Just before the closing ceremony of the Candidates Matches in Kazan, Alexander Grischuk gave a fascinating interview to Yury Vasiliev of ChessPro, where he talked about tactics, his fear he’d forgotten how to play chess, Gelfand’s play in the final, and the “burial of classical chess” due to draws.
The interview at ChessPro was yet more evidence of what we’re missing due to the fact that Grischuk is one of the least interviewed players at the top of world chess.
Sasha, can you give us a few of your thoughts about this cycle. You were included at the last moment and, according to the old chess legend, had the best chances.
I must say it was a very interesting time – it really was very interesting to play. I had quite a strange feeling: I couldn’t imagine losing, but on the other hand, I didn’t believe I’d win.
Perhaps because your opponents were probably the strongest in the tournament, Aronian and Kramnik…
It wasn’t about my opponents. From the very first match I couldn’t imagine losing. Well, and then I didn’t lose in general. In the final as well, I couldn’t imagine losing, but there I did lose.
When we met for the last time before the matches in Wijk aan Zee, you said you’d used up all your failures. Did you therefore expect to do well in Kazan? (Translator’s note: here are some of the highlights of Vasiliev’s reports from Wijk, including more from Grischuk.)
After Wijk aan Zee I wasn’t in the best mood, of course. I then went on to play very badly at the Aeroflot Blitz, not even qualifying for the World Championship. There were five places on offer there, and I finished seventh. Overall, I was worried I’d forgotten how to play chess…
Well, I wasn’t that worried, and fortunately it turned out not to be true. At some point after that I started to work seriously, for two or three months. That bore fruit, and I was no longer as far behind my opponents in preparation as usual. In the final you might say I wasn’t even behind at all. In some games I was better prepared, and in some Gelfand was. I was still behind Aronian and Kramnik in preparation, but no longer quite as dramatically as is usually the case.
Some of your detractors accused you of “cowardice” on internet forums, saying that in every match you were only dreaming of getting to the tie-breaks…
I think that’s nonsense. In any case, someone who’s trying to win a match does it any way he can. First of all, against Aronian all the games were fighting, while against Kramnik you could say that I did have the tactics you just mentioned. In fact, I simply didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to go for a worse position with White just because I was playing White: well, a draw’s a draw, and it’s still all to play for.
In the end your tactics, however they were described by your spiteful critics, paid off. And in the final you met Gelfand, who you’d previously beaten in similar formats. What got in your way this time?
This time Boris’ wonderful play got in my way. He only made a single bad move over the course of six games. True, it was very bad – 22. Bxh8 in the 2nd game. He sacrificed a piece based on his analysis, but then didn’t continue playing a piece down. Anything could have happened there but more likely than not it’d have ended in perpetual check or a repetition of moves. Instead of that, he won back the exchange, but lost the initiative and got a difficult position. I thought I was very close to victory, but in fact it’s very hard to win there. My seconds looked at it with a computer but even then they couldn’t find a clear win. There were chances, but they didn’t manage to find a win. The last game, on the other hand, I simply consider to have been a masterpiece by him. He played brilliantly, so I’ve got no regrets in that regard.
You had good relations with everyone you played. Did that disturb you?
Maybe it disturbed me a little, but not much… It’s generally easier for me to play when I don’t have very good relations with my opponent, although it’s not so critical.
In the last game you came up against some preparation. Is 13. b3 a strong novelty?
13. b3 is of course also a strong novelty. But the way Boris played after that: Nh4 and f4 – those were moves that didn’t even enter my head!
And after that Black’s losing by force?
In principle, I only made one mistake: Bxh4. But even the computer (which I later looked at the game with) doesn’t immediately grasp that it’s a mistake i.e. the level of play by White was so high that I’d have had to play phenomenally not to lose that game. And it’s never easy to play phenomenally.
At this point Vasiliev asked about poker. Grischuk said he hadn’t played for the last few months in the run-up to the matches, and thought it helped. Grischuk was then confronted with the following statement he made about the World Championship in his KC-Conference at Crestbook (where he answered hundreds of reader questions – highly recommended, and not only because I translated it! :)).
starik: Alexander, in his recent KC-Conference Alexey Shirov declared that he isn’t a contender for the title of World Champion in classical chess. Can you say the same about yourself?
All chess players to one degree or another hope to become World Champion. It’s another matter that when I spoke or wrote those words it seemed to me that it was too far away. And then, when Carlsen pulled out, it turned out that I had to win four matches – and could become World Champion. But I only managed to win two.
The next topic of discussion was also based on an earlier statement by Grischuk, this time one made in the press conference after he’d agreed a draw against Kramnik’s Petroff in the third game of their match. Here’s Vladimir Barsky’s version at the Russian Chess Federation website (I’ve included the assessment of the game to provide the context):
It was another “very interesting” game; Volodya probably made one and a half moves on his own. Although my position looks better, and after 21…c6 I rejected a draw, it was impossible to think up anything for White there. Black can exchange rooks, or he can probably choose not to. The position’s approximately equal and, with an hour less on the clock, I offered a draw. But even if we’d had the same amount of time I don’t think White has even the slightest chances of winning. […]
I think, in general, we’re witnessing the burial of classical chess. Two decisive games in 21; that’s about the same as in checkers. On the one hand, that’s a great disappointment – to keep playing such boring games, but on the other hand – maybe we’re doing a good thing.
In other words, proving the absurdity of classical chess might hasten its replacement by something else! Here’s how Grischuk elaborated on the topic in his interview with Vasiliev:
Boris and I have an excellent relationship, but on that point our opinions differ. He thinks my statement about “the burial of classical chess” is complete nonsense, while I still think that classical chess doesn’t have long to go. Why did I mention it while I was still winning matches? Because when someone’s losing people put it down to that – the man lost so that’s why he’s talking like that. But I said it when I’d won a match, and then another. And now I still don’t see any prospects for classical chess.
You think we need to switch to rapid chess?
It doesn’t have to be rapid. Fischer Chess is very promising. It’s also named Chess-960, after all, as there are 960 starting position. Well, some of those positions are a little absurd i.e. the pieces stand in absurd positions… Perhaps you don’t need to use all the 960 starting positions but, let’s say, 200 or 300? I don’t know the exact number. I think that really would get rid of all the forced draws, because it’s impossible to analyse 100 starting positions, never mind 900. I think the most promising option is Fischer Chess.
One topic that fascinates observers of Grischuk’s chess is his constant time trouble, but as so often he found nothing he could really say in response, except that he thought he’d never manage to eradicate the problem. The interview concluded:
What are your plans for the near future?
Now I’ll have a little rest, because it really was a tough event. My seconds told me that I looked fresher and fresher each day, but perhaps they were just flattering me.
By the way, about your seconds. I recall that in the past you’d sometimes go to events alone, while here you had an impressive team. Why three people?
I can tell you that from the very beginning I wanted to have both Bacrot and Riazantsev in my team, and when I decided to play the Grunfeld I decided to get together with Peter [Svidler] as he’s a top specialist in that opening. I’ve never taken and would never take someone I don’t know. But I’ve known Alexander and Etienne for a long time, while I’ve known Peter for around 20 years. I can only say an enormous thank you to all three of them for their work. It was very productive.
Ilya Levitov told me that you’re going to lead the Russian team at the World Team Championship. How many appearances will that make it for the national team?
….“teen”. I played for Russia for the first time in 1999, in Batumi.
Do you expect to win?
I think we’re the favourites. Our team will consist of Karjakin, Nepomniachtchi, Svidler, Vitiugov and me. I hope we’ll win. Then there’s going to be a very interesting event – the World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk. And then I don’t yet know, but there are more than enough tournaments this autumn.