Vugar Gashimov’s interview for Chess-News after his victory in Reggio Emilia was a vivid reminder of the importance of the human element in chess. He talks about motivation, how not all novelties are found by computers, and how Sofia Rules can lead to less interesting chess.
Despite losing in the first round to Nigel Short, Gashimov finished the Reggio Emilia New Year tournament on 6/9, winning on tie-breaks over Francisco Vallejo Pons (see the Italian official site, or full details in English at The Week in Chess). The key to his victory was winning three consecutive games against Ivanchuk, Vallejo and Navara. In his interview with Evgeny Surov of Chess-News he went into detail on how he achieved that feat. If you know Russian you might want to listen to the interview there, while I’ve translated some of the highlights below. All the photos are taken from WGM Julia Kochetkova’s photo reports at Chess-News.
Motivation and preparation for the tournament
Three years ago, when I finished second (Almasi won that time), my father took a liking to the cup which they gave for first place, and I promised him that the next time I’d definitely win that cup. Well, and I hope it’ll be as nice as it was last time. We’ll see. But in any case, of course, it’s always pleasant to win a tournament at this level, and it seems to me that it’s indicative of the work that I’ve done. This summer I worked a lot on my chess, and the results have followed. […]
I always try to free up some time in the summer, because during the summer you can somehow combine relaxation and preparation, especially as our family has a dacha on the Caspian Sea, where I spend every summer. So there’s the sea, and relaxation, and I’ve got dogs there – four of them. We all travel there together as a family, and it’s possible to study chess.
Another remarkable feature here is that besides playing well, it seems to me, I also played one of my most interesting tournaments. I played quite original chess, and in that respect I was really happy. I played both interestingly, and for the result. Usually you can’t combine the two, but I managed to do both.
Discussing his loss to Nigel Short in the first round, Gashimov remarks that it’s become something of a habit. He lost to Bacrot in the first game of the Spanish League, only to go on to beat Nakamura, Navara and Shirov, and again lost to Bacrot in the first round of the Nanjing tournament, before coming close to beating Topalov and Carlsen.
Note you can play through all five of Gashimov’s decisive games from the tournament in the game viewer at the end of this article.
Victory against Ivanchuk, and novelties in general
It’s simply that the strength of novelties varies. Some are for one game only, or give you a minimal advantage. The strong point of the 17. Rb3 novelty was that it’s purely human. The idea is to switch the rook to c7. The computer goes after all the pawns, but White just plays for complete domination. I didn’t touch my opponent’s pawns at all – he was still left with an extra one at the end. The idea is that after Rb3-c3-c7 the position turns out to be absolutely lost. Of course, that was very pleasant. It’s not every day you manage to find such a strong novelty, as with the advent of computers almost any position can be held nowadays. The computer finds a way. But this novelty is one of those that really are powerful. And, of course, it had an influence on how I played after that. I felt more self-confident. If you can beat Ivanchuk without, let’s say, needing to apply any particular effort… after Rc7 I remembered the line right up to 19. Bd7. And the rest is very simple.
Surov mentions that in the past good novelties would be talked about for a long time afterwards, while nowadays they’re almost immediately forgotten:
Of course, it’s not the way it was before. I think that’s linked to the fact that previously it was difficult to find novelties. Now when someone finds a novelty everyone thinks it must have been found with a computer. That’s the easiest way, it’s true. But, as a rule, all the best novelties in my life have been found without a computer. The computer helps in calculation, but in terms of ideas, of course, it’s not an assistant to man. Sometimes it just doesn’t understand. But, of course, computers are getting stronger all the time. I can’t rule out that one fine day computers will also be strong in terms of ideas, and not only in calculation. But it strikes me that we’ve still got a long way to go before that.
1. e4 g6! against Vallejo Pons
And then, of course, there was the next crucial game against Vallejo. I think the decisive role there was played by the very first move – g6. I managed to overcome myself. I’ve very rarely played that move – maybe a couple of times in my life. And I managed to overcome myself and play it. That had a psychological effect on Vallejo – he clearly didn’t expect that I’d play so sharply… as you only play that move when you simply want to win. And it seems that wasn’t something Vallejo expected from me.
Navara and the will to win
I think that against Navara my success was based on courage and a will to win. I really wanted to beat him, more so as during the game I realised that Vallejo was already pulling away after winning. And the will to win, it seems to me, helped me. Yes, I had a bad position, but then I analysed the game, and I was never lost. The position was bad, but I always had counterplay. We both had fairly weak kings, and given the pieces on the board you always had to be alert and monitor the situation. From the 41st move, after time trouble ended, I played the game very well, and managed to find a few very accurate moves – those manoeuvres with Qf2, Rf1, then the tactics of Be3, Rf7, and R7f6… I won because I made a series of very strong moves. And then you can’t deny I’ve got a will to win. I’ve always had it. It most likely comes from my father – he always wanted to win, and I think that he passed on that desire to me.
It’s perhaps worth noting that although it was by no means straightforward, it does look as though Gashimov was probably lost at one point against Navara, if the Czech player had found the surprising 35…Bf8! pointed out in this Chessbase report.
Who needs Sofia Rules?
Yes, by the way I’d also like to note that it’s not obligatory to introduce some rules banning draws or something similar in order to make a tournament more attractive. Here there were absolutely no rules – not for being late and not for draws. But just look at how low the draw percentage was in the tournament! And what a good spectacle it was. It seems to me that when there’s a ban on draws it puts pressure on you, and you start to play more limited chess. More solidly, perhaps… And grandmasters who find a three-fold repetition usually make it immediately at the first opportunity – as there’s a risk that you might have to play some stupid position for seven hours, and in any case the game will end in a draw. But here you could simply play calmly, and if you ended up with an equal or nearly drawn position, then you could simply offer a draw. And it turns out that everyone played interesting chess, with few draw offers right up until the end of the tournament.
All the games mentioned above, and Gashimov’s win against the tournament outsider, Michele Godena, can be played through below:
Game viewer by Chess Tempo
Although I decided in this case to concentrate on the chess, Gashimov was also asked about his relationship with the Azerbaijan Chess Federation, who left him out of the Olympiad team (which I covered, in sometimes excruciating detail, here and here). He restated that he didn’t understand that decision, and was still hopeful of playing for Azerbaijan in future.