Vladimir Kramnik, talking to Maria Fominykh for ChessPro, discussed his “unbelievably complex” game against Hikaru Nakamura, blitz and bullet chess, and once more expressed his opinion on Carlsen’s withdrawal from the Candidates Matches.
ChessPro’s coverage of the Tal Memorial so far has been oddly low key, with “only” live commentary from a game each round, but WIM Maria Fominykh’s report makes up for that. As well as excellent photos and comments on the games there are interviews with Arkady Dvorkovich and Kramnik. The latter was held just after Kramnik had finished demonstrating his spectacular draw against Nakamura:
During the analysis in the press centre could you work out where and for whom there was a win?
The win was more likely for him than for me, but at a certain point, perhaps, I was even already better. The position became much sharper, and he had little time. I became encouraged and it seemed to me that he was in some danger, but on the other hand, I couldn’t find anything clear. The position, of course, was unbelievably complex to play even if you had a lot of time, while he was short on time. Therefore it ended in perpetual check, but it can’t be ruled out that he had chances to win. I’d missed something or other and the position became very dangerous, but I found the resource c4 – at the very least it’s an interesting human move, although, perhaps, the computer doesn’t approve. But in the game after c4 Nakamura began to get agitated, he thought for a long time and, clearly, he didn’t find anything concrete. And after that he lost the edge he’d had. And then there was such… To be honest, I was already thinking about playing for a win, given he had little time left, but I couldn’t see how. Then again, a time advantage isn’t so significant against Nakamura as after all he thinks quickly. But, nevertheless, it already began to seem to me that I was about to find something. His king was beginning to run, it turned out, surprisingly, that for the first time in the game his king was worse than mine. But I couldn’t see anything significant.
Nakamura’s known as a chess player with an attacking style. Were you worried that your king was under attack in a game against such a player?
When your king’s under such an attack then you’re worried against any player, because anyone can mate you. Here, in general, everyone plays well. Regardless of my opponent I understood that I had quite a dangerous position.
When you arrived for the game today did you have the feeling that it would be lively?
Yes, because when you play Nakamura the game’s always lively. I’ve played four games with him at classical time controls and all four of them have been very lively and bright, with some sort of “predicaments”. You can always be sure with him that something unusual will arise on the board. That’s why I wanted to play as solidly as possible. I played a solid opening, but Nakamura is known for getting some sort of chaos on the board out of any position, which is what finally happened. I expected a complex game, and moreover it was already for the fourth round in a row. Before the rest day you always have less energy than at the beginning and I understood that today I’d face a difficult test.
Have you played him at blitz?
No, we haven’t played yet. They say that he’s simply terrifying at blitz, but I don’t know. It’s one thing to play bullet chess on the internet and something else entirely in person at the board.
You haven’t played him in bullet chess on the internet either?
No, I don’t like playing bullet chess at all. To be honest, I consider it a bit moronic, and therefore I never play it. But he’s very strong when he plays with little time. On the internet it’s also important how quickly you handle your mouse, so that here it’s a slightly different game. But I think that he’s one of the favourites for the World Blitz Championship, though not more so than three or four other players. We’ll see, perhaps I’m wrong. I’ve got a tournament now, so it’s a bit too soon to be thinking about blitz.
The first half of the tournament is over. Did you manage to get into form?
I don’t know, for now my play is a little disjointed, at times fine, at times not great. For the moment I’m not entirely satisfied with either my play or my score, though the score isn’t so bad. After all, I’ve played three out of four games as Black. I hope that I can relax on the rest day and start to play better. Despite the fact that even today I found some good moves, nevertheless according to my usual standards my play hasn’t been entirely satisfactory.
How can you improve your concentration?
Well, just by getting a good sleep, resting. And, of course, it’s first and foremost a question of energy. You have to build up some energy in this day and a half. Add to that the fact that I’ll be playing more games as White, which usually helps the quality of my play, as the ensuing positions are more pleasant. Not every time, of course.
It seems as though in the first two “black” games you didn’t have any opening problems?
Yes, against Aronian everything was fine after the opening, while yesterday with Eljanov, and today with Nakamura, I had to force things, to try and overcome the position. As White you can play for a win without forcing the position, which is more pleasant. We’ll see how it goes, but I realise that if I’m counting on winning the tournament then I’ll undoubtedly have to improve my play.
Your aim in the tournament is to get first place?
Of course, while it’s still a theoretical possibility you have to think about it. And then, when that’s impossible, to think about second place. But for now it’s still possible.
Lately you’ve been playing an awful lot. Is that by chance or is there some sort of reason?
There are simply a lot of tournaments. In the first half of the year I didn’t play much, literally a couple of tournaments, while now I’ve decided to play a bit more. Of course I realised that there might be some sort of problems connected to that – after all fatigue builds up, and I no longer have the freshness I had at the start of my series of tournaments. Still, I find it interesting to test myself and see how it goes, how far my energy will suffice. It would have been possible to refuse some tournaments, but I’ve intentionally been playing a lot in the last few months in order to test out my physical condition. For me it’s an experiment of sorts.
Chess players sometimes complain that when tournaments follow one after another their children start to forget about them. Are you familiar with that?
No, well you couldn’t say she’s forgetting. But we miss each other. My wife says that my daughter misses me, and I, of course, miss her. But what can you do?
After the Olympiad will you take part in any other team events?
For now I haven’t thought about it. My main task is the Candidates Tournament and I’m preparing for that. I don’t think there are any team events before that, while if afterwards there are some then perhaps I’ll play, why not?
What do you think about Magnus Carlsen’s decision not to take part in the Candidates Matches?
It’s his right, but although he listed some sort of reasons I still don’t entirely understand why exactly he refused. I understand that perhaps play goes better for him in tournaments. But, in my opinion, that’s not a reason to give up fighting for the World Championship. I wouldn’t do such a thing, although I respect his decision. It surprised me.
One of Magnus’ reasons for his refusal is that the World Champion has privileges. In your opinion is it fair that Anand will be lying in wait for the winner of the selection, or should he enter the battle for the title at an early stage?
That’s a matter of the system. I consider it normal, as after all it’s been like that for more than a century: the World Champion plays in the final, and you have to get through a selection to play him, and then beat him. I don’t see any problems there. Previously there were rematches, and still more privileges. Before it was obligatory to beat the World Champion, as if there was a draw he retained the title. When I played Kasparov he almost had a point advantage, while now there are tie-breaks. In actual fact the privileges are being reduced and perhaps now they’re the least they’ve been in the whole history of chess. That’s why it seems to me that the current situation is entirely normal.
As far as I know in women’s chess, on the contrary, the Champion doesn’t have any privileges and will play in a knockout tournament from the very first round. Why is that?
I don’t see any reason why women shouldn’t have a Championship system similar to the men’s. In general I’d be in favour. A World Championship match is always interesting and spectacular. I think it’s the optimal format to decide either the male or female Champion, but I don’t have any influence on the matter.
Of course Kramnik has been asked about Carlsen’s withdrawal by every journalist in the vicinity, but he said something slightly new while talking to Yaroslav Korobatov for Komsomolskaya Pravda. In the context of my recent article on Carlsen’s Russian nickname it’s worth quoting the headline, “The Kid Carlsen is waiting for Kramnik to retire?” Here’s the most interesting section:
One way or another it’s a shame, first and foremost, for the fans who wanted to see Carlsen play.
And for the Norwegian? After all, he’s voluntarily giving up the chance to become World Champion…
Well, he’s young, he’s got a lot of time. Perhaps that’s why he decided there was no hurry. Time really is working in his favour, as his main rivals at the moment are much older chess players. That’s Topalov, Anand and myself. Therefore each year it’ll be easier for him to become World Champion. Perhaps that’s the rational crux of the matter. But in any case, even if he didn’t win now, he’d gain colossal experience.