While the Russian women’s first team took gold with an almost flawless performance, their male counterparts found things a whole lot tougher. Vladimir Kramnik, Evgeny Bareev and Sergey Shipov were among those who assessed the silver-medal performance at the World Chess Olympiad.
Since Sunday’s final round ended in relative failure – Russia-1’s draw with Spain meant a draw with Israel was enough for Ukraine to clinch gold – a lot has been written about the result in the Russian press. Team captain Evgeny Bareev, in particular, didn’t disappoint, as he gave at least three significant and, as ever, controversial interviews (read on to find out which player in the Russian team doesn’t love chess…). Below I’ve tried to capture the overall picture:
Evgeny Bareev: (talking to Kirill Zangalis of Soviet Sport)
Ian Nepomniachtchi on the second team looked brilliant. Why didn’t you take him instead of Malakhov?
We thought he’d become the engine of the second team, which could also fight for medals. But, frankly, the guys in the second team performed poorly. We couldn’t even find a couple of people to support Nepomniachtchi. Our players didn’t have enough experience yet to grind out victories.
And here talking to Yury Vasiliev for ChessPro (the report includes photos of the closing ceremony):
Alexander Morozevich featured on our application form, but we didn’t know if he wanted to play or not. On the 3rd August I got through to him by telephone and he told me: “I won’t play, if you’re calling me about that”.
I was calling him about that. Even before Morozevich’s refusal we’d taken the decision to create two almost equal teams: one “very strong and experienced”, another “very strong and young”.
Vladimir Kramnik: (interviewed by Mikhail Shpenkov for Izvestia)
Deciding on the line-up is the trainers’ job. So it’s hard for me to discuss it. But in general at the Olympiad we had the five grandmasters with the highest rating in our first team. If you’re talking about the possibility of including Ian Nepomniachtchi, who’s made great progress recently, then, as far as I know, he was offered the chance. But he nevertheless preferred to play in the Russian second team.
Sergey Shipov: (in his Olympiad summary at Crestbook)
And the line-up was as it should be – the first by ratings… Yes, the voices of sceptics will no doubt sound now saying that instead of Malakhov we should have included Nepomniachtchi. But that’s criticism after the fact. Incorrect, by definition. Before the Olympiad it was much harder to come to that conclusion. The choice wasn’t simple, and in any case there was a risk. Ian is a bold chess player, but unstable. Yes, he shone, but in the second team. But then Volodya [Malakhov], although he’d previously played stably in team tournaments, couldn’t help his team out at the key moments. But who could have known that beforehand?
The last round
Despite Kramnik’s almost effortless win against Shirov any chances of the gold medal ended before that when Svidler lost to Salgado Lopez.
The journalist Kirill Zangalis, writing in Soviet Sport, gave a rather sensationalistic account of the moment:
But Svidler made a bad blunder and resigned. He jumped up from the spot, covered his face with his hands and fled to the far end of the hall. I went after him. The grandmaster could barely hold back his tears. Peter understood that he’d let everyone down. And if Kramnik didn’t beat Shirov we were even risking losing the silver. Grischuk and Karjakin rushed to Svidler. Peter emotionally explained why he lost. But words were superfluous.
Bareev: (in Soviet Sport)
Grischuk and Karjakin made quick draws. Could they have fought for victory with black?
You have to assess the situation realistically – they had equal positions from which it would be hard to squeeze anything. While we were still counting on white. Kramnik had a very good position and converted against Shirov. But before that Svidler had resigned, which meant for certain that we wouldn’t see gold medals.
Peter losing was something that almost no-one expected. Was it also a surprise for you?
From the very start everything went wrong. Peter’s time handling was very irrational. In the end his opponent outplayed him completely, and Svidler couldn’t even see how it happened. Of course he realised that he’d let everyone down. After all, if Kramnik hadn’t won we’d have had to share second place. And what if our tiebreaks suddenly meant we ended up without medals? As for gold, even if Svidler had drawn the Ukrainians would simply have finished off their opponents. At that point Zahar Efimenko on the fourth board had a winning position.
Chessdom have translated sections of Bareev’s comments to Vladimir Barsky at the Russian Chess Federation website (also worth a look for the photos), where the captain went into more detail about each game. It’s perhaps worth adding that as well as the explanation given for playing “Karjakin without energy” instead of “the unpredicatable Malakhov” he also added: “I believed more in the exhausted Karjakin than in the no less exhausted Malakhov”. There was also a question about Kramnik:
Kramnik really doesn’t like playing early in the morning. How did he manage to play so well against Shirov?
What does that mean “doesn’t like”? If he has to he can play! Kramnik here was in good form. He slept a few hours; after all the game started at 11, not 9. He slept to 10 and it was normal. On the theoretical plain he turned out to be better prepared. A professional’s professional because in a difficult moment he can withstand pressure.
Ilya Levitov, the President of the RCF Board, and a newly-minted FIDE Vice President, talked to Yury Vasiliev of Sport Express:
It seemed as though everything was going to plan: Kramnik had an edge, while Peter had a very sharp position in which anything whatsoever could happen. But, unfortunately, what happened happened: Svidler’s inordinate risk ended in defeat…
Alexander Zhukov, former President of the RCF and President of the Russian Olympic Committee, talking to Zangalis of Soviet Sport:
While the men had no hope of gold today. Ukraine was playing too well. Even if Peter Svidler hadn’t yielded it wouldn’t have changed a thing. The Ukrainians were pressing against the Israelis. They only agreed to draws because they realized what they’d achieved.
It was the best Olympiad for our team in recent years. Both in terms of result, if you take into account that twice in a row we didn’t manage to win a medal, but above all in terms of play. The team in Khanty-Mansiysk didn’t look bad, but we just lacked, I think, a little luck.
Of course it’s not what we dreamed about, but, objectively, after the annoying loss to Hungary and the no less annoying draw with Ukraine, silver for us was a normal result. There’s no sense of a terrible injustice. There’s just deep annoyance… at ourselves. We dreamt of a “double” gold, and we had it in us. […]
I was with the guys at the last Olympiads – in Turin and in Dresden. Back then we didn’t have any teams, in the full sense of the word. We had a selection of strong players. But no more.
This time, I repeat, we had a Team. The guys were united, together, they helped each other out in everything.
Bareev: (at the RCF website)
If it wasn’t for the last match I’d say the way we played rated a 5-, but now… 4+, but no more.
That’s on a scale out of five. Bareev has this to say to Zangalis for Soviet Sport:
Please rate the silver medal.
For our current Russian first team, silver is our ceiling. Sad as it is to admit it, our team only looked good on paper. Unfortunately the Russian grandmasters in the Top 20 of the rating list at this moment in time aren’t enjoying the best period of their careers. Our team machinery creaked, heaved and strained but couldn’t perform at its best. The victories came with great difficulty.
Can you assess each player…
Vladimir Kramnik had a great tournament. He didn’t stand worse in a single game with black and he tried to seize the initiative. Though all of his opponents had the prefix “top”. The only match which we lost, to Hungary, was without Vladimir. When he sat at the board the question of a draw, or even less of a loss was never there. We thought only about victory. Sergey Karjakin was the main attacking force – 8 points out of 10 speaks for itself. He was the one who dragged us up into second place.
Alexander Grischuk’s play was uneven, but interesting and bold. Overall, things only didn’t go right for him in the game against Peter Leko.
Peter Svidler can put this tournament down as a failure. He didn’t have that ease in decision making that he usually has. Things were coming with great difficulty to him at the start of the Olympiad, and he only woke up in the sixth round. To sum up, such a Svidler isn’t quite up to the standard of the first team.
Vladimir Malakhov was absolutely unprepared psychologically for the tournament. It was my mistake as I invited him onto the team.
Yury Vasiliev for Chesspro quoted Bareev going into more detail about Svidler:
Svidler’s potential is colossal! But, unfortunately, he was totally unprepared for the Olympiad.
How could that be, given he was at the training camp with you all?
But it’s not a question of one day, it’s a question of his relationship to chess. Unfortunately, as became clear, chess isn’t the most important thing for him anymore. That’s the problem. Again, if chess again becomes something great and significant for Peter then he can and will play. The question is his relationship to chess. Chess doesn’t forgive such a relationship. And didn’t forgive him. I shouted to him about it before the tournament, and during it, but what of it? I can’t punish him, but chess punished him. Together with Svidler chess punished the whole team. And the trainer, who took a man into his team who didn’t love chess.
At this point I feel obliged to point out in defence of both Malakhov and Svidler that they were given a very tough assignment at the Olympiad. As the Chess Results website makes it easy to see, Malakhov was only given the white pieces once (with 5 blacks), while Svidler had the black pieces 5 games in a row before his fateful final game with white. It seems like a chicken and egg situation – were they used that way because they were underperforming, or did they underperform because they were used that way? The strategy was, of course, to give Karjakin white (8 out of 10 games). Sergey Shipov also makes the case for not singling out scapegoats.
Now, analysing the chase for gold between Russia and Ukraine, many will remember the key game, as it seems to them, between Efimenko and Malakhov, saying that if he’d held as black Russia would have been first… But why precisely that game? Why not recall Kramnik-Ivanchuk, where white didn’t convert his advantage? Why do they forget the Leko-Grischuk game, which was decisive in the Hungary-Russia match? And, finally, why not focus on the bitter struggle Svidler-Salgado Lopez, which meant we didn’t beat the Spaniards? Look at the tournament table! We change the result in our favour in one of the important games, and then we add a match point, and with that our team Berger improves and, there it is, gold.
So that all such attempts to find the root of the evil in one particular moment and find a single scapegoat are incorrect. The team was flawed, the whole team! Never mind that when people attempt, after the fact, to change the result of one game in the tournament they’re not taking into account the subsequent changes in the position of the teams and the draw for the next round, the changes in the future play of the opponents etc. The butterfly effect still holds, although in the given situation it’s more of a pterodactyl effect, the wing span is so huge, the impact so large…
The result of the attempt to find the reasons for failure (and, although relative, second place is still a failure) can be stated succinctly: Who the hell knows! They could and should have won. But they couldn’t. Once more.
You’ve played a lot recently – and now you’ve got to take part in the final tournament of the chess “Grand Slam” in Bilbao? Do you feel 100% ready for it?
In terms of my game I’m fully ready for the tournament. It’ll be very interesting in Bilbao, as after all Anand and the no. 1 on the world rating list, the Norwegian Carlsen, will be there. I hope I’ll have enough energy left physically to compete with them. The Olympiad really did demand a great expense of energy. Now I’m only going to be with my family at home for one day before I set off for Spain.
You’ve said on more than one occasion recently that chess has really got younger. At 35 do you still have the urge to struggle for the world title?
Of course I still I’ve got the energy. And I’ll only lose the urge in one case: if I feel that someone in the world is obviously playing stronger than me. But for now I’m sure that I’ve still got a chance of being champion again. And I’m already thinking about the Candidates Tournament in 2011. After all, the winner will get the right to play Anand for the World Championship.
Bareev: (at Soviet Sport)
How is our men’s chess at the moment?
The change of generations isn’t going smoothly. The experienced grandmasters are gradually ceding their position, but the young don’t yet have enough experience and strength to be decent replacements.
And finally at ChessPro:
And what prospects do you see for the future for our men’s team?
I want to believe that we’ve passed a certain point when we were deteriorating, and I hope that now we’re on the up, seeing the birth of a new team. Our second team gained priceless experience. And I hope that at the next Olympiad there won’t be clear failures either in the first or the second team, but a more stable team. And, perhaps, a more successful coach, who’ll do better at guessing which line-up to play.