KC-Conference with Alexei Shirov


KC-Conference with Alexei Shirov

We are publishing here the second profile in our new project of “KC-Conferences,” in which one of the leading chessplayers grandmaster Alexei Shirov answers questions of the participants in the KasparovChess forum. In September 2009, over the course of eight days, many questions were posed. As Alexei says, he “more or less answered all the questions,” and he hopes that the readers will be satisfied. The discussion can be continued in the same forum where the questions were set:  «КС-конференция с мг Алексеем Шировым».


Short Biographical Sketch:

Alexei Dmitrievich Shirov was born on July 4, 1972 in Riga [Translator’s note: The capital of Latvia, at that time part of the Soviet Union.] Since 1996 he has represented Spain, having obtained his citizenship in that country. He received the IM title in 1989, and became a grandmaster in 1990. His current FIDE rating is 2749 (as of September 2010, he is 12h in the world rating list). His highest FIDE rating was 2755, in January 2008.

Alexei Shirov became the world under-16 champion in 1988. In 1990 he took second place in the world junior championship for players under 20. He has been a victor and prize-winner at many tournaments worldwide, including the following: Stockholm, Sweden 1990 (1st place), Daugavpils, Latvia 1990 (1), Gausdal, Norway 1991 (1), Biel, Switzerland 1991 (1), Brno, Czech Republic 1991 (2), Reykjavik, Iceland 1992 (1), Munich, Germany 1993 (1), Linares, Spain 1994 (3), Pardubice, Czech Republic 1994 (2), Leon, Spain 1995 (1), Biel, Switzerland 1995 (2), Belgrade, Yugoslavia 1995 (3), Mainz, Germany 1996 (1), Madrid, Spain 1996 (3), Kloosters, Holland 1997 (1), Madrid, Spain 1997 (2), Linares, Spain 1998 (2), Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina 1999 (3), Merida, Spain 2000 (1), Polanica Zdroj, Poland 2000 (2), Reykjavik, Iceland 2003 (1), Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina 2004 (1), Drammen, Norway 2004 (1), Poikovsky, Russia 2006 (1), Moscow, Russia 2008 (2), Sofia, Bulgaria 2009 (1), Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands 2010 (2-3), Shanghai, China 2010 (1) and many others.

In 1998, Alexei was fourth in the FIDE world rating list. On this basis he was invited to play a 10-game match against Vladimir Kramnik. The winner of this match would earn the right to challenge Garry Kasparov for the world championship. Shirov defeated Kramnik by a score of 5.5-3.5 (+2 -0 = 7). The match with Kasparov never took place. In 2000 Alexei reached the final match in the FIDE world championship tournament. However, he lost this match to Viswanathan Anand. In May-June 2007 Shirov took part in the qualifying cycle for the FIDE championship. Having won his first match against Michael Adams (+1 -1 =4, moving on in tiebreak), he lost to Levon Aronian in the second stage. In November 2007 Shirov reached the final of the World Cup, but lost his match to Gata Kamsky by the score of 1.5-2.5.

“Fire on Board” is the name of Shirov’s book, which came out in English in 1995. No one has ever thought of a more appropriate description of Alexei’s play. Shirov always strives for the initiative and, when he succeeds in obtaining it, he becomes truly terrifying. Often he literally tears apart his opponents, mercilessly destroying the fortress around the opponent’s king. At the same time, the victims of Shirov’s attacks have no hope of finding salvation in an inferior endgame, because Alexey normally handles the endgame with aplomb, sensing all the nuances of the position.

Examples of Shirov’s Play

Ivanchuk - Shirov (Sofia 2009) (I. Ganiev – annotations in Russian)
Shirov - Ivanchuk (Sofia 2009) (Traktator – in Russian)
Feygin - Shirov (Eppingen 2009) (V. Lebedev – in Russian)
Shirov - Nisipeanu (Bazna 2009) (V. Lebedev – in Russian)
Nunn - Shirov (Bundesliga 1996) (A. Shirov – in English)
Shirov - Picket (Amsterdam 1995) (A. Shirov – in English)
Shirov - Topalov (Linares 1998)
Topalov – Shirov (Linares 1998)  
Shirov - Mamedyarov (Moscow 2008)  
Shirov - Markos (Montcada 2008)  
Shirov - Carlsen (Sofia 2009)  
Kamsky - Shirov (Bazna 2009)  
Shirov - Kamsky (Bazna 2009) 

Answers to Readers’ Questions

[Translator’s note: A very small number of questions and answers have been omitted either because they are no longer relevant, or because they were repetitive, or because they seemed to be of too narrow interest.]

Edwards: Alexei, if you can, could you at least briefly clarify again your viewpoint on the cancellation of the match with Kasparov. Who (or what) do you consider to be most responsible for the failure of the match? And of course, explain why you think so.

Shirov: The collapse of the Kasparov match was connected with the failure of the autonomous government of Andalusia to live up to its oral promises. The legal responsibility was borne by the president of the World Chess Council, Luis Rentero Suares, who had signed a contract with me specifying the conditions of both matches — my match with Kramnik and the match of the winner with Kasparov. At that time, he did not have the requisite guarantees from the Andalusian government, but that only became apparent later. It was against Rentero that I filed a lawsuit in municipal court, but because of the extreme financial risk I did not pursue it to a higher level. I described the role of Kasparov in this story in my book “Fire on Board 2,” and I have no desire now to return to this theme and stir up bad memories. I can only say that if there had not been some manipulation of the information that prevented me from finding out in time what was actually happening in Spain, and later in California, then we probably would have been able to agree [on a match]. But the problem with communication does not in any way justify Kasparov’s decision to play with Anand. [Editor’s note: Anand declined to play, after which the match between Kasparov and Kramnik took place.] And that is all I will say. The subject is closed.

phisey: Aleksei, there are rumors that Kramnik practically has a “laboratory” of 6 computers which search for opening novelties day and night. Do you have any such “laboratory”? And how is it set up?

I normally prefer not to comment on rumors, but in this case I will answer that I rarely use engines without live analysis. I may, it’s true, set a computer to work on a certain position while I am out of the room. I suspect that this is quite an amateurish attitude. I have only one computer. The friends who help me out with preparation work under a similar regime.

Kit: Will there ever be a Russian edition of “Fire on Board”?

I think that this is theoretically possible. When I have a little more time, I will try to see what kind of possibilities there are.

Kit: What language did you write it in? Do you consider the German translation to be adequate?

I wrote both books in English, and also in the Spanish edition of the second book, I personally wrote the biography. I have a rather weak knowledge of German, so I cannot judge the quality of the translation myself, but I have been told that it was done conscientiously.

Kit: Have you gotten accustomed to the instability of your results? Do you take it calmly, or do you have to rehabilitate yourself when you are at the bottom of the “sine curve”?

Of course, I have gotten used to it. smiley Naturally, after an unsuccessful tournament I try to reach the appropriate conclusions. I don’t really have any special methods for “rehabilitating myself,” but I try not to lose my positive attitude.

Kit: Do you have enough time for your family and for a hobby?

There is never enough time for anything. smiley I try to pay attention to all of my children, but unfortunately I can’t divide my attention equally. Because I am in Spain fairly often, I have more contact with my older daughter (she is 14 years old) than with my other three children. I don’t yet have a new family. [Editor's note: Alexei's married to Olga Dolgova now.] My main hobby, probably, is the Internet, and I definitely need to work on myself to use my time rationally, so that there will be enough of it.

Kit: Is it true that 90 percent of the preparation of a super-GM is on the openings?

If you don’t count physical training, then it’s probably even more than that. Even endgame positions are analyzed nowadays exclusively for the purpose of reaching a correct assessment of the opening. It’s true that I also look at the games of my opponents, in order to create a portrait of them and so on. So I will not hazard a guess at the percent; in general, I don’t care for statistics. smiley 

pk27pk: Why did you not receive citizenship from Latvia in honor of your contributions? Do chess accomplishments not count for anything in Latvia?! I could also ask the same thing about Naiditsch and Fridman, both of whom now defend the honor of another country.

That is a long story. By the beginning of 1995 I had already decided to become a Spaniard, but before then … at first they did not invite me, and then I myself was not certain. I needed freedom of movement, and a Latvian passport at the beginning of the 1990s would not have given that to me. I was also not certain that I would live in Latvia. Everything is too complicated to give a one-word answer. As far as I know, before they received their German passports, Danik and Arkasha [Translator’s note: These are nicknames for Daniel (Fridman) and Arkady (Naiditsch).] were both Latvian citizens.

Dima Kryakvin: Alexei, tell me how you cope with periods when you are in poor or indifferent form? Do you try harder, participate in sports, or simply take a break from chess?

Dima, it seems to me that the question of poor form is mostly psychological, and as I already said earlier, the main thing here is to return to a positive state of mind in a timely fashion. Of course, poor play often coincides with reduced energy, and in that case it is a good idea to restore it as soon as possible. Usually swimming or simple gymnastics are enough for me. Of course, I have never stopped working on my chess game. smiley 

Paulchess: Hello, Aleksei. Does it seem to you that you need to change your style in order to become world champion?

In the decisive moments you always want to introduce some kind of corrections into your play. For example, Anand took greater risks in Mexico 2007 and Bonn 2008 than he did in San Luis 2005. However, Topalov, it seems to me, has never changed his style particularly, he has only polished it.

Paulchess: Did Kramnik change his style before the match with Kasparov? (Forgive me if this question is not very pleasant to you.)

Not really, his style remained the same, if you don’t count the fact that he radically changed his opening repertoire — which in some sense is already a change of style.

Paulchess: Is it really even possible for a grandmaster to change his style?

For a grandmaster, anything is possible. smiley 

luber: Alexei, it will soon be 20 years since you, still at that time a Soviet chess player, successfully participated in the zonal tournament in Lvov and qualified for the interzonal in Manila. Do you still have the goal of contending for the world championship in the future?

No, I do not have any such goal. And realistically, I never did. I think that simply isn’t for me; I have never been a very ambitious person.

ddt: What motivated you to become a Spanish citizen? Why did you pick Spain in particular? (It seems to me that it is not the most chess-oriented and not the most highly developed country in Europe.) How complicated was it for you to adapt to life in a new country? When did you start studying Spanish — was it already after you had moved, or did you already know the language before then? Do you speak any other languages besides Russian, English, and Spanish? Which do you consider yourself to be today — a Russian, a Spaniard, or a citizen of the world? Whom do you root for in sporting competitions? Do you keep up any connections with Latvia? I apologize in advance if these questions are too personal.

First I decided to live in Spain, and then later I started to think seriously about citizenship. It had to do with my first marriage. I wanted my Argentinian wife not to find herself in an unfamiliar linguistic culture, but it did not seem possible for me to live in South America when almost all of the main tournaments are in Europe. Incidentally, at that time Spain was perhaps the most chess-oriented country in Europe, along with the Netherlands. I could play in strong round robins there three times a year, and also play on a team, and speed chess, and exhibitions … I began to study the language in the university in the early 1990s, and somehow I immediately fit in with the mentality of ordinary Spanish people. Not only that, I was young then, and everything seemed new and interesting to me: Cordoba, the Alhambra, and so on. Of course, I always was and always will be a Russian man — that is my native language — as well as a Rigan, because I was born there. But Spain has also become part of me, which makes me very satisfied because I have a feeling of having many facets to my personality. I root for the Spanish soccer team and in tennis I root for Rafael Nadal. But nowadays I live in Latvia. smiley 

Eriksson: Hello, Alexei! I have followed your games from your earlier period as well as your recent games. What is your record against Gata Kamsky?

Somewhere around +2 or +3, but I don’t remember exactly, because we have played so many games. It’s interesting that probably more than half have been decisive. I’m speaking here about games played at a classical time control. At other rates the advantage is more likely on Gata’s side.

Eriksson: One more question: have you done any work as a trainer and do you plan to in the future?

Two years ago I ran a small training camp with some young Spanish players, but probably one should not call me their trainer because other people worked with them more than I did, and they are responsible for their successes – for example, medals at the latest European under-18 championships, etc. This year our federation asked me to run a similar training camp, and I would have accepted the invitation with pleasure, but unexpectedly there was no room on my calendar! We’ll see what will happen in the future. It’s possible that next year I will work with some less highly qualified chess players.

Druinna: First of all please allow me to express my admiration for your chess life. And a short question – if you could start all over again, would you still become a chess pro?

Thank you. I think I was lucky to become a professional at a time when it was easier than today. But if I had been born twenty years later and been the same person, then I am not certain that my attraction to chess in today’s world would have been as strong.

klf: How do you organize your work on opening preparation?

I look at some things myself, and also my close friends help me and have always helped me. Nowadays that means primarily Misha Rychagov, Manuel Perez, and Jordi Majem.

klf: Do you use databases of games played by correspondence players or advanced chess players?

Unfortunately not as a separate item, but if such games come to my attention then I almost always pay attention to them.

klf: How long do you allow yourself to completely forget about chess?

It depends on the calendar. It sometimes happens that I don’t even look at a chessboard between tournaments. However, even then you’re always looking at chess in one form or another over the Internet.

qaskvas: Alexei Dmitrievich, forgive me for the somewhat impudent question, but is it true that after the match in which you beat Kramnik in 1998, the loser received an honorarium but the winner did not?

Yes, that is correct. The loser eventually received both of the fees. However, I forgot that I have already closed this subject. smiley

stirlitz: Alexei, how do you evaluate the period in which you studied in the Botvinnik-Kasparov school? How much did this help your chess development, and were there any negative aspects to it?

Unquestionably it helped to some extent. I have always tried to learn something from other people and usually I am successful. Nevertheless, in those years I received the greatest help from Latvian chess players. As for negative aspects after twenty years? No, I do not have a good enough memory. smiley 

clear0004: When you start to sense a forced win or a winning combination, does your heart beat faster?

No, but your blood supply changes and you feel a surge of adrenaline.

Khrushchev_Alexei: What is your opinion on the problem of copyright to chess games? Have you had any opportunity to speak with Evgeny Sveshnikov about this issue?

It would be more accurate to say that I have listened rather than spoken. smiley Personally I think that games should not automatically be played on electronic boards or recorded in databases. If the organizers cannot guarantee an appropriate royalty, then the chess player should have the choice of whether he wants to broadcast his work to the masses or not. However, even such a simple deal is very difficult to organize.

Unrated: Why has Alexander Grishchuk not yet become the world chess champion at a classical time control?

Was he supposed to? If so, then I don’t know why not. smiley 

Unrated: What is your favorite song?

It’s hard to find a rock fan who can identify a single favorite song. It all depends on the external circumstances, your internal situation, the time of year. But at the moment, the song “Summer’s Almost Gone” by the Doors is very appropriate. Of course, there are also songs that are independent of the time and situation. I can mention “Legend”  by Viktor Tsoi. [Translator’s Note: Viktor Tsoi was one of the first rock singers to achieve widespread popularity in Russia in the era of glasnost in the 1980s, he died in a car accident in 1990.]

Unrated: Your favorite book? And how do you like Dostoevsky’s “The Gambler”? Thank you.

I read “The Gambler”  in as great a hurry as the author wrote it. It’s an awfully standard novel, compared for example with “The Brothers Karamazov”  by the same author. My favorite book — I don’t even know. At one point it was “The Razor’s Edge”  by Maugham, then “One Hundred Years of Solitude”  made a big impression on me (in the original Spanish), and now … I am reading “The Shadow of the Wind”  by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, also in the original. It’s well written, but … somehow not satisfying. It’s much easier to name my favorite mystery: “The Turkish Gambit”,  hands down. [Translator’s note: By Boris Akunin.]

gerram: Opening preparation. How do you manage to memorize such a variety of opening variations? Do you use any kinds of techniques or methods? Does your memorization take place on the level of tactical and strategic ideas, or some kind of mnemonic device?

Yes, on the level of ideas. Of course, I try not to mix up the move order in the main lines.

Life gambit: Hello, Alexei. First I would like to wish you robust health and success over the chessboard. I will be very grateful for your answers. I’d like to ask the following questions. Did you study the work of Paul Morphy at the beginning of your career?

I did. I even remember when, in 1984. My chess development stopped for about a year. smiley 

Life gambit: Who is your favorite master among the classics?

Again it’s hard to pick one out. Will Capablanca do?

Life gambit: Tell me, please, about your first meeting with Mikhail Tal, what he was like in person and whether he had an influence on your style of play.

The meeting is described in interviews [Editor's note: in Russian] that I gave to Yuri Vasiliev in 2006  and to Masha Fominykh in 2007. I have absolutely nothing to add. I think that Tal influenced the style of all the Latvian chess players, even Bagirov. smiley 

Life gambit: Do you remember the game in which you calculated the longest—and, more importantly, the most complicated variation?

I don’t remember my games very well, and keeping track of what variations I calculated at the board and which ones were discovered later with the computer is completely impossible. Probably one of the best examples is the first game with Topalov in Linares 1998 (don’t confuse it with the game with Bh3 in the endgame). Another long calculation took place in the games with Nunn (Bundesliga 1996) and Piket (Amsterdam 1995). Both games are annotated in Fire on Board. [Editor’s note: The game scores are also given in the links at the beginning of this interview.]

Life gambit: And my last question. Can you give a couple words of advice from Alexei Shirov on how to orient oneself in a position with crazy complications?

I cannot give you any advice. I know that it’s necessary not only to calculate many variations, but also to evaluate the resulting positions correctly. It usually helps to concentrate very hard. Aside from that, I don’t know what to say.

DOC-03: Alexei, I would first like to forward to you a question that stirlitz posed to Krasenkow: It would be very interesting if you could describe your life as a chess professional, from the financial point of view. In other words, without being overly concrete, what are your main sources of income, do you earn any income outside of chess, and how satisfied are you with your current situation? Also, a question from me, which I hope you won’t consider a provocation. What is your opinion of the “Topalov-cheater” question, at least at the time of the championship in San Luis?

My main source of income is the game. After that come simuls, lectures on DVD, and annotation of games. As before I have many good offers, so that everything is quite satisfactory. However, I agree with Oleg Korneev, for example, who says that the financial situation is far from being good for everybody. I don’t have any particular opportunities to improve it, but I can only say that chess organizers in various countries often deserve a better attitude from the players. There are cases, of course, when the reverse is also true. As for Topalov, I played six games against him in the period from 2007 to 2009, and did not notice anything of the sort.

makogonov: Hello! Looking back, do you regret that you devoted yourself to chess? If there were no chess, what occupation would you have chosen? In general, I would like to find out what you are interested in besides chess.

No, I don't regret it. I doubt that things would have worked out so well for me in other spheres. In 1993 I had to withdraw from my second year of Foreign Languages University, in order not to decline an invitation to a tournament. Otherwise, I probably would have tried to go into a corresponding profession.

makogonov: Someone told me that in 1989 you had an unpleasant experience in Colombia, when you wandered into a poppy field and met a man with a rifle — is this true, or is it just another chess fable?

In Colombia, as far as I know, it's not poppies but cocaine or marijuana. smiley There was something of that nature growing at the top of a hill that I was climbing, but I don’t know what. The rest of the “fable” is essentially correct, there was really a rifle aimed at me. Nevertheless I managed to get back to Tunja safely (the city where the world under-20 championship was taking place).

Grol_Jegor: What do you like about the KasparovChess forum, as a strong player? (Social networking, news, previews, or something else?)

The social networking, plus during my own tournaments it is interesting to read about myself.

Grol_Jegor: What, in your opinion, is the optimal number of tournaments in a year that a chess player should play in (a grandmaster, a candidate master, etc.)?

It depends on the individual. It’s clear that a person who is busy with other things simply cannot play more than 4-5 tournaments in a year, and maybe even fewer. Even among purely professional players, everybody is different. Compare, for example, Ivanchuk and Leko. I do not have either the right or the desire to criticize either of them, so I really cannot answer your question. I can only say that in my own experience everything depends on the opportunities that present themselves. Attractive invitations are not made of rubber, so usually you accept them. However, in the future I plan to play and travel less than I do now.

DraggonZ: Hello! In your opinion, what is the right way for a candidate master or master to work on openings?

Usually a chess player on that level is an amateur, and if that is the case, then there probably is not enough time to study openings very deeply. I think that my advice will be standard — as much as possible, to deepen your knowledge, understanding, and perception of chess, first of all in your own repertoire. But it seems to me that many players make a mistake when they continue to study and play something dubious only because they are afraid of trying to learn something new. It seems to me that flexibility, the ability to evaluate one variation or another objectively, are essential for any chess player, whether he is a professional GM or an amateur at the candidate master level. Also, it is not a bad idea to formulate your repertoire by following the games of the leading players — after all, their moves are usually the results of many hours of work. Nevertheless, you should always try to figure out what is going on in other people’s games by yourself.

mako27: Hello! When you have worked out long tactical variations with lots of branches on a computer, how do you try to write them down and memorize them? Do you only repeat them at home between tournaments, or do you review them directly before every game? Do you only review the moves, or do you check them over again on the computer?

Hello, Kostya. I don’t know, it seems as if I try to verify the variations that are automatically recorded during the computer analysis. If certain variations seem to be clearly secondary, then I erase them, but I try not to overlook the main lines and branches. Between games of a tournament there is probably even more checking. Because your thoughts are working faster and more clearly than during your training sessions, and in addition you are encountering a lot of the work of other chess players, new questions and ideas will often surface that you have to check. Naturally, in such situations it often happens that at the last moment you decide on a completely different opening, in which you have only primitive preparation.

lehabey: Alexei, what is your opinion about combinative vision? To what extent is the analysis of variations a gift, and to what extent can it be trained? What approaches to training do you consider the best, and what methods of calculation do you use?

I never did any special training, but in my childhood, on my own, I tried to read every book on combinations and tactics that I could get my hands on. And endings too, by the way, although Averbakh’s multi-volume opus was hard to master. Probably I should repeat again that the more different ideas and motifs you know, the easier it will be to find a tactical solution at the board (if it exists) and calculate the variations.

Edwards: What is your opinion of Fischer chess, Alexei? Have you played at Fischer random?

Yes, about three times. In Ciudad Real in 2007, I was able to score 8 out of 9 (we played at a rate of game in 10 minutes), although the only strong player I played with was Mamedyarov (a draw). I played in Mainz twice and not very successfully. The game is undoubtedly interesting, but I don’t want to play it too often. Just try afterwards to remember your theory in a “classical” opening position.

Veritas: How would you advise a chess player who is over 40 years old, with a first or second-category rating, to improve his level of play, taking into account the resources available on the computer (opening databases, instructional websites)?

This is a hard question. I don’t even know what instructional sites you are talking about. I will say again that in the analysis of your own games it is now easier than it used to be to find your mistakes, and if so it is easier to draw the necessary conclusions and fix what is wrong. This also applies to training games (Internet, games against your computer, etc.) However, standard methods of improvement (books, lessons from stronger players) are, undoubtedly, also possible.

Veritas: At one time Einstein told Lasker that there was no need for him to retain formulas and laws in his head, because he could look them up in any reference book. What do you think is the key to harmonious co-existence of a chess player and a chess computer program?

Once again, let me wish you further sporting successes in the future. Thank you for the wishes. All I know is that a contemporary active chess player still has to keep a lot in his head, and I suspect the same is true of a contemporary physicist. As for coexistence, work on the openings is not just about memory. Computers often suggest 3-4 equally good variations, and you won’t have time to look over all of them, so you always have to choose one or another. For that reason, analysis and preparation are in fact much more individual disciplines than they may seem from the side.

ProstoTak: Alexei, what do you think of other intellectual games, besides chess? Have you gotten hooked on any other games?

For some reason I’m not so interested in [other] games. I would like to learn Go (that has always been a dream of mine), Chinese chess, and maybe shogi. But I haven’t set my mind to it yet. I sometimes play backgammon, but that is a game of chance. I tested my strength at bridge for a little while, but then gave it up.

ischukin: Do you ever have a sense of being tired from chess? Not in the sense of overindulging from playing too many games, and not in the sense of purely physical fatigue. I’m talking about the sense of being tired of a profession, the point at which people usually start to realize that there is no realistic chance of growing any more and that they have already climbed their highest peaks.

Yes, that feeling comes fairly often. But usually in such cases someone throws me into a tournament, and then I have to drive thoughts of that sort as far away as possible.

ischukin: What global themes (aside from chess) interest you most personally? For instance, are you interested in the emergence of life on Earth, or religion, or scientific progress, etc.?

For global themes you need encyclopedic knowledge, which, alas, I do not have. On a more modest level I am interested in ideologies, including religion.

ischukin: If you could return to the point in time when it became clear that chess was going to be your life’s work, would you once again go down the same road, or would you choose some other direction?

I think I already talked about the choice that I made in 1993 in favor of chess, and there is no question that I would make the same choice again.

Gwynbleidd: What is the most important thing in a woman, Alexei?

The main thing is to be a friend of men. © smiley But if you’re talking seriously, then today both men and women have many new complications in their lives, and for that reason patriarchal family values once again are becoming very relevant. The ability to understand and feel deeply, under the current conditions, is what I consider to be the most important, and that applies to both sexes. And of course, women should never lose their femininity. However, I beg you not to confuse that with the incomprehensible nonsense that for some reason goes by the name of “sexuality.”

kif: Alexei, how would you describe in one or two words (whatever comes to mind first) each of the top 5:

1. Veselin Topalov. Veselin’s play displays an extraordinary amount of commitment, a constant striving to realize his abilities to the maximum extent.
2. Viswanathan Anand. An extremely deep sense of dynamics, and the most rapid and precise calculation.
3. Levon Aronian. The most successful player with an ultra-aggressive style. He achieves this result thanks to his rare intuition in the sharpest positions.
4. Magnus Carlsen. A very multifaceted player with an outstanding sense of the endgame. You never know what key he is going to play in.
5. Vladimir Kramnik. An extremely strong analyst.

E-not: Do you think that there is a problem of too many grandmasters in the world?

There are fewer people, fortunately, who have deliberately bought norms than there were before, but the title has undoubtedly lost some of its former meaning.

E-not: Do you think that the current system for awarding the grandmaster title is just and accurate?

I think that the norms need to be raised a little bit. At least to a performance rating of 2650 (currently it is 2600) and a personal rating of 2550 (instead of 2500). On the other hand, if it becomes harder to earn a norm, then fraudulent norms might start making a comeback, but at least the frauds will have to pay a higher price!

E-not: Would it be possible (and would it be practical) to use computer programs to test a player’s level of play before awarding them various titles, all the way up to grandmaster?

I don’t think so. If a player has already managed to achieve a certain norm honestly, what is the point of testing him? E-not: During tournaments, does the system for determining a winner have a greater effect on your play, or does the lighting and comfort in the tournament hall play a greater role? Probably the second, if not something else entirely.

E-not: What do you think about photography during a tournament? Should it be completely forbidden? Allowed for five or ten minutes? Should people be allowed to take pictures as long as there is no flash? Would it be useful for chess to have good (substantive, entertaining, not embarrassing) photos?

I don’t have anything in particular against photographers, but it seems to me that it’s better to take pictures with a camera that doesn’t make any noise. Then it will hardly distract you at all. Of course, in the first 5-10 minutes you are usually playing routine opening moves, but if, for example, your opponent surprises you and you have to make some kind of choice, then flashes can interfere with your thought process. But not too strongly.

E-not: What question would you ask yourself if you were in my place?

For the time being I only ask myself questions that are not for public consumption. smiley 

Aksenoff: Alexei, how do you relate to fans when they contact you in person — when they come up to you to ask for an autograph or take your picture? Do they annoy you?

Usually they don’t annoy me, I have long considered autographs and photographs to be part of my responsibility. If they start talking to me, all sorts of things can happen, but it’s quite rare for someone to say something that is really inappropriate.

korsar274: Hello! What do you think about the soccer system of counting points? Does it seriously increase the number of decisive games? Is there a future for it?

Personally it bothers me. Draws have always been worth half a point, and now all of a sudden they are only worth a third. [If it’s so good,] why don’t they compute ratings according to the same system? smiley 

E-not: Vladimir Kramnik overlooked a mate in one in a game with a computer. What was so unique about that position? Why did he make such a blunder? It seems unlikely that he would overlook a linear mate with two rooks...

I don’t know, I have never asked Vladimir about that game. All sorts of things happen in chess …

vasa: Alexei, what is your opinion of the quality of play in the blitz match between Karpov and Kasparov in Valencia?

I have not yet looked at the games in the database. It seems as if Karpov had serious time problems, and he entered the match somewhat unprepared. Kasparov had more motivation, and as we know he is just as involved in chess as before. smiley 

Renegat23: Alexei, what do you think about correspondence chess? Do you think of it as a fully respectable form of chess or as some sort of freak show? Do you use correspondence games in your preparation?

Correspondence chess today is some kind of super-advanced chess, which is of course interesting. But realistically, I only have a chance to look at games like that on KasparovChess. It’s entertaining.

Renegat23: It’s well known that you have a catastrophic score against Garry Kasparov. How do you explain that? Did Garry play that much stronger than you? Or was it his energy level, which you were not able to match? Or …?

Overall, he prepared a good deal more professionally and often knew more about the position than I did. Over time some non-chess factors started to add themselves to our games, which of course interfered with my play. I would be interested to see how our history would have changed if I had found a simple two-move win in time pressure in Manila in 1992.

Renegat23: What kind of programs and chess engines do you use? Do you have a powerful computer(s)?

No, I have a completely standard computer with two cores and a speed of 2.5 GHz. Maybe I will upgrade soon. I use Rybka 3, but there are some positions in which Rybka 2 orients itself no worse.

Valchess: Alexei, three questions around the periphery of chess: What is your opinion of FIDE’s current affairs, associated with its structure and leadership? Do you — as practically the only super-GM with an active and principled position on many of the issues of chess politics — have any intention of running for one of the leadership posts within FIDE?

For the moment I have no such plans. Of course, I could be a decent administrator, but one needs a more reliable financial structure for that. I also don’t have any personal contacts in the world of potential sponsors, so there would not be very much sense in my entering chess politics. And, by the way, I'd already got fingers burned once by ACP [the Association of Chess Professionals ]. Plus, I still need to play. FIDE is in a difficult situation, of course, because of its eternal and not very promising battle for sponsorship. But even if we make allowances for that, it’s hard to accept the deliberate violations of sporting principles that one constantly encounters. I will not go any deeper into the question at present.

Valchess: How would you evaluate the status and activity of the ACP? Do you see, in principle, any realistic chances for this kind of social structure for professionals, or do the personal ambitions of the leading players make it impossible to work out and insist on a unified position?

ACP is breathing its last. What they did with the 2009 World Blitz Championship does not hold water. But again, the heart of the matter is that besides the Pivdenny Bank (which suffered great losses in the Ukrainian crisis and not only then), they have not found any sponsors. Chess players are hardly to blame for that, but even so, when you see the director of ACP trying to obtain unsportsmanlike advantages for his chess-playing boss, there is no way you can help getting annoyed.

Valchess: Your evaluation of the condition of chess book publishing and journalism. Have you liked any particular books published anywhere in the world in the last few years? What do you think of Kasparov’s series? Or the essay-memoirs written by G. Sosonko? What chess publications do you read? What chess websites and blogs do you visit more or less regularly? Are there any chess journalists whose opinions you pay attention to?

I have not read the books by Kasparov and Plisetsky, or even any other chess books. The last one I read, probably, was “The Thousand-Year Myth of Chess” by Yudasin. I have seen few of Sosonko’s original works, mostly only the English translations. He often exaggerates, of course, but he has written many good things about interesting people. Of course I read magazines, especially the ones that I get at home. Although one should not call it serious reading. I usually read the chess commentaries on Chesspro and Crestbook with interest. I think it’s about time that I reduced my comments in the forums, and to some extent that is why I agreed to do this interview.

Loner: Do you think that Kramnik did not have a moral right to play a match with Kasparov after he lost the final candidates’ match to you? After all, two and a half years passed between your match [with Kramnik] and the Kramnik-Kasparov match, almost as much time as a full cycle used to take.

In the form that [the match] took—no. But the subject is already closed.

Loner: What is your impression of Nabokov’s book “The Luzhin Defense”? Here is how he describes a fragment of the game between Turati and Luzhin. [Translator’s note: There follows a very long and rather melodramatic quote from Nabokov’s novel.] Do you ever have any similar feelings or impressions during a game?

All sorts of things happen. I have had to cope with strong non-chess emotions more than once, of course, and this can lead both to good and to weak moves. ... Of Nabokov's books I like “The Gift”  better. “The Luzhin Defense”  is, of course, an interesting work, but … chess is poorly illuminated in it. In general, Nabokov always strove for the ideal literary effect, and [an accurate portrayal of] the subject for him was somewhat secondary.

Semetei: If a chess player works very hard at the game, does that guarantee that he will become super-strong?

I'm not sure what you mean by “super-strong” but, naturally, if you do all this and also do it effectively, then progress is almost guaranteed.

Semetei: Pardon me, but I have one more question: Are you a believer? Do you pray before a tournament or a game? Do you ask for help from above during the game?

Thanks. I converted to Orthodox Christianity in my adulthood, but probably I am not a deep believer. When I go to church, chess is not on my mind at all. And in chess I rely only on myself and on the help of my friends.

Mustitz: How interested are you in playing against chess programs?

Nowadays it is almost impossible to outplay a program, [you can do it] only if your knowledge of the opening is an order of magnitude better than the program’s library. You have to play only for a draw, and that is no longer very interesting.

Mustitz: At what time control can the leading chess players put up good resistance against the leading chess programs?

I sometimes give myself 7 minutes + 5 seconds, and the amount I give the computer depends on my mood, but naturally I give it significantly less.

Mustitz: If you received an invitation to a match or a tournament in which flesh and blood chess players would battle against programs, would you take part?

This would be only for commercial purposes, and it seems that the possible sponsors are no longer interested in such a thing, so I hardly think so.

Mustitz: I’d like to add to the questions about advanced chess and intellectual games. What other forms of chess do you like? Women’s. smiley 

MS: I greatly respect your mastery at playing endgames. Unfortunately, the most recent example that comes to mind was “not yours” — it was the famous knight endgame against Kramnik in 2007. Many spectators, including grandmasters, considered that endgame to be completely drawn … Could you tell me how subtle that endgame was for you? If it’s not a secret, what played a role in your defeat: psychology, fatigue, complexity? Are there any relatively simple positional guideposts that one could use to play similar endgames?

The endgame with Kramnik was a fairly difficult one. I had already made a mistake in the opening of that game, and so it is not surprising that at a certain moment I started to get in time pressure. It was an extremely unpleasant position to defend, and I just didn’t manage to.

MS: In the Botvinnik-Kasparov school a unique situation for Kasparov arose: working together with your own future opponents. If you don’t consider this question too personal and “not having reached its statute of limitations”, did the thought ever occur to you that Garry could, intentionally or unintentionally, use the school as a way of “working out relations” with his future opponents?

Thank you. Indeed, those were unique times. Today it is almost impossible to imagine a leading player who would be prepared to work with young players without pay for almost a week. I will not try to worm my way into someone else’s subconscious, but as far as consciously … I think that after all the most important thing to [Kasparov] was what was happening at that time, not what might happen 4-5 years later.

Guamokolatokint: Do you think it’s realistic for a 27-year-old player who has already knocked around for several years with a rating around 2500, to suddenly get much, much stronger and in a short time (1-3 years) raise his strength to 2700?

Thanks. One year is too short a time for such a leap, but over three years many things are possible.

ddt: In principle I would like to ask the same question, only for the jump 2300 → 2450. I am humbler in my demands.

That one is absolutely possible. smiley 

Vladimirovich: Alexei, what is your opinion of the FIDE World Championships that were organized in the past? Can we consider the victors of the knockout tournaments to be the successors of Capablanca, Alekhine, Fischer, Karpov, and the other world champions? Thank you.

Naturally, Khalifman, Ponomariov and Kasimdzhanov are full-fledged world champions. What, do you think that their games are less interesting than the players that you mentioned?

Lolita: Is it true that you and Azmaiparashvili are not on speaking terms after what happened at the tournament in Strumitz?

Zurab and I reconciled in 1998, and since then we have had an absolutely normal relationship.

Master X: The vast majority of chess competitions take place in the second half of the day. It seems to me that this places “owls” and “larks” on an unequal footing. What do you think? And are you a night owl or a morning lark?

I am not a lark, but I do usually get up in time for breakfast. I can say that if the game begins after 16:00, as for example it does in Bilbao, I don’t particularly like it, so your question is a very reasonable one. Probably I would prefer to play at 12:00, but that never happens anywhere. However, I would say that every player has to get used to a wide range of playing conditions.

Thanks to 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 Dana MacKenzie with editorial assistance by Valery Adzhiev.

Other KC-conferences in English:

KC-Conference with Alexander Grischuk

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