After Peter Svidler won the 2011 Russian Championship he gave a long interview to Vladimir Barsky for the Russian Chess Federation website. Barsky had been with Svidler at the World Team Championship in Ningbo, China, so had witnessed the dramatic change of fortune between the two events first-hand.
They began their conversation by talking about the aftermath of Ningbo, where the Russian team had failed to win a medal:
Peter, how did you manage to recover so quickly after China?
I don’t need to convince you of all people that the sky fell down on us in China – it was a localised end of the world, a localised hell. Nothing fundamental had changed for the better in life in the next 10 days. I managed to spend some time with my loved ones, get my head straight and get out of that nose dive I was in. I didn’t consider myself a favourite at all; I’ve never tended to consider myself a favourite, never mind now… I’d had some conversations with people who said they felt I was going to play well. That’s nice, of course, but it wasn’t something I had any confidence in. However, it turns out they were right.
Before the Superfinal you looked fresh and rested. I can still remember very well how our whole team looked after Ningbo…
I managed to spend a certain interval of time as I imagine a perfect four days would go. It almost perfectly coincided with the picture I’d got in my head of how I’d like to have spent them. In actual fact, before and after that interval there were two very different people.
What goals did you set yourself for the Superfinal?
Well, what goals? Usually people ask me before the Superfinal: “Peter, what would you like to achieve?” Coming to the Superfinal and not wanting to win it would be absurd. But this time I simply wanted to play better than in China. I didn’t want to play the kind of chess I’d periodically played in Ningbo. That championship turned out uneven: I played a couple of very decent games, and a couple that made me want to go away and pretend I wasn’t there; please, don’t come near me! Here my main goal was to escape from that condition and play at least approximately at the level I’m capable of. And to a large degree that worked out for me. Of course, it would have been better without the last game, as that spoiled the overall good impression from the tournament, but nevertheless – it was a very good result.
In the very first round Kramnik flung himself at you with the black pieces. How surprised were you by his mood?
He’d already played that way before, and I think he simply considered Black’s position to be very good.
In the previous game he didn’t give up a bishop, though.
He encountered f4, so he had to react like that. And moreover, that was a blitz game, and it seems he was left with the impression that Black’s position was wonderful, that it was possible and necessary to aim for it. Did I expect him to throw himself at me like that? I consciously went for that position as White in order to get a complex strategic position where we’d play chess. I thought that was where my chance lay. I don’t want to say that I considered myself the favourite in a complex, confusing battle: it’s clear that Volodya doesn’t have any problems understanding where he needs to put his pieces. But I wanted a complex, unconventional position in which he’d be thinking, because the match in Kazan was one long illustration of what happens to people who get involved in theoretical discussions with him. That was something I absolutely didn’t want.
Did I expect I’d have a won position after 15 moves? Certainly not! It ended up being a strange game: we reached a position in which play was only getting started, and then 4 moves later it was essentially over. My slightly shaking hands made it seem as though Black had drawing chances, but the real fight was over very quickly. Of course, it was easier to play after that win. In almost every game there were interesting moments. For example, against Karjakin I found an idea that wasn’t self-evident – b4 and Nb3. A strange pawn sacrifice, after which the picture had completely altered. And against Grischuk I was also applying pressure with Black. Then there was that streak of three wins. Of course, I got pretty lucky over that stretch, but it was chess luck. I posed certain problems; on another day, perhaps, they’d have solved them better, but on that day it all went the way I wanted.
Have you ever had to play such an extremely short format before?
Yes, I’ve played single round-robin tournaments with 8 players. In Dortmund I shared first place with… probably with Kramnik – who else could you share first place with in Dortmund? That was 2006, it seems. It’s an interesting format – not so bad. Of course, now I’ll be the number 1 fan of such a format as I’ve got no cause to complain. I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with a tournament with 12 players either. In Russia you can always find 12 good chess players. The problem a smaller country would have is that a tournament with 8 people could be Category 19, while with 12 it would be Category 16, but we can easily find 12 people. But they tried it this way, and it was very upbeat and lively; there were key encounters in each round. The format has every right to exist.
It seems you’ve already won the Russian Championship by every possible system?
Yes. 1994 and 1995 (Swiss tournaments), 1997 (knockout), 1998 (Swiss [Vladimir Barsky notes Svidler was second on tiebreakers]), 2003 (Swiss), 2008 (a round robin with 12 players), and this one.
Which victory was dearest to you, the most memorable?
Probably the first and the last. Well, the first for obvious reasons, and this one – because in the last few years… I can’t say I haven’t demonstrated anything good at all, but a success like this one that you can point your finger at and say – look at that! – there haven’t been any of those. The victory in Gibraltar was good, there was a mass of good chess players and I scored quite a lot of points, but nevertheless it was an open tournament. Therefore this was a very important victory and I’m very glad about it.
You played a very interesting, fighting game against Grischuk. You’ve worked closely which each other and recently you were together at the Candidates Matches. What’s it like to play someone you know that well?
Sanya [a short form of Alexander in Russian] and I haven’t simply worked together a lot – we’ve got a very good relationship. He’s an extremely interesting chess player and one who’s very interesting to play against. Therefore if it was possible to find something to play that we hadn’t looked at together… The main problem was that there were some regions of opening theory which it would be uncomfortable for him to play against me, or me against him, as we’d built up a certain baggage of common analysis. As for simply playing against Sanya – it’s interesting and a pleasure because you’ve got a strong and unconventional chess player sitting opposite you.
If you’re talking about the goals I set myself before the tournament then I wanted to stretch myself as much as possible, to play every game at some sort of limit. From that point of view any game against Grischuk is interesting for me as I rate him very, very highly as a chess player. When I’m in a normal condition and not getting beaten around in every game then I relish the chance to play against strong players.
How interesting did the tournament end up being from the point of view of opening theory?
I’m not sure we’ve significantly advanced opening theory, although there probably were some interesting and important games. In terms of overall entertainment, however, it turned out to be a wonderful tournament!
Due to the 40-move rule?
That as well. I think that’s one way in which the short format was definitely a good thing, as you could allow yourself to play every game. You knew that unless you fell ill you should be able to last the distance. Therefore you don’t have to think – today I’m playing Black against Kramnik, then Morozevich, then Grischuk, and after that there are still 6 games to go! And at some point it’s necessary to try and organise an extra rest day as otherwise you’ll be on your last legs. Here that problem didn’t exist. For a Category 19 tournament the number of decisive games was absolutely awesome. If you include today’s round – above 50%! When you’ve got this number of chess players all of approximately the same class the games usually end in draws. I think it was a never-ending feast for the spectators.
The tournament should undoubtedly be included in the chess federation’s success stories. People I wouldn’t have expected told me they’d watched the tournament broadcast. It’s absolutely clear that broadcasting chess in this manner will interest and attract people who otherwise would never in their life have opened up a chess website. If you’ve got the resources then that’s precisely how chess should be covered. There’s a huge class of people who would very soon tire of simply watching the pieces on a screen, but who would watch, let’s say, “Chess TV”. You’ve got a non-stop live broadcast in which you’re told about what’s happening on the board, you can see what the people look like, how they sit, and you’ve also got two commentators who help you to understand what’s going on. And that’s a way of attracting people who otherwise have a look in the evening to see how the round went, and that would exhaust their interest in the tournament. Or else they’d read a final report after the tournament was over.
We’re not pioneers; as far as I know the same was done at the US Championship. It’s obvious that in the near future that’s the main resource for attracting attention for chess. Because in the internet age, and taking into account what a brilliant spectacle our sport is, it’ll be a little difficult to drive millions of people into playing halls. I think the Gelfand – Anand match in Moscow will fill a hall, but not the KPC [Kremlin Palace of Congresses]. We won’t fill the KPC, even if we really wanted to. You need to reach people who won’t go to a stadium and show them a high-quality picture with some commentary, and then on one of the days perhaps they’ll come and have a look in the hall, and tell their friends. That was what was done well, and it’s precisely in that direction that we should be working.
How was the organisation overall, the living conditions?
Of course, having finished first I can hardly complain about anything connected with the tournament. I really love playing in this club and I feel very comfortable here. We all lived in the “Arbat” hotel. It’s got a series of drawbacks which everyone knows about, but it’s got one advantage that cancels out all the rest. I wouldn’t want to travel to a round in traffic jams or on the metro, while from this quiet hotel in the centre it’s 10 minutes’ walk to the club. Yes, it would be good if the internet was better. Yes, for someone 1.9 metres tall it would be nice if your legs fitted on the bed. But it’s all there is! From the point of view of holding chess tournaments in the club the “Arbat” hotel has a natural monopoly.
We’ll see you next at the World Cup?
Yes, the circus is travelling to Khanty. And then the circus will travel to the European Club Cup. This autumn the circus won’t be standing still, the whole tent will be packed up and transported from one venue to another. The European Club Cup, then, perhaps, there’ll be some sort of event with our Armenian brothers, then the European Team Championship; I don’t know if I’ll be taking part in that after how I played in China. Frankly, I won’t really be able to catch my breath until December. Given my love of the Russian winter I really welcome the fact that the World Cup’s taking place in August-September. The leaves will be yellow… The Olympiad was the first time I arrived in Khanty and it wasn’t winter and I thought: wow, it’s simply great here! The people were always very friendly, but the absence of sun and “-25”… But when that’s not an issue I’m simply a great fan of that city!
Thank you, Peter, and good luck in your upcoming tournaments!
Perhaps the highlight of the Russian Championship (although it helped to know Russian!) was watching Peter Svidler demonstrate his games afterwards for the audience that gathered in the press centre. He explained five of his seven games, and if you count Alexander Morozevich’s demonstration of beating Svidler in the final round all but one of his games were covered:
- Svidler demonstrates his win against Kramnik (Rd 1)
- Svidler demonstrates his draw against Grischuk (Rd 3)
- Svidler demonstrates his win against Galkin (Rd 4)
- Svidler demonstrates his win against Timofeev (Rd 5)
- Svidler demonstrates his win against Nepomniachtchi (Rd 6)
- Morozevich demonstrates his win against Svidler (Rd 7)
Peter Svidler talked about his commenting on the games in another interview with Elena Klimetz for Chess-News:
I can tell you a semi-anecdote about that. Yesterday we were leaving the club: my wife, Sasha Grischuk and me – and we were buttonholed by a chess fan. He asked me about something and then he waited until Olga and I had gone about five meters – but nevertheless, it was perfectly audible, although perhaps he thought it wouldn’t be – he caught up with Sanya and said: “Tell me, Alexander, is Peter also such a joker in life as he is at the press conferences?” That absolutely wonderful word ‘joker’ [the actual Russian word is the odd-sounding ‘balagur’], which I’d never heard used about me before.
But yes, you could say I’m an artist of the conversational genre. But it’s always a little awkward for me… In particular, there was a press conference, I think actually with Sasha, when we were sitting there together and over the course of the whole conference he said about five words, while I said all the rest. That’s probably not very good, but when I start to talk I can’t stop.
But do you really enjoy it? Because observing you it seems as though it’s not only the spectators who’re enjoying themselves.
Generally yes. I love chess and I love talking about chess. And then you have to add in the fact that if I’ve been invited to speak then it very likely means I’ve won a game. And at such moments I’m generally in an extremely blissful mood. Life strikes me as something entirely tolerable and even, perhaps, pleasant in places. So why not talk about what went on?
In the viewer below you can play through all seven of Svidler’s games from the Russian Championship:
Game viewer by Chess Tempo