KC-Conference with Alexander Grischuk


KC-Conference with Alexander Grischuk

We’re now publishing the answers of the third hero of our “KC Conference” project, International Grandmaster Alexander Grischuk, to questions posed by members of the KasparovChess forum. During the eight days set aside for questions so many came in that Alexander, despite his good intentions, could hardly be expected to answer them all. Here’s what he had to say himself: “I’d like to apologise to everyone whose questions I couldn’t respond to. There could be several reasons: the questions were too personal, or impolite, or on topics I’d never considered, or didn’t want to consider, and I also didn’t want to come up with some long-winded general answers”. The discussion can be continued in the same forum where the questions were set: KC-Conference with Alexander Grischuk (in Russian).

Short Biographical Sketch:

Alexander Igorevich Grischuk was born on 31 October 1983 in Moscow. He represents Russia on the international stage. He obtained the International Master title in 1998 and became a Grandmaster in 2000. By 2003 he had already reached 7th place on the FIDE rating list. His current FIDE rating is 2760 (September 2010, 7th place on the rating list), which is also his peak FIDE rating.

Alexander was taught to play chess by his father at the age of four. Grischuk’s first trainer was Mikhail Godvinsky, while his subsequent mentors were Maxim Blokh and Anatoly Bykhovsky. Alexander Grischuk’s talent revealed itself early on. From his youngest years he played in various youth tournaments, at a national level in Russia and also internationally. He won the Russian Championship at under 10, 12, 14 and 16 categories. He was the runner-up in the World Under-10 Championship.

By 1998, Grischuk was already taking part in the adult Russian Championship, where he scored 5/11 and drew attention to himself. His first big success was in November 1999 – first place at the Chigorin Memorial in St Petersburg. His subsequent successes in prestigious tournaments include: Torshavn 2000 (1-2, with Ponomariov), Linares 2001 (2), Wijk-aan-Zee 2002 (2), Aeroflot Open, Moscow 2002 (1), Poikovsky 2004 (1-2 with Rublevsky). He was twice a silver medallist in the strongest Russian Championship Superfinals – in 2004 (behind Kasparov) and in 2007 (behind Morozevich).

He’s often taken part in the struggle for the highest chess titles. At barely 17, Alexander made it to the semi-final of the FIDE knockout World Championship in Delhi, 2000, where he lost out to Shirov. In the next FIDE World Championship in Tripoli, 2002, he got to the quarterfinals, where he lost (in rapid tiebreaks) to the future winner, Kasimdzhanov. His success in the FIDE World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk, 2005, where he got to the semi-final, qualified Alexander to take part in the last 16 matches for the World Championship (Elista, May-June 2007). By beating Malakhov (3.5-1.5) and then Rublevsky (3-3, 2.5-0.5), he won the right to take part in the final tournament-match for the World Championship which took place in September of the same year in Mexico. That went badly for Alexander. He’s taken part in the FIDE Grand Prix 2008-9, with his best result being in Elista 2008 (joint 1st with Radjabov and Jakovenko).

Alexander Grischuk has often played in the Russian colours, in the World Chess Olympiad (victories in Istanbul 2000 and Bled 2002) and the European Team Championship (victories in Plovdiv 2003 and Crete 2007). Alexander is also strong in rapid chess. In January 2008 at the ACP World Cup, after victories in mini-matches against Karpov, Svidler and Karjakin, he got to the final, where he lost to Radjabov.

Alexander Grischuk has the reputation of being one of the best blitz players in the world. On the Internet Chess Club he achieved one of the highest ratings at blitz. In September 2006 he was the world blitz champion, sharing 1-2nd place with Svidler in the final round-robin tournament, and winning the tiebreaker game. He’s the holder of two samovars for victories in the traditional “Vechernaya Moskva” newspaper blitz tournament.

In March 2009, Alexander Grischuk took first place in the super-tournament in Linares, finishing ahead of Ivanchuk on tiebreaks. That’s probably his most significant victory to date, and a good sign of his future promise. [Editor's note: since this interview was published in Russian Grischuk  has further confirmed his promise by taking 2nd place in the Grand Slam Masters Final (Bilbao 2009) and subsequently winning the Russian Championship Superfinal (Moscow 2009).  Another success came in Linares 2010, where Alexander took the 2nd prize.]

Sample Games

Grischuk - Karjakin (Sochi 2008) (S. Shipov - annotations in Russian)

Grischuk - Svidler (Mexico 2007)  (S. Shipov - in Russian)

Grishuk - Timofeev (Dagomys 2008) (V. Lebedev - in Russian)

Grischuk - Dreev (Togliatti 2003) (V. Lebedev - in Russian)

Grischuk - K. Georiev (France 2001) (V. Lebedev - in Russian)

Grischuk - Brynell (German Bundesliga 2002) (A. Finkel - in English)

Grischuk - Khalifman (Wijk aan Zee 2002) (L. Ftachnik - in English)

Grischuk - Adams (EU Cup Chalkidiki 2002) (A. Huzman - in English)

Motylev - Grischuk (Moscow 2004) (L. Ftachnik - in English)

Grischuk - Kamsky (FIDE World Cup, Khanty-Mansiysk 2005) (A. Gershon - in English)

Grischuk - Timofeev (Dagomys 2007) (V. Lebedev - in Russian)

Grischuk - I. Sokolov (Bled 2002)

Grischuk - Radjabov (Wijk aan Zee 2003)

Grischuk - Anand (World Blitz, Moscow 2007)

Rychagov - Grischuk (Moscow 2007)

Grischuk - Shirov (Moscow 2006)

Shomoev - Grischuk (Dagomys 2008)

Linares 2009: All Grischuk's games (annotated in Russian)


1. Chess: Career

phisey: Who do you consider was most important for your development as a chess player, Maxim Blokh or Anatoly Bykhovsky?

Unquestionably Bykhovsky. I started working with him when I was ten and as a result made it into the world top 10. But I also think that Blokh, who I studied with from the ages of 7 to 10, had a positive influence.

krey: Hello, Alexander. Which game, out of all of those you’ve played, do you remember best, and why?

Grafin: Could you tell us about your most memorable victory/your most galling defeat!

The most memorable victories were the victory in the Armageddon game against Svidler at the World Blitz Championship, and the 3.5-0.5 team victory on demand against the Chinese in the last round of the World Team Championship.

Defeats – the loss to Leko in the Armageddon game in the final stage of the rapid chess Grand Prix in Dubai (unfortunately FIDE then abandoned the competition after holding two stages in Dubai and Moscow), when, having 6 seconds against 3, I knocked over a piece, corrected it in my own time, and as a result lost on time, with my opponent only having a single second remaining. And losing a totally won position to Shirov in the penultimate round of the Match of the Century in 2001. That game completely destroyed our chances of saving the match: before the concluding round the score became “-4” instead of the fully recoverable “-2” on 10 boards.

vasa: Alexander, I’ll also allow myself to ask traditional and not particularly creative, but nevertheless interesting (for myself) questions: what’s the best move that you’ve made in your career? The best game you’ve played? The best novelty that you’ve used or refuted?

The best move was 24. Rf1 in the game with Adams in 2002, and moreover I think it was the best by quite some distance. I remember that while the game was still going on I went up to Khalifman and said: “I’ve made the best move of my life”.

Games: the draw with Svidler in Mexico and a victory in blitz against Anand where, it seems to me, my play was incredibly clean given it was blitz.

Novelties: perhaps 19. f5 in the Najdorf, which I used to win three games in a short space of time (the games didn’t make it into the databases): against Popov, Gutkin and Ibragimov (all in 1999). Also 11. Ndb5 against Dvoiris – a move which took a few years to neutralise.

Eriksson: Gufeld’s “immortal” game with Bagirov is well known. Have you played yours yet?

Bykhovsky told me that Gufeld would continually demonstrate that game, and Anatoly Avraamovich on meeting him would sometimes, instead of “hi”, say “Edik, show me your game with Bagirov!” I haven’t played one yet, but even if I do, I hope that nothing similar happens to me.

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?

Alas, yes.

Nieznakomets: Alexander, do you think you’ve reached your ceiling in chess or do you consider that you haven’t yet totally fulfilled your potential as a chess player, and still have the desire, readiness and ability to conquer the main summit in chess.

The answer’s somewhere in between: I haven’t reached my ceiling, but I’m a long way from the main summit.


2. Chess: History and Philosophy

vasa: Alexander, what was your favourite chess book in your childhood? Do you read chess literature now?

In my childhood it was “Chess Kingdom” by Averbakh and Beilin. I still read now, of course. To be honest, Kasparov’s books have no competition.

Valentin: Hello, Alexander! Averbakh (for example) in his childhood saved on breakfasts so as to buy himself one more book about chess. Is there a great need, in your opinion, to spend a few hours working with chess literature when it’s possible to play? What were your first books? What interests you in the games of the old masters (before the 20th century)?

There’s no doubt working with literature can be very useful, but the key word here is literature, as in our age a huge amount of chess wastepaper is printed. Games before the 20th century, to be honest, are only interesting to me from the point of view of history and entertainment.

Life gambit: Tell me, Alexander, did you study the “Manuals of Chess” of Lasker, Capablanca and Reti. If yes, how relevant are they, in your opinion, in our time?

I studied Reti’s manual, while I read the other two. I don’t think that they’re relevant now for professionals, though when it comes to children it’s better to ask trainers rather than me.

Montmorency: Hello, Alexander! Which chess player’s games made the greatest impression on you? It’s quite likely that at different times (or perhaps even simultaneously) there were a few…

Yes, at different times I liked Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov and Korchnoi.

Montmorency: Did getting to know anyone’s games have a noticeable influence on your style? If yes, did it happen involuntarily and spontaneously, or did you deliberately want to change something in your style (I’m not talking about getting rid of gaps or weaknesses, but changing your playing signature), basing it on “models”? Someone said that your style of play resembles Spassky’s? Do you agree? How would you describe your style?

It’s hard for me to say what my style is, and even harder to say who or what influenced it.

Kassandra: Dear Alexander! Imagine you’ve been given the opportunity to play one of the “greats” who’ve already left chess. Who would you choose? Why?

Life gambit: If you had the opportunity to spend one hour in conversation with someone from the past who would you want to spend that time with?

Perhaps with Tal, and not even so much for the sake of playing him, but simply to meet him.

starik: Do you remember games played by the best players in the period, let’s say, from 1925 to 1935? What significance for current and future chess players does the classical chess heritage have?

I don’t remember them off by heart, but I remember the general outline of many games. Here the question is how “classical” the heritage is. If by classical you mean Steinitz and earlier, then it has little significance, but if you mean Fischer and so on, then huge.

Montmorency: Alexander, two more questions from the field of emotions and psychology. How do personal relations with your opponent affect your game? There are well-known textbook examples in this area. For example, for Botvinnik and Korchnoi feeling personal enmity towards their opponent helped them to get psyched up for the game. They say that before their first match Tal psychologically disarmed Botvinnik by agreeing to all of his conditions and depriving him of any grounds for antipathy. Or on the other hand there’s Polugaevsky and, it seems, Tal himself, for whom a feeling of antipathy towards their opponents only hindered them.

No doubt for me it’s best when I don’t know my opponent at all, but if I had to choose between sympathy and antipathy – I’d definitely choose antipathy.

Montmorency: Although in chess (particularly for professionals) the main aim is victory, during play there are many memorable passing moments that bring, if not joy, then satisfaction. For example, if you manage to totally surprise your opponent. Even if the result of the game ends up being negative such moments nevertheless warm your soul. More often than not they occur in the opening (after applying some stunning novelty), but you can also surprise your opponent or knock him off track at other stages of the game. It’s true, that’s no longer the result of home preparation, but after finding some stunning idea at the board. So the question is: did you have any such moments which you remember with pleasure even today?

There were moments like that: for example, when someone’s whole body shook during a game, when someone began to swear almost audibly, and so on. But I don’t think it’s ethical “to name names” when talking about it.

Eriksson: Have there been occasions in your experience when someone’s clearly gone for a worse continuation for the sake of a beautiful continuation to the game? Does co-authorship still exist, so to speak?

I don’t recall any, except perhaps Ponomariov in 2000, who allowed me to play a smothered mate.

ddt: What do you think, is chess “The Glass Bead Game” or is it nevertheless something more meaningful than that? Paraphrasing the question: is chess a thing in itself or does it have some prospects of gaining popularity beyond a narrow circle of the “anointed”?

I don’t see anything really meaningful in chess, it’s not medicine or growing wheat, but on the other hand humanity needs entertainment, which was known about back in Ancient Rome. As for the prospects of increasing the popularity of chess, I’ve had a countless number of arguments with other chess players and I don’t have one consistent opinion. On the one hand, they show such idiotic and stupid shows on TV that you think: but surely chess (well filmed and commentated upon, which, by the way, still hasn’t been done once!) can’t be worse! But on the other hand: it’s true after all that if you don’t know the rules you won’t enjoy watching chess, while coming to terms with the rules of chess can’t be done so quickly.


3. Chess: Technique

RedStArs: How do you recommend training positional evaluation at Class A to Candidate Master level?

Only with a good trainer, analysing typical positions.

starik: When evaluating a position which is more important, considering chess principles or assessing all the candidate moves, i.e. the ability to calculate all the variations well?

Here there’s a logical inconsistency in the question, as after all you evaluate the position at the end of the calculated variations! Sometimes, of course, you think: “Everything’s great for me there if my opponent doesn’t have a shot”, and you start to check if he has one, but that occurs less frequently.

Valery 89: Hello, Alexander! I’d like to pose the following questions - could you please reply if, of course, there’s no professional tabu against it. How do you train your tactical vision? (I heard that you see combinations in fractions of a second!)

It strikes me that tactical vision isn’t that susceptible to training, if you compare it  to the calculation of variations (those are two totally different things!). How can you train the calculation of variations? By calculating variations!

WinPooh: Alexander, are you planning to write any books on chess? If yes, then what kind – collections of commentated games, manuals, opening studies?

For the moment I have no plans and I can’t imagine what I' d write if I did write something.

WinPooh: How do you feel about chess compositions?

Lukewarm, but Pervakov – RULEZ! [Editor's note: this slang word ("rules" i.e.  "is cool!") has been borrowed from English and is used on Russian Internet].

Grafin: Perhaps the reason you get into time trouble so often is that in conditions where time’s lacking you have to rely on your intuition, which is something you (subconsciously) strive for? ;-) Do you look at your frequent time trouble as a shortcoming and are you trying to fight it (and if so, how)?

vasa: Alexander, your deep thoughts in the opening have already become legendary. How do you struggle with that shortcoming? If, of course, you consider such musing a flaw.

Yes, whatever I do to fight it nothing helps. Of course I consider it a flaw. And, by the way, as I’m constantly asked about time trouble and essentially there’s nothing I can say in reply, I’ve long wanted to cite the Ekaterinburg Rapper Vitia AK-47 [Translator’s note: at YouTube here – it’s a bit pointless to translate without the rhymes, but something like]:

Mum says / It’s the plan that slows everything down / Listen, kid, / Use hashish in moderation!

Crest: I remember Alexey Alexandrov saying… Grischuk was playing Kasparov. I had a look at their position as they were coming out of the opening and went back to my own game. Then I returned after more than an hour and, lo and behold! The position on the board was practically the same. Only Sasha with the black pieces had played a7-a6 and h7-h6 (plus a couple of moves by Garry). And he was already in time trouble. Wow! He really dug deep!

Which is where the question arises, Alexander: tell me, as a grandmaster to a grandmaster – what do you think about for so long in well-known theoretical positions that at a glance don’t look particularly sharp? Are you perhaps thinking of the same hippopotamus that Tal wrote about? (referring to Tal’s reflections during the famous game Tal-Vasiukov, Kiev 1964).   

In general, as I said before, it’s hard for me to say, but in this particular game there was something to think about: white had the two bishops and a positional edge, but he lagged behind in development and black was obliged to take advantage as otherwise he’d suffer for the whole game (which in the end is what happened). I recall that I then spent two days finding the correct move order for black (computers back then were weaker) and, it seems, in the end I found it.

Semetey: Hello, Alexander! My question: what’s needed in order to make progress in chess? Is a trainer important? Can you make progress on your own?

Fischer’s example shows that it’s possible, but all the same he was a genius.

Tigrolex: Hello, Alexander! How do you feel about computer chess? Do you consider it more of a positive or a negative thing for the future of our game?

I don’t see anything positive, but the process is inevitable.

Renegat23: The traditional question. Alexander, how do you feel about correspondence chess? Do you use correspondence game databases?

I’ve got a database, but the given type of chess really seems to me to be the most moronic of all.


4. Chess: Openings

Grafin: To what degree, in your opinion, does so-called opening fashion affect the opening repertoire of chess players in the top 100 (for example, the herd-like attraction of elite, and not only elite, grandmasters to the Anti-Moscow Gambit)? Can you say that, let’s say, the Alekhine or Dutch Defence, or also the Volga (Benko) Gambit (which immediately brings to mind your remarkable victory against Evgeny Alekseev) are better than their reputation as dubious openings suggests? Could it happen that in a particular tournament situation against a particular opponent you would (if you had the hypothetical right to choose) prefer the black pieces to the white, or is the right to make the first move always an advantage?

Fashion does have an effect in chess, no doubt, but the question is just how strong it is. I’d prefer the black pieces to the white a maximum of one time in a thousand.

Zeppa: Alexander, what does your intuition tell you: in which line should black have the greatest difficulties in the Petroff – after 3. Nf3:e5 or 3. d2-d4? P.S. can I make a big request that you don’t limit yourself to answers of the type “not being an expert in the given opening it’s hard for me to say something definite” or “the contemporary state of theory doesn’t make it possible to state a clear preference for one of the lines”. The question is posed with the aim of clarifying precisely your vision of the conceptual problem of choosing the strongest move in the given, concrete position.

Well, as the author of the questions asks me “not to beat about the bush”, then 3. Nxe5.

Tigrolex: Do you think that 1.e4 poses black more problems than 1. d4? And the same question about 1…e5 and the Sicilian for black. Do you concern yourself with such general questions in opening theory, with opening philosophy, if you like? Would you put yourself among those chess players who are principled in upholding their opening convictions, or among those prepared to play any line for sporting reasons, even if deep down they consider it incorrect? If possible, could you share your thoughts on contemporary theory in more detail. Thank you in advance.

At one point I was concerned with those questions, but I’ve long since come to the conclusion that chess is a drawn game, and by a decent margin.

AleksSting: Hello Alexander! Sorry for the blunt question, but could you tell a young chess player how, in your opinion, it’s best to play as black after 1. e4 c5 2. f4! as it’s that line that’s gradually taking away my love of Sicilians!

Well, to begin with, I envy you the fact that it’s that line that’s taking away your desire to play the Sicilian, as the majority find it harder to deal with 2. Nf3. But seriously, 2…d5 and 2…e6 are very solid lines.

Life gambit: Would you agree to a bet if you were offered black in the line 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e5, or white after 1.e4 e5 2. f4 on the condition that you get 2 points out of 3 against opponents with a rating above 2650?

Of course not, although after 1. e4 e5 2. f4 there would be some sort of chances.


5. Chess: Profession

vasa: Alexander, is chess for you hard work which you’re capable of doing well, or a favourite occupation that you enjoy?

Rapid and particularly blitz is a favourite occupation that I enjoy, while long chess games are hard work, which I’m capable of doing well.

Grafin: Which of the players in the top 20 has the “strongest arm”? Who do you personally find most inconvenient to play?


Life gambit: In the recent tournament in Bilbao, Aronian, playing white against you in the Slav Defence, sacrificed a bishop on b5. At that moment I imagine that in your position I wouldn’t have felt so good. If you don’t mind, could you describe your thoughts at that moment, and how do you manage to maintain concentration in such situations?

I won’t describe my thoughts, as after all Crestbook isn’t Litprom [Editor's note: Litprom.ru is an irreverent Russian literary site]. While it seems to me that concentration drops off for everyone after such novelties. I can only offer some banalities: take a deep breath, drink tea or coffee etc.

starik: Dear Alexander! Why are blitz and rapid more appealing to you than classical chess? Who, in your opinion, is the best blindfold player among the super grandmasters?

It’s more appealing because it’s much more dynamic, there’s more emphasis on it being a game and the stronger player wins more often (and in a match by more) against a weaker player. It seems that Kramnik and Aronian have consistently had the best results, but it’s hard for me to go into more detail as I’ve only ever played in Monaco once [Editor's note: now it's twice - Alexander also participated in the 2010 Amber Chess Tournament  and came fourth behind Carlsen, Ivanchuk and Kramnik].

A-Kalinichev: Alexander, hello! Is it true that for you successes in blitz are no less important than those in classical chess? What was your ultimate evaluation of the position in our blitz game at the Vechernaya Moskva tournament in 2009, if I’d found the simple combination with the key move Rc5?

They’re no less important, but the thing is that in blitz there are only one or two serious tournaments a year (the World Championship and the Tal Memorial, which are often combined). If FIDE ran a World Cup or a Grand Prix for blitz it would be great. I no longer remember the position accurately, but I think that after the game we came to the conclusion that after all I can hold?

Biryukov777: How admissible is it in blitz to play for a win on time in drawn positions?

There’s a clear line for me here. Let’s say that as a result of a tense struggle you’ve got to a dead-drawn ending (let’s say a rook ending with 2 v 2 on one flank). In that case I won’t play on time. But if such an ending occurs after I’ve had an extra piece and 40 seconds against 20 then I’ll go all out to try and flag my opponent. i.e. for me – at the moment when I had an extra piece and 40 seconds against 20 the game is over (I’ve won) and the rest is just playing it out, it’s not important how.

Biryukov777: Alexander, what’s your opinion on blitz? Perhaps it would be better if instead of classical chess blitz was played? It would be a better spectacle and, more importantly, many people would be able to win a single game (taken alone) against an opponent. There’s a chance for everyone. While in classical chess the weaker player has far less chance against the stronger, and at times none at all. Playing blitz chess is much more attractive for everyone. Moreover, serious chess expends too much energy. It would be better to take the money that sponsors spend on serious chess and use it to host more blitz tournaments. While classical chess should either be played less or not at all. What’s the good of working all out for 3-4 or even 6-7 hours at the board, calculating variations, when it can all be for nothing and you're left with a headache? It’d be better to switch to blitz – where there are chances for everyone. Am I wrong about that?

A little confusing, but overall I agree.

Jimmy: Dear Alexander Igorevich, these are my questions for you: in your experience, what number of games a year do you consider optimal for a professional chess player?

It’s depends for what: for chess growth, then no doubt 60-70, while to earn money – more :))

Jimmy: What can you get out of blitz games on the internet, from the point of view of your performance at classical time controls?

You can train playing instincts, and test and check out openings.

Jadn: Do you think that rapid chess and blitz should gradually replace classical chess, or will these types of chess exist in parallel? And the same question about random chess.

I don’t think so, but I hope so. The same answer for Fischer-Random.

Edwards: Alexander, do you think there’s a serious chance in the future of random chess squeezing out the normal arrangement of the pieces?

Yes, but not in the near future, maybe in 30-40 years.

Eriksson: What do you think of the points system (win – 3 points, draw – 1 point)?

I don’t see anything wrong with it, but there’s nothing great about it either.


6. Chess: Politics

Jadn: Alexander, how do you rate the current format for deciding the World Champion? Do you think the privileges received by some chess players (e.g. putting Topalov straight through to the semi-final, or Kamsky into the following Candidates Tournament after a loss) are fair. How, ideally, should the world title be decided – in a match, a tournament, or in a knockout?

Jadn, in chess politics you've long had to forget about the word “fairness”, and to recall “conjuncture” and other similar ones. To be honest, it strikes me that the format doesn’t have great significance (except for the World Champion! for whom it’s very important that there should be a match, even better one with a rematch), but it’s absolutely unacceptable to change the rules during the cycle. You can’t do anything worse than that!

Veritas: Dear Alexander! I want to wish you sporting success and the chance to get into the candidates tournament in the current cycle. In connection with that, here’s my question: How do you think the wider chess community, beginning with fans, can influence the state of affairs for deciding the World Champion. After all, with the competition there is at the moment such a chance might only come once, and it’s a real pity when the outrageous actions of the FIDE Executive Committee only provoke internet discussion. Chess fans could reduce any army of chess bureaucrats to dust. How can we make the officials really understand that? Once more, allow me to wish you future victories.

Thanks for the wish. I’m not sure that “chess fans could reduce any army of chess bureaucrats to dust”. But if that’s true, then do it!

Baron: Hello, Alexander. Who, in your opinion, is currently the strongest in the world? The World Champion Anand, or someone else? If you haven’t thought about it, then please take 2 seconds and if you can’t give his surname then at least… his first name. Thank you.

It seems to me that there are now a few chess players who are of about equal strength, but the most promising of them is… Magnus.

A-Kalinichev: Do you think that Magnus Carlsen will become the strongest player in the world, as Kasparov was in his time?

It’s possible he’ll become the strongest, but I don’t think he’ll be just like Kasparov. It seems to me that such total domination is no longer possible.

Anikey: Can you still compete with Carlsen now, or is it already too late?

You can, you can.

Edwards: Alexander, what are your prediction and thoughts on the outcome of the Anand-Topalov match?

It seems that they’ve just announced today that the match will take place in Sofia, so in that case the favourite is Topalov.

vasa: Alexander, why hasnt the Russian team been able to win the Chess Olympiad since 2002? Is it really just that G.K. has retired and the leader’s position is vacant? And in general do we have a team, or does our country just send very good chess players to such competitions, but players who aren’t united by any common goal? Perhaps we need to go back to the drawing board?

It’s very hard for me to respond, as of late I’ve played very badly for the team. I think that what you’ve said is a factor, plus things simply haven’t worked out. That factor is underestimated by many, but in actual fact it’s very important, particularly when you’re no longer head and shoulders above the rest, as before.

Valentin: In the USSR-USA radio chess match in 1945 the Soviet Masters, including Botvinnik, beat their opponents by scoring 13 wins and 8 draws. Why shouldn’t Russia today also be capable of “destroying” the American team so impressively (if you don’t include Kamsky, of course)?

I’m in favour.

DimaKryakvin: Good day! Alexander, what’s your opinion on the future of Russian chess? Do you react negatively to the fact that various Russian figures consider the young generation untalented, and a reader of “64” is supposed to admire Karjakin, Carlsen and even such doubtful figures as Daniel Naroditsky (I have in mind the articles by Bareev and Razuvaev)? Do you consider the Russian youth (and yourself, first and foremost) capable of competing with Carlsen in future?

Yes, I react negatively to a whole generation being called untalented, but it’s irrelevant to me who else is offered for admiration. If you don’t want to, then don’t admire them. I’m no longer “youth”, but I’m sure that some very strong guys will soon come through.

Tigrolex: Do you think that ratings are taken too seriously nowadays? The ELO level is used all over the place as a substitute for the concept of chess strength (“He plays at 2600…”, “I beat a 2450…” and so on), tournament invitations are based on ratings and so, even, is the world championship cycle. As a result, players have to chase after rating points and are deprived of the opportunity of playing occasionally for pleasure, while a lot of problems arise (fixing ratings, inflation and so on). Do you consider the rating system essential? What do other top-GMs feel about it? Would you like to go back to the old pre-rating times when a player’s place in the world was mainly decided by the number and “gauge” of the tournaments he won?

I think that ratings, despite all the criticism they get, are a very objective indicator. There’s just one “but” – it’s wrong that someone who doesn’t play all year (or plays one tournament a year) doesn’t lose his rating.

bgo: Alexander, good day! I’m glad to be able to pose the following questions to you. Imagine a situation where a time machine allowed you to play a match against Capablanca (Alekhine, Botvinnik). What playing strength, in your opinion, would a contemporary chess player need to possess (taking into account all the knowledge that was added about chess in the last 80, 70, 60 years) in order to win the match? Could they be beaten by a Candidate Master? A Master? A known figure in Russian chess once told me that Steinitz played at the level of a current Category A player. I don’t believe that, but still, has chess really advanced so far (in particular in terms of understanding, the criteria for evaluating a position, strategy)? And the second question: who among the chess elite (let’s say the top 20) has the potential to significantly improve his play (in the sense that he hasn’t yet reached his ceiling)? Id guess, Carlsen. But who else? Anand, Kramnik, Shirov, Aronian, Gabriel Sargissian (I went to chess training with him, so I’m interested) – can they get to a qualitatively different level (I’m not sure where up could be for the champions Anand and Kramnik, but still), or is it their fate to at best maintain the level they have now? And the final question: Who among contemporary players, in your opinion, has least fulfilled his chess potential? Thank you in advance for your replies. With respect, Bagrat Verdiyan, Prague

I think that far from every grandmaster would beat the trio you named, and only a select few would beat Botvinnik. As for the second question, I think the younger chess players have the greatest chances of improving.

Lolita: Alexander, what’s your opinion on corruption in chess (rigged tournaments, fake titles and so on.). Have you ever encountered such individuals?

My opinion is extremely negative. I can honestly say that I’ve never in my life rigged or bought a game (although, of course, I’ve agreed to make draws). But I can’t say that I'd, for example, refuse to shake hands with someone because of it, and so on. Perhaps an inconsistent response, but there it is.

Alexander: How do you feel about the problem of computer cheating? In particular, how well-grounded do you think the suspicions are that Topalov cheated?

I don’t want to talk about Topalov, as in order to make accusations you have to present evidence, and I don’t have any. While overall there is such a problem and we need to treat it seriously.

RedStArs: Did you ever remake a move in an official tournament (including children’s tournaments)? If something like that did actually happen how did it affect the result of the game?

It’s never really entered my head to remake a move (although at times I’ve re-e-e-ally wanted to), and I’d NEVER let my opponent remake a move.

Eriksson: What do you think about universal chess education in schools? There’s a common opinion that young chess players have to travel to Moscow in order to improve their level of play. What do you think about that? Is it worth developing chess infrastructure in the regions or, on the other hand, is it essential to develop centrally?

I don’t believe in universal chess education, which just seems painfully unrealistic. I think chess in schools can only ever be an elective subject.


7. Poker and Other Games

Zrezzo: As you’re the person who, at a distance, introduced me to poker, my questions will be about that (I’ll explain: in December 2008 I read your interview in “Sport-Express”  “POKER – MY SECOND JOB” and that was the last straw after which I went and registered at PokerStars). Which variants do you play: Hold’em, Omaha and so on?

At this moment in time I mainly play PLO and a mix of games: 7-8 games at FullTilt and PokerStars. I only play hold’em at major tournaments: FTOPS, WCOOP and sometimes Sunday tournaments.

Zrezzo: What exactly: cash, tournaments?

Cash. The only tournaments I play are big ones.

Zrezzo: Do you appear on poker forums: CGM, PokerStrategy, GipsyTeam etc.?

I read them, but I don’t write.

Zrezzo: How do you work on your game?

Forums and sites like CardRunners.

Zrezzo: Are you in touch with our professionals?

I know a lot of them, but I only really keep in touch with Ilya Gorodetsky [Editor's note: a Russian poker player, journalist and TV commentator].

Miptus: Hello, Alexander. Usually those chess players who don’t play poker consider poker to be a much easier game and that the role of mastery in it is much smaller. You’ve already picked up a lot of experience in poker. Can you compare poker and chess in terms of complexity and the role of mastery? Do you calculate variations with the same speed as you do in chess? Can you quickly calculate the probability of a particular card appearing?

I think both chess and poker are very complex and deep games. I consider them to be unquestionably the most interesting table games (although I’ve never played Go). The probability of a particular card appearing (let’s say a 7 of clubs) is always equal to 1/(the number of cards remaining in the deck) :)

starik: Can playing poker, which demands a lot of time, really contribute to your success in chess?

Hardly, but life isn’t only about success in chess!

Manowar: A poker question. 88 or AK?

With the big blind at 300, 88, with it at 30 – AK.

WinPooh: Let’s fantasise a little. What if you had the following alternative: playing blitz with Fischer or poker with Capablanca?

To be honest, I don’t see anything interesting about playing poker with Capablanca, so it would have to be blitz with Fischer.

regent: Let’s imagine making chess a more “politicised” game. Chess (at least originally) was modelled on military conflicts, which in general quite rarely end in total defeat (0:1), total victory (1:0) or absolute equality (0.5:0.5). Usually at some point the soldiers make way for politicians, and the latter establish the conditions for a ceasefire. So that the result ends up being x:1-x, where x is between 0 and 1 (for example: black’s position is difficult but there’s no clear win for white and he’s in time trouble.
The players can agree, let’s say, to 0.75:0.25). Perhaps switching to such a “continuous” result would diminish the problem of “death by draws”. So then, here’s the idea: instead of offering draws, a player has the right to offer to share the point in any proportion, i.e. to offer his opponent the result x:1-x. In that manner chess players would be able to act not only as “soldiers”, but also as “politicians”. Question: would you find it interesting to play in a tournament under those rules?

It would be interesting to play, but you’d need to work out the rules very carefully. For example, why does almost no-one play chess with doubling of stakes, as in backgammon? Because in backgammon a draw is impossible, while in chess it’s very possible – and it's not entirely clear how can you include a draw into the rules for betting.

A-Kalinichev: Which sports (except chess) interest you?

As a spectator, almost all of them, particularly games. While personally I more or less play tennis and basketball, but I’m terrible at the others. I thought that I’d just about got the hang of table tennis, but after my father-in-law gave me a 9-point handicap in a game up to 11 and still beat me…

8. Interests, Hobbies, etc.

Valchess: Alexander, if possible, could you indicate your tastes in music, cinema, and literature? What are your favourite genres, authors/performers, works? In those areas do you just look for rest and entertainment, or  (or additionally), for food for thought on some complicated matters?

I recall I once answered that question. It’s hard for me to talk about favourite authors/performers and works as they change from time to time. While for genres: in literature almost anything, except for historical works (although recently I read a book about Hitler with great interest) – since childhood history and geography have interested me the least. As for music – rock (although in fact it’s already dead), rap, chanson-bards.

Valchess: One more question: do you take an interest in ideology or politics? Would you describe yourself as a “liberal”, a “conservative”, a “patriot” or as something else?

At one point I took a serious interest, I watched the Duma [Editor's note: the lower house of the Russian Parliament] sessions, I was for Zyuganov against Yeltsin. Now it would be strange to follow our internal politics closely. As for external politics – in that, no doubt, you can call me a patriot – in any case in a conflict I’d support Russia simply because it’s Russia– my country.

Semetey: How do you feel about religion?

In general, almost everyone in my family is an atheist, but I’m more of an agnostic.

Phisey: Alexander! How do you feel about fashion in clothing? Do you have any principles when it comes to that? What do you think about tournaments in which the contract specifies that formal clothing is obligatory? Is that right for the image of chess?

I’m indifferent to fashion, the main thing is being decently and appropriately dressed, while being fashionable or not is by the by. I think when organisers pay players to take part in a tournament they’re within their rights to ask the players to observe any reasonable rules they’ve established – in particular, on formal clothes. While I think it’s unacceptable in opens.


9. Life

jenya: Good day. I’d be interested if you could say something about your parents and the older generation. What did they do, and what do they do now? My acquaintances told me that your father decided to leave his job in order to take you to events. My acquaintances (at the time they were sixth-formers at school) were really annoyed about that. Tell us about your daughter, she’s already two, right? I understand that both you and your wife [editor's note: GM Natalia Zhukova] play a lot, travelling around the whole world. Do you have a house where you manage to be with your family often? If all of these questions are too personal then feel free to ignore them!

My parents (and my mother’s parents) both graduated from PhysTech, so they have a physics education. My father worked as a physics and PE teacher in school, but then he left and went into business. It’s total rubbish to say that he left his job to take me to tournaments. My daughter Masha is two and a half. We live in Moscow, and in Odessa.

Anikey: Dear Alexander! Here are a few questions from me: Do you want to give up smoking?

At the moment I haven’t got the slightest desire.

Anikey: Is it true that marriage = minus 50 rating points? When did you play better: when you were a bachelor or now, when you’ve become a father?

It’s not true. About the same, but I think that now I’m a little stronger.

Shlavik: You’re a brilliant blitz player. Does chess help you in real-life situations and particularly in extreme situations when there’s no time for thinking, but only split seconds in which you need to take a correct decision. Do blitz and time trouble situations help with that? In general, how does chess help you in life?

I think that it both helps, and hinders. It really is true that when there’s no time to think I find it easier to take quick decisions, but on the other hand when I have a lot of time I often drag things out to the last moment.

10. Internet

Eriksson: Do you visit chess forums? Do you watch on-line commentaries?

Klf: Alexander, do you go onto any Russian chess forums? What interests you about them/or why don’t you find them interesting?

I do, of course, watch on-line commentaries, but I’m not on forums.

A-Kalinichev: On which chess sites other than ICC and Playchess do you sometimes spend your leisure?

Even with Playchess I’m only there 2 or 3 times a year.

Angarsk: Alexander, did you register on “Chess Planet”, or did someone use your name? If yes, then why have you stopped playing there, do you play at all on the internet, and at what time control? Vasily

I played on ChessPlanet once, when there was a big tournament in which I finished second, by the way, to Sergey Shipov.

Harry Potter: Alexander, here’s my question: for simple chess fans online reporting from tournaments on the internet is manna from heaven. But how do super grandmasters view it? Do you read it after you play or is everything in any case clear to you at the board?  Can you find something useful for you or do you relate to online commentary as footballers relate to television commentators, i.e. with a light dose of irony?

For me personally it’s always very interesting after a game to read online commentaries. It’s another matter that commentators are sometimes excessively critical when a computer, in seconds, shows missed opportunities by the players. I’d like to advise them to look at the position more often with a “human” eye and ask themselves if the blow/move/line shown by the computer was really so obvious?!

11. E-not: Questions to the Grandmaster

1. Does there exist, in your opinion, a problem of an excessive number of chess grandmasters in the world?

There’s definitely an excess of grandmasters. The question is whether that’s really a big problem?

2. Is the current system for granting the grandmaster title fair (correct?)?

In general it’s a reasonable system, I think, though it’s simply time to introduce a new title i.e. to become a grandmaster now you need 3-4 tournaments with a 2600+ performance and a rating of 2500+. You could introduce the title of “super grandmaster” (provisionally speaking – the name’s not important), and for that you’d have to have 3-4 tournaments with a 2700+ performance and a rating of 2600+.

5. During a tournament does the system for choosing the winner (rankings) affect your play or is a great role played by the lighting and comfort in the playing hall?

The system’s almost always the same – whoever gets the most points wins :) While comfort is important: space, drinks, ideally a monitor with a broadcast in the restroom, so you don’t need to rush back into the hall every two minutes and check whether your opponent’s made a move or not.

6. How do you feel about taking pictures during a tournament – should it be completely ruled out? Given 5-10 minutes? Let them photograph as long as they dont shove? Or is it valuable work for chess, as long as it’s done well (photos that are informative, funny and inoffensive).

Just as long as they don’t shove and come right up to the table. Some also shoot for 5 minutes, which really gets in the way. To be honest, I don’t understand why nowadays it’s forbidden to photograph after 5-10 minutes, as it’s clear that all the interesting photographs can only be taken in time-trouble. 

7. Is photomontage malicious slander, a distortion of reality or something interesting to look at?

If done with talent, then it’s interesting to look at.

8. Do you play Random Chess (Fischer Chess?)

Well, as it happens this August I won the Mainz Fischer Random Tournament.

10. Is dominoes a serious pastime?

It strikes me that any passion can be both serious and unserious.


12. Questions from the Passionate Fan, Unrated

Unbelievable!!! It seems that dreams do come true… Alexander’s my favourite chess and poker player! And in general I really respect the man! I’ve always dreamed of talking to him, but of course it was unrealistic to imagine it happening. So I’m really grateful to my old friend the KC Forum and the organisers of this undertaking in particular for giving me the chance to pose a few questions to my idol (well, not idol, but highly respected person who I want to model myself on). THANK YOU!

Dear Alexander! I really admire and respect you, and it’s very unlikely that I’ll ever have the chance to have a heart-to-heart conversation with you, so I’m taking as much advantage of this opportunity as I can. Please understand me.

1. How do you feel about religion? Do you go to church? How often?

I replied about religion before. I barely go to church at all.

3. Your favourite food is…? In general, where do you prefer to eat, at home or in restaurants and cafes?

I can say what I don’t like, as I like almost everything else. So then, I don’t like: eggplant, zucchini, fish with bones. In general, my wife cooks very well.

5. Do you read any magazines, newspapers?

I try to read Sport-Express. I used to read the “Medved” magazine, but it’s gone downhill of late.

6. How do you feel about cars? You do have a car, don’t you? What was your first car, and did you have any accidents? Which car do prefer above all others?

I haven’t, touch wood, had any accidents. I’ve been driving for 4 years, my car’s a Nissan X-Trail. The car of my dreams is, I think, a Hummer. I really liked my first car, which was an old Nissan Maxima.

7. How do you feel about the road situation in Moscow?

It’s a sore point. It seems to me that the situation that’s arisen can’t be solved with therapeutic methods and there have to be some radical and unpopular measures: let’s say, introducing a fairly painful tariff for the right to drive around Moscow. There could be daily, monthly, yearly tariffs and so on.

8. Are you interested in politics? Have you voted? What do you think of our president?

I’ve still never voted. The president’s low (in the sense of not tall). [Translator’s note: the Russian word used has a range of meanings, only one of which is “short..."]   

12. Have you ever got into a fight? Many times? Did you fight on the street with strangers? Were you or your opponents injured in the fights?

I’ve fought, but not much. I didn’t have any serious injuries, and I don’t know about my adversaries, but I’m afraid they probably didn’t have any either :)

13. What do you think about the strength, style and manner of play of GM Dmitry Andreikin? [Translator’s note: He recently won the World Junior Championship] Do you follow his appearances in tournament with players of a 2600+ level?

As I understand it Dima’s 19 years old? If that’s true, then I don’t understand why he’s barely written about in the press. I’ve never played against him, but it seems he’s a talented guy.

15. How do you feel about the bourgeoisie in the contemporary world? Aren’t you irritated by people who are very wealthy? I’d also like to readdress that question to the working class.

I don’t get irritated by very wealthy people, but when someone’s simply stolen 90% of their worth (for example, having attached themselves to the gas pipeline - [Editor's note: a reference to the way many Russian oligarchs earned their money]), then, of course, I feel irritated. Among our oligarchs only Abramovich arouses any sympathy in me. I don’t have even the slightest hint of irritation at the working class.

18. How do you find the condition of the current Russian Health System and medicine?

Luckily, I haven’t really come into close contact with it. But a lot of private clinics are totally incompetent or dishonest. I remember once when I fell badly ill, with a temperature of 38+ for 10 days. I called a private doctor. He listened to me and said it sounded like pneumonia and I needed tests. OK, I ordered a home lab, did the tests (not cheap, of course). In a couple of days the doctor came again and said: “yes, all the tests were normal, but nevertheless I sense that it’s pneumonia. You need to do more tests” (3 times more expensive). Of course I kicked him out, and a couple of days later I was better again.  

19. I began to play poker very actively thanks to you, dear Alexander, as you were, and remain, my chess idol, and your hobbies can’t but interest me. First I searched on the internet for everything connected with the words “poker Grischuk”, read a lot, then I registered in a room and began to play. After that problems began to crop up with my sleep patterns and, in turn, with my studies. I’m studying at a medical college. And I was confronted by the question: “what’s interfering with what: poker with my studies, or my studies with poker?” For now I’m not capable of earning money through poker. But perhaps its just a question of timePlease could you tell me what you think, Alexander. And in general, does anyone need another surgeon like me, as there are already so many and competition to get into medical faculties already exceeds all bounds?

I think surgery is a very useful profession, but it’s up to you alone to choose.

20. Why don’t you play at Playchess at all? It’s really, really annoying. I don’t have access to ICC. In general, do you play there often? Is it worth my buying an account?

ICC is more familiar. As for an account, I don’t know. I don’t see much point playing at 10 different sites.

21. Please can you tell me your favourite quote (or one of them)?

In general I love quotes, but I’m always forgetting them. I like the fact that the well-known quote, “healthy mind, healthy body” originally read, “Pray Spartans, that in your healthy body there’s a healthy mind!”

22. Do you read this forum [Editor's note: KasparovChess]?


23. About how long do you spend on the net a day?

2-3 hours.

24. What are your impressions after meeting well-known poker players?

As in any environment, the people are of all kinds, there’s no stereotype there.

27a. Do you like playing in the blitz tournament of the Tal Memorial in a close ring of fans? How do you like the atmosphere at that event? I once got your autograph there and wished you luck, and you shook my hand.

To be honest, it’s more pleasant playing when there’s more space. The ring of spectators is good for a fun tournament like the “Vechernaya Moskva” event, but not for a World Blitz Championship.

27b. The same question about the Vecherka. By the way, congratulations on your win, of course!

Thank you.

28. About how many roubles a month do you spend on clothes? Do you shop often? Do you like buying any accessories?

I don’t buy clothes that often.

30. Do you get bored by people who ask you an awful lot of questions? Sorry, but your every word is important to me at this stage of my development in life.

I enjoy answering interesting questions, and can’t stand answering uninteresting, impolite or inappropriate ones.

32. In which district of Moscow were you born and where do you live now?

I was born in “Vodny Stadion”, and when I was two and a half my family moved to “Profsoyuznaya” [Editor's note: “Vodny Stadion”  and “Profsoyuznaya” are metro stations. Muscovites often refer to the nearest metro stations when talking about where they live]. Now I live in Yasenevo.

33. How do you feel about the problem of migration to the capital?

Well, I like the phrase “Limita has flooded in!” [Editor's note: "Limita" is a Russian slang word for "migrant workers" to Moscow having rather disparaging connotations] but only as a joke. I’ve got nothing whatsoever against migrants.

34. Do you have friends? A lot? In general, does real friendship exist in this world? And can men and women be friends?

I’ve got friends. It seems to me that real friendship is possible, and perhaps even between a man and a woman. In general, I’m not 60 years old so I’m not an authority on such questions.

35. Inspired by life: have the Americans been on the Moon?

I’m not sure, but in general I’m inclined to believe in various conspiracy theories. For example, I really don’t believe in Osama Bin Laden.

36. Do you like hunting, fishing? Do you like to pick mushrooms, berries, or simply to walk in the forest? Have you ever slept on top of a Russian Stove?

I’ve never been hunting, while I twice went fishing but didn’t catch a single fish. It seems that my answer to all the questions in this point has to be – no.

37. What do you feel when you’re about to play a player at the 2350-2400 level? Do you prepare for the game, what do you think during the game, and are you just as focussed or do you allow yourself to play automatically?

Of course I prepare, I focus, but deep down I hope to beat him with my bare hands.

38. Roughly how many pages do you read a month? a) <200 b) 200-500 c) >500

Definitely more than 500.

39. How many of those are devoted to chess?

It’s very hard to say.

40. Your favourite Russian film and your favourite foreign film.

It’s always hard to name one, so how about two: “Afonya” and “Gentlemen of Success”, and “American History X” and “Fight Club”.

41a. A situational poker question: How would you go about playing AA pre-flop on the big blind at a very tight table? Let’s say that before you there were two calls and the small blind had called.

A bit of a confusing question, but, it seems, raise?

41b. The poker hand you prefer being dealt? Your favourite poker combination? What was the strongest combination you had at a table in off-line poker?

When I’d only just started to play it was K4o, but, fortunately, it’s long since been AA. I think I’ve had a straight flush, but no royal.

42. Have you ever lost your temper?

It’s happened.

43. What do you usually drink at home? Tea or coffee? Juice, compote, cola or something else?

All of the above.

44. What do you think, how many pull-ups could you do right now on a bar?

Since I was 15 right up until now I do exactly 6 pull-ups.

45. What do you watch on Russian television? Favourite broadcasts, shows, channels.

Mainly sport and TNT.

46. How do you feel about pets? Do have any experience with them?

When I was 13 my parents brought home a Labrador– Zyova (a short form of Zeus). Fortunately, we’ve still got him.

47. What attracts you to chess?

Well, from childhood on I’ve loved all kinds of games, and it’s simply in chess that I’ve done best.

48. Do you like the band “Nautilus Pompilius”?

I like them, but I’m not crazy about them.

49. How many times have you cried in the last year? But be honest. Have you ever burst into tears since you were 18?

Since I was 18, I haven’t really cried once, though tears have occasionally come to my eyes.

Thank you everyone!

The text in Russian was prepared for publication by Valery Adzhiev (Valchess) and Stanislav Fiseisky (phisey). Vassily Lebedev (vasa) was responsible for the chess fragments.

English translation by Colin McGourty with editorial assistance by Valery Adzhiev.

Other KC-conferences in English:

KC-Conference with Michal Krasenkow

KC-Conference with Alexander Khalifman: Part One

KC-Conference with Alexander Khalifman: Part Two

KC-Conference with Alexander Khalifman: Part Three