In something of a media blitz around his 35th birthday, Vladimir Kramnik gave another interview, this time to Evgeny Gik of the Moscow-based “Moskovsky Komsomolets”. He talks about Magnus Carlsen’s threat to his chances of reclaiming the title, chess politics and how age has affected his chess.
The first question is the obligatory one about who Kramnik thinks will win the FIFA World Cup:
I’ve enjoyed watching the key matches and support, simply on a personal level, Germany. After all I’ve often spent time in Germany and have a lot of friends there. It might be considered my second or third homeland. The team, perhaps, isn’t the strongest at the World Cup, but after they crushed Argentina I believe in them.
Moving on to chess. We already know almost all of the title contenders. Who’s the most dangerous for you?
Carlsen has clearly improved, and you can’t rule out Topalov with his multiprocessor machine. When everything’s been determined – the tournament format and schedule – then I’ll come up with a final plan for my preparation.
You once said of Magnus Carlsen that there’ll come a time when it’ll be impossible to compete with him. Has it already arrived?
The Norwegian’s successes really are impressive, but nevertheless they’ve been achieved mainly against the lower half of the table. So that if we talk about matches against, say, Anand or myself, I’m not sure that Carlsen will be the favourite. But in a tournament his chances are greater – his flexible, malleable style adjusts well to different types of opponents. In that you can see the influence of Kasparov who also, on top of everything else, was capable of “cutting down the tail-enders”.
The traditional tournament in Dortmund starts soon. Are you planning to establish yet another record, claiming your tenth victory?
I wouldn’t mind, but winning a super tournament on demand is tough, especially if the thought of “number 10” haunts me. It could even get in the way, but I’ll try to concentrate on the chess itself.
Kramnik downplays the recent changes in the Russian Chess Federation, calling them, in a phrase Boris Yeltsin once used, a minor “castling”. He repeats his endorsement of Dvorkovich as a chess organiser, and approves of disclosing the budget of the RCF. He has this to say about the new man, Ilya Levitov (it’s possibly not for the faint-hearted, but those interested in Russian chess politics might like to read the article I recently wrote on the subject at Chessvibes):
Ilya’s a prominent businessman, but he’s also well established in the chess world. It’s rare to find someone at a respectable age [he’s only 30!] taking up the game and quickly reaching the level of candidate master. That’s evidence of his outstanding intellectual abilities. Levitov is a skilful organiser, and someone who has on many occasions found sponsors for Russian chess.
By the way I was very upset when, out of nowhere, this scandal arose in our federation, causing it to suspend its operation for a number of months. It’s good that everything’s calmed down now and we can prepare for the Olympiad. Our team is, as always, the strongest, but we’ve got serious competitors. We’ll try to occupy the very top spot.
On the wider subject of the campaign for the FIDE Presidency, and Kasparov’s involvement:
A sharp battle has flared up for the Presidency of FIDE between Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and Anatoly Karpov. Who, in your opinion, has the greater chances?
Chess sites list the countries supporting each candidate. At the moment Ilyumzhinov has a clear lead, but Karpov and Kasparov also haven’t been idle – they’re running an active election campaign. I don’t intend to get involved in their debate, especially as everything will be decided by representatives of the federations while the statutes don’t give chess players a vote. In any case, the appearance of two serious candidates and the presence of competition can only be welcomed. It’s important that everything remains within the bounds of decency. Because here in Russia at times we suddenly end up with emergency situations…
What is Gary Kasparov’s role in the confrontation?
Kasparov likes to whip up a storm of activity, and if he starts then you can’t stop him. But the union of the two ex-champions is a little strange and, no doubt, ephemeral, as after all they were bitter rivals for a quarter of a century. It’s also strange that until recently Gary publicly supported Ilyumzhinov, while now he’s agitating against him with no less enthusiasm. What can you do – that’s politics and it has its own laws. Again, it’s their business, while all that’s left for me is to play chess, and hopefully well.
Vladimir, do you feel like a young man at 35 or do you feel the weight of your years?
My physical condition is no worse than ten years ago. The years bring experience and you begin to be more aware of yourself – you realise what you shouldn’t do and when you need a little more time to recover. I’ve become cleverer: before I’d waste a lot of strength and energy, while now I use it more efficiently. As a result I actually get less tired during tournaments, and the quality of my play isn’t inferior to before. So I confess that I don’t yet feel the onset of old age…
Kramnik mentions that he might eventually return to Moscow, while to the question of whether his daughter has started moving the pieces he replies:
She’s a year and a half old, and for now she’s more inclined to chew the pieces than to move them. But in a couple of years I hope to acquaint Dasha with chess. My daughter brings great happiness, a lot of positive emotions and an additional incentive to preserve a good mood and cherish life.
You don’t have any plans for a son yet?
Yes, we dream about having at least two descendants and in a short time we’ll start working on it…
Vladimir, you’re the only Russian with a chance of claiming the chess throne, and all chess fans here believe you’ll return the crown to this country.
Thanks. Of course I’ll try. The fact that I’ve already been champion three times doesn’t mean that I’ve lost the motivation or desire to go through it again. There’s great competition now, and rising to the throne is in no way easier than ten years ago. But that makes it a more interesting challenge…