playing alone, even for 2600 players, never mind for those lower down. If it wasn’t for team tournaments, where they’re paid fixed appearances fees that are known in advance, many would have quit chess.

But on the other hand, if you look at it as a whole, why should our life be any better? We’re not producing sausages or doing something that’s undeniably beneficial to mankind but simply playing a game we love. So without major investment from sponsors or breaking through onto TV, or other favourable changes, chess players are largely doomed to remain a mass of church mice. Poor and hungry. And occasional snacks are more like gifts from on high than regular meals. It’s hard to rely on them if you’re planning your life seriously.

- Could you give your assessment of the main team events of 2012? Were the results justified?

I don’t see any sense in talking about club tournaments. There’s no great interest in them around the world and the way they’re run varies…

For instance, it’s hard to take the results of the European Club Championship seriously given the absurdities, to put it mildly, of the format. A seven-round Swiss tournament is acceptable for an evening blitz tournament among busy people, but not in a contest between the best clubs and players on the planet.

The organisers got very lucky this time that “Socar”, the team that was head and shoulders above the rest (Grischuk on board four and Kamsky on five – that’s really something!), nevertheless ended up in first place after their unfortunate stumble in the first round. For that to happen a lot of planets had to be aligned. But it might have gone differently.

Eleven rounds at the Olympiad is still reasonable, an adequate length, although strictly speaking that’s also insufficient to determine the strongest team. Not all of the rivals manage to play each other. When so many teams are competing there should be 13-14 rounds, no less i.e. the way it was before.

It’s unlikely Armenia’s triumph came as a surprise to anyone. Three golds in the last four Olympiads rules out chance and confirms that the Armenians really are the strongest team of our time.

David Llada

And I mean team. Not a country or players. Yes, individually the Russians are stronger than the Armenians, but so far it hasn’t proved possible to combine them perfectly in a group. For many reasons…

Some of those reasons are impossible to change. In principle. The victory of a chess team for such a sporting power as Russia will never be comparable to victory for Armenia, where it’s a cause for national celebration!

It may sound trite, but Olympiads are won by the teams that need a win the most.

David Llada

What stands out this year is the success of the Russian women’s team at the Olympiad. The new head coach Sergey Rublevsky turned out to be a strong motivator. He was able to get the girls in the mood for a struggle – and they seized victory from the objectively stronger Chinese team.

I think that before the next Olympiad (Tromso 2014) our group will have been strengthened by Aleksandra Goryachkina, while Alisa Galliamova has no doubt yet to say her final word, so the Russian team has reserves. I hope victory for the women’s team will become a tradition.

vasa: When will the Russian team finally win the Olympiad?

David Llada

What immediately comes to mind is the memorable quip from the film “Beware of the Car”. Do you recall how an upset Mironov says to himself: “When will it all end?”, and Papanov replies: “Never!”

Well, and if we’re being serious, then at some point a Russian win will happen. The only thing is, there’s no guarantee i.e. there’s no guarantee that you and I, Vasily, will live to see it!

phisey: Your opinion on the situation when Surov wasn’t admitted to the Olympiad?

That conflict should be seen in wider terms – you need to look at how and by whom decisions are taken in FIDE. It was shocking that even after the well-meaning intervention of Ilyumzhinov Surov still wasn’t allowed to work. The question is whether Ilyumzhinov is FIDE President or not? Or is the Olympiad held not under the auspices of FIDE but as an internal matter for the Turkish Chess Federation?

A power vacuum is an extremely dangerous situation. It can even be more dangerous than a harsh dictatorship. For now it’s simply incomprehensible who in FIDE resolves the crucial issues and how, and what undercurrents determine the course of events. And if cataclysms occur no-one bears any responsibility for them.

I think it really is time for Kirsan Ilyumzhinov to step down from his high office. He’s done a great deal for the development of chess and chess players and we (I’m boldly using the first person plural) are grateful to him for that. But now the situation has become abnormal. The tail shouldn’t wag the dog. The post should be occupied by a leader who really leads, instead of someone who lends his name as cover for the strange affairs of his “subordinates”.

I’m often asked (the last time was a few days ago in Surgut) for my opinion on Kasparov taking part in the struggle for the post of FIDE President. My answer is twofold:

Firstly, Kasparov’s name or, as it’s become fashionable to say, his “brand” (lord knows what that is, but many people already have some kind of vague idea) is very valuable for chess. He’s one of the few people in the chess world who’s recognised by the wider public. Therefore it’s extremely important to return Kasparov to chess in one form or another. That’s in the interests of sponsors and the media, and ultimately us chess players as well.

But there’s also a second point. I find it hard to imagine how Garry – a very emotional, explosive and impulsive man – will lead such a diverse and complicated organisation as FIDE. It’ll be hard for him to get along with all the very different chess officials, and that’s simply obligatory in such a responsible position. If Kasparov invests a lot of energy in the work you might end up with a rigid, authoritarian system with pockets of localised warfare.

I’d rather see a good diplomat in the post, an experienced negotiator and an expert in business and, I’m not afraid of this hostile term, PR. Someone who could lure Kasparov to work for him and direct his energy and ideas into a peaceful channel.

Garry’s unexpected participation in the FIDE Congress side-by-side with Kirsan might create the illusion that this new skilful President could be the old one. But we’ve already tried to step into that river more than once before. The chances are vanishingly small.

So… It seems I’ve gone off on something of a tangent. What were we talking about before? In general, the Olympiad organisers behaved in an extremely ugly manner by not permitting Evgeny Surov to work. An official competition of that magnitude is no place for personal grudges.

Ayanas: Good day, Sergey! What’s your opinion on the performance of the Kazakhstan women’s team at the last World Chess Olympiad!? And overall about the development of chess in Kazakhstan?!

I spent some time in Astana this summer commentating on the Blitz and Rapid World Championships. I was pleasantly surprised to see how chess is treated in Kazakhstan. There’s finance and support from the political leadership. All that’s lacking are top-class personnel. It’s hard to find coaches for all the talented children. But that’s a problem that, alas, exists in almost all countries.

Chess politics in 2012

What? You’ve got still more questions directly related to politics? Well, then just try to hold me back!

Valchess: Your assessment of FIDE and its leadership in 2012?
phisey: What positive shifts have you noticed in the activity of the Russian Chess Federation this year?

I’ve already talked about the negative trend towards a power vacuum and chaos in FIDE.

The positives are everything producing a concrete result – each tournament that’s held, each championship under FIDE’s auspices is a success. You can run them better or worse, but for me, someone who recalls the collapse in the mid-90s and the breakdown of championship matches at the start of this century, what’s important is not to have to go all the way back to the drawing board.

For now we don’t need to – and that’s good. That’s great credit to FIDE.

There are also positive changes in the Russian Chess Federation – for example, each new tournament held under its auspices. For example, the rapid tournaments. But there also remains a lot to criticise. Much of what was written in the previous KC-Review of the Year remains relevant.

- One of the main events in chess politics this year was FIDE handing Andrew Paulson and the private company Agon the rights to hold the World Championship and associated events (in particular, the Grand Prix series). How do you assess that (if it’s yet possible)?

The turn of phrase “if it’s yet possible” is key here. It’s still largely a mystery who Paulson and Agon are. The first two stages of the Grand Prix have already been held, and without complaints. But a vigorous start still doesn’t guarantee a cloudless sky. Everything will become clear in the more important stages of the World Championship cycle.

Let’s wait and see.

- 2012 saw the appearance of private capital (moreover attracted independently of influential chess officials) in chess. Apart from the sponsorship of the Anand-Gelfand match and the activity of the previously mentioned “Agon”, you can also note the friendly Kramnik-Aronian match (and the tournament planned for Zurich in spring 2013 with the same sponsor), the appearance of a company sponsor (also paying for a manager) for Karjakin – not to mention Carlsen. Is that just a coincidence? Are there good prospects for the future?

Private organisers, sponsors and patrons are sometimes more reliable than official ones. If you recall your history it was precisely the private involvement of influential and rich people who loved chess (including Tsars) that allowed the world’s best players to survive and develop. They stimulated chess life. I hope it’ll always be like that.

What’s crucial, though, is that official bodies like FIDE and the national federations don’t interfere with the private individuals doing there undoubtedly good work – that functionaries don’t get carried away with kick-backs, interest and other such murky affairs…

Here you might follow up with the phrase, “after all, it’s no secret that…”, but let’s just leave it at that.

Сакадин: Hello, Sergey Yuryevich! Has anything changed, or will anything change, with regard to discrimination against international chess titles in Russia? It’s well-known that in Russia the only titles that are recognised and somewhat paid are national chess titles. Is it possible that in future the title of International Grandmaster could at least equate to the title of International Master of Float Fishing (something like that exists in Russia)?

I don’t have a good grasp of the bureaucratic mechanisms of Russian sport. Clearly such problems are one of the consequences of the extremely low status of chess in modern Russia.

Such questions should be addressed not to me, nor even to the heads of our federation, but to those who support chess among the political leadership – Zhukov and Dvorkovich. Without political will from above it’s not even worth thinking about raising the status of chess. Russia…

Valchess: Your assessment of the ACP’s work in 2012? Do you have the impression that after a very strong and promising start the new leadership of the ACP, headed by Emil Sutovsky, has somewhat stalled – perhaps because they put too much emphasis on efforts to organise their own tournaments to the detriment of the trade union wing that should uphold the rights of chess players (and although the much-publicised scandal with Atalik is very specific it’s also revealing)? Or do professionals see more than I do as an outside observer?


In my view you have to follow the principle that “something is better than nothing”. It would be naïve to hope that the enthusiasm of individuals is capable of working miracles when set against the backdrop of the total passivity and immaturity of chess players. They’ve started to run tournaments – that’s simply a heroic feat.

So I assess the actions of Sutovsky and the ACP as a whole positively, but they’ve got no support. It was of course disappointing that the ACP didn’t support Atalik, but that probably involved an element of political calculation. Perhaps they said to themselves, “lord knows it’s difficult enough for an outsider to get to the bottom of such internal affairs, so it’s neither the time nor the place to risk constructive ties with FIDE over that.”

You can only uphold the rights of chess players in the spirit of a union if there’s leverage on the employers. Not loud declarations and proclamations, but more effective measures – legal, financial, personnel-related…

But for now there are none. And given the current state of affairs in FIDE and the chess world as a whole it’s unlikely any are going to appear sometime soon.

The year’s trends

MS: What progress (or regression) has chess made in the struggle for its place in the sun: “Classical” (classical events in galleries) or “pop” (rapid chess, blitz, long-legged maidens)?

I didn’t notice any clear shifts either forwards or backwards in the last year.

Classical chess in “galleries” is, in my view, useful first and foremost for galleries rather than chess. And by the way, that’s not a bad outcome. After all, man doesn’t live by chess alone.

It’s simply that classical chess is a means of chess life, as an elite society, that doesn’t have the slightest chance of breaking through to the masses and onto TV.

So rapid chess, blitz and “maidens” (by the way, you could leave out the inverted commas) are now absolutely essential to popularise and promote chess, to bring it closer to the “sun”. Our product needs to be correctly and advantageously served up – and there’s nothing embarrassing or “pop” about it. I don’t consider appealing to the masses with an accessible product either impossible or something that discredits chess. There’s nothing easier than saying that our game can’t compete in the battle for minds, hearts and money. Saying that and doing nothing. That’s the easy option, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. We need to get down to work!

You pick it up as you go along, and judging by events in the last year people have started to make the first hesitant steps. Rapid and blitz chess have acquired official rights in chess life (championships and ratings have been introduced), but in the role of long-legged maidens for now we’ve only got Ilya Smirin and me. We’re doing our best, but we need serious support.

Al: What distinguishes chess in 2012 from chess in 2006 or 2000?

The almost total absence of secrets. The efforts of the chess engines and the total computerisation of the chess world (including the internet) have led to a situation where almost all knowledge is available to all. And moreover, for free.

I hope that “almost” will still survive a little longer.

vasa: In the last year there was somehow less talk about the draw death of chess and Fischer Random… Could you comment on that?

That draw death is a threat only for advanced chess and correspondence players, or those players relying on computer crutches. For us, flesh and blood players, that man with the scythe was never a threat. Even the best players blundered, blunder and will always blunder.

Therefore Fischer Random Chess will never replace normal chess. When people talk about the improvement of theory they skim over the fact that people forgot, forget and will always forget opening analysis. After all, its quantity grows exponentially by the year, and the capabilities of our brains barely alter over centuries and millennia.

Even if we imagine that in a few decades a 32-piece Nalimov tablebase will be generated, i.e. chess will have been calculated from the beginning to the end – what of it? How can that database help our fellow man at the board? If the problem of cheating can be resolved then it won’t help in any way whatsoever. Our brain couldn’t, can’t and never will be able to contain even a small fraction of all the possible chess variations.

Even for analysis that hypothetical absolute database will be useless at times. Just imagine, Vasily, how you and I switch on the computer, analyse a position and see that three moves are mathematically proven wins for White, a dozen lead to a draw and the others lose. Which move should someone choose at the board? Which is better from a practical point of view? Some winning moves lead to the goal via such complications that a person simply won’t be capable of avoiding crude blunders. But let’s assume that it’s nevertheless easier to choose the winning moves from the database. But how can you judge the quality of moves that lead to a draw? From a human point of view!

A simple analogy: an analysis of vehicle motion shows that to achieve the greatest speed and reduce friction it’s most effective to use wheels. But where can a running man get wheels?

roman_l: In connection with the ground-breaking achievement of the best chess player on the planet: Sergey Yuryevich, do you see a trend in the deliberate refusal of a host of leading chess players to get involved in discussions in topical and forced opening variations? Is it possible to talk about the emphasis in chess combat switching to the middlegame and ending as the opening revolution of this decade? (After all, people barely played chess like this before).

Forgive me, Roman, but I’m not yet capable of understanding the newly-fashionable [in Russian!] term ‘trend’, but if you had in mind ‘tendency’, then I agree with you.

And that continues on from my reply to Vasily’s question about the draw death of chess. Players nowadays learn a lot of topical variations by heart, considering them the most likely, while for “side” variations (i.e. those which are currently considered as such) they don’t have the memory, time or energy. So in effect you get a noticeable practical advantage if you manage to draw your opponent onto a path far away from the main lines. Your opponent either has to spend a long, painful time trying to recall forgotten theory, or to take decisions on his own at an early stage of the game. Apart from the likelihood of his going wrong there’s also a strong psychological effect: your opponent can’t know for certain where your computer analysis ends.

Moreover, it’s important to take into account the significant expansion of opening theory and the overthrow of old dogmas. Computer analysis has shown that many apparently bad variations hold up perfectly well and even provide practical chances. It’s comical to recall nowadays, but the Berlin Defence was also once considered a dubious opening, while now White doesn’t know how to find a real advantage.

So it turned out (although a lot of people also suspected it in the last century), that in the opening position Black has a margin of error and can play in a very wide range of manners. The opening tree has an order of magnitude more healthy branches and twigs than people previously thought.

And what can you say about White, who can play almost however he wants and pose Black a wide range of different practical… and I emphasise: practical problems.

In general, turning away from topical variations and adopting a flexible opening strategy makes it possible to free yourself from the strains of hours of rote learning and preserve a little energy (a little, as you need to keep looking at new systems). It also gives you a chance to bamboozle your opponent.

And Carlsen understands that better than anyone. He’s mastered the method in practice and proved its effectiveness.

As for your “after all, people barely played chess like this before,” that’s clearly mistaken. Down the ages there were always players who thought originally and independently, who didn’t follow opening fashions and tried to avoid their opponent’s preparation and force them to think at the board as early as possible. They also tried to put the emphasis on the middlegame and ending.

There’s nothing new under the sun.

vasa: Sergey, which opening has bored you the most as a commentator this year, and why?

Frankly speaking, none. The players’ selection of opening variations has become much wider lately than it was in previous years. And some repetitions only eased my work as a commentator. I could use what I’d said before and just add something new.

Блаженный_Поэт: Did a lot of people play the “Hedgehog” this year? How are things with everyone’s favourite little animal?
vasa: Is there any news on a Russian version of the “Hedgehog”? Or will it only speak in English now.

Unfortunately the Hedgehog isn’t loved by all, and it’s played by few. This year there was barely a leading grandmaster who took on the challenge. And I understand them. Objectively it’s a hard system to prepare and implement, particularly if you talk about exact move-orders in openings studied inside-out by computers.

Overall, in my view, the little animal’s alive – due to its inherent flexibility and variability. If serious problems are discovered in one particular variation it’s always possible to avoid it. To adjust the move-orders or slightly alter the piece setup. For an expert that’s not a problem.

My ‘Hedgehog’ can currently speak well in Russian and English. Despite all its flaws the first book is in some ways still topical. And if a Russian-speaking Hedgehog player picks up the English edition he’ll be able to derive benefits from it without any knowledge of English. The notation and annotations to the moves are universally understandable.

I haven’t yet given serious thought to a new edition. It’s very tough work…

vasa: Which chess books have you read recently? Which would you single out (as the best, worst)?

I’m very selective when it comes to books. I don’t buy and read all there is. I started some tomes and gave up after a dozen pages. Trash is immediately visible. But it’s better to conduct the screening when you’re still in the bookshop by taking the book in your hand and flicking through it.

However, there are authors whose work you can pick up without glancing. Those who value their name and invest time and energy in their books.

Apart from Kasparov’s books I’ll note, although it isn’t new, Vladimir Tukmakov’s book Profession: Chessplayer… There are decent opening monographs. The authors are Russian: Igor Lysyj and Roman Ovetchkin, Konstantin Sakaev and so on.

I almost managed to acquaint myself with some works in English, but I don’t dare judge them. English isn’t the language for me.

The worse books need no mention – there are too many of them. It’s business, after all…

vanabsten: I’ve got a “standard” question. How has the chess broadcast industry developed in 2012? I’d like to hear about the technical part, as we can judge the rest.
phisey: I’d like to learn more details about the ChessTV company and its plans for broadcasting chess events? Are the Russian-language broadcasts the main thing, or do the English-language broadcasts nevertheless come first?
Ruslan99: Which tournament was best organised in terms of the video broadcast and the convenience of working as a commentator?

I’m very glad that this year tournament broadcasts have ceased to be the exception to the rule and become the rule. It’s extremely important work, bringing spectators closer to top-level chess, and the first steps towards transforming chess into a spectacle for all.

For the moment you can’t call the current situation an industry. There’s no tradition, no standards and no confidence in the future. We’re trying and getting used to it. We’re trying to prove to everyone that it’s required. And, of course, a lot, if not everything, will depend on financial issues…

ChessTV has Napoleonic plans, but negotiations with many organisers are proving tough. They’re still not used to such work.

The technical provision of the broadcasts still leaves a lot to be desired, in my view. Our task is simply to produce the broadcast, without interruption and clear gaffes. In order to hone the technology and introduce novelties money is required. Serious investment and work.

Objectively speaking, and judging by how “mass” the public is and the business prospects, the main thing should be the English-language broadcast. And the fact that our reports have begun to include such heavyweights as Khalifman says a lot. I hope over time we’ll manage to include Peter Svidler as well, with his brilliant English and chess stature. He’d unquestionably become a star of the field.

I’ll keep quiet for now about the convenience of working as a commentator. Believe me, our organisers and other technicians have plenty of other problems. So far I’m still alive and well, and that’s the main thing.

The quality of the broadcasts largely depends on the work of the cameramen on location at the events, and in turn on the loyalty and desire to help of the tournament organisers, including the arbiters. Everyone who watched my commentary will realise what I’m talking about. The chess boards and players need to be shown in close up and from various angles. It’s also important to react quickly to changes in the situation in the playing hall. Believe me, it’s very tricky to organise.

The problem of the interaction of the arbiters and cameramen can only be resolved at a high level by introducing changes in the regulations for events and the arbiters’ code. Otherwise we’re still going to occasionally see just the backs of arbiters on the screen when events are heating up. And cameramen will be driven from the stage.

I’d like to take this chance to apologise for some of my harsh phrases live on air. Some arbiters weren’t to blame for interfering with the broadcast. They simply conduct themselves in the playing area as they’re used to and as they’ve done for their whole careers as arbiters. No-one had instructed them or discussed the rules of the game with them. In that regard, by the way, things were best at the Olympiad in Istanbul. The arbiters there knew about the importance of the broadcast. They didn’t get into the screenshot themselves and regularly moved passers-by out of the visible area.

But, one way or another, the problem needs to be resolved. Officially and in the regulations.

vit2008: Sergey, I really liked your video round-ups of games from major tournaments – brief educational videos which you can easily watch in the evening after work. The seven-hour live broadcast, for instance, isn’t something you can watch just like that. This year you barely recorded any videos. What’s behind that? Will you record any in the coming year?

I know many people like the videos. Thanks to you and everyone else for the kind words.
The videos really are essential from a news point of view, as they condense the most important details of what happened in a tournament. And they’ll remain for a long time afterwards as a chess product. They don’t have the same ephemeral quality as live commentary.

In the second half of 2012 I didn’t record any videos because I was physically incapable of doing it. After a six-hour live broadcast and commuting there and back there was no energy left for important personal matters, never mind videos.

The mundane aspect is also important. I began to get paid for live video broadcasts and they became my regular work. The videos, every last one of them – were simply work done on enthusiasm. With nothing in return. You can’t feed yourself on words alone. Even my long-standing stoicism has its limits.

And I can’t say what’s going to happen with the videos next year.

phisey: Is chess merging with show business? Daniil Dubov congratulated Philipp Kirkorov at the “Golden Gramophone 2012” awards ceremony. Is that beneficial?

For once a chess player appears on the screen and they’re immediately “merging”? A little premature.

As for whether it’s beneficial, there’s no question about that – chess and chess players need promotion. Therefore any… Ok, almost any appearance of our fellows on TV is useful. Of course, I’d prefer if Dubov had talked on stage not with pop stars but with people more deserving of attention, but that’s already, forgive me, not his fault but a mark of the wretched quality of our TV. Grebenshchikov, Makarevich and Shevchuk (if we’re talking about music) aren’t yet held in high regard there.

Danya didn’t handle himself badly for a rookie. We discussed some of the shortcomings of the appearance and will work to correct them. A good chess player, besides his obligation to win tournaments, should also acquire other skills: calculating integrals, writing poetry, learning languages, having a good stage presence and behaving well in secular company. It all matters.

Valchess: How do you rate the work of the Crestbook site and the KasparovChess forum in 2012?

I don’t think the past year in the life of the site and forum in any way stands out from those that preceded it. We did what was in our power. We covered the main tournaments, and even while formally working for other organisations I didn’t neglect our site. On the forum discussion is constantly going on in dozens of different threads. Interesting new people are arriving and new possibilities are appearing. Technical problems remain, alas, some of which we’ve managed to solve and some of which we’ve postponed to a later date. We’re developing naturally, like wild plants in harsh conditions…

Тянь-Викунтяу: I repeat my old question: did you play in tournaments this year? Did you have any successes? What was your most beautiful game in those tournaments?

I didn’t play any serious chess – there was no time for it, and I had no desire either. My achievements in rapid and blitz chess were small. And I didn’t create any masterpieces. I’m saving my energy for future evergreen victories!

Valchess: Your self-assessment of Sergey Shipov’s work in 2012?

Let others judge my work, but it seems to me the year didn’t pass in vain. I worked on various fronts. The second half of the year ended up being particularly intensive.

Predictions for 2013

Блаженный_Поэт: What do you expect from 2013?

The development of the trends of the previous year. I’m not expecting any revolutions.

Other than perhaps the World Champions changing.

дикий муцио: Your prediction: will the man named Magnus cross the 2900 barrier in 2013?

That largely depends on the speed of rating inflation. If the people Magnus can play a simultaneous display against become 2700 players, then why not?

But in the current state of affairs – unlikely.

paavel: Your prediction for the Ushenina – Hou Yifan match?

If they were starting in a week’s time I’d undoubtedly bet on Fanechka. Annushka still needs to do some hard work to catch up with her rival. If she does that she’ll have chances.

Valchess: Who’ll win the London Candidates Tournament?

I’m reminded of Agatha Christie’s wonderful work “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd”. All the facts and all the clues pointed to Ralph Paton being the guilty man. But that was precisely why Hercule Poirot assumed Ralph wasn’t the murderer.

It’s the same here. Everything suggests Carlsen will win: his huge rating, convincing play, the energy of youth, the tournament format, the weaknesses of his rivals. But it’s precisely that predestination that forces me to doubt Magnus’ success. The sense of the inevitability of his upcoming success could play a cruel trick on the Norwegian. That’s happened more than once before with his predecessors. And Carlsen’s rivals, who no-one expects to win, will find it correspondingly easier to play. The weight of responsibility will be much lighter on them.

So while assessing the probabilities I’ll be careful. Yes, Magnus is the favourite, but not the sole and absolute favourite. Aronian, Kramnik and some third guy in dark clothes will also have real chances.

Gridnev: Sergey Yuryevich, in the past year the theme of cheating in chess became more of an issue. Can you try and look into the future and predict how that aspect of play will influence the format of events.

I hope the strident toilet campaign will soon come to an end and chess players will be allowed to visit that most important of places in correspondence with their physiological needs. And we’ll manage to deal with cheating, if not in the upcoming year, then at least in the near future, using more humane measures: delaying the broadcast, metal detectors, limitations on the playing area (we bring only a pencil and water with us), the option of arbiters’ checking particular suspected players and even searching them.

The regulations for holding the most important tournaments should be unified in terms of the anti-cheating measures. Uniform standards and organiser requirements are essential.

A Happy New Year to all our readers!
May 2013 bring you good luck.

KC-Review of 2012 with Sergey Shipov (in Russian)

Those who took part in producing this material were:

Valery Adzhiev (Valchess) – the idea, organisation and editing; Stanislav Fisejsky (phisey) – “Chronicle”: Vasily Lebedev (vasa) – selection of chess games and fragments. The layout – Dmitry Kudrin (vanabsten). Colin McGourty (mishanp) – translation into English.