Here at last! Part Two of Svidler’s “KC-Conference” saw Peter answer reader questions on an enormous range of topics, from the standard – e.g. why he chose the Grunfeld and how to improve at chess, to others you’ll struggle to find elsewhere – e.g. why he wears an earring and whether he has chess-related dreams.
Questions were set in Russian at Crestbook, and in English here at Chess in Translation. As in Part One, Peter answered the English questions in English (text originally in English and not translated is given between asterisks i.e. *…*) and the Russian in Russian, seamlessly switching between languages.
Svidler provides a glimpse into the life of a chess grandmaster, satisfying the curiosity of those of us who play chess at a slightly less-exalted level:
ChemaAnton: Hello, Peter! Which engine do you use for analysis? (if it’s not a secret).
Тактик: Which chess programs do you prefer – which engines do you use?
I’ve put together quite a large collection – although I’ve also seen much more complete menageries than mine. At the moment the ones I use most are Houdini, Fire and Rybka.
Of course, it’s sometimes hard to verbalise what comes as naturally as breathing:
* Tim Cutler: When you are walking down the street calculating variations in your head, do you see a three-dimensional chess board or a two-dimensional computer screen?
I hope that question will not result in my never being able to calculate ever again, as happened with the centipede which was asked which leg it moves after the 27th left one :) 3D, I think. *
A large number of the questions were on how to improve at chess, and especially how to work on openings. Svidler answered in detail, giving the current theoretical assessment of lines, but also insights into his own experience of playing them:
gambiteer: Hello, Peter! I’m 14 years old and my level is about 1900 Elo. I’m very interested in the Budapest Gambit and I’ve been playing it for a long time. It’s well-known that you often played it in your childhood, and I’d like to know your opinion on it (how much did it help you in your chess development, is it correct, to what level is it possible to play it, and what would you play against it yourself?).
I don’t think Black fully equalises in the Budapest, but it’s playable, or at least I only abandoned it after already having become an international master. For me the final straw was a game with Kramnik, where he played 4. e3 Nxe5 5. Nh3 and I realised that even against such an unassuming approach Black couldn’t fully resolve his opening problems. It’s hard to judge how much it helped my chess development – in my youth I played a lot of unassuming/half-correct openings, mainly in order to study less theory, and I suspect that such an approach didn’t work in my favour later on.
A recurring theme is the sad necessity of working on openings – despite Peter perhaps being a rare example of a grandmaster who’s reached the very top without exceptional openings, he isn’t able to recommend neglecting that phase of the game:
Роман Ефимов: Perhaps it’s not worth wasting a lot of time on the opening and it’s better to play according to “common sense”, sidestepping at move 7-8 in order to get little-studied positions and create at the board? […] After all, it’s not through openings that you become World Champion (even in the 2000s).
It strikes me that you have a poor idea of the amount of work that Morozevich did at home in order to “get little-studied positions and create at the board”. As I already said above, it’s currently extremely difficult to avoid theory and not end up with an absolutely equal position as White (or a very bad position as Black), and for that you need to do about the same amount of work as you do studying “tabiyas” after the 20th move. It’s another matter that it’s much more interesting to look at fresh and untried positions.
You don’t become a World Champion through openings, of course, but with poor openings you won’t become one at all.
The questions eventually switch towards more general ones on “life” as a whole. Peter is a little sceptical of the idea that skills might be transferable from chess to other areas:
Shlavik: You’re a good blitz player. Does that ability help you to take decisions quickly in time trouble in real life, and have you had such situations? After all, sometimes life provides much less time for considering and taking decisions, and the consequences are much more serious, than in blitz.
More likely the opposite – chess conditions you to try and calculate the consequences of this or that decision, and it’s very difficult to get away from that habit in real life. But life, in contrast to chess, is a game of incomplete information, and such calculations often do more harm than good.
Those who’ve read Peter’s answers to these questions probably won’t be surprised by his taste in English-language TV (though the range of his interests is still impressive!):
* Daniel: You seem to be quite anglophile. If so
– how come, and
– do you like Monty Python’s Flying Circus and which is your favourite episode (mine is “Flying Lessons”)?
Quite naturally I am not sure I can trace it to any single event. I am a big Python fan, although if I had to name one episode, the 1st thing that comes to mind is not from MP themselves, but the ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’ bit with the Monty Python Worshippers. From the Python canon I would probably have to choose Life of Brian. *
Perhaps a good “note” on which to end this brief introduction is the following:
Блаженный поэт: What’s your attitude to music as a whole, and what does it mean for you? Do you play any instrument(s)? What, in your view, do music and chess have in common?
My mother graduated from the Conservatory and is an Honoured Teacher of Russia, so that I grew up with music and that was precisely the main reason for my blunt refusal to study it. It’s very hard to listen to “Little sun, little sun, look in the window” [Editor’s note: Russian folk song for children] five times a week from the adjoining room and for it not to harden your soul. Of late I’ve listened to music less than in my youth, but even now having my favourite album in my earphones is a preferred means of recharging my batteries and getting over the blues. As for the link between music and chess, I don’t see any direct link but, it seems to me, a truly beautiful game is almost music.
The vastly-longer full version of Peter Svidler’s answers at Crestbook can be found by clicking on the link below:
In case you missed it, see also the first installment that included a brief biography, an introduction by Sergey Shipov, and best games chosen by Svidler himself: