Kramnik gave a fascinating and controversial interview to Michael Khomich at Sports.ru after winning the Tal Memorial in Moscow. As well as his comments on Anand playing in Sofia he also discusses style in chess (“no-one plays for the public”) and claims that Carlsen is still not quite at the level of his rivals, despite topping the rating list.
You just won the Tal Memorial with 6 points out of 9, while not playing in the Kramnik style at all – but boldly, confidently, with a flourish – like your walking around the hall. Where did that change come from?
No, no, I’ve always walked around a lot, there’s nothing new. And in general these cliches about my style – “boring”, “careful” – are rubbish. Professionals understand it, it’s just my style. Take, for example, Morozevich – do you think he plays that way so that the spectators will call him a “romantic”? No, that’s how he wins the most points. Or Kasparov – everything he said about playing for the fans – it’s just not serious, he just has that style of play. And me – my talent’s best seen in positional play, in the endgame, though I consider myself a sufficiently universal chess player. Forgive me, of course, but no-one plays for the public – everyone plays to get the best possible result.
Vladimir, how do you prepare for tournaments now? Do you have a manager and why did you split with Hensel?
I don’t have a trainer as I’m continuing to draw on the results of the huge work done in the last two years. And as for a manager – for now I don’t need one seeing as I’m not fighting for the title or playing matches. I have excellent relations with Hensel, he’s in Moscow now, but at the moment it’s just not necessary. If I qualify for a championship match then perhaps I’ll need a manager.
After losing your title to Vishy Anand you’ve won two super tournaments in a row – Dortmund and the Tal Memorial…
It’s not a coincidence, of course. I had such a decline a year ago that it had to end at some point. I drew conclusions from the loss to Anand, plus, don’t forget, my daughter was born – that gave me a wealth of positive emotions. Those who’ve been through it will understand – all the not sleeping and other matters – it actually gives you a lot of energy. But all the same two tournaments is just two tournaments, it’s too early to draw conclusions. Now I’ve got London and Wijk aan Zee to come. If everything goes well there as well then it’ll be possible to talk about the quality of play.
The other two Russians, Svidler and Morozevich, did very badly, occupying the eighth and ninth places. Why such a failure?
Firstly, someone had to fill the bottom slots – there was such a strong line-up that there wasn’t a single outsider. And secondly, they only just returned from the European Championship – at such an age playing two tough tournaments in a row is almost impossible. No-one even called me – they realised what sort of schedule I can deal with now. And in general, it’s something to address to FIDE – they should spread tournaments out better instead of having four months rest and then five tournaments in a row.
One of the most creative players, Vasily Ivanchuk, plays very unevenly, but managed to get things together in Moscow…
The reason he’s erratic is clear – he plays, like a madman, around 300 games a year. I don’t know why he does it. All the same when Vasily’s in form he’s a fixture among the top 5.
By the way, Vasily came to the tournament a few times in a face mask – weren’t you tempted to wear one as well?
I don’t know why Vasily suddenly started to wear one. After the first four rounds it was clear that we’d already managed to catch all the viruses from each other – why wear one at the end of the tournament? It didn’t disturb me – as chess players we have to have strong nerves – what difference does it make what the player opposite’s wearing? Although I was expecting that Ivanchuk would wear the mask against me and was actually amazed by its absence.
After the tournament Magnus Carlsen became the number one on the live rating list. Plus he’s working with Gary Kasparov. Can anything stop him?
You know, to begin with, I don’t consider Carlsen the strongest. I have my own rating and I know what ELO numbers each player should actually have. And although Carlsen’s rating is fully deserved I think that, at the very least, Topalov, Anand and I play better than he does, plus Aronian, no doubt, at the same level. And the fact that people speak about him so much, it’s because he found a sponsor. If I wanted they’d also talk a lot more about me, it’s a question of money, you see. But I repeat again, Magnus is a very strong chess player, and his success is entirely justified.
Magnus Carlsen didn’t only come second, not losing once, but also won the blitz tournament immediately after the Memorial by a wide margin. The organisers called it the World Championship. Does he also blitz better than everyone else?
He’s younger than everyone else, which is why he was able to recover so quickly. Just take a look at the failure of Ivanchuk – one of the best blitz players in the world! Anand told me that he couldn’t recover. If you call a tournament the World Championship then you should leave at least three days for players to get some sleep and recover, so the conditions are equal. Therefore I don’t take Magnus’ title too seriously, though he won it, unquestionably, thanks to his excellent play.
I’ve often heard the comment that “our answer to Carlsen”, Sergej Karjakin, is the only hope Russia has for the title in the next 15 years…
(smiling) Firstly, I still think that I’ll have a chance for the next 3 or 4 years. Secondly, chess players grow up so quickly now that perhaps we still don’t know anything about the next champion, he might be 12 years old. As regards Karjakin – he’s a very talented player with excellent trainers and, no doubt, a big future. Though it’s true that competing with Carlsen and Aronian will be tough for him – they’re still stronger for now. And you shouldn’t write us old men off quite yet!
The tournament didn’t have the rating leader – Veselin Topalov…
In general there still hasn’t been a tournament bringing together the full top 10. Even in my first Linares there were only 9 of the top 10. I don’t know if they invited Topalov or not, but his presence would have done the event no harm at all. Though I don’t even remember the last time I played him.
Do you still not greet Vesko? You haven’t forgotten about Elista?
No, we don’t greet each other. You know, it’s not a matter of insulting anyone – it’s just the personal relationship I have with him. I know things that others don’t know, and understand perfectly well who I’m dealing with. Perhaps he’ll someday see the light and start to behave normally – unlikely, but in that case my attitude might change. But it’s hard to believe in that and I think it’ll be a long term thing.
What do you expect from the championship match and how do you explain Vishy’s readiness to play Topalov in Sofia?
It’s hard to explain. Vishy’s an adult and of course it’s his right. I think it’s due to the large prize fund, as I can’t see any sensible reasons to play Topalov on his home territory, it’s simply madness – it doesn’t seem much like Vishy. You see if something’s going badly for Danailov he’ll definitely find some means or other to put pressure on Vishy. There are a million tricks, even if you’re not playing on his home turf. I will, of course, root for Anand, but not for personal reasons but chess ones. After all, if Topalov becomes champion it’ll be a disaster for chess.
Why a disaster?
Because then Danailov will have unlimited power which, of course, is terrible for chess whichever way you look at it. If you end up with people at the top who have no moral principles at all it’s a sad day. First and foremost for the future of our game.
People often write that you’re a hedonist, you like to enjoy life – was it significant for you that the players stayed in the Ritz Carlton, the best hotel in Russia?
That hedonism is mainly a legend. Maybe there was once something to it, to a very limited degree, but definitely not now. I’m more of an ascetic – it’s nice that the organisers put me up in such a hotel, but I only need a minimum level of comfort – a comfortable bed, a bathroom and the internet – it’s not especially important how many stars the hotel has.